“He looks unwashed,” Damien murmured. “Must flee. Tra-la!”
My date began making his way over. The Whoop & Holler was a dark and cavernous space, excellent for alcoholics and clandestine hookups. As he got closer, my heart sank. No, no, don’t do that, I told the pesky organ. He’s got…hidden depths? He might, anyway…
“This is gonna be great,” Freddie said in a stage whisper.
“Fred, don’t you dare…” Ah, there was no point. Little brothers were created to mock, torment and steal from their sisters, and Fred was a shining example. Besides, Ron was here.
Damien was right. He wasn’t quite…clean. Not that he was filthy, mind you. But here I was, in a wicked cute dress, a green-and-white pattern with flattering belt and, yes, darling orange suede high-heeled shoes for that pop of color. I’m just saying. And Ron… Ron wore faded and stained blue work pants, matching shirt. “Callie?” he asked, frowning fiercely.
“Yes! Hi, Ron! It’s so nice to meet you!” I chirruped, hoping that this would soon be true. He had an earthy, not exactly unpleasant smell about him. “Have a seat.”
He obeyed. Ron was a large, solid guy in that reassuring manly man way. We’d done the whole tennis volley of e-mails, and he’d actually seemed pretty nice. Friendly. Asked questions, gave answers. Our knees bumped, and I quickly shifted so as to avoid any unintended signals or dirt.
“Sorry, I’m late,” he muttered. “It was my night to milk.”
“Oh! Milk the, um…cows?” No, Callie. The monkeys. I heard the telltale wheeze of my brother’s laughter already, Annie’s little snort. Super. “I mean, you said you were a farmer. I guess a dairy farmer, right?”
“That’s great. I love cows,” I said. It was true. I did. Especially the kind on the side of the Ben & Jerry’s truck.
Ron’s eyes dropped to my chest. Damn! My adorable dress was quite low-cut…not slutty low, but low enough. If one has a great rack, one must use it to distract from food babies and the like. Or so I’d thought before now. Ron looked very…assessing, as if calculating my own potential in the dairy department.
“You don’t happen to supply Ben & Jerry’s, do you?” I asked. It could never hurt to have an in…
“Cabot’s? I love their cheese.”
“So, anyway,” I said, determined to charm. “It’s nice to finally meet face-to-face.”
Ron said nothing.
“Want to order something? A drink? Nachos?” I asked.
He glanced over to Jim, who called out, “What can I get you, pal?”
“Beer,” Ron answered.
“What kind? We have Coors, Coors Light, Bud, Bud Light, Amstel, Amstel Light, Miller, Miller Light…”
“Bud.” Ron looked back at me. Took a deep breath. Let it out. Dropped his eyes to the girls again.
“So, Ron, tell me about yourself,” I said, tipping my head so my shiny hair might distract him from my bosom.
“I’m a farmer,” he said, not looking up.
“Yes! We covered that, I think. Have you been a farmer long?”
This guy made Ian look like Joy Behar in the chat department. The peanut gallery was having fun, anyway. I reminded myself to remember this at Christmas and not buy them so many presents.
“That’s great.” Tick. Tick. Tick. “And…uh, you said you were divorced?”
Nothing more. The Betty Boop in my head rubbed her hands together. He’s a challenge, that’s all. We are not going to admit defeat here. He will like us. We are adorable, let’s not forget!
I glanced around. Above the bar, the Sox were on. Poifect. Man-talk. I could fake baseball chatter with the best of them.
“Ron, do you watch sports?” I asked. He was still staring at my chest. I did wear this dress, so I couldn’t exactly be irritated. “Ron? Up here, pal.” I snapped my fingers. Ah. Finally. Eye contact. I smiled to show I understood. “Do you like baseball? How ’bout them Sox, huh? Second place. That’s not bad. Those damn Yankees, right?” I smiled ruefully. I often checked the sports page for just this sort of chatty tidbit. He still said nothing. Maybe he was diabetic or something, having a blood sugar crash. I often felt the same way when I went too long without cake batter. “Ron? Do you like baseball?”
“Nope,” he said. His eyes dropped back to my chest.
“Everything okay, Ron? You feeling all right?” I asked.
Freddie wheezed behind me. Could I smack him from this angle? Alas, no.
Well, clearly Ron wasn’t going to stop looking at my chest unless I made him, so I picked up the little napkin that had come with my drink, unfolded it and held it in front of the girls. “Ron? What’s the deal?” I asked. “You were very nice in your e-mails…can we please have a conversation here?”
He shrugged. “Well…the e-mails…” His voice trailed off.
“What?” I asked.
He scratched his head vigorously. “My aunt wrote them.”
Behind me, Annie and my brother sputtered and choked. “I see. Well. Tell your aunt she seems very nice. Maybe she’d like to go out with me, hmm?”
Nothing. No reaction.
“I think we’re probably done here, Ron,” I said gently.
“Great,” he answered. “Want to go back to my place and watch porn?”
Holy Lord in heaven! “I…I…I’m gonna have to pass on that one, Ron,” I finally managed. “You take care.”
Thirty seconds later, when Ron was a memory (though the smell of manure still hung in the air), Fred and Annie staggered to my booth and collapsed across from me. “I hope you’re gonna marry him.” My brother sighed.
“You really should let me screen them,” Annie said, wiping her eyes.
“You picked the human hair guy!” I reminded her.
“At least he was clean,” she said.
“Ish,” I corrected. I sighed. “Fred, buy your best girls drinks, what do you say?”
“Sure, Calorie,” he said amiably. “Jim! Another one of those candy-ass drinks for my sister, okay? Annie, what do you want?”
“I have to go,” she said regretfully. “Tonight’s Family Fun Night. We’re playing mini golf.”
“Rub it in, O happily married woman and mother of perfect child,” I said. She smiled modestly. “I don’t get it, guys,” I continued. “I’d want to date me. Why is it so hard for me? I’m wicked fun, I dress nicely, I’m friendly… I’d love to date me. Wouldn’t you?”
“The whole incest-sister thing aside?” Fred asked. I nodded. “Sure,” he said.
“I’d date you,” Annie agreed. “If I was gay, I would. Definitely.”
“Thank you,” I said. She smiled and gave me a quick hug, then went off to Perfectville.
Freddie and I ordered nachos and talked about work as we ate—my work, his lack thereof, and what he might do with his life. “You could always be a lawyer,” I suggested. “You do love the sound of your own voice.”
“True, true. Not that the universe needs another lawyer,” he said. “Hey, completely meaning to change the subject, I guess the next stop on the Tour of Whores is coming.”
“So much fun,” I murmured. “Poor Dad. All this for nothing.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think they’ll make it,” Fred said, draining his beer.
“Who?” I asked. “Mom and Dad? Really?”
“Yeah. They’re gonna make it. I could be wrong, of course. There’s always a first time.”
I rolled my eyes. “You and that little ego of yours,” I murmured. My voice trailed off.
Mark and Muriel had just come into the bar.
In the olden days, Mark used to take the gang to Whoop & Holler after a particularly successful pitch or a long week. Muriel hadn’t changed from the black skirt, white shirt and killer heels she’d worn to Hammill Farms today. Mark’s hand was on her back as he guided her to a table on the other side of the dimly lit bar. As she sat down, she looked up at him and laughed at whatever he was saying.
They looked…happy. My Hammill Farms presentation had kicked Muriel’s in the butt, and she was laughing, and gorgeous, and on a date. With Mark.
My heart rolled over like a dead turtle, then sank to the pit of my stomach. Whatever triumph and pleasure I’d felt over work today faded. I’m going to slap you, Michelle said. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. So snap out of it.
Easy for you to say, I told her. Are you the one who was just invited to watch p**n at a dairy farm? Huh, First Lady who lives at the White House? And stop stealing Mrs. Roosevelt’s lines.
“Callie? Wake up,” my brother said. “You’re muttering to yourself.” He turned around to look where I was staring. “Why, it’s Mark! The guy you’ve been mooning over half your life! Want to give me a piggyback ride to show how cute we are?”
“Shh!” I hissed, kicking his shin.
See, way back when I was a teen and in fact mooning over Mark, I would often take Freddie on my rounds. I thought it would make me look adorable, loving and mature, that pretty Callie Grey and her sweet little brother whom she so obviously loved. Of course, I did love Freddie (much of the time, anyway) and he was always thrilled when I took him out of the funeral home for a spin on my bike or yes, a piggyback ride. One day, I made the mistake of informing my prop that I loved a certain boy. “That one,” I whispered when we actually caught a glimpse of Mark at a soccer game. The little shit never forgot.
“I’m going to the ladies’ room,” I said. “Back in a flash.”
“Oh, desperation. So ugly,” Freddie said, grinning.
The mirror over the bathroom sink showed that my cheeks were flushed. My hands were shaking. My heart seemed to be shaking, too.
For some reason, I thought—with absolutely no evidence, of course… Well. It had crossed my mind that after the little speech in Mark’s office about how irreplaceable I was…combined with the reinforcement of my creative talent…that Mark would…that things would…
Oh, God. Michelle Obama was right. I was an idiot. “Idiot!” I said to my reflection.
“Excuse me?” said a woman coming out of the stall.
“Oh, sorry, sorry,” I said. “Just talking to myself.” I gave her a quick look. “I love your bag. Kate Spade?”
She smiled. “Yes, actually. Isn’t the color cheery? Hey, is it my imagination, or are those Jeffrey Campbell shoes? Absolutely gorgeous!”
I smiled back. “They are.”
Ah, accessories. Always good for a bonding moment.
She was very pretty…no. She was beautiful. Short, honey-blond hair, big smile, green eyes, Michelle Pfeiffer beautiful. She was also vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her face.
“So who’s the idiot?” she asked in a friendly tone, washing her hands.
“I am. Or he is. I don’t quite know. Maybe we both are.”
She smiled and pulled a few paper towels from the dispenser. “It’s him, I’m sure of it.”
I grinned. “Thank you. You’re clearly brilliant.”
She laughed and tossed the paper towels into the trash.
“So what brings you to our fair city?” I asked, knowing she wasn’t from around here.
“Oh, I was driving through. Dropped in on a friend, but he wasn’t home.” She fished her car keys out of her adorable purse.
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