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The First Man You Meet

By:Debbie Macomber

The First Man You Meet
Debbie Macomber

       Chapter One



IT HAD BEEN one of those days.

One of those hellish, nightmarish days in which nothing had gone right.   Nothing. Shelly Hansen told herself she should have seen the writing on   the wall that morning when she tripped over the laces of her high-top   purple tennis shoes as she hurried from the parking lot to her dinky   office. She'd torn a hole in the knee of her brand-new balloon pants and   limped ingloriously into her building. The day had gone steadily   downhill from there.

By the time she returned to her apartment that evening she was in a   black mood. All she needed to make her day complete was to have her   mother pop in unannounced with a man in tow, convinced she'd found the   perfect mate for Shelly.

That was exactly the kind of thing Shelly had come to expect from her   dear, sweet desperate mother. Shelly was twenty-eight now and single,   and her mother tended to view her unmarried status as something to be   remedied.

Never mind that Shelly felt content with her life just the way it was.   Never mind that she wasn't interested in marriage and children … at least   not yet. That time would come, she was sure, not now, but someday   soon-or rather, some year soon.

For the moment, Shelly was absorbed in her career. She was proud of her   work as a video producer, although she continually suffered the   cash-flow problems of the self-employed. Her relaxation   videos-seascapes, mountain scenes, a flickering fire in a brick   fireplace, all with a background of classical music-were selling well.   Her cat-baby-sitting video had recently caught the attention of a major   distributor, and she couldn't help believing she was on the brink of   being discovered.

That was the good news.

Her mother hounding her to marry was the bad.

Tossing her woven Mexican bag and striped blue jacket onto the sofa,   Shelly ventured into the kitchen and sorted through the packages in her   freezer until she found something to strike her fancy for dinner. The   frozen entrée was in the microwave when the doorbell chimed.

Her mother. The way her day was going, it had to be her mother. Groaning   inwardly, she decided she'd be polite but insistent. Friendly but   determined, and if her mother began talking about husbands, Shelly would   simply change the subject.

But it wasn't Faith Hansen who stood outside her door. It was Elvira   Livingston, the building manager, a warm, delightful but insatiably   curious older woman.

‘‘Good evening, dear,'' Mrs. Livingston greeted her. She wore heavy gold   earrings and a billowing, bright yellow dress, quite typical attire.   She clutched a large box protectively in both hands. ‘‘The postman   dropped this off. He asked if I'd give it to you.''

‘‘For me, Mrs. L.?'' Perhaps this day wasn't a total waste, after all.

Elvira nodded, holding the package as though she wasn't entirely sure   she should surrender it until she got every bit of relevant data. ‘‘The   return address is California. Know anyone by the name of Millicent   Bannister?''

‘‘Aunt Milly?'' Shelly hadn't heard from her mother's aunt in years.

‘‘The package is insured,'' Mrs. Livingston noted, shifting the box just enough to examine the label again.

Shelly held out her hands to receive the package, but her landlady apparently didn't notice.

‘‘I had to sign for it.'' This, too, seemed to be of great importance. ‘‘And there's a letter attached,'' Mrs. Livingston added.

Shelly had the impression that the only way she'd ever get her hands on the parcel was to let Mrs. Livingston open it first.

‘‘I certainly appreciate all the trouble you've gone to,'' Shelly said,   gripping the sides of the box and giving a firm tug. Mrs. Livingston   released the package reluctantly. ‘‘Uh, thanks, Mrs. L. I'll talk to you   soon.''

The older woman's face fell with disappointment as Shelly began to close   the door. Obviously, she was hoping for an invitation to stay. But   after such a frustrating day, Shelly wasn't in the mood for company,   especially not the meddlesome, if well-meaning, Elvira Livingston.

Shelly sighed. This was what she got for renting an apartment with   ‘‘character.'' She could be living in a modern town house with a sauna,   pool and workout room in an upper-class yuppie neighborhood. Instead   she'd opted for a brick two story apartment building in the heart of   Seattle. The radiators hissed at all hours of the night in perfect   harmony with the plumbing that groaned and creaked. But Shelly loved the   polished hardwood floors, the high ceilings with their delicate  crystal  light fixtures and the bay windows that overlooked Puget Sound.  She  could live without the sauna and the other amenities, even if it  meant  occasionally dealing with an eccentric busybody like Mrs.  Livingston.                       
       
           



       

Eagerly she carried the package into the kitchen and set it on her   table. Although she wondered what Aunt Milly had sent her, she carefully   peeled the letter free, then just as carefully removed the plain brown   wrapper.

The box was an old one, she noted, the cardboard heavier than that   currently used by stores. Shelly gently pried off the lid and set it   aside. She found thick layers of tissue paper wrapped around … a dress.   Shelly pushed aside the paper and painstakingly lifted the garment from   its box. She gasped in surprise as the long white dress gracefully   unfolded.

This wasn't just any dress. It was a wedding dress, an exquisitely sewn lace-and-satin wedding dress.

Surely it couldn't have been Aunt Milly's wedding dress …  No, that couldn't be …  It wasn't possible.

Anxious now, her heart racing, Shelly carefully refolded the dress and   placed it back in the box. She reached for the letter and discovered   that her hands were trembling as she tore open the envelope.

My Dearest Shelly,

I trust this letter finds you happy and well. You've frequently been in   my thoughts the past few days. I suppose you could blame Mr. Donahue  for  that. Though now that I think about it, it may have been Oprah. As   you'll have gathered, I often watch those talk shows these days. John   would have disapproved, but he's been gone eight years now. Of course,   if I wanted to, I'd watch them if he were still alive. John could   disapprove all he wanted, but it wouldn't do him a damn bit of good.   Never did. He knew it and loved me, anyway.

I imagine you're wondering why I'm mailing you my wedding dress. (Yes,   that is indeed my infamous wedding dress.) I suspect the sight of it has   put the fear of God in you. I wish I could be there to see your face   when you realized what I was sending you. No doubt you're familiar with   its story; everyone in the family's known about it for years. Since   you're fated to marry the first man you meet once the dress is in your   hands, your first instinct is probably to burn the thing!

Now that I reconsider, I'm almost certain it was Donahue. He had a show   recently featuring pets as companions to the elderly, lifting their   spirits and the like. The man being interviewed brought along a cute   little Scottish terrier pup and that was when the old seamstress drifted   into my mind. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew   the six o'clock news was on.

While I slept I had a dream about you. This was no ordinary dream,   either. I saw you plain as day, standing beside a tall young man, your   blue eyes bright and shining. You were so happy, so truly in love. But   what amazed me was the wedding dress you were wearing.

Mine.

The very dress the old Scottish woman sewed for me all those years ago.   It seemed to me I was receiving a message of some sort and that I'd  best  not ignore it. Neither had you! You're about to embark on the  grandest  adventure of your life, my dear. Keep me informed!

Believe me, Shelly, I know what you're thinking. I well remember my own   thoughts the day that Scottish seamstress handed me the wedding dress.   Marriage was the last thing on my mind! I had a career, back in the  days  when it was rare for a woman to attend college, let alone graduate  from  law school.

You and I are a great deal alike, Shelly. We value our independence. It   takes a special kind of man to be married to women like us. And you, my   dear niece, are about to meet that one special man just the way I did.

All my love,

Aunt Milly

P.S. You're only the second person to wear this dress, my dear. Never   before have I felt like this. Perhaps it's the beginning of a tradition!

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