The Dating Game
One of these days, I’m going to kill Amelia. Really. I don’t know what the hell made me… What in the world possessed me… to agree to do this. THIS? Ugh.
‘Pleeezzzz Soox! I need you!’ She tells me.
‘I wouldn’t normally ask…’, but she would.
‘You’re single anyway, what’ll it hurt?’ That comment made me want to jump through the phone and strangle her. I had left my job a year ago and sworn off men after making the mistake of dating my boss.
Not that being the ‘entertainment critic’ for Shreveport Magazine was a bad job, but considering that I was the editor of the entertainment section of the New Orleans Times-Picayune I decided to be bitter about the object of my mistake. Sam. By extension, all men.
So here I am, backstage at the channel 8 morning show in a small dressing room. I take another look in the mirror and I can’t help but shake my head. The outfit Amelia had the wardrobe department put me in made me look like a trashy high school student. The skirt was too tight and the top was cut low enough that I might as well have ‘cheap date’ stamped on my forehead.
I made the executive decision to change back into what I’d worn when I left my house. My knee length black pencil skirt, snug white blouse (unbuttoned at the top, but modest) and black Marc Jacobs pumps. I’m almost 30 for Christ sakes.
Amelia was going to owe me for this forever. FOREVER.
I know what it’s like to want to advance. I know that at her age to be a production assistant rather than a writer was frustrating to her. I obviously felt badly for her or I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be about to bail her out by being a panelist for her ‘Chuck Barris Week’.
So what if he wrote a new book. So what if he’s going to be on the show on Friday to promote it. Why does that mean that after the full weekend and never going to sleep last night from writing reviews I have to be the ‘bachelorette’ for Wake Up Shreveport’s homage to ‘The Dating Game’.
I know why. The original ‘girl’ who was 7 years younger than I am (explaining the ridiculous outfit and making me worry about the ‘bachelors’ ages) chickened out.
She chickened out.
I know why. Someone told her last night that the camera adds 15 pounds.
Thanks a shit load Kevin Fucking Smith.
I’m a Stan Lee confessional away from being in Mall Rats. Now all I needed was for someone to offer me a chocolate covered pretzel. Ugh!
15 pounds. Christ almighty! Kill me now.
Amelia was such a coward that she sent an intern to ‘fetch’ me. He led me over to stand by Pam who smiled at me. She thought this was hilarious.
“I hate you. I hate your show. Amelia is going to need your help packing her shit after tonight.”
“Sookie, why must you be so recalcitrant? It’s just a date.”
“I really hate you. I really hate your show. Amelia is sooooo going to need your help packing her shit after tonight.” Maybe she’d catch on if I kept saying it.
She started laughing at me and it was hard for me to not kick her. “Amelia is hiding from you. She wanted me to give you the questions she wrote for you to ask.”
She handed me a stack of index cards and I cringed. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, don’t make that face. You look like you want some ‘friiieedd tayterrrs, Mmmmm’.”
“Fuck you and fuck Sling Blade. Did I tell you that I hate you? You should be the one going up there. Take one for the damn team.”
She laughed. “Wrong team sweetie. Give us a hug.”
I sucked my teeth and hugged her. “You’re lucky that you’re my best friends.”
Moments later, the stage lights came up and the audience started clapping as the announcer introduced the segment.
“It’s the Dating Game and here’s the star of our show, your hostess Pamela Croft.”
She swatted me on my butt and gave me a wink as she sashayed to center stage.
“Thank you. You’re beautiful. Welcome to our Dating Game. Let’s introduce you to our handsome bachelors…”
I was attacked from behind by a stagehand with a set of head phones just after I heard Pam say ‘bachelor number one is a…’. The jerk stood in front of me holding them to my ears as though my life would somehow end if I heard that one of them was a waiter. So I was forced to listen to a muzak version of Hooked On A Feeling.
Kill me now.
“Now let’s meet our bachelorette. Sookie Stackhouse is a writer. She considers herself a night owl and has never heard a song she couldn’t dance to…” I walked out and Pam kissed both of my cheeks dramatically. Ugh! “…Sookie, you know how this works. You ask the bachelors about themselves and then you get to choose which one you want to take out on a date.”
I smiled at Pam. “Then we go to Acapulco, right.”
Pam gave me a look that told me I would get ‘it’ later. “Absolutely. As long as ‘Acapulco’ is code for dinner for two at Rosario’s.”
Great. Dinner with a stranger at a restaurant I only gave one star to. I faked a smile. “Alrighty.”
She gave me another wink and held her arm out directing me to take the hot seat. “Bachelors, why don’t you say hello to Sookie.”
Bachelor number one: “Guuud Mornin, Suh-keh.” His accent made me wonder if there wasn’t a slave he should be beating somewhere.
Bachelor number two: “Hello, Miss Stackhouse.” He sounded endlessly bored (maybe even as ‘happy’ to be here as I am), but at least he had manners.
Bachelor number three: “Hey there, babe.” Ha! Babe? Wonderful. One of my choices was Woody from Dazed and Confused.
Even Pam rolled her eyes at #3. “Go ahead, Sookie. They’re all yours.”
Beautiful. I looked at the first card Amelia had written. ‘If you were an animal, which one would you be?’ What the…? This wasn’t embarrassing enough, she wanted to ask juvenile shit like this?
I panicked, under a clock, to think of a question that wasn’t campy or trite. “Bachelor number two: What’s the first question you ask a date when you start looking for red flags?”
I was hit with a wall of silence.
Pam looked grumped. “Bachelor number two, are you okay over there?”
“Hmm. I was expecting to be asked what kind of ice cream flavor I would be… I usually ask dates about their family since families cause most of a person’s issues.”
Pam distracted me when she pointed to the pile of cards I’d set on the chair next to me, but I ignored her. “Bachelor number three, how about you?”
“I guess I just wait for everything to come up on its own.”
Yeah. Let’s wait a while to discover deal breakers. Idiot. What’s he hiding? Strike one.
I rolled my eyes, just wanting it to be over. “Bachelor number One, if you were trapped on a deserted island, what would you want to have with you?”
“I suppose I would prefer to have some books so that I might entertain myself.” I guess it wasn’t a horrible answer, but it could have been better.
“Bachelor number Three?”
“I guess I’d want a multitool. Or some matches… Matches make more sense.” Survival instinct is good, I guess.
“Bachelor number Two. If you were stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere, what would you want to have with you?”
“Anything? Assuming it works?”
“OnStar.” A practical man… oh yes.
“Okay gentlemen, I hate it when takeout takes too long. I hate it when people underestimate me because of how I look. I hate that my neighbors let their friends use my driveway without asking. What are your pet peeves? Bachelor number one.”
“I hate when people type in all caps. I hate when people interrupt. I hate bad breath. I hate…”
Wow. It seemed like he was going to go on all day. Strike one for him. “Bachelor number two?”
He started chuckling. “Miss Stackhouse, you realize that you just interrupted Bachelor number one, yes?”
I started laughing. “What was his reaction?”
“He’s so delighted that he looks like he might climb to the top of the Empire State. You don’t resemble Fay Wray, do you?”
Oh, I liked him already. “I’m more of a Betty Grable. What are your pet peeves?”
“Getting to bed at 5 and waking up at 5:30 to be asked to be on the dating game… and at the moment, the look that Bachelor number one is giving me.”
“Why were you up until 5?”
“I was up working late.”
Pam nudged my arm to remind me that there were two other guys. “Bachelor number 3, I’m a huge movie buff. If you could take me to see any movie, what would it be and why?”
“One of my favorite movies is Gladiator. I could watch it over and over.” Death and misery as a date movie? Strike two.
“Bachelor number one?”
“Gone With The Wind, it’s a classic love story.” I rolled my eyes. Not only was that a ‘what I think she wants to hear’ answer, that damn movie was 4 hours of angst I’d never sit through again. Strike 2 for him.
“Bachelor number two, what movie would we see?”
I started laughing. “Gigli? One of the most notoriously horrible films ever made?”
“We wouldn’t feel the need to watch the whole thing, now would we?” Oh, wow.
I cleared my throat… a few times. “Let’s say you want to surprise me with a romantic evening. How are you going to do that? Bachelor number three?”
“I’d take you out for a show and for dinner, maybe some dancing afterwards.” Nice try. That sounded boring as hell. We could go to a show, I’d probably end up reviewing and eat at a restaurant I probably wouldn’t like and all three activities were as far from intimate as one could get. There wasn’t any chance for talking. Strike 3.
“Bachelor number one, how do you see the evening going?”
“I’d light some candles, and draw a hot bubble bath and I would pamper you.” I snorted. Audibly. I suppose sitting in a quiet room was preferable to being surrounded with strangers, but it was still presumptuous. And I didn’t like his mannerism anyway. Something told me he was just a grouch. Strike 3.
“Bachelor number 2, here’s your chance to woo me. What would you plan for a romantic evening with me?”
“Unless the clues are buried in your name, I don’t know enough about you to assume what you would consider romantic.” Ooh. He’s good. He smelled that trick question from a mile away.
“Ok then. Say I’m planning a romantic evening for you. What would you like to see?”
“A blanket and a fireplace.” Oh my. That sounded too good to be true.
Pam gave me a nod. “Alright Sookie, we have time for you to ask one more question.”
I winced, trying to think of something on the fly… “Ok… Bachelor number one, are you an enthusiast of some kind? Do you collect anything?”
I have to admit, I like chess. “Really? Which one is your favorite?”
“I have a hand painted Lord Of The Rings…” Whoa! That’s the best one he has? Some Franklin Mint pewter character chess set… My only chess set was nicer. Dork. He probably has a Family Guy set too.
“Bachelor number 3?”
“Sports. I don’t collect anything really, but I have a couple autographed boxing gloves.” Snore.
I asked… Just to be nice. “Which one would you consider your favorite?”
“Sweet Pea Whitaker. I was at the fight the glove came from.” That wasn’t so bad. Better than coming with a certificate of authenticity from an info-mercial.
“Bachelor number 2. You’re turn.”
“I collect postcards.”
“Postcards? You travel a lot?”
“Often enough.” Too vague. He didn’t even hint at why he travels. He could be a fugitive, for all I knew. Shit.
Pam interrupted my doubt hurriedly, “Okay Sookie, moment of truth time. Which will it be? Bachelor number 1: The chess playing romantic… Bachelor number 2: the wandering pyro-mantic… Or Bachelor number 3: the athletic survivalist?” The drum roll after each descriptive was annoying as a minimum.
Bachelor number one was a turn off from the beginning.
Number two has a sense of humor and wasn’t too flirty.
Three… shit I guess he was a ‘zonk’ as much as 1 was. He called me ‘babe’. Ew.
Closed eyes. Kill me now. “Bachelor number… 2.”
Pam started to laugh and I swear… I was going to punch her on camera if he was a hobbit or had a forehead the size of a watermelon. “Alright Sookie, lets meet the guys. Bachelor number one is a software designer who works from home. Bill Compton.”
Bill? Could I still call him ‘bachelor number 1’? When he came around the corner, I felt like I was looking at a corpse. ‘Works from home’ my ass. He was pasty and looked more like he never saw sunlight. His clammy hand took mine and kissed the back of it. He looked up at me with beady eyes. I swear to God, it felt like I was being sized up by a serial killer. It gave me chills and I was really grateful when Pam shooed him away to introduce the next guy.
“Bachelor number three is a security consultant from Memphis. John ‘just call me’ Quinn.”
Well his name wasn’t a yawn at least. When I laid eyes on him, I got a lump of regret in my throat. Other than his bald head, this guy was a beef cake. He was tall and his muscles had muscles… Yumm. I had to remind myself that he was unimpressive in the realm of dialog so that I wasn’t angry when he was hustled off the stage so that I could meet the ‘keeper’.
“And you chose bachelor number two… business owner and travel writer, Eric Northman. Come on out, Eric.”
Travel Writer? Oh… my. I almost had the chance to picture the possibilities when he came around the corner and my brain shut off.
My god… where to start on that smirk.
The kind made for chewing on…
And when he leaned over to kiss my cheek…
He smelled… like heaven…
Oh shit! Pam was talking…
“So you two lovelies get to go out for dinner and dancing at Shreveport’s fabulous Rosario’s…”
When the lights dimmed while the show was at a commercial break, we were ushered backstage to get us out of the way for the props for the next segment to be wheeled out.
Eric sunk his hands into his pockets and Pam went over and stretched up to kiss his cheek. “Thanks for doing this.”
“I’m letting go of the rope next time.”
She cackled. “You will not. You know I’ll sue!”
I glared at Pam for a minute. “Eric? You know Pam?”
He looked down at me and slowly nodded. “Pam and her girlfriend are members of my gym.”
“Oh really? You don’t have a strict ‘no blind date’ policy do you?”
He tilted his head to the side. “You know them too.”
“Amelia is my roommate.”
He turned to give Pam a disapproving look not unlike the one I was giving her and she ran to her mark on stage. That bitch. Those bitches.
“So Miss Stackhouse, I suppose we should figure out on our own why they thought we should go out… Since we won’t be talking to them for a while, that is.”
I laughed. “Other than the fact that they’re busy bodies, you mean?”
He nodded. “What do you write?”
“Reviews. I’m the entertainment critic for Shreveport Magazine. You?”
“I own Rock Gym and write for Ropes Magazine.” Ropes?
“Rock climbing, repelling. The magazine centers on adrenaline sports. Sky diving, base jumping, that sort of thing.” Ah… ropes. I get it.
“I’ve never done any of that.”
“Mind if I ask why?”
I shrugged. “I guess I’ve never thought to. I love water skiing though. It’s not like I’m a shut in or a chicken. I just, I guess the opportunity never came up.”
He smiled at me. It wasn’t the smirk that made my breathing hitch when he came out from behind the partition. It was a full smile. Oh my… “Well then, maybe it’ll come up now… Tell me, is your heart set on Rosario’s? I hate that place.”
“Oh! Thank God! I reviewed the place. The only reason they got one star was because the owners are so sweet.”
Another smile. Wow. “We should talk about dinner later then.”
I gave him a nod and stole a pen from the stagehand that accosted me earlier and started looking for a piece of any kind of paper. Nothing. Damn it. I needed to get this guy’s number…
He held his hand out, so I smiled at him as I scribbled my number on his soft, warm… Shit. It was a hand. I let myself get worked up by a hand… big, strong, long fingers… Shit.
He took the pen from me and while he added his number to my hand, he licked his lips and that was it for eye contact. His mouth was all I could focus on.
I tried to walk away gracefully, forcing myself to not look back. I grabbed my purse from the dressing room and left through the backstage door.
I almost fell asleep in the shower. I was completely exhausted. Over the weekend I’d gone to four nightclubs and 5 restaurants and Sunday night I went to see Gabriel Iglesias at the Strand. When I got home, practically high from having laughed so hard, I got out my notes and wrote my reviews for all 10 of my adventures. Some good, some bad and I hadn’t realized how late, early rather, it was until I looked at the clock when my phone rang. That call being the one from Amelia when she pleaded with me to help her.
I had every intention of climbing directly into bed, not bothering with clothes, but the cat was eyeballing me. She, no doubt, needed to be fed since, again, Amelia wasn’t home to do it this morning.
Rolling my eyes, I started gathering the trail of clothes I’d left behind on my way to the bathroom when I came in earlier. I dumped it all in the laundry room and while I was putting food in Tina’s bowl, I made the executive decision to not eat anything in spite of feeling starved. I just didn’t have the energy to fix anything.
I was three steps from Egyptian cotton bliss when the doorbell rang.
I was growling and snarling as I stomped to the door in my robe and swung it open.
Instead of an ill timed delivery of packages thanks to Amelia’s eBay addiction like I expected, Eric was standing in front of me, wearing that smile.
“I thought we could talk about dinner over breakfast. Technically, it’s later.”
“How do you know where I live?”
“Amelia’s a member of my gym. I have her address on file. I can leave.”
I smiled at him and nearly forgot that I was barely decent. “No. No, come on in. Sorry, I was just about to get in bed. I was up all night working too. How are you not exhausted?”
“Coffee and No-Doze.” As soon as he stepped inside, Tina started curling around his ankles. The damn cat was so friendly it was annoying. Eric raised an eyebrow at me. “You’re a cat person?”
“I’m not fond of them as a rule. Amelia is a cat person and lucky enough to have a pet sitter… So what did you bring?”
“Coffee, croissants, bagels, muffins. I wasn’t sure what you like.” That was actually sweet. It made him even yummier.
I showed him to the kitchen and set plates out while he spread out our breakfast options.
He sat down, grinning at me. “For a movie buff, you have a distinct lack of technology.”
“Amelia and I keep separate entertainment centers. Mine is in my room.”
He raised an eyebrow at me and reached into the pocket of his jacket, pulling out a DVD case and sliding it across the table. “I was thinking we could watch a movie, but given the circumstances, it’s a bit presumptuous.”
I started laughing. “You went out and brought Gigli?” Oh, wow. I had to give him points. This was cute.
He shrugged with that smirk.
I stood up, grabbing my bagel and coffee, “Come on. Just excuse the mess. I didn’t clean up after my marathon last night.”
He looked unsure, but followed my anyway.
Being the one on the lease gave me the privilege of the larger room. Not only was it big enough for my California king and then some, but it had a fireplace.
I set my breakfast on the coffee table in my sitting area and excused myself to my closet to slip into some pajama pants… Just to make it clear that ‘all-access’ wasn’t being implied.
When I came out, Eric was sitting on the couch trying to keep Tina away from my lox. I rolled my eyes at the thieving mongrel and put her out, closing the door.
“So do you not like Italian in general, or is it just that restaurant.”
“Ah, yes. Your excuse for being here… I like Italian just fine. I prefer some heat though. Mexican, Thai, Indian… How about you?”
“I’m up for anything. You’re the critic, you pick.”
Then a shitty meal would be my fault? I don’t think so. “How about we put our favorite restaurants into a hat and pull one?”
He smirked again and gave me a nod. “That sounds like a hell of a compromise.”
I put the movie into the player and got comfy with my breakfast on the other end of the couch, keeping it clear that we were watching a movie.
It really was the worst movie ever. We laughed at some of the dialog together, but about 20 minutes into the movie…
I fought it for as long as I could, but my eyelids got so heavy…
I heard my name…
I smelled him…
Felt his breath on my ear…
He whispered again, “Sooooooookieeeeee.”
My eyes opened to see his sparkling inches away.
He smiled at me. “Do you sleep with every guy you meet on a morning show on the first date?”
I giggled even though I didn’t mean to. “Now you know my shame. How long was I out?”
“About 10 minutes longer than I was. It’s nearly 3. Do you have a hat?”
My eyes closed while I tried to figure out how to get my brain to engage. He was so close… It was hard to focus on anything but his smell. “Yeah. I think I do.”
“I have to go take care of some things. I’ll be back at 7… I’ll bring paper.”
I nodded… he got closer… brushing his nose against mine and putting his lips to mine.
Normally, this was not the way I work, but for some reason I kissed him back.
Oh God, am I glad I did. The way he kissed me gave me chills. Hell, to be honest, it made me want to pull him down on top of me…
I was disappointed when he pulled back and stood up.
“Don’t get up. The cat’ll show me out.”
I giggled again.
I went to the window when I heard an engine start a minute later. He’d parked his black H2 on the curb in front of my townhouse rather than my driveway and I couldn’t help but smile. I guess I’d tell him tonight that my company was welcome to use my driveway. The reason I was territorial was because the neighbors in question would give me a hard time about moving so I could leave. But it was still cute.
Before he pulled away, he looked up at the window and spotted me. He gave me a smile and waved and then he was gone…
And I spent the next 3 hours cleaning, catching up on emails and editing out of nervous energy… I couldn’t wait to see him again.
It was ridiculous. I know it. I own it. Let’s move on.
I took another shower, this time to catch up on grooming habits that had lapsed over the last year of being single.
As I was putting my makeup on and doing my hair, I realized that I had no idea of what to wear. Not until we pulled the name of the restaurant out of the hat. Men were lucky that way. The jeans and dress shirt Eric had been wearing on the show could carry him through a spectrum of situations. Always wanting to be prepared, I laid out 3 outfits in varying degrees of formality. And then I laid them out again, unhappy with my first choices.
I was still debating over shoes when the doorbell rang at 6:58. Punctuality is hot, but I’ll be honest with myself. I probably wouldn’t think less of him for being late.
When I opened the door, the smile was waiting and attached to the sexiest suit I’d ever seen. He raised his eyebrow at me. “What places are you putting into the hat?”
“I was waiting for the hat to tell me what I’m wearing. I didn’t know what choices you’d be putting in. Come on in.”
He smiled again as I waved for him to follow me upstairs.
I went over and sat on the couch, where I had earlier and he followed, sitting in the middle this time.
I grabbed the green glitter covered top hat that I’d worn for St. Patrick’s Day and took the pen from table, holding it out for him. “Do you know what you’re putting in?”
He took the pen from me and pulled a memo book from the breast pocket of his jacket. “I do, but I thought of something. Since you eat out professionally, maybe we should add a couple of places that we’ve never been too.”
I smiled at him. “I like that idea…”
It took us nearly twenty minutes of discussion and getting out the phone book to find three places that neither of us had been.
I held the hat out to him. “Okay. Moment of truth time.”
He shook his head. “Be my guest.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Rock, paper, scissors?”
He smiled at me and sat up.
We both threw scissors.
We both threw rock.
We both threw paper.
We both started laughing before he finally took the hat from me. “Alright. That’s it. Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.”
I couldn’t help it. I snorted out a laugh. “Why?”
“Because I’m going to solve this problem before we both starve.” By feeding me notebook paper?
I shook my head at him, but my curiosity won out. Mouth open. Tongue out. Feeling like an idiot.
I had to pull my tongue back to tell him ‘yes’ and as soon as it was back out, he took the hat by the rim and dumped the contents over my head… One of the slivers of paper stuck to my tongue. Very, very cute.
He reached over and took it to read. “DiGiulio’s. It turns out we’re having Italian anyway.” It was one of the restaurants neither of us had been to.
I smiled at him. “So now that we know what we’re eating, what are we doing after?”
“Oh no. Get dressed. We can talk about ‘after’ while we eat.”
“How will I know what to wear?”
When he raised his eyebrow at me, he licked his lips which gave me an idea or two. “Put on something that won’t make me feel like a goon for wearing a suit and the activity options for later can take… Get dressed.”
I laughed as I got up, taking my little black dress from the back of the couch.