The Stranger's GiftBy: Helen Bea Kirk
A Novelette by
Ten years after Jack Sheldon began his flooring business thirty-five years ago, his younger brother Mike was in the army fighting for our freedom. The Sheldon men are not known for their mild-mannered style or sensitivity. Those traits, coupled with their physical size made for an imposing hulk of a man, well suited for battle. Without a specific direction in mind, Mike became a career military man; never marrying but never missing an opportunity with a willing woman either.
Retiring from the Army at the age of thirty-eight, Mike was at a loss as to what to do with his time, at first. He moped around his apartment in Florida for several months and spent hours on the beach doing nothing. Feeble attempts at writing a book produced nothing but irritation which caused him to work out his frustration in a gym, pushing iron. That had always been Mike’s go-to cure all—a ball-buster weight workout.
He was at the gym giving one hundred and ten percent effort to his extreme workout when a woman strolled over to him. She began asking him questions about his routine and admiring his muscles. Andrea Bell was a talent scout tasked with finding the right person for a fitness equipment commercial. The moment she laid eyes on Mike Sheldon she knew he would be perfect for the role and she convinced him.
In a matter of weeks, Mike was on an afternoon television ad for the ‘Proplexus One Thousand.’ It was billed as the only workout machine you’ll ever need to get the job done. The pay was a nice surprise and allowed him to buy the top of the line, loaded Ford truck he had always admired. Fame was fleeting, and he was itching to do something … anything.
His parents called him several times a month to say hi and ask too many questions. The last couple of years, he hadn’t been avoiding them like he used to. The last conversation he had with them was still niggling at his brain. They mentioned Jack was looking for help at his flooring company and that Mike’s name came up as a possibility.
Having spent his entire youth being called “Jack’s little brother,” it was great to be his own man in the Army. No Jack to be compared to.
“Jack got married; when are you going to marry?” Dad had asked. There was never a shortage of questions about measuring up. “Jack started a company. Mike, when are you going to settle down in one spot?” With the birth of each of Jack’s children would come the “legacy” questions. “So, Mike, don’t you want kids, so you can leave your mark? A man has got to have a kid.”
It got old.
Mike knew the day would come. The day he would have to choose his path; stay Jack’s little brother or man up to see himself as Jack’s equal and help him out with his business. There were definite perks to the idea of going back to Texas and being near his parents. Nothing could compare to a Texas woman in Mike’s imagination because one of them took a chunk of his heart in high school, then married a football buddy of his. His broken heart had been the added incentive which drove him to enlist. The Army could thank a skinny, flirtatious, seventeen-year-old redhead for Mike’s service.
Being in Texas meant he could live at his parent’s house and save thousands of dollars in rent. Knowing his mom and dad wanted him at Jack’s company made moving in with them a sure bet.
The call came.
Jack’s voice was older, more mature and wiser sounding which caught Mike off guard. What happened to the cocky, demeaning guy who never let you get a word in? This Jack was technically a stranger, and Mike was okay with working for a stranger, especially with what Jack offered him.
The deal was, Jack wanted to retire and spend more time with his wife and grandchild. Not wanting to choose between his grown children for the position of CEO, he went to Mike. “My three boys are each very good at what they do in the company and I don’t want to upset the apple cart. Mike, if you’ll come in and learn from each of them, it would be great. Then you and I will meet periodically for discussions, I believe you’ll do fine as CEO of Sheldon’s Flooring.”
The job description sounded fine to Mike. His comfort at trying this new direction was due in large part to the fact that he could survive just fine without a Sheldon Flooring paycheck. Worst case scenario; in the event Jack pissed him off, he could quit and be fine.