Romantically Challenged

BOOK: Romantically Challenged
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Romantically Challenged

A Novel By

Beth Orsoff

Kindle Edition Copyright ©2010 Beth Orsoff

Original Copyright © Beth Orsoff, 2006

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, or stored in a database or retrieval system, using any means or method now known or hereafter devised, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder.

This book was first published in the U.S. by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Acknowledgments

Thank you to my first readers—Patti Gandras Alperin, Erwin Chemerinsky, Susan Essex, Eileen Hale, Pam Kirsh, Susan and Evan Rubin, and Samantha Paynter Sandman—for their patience and honest feedback. Thank you to my parents for not freaking out when I told them I was quitting my day job to write a novel. Thank you to Rose Hilliard for helping me bring Julie, and especially Joe, to life. And last but not least, thank you to my husband, Steve, the first reader of every draft and my biggest fan.

Chapter 1

The Wedding From Hell

“Marry me,” he said.

I looked down into his watery brown eyes. “You’re drunk.”

“No I’m not,” was all he managed before he belched again, filling the air with the sour scent of stale beer. “If you turn me down you’ll regret it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”

It took me a few seconds to remember where I’d heard that sentiment before. “You can’t propose to me with lines stolen from
Casablanca
. And besides, that’s the speech Humphrey Bogart made to Ingrid Bergman to convince her
not
to marry him.”

“Oh,” was all he said before he closed his eyes and returned his head to the table, its resting spot for the previous half hour.

* * *

My cousin Sharon’s reception was typical of large Jewish weddings. A two-hundred-plus formal affair where everyone was drunk and the over-forty crowd sambaed its way across the dance floor. I was one of nine bridesmaids. The only one without a date. Which was why I got stuck sitting next to Peter, the fourteen-year-old brother of the groom. He didn’t have a date either. But at least he had a good excuse. He wasn’t old enough to drive his girlfriend to the wedding.

Despite the company, I spent most of the evening hiding at my table. It was the only place that someone dressed in a polyester teal-green gown with shoulder pads big enough for a linebacker and more tulle then a tutu could blend in. But when the fourteen-year-old looked like he could vomit at any moment, I decided to take my chances with the rest of the room. Even interrogations by my relatives were better than being puked on.

I’d only made it ten feet from the table before I heard my name shouted from the dance floor. I turned toward the voice automatically and saw my mother’s Aunt Rose waving at me. It was too late to run in the other direction. We’d made eye contact.

Aunt Rose’s white-blond hair sparkled in the light from the chandelier as she shimmied across the room in her black sequin cocktail dress, my Uncle Ed in tow. “Julie, dear,” she said, grabbing my hands, “where have you been? We’ve been looking for you all night.”

Avoiding my family. “Just blending with the rest of the teal ballerinas,” I said.

“Don’t be ridiculous dear, those dresses are beautiful. Aren’t they Ed?”

“Beautiful,” Ed said, mopping his flushed face with his handkerchief.

“So tell us how you are, dear,” Aunt Rose asked. “I don’t think we’ve seen you since the last wedding. Whose was it again?”

“Madeline’s.”

“Right.”  She released my hands so she could use hers for emphasis. “Your poor Uncle Jerry having to make two weddings back to back like that.” 

I nodded sympathetically. I’d hoped Sharon would wait until I’d at least found a date before she got married.

“Of course Joan is thrilled to have both of her daughters married. And both under thirty. How old are you now, dear?”

“Thirty-two,” I said and forced a smile.

“Don’t worry, dear. Your time will come.”

“Julie’s time better come soon or she’s going to miss out.”  I recognized that snide voice even before I spun around in my matching teal heels bringing me face to face with my sister, Deborah. Somehow she’d managed to sneak up on me from behind. Not an easy task for someone with forty-eight-inch hips.

“What are you talking about?” I said. “Women can have children in their forties. My clock isn’t even ticking yet.” I’d repeated this statistic so many times in the last year I was actually starting to believe it.

“That’s if you want to have a baby alone,” Deborah said and smirked. “If you want to get married first, you’re going to have to do it by the time you’re thirty-five.”

“How would you know?” Deborah had gotten married right after college and had been popping out babies ever since. She was only four years older than me, but she already had three children.

“I read
Modern Woman
,” she said, but quickly returned to offense. “There was a big article this month about all the single women over thirty-five who can’t find husbands. Did you know there are ten million more single women over thirty-five than single men?” Deborah shifted towards Aunt Rose. “Apparently the few single men left think that once a woman hits thirty-five, all she wants to do is get married and have babies. They won’t even date them anymore.”

“You’re making that up.” At least I hoped she was.

“It’s true, lawyer girl. Look it up.”

Before I could tell Deborah that she was just jealous because I was thin and had a career and she was fat and didn’t, the band leader began a soulful rendition of “You Light Up My Life,” and Deborah left to find her husband. It was their wedding song.

“Just ignore her, dear,” Aunt Rose said when Deborah was out of hearing range. “Men love women who have careers.” She leaned closer. “They think if a woman has her own money, she won’t spend all of theirs.”

I glanced back at my table and saw that the fourteen-year-old was now sprawled across both his chair and mine. If I didn’t want to talk to any more relatives—and I didn’t—I could think of only one place to go. I said goodbye to Aunt Rose and Uncle Ed and headed towards the ladies’ room.

I hadn’t even made it past the tail end of the conga line before I was spotted by my Uncle Jerry. He stumbled in my direction, bow tie undone, but every perfectly coiffed gray hair still glued in place, with help from his sister-in-law Maureen. Uncle Jerry was the host, so I felt obliged to stop.

“Hi honey,” Maureen said with her trademark phony niceness. “Are you having fun?”

“She better be,” Uncle Jerry slurred. “Do you know what this wedding is costing me?”

“It’s great, Uncle Jerry. Sharon looks beautiful.” Thirty seconds of chitchat and I’d be on my way.

“I know,” he said and transferred his arm from Maureen’s shoulder to mine. “I can’t believe my baby is married. You know, after Madeline’s wedding we all thought you would be next. I even bet on you.”

Great, now I’m a racehorse.

“No, Jerry,” Maureen said, “that was
two
weddings ago. Since Julie’s boyfriend left her she’s been out of the running.”

After equally uplifting conversations with another great aunt and two distant cousins, I finally made it to the ladies’ room. I sat in the cold marble stall and forced myself not to cry—otherwise my mascara would run and everyone would know I’d been crying and that would be even worse than having to listen to all of my relatives tell me that they just couldn’t believe a smart, attractive girl like me couldn’t find a man.

With the exception of my mother’s Aunt Rose, the older generation considered my being an attorney a liability rather than an asset. It meant I spent too much time on my career, and not enough time on the paramount task of looking for a husband.

After ten minutes of deep, cleansing breaths, I stood up to leave when I heard Maureen’s fake laugh and another voice I didn’t recognize. I hiked my dress up again and sat back down. A cold toilet seat was still better than another conversation with Maureen.

“Who was that woman you and Jerry were talking to?” the Other Voice asked.

“Which one?” Maureen replied. “Jerry was all over the place.”

“The bridesmaid,” the Other Voice said. “The short one with the dark hair and the big chest.”

“That was Jerry’s niece Julie. Sheila and Phil’s daughter. I’ll have to ask Jerry if she had a boob job. Those definitely weren’t real.”

Boob job. Hasn’t anyone heard of a push-up bra?

“Is she here with anyone?” the Other Voice asked.

“No,” Maureen said. “Why?”

“I was thinking she’d be perfect for my brother. He just broke up with his girlfriend and he goes for those cutesy types.”

Why are the short girls always described as cute? Why are we never beautiful? Then I looked down at my teal green gown and realized in this outfit, I should be grateful for any compliment.

“I don’t think your—” Someone chose that inopportune moment to flush the toilet, temporarily disrupting my eavesdropping. When the water stopped running, I heard Maureen say, “Her ex writes for that TV show
Legal Love
.”

“Which one is that?”

“The one on Friday nights about the female lawyers who love their jobs, but can’t find a decent man.”

“I saw that once. I thought it was good.”

“It is.” Maureen lowered her voice, but she still spoke loud enough for me to hear. “Supposedly the ‘Ilene’ character, the one whose boyfriend is cheating on her and she doesn’t know it, is based on Julie.”

That was it. I burst out of the stall and into the center of the ladies room. “I’m not Ilene, I’m Susan. The one that goes out with all the hot men and dumps them as soon as they fall in love with her.”

Maureen stood frozen with her mouth open, her lipstick hovering two inches from her face. The Other Voice, a pale, mousy woman gasped. The other two women, whom I thankfully didn’t know, just stared at me.

I sprinted out the door before anyone had recovered enough to respond.

Chapter 2

There’s Always Vodka

It only took a few seconds for my anger to dissolve into tears. Despite what I’d told Maureen, she was right. I was the one whose boyfriend was cheating on her and didn’t know it. I couldn’t rewrite history, but I could avoid my relatives and I definitely knew a way to dull the pain.

The hotel bar was perfect--dark and quiet and nearly empty. The only other patrons were a couple at a table near the windows and a middle-aged man sitting at the corner of the bar. I went to the opposite end and sat down.

The tall, dark-haired bartender set down the magazine he was reading and walked towards me. “Can I help you?”

“Cranberry martini, please.”

“Are you okay?” he asked, watching me attempt to soak up my tears with the sleeve of my dress.

“Fine,”

“You sure?”

“Yes,” I said. “Thanks.”

  “You know the drinks at the wedding are free. These you have to pay for.”

“Just bring me the drink, okay?”

He took the hint and returned two minutes later with a tall glass filled with fuchsia liquid, which he set down in front of me. “Ten-fifty.”

It wasn’t until I opened my purse that realized I didn’t have any money. Only a lipstick, a used tissue, and my key card. “Can I charge it to the room?”

“Sure.” He handed me a check. “Just write down your room number and sign here.”

I took my drink to an empty table near the door. The middle-aged man must’ve thought that was a sign that I wanted company.

“May I?” he asked in a thick Texas drawl. He had his hand on the chair across from me. That’s when I noticed the cowboy boots and the silver belt buckle shaped like a horse.

What does a person have to do for a little alone time? “I’d really rather you didn’t.”

He sat down anyway.

“Bill Engel.” He extended his hand.

I shook it lamely. “Listen, Bill, no offense, I’m sure you’re a great guy, but I’d really rather be alone right now.”

“Come on now, missy. You can be alone anytime. This is your one and only opportunity to meet me. How many cowboys do you think there are in New Jersey?”

“Not too many I imagine, but I’m really not interested.” I didn’t want to be rude, but I’d had enough socializing for one night. I picked up my drink and went back to my corner barstool.

Cowboy Bill followed.

I drained my martini glass in two large gulps and asked the bartender for another. When he placed the check on the counter, Cowboy Bill grabbed it.

“I’ll get that,” he said. 

“No,” I yanked the check from his hand. “I can pay for my own drink, thanks.” The last thing I wanted was for this guy to think I owed him something.

“Now why are you bein’ like that?”

The alcohol hadn’t kicked in yet and I could feel my anger boiling up. “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll call the police.”

“What do you think the police are gonna do? I haven’t touched you.” Like magic, the accent had disappeared.

“Then I’ll sue you for harassment.”

“What are you, one of those bitchy New York lady lawyers?”

“No, I’m one of those bitchy L.A. lady lawyers.”

The bartender interrupted. “How about I call you a cab Mr. Engel?”

“I don’t need no cab,” Cowboy Bill said, “I can hold my liquor.” Then he swigged the rest of his beer, slammed it down on the counter, and stomped out.

“Thanks,” I said to the bartender.

“No problem, little lady,” he said with his own western twang.

I had to laugh. “What was up with that guy’s accent? I’ve never met anyone from Texas who could turn it off and on like that before.”

“He’s not from Texas,” the bartender said. “He’s from Trenton. He just likes playing cowboy.”

“Why?”

The bartender shrugged. “Too many
Tombstone
reruns on TV?”

“Val Kilmer was awesome in that movie.”

“I’m your huckleberry,” he said and tipped an imaginary cowboy hat at me and we both laughed.

I was already feeling guilty. “Sorry about before. I’m just having a bad night.”

“I figured. No one with a smile like yours could be all bad.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled into my drink while I fought back another grin. When I pulled my tattered tissue out of my purse and attempted to use it to blow my nose, the bartender reached under the counter and handed me a stack of cocktail napkins.

“Thanks,” I said again while desperately trying to think of a witty follow-up. After ten seconds of silence I gave up and asked, “So how did you know I was with the wedding?”

“The dress.” He nodded at it with his chin. “I don’t know a woman alive that would wear one of those things voluntarily.”

A guy with a fashion sense. He must be gay.

“And no,” he added, “I’m not gay.”

“I wasn’t thinking that,” I lied.

“Well most women would. I don’t know anything about women’s clothes, but I know every woman I’ve ever met hates bridesmaids’ dresses.”

“I’ll drink to that,” I said and drained my second martini. He poured me another. This one tasted mostly like vodka. I was starting to get that warm glow and I wanted it to last.

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