Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Cousin Escapades--The Most Amazing Evening--Chapter 1

 This is the first chapter of a continued story about two cousins, Janet and Ellie, who live in Oregon. The Most Amazing Evening is one of a series of stories called Cousin Escapades.

I'll be posting new installments every Tuesday. There will be four chapters in all.

This is a story, a work of fiction and imagination. If any of it ever happened in real life, that is not for you to know or figure out.


The Most Amazing Evening--Chapter 1 

The night before the Gospel Tidings fundraiser banquet, 14-year-old Ellie lay stretched out in bed, the patchwork comforter pulled up to her chest. In the dark bedroom, the screen on her flip-phone cast a vague blue light.

She texted her cousin Janet. “What are you wearing tomorrow?”

“Black n white.”

“No seriously.”

“Ok, remember that black velvet dress I wore for Christmas last year? And my white leather belt. I’m dressin’ UP. You?”

Ellie tapped: “Mom is making me a black dress and I’ll wear my white Old Navy sweater with it. Wish I could wear a skirt and top but Dad would have a F.I.T.  I TOLD him that’s what Nancy said to wear but he was like you wanna serve or not?”

“You’ll look great.”

Ellie grinned. “Do you know what Beth and Bev are wearing?”

“Bethany said the dresses they wore to serve at Alice’s wedding. Remember?”

Ellie remembered—long black dresses with tiny pleats all over that made the skirts sweep and glide in a most fascinating way. She countered the stab of jealousy with a quick reminder that the twins were a bit plump, which Ellie was not, and they always wanted to lose weight. Plus they were awfully nice. They deserved to have the prettiest dresses at the prison-ministry banquet.

Ellie raised her head, then scooped up her long red hair and let it drape off the side of the bed. Should she ask the most important question? Yes. “Hey is your cousin Bryant gonna be there?”

“Who wants to know?”

“Guess.” Ellie giggled.

“LOL actually yeah.”



YESSSSSSS! Ellie pumped the phone up and down twice before it beeped softly.

“I’ll do what I can!” Janet wrote. “I said I have a friend that it’s her first time so she wants to serve with somebody nice and he said ok maybe but it doesn’t MEAN anything, ok?”

Ellie had about twenty-five more questions, but the phone beeped again. “Hey I’m falling asleep.”

She’d have to wait. “Ok good night.” She laid the phone on the nightstand and thought about Bryant. He was Janet’s cousin on her dad’s side and so, conveniently, was no relation to Ellie whose mom was a sister to Janet’s mom. Bryant went to Pine Grove Mennonite, so Ellie saw him only now and then at family events, such as when Janet’s oldest brother got married. Bryant had curly dark-blonde hair and deep blue eyes. How convenient that he was related to Janet but not to her.

Across the wall, she heard the intermittent humming of the sewing machine and the hiss of the iron. She had made it clear to Mom exactly what she wanted, hadn’t she? The black Liverpool with tone-on-tone embossed roses she had seen on the end of the rack at Martin’s Variety last week when she stopped in with Janet and Aunt Leah. She pictured the dress: ankle length, fitted bodice with a cape that lay smooth and flat at the edges, flared A-line skirt, like all her dresses of the past year or two.

 Mom had said she’d pick up the fabric in the afternoon and sew it in the evening if Ellie set the table, made the salad, and cleaned the kitchen after dinner. “Deal,” Ellie had said. It wasn’t that hard, and Dad and Sam had helped clean up. She had seen a glimpse of the black fabric in the white shopping bag beside Mom’s purse on the counter before Mom whisked it away to the sewing room. “I’ll make it exactly like last time,” she’d said, “so you don’t even need to do a fitting.” The sewing room door had shut with a thud that always conveyed the same message to her family: “Don’t bother me unless there’s smoke or blood.”

Ok. Black dress. What else? White cardigan, buttoned all the way, so it would look like the black skirt and white blouse Nancy had asked them to wear. Scarf? Ellie couldn’t decide. Maybe the green and gold one, since it was fall. She’d have to wash her hair in the afternoon and set it with a bit of gel and bobby pins to make it wavy. Then she’d do a low “messy bun” if she could sneak it past Dad. But it had to be high enough to fit her covering over it. So complicated.

Shoes. Some of the girls were wearing Keds with dresses these days and Ellie loved the look, but would that be dressy enough? Her black boots? No--they would click like crazy on the gym floor, and the heels were too high to risk. What if she twisted her ankle and dumped coffee on someone’s lap? In front of Bryant? Horrors. She’d have to go with her black pumps.

Ellie fell asleep before she decided whether to wear the watch with the black leather strap or the one with a stretchy band. In her dreams, Bryant was at the banquet, but he was serving with Kaylene Mullet. They were laughing and talking. Ellie trailed behind them, calling Bryant’s name. All the guests stared at her, but Bryant never noticed.

She woke the next morning to a soft knock and the door slowly opening. “Ellie? I got your dress done for the banquet.” Her mother entered, hung the dress in the closet, and slipped back out.

Ellie sat up and brushed the tangled hair out of her face. Oh, thank God. It was only a dream. The banquet hadn’t happened yet. Bryant wasn’t serving with Kaylene, at least not yet. And she had a new dress for her first time serving. She approached the closet, pulled aside a mustard-yellow dress to the left and a brown sweatshirt to the right to reveal the new dress.

Ellie gasped.

This had to be a terrible mistake. How could Mom have misunderstood so badly? True, the dress was a Liverpool knit, long, and without any gathers at the waist, just as Ellie had specified. And it was black. But it had puffy inch-long white roses printed all over it.

Ellie sat on the edge of the bed, grabbed her phone off the night stand, and texted Janet. “Can you talk?”

Thirty seconds later, the phone buzzed in her hand.

“Ellie! What’s up? Are you ok?”

“No. I’m not ok. Janet, you won’t believe what my mom did. She made me a dress for tonight and totally blew it. I’m going to have to borrow an outfit from you or something.” Ellie wiped a tear as she stated the terrible truth.

“What happened?”

“You know I wanted to look like I was wearing a skirt and top because that’s what we were told to wear? Well, and also so I wouldn’t look so conservative? Well, Mom was supposed to sew me a black dress and I was going to wear a white sweater with it but it’s not!”

“What isn’t what?”

“The dress isn’t really black!”

“Really? What color is it?”

Ellie sniffed. “It’s not the color. I mean, it’s black, but it has white flowers on it! Roses! All over! It looks like something Frieda Yoder would wear to communion. I told Mom which fabric to get, but she must have totally not understood me. If you don’t have a dress I can borrow, I’ll have to stay home.”

“Oh Ellie! Are you sure it’s that bad?”

“Janet. You can see those flowers from a mile away.”

“Did you tell your mom?”

“No. She’s going to feel so bad if I do. I think she just got mixed up. I mean, I told her we’re supposed to wear black and white, and I told her to get the black Liverpool with the embossed roses on the end of the rack of knits at Martin’s Variety, meaning black on black of course.” Ellie scratched at a white rose as though it might peel off and save the day. “But they must have got this new fabric in and put it at the end. I don’t remember ever seeing this before. They haven’t gotten new fabric in forever and then they get this.”

“Can you send me a picture? Honestly, I’ll bet it’ll be ok. Nancy won’t mind, I’m positive. And I spent twenty minutes yesterday talking Bryant into serving instead of going to a basketball game.”

Ellie sat up straight on the bed. “Ok. I’ll send you a picture. See what you think.”

She spread the dress on the unmade bed, shot two pictures with her flip phone, and texted them to Janet, a tiny bit of hope entering her soul.

Janet called back. “I think it’ll be ok. I don’t have any black dresses you can borrow, and I really want you there.” She giggled. “I was texting Bryant this morning.”

With one hand, Ellie hung the dress back in the closet.  “Did you tell Bryant you’re trying to get him to serve with me? If you did, I’m going to just die.”

“No, don’t worry!” Janet laughed. “But I told him to make sure he’s fifth in line. Fifth. Got it?”

“Got it!”

Ellie tossed the phone onto the bed and did a happy little dance around her room. She whirled to the closet and pulled out the dress. It draped smoothly from the hanger, and the puffy white roses caught the light. “Maybe it’s not that terrible, really. I mean, with my white sweater and everything.”

In the bathroom, she washed her face and pulled her hair into a ponytail. Then she headed to the kitchen and put two slices of bread in the toaster as Mom came in the back door. “Thanks for sewing my new dress, Mom.” Just saying the words helped to settle her turbulent insides. “I hope you didn’t have to stay up too late.”

“You’re welcome, Ellie. I’m glad you like the dress. And I was in bed by 11:30.” Mom pulled five fresh eggs out of her coat pockets, put them in the refrigerator, and turned to Ellie. “Are you feeling ok? You look a bit flushed.” She laid her hand on Ellie’s forehead.

“Mom, I’m fine.” Ellie backed away and opened the silverware drawer.

“Hmmm. Well, let me know if you feel feverish. You shouldn’t serve food tonight if you have a virus.”

Ellie laughed. “You just want to play nurse.” She’d been told that Mom had taken a four-week nurse’s aide course way back before she was married.  It had left such an impression that, Dad often said, she was hunting for people to diagnose, bandage, or cure ever since.

Mom laughed too. “You’re probably right.” She unzipped her coat, hung it on a peg by the back door, and returned to the kitchen. “Back to that dress--I wasn’t quite sure what you meant by embossed flowers—it must be a new thing—but then the fabric was right there where you said, and it had those raised roses, so it all worked out.” She poured coffee in a mug while Ellie slowly chewed her toast. “We need to talk about who’s going when tonight. I think the servers need to be there by 5:15, so Sam’s taking you. Then Dad and I are coming later. The dinner starts at 6:00. I’d like to send my pies with you two, so please don’t forget them. There’s a little bit of coffee left in the pot if you want it.”

“All right. Thanks.”

“I’m going to clean up the sewing room. Now remember, let me know if you don’t feel well.”

Was Mom ever going to leave? To Ellie’s relief, Mom walked out of the kitchen and down the hall, carrying her coffee mug. The sewing room door shut with a gentle click.

Ellie sipped her own mug of coffee and reviewed the mental list of everything she needed to do before 4:30. This was going to be the most amazing evening of her life. Oh my word, was it ever, even with those white roses on her dress. Surely no other outcome was even possible.

Ellie shivered with expectation, rinsed her coffee cup, and marched to her bedroom.


  1. Joy Eversole10/06/2020 3:21 PM

    Great story, so like girls planning clothes for a special event.

  2. Weighing this against my own growing up. Verdict is still out (how true to life, whether it will make a good read overall), but definitely eager to read the next chapter. Admire your courage in venturing into a new-for-you genre.

  3. Good stuff! :) Feels pretty real to life to me! :)