“Hi Lana,” Logan says.
I looked up, a little surprised to see Logan in my line at the grocery store. “Uh, hi, Logan,” I say. I ring up the steak and potatoes that he has on the conveyor belt as we talk. It is just past 5 p.m. and I can’t stop to talk; there are people in line. “How’s it going?”
“SOS: Same old shit, different day,” he says, laughing as though he’d made a joke.
I smile politely. After making small talk with customers all day, I am ready to be off the clock.
He runs a hand through his hair absently. “Hey, Darrell and I are having a New Year’s Eve party. We’re going to shoot off fireworks in the field by the old apartment. Do you want to come?” Logan asks.
I am very confused by this invitation. Why did he ask me at work instead of calling me? Or stopping by my apartment? He obviously came straight from work; it is a Tuesday and he has his IBM badge clipped on his belt. We hadn’t gone on a date since we went bowling together months ago, when he was still a zombie, even though he kissed me once or twice since then. So I guess he is inviting me as a friend?
Just to be sure, I ask, “Who else is coming? Should I bring a date?”
He hesitates for the briefest moment, then says, “Sure. Darrell is inviting over a bunch of people from the university, so it should be full house. We’ll make garbage punch again.”
I laugh and say, “None for me, thanks! I swore off tequila, and I’m pretty sure whatever in that punch is worse. I’ll stick to wine from now on! I’ll have to see if Mom can keep Jack, so I’ll let you know.” I gesture to the badge on his belt. “That’s fancy. Do you think everyone here in the grocery store needs to know your name?”
He smiles and says, “Nah, I just didn’t take it off, that’s all. Well, call me and let me know if you can come to the party, ok?” He pays for his groceries, and leaves.
I turn to the cashier next to me and tell her, “I need a date.”
“Are you going to that guy’s party?” Janelle asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I just need a date. He—Logan—obviously isn’t into me,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“I know just the guy! I’ll tell you about him during our break,” Janelle says. “I’ll have to talk to him first, but he’s been bugging me to set him up, so this could be perfect!”
“Great!” I say. I face the next customer with a big smile. I have a date! (Probably. Maybe.)
During our break, I tell Janelle, “Spill!”
“He’s handsome and fun and I think you’ll really like him,” Janelle says. She is nice enough, but not all there (mentally). She is a little older than me at 22 years old, with long light brown hair, and pretty, in a simple way. “He has a good job and he’s nice. He’s my landlord, and has more than one property—I don’t know how many. But he’s not old or anything, he’s just a little older than me, maybe 30 or something.”
“If he’s so great, why don’t you go out with him?” I ask skeptically.
“I’m not his type,” she says with sad, shifty eyes.
I start to ask what that meant, when Brenda walks in. “Break’s over, ladies,” she says.
Later, I tell Janelle, “Ok, I’ll go out with him, just be sure to tell him that I have a baby. I don’t want to date him if he’s not ok with Jack.” I have a chip on my shoulder about being a 20-year-old single mom; I think that no one would want to date me. Better to let him know before he meets me, and give him the opportunity to back out, than to have him reject me in person.
“Great! He’ll be so excited!” she says with a big smile.
“Set me up,” I tell her. Beggars can’t be choosers, and I haven’t had a date in months. I give her my phone number and hope that Robert wouldn’t care about the baby.
“Hi Lana!” a man’s voice says over the phone that night. “This is Robert, Janelle’s friend.”
“Hi Robert,” I say, excited to hear from him, especially so quickly. The handsome guy called me! YAY! “How are you?”
“I’m great. Janelle told me that you’re a beautiful lady. I’d like to take you out,” Robert says.
“Ok,” I say. Do I thank him for the relayed compliment? Anything else just seemed—narcissistic. Like, “Damn straight I’m beautiful,” or “Wait ‘til you see me! You can see for yourself!” Instead, I just continued the conversation with, “What do you have in mind?”
“Uh, well, I didn’t have anything specific in mind. I’ll do whatever you would like to do,” he tells me.
Oh brother. He called me without anything specific in mind? He wants me to come up with something—putting me on the spot to come up with an activity, when he could have taken his time and found something to do before calling me? Sheesh! “Um, well, if you’re free on New Year’s Eve, you could take me to a party. My friends are going to shoot fireworks in the field behind their apartment in Georgetown, just north of Austin.” I kick myself; he probably knows where Georgetown was, if he’d lived in Austin for more than five minutes.
“I am free to accompany you to the New Year’s party,” Robert says gravely.
His formal way of speaking was weird. He better be cool in person, ‘cause right now, I’m thinking that he’s a dork. Of course, he’s probably just nervous.
“The party starts at 8, can you pick up at 7:30?” I ask.
“I feel that’s a bit early. I have some other things to take care of. I can pick you up at 9:30,” he says.
I hate missing the start of the party, but since we are staying out past midnight, I guess it isn’t such a big deal. I give him my address and we say good night.
New Year’s Eve
Robert shows up at my door dressed all in white: white jeans, white vest, white button up, white tie, and white fedora. And, oh yes, white shoes. An average white guy—seriously, pale skin included—with a little extra weight, and shaggy, shin-length blonde hair, standing about 5’8”.
“Hi, you must be Robert,” I say, forcing a smile. It is already 9:30 p.m. and we have a 30 minute drive in front of us, which will put us at the party at 10 p.m. Since it started at 8, we will miss 2 hours of fun. The late pick up time still annoyed me a little and the fact that he isn’t as handsome as Janelle had made him out to be…well, that doesn’t help my mood. I put on a big smile, determined to enjoy myself. After all, I hadn’t had a date in a while. (Story of my life.)
“Yes, hi! Nice to meet you,” he obviously doesn’t know whether to hug me or shake my hand, so I put out my hand for a shake. “You ready to go?” he says.
First dates are so awkward! I fumble to grab my jacket, then lock the apartment door. Janelle had told me that he owns more than one property, and though she wasn’t sure how many, he seemed rich to us. His large white truck suggests that he was well off. I’m not a gold digger, but after being married to a guy who refused to work, I promised myself that my next guy would at least have a job.
Before he starts the car, Robert pulls on white gloves. I kind of giggle, wondering if he were serious. “What’s with the gloves?”
Oh, he’s serious, alright. “I wear them when I’m driving. Makes me feel like a race car driver. Here, feel them, they’re genuine kid skin,” Robert says, puffing up like he’s proud that I noticed them.
I rub the back of one. “That’s soft,” I say. I still don’t understand why he wore them. I’d never seen anyone wear driving gloves, except in some old movie. Ok then. He likes the color white and wearing driving gloves. “Driving a truck in Austin is pretty different than Nascar, I hope. I don’t have to worry about you speeding, do I?” I smile nervously as he checks his speedometer for the 5th time in the past minute. I look out the windshield of the truck; it seems like we’re going awfully slow. I peek over at the speedometer; it looks like it said 40 mph, but we have to be going at least 50.
“No, I don’t speed. But the speedometer sticks around 60 mpg, so I just gage my speed by other cars. I figure as long as I’m going slower than them, the cops won’t pull me over,” he answers. “Don’t worry, I’m a very safe driver.”
I was reminded of a used car salesman saying, Trust me. “Uh, but, there aren’t any cars around us,” I said. We are on the interstate between Austin and Georgetown at ten p.m. on a holiday. Other motorists must already be at their destinations, or are traveling the other direction, into town, to view the big fireworks display. It feels like we are going very slowly, and I worry about being even later to the party, which had started two hours ago.
“I look at a sign and count the seconds until we pass. It gives me a rough idea of how fast we are going,” Robert says.
I wonder why he hadn’t just gotten the truck fixed, but I don’t ask, because maybe he doesn’t have the money. Strange, for someone to have such a nice, big truck, but drive it around with broken parts.
“Janelle told me very little about you. She said that you’re beautiful, and that’s true. Tell me about yourself,” Robert says.
I tense up. I had specifically told Janelle to tell him about my son. Well, here goes. “I’m divorced. I have a baby boy who is 10 and a half months old.” I hold my breath while I searched his face for his reaction.
Strangely, he doesn’t react at all; he keeps a blank poker face. “Why did you get divorced?” he asks.
Ok, that’s not a negative reaction, but it isn’t a positive one, either. “I don’t want to discuss it,” I say. The wounds are still raw; I am still working through it and still beating myself up over the fact that I stayed with that man for so long. I certainly am not ready to discuss it with a stranger, and certainly not on a first date.
“I respect that,” he says.
I let out my breath and relax a little. “So you’re Janelle’s landlord?” I prompt.
“I am the property manager. I collect the rent and fix things that are broken. Not much to it, really.”
I am disappointed, because he sounds like a maintenance man, which is a far cry from a property owner and landlord. Still, Janelle is right about one thing: he has a job.
We arrive at Darrell’s old apartment by Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Whew, I think, Am I glad to be here! I’m running out of conversation starters, and he’s not exactly helping!
We walk up to the apartment door, and before I can knock, Logan opens it. Darrell stands behind him. “Hey! You made it!” he says.
“Hi Logan!” I hug him, then Darrell. “This is Robert. Where’s everybody else? Are we the first ones here?”
“Uh, I guess,” Darrell says, shaking Robert’s hand. “What’s with the gloves?”
Robert explains how awesome his gloves were, as he takes them off, and encourages Darrell to feel them. I roll my eyes at Logan.
“Want some punch?” Logan asks.
“No,” I say, a little too quickly. “Got any wine?”
Logan smiles and turns to Robert. “What’s your poison?”
Robert looks at the Shiner Bocks that Darrell and Logan are drinking, and says, “I’ll take one of those.”
Darrell winces. He likes to buy something cheap, like Pearl Light, for his guests, reserving the good stuff for himself. He doesn’t say anything, though, just goes to the fridge to fetch another Shiner.
I laugh. “You two are going to have garbage punch for days! I wonder how it tastes on Cheerios.”
Darrell points and we all laugh because, sure enough, there is the garbage can full of punch by the empty table.
“I handed out coupons for Free Foot Rubs at the University, so I expect a stampeded of girls any minute now,” Darrell says.
Shocked, I look at him. “You’re not serious.”
Logan goes over to the desk and picks one up, “See?”
Sure enough, Darrell prints out coupons, with his address listed at the bottom. “No wonder the place was empty – Darrell told everyone he has a foot fetish!” I say.
We laugh as Darrell tries to defend himself. “It’s not a fetish! It’s a way to get a girl to come over and let her guard down. Once I get her all nice and relaxed, then I can make my move.”
“How’s that working out for you?” Logan asks with a smile.
“Admittedly, not too well,” Darrell says.
“Should we set off some fireworks?” I asks.
The guys shrug and say, “Sure.” We took a box of bottle rockets and black cats out to the empty field by the apartment complex. I lit some black cats and threw them, laughing.
Logan gives me a look, and says, “If that makes you happy, watch this!” And he sets off a whole string of black cats, much to my delight.
Darrell sets up and sets off bottle rockets, one after another. Robert offers suggestions, like, “Don’t group them too closely together. Do you have a longer punk? I can’t believe you’re using a lighter, punks are worth the five cents.”
After 15 minutes or so, the fireworks are gone. It is close to 11 p.m., and with just the four of us, conversation is dragging.
“Guess we should be going. Thanks for inviting us over!” I say brightly. I pray that no one would argue with me or point out the fact that it wasn’t even midnight yet.
“Sure, thanks for coming,” Logan says.
Darrell gives me a hug. “Good to see you,” he says.
Robert shakes hands with the guys and we climb back into the truck. Once on the highway, we see some other cars, and true to his word, Robert drives slower than them. So much slower, in fact, that I worry that we might get rear ended. What is the sense in having a big truck if you drive it like a little old lady?!
We pull up in front of my apartment, and I give Robert a little hug. “Thanks for taking me,” I say, and hop out of the truck. I don’t want an awkward, am-I-coming-in moment.
The Next Week
I am at work the following week, three days after the party, when Robert walks through my line. He has a single white carnation, which I think is rather odd. I ring him up and say, “Fifty cents please.”
He smiles, gives me two quarters, then hands me the flower and says, “This is for you.”
I look at the flower. The grocery store has a pretty pathetic assortment of flowers, since it is a grocery store, but he chose the least expensive flower of them all. And Robert didn’t even pick out a bouquet, just a single flower, which was white, of course.
“Thanks,” I say, with a weak smile.
“I know that you’re working,” he says. Well DUH! Here I am standing in my polyester apron and nametag behind a register! “So I’ll call you later.” He smiles like we have something special.
Janelle notices and smiles at me, waving. I hold up my carnation and walk over to her. Because it’s early and there are few customers in the store, we have time to chat.
“Someone got a flower! The date must’ve gone well!” she says excitedly.
“Not exactly. The party was a dud and I have nothing in common with Robert. It was not a love connection,” I tell her.
“That’s probably for the best,” she says. “I heard that he had five girls over at his place last night.”
“WHAT?!” I say. “You mean, like he had a party without me?”
“Ummm, more like, he had an orgy without you. I’m pretty sure that ecstasy was involved,” she adds.
“Oh wow. So he’s a drug user in addition to having orgies?” I ask.
She shrugs. “Sure, I guess, if you want to put it that way. He likes to party.”
I am completely speechless. This woman had set me up with Robert, and now was telling me that he was a total creeper. “What the hell, Janelle? Why would you set me up with him?”
“Because he thought you were cute, and you needed a date,” she says matter-of-factly, and turns away.
How I Met Your Father is the story of how I fell in love with the father of my children. I post one chapter each Monday night, which started with Chapter 1 – They Meet For the First Time. Since this is the first romance novel (novella, really) that I’ve ever written, feedback is appreciated!
I still post random blogs as interesting stuff happens in my life.