Rachel couldnt help but wonder if she was, possibly, loosing her edge? Was this her fate? Would she ever find Mr. Right, or would she settle with a Mr. Interim.
It seemed like just yesterday when she was twenty-two-years-old, the youngest, and most promising woman on her job. She had the world at her fingertips. Men were falling at her feet, fine ones at that. In her twenties, when she had the clear advantage, it seemed like there was plenty of time to get married and have kids. Now that she was thirty, her professional edge was far greater than her romantic one. Most of her co-workers were already married with kids. She was behind the eight ball. Ideally, Rachel wanted the same success shed experienced in her career to spill over into her romantic relationships.
It appeared that she was looking for love in all the wrong places, because her pretty-boys, or so-called Mr. Rights, were all wrong. Over the years shed met plenty of guys, dated some and befriended others. The dating scene had been bumpy. Through it all, no solid relationship resulted from her efforts. There were times when Rachel wanted to call it quits and embrace being single.
At least one motivation she had left for getting marriage was to have a child. In the past, there had been plenty of opportunities to have a child with any number of men, but she wanted more. She had no intentions of having a child out of wedlock and intentionally joining the ranks of unwed, typically struggling single mothers. She wanted a baby, with a husband first. Anything less was unacceptable to her, and certainly to her God-fearing grandmother, Big Mama.
Her maternal clock was no longer chiming faintly in the recesses of her mind. It was now pounding heavily in the forefront, like a grandfather clock. Time was running out for getting hitched and having kids. Unless something happened soon, Rachel envisioned herself being forty with a couple of pre-schoolers at home. Mr. Right had to show up in a hurry.
When Rachel was twenty-one, she created a short checklist of characteristics she preferred in a man. Consequently, her prayers, were much shorter. The only real consideration, at the time, was that Mr. Right be handsome. In ten years of dating, her checklist had grown from a meager three to a whopping twelve. She was going from one extreme to the other, from the potential suitor not having a job at all, to being financially stable, from merely being single, to not having any pre-existing kids. Finding a compatible mate hadnt been easy, but, for Rachel, it would prove to be more a spiritual journey than merely a destination.
With her internal clock, the
summer sunlight piercing through the blinds, and the energetic cat, Boots, Rachel was sure
not to sleep past 6:00 most mornings, including the weekend.
"How am I going to get everything done today? "Saturday was filled with errands, bills, housework, sorority meetings, and if lucky, occasionally a movie. Today was more intense. She had to focus on getting herself together for a blind date. Against better judgment, Rachel let her co-worker, Sharon, talk her into going to a cookout. It was an opportunity for Rachel to meet Sharons brother, Kenny.
Rachel held her hands up and spread her fingers out in front of her, like a fan. "Im glad Tanya is able to squeeze me in. I couldnt, dare, meet this man without getting my hair and nails hooked-up." She was glad to get the 7:30 time-slot. It was early for a Saturday morning. Being the first appointment was the only way to ensure that she wouldnt be sitting up in the beauty shop all day. Any other time, she could tolerate it. But not today.
She had procrastinated long enough. Rachel sat up, placed both feet on the floor, and created a to-do-list in her head. "Hmm," she exclaimed. "Women always have to put in the extra effort. Were expected to look stunning on each date. All men have to do is show up. I bet this Kenny guy isnt going out of his way to impress me." On second thought, she said, "Then again, I dont want a man who spends more time primping in front of the mirror than I do." She stretched. "Been there enough times. In one way or another, I always end up having to pay for it." She stood up and stretched, again. "Boy, its tough being a man, but tougher being a woman."
Although it seemed like so much preparation for such a brief moment, she didnt consider it to be optional. Even if Kenny turned out to be nobody-special, she still owed it to herself to look fabulous.
She walked to the bedroom door and pulled her robe off the hook. Today was going to be hectic. She decided to take a few minutes for herself and headed downstairs to get a cup of tea. She couldnt help but think, enthusiastically, about the cookout.
She was at a slow period in her dating. In her ten years, or so, of dating, Rachel had never experienced a drought, a voluntary rest, but never a real drought. Summer was in the air. Rachel felt it was time for a whirlwind romance. She loved the Chicago summers, and loved, even more, having an exciting companion with whom she could enjoy the fun-filled days and nights.
The rare occasions when she got with Gary did not qualify him as a significant other. The poor fellow was one of her many has-beens. Even on his way out, he was still trying to hang on. As far as Rachel was concerned, she was definitely available to meet someone new.
After the recent flow of nobody-specials, she was ready for some spice in her life. Maybe Kenny was precisely what she was looking for. Although she wasnt eager to admit it, she was excited about meeting him
She leaned her back on the refrigerator, and took another sip of the lukewarm tea. "It seems odd that a perfectly good man is still available." She was referring to Ken. "All women talk about is the shortage. Why hasnt someone snatched him up if hes all that?" She walked to the stove and poured some more hot water into her mug. "This better be worth it," she said in between sips of her tea and bites from the bagel.
When she got to Sharons
place, she could tell from the number of parked cars that a lot of people had already
arrived. "I hope some other people from work come, just in case this Kenny doesnt
have it going on."
She was especially hoping Kenny was already there. "I dont believe that I let Sharon talk me into this. How do I get myself into these messes? Boy, I want to get this over with."
The plan was to meet him right away, get the introductions over, and get past her nervousness. The other motivation for meeting him early was to take full advantage of her glow. It was the result of an extra effort she put into fixing up when meeting a new beau. The longer she waited, the more likely her oily nose would start shining, lipstick would wear off, or even worse, hair would blow out of place. Rachel didnt consider herself a vain person needing to glance into a compact mirror every five minutes. However, she was self-conscious enough to want to make a good impression.
"Why am I so nervous? I dont even know this guy. Its not like I have anything to lose."
She pulled the lipstick tube from her small purse and painted her lips. "Let me see." She tilted her head up, gazed into the rear view mirror, and smacked her lips together. She turned slightly to the side, but kept her eyes focused into the mirror. Not a hair out of place. The anxiety was mounting. She put the keys in her tiny purse. "Well, here it goes," she said, and opened the car door.
She noticed Sharons car parked in the driveway. The knot in her stomach tightened as she got closer to the house. "I sure hope there are some people here that I know," she mumbled.
As she approached the house, her feelings about the party were mixed. Get-togethers were always uncomfortable when she went alone, and then didnt really know anyone, except the hostess. She spent the time acting entertained when, really, she was bored to tears.
"Oh, well, Im here now. I guess Ill see whats going on," Rachel uttered as she approached the house.
She walked towards the backyard, in the direction of the music and loud talking. The smell of barbecue got stronger as she got closer. There were about twenty-five people already there. As Rachel glanced through the crowd, she didnt recognize any faces. Everyone seemed to be in pairs and small cliques.
"Great," she muttered, "its going to be like that."
She walked towards the beverages, giving the impression that she was confident, and felt comfortable being there. Whatever she did, it couldnt be obvious that she was nervous.
As she turned around, she saw Sharon calling her from the back steps. Rachel was relieved to see a familiar face.
"Hey girl. Im glad you made it," Sharon said.
"I told you I was coming."
"I know, but you never know. You know how things always seem to come up at the last minute. Anyway, Im glad youre here." Sharon leaned forward and gave Rachel a hug. "Guess what?" Sharon said with undeniable enthusiasm.
"What?" Rachel retorted with a tone of reluctance.
"Kens here." Sharon had a big smile on her face. Rachel struggled to show no reaction, when in actuality the knot she had managed to loosen in her stomach was starting to tighten all over again.
"Let me introduce you. Finally, youll get to meet. Hes excited about meeting you." Sharon grabbed Rachel softly by the arm and pulled her towards a group of three guys and one young lady.
By Rachels standards, one guy was too short. With heels on, she would easily tower over him. On top of that, he was on the chunky side with a bulging belly, the dreaded receding hair-line, a tacky pair of run-over sandals, and a pair of polyester shorts.
This plump fellow was probably a nice guy. Sad for him, he reminded her too much of Brian, a fellow she secretly dated on the rebound from a serious relationship gone sour. In her opinion, he was the typical worshipper, nerdy and physically unappealing. He was extraordinarily nice, treated Rachel like a queen, did every-thing for her, and made himself available at her beck-and-call.
Niceness hadnt proven to be enough to make Rachel happy. She wanted a guy who was physically and romantically appealing, although, he seemed harder and harder to find. It was as if every man she met had one or two redeeming qualities. Never all of them operating at the same time. She could never understand why it had to be either or. Combining bits and pieces of all the guys she knew, into one package, seemed to be the only way she was going to get Mr. Right.
The second guy was tall, at about six-one or six-two, and quite handsome. He was dark-skinned, and from what she could see, he didnt have a receding hairline, or the infamous bald spot that men get in the center-back-part of their head. It was obvious his body was in exquisite shape, to the point of being sculptured. He fit all of the pretty-boy requirements. She discounted him as being Kenny. He was too fine. Also, he didnt look anything like Sharon. He was much darker, handsomely darker.
Without staring, Rachel noticed a ring on his wedding finger. "Oh, well." She wasnt interested in a married guy, even though, many were interested in her. She had gone through it with a married man, Luc, and never again wanted to be a third-wheel in the marriage scene. It took forever for her just to be able to function without him, let alone fully recover. As a matter of fact, she wasnt even one hundred percent recovered as it was, and the breakup had been almost two years ago. The thought of being with a married man made her nauseous. Been there, done that, aint going back, was her new philosophy.
It was refreshing for her to see a handsome man wear a wedding ring, in public. She knew enough guys that deceivingly didnt. Luc waited until she was hooked, emotionally, before he revealed the important detail that he was married, hoping she was in too deep to let it matter. The married men were always claiming to be in the process of leaving their wives. Rachel wholeheartedly believed men never left. Her line was, "They might get put out, but they dont leave."
The petite lady standing next to him must be his wife, Rachel speculated. They seemed comfortable together. "Wouldnt you know it. The fine guy is taken," she uttered. He was probably a playboy anyway, she rationalized to ease the disappointment.
To Rachel, the lady did look quite a bit younger than her handsome husband. However it didnt surprise her. She hypo-thesized that men typically ran around in their younger years, and then settled down in their late thirties and forties with a younger woman. They got the whole fairy tale, wife and kids, at any age.
It was always lopsided. When she was younger, the men her age wanted older, more established women to take care of them. Now that she was older, the men her age were looking for younger women to breed for them. Rachel wondered if shed ever get a turn to date someone closer to her age.
The third guy wasnt bad looking. His hair was a little bit longer than she liked. Not enough to not be a show-stopper. Since he was facing her, Rachel could see his smooth skin glistening in the sunlight, and his hazel-colored eyes radiating. She liked his features. If it turned out to be him, she could anticipate some pretty kids. He also seemed to have all of his hair and teeth, which she never took for granted in men over thirty. His ring finger was bare. Maybe he was available. She couldnt tell for sure, not solely by the absence of a ring.
The one nagging factor that bothered Rachel was his youthful demeanor. Either they were too homely, too short, too young, or just plain married. How would she feel with a twenty-some-year-old man when she was already thirty! What would he know about life? She was not interested in watching a man-child grow up. They seemed hard to come by, but she was still holding out for a settled, mature man. She didnt have any kids of her own, but Rachel had done plenty of mothering, compliments of the men in her past. Leah, her college-friend, had a much younger husband. That was fine for Leah, but it wasnt something Rachel could deal with for herself.
"Excuse me, I want to introduce you all to my friend, Rachel," Sharon interrupted.
Here was the big moment. However it turned out, Rachel was glad to get it over with.
"Rachel, this is my sister, Dana."
She was shocked to know that Dana was Sharons sister. "Her sister," Rachel replayed in her mind. Boy had she guessed wrong. Rachel couldnt decide whether to be formal and shake hands after each introduction or to be casual, and acknowledge each with a simple hi. Feeling slightly nervous about meeting Kenny, she opted without completely thinking it through, to be casual in her response. She didnt want to come across as being snobby by shaking hands at an informal yard party. First impressions were long-lasting, and even if Kenny turned out to be something less than wonderful, she still wanted to present herself stunningly.
"Hi," Rachel responded as she made eye contact with Dana.
"Hi, Rachel. Nice to meet you."
Working her way around the circle, Sharon then introduced the young guy, who Rachel suspected to be Kenny.
"This is Terry, Danas husband."
Wow, what a surprise, Rachel thought. Danas husband! No wonder he looks young, he is, she concluded. She knew Dana was the baby in the family, being somewhere in her early twenties. Rachel figured Terry was around the same age.
Well, at least she had gotten one thing right, married men, like Terry, didnt always wear a wedding ring. The ring definitely threw off her assessment of who was who.
"Hi," Terry and Rachel spoke simultaneously. The picture was becoming rapidly clearer. Short and chunky, who reminded her of Doughboy, must be the man. At least they were meeting early. Her new plan was to eat, socialize for a few minutes, and then make the great escape. One thing was for sure, she wasnt going to be eating with Doughboy. By the looks of his stomach, he had already eaten enough.
No matter what, she decided there was no point in giving up her phone number to this Kenny guy, even if he was Sharons brother. Rachel was hoping this was not going to affect her working relationship with Sharon. That was the danger of being introduced to someone by a mutual friend. Another reminder of the very reason why she disliked blind dates.
"This is my cousin Ty." As he reached out to shake her hand, she hesitated. The shock of him not being Kenny was staggering.
"Hello, Rachel," Ty said in a soft spoken voice and a slight grin. "Nice to meet you." Although his hand was a little moist, it was of no consequence. Her focus had switched to the tall, dark, handsome, and exquisitely-built man standing before her.
Rachel was usually good at sizing up people. Much to her hearts content, she had batted zero in figuring out who was who this time. Her worst fears had been put to rest. She composed herself quickly for the big introduction. She didnt even think about how she looked. She wanted to come across natural and together. All of the preparation she had gone through early in the morning was for this one moment.
Before Sharon could introduce Kenny, he spoke out in a deep, authoritative tone. "Hello, Rachel. Im Ken." He softly took her hand and looked directly into her eyes.