Author’s note: Please know that it’s Stephen referring to his dream woman as an amazing thing, and to the speed dating as “normal.” Not me.
Monday, February 13, 2017
Stephen Atcheson paid for his meatball sub and headed toward the North Campus Student Center. With luck, he’d find Kristen Beach eating outdoors – without her so-called boyfriend. Stephen sniffed in disdain at the thought of that cop – Jamie’s brother, no less.
Well. Kristen wasn’t married to the cop. She wasn’t even engaged. That meant she was fair game. Every man for himself. Stephen was well-educated, well-read, a fellow librarian, and unlikely to be killed in the line of duty. All he needed was time, and he knew he could win Kristen over.
And if not her, Jessie Gaither in ILL. Or Katrina Johnson, also a librarian. Although she had kids. Stephen didn’t care much for kids.
He spotted Kristen at a table, and his spirits lifted. No cops were present. Although Liz and Jamie were there, as expected.
No problem. He knew he could handle Liz. As for Jamie, Stephen still believed that he could use Jamie to meet women. One of these days he’d invite Jamie to go clubbing. Gay guys were catnip to women, and when Jamie told them he played for the other team, Stephen would be there to pick up the pieces.
He stopped at the table. “May I join you?”
Liz said, “It’s a free country. For now.”
Stephen sat, unwrapped his sub and took a bite. He was blissfully unaware of the meatball that escaped from the distal end of the sandwich and plopped onto his trouser leg, then somersaulted to the ground. He turned to Kristen on his left and asked her, “How was your morning?”
“What are you working on now?”
Kristen looked at him over the frame of her glasses. “Research guides.”
Stephen was thrilled. He had her attention! “Ah. What subject?”
“Oh, that’s interesting. What sorts of resources are you linking to?”
Kristen’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you were a librarian.”
Stephen was puzzled. “I am. Why?”
“Shouldn’t you know what sorts of resources belong on a speech guide?”
To his right, Liz snorted. Stephen ignored her. “Well, yes, of course. Since you’re the subject specialist, though, I thought you might know of some interesting sources.”
Kristen turned back to her salad. “I do. That’s why I’m the subject specialist.”
Stephen thought, Crap. He was losing her. He decided to take the leap. “So what are your plans for Valentine’s Day?”
Liz and Jamie both snorted that time. Stephen ignored them. Kristen turned toward him and smiled. He thought, Yes!
“Kevin and I are going to order in. Then we’ll have sex. At least twice.”
Across from him, Jamie made a strangled sound. Stephen was disappointed but tried not to show it. “Oh. Well. Jamie, what about you?”
“I have rugby practice.”
“So you won’t be going out?”
Stephen sighed inwardly. He might have to ask Katrina out after all. Or… he could activate Plan D.
Tuesday, February 14
Stephen checked his look in the mirror. The new hair color worked, he thought. Some women didn’t like redheads, so he’d switched to black. He fluffed the strands on top in an attempt to cover the bald spots. There.
He buttoned his shirt – not realizing he’d missed the bottom button – and tied his tie, unaware of the meatball stain at the bottom. He tucked his shirt in – mostly – and buckled his belt. He was ready. He opened the door of the men’s room handicapped stall – the only location on campus with a private sink – and strode confidently to the exit.
Stephen was totally unfamiliar with Venice, but his GPS guided him right to the door. He hesitated for a moment as he pulled to the curb – twenty bucks for valet parking! – but then decided to go for it. If he got lucky tonight, he didn’t want to look like a cheapskate.
Once inside, he surveyed the place. El Caribe, at first glance, was classy. Tiffany lamps cast a warm glow around the large room. A woman in a slinky red dress was playing piano in the far corner. Ahead of him, the bar was a burnished dark wood that gleamed.
Stephen suddenly experienced what was for him a nearly unheard-of sensation – a loss of nerve. He didn’t see anyone that appeared to be here for speed dating. People were sitting at tables in twos or fours, chatting and sipping cocktails. What was he doing here?
Then he spotted her, and time stopped. His hesitation fled. His nerve returned with reinforcements.
She was sitting against the far wall, a few tables away from the piano. She was with three other women – one a chunky blonde, one with razor-cut dark hair, and one who was too old for his tastes. But his focus was entirely on the first woman. She had long, curly dark hair and pale skin. She was wearing a sleeveless top, and her arms were toned.
She was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. Even hotter than Kristen Beach.
A male voice interrupted his reverie. “Sir? Excuse me, sir. Do you have a reservation?”
Stephen blinked and realized that he was being addressed by a head waiter of some sort. “Oh. Er – no. I’m here for the speed dating.”
The guy stared at Stephen for a moment, long enough for Stephen to wonder if he had the wrong night. Then he said, “Of course you are.” He pointed to the corner to Stephen’s left. “Registration is over there.”
Stephen immediately turned to the left. The head waiter said, “Um, hello? That’ll be forty dollars.”
He turned back, mouth agape. “Forty bucks?”
The guy made a “duh” face. “That’s right. All proceeds to AIDS Project Los Angeles.”
“Oh. Uh – okay.” Stephen fished out his wallet and handed over two more twenties. He’d have to use his credit card for drinks.
The woman across the room was worth it.
The head waiter handed Stephen a ticket. He went to the registration table, where a sign on a post read, Wide Open Speed Dating. Everyone Welcome. A businesslike woman in a suit and heels collected his ticket. Her name, according to the tag she wore, was Nadine. “Name?”
“Stephen Atcheson. A-T-C…”
She stopped him. “No last names.”
“Oh. Okay.” He pointed as she filled out a name tag. “PH, not V.”
“Sorry.” She corrected the mistake and handed him his name tag. “Is this your first time?”
Should he admit it and expose himself as a greenhorn? No. He said, “I’ve done it elsewhere.”
Nadine looked skeptical, but said, “Good. Then you know how it works. The tables are set up over there.” She pointed to an area beyond the bar. “It’ll be another ten minutes.”
“Thank you.” Stephen affixed his name tag and wandered in the direction of the bar. Should he get a drink? No. Apparently the participants would be switching tables when speed dating began. Better not to have to carry a glass with him.
He parked himself against a wall where he could watch the dark-haired woman. She was laughing about something with her friends and tossed her hair back from her shoulder.
She wasn’t wearing a name tag.
Stephen thought, Noooo. She has to be speed dating. But what if she wasn’t? He couldn’t take the chance. He straightened his tie and headed across the room.
When he reached the table, the older woman was speaking. She stopped in mid-sentence as all four women gave him the once-over. The chunky blonde, in particular, was staring at him as if she’d never seen a man before.
Stephen spoke directly to the dark-haired woman, oblivious to the ring on her left hand. “Hello. Are you here for the speed dating?”
For some reason, the chunky blonde found that amusing. The woman of his dreams said, “No. I’m not.”
“Oh.” Stephen didn’t want to seem overeager. “That’s too bad. Have you ever participated?”
The chunky blonde and the older woman both snorted. His future girlfriend was appraising him. “No.”
“Ah. Well. Anyway. My name’s Stephen.”
She crossed her arms and nodded at his name tag. “I see that.”
Stephen sighed inwardly. This was like having a conversation with Kristen Beach. “What’s your name?”
“Melanie. That’s a beautiful name.” He glanced around, and spotted an empty chair. “May I join you?”
Melanie said, “No. You may not.”
“Oh. Uh -” Stephen fumbled. That wasn’t the reaction he’d expected. “Then…”
The chunky blonde said, “Your speed dating is about to start.”
Stephen didn’t want to speed date. He wanted to stay and get to know Melanie. But he’d paid the forty bucks… “Maybe I’ll see you later, then.”
Melanie said, “I don’t think so.”
What was it with these Los Angeles chicks? Back in Minnesota, the women were far more compliant. But he wasn’t giving up. He smiled politely. “It was nice meeting you, Melanie.”
Melanie was shaking her head slowly. The chunky blonde said, “Wow.”
He had no idea what that meant. But he didn’t have time to mull it over. Nadine was now standing by the row of eight small tables, each of which was now occupied.
Nadine said, “All right. Here are the rules.” She handed out small slips of paper numbered 1 through 8. “Five minutes per table. At the end, you’ll give me the number or numbers of the people you’d like to get to know further, and the people at the tables will likewise tell me which of you they’re interested in. If there’s a match, I’ll let you know.” She checked her watch. “One minute.”
Stephen glanced back at Melanie’s table. She was reading something on her phone. The chunky blonde was hanging over her shoulder so that she could see too.
Typical women, joined at the hip to their best friends.
Nadine called out, “And – begin.”
Stephen sat at the closest table. The girl was Asian, although her name was Claire. Stephen didn’t care for Asian women, but he was polite. Claire didn’t seem interested in him at all, which assaulted his male ego somewhat – but it was just as well.
The five minutes seemed like fifteen, but then a bell rang. Nadine called, “Move to your left.”
The woman to Stephen’s left was a statuesque redhead wearing a lot of makeup. Not that there was anything wrong with that. She smiled coyly. “Well, hell-ooo, big boy.”
“Er – hello. I’m Stephen.”
“I’m Rickie.” Rickie batted her eyelashes. “Tell me about yourself, Stephen.”
Stephen had created his cover story on the drive to Venice. “I’m on faculty at UCLA.” Well, he had been adjunct faculty, until those eleven students had totally misinterpreted his intentions and he’d ended up in the library.
“You don’t say.” Rickie propped her chin on her fist and gazed into his eyes. “Let me guess what you teach.”
“Hmmmmm.” Rickie tapped her fingernails – she had very long fingernails – on the tabletop. “Chemistry.”
“No.” He didn’t understand – why would she think that?
Rickie looked him up and down. “Food science.”
“No.” Stephen was tiring of the game. “I teach English.”
Rickie crossed her arms and leaned back. “Get out. You do not.”
That flustered him. “Yes, I do. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Honey, I’ve got an MFA, and I never saw an English prof that looked anything like you.”
“Well, you’re wrong.”
“No, I’m not.” Rickie raised her left eyebrow, and her voice dropped into a lower register. “You may have taught English somewhere, sometime, but you are not full-time faculty at UCLA. I can spot a liar from across the city, and I’d bet my Louboutins on that.”
Steven was deeply offended, entirely disregarding the fact that he was, indeed, lying. “Has anyone told you that you’re an incredibly rude woman?”
Rickie laughed. She had a deep, throaty laugh. “They most certainly have.” She looked past him and tossed her head – and the bell rang.
Nadine said, “Move to your left.”
The man at the table to his right – Claire’s table – said, “Hey. That wasn’t five minutes.”
Claire said, “Close enough.”
Stephen moved to his left. Gladly. The next girl was black. She had a cute African accent, but again – not his type.
As he moved to the table after that, Stephen glanced back at Melanie’s table.
She was gone.
The thought that he might never see Melanie again caused his stomach to drop to his heels. Maybe if he started coming here every weekend…
Then he turned back to the table, and his gastric distress righted itself.
The woman was very attractive. Not in Melanie’s league, true, but a looker nonetheless. She was blond, with startlingly green eyes and enormous boobs.
A man could get lost in those.
Stephen sat. “Hello.”
The woman smiled. “Hello. I am Katia.”
Her accent was Russian, or something similar. Stephen said, “It’s nice to meet you, Katia. How are you this evening?”
“I am very well, thank you.” She leaned forward, giving Stephen an up close and personal view of her assets. “What is your occupation?”
He was so flustered by the proximity of Katia’s chest, he almost forgot to lie. “I – ah – I teach English at UCLA.”
“A university professor? Do you have tenure?”
Stephen thought, What an odd question. “Er – yes.”
“Wonderful.” She gazed into his eyes. “You must be a brilliant man.”
Stephen blushed, in spite of himself. “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“Do not be modest.” Katia smiled more widely. “Brilliant and handsome.”
Memories of Melanie were receding quickly from Stephen’s brain. “Thank you. What do you do?”
“I am a model.”
It didn’t occur to Stephen that a woman of Katia’s advanced cup size was unlikely to be a runway model. Visions of the Victoria’s Secret catalog were dancing in his head. “Wow. That’s amazing. I guess you travel all over the world.”
“Oh, yes.” Katia licked her lips. “Do you live nearby?”
Ugh. How could Stephen take an international runway model back to his trailer park in Lancaster? “No, I’m afraid not. I live out in the desert.”
“Mm. Too bad.”
The bell rang. “Move to your left!”
Katia shook Stephen’s hand lightly. “It was wonderful to meet you, Stephen.”
“You, too. Maybe I’ll see you at the end.”
Katia smiled. “Maybe you will.”
Buoyed on a wave of self-esteem, Stephen moved to the next table, where he found a woman who was probably close to his own age. Too old for him and mannish, besides. She regarded him with what could only be described as a jaundiced eye. “Stephen, huh?”
“Yes. And you are…?”
“Dru.” She folded her arms across her flat chest. “Let me guess. You’re waiting tables until you get your big break.”
“Er – no? I teach at UCLA.” Until his big break came along, but he wouldn’t add that.
Dru looked incredulous. “Seriously? Like, what? Soil science?”
What was it with these women? “No, like English.”
She snorted. “Buster, I don’t know who you are or what you do, but you do not teach English at UCLA. I teach in the MFADW program at USC, and I know everyone in UCLA’s department. And you aren’t one of ‘em.”
MFADW? Stephen caught his breath. The MFA in Dramatic Writing program at USC produced some of the best playwrights and screenwriters in the country. This woman might have contacts. “I did teach there, as an adjunct. I’m working at YRL now. I guess you must know a lot of people in the industry.”
Dru was greatly amused. “I guess I must. And I suppose you’ve got a script in your back pocket.”
Stephen mentally kicked himself for not bringing the script. “Not with me, no, but I can have it to you by morning.”
“I’m sure you can. Just to satisfy my own curiosity, what’s your genre?”
“Horror. The title is Carnival of Doom.”
Dru sighed deeply. “Carnival of Doom. Where do you people come from?”
He wasn’t sure what she meant by that. “I’m from Minnesota.”
“Of course you are.”
Stephen was opening his mouth to ask Dru if he could send her his script when the bell rang. Nadine called, “Move to your left.”
He stood up. “It was great to meet you, Dru. Do you have a card?”
“Darn. I forgot to bring them with me.” She made a run along, now motion with her hand.
Stephen was undaunted. There couldn’t be more than one or two women named Dru in USC’s MFADW program. He’d be able to track her down later.
The final contestants for Stephen’s affections were unremarkable, in his opinion. There had even been a man at one table. Awkward. When Nadine rang the bell the final time, he handed her the number for Katia. He’d been watching her out of the corner of his eye, and didn’t think she’d been pleased with any of the other contestants.
He was thrilled when Nadine called him to Katia’s table. “You two have matched. What happens now is up to you.” She went to Rickie’s table and called a man over.
Katia stood up and produced a business card. “Here is my telephone number. I hope to hear from you soon.”
Wait. He wasn’t going to get laid tonight? He said, “Er – what about now?”
Katia gave him a flirtatious, sideways look. “Stephen. What kind of girl do you think I am?”
“Oh. Sorry. Not that kind. Not at all. I just thought…”
She laughed lightly and patted his arm. “Call me.”
“I will. May I walk you to your car?”
Stephen waited while Katia gathered her things. He glanced at Melanie’s table; it was now occupied by someone else.
Oh, well. A bird in the hand…
He walked Katia to the valet stand, where she patted his arm again. “I will see you soon, yes?”
Rickie came through the door on the arm of – Claire?? They spotted Katia and Stephen, and Rickie smirked. Claire said something to her, which made them both snicker.
Maybe they were jealous of Katia’s endowments.
Katia’s car arrived – a midnight blue Beemer. She climbed into the driver’s seat and drove away, fluttering her fingers at Stephen.
He stood for a moment, staring after her. The valet said, “Are you ready for your car, sir?”
“Uh – no. Not yet.” Stephen went back into the club to take a leak before the long haul back to Lancaster. As he did, he created a to-do list in his head.
One. As soon as he got home, find Dru on USC’s website and send her Carnival of Doom.
Two. Call Katia tomorrow on his morning break.
Three. Talk to the bartender.
Stephen left the men’s room – it didn’t occur to him to wash his hands – and went to the bar. The crowd was thinning now, so it wasn’t difficult to catch the bartender’s eye. He ordered a beer and asked, “Do you happen to know a girl who was here tonight named Melanie? She was sitting over there -” He pointed. “- with three other women. She has long, curly dark hair…”
The bartender said, “Yeah, I know Mel. What about her?”
“Do you know her last name?”
The bartender eyed Stephen skeptically. “Yes. Will I tell you what it is? No.”
The bartender held up his hand. “I can save you some grief. Mel has been married to the blond woman she was with for almost ten years. You’re definitely not her type.”
Stephen was too shocked to move. “How can that be?”
The bartender didn’t even dignify that with a reply. He shook his head and moved to another customer. Stephen turned around and looked over the crowd. Now that he knew what to look for, he saw it. There were a few straight couples here – but the majority were either two women or two men.
But the speed dating was normal…mostly…
Stephen was confused. He left half of his beer and went to collect his car. As he waited, he asked the valet, “Is this primarily a gay bar?”
The valet turned a suspicious eye onto him. “Everyone’s welcome at El Caribe.”
“Oh. Sure. Thanks.”
“Uh huh.” The valet moved to the other side of the stand.
Stephen crossed Melanie off his mental list, and added another item. Look for an apartment in town. He couldn’t take Katia to his trailer, but he knew he couldn’t afford rent in or around West LA.
Maybe Dru would send Carnival of Doom to someone who’d buy it.
But that could take some time…
Stephen’s car arrived. He got in and reset his GPS for home.
He worked in a library…
He was struck with an idea about how to make some extra money. He smiled to himself as he drove away.
He thought it was a brilliant idea.