By Laura Major
By Laura Major
Arriving home from the jog, Tessa jumped into the shower to refresh herself. After enjoying a long shower, she pulled back the shower curtain and reached for the towel hanging behind the door. She was drying off her body, when the phone rang. What is this? Groundhog’s Day? Tessa thought. She stepped from the shower and walked through the bedroom, wrapping the towel around her as she went.
“Hello?” Tessa answered on the fourth ring.
“What are you doing?”
“Hi, Mom. I was just getting out of the shower, why?”
“Oh, it is Sunday, isn’t it? I see you still think gallivanting with your friends is still more important than supporting your relationship with the Creator?”
“You know I was jogging, not gallivanting. Besides, I was appreciating the Creator by communing with nature.” Even Tessa, standing in the center of her bedroom, was impressed with that quick retort.
“We’ll see how witty you are on Judgment Day.”
“Despite knowing how much you love to lecture me, I had planned to call you when I finished freshening up.”
“What could possibly entice you to bestow a little unprovoked attention on your mother?”
“You first. Why did you call?” Tessa asked ignoring the sarcasm. Preparing for the reply, she sat on the edge of her bed.
“I was checking on when you’d be by to finish helping with the rummage sale preparations.”
“I won’t be able to make it, something—”
“What? I should have known.”
“-something came up, but I’ll be there next weekend. However, I did arrange for Cara to come by today. That’s why I was planning to call you, so you’d know to expect her.”
“You know what they say about idle intentions. As usual, you’re too late. Cara’s already here.”
“So you’ve got your help then. Now, Cara’s not your daughter. You can’t badger and ridicule her. Be nice.”
“I am the perfect hostess. Besides, she’s been around long enough. I don’t have to give her any special treatment.”
“Well, I’ve got to go, Mom.”
“Fine. See you next weekend.”
Tessa hung up the phone knowing she wouldn’t hear the end of it from Cara next Sunday. She went back to preparing for her date. Once the process was complete, Tessa emerged from the bedroom refreshed and ready to enjoy the midday blind date. She entered the living room carrying white anklet socks in one hand and a pair of white oxford tennis shoes in the other. She wore a khaki mini skort and a sleeveless red polo shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a long wavy ponytail and her makeup was natural. Unsure of what to expect and no idea of where she was meeting this new bachelor, Tessa grabbed her backpack purse and exited the apartment, locking the door behind her. Walking down the hall, she knocked on Justin’s front door before using his spare key to let herself in. She opened the door when she saw a white blur whiz across her field of vision and disappear into the bedroom.
“Oops, sorry,” Tessa called out.
“Yeah, right. Don’t you mean, ‘Sorry I didn’t barge in sooner’?” Justin hollered back from the bedroom.
“Exactly, next time I’ll know better.”
“I should have known this was coming after I walked in on you last week.”
“You’re running late. Don’t we need to get going?” Tessa called out before she made herself comfortable on the sofa.
“I’ll give you the address. This isn’t a double date, remember?”
“Yeah, but you haven’t told me who I’m meeting and where.”
“Wait until you get there. He knows what you look like, so he’ll approach you.”
“You’ve been real secretive lately, and I don’t like it.” Tessa picked up the remote and aimlessly began to surf the channels.
“Come on it will be fun.” Justin walked out of the bedroom wearing blue jeans and a navy t-shirt.
“You’re wearing that?” Tessa asked suddenly feeling a little overdressed.
“What is that you’re wearing, a miniskirt?”
“It’s a skort. Should I change?”
“No. You look athletic. That’ll work, but I hope you’re good at staying on your feet. I’d hate to see you scrape up those pretty legs of yours,” Justin said with a smirk.
“Looking athletic is one thing, but being athletic is something else entirely. You better tell me what we’re doing.”
“Not a chance,” Justin replied heading to the kitchen counter. He wrote something on a piece of scratch paper. “Here’s the address. You better get going. Leila should be here any minute. Then we’ll head over after you.”
Tessa stood and took the piece of paper from Justin’s hand. Reviewing it, she recognized the street but couldn’t think of what would be there that was worthy of a first date. She left the apartment and drove to the address on the scratch paper. Upon arriving, she couldn’t believe where Justin’s note had directed her. Pulling into the parking lot, Tessa parked and began sifting through her purse in search of her cell phone. She found it, dialed and waited for an answer.
“Hello, Tessa. Are you there already? Leila just arrived and we’re heading to my car now.”
“Justin! Why are we meeting at a roller rink?”
“Come on, Tess. It’ll be fun.”
“I haven’t skated since we were kids.”
“Yeah, those were some great times.”
“Let’s focus, Justin. Smelly rental skates and cheap food isn’t my idea of fun. This is worse than the burlesque show. You’re doing this on purpose.” Tessa slapped the steering wheel for emphasis even though no one could see her.
“You need to lighten up. You’re thirty-one, not fifty-one. Now get in there and find your date.”
“I don’t know what he looks like, remember?”
“I already told you I selected him from your list of favorites. Besides, as I’ve said before, he knows what you look like. Now, go.”
Before Tessa could respond, the conversation was over with a click. She stepped out of the car and into the humid sunlight that only a Jersey Spring could provide. With a thumb on the remote, Tessa locked her car and headed to the rink’s entrance. Once inside, she ordered her rental skates and handed the attendant her debit card.
Looking at the card and back at Tessa he began, “You’re Tessa Dennison?”
“Well, your admission and skate rental have already been paid for,” the attendant replied and handed back her card. “Also, here’s a gift card for the snack bar, because that’s already taken care of too.”
Tessa didn’t understand. “How can this be?”
“It’s included in the party package. Someone in your party arranged it. It was kind of weird, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“How’s that?” Tessa was very intrigued now.
“Well, the guy who arranged it paid for two parties, each one to accommodate only two people. Why not make it a party of four?”
Tessa couldn’t help but smile when she replied. “Well, it’s not your average party. Thanks for the info.” Tessa grabbed her skates off the counter and walked away completely amazed at Justin’s ability to address every detail.
Sitting on a bench near the rink, Tessa unlaced her tennies and slipped them off. Bent over to unlace the skates and slip her feet into them, she noticed a pair of skates approaching her.
Looking up, Tessa replied, “Yes, that’s me. You must be Niceguy73.” Tessa was relieved that she recognized him from her favorites list. Niceguy73 was just as he had described himself in his online profile, but his picture didn’t begin to capture his handsome charm. He was at least six-foot-two with a shiny cocoa brown head and hazel eyes. Aside from that beautiful baldhead, Tessa couldn’t overlook those bulging muscles that stretched the seams of his gray khaki slacks and black polo shirt to their limit.
“Please call me John. Can I help you up?” Before she could reply, John grabbed her by the elbow and raised her to her feet.
“Whoa, I haven’t finished tying my laces.” No sooner had Tessa finished her sentence than she felt her feet slip out from under her. John tried to regain grip of her arm. She began flailing her arms in a wild circular motion when her right skate jerked into John’s ankle, causing them both to collapse to the floor. Tessa held her breath. She had narrowly missed hitting her head on the bench.
With legs intertwined, John looked over at Tessa. “Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way.”
“Be prepared. I’m sure there’s more where that came from. Are you okay?” Tessa asked, reaching over to tie her laces.
“Yeah, but if you don’t mind, I’ll let you get up on your own,” John replied while he rubbed his ankle.
John managed to rise to his feet first. Using the bench to brace herself, she looked up to notice Justin grinning down at her from the glassed-in skybox lounge. Tapping John on the shoulder, Tessa pointed at the skybox. “That wasn’t there when I came here as a kid. What’s up there?”
“That’s the snack lounge. They added it when this place went through major renovations a few years back. There’s a pool table up there to occupy those who’d rather rack up balls, instead of bruises.”
“Well, depending on how I do out there, we may need to retire to the skybox to nurse our contusions over a drink,” Tessa teased and motioned toward the rink.
Tessa and John slowly shuffled toward the lockers to put away her shoes and other belongings. Putting the locker key in the pocket of her skort, Tessa smiled at John who was watching her every movement.
“So are you ready to brave the rink? Or would you rather warm up on the carpet?”
“Let’s go for it.” Tessa felt a burst of spontaneity.
“Ooh, I like a lady who’s willing to take risks. Let’s go.” John grabbed her arm before she could change her mind and headed toward the rink. Justin did it again, Tessa thought when she recognized the retro eighties music that played overhead. It was amazing how enjoyable this date was turning out to be despite its kiddy appeal. She chuckled to herself while watching skaters of all ages, sizes, and skill levels glide across the smooth floor. When Tessa and John neared the rink’s edge, John gave her one last smile before he pulled her in front allowing her to precede him. Feeling a little apprehensive, Tessa slowly stepped onto the rink floor. Obviously, anxious to get out there, John stepped onto the floor behind her, giving her a little push as he grabbed hold of her waist. They began to skate around the circular rink. Feeling that Tessa was comfortable, John let go and grabbed her hand.
“So you like risk, eh?” Tessa asked while keeping her eyes in front of her.
“In my line of work, it comes with the territory.”
“What line of work is that?”
“I’m in emergency response.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“I train different government personnel on how to respond to different emergencies.”
“You mean terrorism?”
“That’s one example, yes.”
“That’s pretty impressive. That explains the build.”
“Yes. I have to be ready for anything.”
After several laps, Tessa found herself torn. John was really interesting and good-looking. He encompassed a rare balance of brawn and intelligence. Daniel, on the other hand, possessed razor-sharp ambition, and he also was easy on the eyes. Justin may have started out a little weak in this matchmaking game, but he was right. He was definitely getting the hang of it.
“Hey, where were you just now?” John gently tugged her hand to bring her back to reality.
“Just thinking how nice this date is turning out to be.”
“After three weeks of e-mails through the dating site, are you really surprised?”
This having been the first time that Tessa had ever talked to John, she knew she would have to think fast to keep her secret.
“Not that I’m a serial online dater, but I’ve been at it long enough to know that not everyone is how they present themselves.”
“The same holds true for some in the real world, too.” John smiled at her and continued. “During our e-mail exchange, I was thinking that you might be too good to be true. But if you don’t mind me saying so this soon, you are even better than I imagined.”
“I don’t know what to say.” In actuality, it was too soon, but Tessa knew that John was working from a level of intimacy different from her own. She found it interesting that Justin could win this stranger over by impersonating her. It gave her insight into how he perceived her and what attributes she possessed that Justin thought others would find attractive.
“You don’t have to say anything. Do you want to check out the snack bar?”
Grateful that John wasn’t pushing for a response to his declaration, Tessa jumped at the chance to change the subject. “I’d love to. Let’s go.”
John let Tessa lead him off the floor, when she stopped suddenly and turned to him. “We should probably put on our street shoes.”
“Yeah, I can’t imagine trying to climb the stairs of the snack bar in these things.”
After making it back from the lockers with their street shoes in place, Tessa and John arrived at the skybox snack bar. Inside the bar, the walls were decorated terra cotta, and paprika red with black trim. The east and west walls were painted red while the south wall behind the bar itself was the color of terra cotta.
Standing in front of the menu billboard hanging just over the bar, the couple surveyed the options in silence.
“Have you decided what you want?” John asked while reaching into his back pocket.
“Yes, but why don’t you tell me what you want and I’ll order while you grab us a table?” Not wanting to explain why the snack bar was complimentary, Tessa hoped John would agree to her suggestion.
“Okay, sure. Here’s some cash.” John handed her two twenties from his black leather billfold after giving her his order.
“That’s not necessary,” Tessa said pushing the money away.
“Please, I’m a gentleman. Take it.”
Tessa knew it wasn’t worth an argument.
John left her with his money and headed to the lounge area in search of an empty table. Tessa turned her attention back to the snack bar and found her place at the end of the line. Waiting behind a mother who couldn’t decide on the most nutritious snack for her kids, Tessa sensed someone approaching on her right.
“How’s it going?”
“It’s going well, despite your attempt to sabotage this date.” Tessa knew Justin couldn’t resist interrupting to check his handiwork.
“What are you talking about? Roller skating is a creative first date.”
“Yeah, if we were twelve.”
Before Justin could reply, the mother finally made her selection and began looking in her purse to pay the tab.
“You’d better order. You don’t want to keep Bigfoot waiting.”
“Ha,ha,ha. Just remember, you selected him from my favorites. I didn’t know you had such great taste in men.”
“You didn’t leave me much to work with honey.” Justin smiled and turned on his heel, heading back from where he came.
Once the mother parted with her money and stepped to the side, allowing Tessa room to walk up to the bar.
After paying for and retrieving her order from the pickup counter, she turned around to search the lounge area for John. She spotted him waving at her. He sat only a few tables away from where Leila and Justin appeared to be playing pool. Had he witnessed her exchange with Justin?
“Was that guy bothering you?” John asked when Tessa arrived at the table.
“Why? Would you beat him up for me?” Tessa teased.
“That depends. What would you do for me?”
“Hey! Since when does a lady have to repay her suitor for defending her honor?”
“Sorry, hon, that extreme form of chivalry has gone the way of the corset.”
“Since when?” Tessa wasn’t sure he was teasing anymore. To avoid meeting his eyes in wait for his reply, Tessa sat the tray down on the table.
“Well, when you fight for equal pay, the right to choose, and burn your bras, you can’t expect men to still throw their coats over puddles so you can avoid getting your feet wet.”
Tessa, stunned for a moment, began to eat her hamburger in silence. Then a smile emerged as she dabbed the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “Care to play a little pool?”
“I can’t believe how long this week has been, and it’s only Wednesday.”
“The office hunt has really gotten to you hasn’t it?”
“You have no idea, Geoff. It’s not the hunt, but my hunting companion.” Justin whispered with his back turned to his computer.
“You shouldn’t let him get to you.”
“I know. I talked to Chambers about his attitude at the first site. But he just told me to deal with it since it’s only temporary.”
“That’s the version of his advice that’s appropriate for corporate consumption. In other words, stop your whining. Now tell me about last Sunday’s date?”
“Well, it was definitely entertaining.”
“Okay, I’ll bite, but it better be good.”
“Oh, it’s good. You know the skating rink in Edison?”
“You planned a skating date? How cute. I always thought you were a little light on testosterone.”
Ignoring Geoff’s dig, Justin continued. “I had Tessa meet her mystery date at the rink on her own. I didn’t tell her who the date was, so she arrived there totally blind.”
“So how did she know him when he arrived?”
“He was from her favorites list. Besides, he would recognize her from the picture she posted on her profile. But that’s not the important part.”
“You know I have to understand the logistics. But don’t mind me, go ahead and continue.”
“Anyway, all of the date expenses were prepaid including the skate rentals and snack bar costs.”
“Wow, you thought of everything.”
“I don’t know if you’ve been to this skating rink since the renovation, but the snack bar is actually upstairs. It’s constructed like a skybox lounge with pool tables for patrons who have no interest in skating and windows to watch the action below. They even have roller hockey tournaments.”
“What the hell? You made that up.”
“I didn’t, but the new owner did.”
“What the hell is it?”
“Think of roller derby with sticks and a puck, ice hockey without the ice, or better yet, indoor street hockey.”
“Dude, we’ll totally have to check that out. Can anyone play?”
“I think you have to join the league, you know like bowling? But again, we haven’t reached the climax.”
“Well, get there faster.”
“I’m getting there. I’m getting there. When Leila and I arrived—”
“Ha ha ha, maybe you’ll get over princess yet.”
“Please, she’s just a diversion.”
“A sexy diversion.”
“Anyway, Leila and I stayed in the skybox snack bar playing pool. We played right near the window.”
“So you could keep tabs on the date taking place below. Genius!”
“Exactly. It was like watching a reality TV show. I had a skybox view of this guy following Tessa around like a horny puppy dog.”
“Now you know how I feel watching you and Tessa all these years.” Geoff laughed.
“Screw you, I’m nothing like that. Do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?”
“The truth stings, doesn’t it? But please go on.”
Justin was getting annoyed but everyone needs that friend who won’t hold back. Geoff, in his own crude way, was that friend. “Like I was saying, I had the perfect view. It almost made up for the fact that Leila was kicking my ass. Why didn’t you warn me she was a pool hustler?”
“Leila is full of surprises. I thought it best you discover them on your own.”
“Yeah, I’m finding out all right.”
“So did Tessa and this guy actually hit the rink?”
“Oh yeah, but not before crashing to the carpet in a limb-entangled heap.”
“With all the touching and body movements that go on in skating, it’s just like the bumping and grinding of dancing when sexual attraction is high. Are you sure this was a good idea?”
“Hey, Tess is no athlete and they were too embarrassed after that collision. It may not have stopped the attraction but it escalated like a trickling stream, not a raging river. Besides I spent a couple of weeks getting to know this guy.”
“I hope you’re right, for your sake.”
“Stop interrupting and you’ll see.”
“I’m listening, keep going.”
“They skate through several selections of her favorite ’80s music, and then suddenly they exit the rink, heading to the lockers.”
“Ooh, I bet you were worried that they hit it off too well.”
“Yeah, until I saw them switch into their street shoes and head toward the stairs that lead to the skybox snack bar. They had a little exchange in line at the snack bar and then he left her side after giving her some cash.”
“He didn’t know it was prepaid?”
“No, I guess he didn’t, and apparently, Tessa didn’t tell him. So I left Leila briefly to check on the progress.”
“I hope you filled Leila in on your role in this caper. Otherwise, she might be very curious to know why the two of you weren’t hanging out with Tessa and her date.”
“I told her all she needed to know.”
“Ha, you’re not as pure as you’d like people to think. I like this side of you.”
“Why, because it makes you feel better about your own lack of integrity?”
“Of course, I don’t deny it. So, how did Tessa take you checking up on her?”
Justin looked around the office to be sure he was still alone. “She assured me that things were going well. So, I went back to Leila, while keeping an eye on the events that followed.”
“You mean Mr. Wonderful would show his true colors this early? What an amateur.”
“You got it. Of course, I knew it was coming. I knew he couldn’t help himself. I never developed the art of reading lips, but I could see that he talked himself right out of Tessa’s feminine good graces.”
“You could tell that just from watching them out of earshot?”
“I admit it was just a sneaking suspicion, but it was confirmed when Tessa broke my cover.”
“One moment they’re sitting at a table eating a late lunch, then Tessa gets up and leads him to Leila and me.”
“Did she pretend you were strangers?”
“No, she introduced us. When his eyes popped out of his head, Tessa elbowed him in the ribs and said, ‘You don’t honestly think I would meet a stranger from the Internet without bringing along a little insurance, do you?’ I tell you, it was real smooth how she turned the tables like that. Then she turned to me and said, ‘Justin, you and Leila don’t mind if we crash your game, do you?’ She leaned forward and squeezed my arm while she asked the question, and in that moment, I knew that meat head had a lesson coming his way.” Justin laughed as he replayed the event in his mind’s eye.
“No kidding, that guy didn’t know what he was in for. But how bad could a date get in fifteen minutes? Tessa should know by now you can’t crush a guy’s ego on the first day. No wonder her love life sucks.”
“Dude, you totally missed the signal. That was her whole plan.”
“Man, I don’t profess to understand that weird codependent language you two share.”
“Whatever. My point is this, what does our little Tessa hate more than anything when it comes to men?”
“Yes, but not just any pig, but a male chauvinist pig in particular.”
“Oh boy, it’s humiliation time.”
“That’s right, my man. Most women would go into a long tirade about how much better women are than men and how men would never treat their mothers like second class citizens, but not Tessa, no. Tessa, who believes that action stings far more than any words she could hurl, would rather humiliate him on his own playing field.”
“Yeah, the poor bastard, how bad did he lose?”
“Oh, I lost count after he was in the hole for two hundred dollars.”
“Aw shit, man, she had him by the ’nads.”
“Yeah, it was a blast. He hardly had the chance to shoot. One of the numerous times Tessa stood next to me eyeing her next move while she chalked her cue, she mumbled, ‘Oh, he wanted to pay for everything. Well, he’s certainly paying now.’ Leila couldn’t hold back the laughter that time. So am I right, was that good or what?”
“Dude, you took the scenic route, but it was well worth it.”