iLaw! Parts 1-5

Part 1

It was girls’ night out and Jane and Maria were paying. It was iLaw! It was a truth universally acknowledged that the recently dumped did not pay. It was a matter of sisterly consolation. In other words, iLaw!

iLaw! was the pact the four friends had developed over their many years of friendship. It started when the Lucas family moved in across the street from the Bennet clan. Only a lane – Meryton Street – divided them. Jane Bennet was the first to welcome the new girls in neighborhood. She then introduced her sister Elizabeth to Charlotte and Maria Lucas and from then on the four were nearly inseparable. They laughed and cried together, they counseled each other through numerous crushes and bad prom dates. In the process they coined the term iLaw! When it was uttered, they knew that one of their own needed relationship advice. iLaw!

Jane arrived at The Blue Moon Diner first and secured them a table. They always found the name of the establishment apropos. Elizabeth soon slid into the booth next to her sister.

“How are you, Liz?”

“I’ve been better, I’ve been worse.”

“I’m really sorry about Patrick,” Jane said sympathetically.

“I’m not,” said the newest arrival, Maria. “I told you there was something wrong with the guy and I was right. I’m just glad you found out he was a good-for-nothing-two-timing lying squid before you became too attached.”

“Thanks, Maria. You really know how to cheer up a woman,” Elizabeth replied morosely.

“Come on, Liz. We all know you are better off without the creep.”

“Better off, foot loose and fancy free and nothing to do on the weekend.” Elizabeth glared at Maria. “Unlike you, who just so happens to have a steady boyfriend for the first time in 2 years.”

“Hey, don’t get tetchy with me just because I finally found a guy worth going out with. I’m usually the one without any attachments.”

“Shove it over, sis!” Charlotte had arrived. The waitress came over to ask if anyone wanted anything to drink.

“Actually, we’re ready to order. I think. The usual?” Elizabeth looked at her three companions who nodded.

“OK, We are all having cheeseburgers. Bring a huge order of onion rings and fries and put it in the middle of the table. Cherry Colas around. Nothing healthy! No green allowed.”

The waitress, Isabelle, smiled. “One iLaw! special coming up! It’s good to see you gals again.”

Once Isabelle left it was Charlotte’s turn.

“I broke things of with Carl.”

“What!” the other three chorused.

“After our date Friday I just had a bad feeling about where things were going. We got together Sunday afternoon and I laid out my concerns. Turns out he was having the same negative impressions I was and we decided it would be better if we stopped seeing each other.”

“I’m sorry, Sis. I thought you two were good together.”

“Thanks. At first I felt the same way, but I never felt any spark between us, and apparently neither did he.”

“I think this calls for chocolate for dessert.” Maria proposed.

“Agreed.” Jane seconded.

“Death by Chocolate Cake it is!” Elizabeth ratified. “Let me get Isabelle’s attention.”

The food, if you can call delayed ‘heart attack by the plateful’ food, came to their table and the girls dug in. They talked about stuff woman normally talk about, steering clear of the number one topic of discussion – Men. After they finished, and Isabelle brought out the cake, Jane felt ready to break the silence on the taboo subject. iLaw! declared that chocolate must be sacrificed to the love gods before Men could be spoken of with a member freshly a singleton. A double-singleton required the addition of ice cream on the side.

“Liz, I know you are disappointed, but you will meet someone new soon. You always do.”

“Yeah, you will.” Charlotte sighed. “And you will have a new beau before a man bothers looking at me to ask the time of day.”

“Come on Char, that’s not true!” Elizabeth protested.

“Face it Liz, you have the ‘assets’ to attract attention. I’m just a plain Jane – no offence.” Jane nodded that none was taken.

“The only ‘asset’ I have, Char, is self confidence! I can’t believe you’re talking this way! Look at you. You’re good looking and intelligent, you have a great sense of humor and a great job, hobbies, you love the animals… And you wonder why a man does not look at you? Just because you do not believe in you!”

“Oh, spare me the self-estimation sermon, Liz.”

“I know we’ve talked about this and we don’t agree, but honestly, this is the only difference between you and me, and this is why I will have a boyfriend sooner than you. Because I believe I can do it.”

“No, Liz, it’s because next time you will go out, you will wear that blue dress with its infamous cleavage and everyone will look at you. Sorry Liz, I believe that you are a great person and all, but men are only interested in boobs and bottoms—things you have and I lack.”

“You can’t be serious! There are plenty of ugly women dating gorgeous men,” Elizabeth’s voice faltered a little as she tried to recall an example.

“I am very serious, Liz. I do believe that I have a great personality, I just don’t believe any man will notice.”

“Come on! It’s not only the looks… It’s the self-estimation.”

“Wanna bet?” Charlotte had an amused expression on her face.

“Bet?”

“Yeah. Try to look bad, Liz, really bad. Ugly Betty bad. And be as full of self-estimation as you wish. You will notice the difference in the way the men look at you, trust me.”

“Challenge taken. Want to make it more interesting?” Elizabeth said smiling coyly.

“How?”

“You will look equally bad as I and continue to behave as you do, and to think that no one will look at you. I will have four dates with the same guy before you. And then I will prove that the only reason you do not get a boyfriend easily is because you emit the wrong aura!”

Charlotte snorted.

“That wasn’t very ladylike.” Maria admonished.

Charlotte took the bait. “You’re on!”

“Are you two serious?” Elizabeth and Charlotte nodded. “Let me get this straight, you are betting that Elizabeth can still attract a guy, doing her best to look… not pretty… and have a new boyfriend before you can have a guy of your own. Even if you decided to actually wear makeup and dress up?”

“Yep.”

“What’s the bet?”

“Hmmm. I know!” Elizabeth started laughing. “The loser has to go on that cable show – ‘Dating Phoenix.’”

“Ok, first one to four dates with the same guy wins.”

“The usual conditions as to what constitutes an acceptable date?”

“Of course.”

“And the no PDA rule is in effect?”

“Sure! Why not?”

“Deal! iLaw! handshake.”

Elizabeth and Charlotte did a little secret handshake thing and began to make plans to go out next Friday. Maria and Jane wanted to be there too, to act as witnesses of course. What neither Elizabeth nor Charlotte knew was that the other two ladies were determined to help their sisters win the bet, for better or for worse.

After all, all is fair in love and war.

iLaw!

Part 2

That Friday the four ladies met at a trendy club downtown. Jane and Maria had a hard time keeping the giggles at bay whenever they looked at their two friends. Elizabeth had made a special shopping trip to Goodwill to embellish her regular wardrobe with clothes she normally wouldn’t be caught dead in. Charlotte had opted for the “Mom’s Closet” route. Mrs. Lucas hated to throw away or donate anything.

“You never know when something will come back into style,” was her motto.

Elizabeth’s dress looked like it escaped from a 1980’s sitcom, while Charlotte was wearing a dress normally seen on woman three times her age. Each wore their hair in a very unflattering hairstyle and both were sans makeup. However, Elizabeth trumped Charlotte with the pair of oversized reading glasses dangling around her neck on a gold-plated chain.

“The glasses are a nice touch, Liz.” Jane snickered and Elizabeth dramatically perched them on the end of her nose feigning examination of the drinks menu.

“I’ll have a virgin Shirley Temple,” she sternly told the waiter. Even Charlotte laughed.

When the drinks arrived Jane held up her glass. “A toast. To Elizabeth and Charlotte, may the “worst” (?) woman win. Heaven help you with the kind of dates you’ll snare!”

“Cheers!”

“Ok, just to review the ground rules. The winner is the first one to complete four dates with the same guy. Meeting for coffee is only good enough for the first or second date.”

“iLaw!” They all clinked their glasses.

“Dinner may only count for one date, same for a movie. You have to earn this! No public displays of affection. No walking hand-in-hand before the fourth date. No holding hands at the dinner table. No kissing! If he tries to kiss you, you must turn the other cheek! And I mean the face!”

“You were always a spoilsport, Jane.”

“iLaw!” was followed by another sip.

“Maria and I will do our best to make sure some creep doesn’t take advantage of this, but you need not go out with anyone you feel uncomfortable with. Are we all agreed? OK, in a little bit Maria and I are going to go and get another table.”

“Why?” Elizabeth asked.

“Well, uhm…”

“She means we shouldn’t be your competition.” Maria said smugly, enjoying their little game. She hadn’t told Charlotte, but she had been planning her own strategy to ensure her sister won this bet.

Bill Collins had a cubicle three stations down and across the aisle from hers. He hadn’t been at de Bough Investments long, but in the short amount of time there had not failed to hit on any of the single woman. Maria was very thankful she was seeing Perry and had a ready excuse to turn him down when he pestered her for a date. Still, Bill seemed harmless and it was a good way to help her sister win this bet.

“Hey Bill, are you doing anything Friday night?”

“No. Aren’t you going out with Peter?”

“Perry. Yes, we are still seeing each other, but I have a friend I thought you might like to meet.”

“Oh. Uhm, sure.”

“I’m actually meeting up with three of my girlfriends on Friday, but here’s the thing, I don’t want Charlotte to know I am fixing you two up. She is very self-conscious and she would be hurt if she knew this was a set up. Meeting a guy as nice and attractive as you would go a long way to making her happy. Would you do this for me? As a favor to a friend?” Maria stood with her hand behind her back and her fingers crossed.

“Why of course. Anything to improve morale at de Bourgh Investments and to help out a damsel in distress.”

“Good! We will be at Willie and Guillermo’s at 8. My friend, Charlotte is the tallest of the four of us and she has black hair. When you get there, go to the bar I’ll try and cue you in to make sure there is no mix-ups.”

That Friday night, Bill Collins arrived at the appointed time and went straight to the bar to get a drink, as instructed. Seeing him, Maria excused herself from Jane and went to order two more drinks.

“Hey Bill, glad you can make it. My friend is sitting in the next room at a table. When you walk through the doors, her table is on the immediate left. She has on a flowery dress. She is sitting with another friend, Elizabeth who is dressed in a solid color outfit and is wearing a pair of reading glasses. I’m at another table with my friend Jane. Now I should warn you that Elizabeth is a hopeless flirt and it annoys her boyfriend to no end. He’s very possessive of her. When she’s out with the girls, she likes to pretend she is unattached but if Harry comes looking for her… Well, lets just say I wouldn’t want to be the guy who is responding to her charms – if you get my drift.”

Bill gulped. “Thanks for the warning.”

“What are friends for, Bill,” said Maria laying on the concern thickly. “Remember, it’s very important to Charlotte that you appear to just be another guy here tonight, one who just happens to notice her and chat her up.”

“Got it! Wish me luck!” Said Bill with a lecherous grin.

“Break a leg, Romeo!”

Maria watched as Bill Collins swaggered into the next room, glancing at the table on the left where Elizabeth and her sister Charlotte were sitting. Finding a table himself, he chose a seat facing his prey, er, potential date. Rolling her eyes, Maria chuckled to herself and took the drinks back to Jane.

“Jane, don’t look now, but there is a guy checking out Char and Liz. He actually looks interested.”

“You mean the heavyset one with the red shirt and hairy arms?”

“Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover. He could be nice.”

“He looks like an electrical engineer!” giggled Jane.

“Oh my! He’s getting up and walking towards them. This aught to be good.”

Elizabeth and Charlotte were doing their best to not look bored. It was too early for dancing, and besides, not one man had given them a second glance. That is, until the guy with the red polo, white undershirt, and extremely hairy arms sauntered over to their table.

Elizabeth was ready to throw this one back in, but her pride forced her to drop a line in the water to see if this “Don Juan” would bite. She gave him her coyest smile, while taking off her oversized glasses as sexily as she could.

“Hello, I noticed that you two seemed alone. Is this seat taken?” Don Juan asked.

“No, have a seat. My name’s Liz.”

“Hello Liz, I’m Bill. And who might you be, my fair lady?”

Charlotte startled at his address; amused and repulsed at the same time. “I’m Charlotte. Pleased to meet you, Bill.”

Elizabeth was not to be deterred by this first rebuff.

“Do you come here often, Bill?” said Lizzy, leaning towards a very hairy arm.

“No, not really. I just had this feeling that I would meet some incredible lady here tonight.” Bill’s eyes never left Char’s face.

‘She has a beauty to her, can no one else see it?

Over the next half-hour Elizabeth doggedly trying to garner the notice of the odd man sitting at their table. She flirted, laughed, and at one point even took off her shoe and ran her bare foot down his leg. Other than a momentary look of discomfort, Billy boy wasn’t budging. She became even more desperate when her bladder declared itself to be exceeding capacity and demanded immediate evacuation. Elizabeth did not want to leave Charlotte alone with Bill, but the call of nature became overwhelming. Resigned, Elizabeth excused herself to visit the ladies room and in doing so, ceded this first skirmish to Char.

Bill was ecstatic! He was finally alone with his angel and had a chance to get her phone number! And, to his great relief , Harry had not shown up to insinuate that he was hitting on a very forward and quite slutty-behaving Elizabeth.

“Would you mind if I called you sometime?” he said beseechingly.

“Ah… sure, Bill. Let me give you my cell number.”

Char scribbled the new number on a piece of paper that she just happened to have in her purse. She and Elizabeth had agreed it was wise to get throwaway phones and not go by their real last names when they were being “Ugly Betty’s”.

Once Elizabeth had returned, Bill excused himself, but not before he stopped by the bar and bought a drink for his patron saint of the evening, Maria Lucas. He would call the delectable Charlotte Lowry first thing tomorrow. He knew himself well enough to recognize that he was well on the way to being in love. Two months of dating, and then he would propose. With any luck, he could be married by the end of the summer. He always wanted seven children.

Part 3

Charles Bingley was sick and tired of his best friend’s whining. He didn’t know what his problem was. Will Darcy was tall, athletic, handsome, intelligent, and disgustingly rich. He had never suffered for a date in his life, single handedly taking out the entire cheer squad their senior year in high school. He always had some knockout on his arm and there was a standing bet that Will could, if he so chose, date seven women in seven days.

With all those things in his favor, why was Will Darcy complaining about women?

“Come on Charles, I haven’t been on more than three dates with the same woman in over two years. I’d like to have a steady relationship every decade or so.”

“Did you ever stop and think that maybe you are asking out the wrong type? There is more to a woman than how good she looks in a swimsuit.”

“I do have my standards.”

“Look, I concede that there are some really nice women who happen to be attractive. However, don’t complain to me that you can’t seem to find any!”

What Charles did not tell his friends was that he had found such a woman for himself. He had met Jane Bennet through a mutual friend and since their first date, nearly a month ago, he thought of no one else.

Over dinner Charles, told his Jane his frustrations with his maddening best buddy.

“I don’t think the man has ever had a woman tell him no. Just once in my lifetime I would like to see him come cowering back to me with his tail between his legs.”

“I thought Will was your friend.”

“He is! He just needs a good slice of humble pie.”

Jane sat thoughtfully for a few moments.

“Maybe I can help.”

“You?”

“Yeah, me. Perhaps it’s time humpty had a great fall.”

Charles was intrigued.

“I’m listening.”

“What if you bet Darcy he couldn’t pick up a girl of your choice?”

“What kind of bet?”

Jane, remembering the other bet she was privy to, had a sudden flash of inspiration.

“Bet him that if he doesn’t pick up a girl you point out the next time you have a boys’ night, and you do, then he has to date an “Ugly Betty” for a month.”

“But I’m seeing you and have no desire to hit on other women.”

“Charles dear, you won’t. I’m the girl Will tries to get to a date with. We’ve never met. He’d be easy pickings!”

“I love a devious mind!” Charles growled. “Can I mess with another friend at the same time? He’s got it coming too.”

“The more the merrier!”

Two days later Charles met Will and his cousin Luke ‘cool hand’ Fitzwilliam at Marjele’s. Charles made sure the gentlemen were on their second adult beverage before springing his trap.

“How about a bet, for old time’s sake.”

“Whaddaya got in mind?” Luke asked, wiping the foam off his upper lip.

“Well, Will here has been complaining about his love life…” Luke interrupted by snorting. “I think he’s gone soft and can’t get a date.”

“Dream on, Charles! You pick out any single woman in here and I will have her number before you can say ‘kiss my ass!’”

“What about you, Luke? You think you can get a girl Will can’t?”

“Damn straight I can. What’re the stakes?”

“Since you two lover boys are so confident – if you can’t pick up the girl, you find yourself a kennel club winner for a girlfriend for a month. Oh yeah, and of course you can’t even throw her a bone….perfect gentleman the whole month.”

“And when you lose, what’s your price?”

“Hmm, I promise to set you up with a beautiful woman who does have a brain – unlike your normal dates.”

“Sounds fair, assuming such a thing exists.” Luke smirked

“You male chauvinist pig! You deserve your fate. Now let me look around and find your target.”

“She had better be a looker.”

“OK, ok. Give me a few minutes.” Charles had already seen Jane enter the restaurant, but he was stalling for effect. “Spotted. Look over at the left end of the bar. Leggy blond on the next to last stool. Who’s first?”

“I’ll let Luke go first, and then I’ll show you how it’s done.” Will had no idea they had just been set up.

Charles and Will watched as Luke made his way over to the bar and started to chat up the pretty woman. Jane flirted with him for a few minutes, lulling Luke into a false sense of security. Like a lamb led to the slaughter he asked for her number, Jane laughed and reached for a napkin, pulling a pen from her purse. She wrote something down and tucked it into the pocket of Luke’s shirt. Giving him a seductive look she got down from her stool and went off to the ladies room.

Confidently, Luke returned to show off his prize. His smug look quickly turned to mortification and Will snatched the napkin from his cousin’s hand. In bold lettering it said, “Nice try!”

Charles and Will laughed at Luke’s misfortune. When the leggy blond returned a few minutes later, Will bid his time, finishing his drink before he went to join her.

“Watch and learn.” He threw over his shoulder.

“Mind if I join you?” Will asked his mystery woman.

“Sure, it’s a free country.”

“I’ll have another one on these,” he said to the barkeeper, producing his empty bottle.

“I’ll dive right in with the sorry pick up line and ask what a beautiful woman like you is doing alone in a place like this?” Will smiled and checked to make sure her left ring finger was unadorned.

“Smooth…”

“William.”

“Smooth, William. Are you normally so direct?”

“Only if I see a woman who so completely captures my attention.”

“What if I told you I was seeing someone?”

“Then you’ve already decided to see me?” Will said in what he thought was his most endearing tone, “I’m flattered since I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Jane.”

“I’m glad to meet you, Jane.” When Jane offered her hand to shake, Will ever so suavely brought it up to his lips for a kiss, giving her his best smoldering look.

“You are a charmer, William. But how do you know I am not some snake waiting to bite you?”

“If your venom be the poison of love, I would never wish to be cured.” Now Jane laughed heartily.

“So, can I see you again?”

“Perhaps.”

“I’d like to call you to set up a time for that date you said you had for me.”

“I never said that, and no, I will not give you my number. You are too much a charmer and I never give my number out to someone I have just met.”

“Come on Jane, please?”

“No, William, I mean it. You aren’t my type.”

“How do you know, we’ve only just met.”

Jane sighed. “Sorry. I’m not giving you my number.” Jane turned back towards the bar and Will silently fingered his glass.

“Nice to meet you. Have a good evening.”

Will walked, stunned, back to his friends.

“I don’t believe my eyes, my dearest cousin, the great Will Darcy has failed to get his new toy! It almost makes me feel better knowing you will be suffering the same fate.”

“Shut up, Luke.”

“Hey, to show you there are no hard feelings, I’m going to try my luck. If I strike out, the bet’s off.”

Both Luke and Will perked up. Anything to get out of their month of dating purgatory.

Charles walked over to the bar and sat down next to Jane. He was careful to not touch her, nor let his friends see their faces while they talked.

“I wish I could have heard you talking to Luke and Will. I trust you were gentle?”

“Of course I was. And it was fun! You’re right; they are both too confident for their own good. I’m going to enjoy setting them up!”

“Will and your sister, Luke and Charlotte?”

“Of course! Liz will make Will pay, and he’ll teach her a thing or two in the bargain.”

“Excellent! Now write your phone number on a napkin for me and by the end of next week, you are my new girl.”

“It’s been a pleasure plotting with you, Mr. Bingley,” Jane said as she handed him the napkin.

“Likewise Miss Bennet, I’ll call you later.”

Charles enjoyed the look of utter disbelief on his compatriots’ faces as he returned to their table.

“Pick up your chins, boys. That is how a man gets a number from a beautiful woman.”

The next two posts were written by the lovely Elsa. I made them sound more Arizonian, Trina added her two cents and Sarah/Sammisan was the guest beta. Without further ado, it’s time for Char’s date will Darling Billy.

The next two chapters are written by the lovely Elsa.

Part 4

It was interesting to prepare for a date with Bill Collins. No make-up, no dress-up, no anxiety what the first kiss would be like (since there wouldn’t be a first kiss), no worries about discouraging him to call her again—since she wanted him to call again.

That should be easy, should it not?

Charlotte had picked the largest pants she had in her closet. They should date from her teenage bulimic times, but in fact they were so old she could not tell. It was as if she had had them since the day she was born. She had chosen a blouse, not a shirt, because she had read somewhere lately, that men found shirts hot. She wore a bra that minimized her breasts instead of a titillating wonder bra. No make up, and she had dried her hair without bothering to use a brush. The effect was wonderfully bad… Her head resembled a crazed scientist’s after a disastrous experiment in chemistry.

The doorbell rang and she ran to welcome Elizabeth, Jane and Maria, who had come to make sure she looked the part.

“That must have been the fastest you have ever prepared for a date, Sis,” Maria commented dryly. “There’s no way you took more than five minutes to look like that.”

“Actually, I really had to search for my outfit,” Charlotte said. “It was deep, deep down in the closet, but I was determined to find it.”

“You did a good job, Char,” Elizabeth told her friend. “I can’t wait to hear how the whole thing goes.”

“You mean, my first out of four dates?”

Elizabeth grimaced. She was really troubled she had not found a target man yet. She had never even dreamed of losing the bet, but she did not feel so comfortable now. Not comfortable at all.

“It will be pronounced a date as soon as it is over and gone smoothly,” Jane intervened, having correctly interpreted her sister’s expression.

“Somehow, I have a good feeling about this,” Maria said, smiling deviously. Jane eyed her suspiciously, but she continued, “I even think he will ask to see you again before the date is over.”

“Where is he taking you?” Elizabeth asked.

“Mama’s.’”

“Haven’t heard of it, but sounds romantic.”

Charlotte’s smile did not falter a bit. “Liz, darling, I think you’re jealous.”

“Of Bill Collins? The man behind the hairy shoulders?” Elizabeth choked.

“Jealous of my success, and terrified of losing the bet. Don’t worry, we’ll all be in the audience when they tape the show and applaud each time you get a good offer.”

“You may have made a good beginning, but in the end I’ll win,” she said defiantly and looked at her sister for support.

“Actually, I have a good feeling about Elizabeth as well. I think she will be meeting her Mr. Right Date very, very soon.” Now all the eyes turned to her. “Just a hunch,” she said, but Elizabeth who knew her sister well, did not believe her.

Jane was saved by the bell – on Char’s alarm clock. It was time to go to meet Bill.

“Good luck, and remember our rules. No encouragement!”

“Lock the door as you leave, girls. Tonight I’m gonna rock!”

He had offered to pick Char up at her apartment, but until it was safe, there was no way in hell she was going to let any of her “Ugly” dates know where she lived. A nearby Starbucks did very well as a meeting place. When she pulled into the parking lot Bill Collins was waiting quite impatiently, judging from the way he was pacing around his… Geo Metro?

******

As Bill drove through the streets with the skill and pride of a sixteen year old that doesn’t possess a license, spinning for three seconds and then hitting the break so abruptly that Charlotte tossed in her seat, the unfortunate woman was pondering on the ways of making an awful date less awful. Well, she could try talking at first. How difficult would that be? She stole a glance to Bill, who was giggling stupidly after another abrupt stop. Okay, talking without looking at him was a better idea.

“So, Bill, that place that we’re going, ‘Mama’s,’ is it new?”

“My place? No, no, it’s an old building. I’ve lived there all my life.”

Charlotte was alarmed. To accept to go out with Bill was one thing, but to go to his place was an altogether different matter. She wondered if she should get out of the car immediately or ask for details. Another sudden spinning obliged her to follow the second course of action.

“I thought we were going to a restaurant, not to your place.”

“It’s not only my place, it’s Mama’s place, too,” he corrected her. “I told you we would go to my mama’s to eat, and you were enthusiastic about it, remember?”

So ‘Mama’s’ was actually dinner with his mother. Wonderful. Excellent. Magnificent. Perfect. The English language could not do justice at her exhilaration on that moment. However, if she added a few choice words in “French” as well as her extensive Spanish profanity vocabulary, it would come close to expressing how she truly felt. At least he would not try to make any moves. That was something to be grateful for, she supposed.

“I had not realized,” she replied carefully. “I hope she will not mind my joining you for dinner. We can always go to a restaurant, you know.”

“No, never! Mama is always delighted to cook for my friends. Lewis—you know, he’s my best friend—dines with us twice a week at least. He loves Mama’s food. And Lewis has great taste, the best taste in the world.”

Judging from his taste in automobiles, Charlotte was not inclined to agree, but she nodded her head.

They arrived at Bill’s place and Charlotte had the honor of being introduced to his formidable mother, Catherine Collins, a short, fat lady who had the talent of talking as much as her son, and if possible was even more dull to listen to than her only offspring. At least she only inflicted one on the unsuspecting world. Charlotte thought they would sit and exchange pleasantries for a few minutes, but Catherine grabbed her around the waist and ushered her in another room. “Dinner is ready!” she announced. “We must eat it while it is warm!”

Part 5

Charlotte expected to see the dining room, but instead found herself in a small room that smelt really, really badly. The air was smoky, and it took a few seconds for her eyes to stop watering before she could identify the place as the kitchen, in the middle of which stood a table covered in a white and red checked tablecloth. But the horror was not the tablecloth, it was the chairs. She could not remember when she had last seen that kind of metal chair, and she certainly did not wish to recall the last time she had seen plastic cushion covers. Somehow, she found herself surrounded by them.

She examined the surroundings more carefully. No, the kitchens in Doris Day and Rock Hudson’s films were the epitome of modernity compared to this. Yeah, the last time that kind of kitchen furniture was sold should date in the fifties. The amount of rust alone would have dated them, had the style not.

Despite the nausea that came to her, and the protests of her nostrils, Charlotte obediently sat in a chair with a mustard brown cushion cover and saw a brown mass landing on her plate.

“You must eat all your food,” Catherine said authoritatively. “You need proteins, lots of proteins to build up your body. I will leave you now, kids.”

“What? Will you not sit with us, mama?” Bill seemed devastated.

“No, I wouldn’t want to interfere in your talking. I’ll go and sit quietly on my couch.” She indicated a purple couch, in the same room of course. Somehow the underwear hanging on the clothesline over the Barney-like couch had distracted her from the offending furniture on her initial survey of the room. Nothing was a bigger turnoff for a woman that graying Fruit of the Loom men’s briefs. Add to that the ladies bloomers that would make her frugal grandmother proud with the prodigious amount of wear showing and Char was fearing the worse. “But I will get you your drinks first.” If Charlotte expected to be asked about her preferences, she was sadly mistaken. Nothing though, could have prepared her for the content of the glass that was given to her. “You kids have fun, okay?”

“Yes, mama.”

Catherine Collins took her station upon the couch. Char felt like a prisoner in the County Jail visitors’ room

“Bill?”

“Yes, lovely Charlotte?”

“What exactly is this?” She pointed at the glass, with the least disgusted expression she could master.

“Don’t you recognize it? It’s Kool aid! Makes people stronger.”

“Makes kids stronger, Bill. I haven’t been a kid for about fifteen years.”

“Oh, you know, they always save the best stuff for the little ones. Mama thinks it’s unfair, so she gives me what they get. Isn’t she wonderful?”

Charlotte had strong suspicions that the dessert would be pudding.

A few minutes of awkward silence ensued, as the couple ate quietly—or, in Charlotte’s case, attempted to swallow the brownish mush with a minimal amount of chewing. Charlotte definitely came to prefer silence to conversation on this particular date. But her happiness did not last long.

“Billy boy, talk to the girl. You must ask her about her job, and all. Haven’t I told you that we must be polite to guests? And get your elbows off the table, haven’t I taught you any manners!”

He almost jumped in his seat, pulled the offending elbows off the checkered plastic tablecloth, and immediately apologized. “Sorry mama! You are right! So, Charlotte, what is it that you do?”

“I have a PhD in chemistry. I work for The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University in the Center for Glycosciences and Technology. I’m part of the research team investigating the development of treatments for a broad spectrum of diseases – including cancer and immune disorders – and utilizing plants as green-manufacturing units for the production of potentially life-saving drugs.”

“That’s a mouthful,” Catherine said, but she did not seem very pleased. Charlotte guessed that she would have appreciated a simpler answer, such as waitress, cleaner or millionaire. Bill on the other hand, clapped his hands.

“No kidding! PhD! Lewis has a PhD degree. He worked for it for years! He wrote an amazing dissertation about laws. He took all the laws from all the countries and compared them and it was fantastic!”

“Have you read it?” Charlotte bit her lip; she was doing her best to remain serious.

“Oh, no, it’s big. It’s huge! Eight hundred pages! The longest dissertation that was ever written. And even though Lewis is modest about it, it is the best dissertation that was ever written. Imagine! All the laws!”

“I can imagine.” Char could imagine how important Bill felt by the frequent use of of the word ‘dissertation’ and silently wondered if he knew what the word meant.

“Lewis was really absorbed in that. He had even stopped his weekly visits to mama to write it. You know, he is an amazing guy. And he is my best friend.”

“Yes, you told me.”

Bill then proceeded to details about Lewis’s professional life, and how he became a lawyer but then got tired of it—because Lewis was always an adventurous man, of course—and opened a bar. Then he talked of his friend’s interests, hobbies, he analyzed all his past girlfriends and announced very proudly that he was going to be the best man at his wedding. Charlotte began to dislike Lewis even more than Bill, so she decided to change the topic.

“You never told me what your job is, Bill.”

“I have two jobs. During the day I work for an investment firm but on the weekends I’m Lewis’ assistant! I do the public relations stuff for his bar.”

Charlotte made a bet with herself about when that bar would fail and heard Bill as he described how pleased Lewis was with the job that he was doing and with the amount of people that he was bringing in.

Must sell cheap booze

By the time that his monologue was over, Charlotte had emptied her plate. She was trying to find a way to flee the room and possibly, the house, when she realized Catherine was standing next to her, a little too close.

“Charlotte, dear, you haven’t drunk your Kool aid. Seriously, girl, how do you expect to get beautiful without it?” She tapped Charlotte’s cheek.

What of make-ups, nice clothing and diets? The real tip to finding a boyfriend was Kool aid! Charlotte almost burst out in laughter at that thought.

“Oh, Charlotte has inner beauty, mama.” Bill offered with a sickening smile.

“Well, a bride has to have outer beauty as well, or they will think the groom is stupid. Don’t worry girl, I will give you some tips next time we meet.”

Charlotte looked at the fat lady with the green dress that was so tight one wondered how the buttons did not pop off. She could see bits of a black bra with fraying red lace trim peeking through the over-stressed bust buttons of her dress. Then she saw her blond hair, dreadfully dyed, and her make up. Blue shadows—evidently she had not found any greens and she thought it was the same—cherry red lipstick and too much rouge on her chubby cheeks. She mused it would be really… interesting to get tips from that lady.

“Well, I had a great time, but…”

“Don’t even think about leaving without having dessert. I made the best pudding for you.”

“I thank you, but…but I am…”

“Now, now, sit down girl and eat properly. You need to get some weight.” She eyed Charlotte and Char felt like she was being compared to an anorexic cow. “A woman has to have curves, you know. My Bill likes curves, don’t you boy?”

“I’m sure curves will look great on you, Charlotte.”

Charlotte grudgingly conceded and ate all her food like a good girl, and then she was led to another room that smelled slightly less repulsive. The principle piece of furniture in this room was a huge TV.

“I have to wash the dishes,” Catherine stated, “but you can see some videos we have here. Bill’s christening is very funny. He was such an adorable baby!”

“Yes, mama, we’ll definitely watch the christening. And then I will show Charlotte the videos from school, so she can see Lewis!”

“I really want to see Lewis,” Charlotte said, terrified, “but I work in the morning, and I have to get up early.”

“Nonsense, girl! It won’t take more than an hour or two. Then Bill will get you back with his car. He filled the tank today to come and get you. I won’t have you offending my boy!”

Charlotte sat down, suppressed a huge sigh, cursed her passive, relenting nature and prepared to mentally count sheep for the next two hours.

One hundred and fifty minutes and about ten flocks of wooly sheep later, she closed the door of her apartment. The night was a disaster. First of all, there was no way she would see Bill Collins again, visions of rolls of baby fat on the naked boy being baptized were seared into her consciousness. Even threats of having to striptease for that damn cable TV dating show could not diminish her resolve! Besides, she wondered even if the evening, spent with Bill and his mother, constituted a date. How many family members could be present at a date? She had to ask the girls about it. Bet or no bet, iLaw! must be satisfied. If it didn’t, she needed to find a guy without family.

And with more hair on his head than the rest of his body combined!

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