Authors: Cindy Sample
When the last feathered mammal was sold from his ostrich-farming venture, Hank decided to go into construction. The real estate boom combined with a surprising knack for building spec homes provided us with sufficient income so I could quit work and stay home for a couple of years. After Hank and I split up over his extracurricular female activity, the only available position at the bank was mortgage loan underwriter.
I pushed open the glass double doors and smiled at Vivian Vaughn, the bank's receptionist, who also specialized in nosiness. The seven-foot carved wooden bear that the president of the bank had purchased to enhance the lobby decor, greeted me with a snarl. I snarled back a good morning, walked past the old-fashioned oak teller stations to the area reserved for the mortgage staff. I had barely stuffed my purse away when my cubicle neighbor popped her head over the five-foot wall of gray tweed that divided us.
"How was your date?” Mary Lou, a five ten Barbie doll look alike who maximized her assets and minimized nothing, had discovered online dating to be an under-whelming experience. My coworker had gone on twenty-five “meet and greets,” as she referred to her first time meetings with online matches. The men she met through a website called Supermatch.com were either forty pounds heavier, three inches shorter, or far balder than their on-line photos. She swore some of them posted their high school yearbook pictures.
Vivian had joined a different online site, which proved to be even worse. Three of the four men she met over the Internet turned out to be married. We had warned her about those profiles that said “ask me for my photograph.” We dubbed her dating site Mismatch.com.
Rosa Martinez, an unmarried processor, and Stan Winters, my underwriting assistant, joined us. “I want to know everything,” Rosa said, her dark eyes hopeful that one of us would find success with the match game. Rosa had signed up for a third online site that analyzed your personality profile then provided matches with potential partners. Members weren't allowed to make selections themselves. So far the fifty-year-old processor had been rejected by thirty-nine of their forty suggested matches. The reason being “other.” At five foot one Rosa didn't know if she was too short, too chunky, or too old. She only knew she couldn't take much more online rejection.
I didn't want everyone to freak out so I withheld a few facts, such as the fact that my date was now deceased. Mary Lou spit out her coffee when I admitted I'd discovered a new use for a cell phone.
"Hey, Laurel, I wouldn't mind taking your rejects,” snickered Stan. “As long as they're not battered and bruised.” Gay men have their own unique brand of humor.
"Ahem.” Our boss stood in the doorway, glaring at the assemblage. Within seconds, my co-workers vanished to their respective cubicles. I wondered if he noticed that none of his direct reports had been doing anything remotely related to work in the past ten minutes.
Earl Fisher leaned forward, his double cheeseburger stuffed stomach resting on my desk. “How was your weekend?"
My weekend basically sucked. I didn't think it was any of his business although I couldn't afford to annoy the head of the mortgage division. “Why?"
"Just making conversation. Always interested in the welfare of my staff.” He winked and drifted down to Mary Lou's desk.
I grabbed a loan file and soon became absorbed reading the borrowers’ letter of explanation for multiple credit card delinquencies. They claimed their mail carrier had deliberately not delivered their credit card statements because their basset hound had bitten the carrier's ankle. They scored a nine for originality. Zero for integrity.
I grabbed another file but my mind drifted to the events of the past weekend. It was hard concentrating on loans when there was a high probability I could be involved in a murder investigation. I finally confided in Stan and Mary Lou.
"Your date was killed? As in dead?” The furrow in Mary Lou's brow deepened. “And I thought my date was a disaster. Does this mean you're a suspect?"
"I don't think so,” I said.
"Are you kidding? Of course you're a suspect. You need to hire an attorney,” advised Stan, our resident crime show aficionado. “Otherwise they'll try to trap you into saying something you'll regret."
"But I don't know anything. How can they trap me?"
Stan rolled his eyes and graced me with a pitying look. “Trust me. If the detectives think you're the killer, they sure aren't going to waste time looking for anyone else. The next thing you know you'll be wearing matching metal bracelets."
"And an orange jump suit,” Mary Lou chimed in.
As far as I was concerned, the words orange and jumpsuit should never be combined, particularly in a sentence referring to me.
It was only Monday but already I could tell it was going to be a long week.
Whether the detectives were busy hunting bad guys or not, there were no further calls or visits from the sheriff's department in the next couple of days. Wednesday evening I received a call from Jeremy Slater, the physician I selected during my last trip to the Love Club. I had totally forgotten about the two agency choices I'd made the previous weekend. Right before Sunny shared the news about Garrett.
The last thing I felt like doing was to go on another date, but after conversing for over an hour, I decided Jeremy might be a pleasant diversion. We exchanged the usual information hapless singles share, number of kids—zero for him, number of divorces—another zero for him, where we worked, what we liked to do, etc. Jeremy suggested we meet for lunch on Friday. A lunch date seemed safe. I shouldn't have to worry about any front seat acrobatics during daylight hours.
Friday morning turned into another wardrobe time waster. I couldn't decide what to wear to the office that would be suitable for lunch with Jeremy. I didn't want to reprise my Bimbo Banker look, so I finally selected a tailored white blouse, my good black suit and black heels.
Fridays are always dress down days at the bank, so my appearance in a suit created a buzz. Stan was the first to investigate. He plopped his slight frame in my gray tweed visitor chair, pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up his pointed nose, and whistled.
"My, my, all dressed up, aren't we?” His deep basso voice was at odds with his slight physique. “Do we have an outing planned for today? Any more love bugs circling?"
"Stan, some days you are a royal pain in the patootie."
My smart-ass responses needed a little work.
"Sweetie, you're looking good. And you know we all want you to meet the man of your dreams. I'm sure the other Love Club members won't be like that first jerk."
"Thanks. I hope you meet the man of your dreams too.” Stan had recently broken up with his partner of ten years. It wasn't that easy meeting gay men in the foothills, but Stan grew up here and he preferred living in a small town to the big city social scene.
Since Jeremy's medical practice closed at noon on Fridays we had agreed to meet at a restaurant in downtown Placerville. I entered the Main Street Bistro a socially correct five minutes late. Jeremy was easily recognizable from his video. An inch or two over six feet, with a full head of curly gray hair, a big Roman nose and a disarming smile. Not even remotely drop dead gorgeous, which was fine with me. I didn't need any more drop dead dates in my life.
"Laurel, it's a pleasure to meet you.” He proffered his hand from a safe distance of at least two feet away. We were shown directly to a green marble topped table overlooking a tiny fern garden. The soothing sound of a waterfall helped diffuse the noise of the other diners.
Jeremy quickly peeked at the glossy menu then laid it on the table. I checked out their salad selections, pleased with the variety.
"What are you going to order?” I asked.
"Oh, I'm kind of a boring diner. I usually order turkey on whole wheat, with a small salad on the side. Fiber, fiber, fiber, I always say."
Yeah. I always say that too. In between devouring candy bars. His fiber mantra seemed a little weird but doctors need to be serious about nutrition.
"Have you tried any of the new diets, like South Beach or the Zone?” he asked.
That was an awfully personal question. Was Jeremy intimating I needed to lose weight? “I did try the South Beach diet last spring,” I said with a wry smile. “It lasted for all of six hours. I'm afraid the only diet that works for me is the ‘See no chocolate, eat no chocolate’ diet.’”
He chuckled. “You're not alone on that one. It's certainly not unusual for women to crave sweets. Of course, the more refined carbohydrates you eat, the more you'll want. But you can overcome those cravings if you change your lifestyle.” He gazed at me with intensity. “Soon you'll discover you desire something else."
Oh dear. Not another man with an overactive libido. First there was Lindstrom the Lech. Was I now dining with Slater, the Sex Fiend?
Fortunately our waitress arrived to take our orders. A turkey sandwich for Jeremy and a healthy Cobb salad for me—with plenty of fiber, just like the doctor ordered. I wasn't going to worry about the other fattening ingredients. I reached for a piece of garlic bread and Jeremy grabbed my hand.
"Laurel, that's exactly what I'm talking about. If you avoid bad carbohydrates, eventually you won't crave them anymore. You'll crave the healthy foods your body needs."
"Oh...right.” I released my hand from his and shook my head at my unsavory thoughts. He was concerned about my health. That was sweet. Nevertheless, I kept my hands under the table until our food arrived.
We continued to talk throughout lunch. Technically Jeremy talked and I listened, which gave me the opportunity to demolish my Cobb salad—fiber, fat and all. Other than his fetish for fiber, Jeremy was personable and the time flew by. He barely touched his turkey on whole wheat, probably the reason he was so slim. I wasn't sure what to do when the bill arrived. Did the man pay on the first date? Was lunch considered a date? Somebody needed to write a rulebook on this subject.
Our middle-aged waitress must have had her own set of rules because she plopped the bill next to Jeremy's plate. She smiled at me as she cleared the table. Jeremy picked up the bill and reached for his wallet.
"Can I split that with you?” I asked.
"Thanks for the offer, but it's my treat. I do have a question for you, though."
Uh oh. I hope he doesn't want my daily carbohydrate count.
"I'm in the middle of applying for a loan and I've experienced some problems so I'd love to pick your brain about the mortgage application process. Not to mention I enjoyed your company at lunch. Would you like to go to dinner next Saturday? I haven't been to the River Inn for awhile and they have an excellent and healthy menu."
Decisions, decisions. I fiddled with the cloth napkin as I tried to decide whether to accept his invitation. Jeremy seemed nice, although a trifle obsessed about nutrition. One of the articles I'd read in a women's magazine said you should go on a minimum of six dates with someone before you decide they aren't right for you. I couldn't imagine six dates with someone I wasn't interested in, but one dinner with a financially secure doctor wouldn't be such a hardship. He could assault me with loan questions as long as he didn't attack me in his car.
Or deprive me of dessert. “Sure. Saturday will be fine."
"Great. I'll make a reservation. Shall I pick you up at your house?"
Darn, more trick questions. I gnawed at my lower lip debating whether to let him come to my house. What the heck? He was a doctor. I could always check out his references before he showed up at my front door.
Jeremy escorted me to my car and we shook hands goodbye. We decided to confirm the details of our next date the following week. I returned to the office and decided that a sunny Friday afternoon in mid October was not conducive to reviewing loans. Usually I'm very conscientious about my loan files. It didn't take more than a few loans going into foreclosure to put a small lender out of business.
Even big banks weren't immune to a foreclosure crisis. One CEO of a failed mega bank bragged about how they funded the most loans in the country. What is it with men? Why do they always think bigger is better?
The phone rang and I grabbed it. “Hi luv, can you lunch tomorrow? Brian and I were going wine tasting but he has to work instead,” Liz said.
Lunching with Liz sounded great. Although wine tasting sounded even better. I pictured a romantic outing at one of the local El Dorado wineries, red checked tablecloth covering a lakeside picnic table. My date stroking my hand, his brown eyes gazing soulfully at me...
"Laurel, are you still there?"
I cleared my head. “Sorry, I was daydreaming. Where do you want to meet—the usual?"
"Sure, there's no place better than Sweetie Pie's as far as I'm concerned."
We settled on one o'clock to meet. Now all I had to do was find a babysitter for Ben. Jenna had made plans to go to the mall with a friend who had just received her driver's license. I still couldn't decide what was worse: letting Jenna ride with a friend, letting her drive my car, or chauffeuring her back and forth.
Young mothers with toddlers think their lives are stressful, but nothing can prepare a parent for the daily fear they experience the minute that laminated driver's license is in the possession of their offspring.
I hated to ask Jenna to cancel her plans so I called several of Ben's friends Saturday morning. No one was home, which left me with only one possible babysitter. Mother. She was at the real estate office—her normal home on the weekends. Heaven forbid she lose out on a potential walk-in customer looking for a real estate bargain.
In my best suck up to Mom voice, I said, “Hello, Mother. Do you have any showings this afternoon?"
"No, dear. Only paperwork to catch up on. What do you want?"
That's my Mom. She doesn't waste a second.
"Liz and I want to get together for lunch today. Jenna is going to the mall with Katie so she can't watch Ben. Would you be able to babysit him for a few hours? I promise we won't be too long."