Authors: Catherine McKenzie
“So you’re totally normal too?”
I make an X with my index finger over my heart. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“How did you hear about Blythe and Company?”
“You’re going to think it’s stupid.”
“Tell me,” he says, leaning toward me again.
“I found a Blythe and Company card on the street on the day I broke up with my boyfriend. And later, when I found out what the company did, it seemed like some kind of sign.”
“Do you believe in signs?”
“Not really, no.”
“You’re an odd girl, aren’t you?”
“I might be.”
He glances at his watch. “It’s almost seven-thirty. Shall we go to dinner?”
We stand up and walk to the edge of the concrete pavers where the path begins.
“Stay close to me so you don’t get lost, Anne,” Jack says mischievously.
He holds out his hand, and I place mine in it. He squeezes my hand gently and leads me toward the restaurant. At the front door, a waiter ticks our name off a list and takes us to a table for two with an amazing view of the ocean.
Jack glances around the restaurant at the other couples, all deep in conversation. “What do you think everyone’s talking about?”
“Same as us. Trying to get to know each other.”
“I wonder how many people are thinking Blythe and Company fucked up?” He picks up his menu and begins to flip through the pages.
Is that his subtle way of telling me
thinks Blythe & Company fucked up? But what about the flirting back at the bar?
“Is that what you’re thinking?”
“Not yet,” he says, his face still angled toward his menu.
“Well . . . let me know.” I pick up my own menu, trying to act casual.
“Will do.” He peeks over the top of his with an impish look, and I realize he’s been teasing me. The shoulders I didn’t even know I was clenching relax.
“So, Anne, tell me your life story.”
“Sure, it’ll help me to get to know you.”
“Okay, but I warn you, it’s pretty boring.”
“I’ve been warned.”
I tell him my life story. I describe my family, my brother, and my childhood. I tell him what schools I went to and when. I tell him about my job. I tell him about Sarah and William and the friends who’ve moved away. As I talk, we order food—in fact, we order the same thing: decidedly non-Mexican lasagna—and drink our way through a bottle of wine. Our salads have come by the time I get to the present day.
“You have dressing on your chin,” I tell Jack, who has dug in to his salad with gusto.
“Frequent occurrence. You should know that about me.” He wipes it off with his napkin, a twinkle in his eyes. “So your parents named you after that girl who’s always getting into scrapes on the Family Channel?”
“Don’t talk to me about that travesty, please! The books are so much better.”
“There was more than one book?”
“Yeah, she’s the main character in at least eight books, and . . .” I stop myself, hearing the fanatic in my voice.
“Huh. Who knew?”
“Never let my mother hear you say that.”
“An avid fan?”
“Not sure. Would you describe someone who named her children after characters in a book an avid fan?”
“I think that makes you a
“That would be my mother.”
“Can’t wait to meet her.”
A chill goes down my spine. Jack meeting my parents. Gil. Sarah. William. What the hell is that going to be like?
“So,” Jack says, “you didn’t mention any men.”
I look up in surprise. “You want to know about that?”
“If I know what came before, it’ll help me understand why you’re here.”
“I thought that was what Dr. Szwick was for.”
He frowns. “Ah, yes. Dr. Szwick. We have ways of making you explore your deepest feelings.”
“Not a fan?”
“No, ma’am. Now, come on, tell me about the men.”
I tell him. I take each man one by one, sketch out the big picture, and fill in a few of the smaller details. Feeling emboldened by the wine, I even confess that I’ve had only four relationships instead of the six Blythe & Company requires. When I finish telling him about Stuart, he has a pensive look on his face.
“You have a type.”
“Yeah, men I don’t belong with.”
“That too, but I meant a looks type.”
I refill my glass. “You listen too well.”
He chuckles. “No woman has ever accused me of that before.”
“First time for everything.”
“Today’s the first time for a lot of things,” he says gently. “Am I right?”
I put my hands up in surrender. “I confess.”
“And it’s not me, right?”
He looks philosophical. “Thought so. Just out of curiosity, what’s my competition look like?”
“You sure you can handle it?”
“Isn’t he kinda old?”
“It’s an old crush.”
“Mm. James Bond. Stiff competition.”
“What’s there to be sorry about?”
“Oh, I don’t know. What about you? Do you have a type?”
Yikes, why did I ask that? He probably goes for girls who are tall, blond, and tanned golden brown by the sun. Do I want to know?
Phew. “Really? No discernible pattern?”
“Nope . . . though if we’re talking celebrity references, I guess my last ex sort of looked like Cameron Diaz.”
I knew it!
“That’s a lot to live up to.”
He shrugs. “Didn’t keep us together, though, did it?”
“I guess not.” Still, I have to know. “If you could’ve seen a picture of me before tonight, would that have dissuaded you?”
“It would’ve encouraged me.”
A blush of pleasure creeps up my face. “Thanks. And just so you know, I would’ve been a lot less nervous if I’d seen your picture.”
“Were you imagining male pattern baldness and a beer belly?”
“Only on the good days.”
The waiter places our lasagnas on the table. Jack leans over his and smells it, clearly enjoying the experience. He catches me watching him. “I have a confession to make,” he says.
“I love carbohydrates. In fact, I firmly believe life’s not worth living if I can’t eat potato products or pasta. Please tell me you feel the same way.”
I giggle. “I do. I really do.”
“Are you just messing with me? Because I take this very seriously.”
“Oh, no, I’m serious. Pasta is my life.”
“Anne, will you marry me?”
I start laughing.
“No, I mean it. Will you marry me?” His expression is very earnest, and this makes me laugh all the harder. I try to contain it, but I’m not doing a very good job.
I struggle for breath. “Are . . . you . . . being . . . serious?”
“Normally, no, but given the circumstances, sure, why not? Let’s do it.”
I stop laughing. Does this man I met two hours ago really want to marry me? My heart starts thumping in my chest. “Tell me about yourself first. Tell me your life story.”
“Not the answer I was hoping for, but okay.”
As he talks about his childhood and school and his eight (!) past relationships, I try to tell whether he’s really disappointed that I didn’t immediately agree to marry him. If he is, he’s covering well. I stop worrying about it as I listen to him. Jack is an entertaining storyteller, though he tends to move his hands in a hazardous way as he speaks.
“Watch your water glass,” I warn, swooping it out of danger.
“Thanks. I’m always knocking things over when I talk.”
“I’m not surprised. Hey, check out the sunset.”
The sky is streaked orange and red over the aqua water. I try to memorize what it looks like, working on the words I’d use to describe it.
“What do you like most about writing?” I ask him.
“Sounds like a job interview question.”
“You kind of
interviewing for a job, right? We both are.”
“Then you should know I’m messy but not dirty, which I think is an important distinction. Also, I snore only three short snores as I fall asleep, which I have on good authority is adorable, and I make a mean egg-and-bacon sandwich.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.”
“Good. Now, I believe you wanted to know what I like about writing?”
“Can you be serious?”
“Oh, you want serious? Really serious?” His lips are twitching, but he keeps a straight face. “Okay, here goes. I like using words so they convey a feeling or a place or a smell. I like turning one sense, sight, into five, and when I feel like I’m doing that, it’s all worth it. Serious enough? Or too corny?”
“Just right. And I know what you mean. When things are going well for me, I feel like a piece of me is coming out on the page. You know, the way you see and hear the world in your head?”
“Pretty cool, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Makes up for the crappy pay.”
He looks around him. “You can’t be doing too badly if you can afford to come here.”
“I could say the same about you.”
“True. So . . .”
I look down at my half-empty plate. I feel shy about confessing where the money came from. “I, um, got a book deal, and I used part of my advance to pay for this.”
Jack reaches across the table and squeezes my hand quickly. I look up, surprised. He pulls his hand away, looking flustered. “That’s amazing, Anne. When’s your book coming out?”
“In a couple of months.”
“What’s it about?”
“A group of friends at their high school reunion.”
“Can I read it?”
The waiter comes over with dessert menus. I decide on strawberries and ice cream. Jack orders chocolate cake. When the waiter leaves, Jack looks at me appreciatively. “I’m glad you eat.”
“Do I look like I eat?”
Jack colors. He doesn’t know what to say.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” I tell him. “I’m lucky. I’ve got a great metabolism.”
“Mental note. ‘No, honey, you don’t look fat in that at all!’ ”
“That’s the right attitude. Keep it up and you might get the job.”
He cups his wineglass in his hands, swirling the ruby liquid around. “Well, I don’t know. What’s the benefits package look like?”
“Too early to say.”
The waiter arrives with our desserts. I take a bite: it’s cold, sweet, and creamy. Jack seems to be enjoying his chocolate cake, making small humming noises as he plows through it.
I put my spoon down. “Jack, does this feel totally surreal to you?”
He looks up, his mouth full of cake. “It kind of feels fake-real, if that makes any sense.”
“Like you’re on a reality show?”
“Yeah, exactly like that.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
His lips curl. “Too early to say.”
“Reality shows are one of my guilty pleasures.”
“I’ll remember that. Tell me some more of your guilty pleasures.”
“Not on a first date.”
“Ah, but this is also our engagement party.”
Ms. Cooper taps a knife against her wineglass to get our attention, and the room falls silent. “Good evening, everyone. I hope you’ve enjoyed your dinner and your companion. As you know, tomorrow is the big event. Come and see me on your way out, and I’ll give you your time slots for your pre-wedding therapy session and for the ceremony. If you’ve chosen not to go ahead, please let me know.
“There’ll be another group dinner tomorrow evening to celebrate your marriages. For those of you looking to explore outside the resort, there are a number of tours available that can be booked through the travel agent next to the front desk.
“If anyone has questions, I’ll be here for the next hour or so. Finally, since we like to inject a little tradition into the proceedings, there’ll be buses leaving at eleven for two separate bars, one for the men and one for the women. Have a good rest of your evening, and congratulations.”
Ms. Cooper walks to the entrance, clipboard in hand. Couples begin to form a line in front of her, waiting to get their time slots. They look decided. They look ready. Their certainty blows me away.
“What do we tell her?” Jack asks.
“What do you want to tell her?”
He takes a deep breath. “I want to tell her . . . that we’re getting married.”