Thursday, December 27, 2012
The Prize Winners
Chapter Thirty Two
The Prize Winners
“Ladies, we just received the strangest request in the mail today,” said Donna, Tracy and Holly's assistant.
“What is it Donna?” Holly asked.
“It's a letter from someone named Robin Stillman. Seems she and her friend Leslie Butler have an aunt and uncle respectively who are, according to their nieces, facing a lonely life without someone special in it. Robin's aunt will be thirty on her next birthday and Leslie's uncle is almost thirty two. They are both college professors, one in Greensboro and the other right here in Camden Corners. The young ladies, who are students at the university here also, have concocted a scheme in which they pretend to enter their relative's name in a drawing for a week at The Merryweather in adjoining suites. They are asking if we are willing to confirm the hoax. There is a sample of the congratulatory letter to be sent to each of the victims.”
“I must say, Donna. We have had many strange requests and this one is right there among them. Let me ask Jack about the legality of sending the letter before we answer the young ladies. I'm not sure I like being a party to such a scheme without meeting the instigators in person. Shall we ask them to pay us a visit?” said Tracy.
“That's a good idea,” said Holly.
“As soon as we get Jack's opinion, would you set a time for the girls to come in?”
Jack looked over the letter and chuckled. “I don't see anything wrong with it. Your letter shouldn't allude to the fact that there was a contest involved. Just a note of congratulations on being a recipient of a week at the resort will be enough. Anything in the name of romance, huh?”
“You know you get a kick out of people finding love at The Merryweather. It happened to us, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Jack pulled her close and kissed her.
“Mr. Crowley, is this the way you treat all your clients?” Tracy said in mock horror.
“Only the beautiful ones who get free legal advice,” he laughed and kissed her again.
Robin answered the phone in the tiny apartment she shared with her friend, Leslie.
“Hello, Ms. Grant, thank you for calling. Leslie and I would be happy to meet with Mrs. Crowley and Mrs. Burke. Would this afternoon be convenient? We were hoping to schedule our relative's stay quickly, they will both be starting the new school year very soon.”
“They will be able to meet with you at 1:30 if that is a good time for the two of you,” replied Donna.
“We will be there. Thank you again, Ms. Grant.”
Promptly at 1:30 that afternoon, Robin and Leslie appeared in the lobby. Tracy stepped out of her office to greet them.
“Good afternoon, I'm Tracy Crowley, won't you come into my office. Mrs. Burke will be along shortly, she is handling a housekeeping problem at the moment.”
“Mrs. Crowley, I'm Robin Stillman and this is my friend Leslie Butler. Mark said you would go along with our plan. He said you were a pushover for romance.”
“You know my son, Mark? He's right, I am a pushover for romance, I just didn't realize he knew that about me.”
“Here is Holly now.” Tracy introduced the girls. “Why don't you tell us about your idea. We don't want to be a party to any kind of practical joke or cruel prank.”
“Oh no, Mrs. Crowley, we wouldn't do a thing like that. My aunt is Bonnie Stillman. Her brother is my father. Bonnie was born after my dad left home. My grandmother died when Bonnie was only ten years old. My dad was going to school in New Jersey. He and my mother had only been married a year at that time. Mom and Dad wanted to have Bonnie come live with them, but Grandfather wouldn't hear of it. The years went by. Grandfather wouldn't let Bonnie have friends over and never let her date a boy. She wasn't allowed to dress like the other girls in school or wear any kind of makeup. She has always worn her hair in a bun at the back of her head. Grandfather passed away last year and Bonnie moved to Camden Corners to begin her tenure with the university. She is twenty nine years old, almost thirty and she looks older than most grandmothers. I have gotten to know her for the first time in my life. She is a very sweet person. She has no idea how to dress or how to make herself attractive. Leslie, tell Mrs. Crowley and Mrs. Burke about your uncle Richard.”
“Our stories are pretty much the same. Richard was born a few years after my father left home. In this case, my grandfather passed away when Richard was just a baby. My grandmother was lost without her husband and coddled Richard through the years. My dad tried to talk to my mother about letting Richard play with other children, but she refused to listen. Because he sat in the house everyday and never played ball or rode a bike with the other kids, he developed a weight problem. That didn't help his self esteem and he was ridiculed throughout school. My grandmother passed on three years ago. Richard finally learned how to ride a bicycle and rides his bike to the university in Greensboro most days. He has slimmed down and is quite nice looking except he has a full beard and shaggy hair. I can't figure out where he gets his clothes but I suspect they are left over from my grandfather. He needs a complete makeover. This is part of our plan.”
Robin spoke up. “Our plan is to tell them both we entered them into a drawing and they won. The first phase is a complete makeover. New hairstyles, makeup for Bonnie and a good grooming for Richard. All new outfits. Our parents are aware of our plan and are willing to foot the bill. Mom says Bonnie has mentioned that she feels very frumpy with all the young girls at school but she won't change a hair on her head. We figured if it came from an outside source they both would be more willing to go along with it. Even if they don't, we expect to pay for the rooms we are renting from you.”
“It sounds like you girls have a solid plan,” said Holly. “I can't help but wonder, if these two people do agree to makeovers, how can you be sure they won't just stay in their rooms for the entire week? Seems they have both lived rather reclusive lives.”
“We did think of that. That is the reason for the adjoining rooms,” said Leslie. “Robin and I plan to visit them while they are here and we will just happen to run into each other. Being best friends, of course we will open doors so that we can chat.”
“Mark knows all this and he has offered to take all of us for rides on his boat.”
“Mark is in on this too?” said Tracy. “I can't believe my son has become a matchmaker. What do you think, Holly, should we go along with the scheme?”
“I don't know, I hate to put a damper on your enthusiasm girls. What if the plan backfires. What if one of them falls for the other and the feeling isn't mutual. You have then succeeded in hurting one of them and embarrassing the other.”
“We have thought of that Mrs. Burke. We think it's worth the risk. They are two very lonely people. If there is a chance they can be happy together, we would like to take that chance,” said Robin.
“Why don't you just introduce them and see what happens?”
“Our mothers have tried that, Mrs. Crowley. They are much too shy to agree to be set up with a date. That is why we concocted this scheme,” said Leslie.
“If Holly agrees, I will go along with the plan. I just hope no one gets hurt.”
“It's alright with me, girls. Start the ball rolling. Let's see what dates we have available. Most families have chosen to rent the cabins instead of the suites during the summer. I think we have the Watson and Bentley suites open. They are adjoining and named after one of the most romantic couples of their time.”
“Thank you so much. Mark said you two are a couple of neat ladies and he was right,” said Robin.
“How well do you know Mark, Robin?” asked Tracy.
“He's in a couple of my summer classes.”
“She's crazy about him, Mrs. Crowley. I think Mark likes her too and that's why he agreed to help us.”
“I hope he does like you, Robin. You seem like a very thoughtful young lady.”
“Thank you Mrs. Crowley,” Robin said beaming. “Mark is going to meet us here. He thought you would say yes and he wants to begin the final plans. He stopped by Mrs. Mackenzie's house to see if she could recommend a hair stylist and makeup artist. I hope he found someone who is willing to keep our secret.”
“Hi, Mom,” Mark said as he poked his head in the door. “Great plan, isn't it? I told Robin I knew you would go along with it.” He turned to Robin and Leslie. “Mrs. Mackenzie gave me the name of a hair stylist. She even called her and we are all set up for this Thursday. Her name is Bridget and she is sworn to secrecy. Mom, do you mind if we use Donna's computer to print up the winning notices?”
“You'd better use mine. I think Donna is using hers.”
“I'm through with my task.” said Donna from the doorway. “I knew you would agree so I went ahead and printed a notice from The Merryweather. It's just like your father suggested, Mark. Maybe you'd better follow the same guidelines for the makeover notice.”
“I certainly hope this project remains a secret, before long everyone in town will know what's going on,” said Holly.
“We don't have to worry, Mrs. Burke, Bonnie and Richard are oblivious to their surroundings. They won't know what hit them until they are bitten by the love bug,” said Leslie. “The hard part will be convincing them to accept their prizes.”
Robin walked up the stairs to her aunt's third floor apartment. Aunt Bonnie must have chosen the only gloomy building in all of Camden Corners. Such dark hallways. I thought they'd torn this place down years ago, she said to herself. She knocked on the door. “Aunt Bonnie, it's Robin.”
“Hello, Robin. It is very nice to see you. You said you have something exciting. You aren't getting married are you, I know you have had many beaus but I didn't think there was anyone special.”
“No, Aunt Bonnie, this isn't about me, it's about you. I entered a contest a few weeks ago and I won first prize. It is a complete makeover including a new wardrobe and a week's stay at The Merryweather Resort.”
“Oh, how nice for you. I don't think you need a makeover. You are pretty enough just as you are.”
“Thank you Aunt Bonnie. I hope you won't turn me down. You have always been so good to me, I'll never forget the excitement of opening the mail on my birthday and finding a crisp bill inside the card you sent. I think it's my turn to treat you and I'd like you to use the prize. Wouldn't you like to have a makeover and some new clothes before you start another school year. Plus a week at the fanciest resort this side of Buffalo. Please say yes.”
“Oh my sweet child. I couldn't accept your generous offer.”
“Why not, Aunt Bonnie? Please let me give you something from my heart as you have always given from yours. You wouldn't want to hurt my feelings now, would you?”
“Your grandfather would never approve of such a frivolous thing.”
“Maybe Grandfather wouldn't approve, but I think Grandmother would.”
“Do you think she would? I barely remember her. I do remember she had beautiful long hair. She would let me brush it for her.”
“Yes, I have seen pictures. She always wore it down or on top of her head with curls around her face. You look like her Aunt Bonnie. She was very pretty and so are you.”
“I'm going to do it! Will you come with me for the makeover? Oh dear, I'm so excited. I feel like Eliza Doolittle.”
“I'll pick you up at 11:30 on Thursday. We will go shopping after and have lunch at The Merryweather, you can check in anytime after 2:00. Oh Aunt Bonnie, I can hardly wait.”
Bonnie couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.
“That was easier than I thought. Mom was right, Bonnie has been anxious to change her look, she just needed to hear that one of her parents would approve. Mark, I never knew my grandfather very well but I think he must have been a real jerk.”
“It's too bad Bonnie's father and Richard's mother didn't get together. They sound like they would have made a great pair,” said Mark. He thought of his own grandparents. He would have to remember to tell them how glad he was to have them in his life.
“Leslie has gone with Eric to Greensboro. She is afraid her uncle will turn her down flat.”
Leslie knocked on the door to the house her father grew up in. She suspected nothing had been remodeled in it since the day her grandparents moved in.
“Leslie, how nice to see you. Is that your young man in the car? Why don't you have him come in.”
“Maybe in a little while Uncle Richard. I want to talk to you about something.”
She told him the story of the contest and explained how she would like him to take advantage of it. She thought a complete makeover would be good for him and he worked too hard during the year. He really did need a vacation before school started again.
“Leslie, what a sweet girl to want to give me your prize. I just might take you up on it. I have been thinking of shaving this beard off. It really is too warm in the summer. I notice my lip perspires when I have ridden my bicycle for any length of time. Would you believe I have never had a vacation. I have heard about The Merryweather. If you are sure you won't use the prize, I will gladly take it off your hands.” He gave his niece a bear hug. “Now, where and when do I get my makeover?”
“You have an appointment at 1:30. We will go shopping for a new wardrobe at around 11:30. Eric has offered to come with us. He has excellent taste in clothing. I'll ask him to come in so you two can meet.”
Two days later, Bonnie was sitting in the hair stylist chair watching as the hair that reached her waist was being trimmed, shaped, highlighted and blown dry. The makeup artist came in and showed her how to apply makeup. The transformation was remarkable. Bonnie looked ten years younger and felt pretty for the first time in her life. From there Robin took her to the nicest boutique in town. As previously arranged, Melanie met them there. She had a knack for picking out just the right outfit for any occasion and any woman.
“Bonnie, you have a lovely figure, I think you should show it off. That tiny waistline will be the envy of your female students. Your other attributes will be appreciated by the males in your class.”
Bonnie blushed when she tried on a form fitting dress, but had to admit, she looked like the photos in the magazines her father never let her buy.
She was loaded down with packages when she crossed paths with Professor Richard Butler. He had just walked out of the salon and was looking at his reflection in the window. He couldn't believe how different he looked. He had grown the beard years ago to help cover the fullness of his face. He didn't need to cover any part of himself up anymore. He had to admit, he looked pretty darn good.
Robin escorted Bonnie to the Watson Suite. Bonnie was amazed at the beauty of the place. “I could get used to living in a place like this.” She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She hardly recognized the woman staring back except for the gray dress she was wearing. She reached for the first bag and pulled out a short sundress in pastel yellow. “I think I'll wear this tonight. Robin, do you think I dare go downstairs to the cocktail lounge. I may have a glass of sherry to celebrate my new look.”
“You will look lovely, Bonnie. Let me find the lemon colored shoes we bought to go with the dress while you change. Instead of sherry, why not try a glass of wine. I think you will enjoy that more.”
“Aren't you too young to drink alcoholic?”
“A couple of years but Dad lets me have a little wine once in awhile at home.”
Bonnie walked out of the bedroom. Robin had to blink back the tears.
“Bonnie you look wonderful.”
“I do, don't I?” she said innocently. “I feel wonderful and it's all thanks to you.”
At the same time, Richard was dressing in his new slacks, shirt and sport coat. He had to admit, he looked much better than he looked just this morning. He walked out of the bedroom. Leslie and Eric were waiting for him.
“Uncle Richard, you look gorgeous,” Leslie said
“Nobody would ever guess you are over thirty, sir,” said Eric.
“Thank you, I think, Eric. Leslie dear, are we meeting the young lady in the bar?”
“What young lady?”
“The young lady you got me all gussied up for. You don't think I bought that story of you winning a makeover, do you? Nobody your age enters a contest where the top prize is a makeover.”
“And we thought we were being so clever. It's almost time to meet them. Shall we adjourn to the bar. Wish we could toast your new look that will have to wait a couple of years. By then you and Bonnie will be celebrating your second anniversary.”
Richard heard the door open next door. He stopped and stared at the young woman who was walking into the hallway. She turned around and saw him looking at her.
“Hello,” she said in a whisper.
“Good evening,” he replied.
“Robin, are you going to introduce me to my date?”
“Aunt Bonnie, how did you know?”
“Your mother has been trying to get me to come out of my shell for years. You are your mother's daughter. I just wondered how far you would take your little scheme.”
“Your niece?” asked Richard.
“Yes, and this must be your niece,” replied Bonnie.
“Nice girls, aren't they? How do you do, I'm Richard Butler.”
“It's very nice to meet you, Richard. My name is Bonnie Stillman.”
Richard took her arm. “May I buy you a drink? I believe the bartender is waiting for us.”
“I would like that very much.”
They were married three weeks later. They spent their honeymoon at The Merryweather in only one suite and it wasn't adjoining any other room.
Richard never grew another beard and Bonnie never bought another gray dress. Richard sold the big house in Greensboro and transferred to the university in Camden Corners. The couple bought a new house built just east of the Rossi Vineyards. There were big windows in every room with plenty of sunlight shining in and plenty of bedrooms for the five children who came along in quick succession.