Girls Night In

the blog for single, over-40 women

Meeting the New Guy

New Guy by imagerymajestic

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net.

Don’t you love it when a new GWP (Guy With Potential) enters your social circle? It’s been a while for me, but I certainly remember what it feels like. That twinge of attraction when your eyes meet, the beat of hope the first time he makes you laugh, and all those little moments that whisper, Maybe … just maybe. . . .

I suppose those are just a few of the reasons this is one of my favorite scenes in Spinstered the Novel. Here, Uli meets the latest GWP to show up at her church. Enjoy!

***

Sunday morning dawns crisp and clear. It’s late September, and the aspens outside my bedroom window twinkle gold in the early sunlight. Hope filters through me. It’s like what Anne of Green Gables said: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” I’m ready for something wonderful to happen.

I’m so ready.

Squeezing into my black jeans, I choose not to stress about the thirty pounds I need to lose. Maybe today I’ll take a walk instead of opening a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. The dark chocolate ones. Stop it, Uli. It’s a new day, and anything is possible. I pull eight sweaters and five shirts out of the closet and try them all on before finally knocking on Jolene’s bedroom door and getting her opinion on my final three options.

“This one, definitely,” she says, pointing to a white cardigan covered in big black and gray flowers. It’s lightweight, which is good because fall afternoons in Colorado can still simmer on the warm side. I wear a simple, white tank underneath and wrap a red scarf around my neck for color.

After spending thirty minutes trying to get my hair to do something even remotely cute, I finally pull it back with some black clips, leaving a few curly tendrils free to frame my face. Dangling, silver earrings; strappy, black sandals; a hint of Charlie Red, and I’m ready to go. Since Jolene has been yelling at me to hurry up for the last ten minutes, I grab my purse and chase her out to the car. She streaks ahead of me like a ray of sunshine in her bright, happy outfit. Or like a big, yellow chicken. Brian will definitely notice her. And I’ll make a nice, neutral backdrop.

I have a tough time paying attention to the service. It’s hard to listen to a sermon about the power of grace when you’re craning your neck for a glimpse of the new guy. Especially when you’re trying to look without looking like you’re looking.

Jolene elbows me and whispers, “Can’t you wait another thirty minutes?”

“No.” I grin at her and glance behind me … right into the clear, silver-fox eyes of Brian Kemper. Wow, he actually has an up-to-date Facebook photo, except his dark hair is shorter and there’s some gray at the temples. His eyes are a little close together, and he has a rather large, hooked nose, but it works for him. Especially when he smiles, which he does, and I realize I’m staring. Then he nods at me. One of those polite, “what’s up” nods. Like we work in the same building and, every once in a while, have to wait for the elevator together. What a disappointingly unromantic meeting! I can’t tell our kids that. “Our eyes met across a crowded room … and he nodded at me.” Blah.

I want a do-over.

Though it’s too late now, I look away, feeling the heat crawl up my face. Well, that’s that. Then I make the mistake of glancing at Jolene. She has a serene, perfect, speak-to-me-Lord expression on her face. Good grief, the woman knows exactly where Brian Kemper is sitting. She’s probably known since we walked into the sanctuary.

Jolene: one; Uli: zero.

Catie, however, seems completely oblivious. She’s sitting on the other side of Jolene, scribbling notes faster than Pastor Owens can get the words out. I shouldn’t say “scribbling” because her writing is neat, bulleted, and laid out in columns. It looks like an Excel spreadsheet. But her short, cropped, red-gold hair frames her perky but somewhat plain face just right and, though I’m not fond of business suits personally, her striking blue one makes her seem taller and, somehow, adds a few curves.

“What did he just say?” Tess, to my right, leans closer. Well, he didn’t say anything, he’s— Oh, wait. The sermon. She means the pastor, not Brian. Right. I shrug my shoulders. “Sorry. I missed it too.” She gives me a crooked, behave-yourself smile. Boy, do I wish my friends couldn’t read me like a book. Not all the time, anyway.

So, I turn my attention completely to the pastor until the last amen is uttered. We stand for the closing song, and as the final strains of “Your Grace Is Enough” echo through the sanctuary, the music morphs into the chatter of several hundred voices.

I do not fight my way through the crowd or hurry to our class meeting room but wander around, greeting acquaintances and chatting with whomever I happen to run into. On occasion, I catch a glimpse of Brian. He’s surrounded by people. What could he have done to be such a favorite already? He’s definitely an extrovert. And he’s cute in an older-guy-with-laugh-lines-and-no-sense-of-style kind of way. The group around him seems completely captivated. They laugh at almost anything he says. Hope simmers through me like that first sip of hot chocolate.

Please, God. Please let something happen.

Eventually, I make my way to the classroom where our group leader, Scott, greets everyone with a Squiggy-like “hello” and hands out his weekly list of discussion questions. Thirty-one-year-old Scott Jones works at Home Depot and treats every girl like a sister. Which would be fine if he didn’t see himself as the annoying little brother who pulls your hair and drops ice cubes down the back of your shirt. Okay, he’s not that bad, but I’m pretty sure the thought has crossed his mind. To his credit, though, he does an adequate job keeping our small group on track.

I set my Bible and notebook on a chair before turning to dash back through the door, heading to the restroom for one last, quick check in the mirror. But I take the corner too fast and run smack-dab into Mr. GWP himself. I don’t just run into him; I practically bowl him over, stumbling like a drunken sailor, knocking a cup of coffee out of his hands and to the floor, where it splatters all over our shoes. Strong fingers grab my arms, helping me get my balance. With a deep breath, I look up into gray eyes that flicker startled, then amused.

“Steady there,” he says.

I laugh. What else can I do? This meet-cute might be more interesting than a nod but only if it leads to something. If he never asks me out, it will forever be merely an embarrassing memory. So, of course, my imagination jumps to a happier outcome. One where I tell our kids about how I ran into their father … literally.

Once I’m no longer tilting, he drops his hands away. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I pick up the now empty Styrofoam cup and hand it to him. “How about you?”

He smiles. “I’ve survived worse. So,” he says, looking around, “are you running to something or away from it?”

To something. Definitely. But I say, “The restroom,” like a ditz. I’m always so much more clever in my mind.

We gaze into each other’s eyes for a suspended-in-air moment. Then he says, “Where can I get something to clean this up?”

“What?”

“The coffee.”

Shake it off. “Right. Of course. I’ll take care of it. You go on. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Where’s that?”

“Oh, um …” Good grief, Uli. You sound like a stalker. “Hello, stranger. I know we only met a minute ago, but I know exactly where you’re going.” Out loud I say,

“I meant … aren’t you …” I point pathetically toward the door I just lurched through.

He looks past me. “Is that where the single professional class meets?”

I nod and am, I’m sure, about to say something completely not brilliant, when Jolene sashays out into the hall.

“Well, hello there!” She flicks her head my direction and flashes a smile that actually outshines her dress. “Uli, are you gonna introduce me to your friend?”

Jolene: two.

Once again I stammer out something nonsensical as Brian steps forward, hand outstretched.

“Hi, I’m Brian. Your friend—Uli?—and I just … ran into each other.” He grins back at me and suddenly hope springs up again like a jack-in-the-box, shocking me with its sudden reappearance. Two minutes after meeting and the new guy and I already have a past, a history, an inside joke.

Uli: one.

My friend and roommate takes his hand. “Jolene. Nice to meet you.” Then, instead of letting go, she practically pulls him into the classroom. “Let me introduce you to the rest of the crew.”

I look down at the puddle of coffee soaking into the carpet, tempted to just leave it. It’s old carpet, anyway. That would be wrong, though, so I hurry to get some paper towels from the kitchen.

It would be unwise to leave Brian in Jolene’s grasp too long. If all’s fair in love and war, then I need to prepare for battle. My roommate, after all, is a seasoned campaigner.

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Dreaming Outside the Box

Over the last weekend, I put together my own double-feature: Emma (the one with Gwyneth Paltrow) and Clueless, which, by the way, came out twenty years ago this week. And, if you didn’t know, Clueless is a contemporary version of the classic Jane Austen novel.

Anyway, both movies—and the book, if I remember correctly—contain a scene where one of the characters decides to get rid of the little keepsakes she hung on to in memory of the man who broke her heart. And I have to admit … it’s nice to know I’m not the only who does silly things like that.

Keepsakes - GNI 7.31.15Some of it I still have, including a journal where I wrote about dates and crushes, on and off, from August 1981 to July 1988. It contains letters and notes, poetry and pictures, a movie ticket stub and even a deflated balloon. But I didn’t just keep memories; I kept hope.

* A small, plain cardboard box sits in my garage. Filled with various items from years gone by, it’s the box that travels from one storage room to another every time I move. A couple of years ago I finally went through it, trying to decide what should stay and what should go. Which memories should I treasure and which should I forget?

It’s not just a question about the box. And I’ve probably kept more than I should have.

That old box, you see, contains remnants of my shattered, hopeful heart. Somewhere near the bottom is a faded “I love you” card I bought several decades ago, certain I would one day give it to my guy. The inside sentiment—“And to think we almost never met”—becomes more poignant and ironic with each passing year.

Poems I wrote expressing my hopes, frustrations, fears, and longings are collected in a folder. The box even contains a few pictures of wedding dresses I saved during a time when I believed meeting someone, falling in love and getting married would be the natural progression of my life and it could happen at any moment so I should be prepared. I thought it would be healthy evidence of positive thinking if I planned ahead. Hey, I knew women who bought their wedding dress before they even met the guy! Why couldn’t I hang on to a few pictures?

So many dreams, all packed away in a beat-up, well-traveled cardboard box. Abandoned … but not forgotten. Much like my heart. I got a point where I needed to not think about what I desired, where I had to at least try to ignore the ache. Not planning, not hoping, not cutting out pictures or penning romantic sonnets about candles and chocolate hearts and the caress of fingers across my skin.

I pushed my heart into its own little box, taped it shut and put it in its place. It was better that way. I could not swim in grief on a daily basis. Too many years had passed, and things just weren’t the same. Continuing to hope for “someday” seemed so pointless.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll deal with the box, but for now the dreams are right where they need to be.

So what about you? Do you hold onto keepsakes as reminders of lost loves? Or have you collected any pieces of hope for the future relationship you dream of?

* Part of this article was excerpted from my book, Spinstered: Surviving Singleness After 40.

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If You Want Something to Read …

In celebration of dropping the price of my romance novella, Cold Read, to only .99 cents, I thought I’d share the first chapter:

Cold Read - Mosey by papaija2008

Image courtesy of papaija2008/freedigitalphotos.net.

 

Chapter 1
Stephie

… because it is not always that the hopes of deserving, loving human beings are blessed …
                                                                                                 ~N. Richard Nash, “The Rainmaker”

 It is, quite possibly, the first time I’ve ever seen anyone mosey, other than John Wayne. So, the first time in real life. But mosey he does, right through the double doors of the Holland Theatre and straight into my heart, dragging a chill rush of autumn air in his wake. All six-foot-four of him, with his bald head and smirky swagger.

Please God. Please let him be here for the auditions.

Auditions always make me nervous, whether I’m posturing for a part onstage or casting from the seats below. This time it’s the latter—my first directing job at the old, historic theatre in downtown Bellefontaine, Ohio. We had just started auditions and I was already swiping sweat from my forehead at the lack of men showing up. Leave it to me to choose a play that requires six of them. Everyone knows you have to beg, borrow, and steal to get more than a handful of guys to audition for community theatre. So far, eleven women have read for the one female part compared to three men for the six male roles. And of those three, two were teens and the third was perfect for H.C., the main character’s dad.

Which meant I still haven’t found my over-the-top leading man, Starbuck.

And now, here he is, standing in front of me, grinning and handing me his slightly wrinkled audition form. How it got wrinkled from the lobby to here, I … well, maybe he was nervous too. I stick out my hand. “I’m the director, Stephie Graham, and this is my assistant, Merle Borscht.”

He takes my fingers in a firm grip. “Andy Tremont. Is this a cold read?”

“Yes.” And if that isn’t confirmation enough, I nod so hard my blue-green beret tips forward, knocking lavender-highlighted bangs into my eyes. I brush my vision clear.

“But if you have something ready,” I say, “we’d love to see it.”

“Uh, nope.” He scuffs a shoe on the floor and looks toward the door he just walked through. “I just found out about this today, so I’m not too prepared.”

“Oh, that’s okay!” I say, tossing out a hand breezily and accidentally smacking Merle in the chest. Which jolts the elderly man out of his reverie long enough to say,

“You have any experience, son?”

Good old Merle. He shuffles everywhere and has thick, white hair and warm eyes and doesn’t think anything interesting has happened since the Rat Pack broke up. I mentioned once I felt the same way about the Brat Pack and he looked at me with such disappointment, I imagine he went home that night and wept for my generation.

But he knows theatre like Sinatra knew Vegas, so I’m lucky to have him on my team. Such as it is.

Andy hooks a thumb into his belt loop, Duke-style, and says, “Oh, sure.” He leans over the table I’m perched at and points to the “previous experience” section of his form. “When I lived in Columbus I did a bunch of stuff. Motel in Fiddler, the Stage Manager in Our Town, and Porthos in an outdoor production of The Three Musketeers. That was fun.”

I’ll bet.

He stands up and his head seems to brush against the star-studded theatre ceiling. His green eyes light into mine and I take a deep breath. That’s when I catch a whiff of soap and leather. I almost sigh.

Trouble, thy name is Andy.

I stare. I blink. My, but he is tall.

He clears his throat.

Say something, Stephie, before he moseys out of your life.

I finally exhale and whisper, “You sing?” Because that is the most important information necessary for someone who isn’t auditioning for a musical. I almost smack myself.

He doesn’t seem to mind, though. “I do okay.”

“Because we’re doing a musical in the spring.” Good grief, Stephie.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Well,” I say, trying to regain control of what I’d momentarily lost sight of, “we, um, don’t have any other women here at the moment, so would you mind reading for Starbuck with, uh, me?”

“Sure.”

I hand him the sides for the scene I want him to read and follow him up the ramp and onto the stage.

And he nails it. I have my Starbuck. He’s so perfect, I fight the urge to just play Lizzie myself. My youthful fantasy of falling in love with my co-star during a show calls out to me. But how could I? We have plenty of talent in Bellefontaine and, well, I don’t really look the part.

Darn it.

Merle grins and gives me a thumbs-up. As I make my way back down the ramp, something crashes to the floor backstage. Andy jumps.

I laugh. “Don’t worry. It’s just Juniper.”

“Juniper?” Andy glances behind him. “Is she auditioning?”

“Oh no,” I say, and waggle my eyebrows at him. “She’s our resident ghost.”

Merle nods. “Every decent theatre has one.”

Now Andy smiles. “I’ll have to take your word on that.”

And then two more women arrive to audition and the moment is over. I don’t see him leave but I have his number.

“Andy’s perfect,” Merle tells me later. “He even reminds me a bit of Peter Lawford.”

“I thought Burt Lancaster played Starbuck in the movie.”

Merle frowns and sighs, gaping at me like I’m a high school girl speaking in hashtags.

Shoot. I might have just said something else that will make him weep.

 ❆❆❆

Later that night, I let myself into my small, one-bedroom apartment. My cat, Cozy, meets me at the door, purring and weaving around my ankles. I pick her up and carry her to my only seating area, a ragged, but clean, red-plaid couch. It isn’t much of an apartment—old, ugly, and it somehow always smells like bacon—but they let me have a cat for a reasonable price so it’s home enough for me.

“Home is where the heart is, right, Cozy?” The cat looks at me and meows, then bats a paw at my arm. She jumps down and meows again, teeth bared. I sigh. “Oh, all right.”

I follow her into the kitchen and refill her food dish, then grab a bottle of cream soda from the fridge. Taking a seat at the kitchen table, which also serves as my work desk, I open my laptop.

First thing I do is Google search for “Peter Lawford.” A Rat-Packer, of course. Tall, handsome but with a full head of hair. So, for the most part, Merle was right. Personally, though, Andy reminds me more of a bald Jeff Goldblum.

All in all, he’s a nice combination of wonderfulness and swagger and just the guy I need to play Starbuck.

Couldn’t ask for more than that.

After turning on a 50s Pandora station, I open the marketing packet I started yesterday for a Marysville dermatologist and get to work.

I finally crawl into bed around two a.m., which is actually pretty early for me. But I toss around all night, messing up the carefully tucked sheets and dreaming about the tall, bald actor who seems destined to break my heart.

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