This story was inspired by two different sources: Sammy Kershaw's amazing song (if you haven't heard it yet, do yourself a favor and listen to it) and Angela Lansbury herself. She said in a recent interview that she was never "a great screen beauty," meaning that she was never what Hollywood considered beautiful. Angela's a beautiful woman, but she doesn't know it, and that is the heart of this story as Seth sets out to prove to Jessica how beautiful she is.
"Sweet Judas, woman, what's keeping you? You don't want to be late for your own party!"
"Oh, Seth, relax! We have plenty of time – half an hour's worth, as I reminded you not five minutes ago. Honestly, what is it about having to wear a tuxedo that brings out the grouch in you?"
"A monkey suit belongs on a monkey, Jess. And speaking of which, is Mort meeting us there? I can't wait to see what kind of suit Adele forced him into this time."
"Knowing Mort, he's probably already there, keeping pranksters from spiking the punch, and Adele is keeping him from attacking the buffet."
"I keep telling him if he eats any more crab dip, he's going to turn into a crab."
"You ought to know a lot about crabs, Seth. You're certainly acting like one."
"I'm a crabby old New Englander, Jess. It's not my fault if you're always walking on sunshine."
"Ha ha! I think you've been listening to the soft rock station a little too much."
"Well, it's true! You make it near impossible for anyone to be a grouch around you."
"Then I must be doing my work well. Here I come!"
A door unlatched and opened upstairs, stopping Seth Hazlitt in the middle of what must have been his thousandth pace at the foot of the stairs in Jessica Fletcher's house. He'd stopped by to pick her up, as they were both going to a party that evening – a party in her honor, no less, to celebrate her contributions to Cabot Cove as both a longtime resident and a bestselling author. As well-loved as Jessica was, the whole town was all for throwing her the best shindig possible, but Jessica herself, in her typical aw-shucks manner, had downplayed her image, insisting that although she was flattered, she really didn't deserve a grand ball. In the end, however, she hadn't been able to refuse, finally acquiescing to a formal party.
Seth had been delighted when she'd asked him to be her "date" for the evening, but less than thrilled at the prospect of wearing anything remotely resembling a tuxedo. Oh yes, he'd griped the usual epithets of "penguin suit," "zoot suit," and, most recently, "monkey suit" under his breath and aloud, but deep down, he knew it would be worth it just to have the pleasure of Jessica's company at the ritzy affair. To have dinner with her, laugh with her, dance with her, look into those gorgeous blue eyes... my soul and body, man, pull yourself together! This is your best friend you're thinking about. Your friend, Seth, your friend!
But he soon found himself second-guessing that statement when Jessica descended the stairs. She'd eschewed her usual pantsuits and donned a long-sleeved, long-skirted red gown that shimmered as she moved and plunged in a deep V in the front, revealing more of her than he was used to seeing. My Lord, she looks wonderful, he thought, praying that she wouldn't notice the red flush creeping up his neck and into his cheeks... but he should have known that nothing went unnoticed by a mystery writer, and certainly not by J.B. Fletcher.
"Seth, are you blushing?" she asked as her red pumps left the bottom stair and she came over to stand before him, her scarlet-rouged lips curving into a smile.
Crap. Caught. "No, I'm not blushing!" he denied, while the heat continued to spread to his ears, his body playing Benedict Arnold on him.
Jessica's blue eyes were sparkling like stars. "Well then, your ears have turned into beets for no apparent reason," she chuckled. "You are blushing, Seth Hazlitt, and don't even bother denying it!"
Well, darned if that didn't make him blush even harder. Jessica must have sensed how awkward he felt, because she said kindly after a moment, "Oh, Seth, I'm sorry if I've made you uncomfortable. Really, there's no reason why you should be."
Uh, no reason? You want to run that by me again, woman? Seth thought, his eyes dipping to the generous décolleté her dress displayed. Out of respect for her, though, he snapped his gaze back up to take in the ruby necklace flashing at her throat, the matching earrings dangling from her earlobes, and the way the fiery red silk of the dress gave her hair an even greater resemblance to gold. Holy crow, his mind kept repeating, stuck on a loop. Holy crow.
"Seth?" Jessica's warm voice yanked him off the good ship Holy Crow and back to Earth. Her writer's curiosity was now glowing in her eyes. "Why are you blushing so?"
Oh Lord, there it was. She'd asked it. Now how the heck was he going to answer her? Well, he was forthright with her on every other occasion; why should now be any different? "You're actually asking why? For Pete's sake, Jess, I'm looking at more of you than I've ever seen. It's a miracle my ears haven't melted clean off my head!"
Jessica looked down at herself and her cheeks flared red. "Oh gracious, I didn't even think..." Blushing to her blonde roots, she folded her arms over her chest. "I'll go change..."
"No, don't," Seth said, reaching out to touch her arm. "Don't change your dress."
"I know, we're going to be late."
"No, it's not that."
"You don't like it, then? Clearly, I've scandalized you."
"Jess!" Seth threw out his hands in a "Stop! In The Name Of Love" gesture to get her attention. "For crying out loud, woman, I don't want you to change your dress! I love it, I really do!"
"Then why are you so stunned?"
"Because you're beautiful, that's why!"
If God Himself had suddenly materialized in the middle of the room, Jessica could not have looked more astonished. Her eyes were as round as silver dollars and her mouth was open in an O of surprise. "What?" The word came out as little more than a breath.
Seth shook his head. "I mean it, Jess. You always look nice, but tonight... Lord, you're just so darn beautiful. Any guy would be poleaxed."
As she always did when embarrassed, Jessica lowered her eyes and smiled at the ground. "Seth... for goodness' sake, all I've done is put on a nice dress and some pretty jewels. I'm not a raving beauty."
"Any man in his right mind would disagree with you on that."
"How could they? I don't see it."
"Read my lips, Jess: You. Are. Beautiful."
Jessica raised her gaze to his once more, and Seth was amazed to see tears pooling in her eyes. "You don't know what this means to me. No man has called me beautiful since Frank died."
"No man, eh? Come on," Seth said, taking her arm and steering her to the door. "We're gonna test that statement at the party. Let's see how many of the fellas in this town are left with their jaws on the floor when you walk through the door."
"Seth, it's just me! No one is going to be staring when I arrive, trust me."
"Oh, yeah? I bet you five dollars they'll be as slack-jawed as a school of codfish."
"You're on," Jessica said with a grin as they marched out the door. "Although I think I know who's already won."
Yeah. Me, Seth thought, stealing another look at her. Between her radiant face and that honey of a dress, there darn sure wasn't going to be a closed mouth in the house tonight.