An impromptu reaction to an unexpected and random comment set me on an unusual path and a life steeped in fantasy. Who am I? My name is Julie, or at least some of the time…well, most of the time.
Okay, let me start at the beginning. I’m a thirty-something single mother of two teen boys. My full-time job as an administrative assistant fills the weekdays, and a part-time job at the movie store occupies nights and weekends. Sorting dirty gym socks, red-clay stained baseball pants, and school clothes leaves no time for leisure.
When my boys come home, they ruffle my short auburn hair and ask what’s for dinner—the teen expression for I love you, Mom. They are great kids.
This particular Wednesday afternoon, I lingered in front of the hungry maw of my pantry, dinner on my mind. I used the last of everything in the casserole last night.
“Let’s see what’s on the menu.” The door squeaked open in the silence of the kitchen like a scene out of a horror movie. A can of tomato sauce and a half package of macaroni sit in the middle of the shelf, mocking me. “Here we go again.”
What is so bad about laundry and dinner menus, you ask? Nothing—if you have a husband or a good job, and make enough money to HAVE a menu for dinner. But I digress. A trip to the grocery is mandated…later. There is a ball game tonight, so back to the laundry. I emptied about half a bottle of spray stain remover on the youngest son’s white baseball pants before realizing I sprayed enough to treat the WHOLE team’s stained uniforms.
If you live in Texas, you are familiar with the joys of red clay. It is obvious the men who coach these teams never worry about extracting said stains; otherwise, they would never choose white pants. However, that is another story. The pants are safely soaking, and I can move on to the next worry. I ran one hand through my un-coiffed hair, looked at my faded T-shirt, and shrugged. Time to brave the grocery store; the shirt will have to do.
I left the boys a note and hurried to complete the task so dinner wouldn’t be too late. I swear they have hollow legs after baseball practice. They eat everything in sight. So this is what it has come to. Good going, Julie—way to make something of your life… a divorced mother of two, working two jobs and trying to stretch a buck between paydays.
Anyway, this isn’t about the divorce or even about raising my wonderful sons. This story is about a mode of survival that morphed, totally by accident, into a secret game.
I grabbed a cart and pushed through the maze of shoppers. In my mind, I checked off my mental grocery list, which is always the same. It’s called a budget. I know how much I can spend each week, and it leaves little to the imagination. I jockeyed my way to the meat counter and stood reverently, for a moment, in front of the filet-mignons and T-Bone steaks. After I paid homage, I forced my way back to reality and quickly moved to the hamburger section.
Long ago, I mapped out the floor plan of this particular grocery and followed my diagram to the letter. It is cheaper to avoid distraction from the never-ending promos. Next stop—the produce aisle. My boys love fresh fruit, and I leaned over the bin of apples debating on whether it was more cost-effective to buy a bag of smaller apples or choose individual larger ones. Wouldn’t they be surprised if Mom splurged! I giggled at how an apple could turn into the single exciting event of the day. That’s when it happened.
A tanned male hand reached over mine to grab an especially attractive specimen, and my hand froze in mid-air.
“Care to share the joke, miss? Your attitude towards fruit is captivating. I never imagined fruit could be amusing; maybe I’m missing something.” He picked up the apple and looked down at me.
His smile caught me off guard. Gorgeous. “Oh, well…they speak to me, I guess. Sorry to disturb you.” I ducked away and moved to the bananas. Rats! He is cute, and here I am in a stupid T-shirt, and my hair is a mess. Great. Another one down the drain. Will I ever learn? At least comb your hair before you leave the house, dummy!
To my dismay, he followed and stood beside me while I picked up a couple of bunches for inspection. He was much too close. I probably smell like a stain remover.
“Do the bananas have anything to say today?” he asked.
“Look, mister, I’m in a hurry. You don’t have to make fun of me.” I turned around and pushed my cart toward the bread aisle.
“I apologize, I am not making fun, I assure you. It just looked like you enjoy shopping a little too much. I’d really like to know your secret.” He picked up a bag of hamburger buns. “What about grain products? Are they funny or the serious type? Come on, help a guy out.”
I decided to ignore him and rounded the corner. The apple fritters were on the third shelf. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, he went around the other way, and there he was, right in front of the fritters.
“Please, can I ask your name? I didn’t mean to come off as fresh. It’s just…it’s hard to find a nice woman to talk to. Thought I would try my luck in the grocery store. When you laughed at the apples, I knew I had to meet you.” He put a hand on my cart as if to stop me.
I took a deep breath and did the one thing I did not want to do. I had to brush this great looking guy off. If he knew I had teenage boys, worked two jobs, and didn’t have two nickels to rub together, he would probably run to the nearest exit. So…I lied.
“Lola…my name is Lola. Now, please go.”
“I’m Brad.” He reached out.
Against my better judgment, I took his hand, a strong, warm, very masculine hand. “Nice to meet you, Brad. If you don’t mind, I need to hurry.” I wriggled my hand out of his, although reluctantly.
“Please don’t go, Lola. Let’s get a cup of coffee. I would like to know you better, and maybe you could teach me how to listen to the fruit.”
“I can’t. I have an appointment. As you can see, I need to freshen up.” I headed for the checkout counter.
“So when? When can we get together? I don’t bite, you know.”
He followed me. This one is persistent. My mind whirled. How can I get rid of him? At the last minute, a plan evolved deep in the recesses of my brain. Looking back, I don’t recommend thinking on your feet. The net was closing around me, and now it was too late. “Do you know the dinner club ‘The Golden Peach’ on 84th? I go there on Thursday nights to watch the theater performances. We could meet there sometime.” I’ve never been there, but if it gets rid of him…
“Yes, I love that place, how about eight o’clock this Thursday? I’ll reserve a table.”
What? Oh crap, he likes the place. Now what? Well, I just won’t be there.
“Sure, I can probably work that in my schedule,” I lied again. I finished my check and hurried out of the store.
“See you Thursday night,” he hollered after me.
Yeah, right, buddy. Hope you aren’t out too much money when I don’t show.
As the days marched on and Thursday loomed ahead of me, second thoughts rattled around in my brain about accepting the date. Why not? I deserve a night out. Free, is free after all.
And so, it began.
Thursday dawned sunny and mild. Fine—it might have at least rained. Why doesn’t something stop me? I spent most of the day trying to talk myself out of the mistake I was about to make with no luck. I curled my hair and applied the make-up I so selfishly hoarded. Not bad. He might not even recognize me. At the far end of my closet, I stored the one acceptable party dress I had ever owned. It was black, of course, covered in sequins, spaghetti straps, and a low cut back.
Always frugal, I knew it would never go out of style. I complimented the dress with a black lace shawl, fake diamond stud earrings, and a teardrop necklace my boys had given me for Christmas. I was set to go; only I had forgotten one thing. My car. I’m all dolled up and roll up to the restaurant in a beat-up old hatchback? No, that won’t do. One of my frugal habits is to dump my change in a jar in the closet.
A quick check and I knew there was enough for a cab. Second thoughts plagued me, but the need for something, anything that made me feel like a woman again, crowded out the guilt. I called the cab.
The hostess took a quick peek behind me, and I said, “Just me tonight, although I may have someone waiting inside. A young man, sitting alone, perhaps?”
“Yes, does he have a gorgeous smile…tall, dark, and handsome?” she asked.
“That’s him.” My heart fluttered. Still time to back out, Julie.
“He’s sitting over there, by the stage. Best seat in the house. Follow me,” said the hostess.
I started to turn and leave, but too late. He saw me and waved. There were people crowding in behind me, and I couldn’t leave without making a scene. I followed the hostess.
He stood to pull out my chair. “I wasn’t sure you would come tonight, Lola. I kind of got the feeling you might blow me off.”
“This is my regular night, Brad, and this is my regular table. I would have been here whether you were or not.” I sat down.
“Ouch, I guess I wasn’t as smooth as I thought I was. Losing my touch, I see. The hostess didn’t say the table was reserved.”
The conversation was limited as the waitress took our orders and the wine was poured. I hoped the distractions would continue because panic reared its ugly head.
He asked questions, lots of them. I managed to sustain the old bob and weave until our meal arrived. To be perfectly frank, I totally immersed myself in the succulent meal. I know he was talking, but the words didn’t compute, became fuzzy, like a TV on in the next room. I looked up to take a sip of wine, and he was staring at me. “Something wrong?” I asked.
“No, but when is the last time you ate? I’ve never seen anyone concentrate on food like that. You really have an affinity for food, don’t you?” He dabbed his chin with the linen napkin.
“That? I can explain. I’m a food critic. It’s a part of the job. I have to give it my full attention. Sorry.” Wow, where did I come up with that?
“I’ve never known a food critic before. Do you hit all the restaurants in the area?” He leaned forward, eyes twinkling.
“I critique many surrounding towns and travel a lot to new restaurants. It’s very time-consuming.”
“How do you keep your weight down? You are thin as a rail,” he said.
“Trade secret. Can’t tell you.” This is too easy.
Thankfully, the play started, and all conversation stopped. For the next hour, I enjoyed a great stage performance with a full stomach, sitting next to a great-looking guy. Unfortunately, all good things must end. How am I going to get out of here? I can’t just walk down the street, ride off into the sunset. I know he will ask to take me home.
I know, I know. Why didn’t I just tell him the truth? My boys, I guess. They consume my life. I don’t have time for a relationship; they have to come first. It was just one night, I told myself. No harm, no foul
Continued in the second episode…