So for today's Sample Sunday, you get two choices. Hit the break to read The Plan in its entirety, or hit THIS LINK to go to download it for free from Smashwords. Hope you enjoy it.
Eric could tell Charlene thought something was wrong when she walked in the front door. The lights were either out or dimmed, and Sarge, their terrier mix, wasn't greeting her with his usual barrage of yips and yaps. A slight musk hung in the air, a mix of smells from the kitchen and perfume from the scented candles he had placed around the dining room. "Eric?" she called out nervously. "Eric?"
His entrance was perfect. The light from the kitchen caused him to appear as a silhouette, so it would take her a second to focus on him. "Hey baby," he said as he heard her breath catch. The calm in his voice took away her apprehension, and intrigue filled her eyes when she saw the dish towel he was using to dry his hands. Then she noticed the apron wrapped around him. A smile appeared on her lips.
"What are you up to?" she asked. She let the door close behind her, dousing the light that had been coming in from the outside. It didn't matter to him though. He could still see her clearly, at least in his mind. He could still tell she was beautiful, if a bit frazzled from a long day at work.
He smiled back. "Nothing much. Just celebrating."
"What are we celebrating?" She moved over to the table in the foyer and set her laptop bag down. "And where's Sarge?"
"Sarge is with your sister getting spoiled out of his mind," he said. "Tonight is about you and me and no one else. As to what we're celebrating…" his voice trailed off. He had a plan, an idea of what needed to happen to make the night perfect, and it all hinged on her reactions, on what she did at certain times. This was one of them. "It's been exactly three hundred and fourteen days since our first date," he finally said, then held his breath as he waited for her to react.
She giggled and took him in her arms. "Only you would celebrate a date based upon the value of pi," she said as she squeezed him.
He sighed and held on to her, the first part of his plan a success. She was slightly shorter than he was, especially when she was in the flats she wore to work, but with high heels she was almost eye-level. Her shirt whispered softly at his touch as he ran his hands up and down her back, easing some of the tension her day had caused. The scent of her shampoo intoxicated him, and stirred feelings in him that no woman had ever been able to match. Any reservations he had about his plan disappeared with her in his arms. He squeezed her one last time before he released the embrace. "We have other reasons to celebrate, but that can wait. Dinner is almost ready, and you still have to get dressed."
"What other reasons?" she asked.
He laughed and said, "That would be telling. Now scoot! And make sure to dress appropriately," he added with a wink. She giggled and joyfully pranced back to their bedroom to do as he requested. He watched her go, sighed again, then went back into the kitchen.
The tilapia was about done baking in the oven, so he went over and opened the bread maker. He had baked a fresh loaf of Italian bread only an hour ago, and it was still slightly warm. He deftly sliced off a half-dozen pieces and set them on a plate of fine china he had pulled out for the occasion. A dab of butter in the middle, a knife to spread it, and it was ready to go. The timer went off as he brought the plate out to the dinner table, forcing him to dash back in. Eric opened the oven, and the smell of the garlic butter he had used to top the tilapia wafted over him, causing him to salivate. His mother and what friends he did have had always said he was gifted when it came to preparing a meal. Though, truthfully, almost everything he had set out to do in life had come easy. Everything except finding someone to be with.
He was an academic, but that was merely what he did. It wasn't him. Not really. He believed in the work he was doing though, and likely would have still been at work, preparing for an impending deadline, if he hadn't felt so strongly about going through with his plan and of answering the questions in his mind. He smiled as he continued putting dinner together, and recalled the events that had led him here.
Charlene had come into his life in a way that he couldn't ever have imagined. He loved hockey, thanks largely to his parents, and had season tickets to the local minor-league team. The seats around him had also been held by season ticket holders, but the older couple to the left of him had moved south for warmer weather the summer before last season, leaving those seats open. On opening day, the seat right next to his had been filled by Charlene, complete with a Mario Lemieux jersey and a passion for the sport that rivaled his own. It had been the most wonderfully violent three hours of his life.
When the game had ended, he had casually remarked, "Not bad for a first date, eh?"
Without missing a beat, she had replied, "Got any ideas for a second?"
It had all fallen into place after that. Some dinners, some movies, and yes, every home hockey game, and they were a couple, something that had always eluded him, despite his efforts over the years. She made him happy. More than any of the academics he had dated over the years at least. They had all been relatively stuffy, and devoid of a life outside of their work. Charlene was none of that. She was easy with a smile and had a wit to match her sharp mind. Not to mention how beautiful she was. Her geek cred left a lot to be desired, but he had slowly been filling in those gaps with marathon sessions of Doctor Who, Stargate, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among other things. It was easier these days, as a few months ago they had decided to lease a condo together.
She had changed him too. He had always been something of an introvert with hockey as his only real reason for going out, barring an occasionally late night run to satisfy his taco cravings. Charlene saw to it that they spent as much time outdoors as in. In the months since they had started dating, he'd taken two weekend trips to a nearby state park, and had dropped twenty pounds from all the walking they had done while visiting the local museums, the zoo, and even the botanical garden. When they had first met, he had sported a full beard, but she had convinced him to trim it down to a mustache and goatee, citing that it would make him look more dashing. Her reaction when he came out of the bathroom afterward was the highlight of their relationship. For now, at least.
They didn't talk much about what they did for a living. He knew she worked at a security firm downtown, and she knew he worked on research at the university, but neither of them had sought to pry too much into the specifics. He had once asked her why, as all the other women he had dated didn't like to be kept in the dark about anything, much less about where his money came from. She simply said that if he wanted her to know, he would tell her. Plus, all he had to do was ask her about what she did, and she would tell him. In some ways, the initial seed for his plan had been planted with that answer. It was a plan that had almost been derailed at the last minute. He'd had to make a few quick changes based upon a discovery he had made at work, one that could have kept him there late if he had let it. Ultimately, he hadn't, which spoke to him of how committed he was to seeing the plan through, even with the slight changes. It was all in Charlene's hands now though. All he could do was execute it, and hope she performed her part to what he envisioned in his heart.
Eric finished laying out the table and took a second to admire his handiwork. The tilapia looked perfect, framed by fresh green beans, and surrounded in a pool of German potato salad. The wine was freshly opened, the light was perfect, and, with a quick press of a nearby remote, so was the music.
"Oh my," said Charlene from behind him. He turned and his mouth dropped open. She looked radiant in a scarlet dress that left little to the imagination, with dark thigh high stockings that barely peeked out from under the hemline. The curves of her figure pressed against the fabric and told him she wasn't wearing anything underneath, a fact that caused his pulse to quicken and stir thoughts of what they could be doing later. She had pulled out her grandmother's heirloom earrings, and was wearing a ruby necklace her father had given her after she had graduated from college. Her makeup had been readjusted, but not too much, as she was natural beauty, and she had touched up the curls in her hair. A tangle of bracelets hung loosely on her wrists and threatened to fall off at any moment, completing the breathtaking ensemble. He smiled. The second part of his plan had succeeded. "This is amazing," she whispered
"The best is yet to come," he said. He pulled the apron off and revealed his attire, a cream colored silk shirt she had bought him for his birthday, along with the dark navy-blue suit he routinely wore when attending seminars. Not nearly as impressive as her choice for eveningwear, but it didn't seem to matter to her. He pulled the matching jacket off the back of the nearest chair and put it on. She made a satisfied sound and stalked the short distance between them to pull him into a deep kiss.
He let her tongue play with his and pressed his body close to hers. After a moment, she pulled away, breathless, but with a mischievous glint in her eye. "We could always skip dinner," she said with a glance toward their bedroom.
"Oh no," he said as he gently unwrapped her arms from around his neck. "I didn't go through all of this trouble just to skip to the end." She pouted at him, but he smiled and pulled at her lower lip. Then, with a giggle, she allowed him to pull the seat out for her. With deft moves, he uncorked the wine, a red cabernet that had been recommended by a colleague, and poured her a glass. Her smile twinkled at him the entire time, and with every passing moment he couldn't help but feel as if going through with his plan had been the right choice. He needed to know.
He poured himself some wine, then sat down. After they said grace, they started into the meal, and Eric took great pleasure in watching Charlene take her first bite of the tilapia and roll her eyes in culinary bliss. The third part of his plan had succeeded. For a moment, they ate in silence, then their normal routine took over the occasion.
"So how was work?" she asked after washing down some tilapia with the wine.
"Well, I did mention we had other reasons to celebrate," he said proudly. "One of them is that I had a breakthrough today, so it looks as if we're going to meet our deadlines after all."
"I didn't know you had any deadlines."
"Well, I'm working off grant money, and those paychecks don't keep coming unless you get results. We've got a review coming up next month, but after today it looks as if we won't face any problems having a few more years tacked on to our deal. I'll tell you this though, I don't think the big pharma companies are going to be happy once the research gets published."
"So if it's that big of a breakthrough, why are we doing this?"
"Because tonight is special. Work is work, and will be there in the morning. Besides, the date and the good news aren't the only reasons to celebrate."
"Oh? Do tell."
He winked, and took a sip of his wine. "All in due time. How about you? How was your day?"
"About the same as yours, just without the breakthrough. Had a meeting with some higher ups and got the ra-ra about meeting our deadlines. I'd worry about it, but if things keep going as they are, it shouldn't be a problem. You know those management types, they have some deep-seated need to worry about nothing."
Eric picked up his wineglass, held it high, and said, "Amen," before taking a sip.
When the last of the meal had been washed down with cabernet, Charlene sat back in her chair, glass in hand, and asked, "Is it due time yet?"
Eric mocked thinking about it, then smiled and stood up. He reached into his pocket, took two strides forward, then knelt down in front of Charlene as he pulled his hand out, a diamond ring held between his fingers. "Charlene Winters, you have given me the best three-hundred-fourteen days of my life. Would you do me the honor of turning that into three-thousand-one-hundred-forty-one days or longer?"
Charlene started shaking as her excitement bubbled up to the top. She tossed her glass aside, grabbed the ring, and yelled, "Yes!" as she embraced the man who would become her husband. Then she kissed him with a passion he had never seen her display before. Eric felt as if he were on top of the world. Part four of his plan had succeeded.
When they calmed down, Eric sat in her chair and breathed a sigh of relief. "I'll be honest," he said as Charlene went to pick up her wineglass. It hadn't broken, but there was a nasty stain in the carpet that would have to be dealt with by a cleaning company. "I wasn't entirely sure this was a good idea."
"Just… I've never had something in my life as good as you. It's almost too good to be true. After you got my reason for celebrating today though, I felt better about it. I figure only the perfect woman for me would get the pi reference. Then you dressed perfectly, loved the food, and accepted my proposal. You proved I wasn't making a mistake."
Charlene smiled and sat in his lap. "You're not capable of making mistakes. And of course I got the pi reference. You've turned me into a geek, remember?"
"I don't think I could forget," he said with a laugh. "You know almost as much about Doctor Who as I do. And that's saying something!" He hugged her, then added, "I was so nervous I ended up talking to your sister about everything and asked if it was a good idea. She gave me a scare too, said she'd think about it and get back to me, then sent me a text about an hour before you got home telling me I was good to go. Though I think the autocorrect got her because it actually said, 'He's good to go.'"
Charlene raised her eyebrow and said, "She really said that?"
"Yeah, here." Eric reached into the inner pocket of his coat, pulled out his phone, and turned it on before he handed it to her. "Check it out."
She stared at the screen for a moment, then tapped it a few times before her smile broadened. "That's sis for you, always making people sweat it out." She handed the phone back to Eric, then stood up, grabbed their wineglasses, and went to pour them some more. When she reached across the table to get the bottle, her necklace dipped into his glass, getting a little bit of wine on it. "Damnit," she said as she set the bottle down and grabbed a napkin to clean it. When she finished, she filled their glasses and held Eric's out for him.
He stood up and accepted it, then held the glass in front of him and said, "To us. May today be the first day of the rest of our lives." Charlene smiled at him, and they clinked their glasses together before downing a generous amount of the wine. He smacked his lips in satisfaction, then said, "I don't want to wait too long before we have the wedding. Maybe six months? That should give us plenty of time to notify people and find…" He paused and coughed before continuing. "… and find a place to have it at. No ch…" Another cough. A red flush crept up his face, and he pulled at his collar. "No church…" he started to say before he gagged and started clawing at his throat.
Charlene stared at him as he struggled. The joy that had been in her eyes a few moments ago was gone, replaced with a clinical look, as if his fight to breathe was to be studied. "I'm sorry it had to come to this, Eric," she said. "I really am. But I have my orders, and too many jobs, too much money is on the line for your experiments to actually succeed."
Eric fell to the floor, and reached out to her, his eyes pleading for help.
"If it's any consolation, you just helped me meet one of my deadlines."
Eric looked up at her one last time, then coughed, and said in a voice devoid of all emotion, "I'm sorry to hear you say that."
Charlene's eyes opened wide as she backed up slowly and said, "What's going on?"
"What's going on is that I replaced the dose of poison in your necklace with water."
The front door banged open and Charlene whirled to see two men in FBI jackets walk in, their guns trained on her. "Sarah Delafuentes," said the agent on the right, "you are under arrest for the attempted murder of Eric Pollard."
She looked at Eric in confusion as they read her her rights and maneuvered her to put handcuffs on. His eyes were dead as he said, "I told you I had a breakthrough today. Too bad it was that you're a lying bitch. I was hoping you would prove them wrong, that maybe you really did love me. The plan was going so perfectly. Too bad the final part was a failure."