I didn’t realize that it had more than 20 days since my last chapter. But time flies when life gets crazy. Anyway, hope this long chapter makes up for my absence. And as always, have a great day or night depending on when you are reading this.
Brandon has never been one for attention. Brandon has always been content at being in the background out of everyone’s notice. But after the accident, he was marked as a hero. Everyone in town heard about what he did. It seemed like the entire Free World knew how he, and six others, risked their own lives by running into the burning bunker to save their fellow soldiers. That even as the ammo was exploding, they were trying to save people.
Brandon, and everyone else involved, became instant celebrities. The Twinbrook Times newspaper dubbed them The Heroic Seven, and that title followed Brandon everywhere he went. That newspaper article led to an interview with the national newspaper. Then came the TV appearances. It wasn’t long before the whole country knew who Branson was. His anonymity was over.
Brandon didn’t risk his life to save others for the glory. And he certainly didn’t seek out the fame. All of this newly gained attention was a bit overwhelming. Everywhere he went he was spotted. The movie theater let him in for free. The restaurant where he took Stella on a date not only comp’ed his meal, but also set the table with so many flowers it was almost impossible to eat. Yet even with all of the hype, to Stella he was still shy, humble, amazing Brandon.
It goes without saying that Brandon was also being honored at work. He wasn’t yet up to full strength, so he was given a job at a desk, which also came with a promotion.
“Aye, aye Captain Crowe!” Stella playfully teased.
“There’s more,” Brandon turned red from embarrassment, “They are giving us all kinds of medals, and awards. Even the mayor is giving us the key to the city, whatever that means.”
The happy couple talked in the kitchen as Brandon tried to show Stella how to cook. Stella had it in her head that she wanted to learn how to cook for Brandon. She knew that he used cooking as a sign of his love, and she wanted to do the same for him. However, it was hard to concentrate when he had his arms around her.
“The Base is planning a huge banquet in our honor.” Brandon continued as he showed Stella how to carefully chop carrots. “They want to know how many people I plan on bringing. Of course April, May, and June will be invited. But do you think that your parents will be able to come as well?”
“They would be honored to attend,” Stella knew her parents wouldn’t miss it for the world. Cindy and Ryan loved Brandon like a son.
Cindy and Ryan arrived a few days before the big celebration. Which provided the prefect distraction, because as the big day got closer the more nervous Brandon got. Ryan took Brandon fishing to help him try to relax. While the men bonded with nature, Cindy took Stella dress shopping for a gown to wear at the banquet. Amy, the owner of the boutique, insisted that Stella not pay for the dress.
“Anything for the wife of one of the Heroic Seven.” she insisted as she gave Stella another dress to try on.
“Oh, we aren’t married.” Stella corrected.
“This dress has to be perfect,” Cindy had Stella try on almost every dress that the shop had. “Your earrings and necklace must match perfectly. And we need to find the perfect bag.”
Stella noticed that her mom was putting a strange amount of emphasis on the fact that everything had to be prefect. Plus, she also noticed Cindy bite her bottom lip, and wouldn’t stop looking at the floor when Amy confused Stella to be Brandon’s wife.
“That’s weird,” thought Stella, “what would Mom have to be nervous about?”
But she didn’t have time to fret over it. After all, she still needed to get shoes and figure out what to do with her hair.
It was the night of the banquet and Brandon was a nervous wreck. Stella knew that Brandon didn’t like all of this attention, but she couldn’t help but feel like there was more to it than that. There had to be something else that she was missing.
Stella thought about how strange Cindy acted while they were out dress shopping. And just this morning Stella walked into the kitchen to see Brandon, Cindy, and Ryan all whispering between themselves. The second that they saw Stella they all got suddenly quiet. Brandon had a deer in headlights look, Ryan picked up the paper and pretended to read it, while Cindy looked at the floor and bit her lip again.
Now, the car ride to the banquet hall was spent in complete silence. No one said a word. Even the radio was turned off (and Brandon very rarely ever drives with the car radio off). Stella was convinced that there had to be something strange going on. She just didn’t have a clue to what it could be.
Brandon and Stella found their seats at the head of the table while Cindy and Ryan found their seats with April, May and June. The food was exquisite! The first course was crab bisque, then a fruit and walnut salad. The entrée was your choice of either chicken or steak. To finish off the meal there was a desert bar that seemed to stretch for miles.
In between courses various people gave speeches. General Moore talked about how proud he was of every solder involved. Mayor Livingston spoke about what it means to be selfless. Even Drill Sergeant Harper made a speech about discipline and what it truly means to be a soldier. Brandon was offered a chance to speak, but he politely declined. Instead, Major Bryan spoke on behalf of the Heroic Seven.
It was a magical, memorable evening. For the whole night random people kept coming up to Brandon and thanking him for his service. The best one was when a little girl, probably no more than seven or eight years old, thanked Brandon for saving her father’s life. That one brought Stella to tears. It’s a good thing that Cindy had suggested waterproof mascara.
After a while Brandon pulled Stella aside and asked, “Would you mind if we head home early?”
“Of course,” Stella could tell by his face that Brandon was anxious. Several times during the evening Stella had squeezed Brandon’s hand to reassure him that everything is okay. Every time Brandon looked like the nerves were getting to be too much Stella gave him a smile and a supportive hand squeeze under the table.
“Let me just get my family and we could go”
Stella started to make her way over to where her aunts and her parent were talking together. Before she could take a single step, Brandon stopped her. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll do it!”
Stella was shocked and baffled as Brandon ran past her towards her family. They all looked over at her, all at the same time.
“Your parents want to visit with your aunts some more,” Brandon informed Stella. “So they will get a ride home with them.”
For the second time tonight Stella had a strange feeling. She debated if she should talk to Brandon or not. Stella wanted to ask Brandon why he was being so weird. And why were her parents and aunts were all looking at her? And for that matter, why did everyone at the banquet look at her funny?
Stella resolved to finally ask Brandon what was going on when she noticed that this was not the way home. Instead she asked, “where are we going?”
“I just have to make a quick stop before we head home.” Brandon replied not taking his eyes off the road.
Brandon pulled off of the main road and onto a dirt road a few miles ago, so Stella knew that they weren’t in the city. It also meant that they weren’t anywhere near where they lived. Brandon parked the car off to, what seemed like, a random side of the dirt road and announced, “we’re here.” She tried to gather her bearings as she got out of the car, but it was darker than usual outside.
Stella had no idea where they were or what was going on. Once again Stella got the suspicion that something strange was afoot. It was unlike Brandon to randomly drive to a random spot in the middle of nowhere. And now he is walking away, going in to the dark woods.
“Follow me,” Brandon said as soon as he got out of the car.
Stella tried to follow Brandon as he walked, but he was walking too fast and in 2 inch high heels it was hard for Stella to keep up. Brandon had turned a corner behind a giant bush and for a split second she lost sight of him. When Stella followed him around the corner she was surprised at what was waiting for her.
Stella couldn’t believe her eyes. She was speechless, but luckily Brandon knew exactly what he wanted to say.
“I know how much you love the outdoors, and I wanted this moment to be special.” Brandon had a giant smile across his face as he spoke.
Brandon took Stella by the hands and continued. “You say that I saved your life, but in actuality, it is you who saved me. You saved me when you found me on the park bench. You gave me the courage to find a job; a job that I love. And during all the chaos of the accident, it was you who kept me calm. Everything I did, I did for you. I wanted to be the strong, brave, fearless man that you deserve. Stella, you have made me a better person. And if you let me I will spend the rest of my life showing you how much you mean to me.”
With that Brandon let go of Stella’s hands. He fumbled with something in his jacket pocket as he got down on one knee.
“Stella Renee Charming, will you marry me?”
“Yes!” Stella jumped up and down and exclaimed loud enough for all of Twinbrook to hear! “Yes, I will marry you!!”
Stella kept looking at Brandon, then at the ring, then back at her fiancé.
“That ring belonged to your grandmother.” Brandon remarked. “I called your parents a few weeks ago and they helped me set this whole thing up. Your father gave me the ring that belong to his mother for me to give to you.“
“Is that why everyone have been acting so weird?” Stella was finally able to put all of the puzzle pieces together. “Is that why Mom kept biting her lip, and why you all would go quiet every time I entered the room?“
Between the stress of the newfound fame and the pressure of creating the perfect engagement, Brandon had been feeling tense and closed off. Now that Stella is officially his fiancée Brandon can start to relax.
“Yeah,” Brandon chuckled, “your mom was so nervous she would give something away.”
“She almost did; at the dress shop. I wondered why she was putting so much emphasis on how everything needed to be perfect. And here I was thinking that you were nervous about the banquet.”
“Oh, I was still nervous about the banquet. But I’m glad that the banquet happened when it did, because it was the prefect excuse to have your parents visit without you getting suspicious.“
Stella wished that she could stay with Brandon in this moment forever. For, at this moment she realized that everything in the world was perfect.