Authors: Cindy Sample
I was so engrossed in the action on the field that I didn't notice the man standing next to me. It wasn't until his size twelve Nike bumped against the toe of my running shoe that I looked up and saw Detective Hunter gazing down, his oversized black umbrella almost a foot above mine.
"You take soccer quite seriously, Ms. McKay. I've been standing here for over five minutes and you haven't blinked once."
Blink? How could I blink? The rain had welded my waterproof mascara to my eyelids. I opened my mouth to respond when I heard a roar from the parents. I glanced at the field just in time to see my son kick a ball right through the legs of the other team's goalie, a perfect shot.
"That a boy, Ben.” I jumped up and raised my fist triumphantly in the air, totally forgetting the man standing next to me.
"That was a well placed kick, Ms. McKay. Your son is a smart player. He must take after his mother."
My eyes narrowed as I looked up at him. Are detectives allowed to give compliments to murder suspects? “I'll take credit for Ben's intellect, but I'm afraid the only time I received an A in P.E. was in square dancing. I was the do-si-do diva."
"I have no doubt you're quite a hit on the dance floor.” He smoothly segued into another question. “So do you have any more Love Club dates on the horizon?"
Odd. Was the detective investigating me or flirting with me?
I shrugged my shoulders nonchalantly. “Well, you know the life of a single woman, one pressing social engagement after another."
His eyes twinkled and a brief smile hovered over his lips. Didn't he believe me?
"For your information, I have a date next weekend with someone else from the Love Club. A doctor.” I enunciated the word doctor. Who was he to smirk at my social calendar? “We're having dinner at the River Inn."
"Good to know. I might have dinner over there myself.” The look he shot at me penetrated through my windbreaker. “Just to make sure nothing happens. To your date."
He checked the gold watch on his left wrist. “I need to get over to Kristy's game. She'll be wondering what's keeping me. My daughter thinks she's going to kick up a storm, so to speak. Congratulations again on your son's goal."
With that remark, he strode down the sidelines toward one of the other playing fields. Remembering Kristy's tenacity in her last game, she undoubtedly would be kicking major butt, so to speak.
I gazed down the field and contemplated her father's broad shoulders and fine posterior as he walked away. Liz would be so proud of me.
But what did his parting comment mean? Did he think Dr. Slater could be at risk going out with me? Was that a warning? As I watched his burly form disappear down the side of the field, I felt the nudge of an umbrella. Swamp eyes.
"How's the game going?” Hank asked, wisps of dark blond hair escaping from beneath his ball cap and brushing the collar of his beige windbreaker. For a second, it looked like he was going to kiss me, but I checked his advance with my own umbrella.
"Ben made a goal."
"He did? You're kidding?"
I drilled him with a look. How about supporting your son instead of knocking him? Ben would never be the athlete his father was. Thank goodness. The last thing the world needed was another high school quarterback who couldn't stop reliving his victories from two decades ago.
A few seconds passed before Hank broke the silence. “Do you have any more dates coming up?"
I lifted my head from under the umbrella, a major strategic error that resulted in a deluge of rain down my face and chest. Fortunately I didn't need to make a good impression on Hank. This man had seen me at my worst, during my twenty plus hour labors with each child.
"I'm worried about you, honey. What if something happens when you're out with one of these bozos? Are you checking these guys out? Googling them. I don't want anyone to hurt you. You need to think about our kids.” The gaze he fixed on me surprised me with its intensity. “And us."
Wow. Hank was displaying more passion this afternoon than in our twenty years together. What brought this on? Maybe he finally realized what he'd given up when he broke up our marriage and our family. The impact his leaving had on his young children, not to mention his wife. I was about to question Hank further when I noticed our son slipping and sliding towards us with the apparent intent of giving me a hug.
"Did you see my goal, Mom? Wasn't it awesome?” His grin reached literally from one side of his mud speckled face to the other. Then he noticed his other water-soaked parent.
"Dad. You made it. Did you see my goal?” he squealed.
"I'm real proud of you, big guy. You're a chip off the old block."
I snorted. Chip off the old blockhead was more like it. Hank performed some kind of complicated male bonding fist thing with Ben then attempted another kiss on my cheek. I outmaneuvered him but he grabbed my hand and held it tight.
"Be careful, Laurel. Don't take any chances.” He hugged Ben then walked away leaving me in an unusual state. Stunned silence.
The rest of Sunday passed uneventfully. Ben called all of his buddies to swap stories about their soccer games and make sure they heard about his goal as well. I did four loads of laundry and pondered my future.
My eagerness for my pending dinner with the health conscious Jeremy Slater had waned. Since the kids would be with their dad the following weekend maybe I should use Liz's shotgun approach to getting a guy. My friend used to schedule four to five dates a week. But then Liz's goal was to find a husband and the father of her future children before her estrogen clock stopped ticking.
My goal was...what exactly was my goal? Did I want a friend, an escort, a lover or a husband? Was my decision to join the Love Club just a response to my loneliness and the desire for intimacy with someone? Or was I trying to replicate the happy home Hank and I had for most of our marriage? Was I truly ready to spend the rest of my life with that special someone, the man who would keep not only my feet warm but also my heart?
Very heavy thoughts, which should be contemplated when I wasn't so tired. After soccer and a full day of laundry all I really wanted was to hit my four hundred thread count sheets. The phone rang as I brushed and flossed. One of the kids picked it up and a few minutes later, Jenna called out, “Hey, Mom, Grandmother Bingham for you."
My mother refused to go by Grandma or Granny.
"Hello, Mother, how are you?” I grabbed the phone and plunked into my overstuffed blue and green plaid wing chair.
"You never told me what happened with that murder investigation. Your name popped up on my ‘to do’ list."
I could visualize it now. Number twenty on her list—check on status of daughter to determine if necessary to raise bail on Monday. “No need for the bail bondsman yet,” I said.
"Good.” A few seconds elapsed. I think she really did check me off her list.
"I wondered if you would accompany me to a dinner they're having next Saturday at the country club, to honor the top producers in our company. Remember we went together last year."
How could I forget? My mother, the queen of Centurion Realty, had been in her element. I felt like her ugly duckling daughter. She forgot to tell me it was a formal affair so I wore one of my old suits. Thank goodness I didn't have to face that well coiffed group again.
"Sorry. I have a date Saturday night. Dinner at the River Inn."
"Oh, no, not another of those Love Club people,” she groaned. “I thought you were finished with that foolishness."
"I've only been on one date. Just because it ended disastrously, doesn't mean I shouldn't try again. His name is Doctor Jeremy Slater."
A doctor. A successful professional as a potential son-in-law.
"Why would a physician resort to joining a club like that? Certainly he can find dates without assistance."
I sighed. There was no pleasing my mother.
"What are you going to wear? The River Inn is quite elegant. I think men are supposed to wear coats and ties,” she said.
Coats and ties. That was pretty unusual for a California restaurant. Now I'd have to find time to buy a new dress. Too bad my mother and I weren't built the same. How my five foot seven, slender mother produced a short, curvy daughter was beyond me. Guess I had my dearly departed fireplug of a father to blame. I would love to go shopping in her walk-in closet, which was almost the size of my bedroom. Plus all of her designer suits and dresses were organized by color. Talk about anal with a capital A.
"I haven't decided what I'm wearing. I'll fill you in at church next weekend."
"I'm sure Pastor Brown will be delighted to see you again."
Did I detect a hint of sarcasm? I opened my mouth to respond that we'd only missed two services this month but she cut me off. “Try not to ruin your next date."
That was a low blow, but the dial tone came on before I could respond with a pithy reply. I hung up the phone, set my alarm clock and crawled into bed.
The clatter of squirrels rearranging the steel tiles on my roof woke me early the next morning. I love living in the country but I wished some of my furry neighbors would find a hobby that wasn't so noisy or so expensive to repair. Even so, the joy of living in the foothills is worth it. Starry, smog free skies, snow-capped mountain vistas, herds of deer grazing peacefully on my front lawn. Eating all the petunias in my window boxes.
Okay, it's not pastoral perfection all the time. But I'm only ten minutes from the office. If I lived in Sacramento, a forty-mile commute on clogged highways, I'd have to get up an hour earlier. Or get rid of my children.
Monday morning I arrived early at the bank. I exchanged growls with the wooden bear and with Vivian who seemed even more surly than usual. After storing my purse, I sauntered down to the break-room. The coffee looked and smelled like scorched caffeine, but at least it was caffeine. Mary Lou entertained several of our co-workers with her description of her date the previous Saturday night. I leaned against the counter and nodded sympathetically when she confided that he was a lousy kisser.
At least he was alive and kissing.
I grabbed my mug, scurried past the rows of gray cubicles that lined our office and reached my own miniscule six by six cube. The pile of loan applications formed a barricade around my desk. The bank was definitely benefiting from the closing of some of our competitors.
I grabbed the first file and flipped through the pages. The borrower, a hair stylist, claimed to make one hundred thousand a year. Maybe in Beverly Hills, but no way in El Dorado Hills.
Considering the crazy loan products that some of our competitors had been offering, the borrower's next stop could be the mortgage company down the street. I was glad I worked for a conservative bank. No mumbo jumbo mortgage products here.
I was grateful that my employer stayed true to its mission statement—making sensible loans to qualified borrowers. Fully documented mortgages. Some of our competitors used to originate NINJA loans. That stood for no income, no job, and no assets. Nothing about the borrower had to be verified. Sometimes it's hard to fathom the cupidity, not to mention the stupidity of mankind.
"Hey, gorgeous.” I recognized Stan's deep baritone and looked up.
He may be gay but Stan has one of the sultriest voices of the male persuasion. “What's up? Do anything exciting this weekend?"
Stan draped himself over the tweed chair. His pressed lilac shirt and matching satin tie were perfectly coordinated as usual. “The highlight of my weekend was helping my sister pick out a dress to wear to a wedding if that gives you any idea of my hot social life."
"Hey, I need a new dress. Can you think of someplace suitable for me—as well as my budget?” I added, knowing that with Stan's excellent and expensive taste, further clarification was necessary.
Stan stroked his chin, gray eyes thoughtful behind his wire-rimmed glasses. Not that he had much of a chin to stroke. “Honestly, I think we visited every boutique in Sacramento. Jeannie is such a perfectionist it took
to find something, and she never lets a price tag stand in her way."
"Great.” I rubbed my hands together in anticipation of a shopping expedition. “Do you have any evenings free this week?"
"Between my baseball league, knitting class and the church choir, I think I can squeeze you in.” We settled on Thursday since most of the stores would be open late.
Wednesday evening I called Coach Dan and he agreed to bring Ben home from practice on Thursday. I could ramp up my Visa to my heart's content and my bankcard's limits.
Stan and I left the office together promptly at five. He offered to drive us in his new Beemer. I wasn't about to refuse the offer and entertained myself on the drive to the city by trying out all of the twelve different seating combinations.
"This is such a terrific car. Do you think I'll ever own one like it?"
"If you don't mind being indentured to a finance company for the rest of your life, you too could own a BMW. Just think, if we find the right dress tonight you may end up marrying the doctor. Doesn't the Hippocratic oath state they have to drive a BMW or a Mercedes?"
I chuckled, but his comment made me pause. Could our shopping excursion eventually result in marriage to the respectable Dr. Slater? And was marriage my ultimate goal? The sensible thing would have been to spend the next three hours evaluating what I wanted in a man. Instead we spent the evening trying to decide what I wanted in a dress.
Stan suggested we start at the Pavilions. Since the Plaza is more than forty miles from my house, I hadn't shopped there in years. As we strolled up the brick lined sidewalks I ogled the mannequins in the window of one of the stores. A soft black chiffon number caught my attention. It looked like it would be perfect for my less than perfect figure.
A rhapsody of tinkling bells greeted us as we entered the store. A willowy saleswoman impeccably dressed in a sage green silk suit, her left hand enhanced with a diamond the size of a snow globe, greeted us. “Hello. Can I help you find anything in particular?"