iLaw! Parts 6-10

Part 6

It was only right that the four women would meet for lunch Saturday afternoon for the post mortem on Charlotte’s date. Elizabeth came with a morbid curiosity. In her heart, she wanted Charlotte to find a nice guy, but her pride took a hit when her charms slid of Bill Collins like the wax on his body hair. She shivered, for Charlotte’s sake, and hoped the evening was a total disaster. Plus it would help her cause. In every cloud there was a silver lining, or so she told herself to justify her vanity.

“Spill, Girl!”

“Oh God! It was the most wretched evening I have ever spent in my entire life! Dating Phoenix could not even come close to producing an evening like that”

“That bad, eh?” Jane asked.

“Worse.”

“Ouch! So I take it you won’t be going out with Bill again?”

“No woman would be that insane, bets be damned.”

Gradually the ladies started to giggle until they were all in hysterics. It took several minutes before anyone could talk. At last Char began her tale of woe.

“You mean to tell me that “Mama’s” was his home and his mother cooked dinner?”

“Yep, it was served on a red and white checkered tablecloth right in the middle of the kitchen. One of those 1950’s melamine covered jobs with the metal chairs and plastic seat cushions.”

“Hey, retro is in!”

“Chic retro is in, rust and splitting upholstery is out! I was thankful that she never left us alone. And I must say that the Kool aid in the plastic goblets was a nice touch.”

Maria had made the foolish mistake of taking a drink of water during her sister’s last comment. When she snorted, the water went up her nose. Maria was only grateful that she had not yet pulled out her laptop, for sure if she had, the water would have ejected out of her mouth. Soon the four skipped the giggles and when straight into howling laughter. Finally they noticed their server was standing close bye, nonchalantly trying to eavesdrop, which only caused them all to howl more.

Eventually they made it through Char’s retelling, though Elizabeth innocently asked Charlotte if she had any homemade cherry pie back at her apartment. To which Char stuck out her tongue.
Once again it was time to plan the two Bettys’ next night out. Billy Boy was definitely history and they both needed to meet more prospects.

“What about that?” Maria pointed to the bus stopped outside. There was an advertisement for ‘Big Boys and Their Toys’ at Westworld. “I’m not sure about Westworld, so let’s see what’s going on at the conventions center.” Maria pulled out her laptop and Googled the Convention Center. When they looked at the calendar all four lost it again!

Sex and So Much More

“Hey, it’s open to the public!” Maria managed to choke out through her laughter. “Let’s go to the web site.”

Three minutes was enough to convince Jane and Maria that this was the perfect place to go trolling.

“No! I absolutely refuse to do it!” Elizabeth protested. “It’s degrading. It’s debasing!”

“… It’s the perfect place to look for desperate guys!” Jane finished for her. “Why don’t you two go together and see what you can dig up. Double date with anyone you meet. That should be safe enough.”

“Go on Saturday and then on Sunday do the men’s expo thing out at Westworld,” Maria suggested.

Elizabeth and Charlotte reluctantly agreed, both realizing that finding a guy as their ugly alter ego was more than they bargained for.

*****

Jane started to feel a bit of remorse in sending Elizabeth and Charlotte unaccompanied to the convention center and called Maria on Wednesday.

“I’m not sure we should have encouraged them to go alone.”

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing; it’s too good a chance to miss!”

Jane grinned “Then I think we are agreed that we need to go as chaperones?”

“I’m a little leery of going without an escort. I’d rather not be the one being hit on.”

“Charles and I talked and he agreed to come with me. Would Perry come along too?”

“After I tell him what’s going on, I’m sure he’ll agree.”

“Good, let do lunch at Schlotsky’s on Central just south of Virginia. Do you know where I mean?”

“Yeah, what time?”

“Noon, that will give us plenty of time to eat and then head on over. Liz and Char are going at one o’clock.”

“Got it. Are you going to tell you sister we’re coming?”

“The day before, and I think I have a great idea about how to keep people from hitting on us, and giving Liz and Char a chance to meet people.”

“What?”

“You’ll find out on Saturday after I work out more details.

“I hate waiting.” Maria mumbled.

Maria led the party of four into the new Phoenix Convention Center. The city had spent millions of dollars replacing the old buildings, and if the Betty’s didn’t score today, at least they got to check out the new structure. The entrance was located and they went in search of Charlotte and Elizabeth.

“Remember,” Jane admonished the gentlemen, “let Maria and me do all the talking. You are just along to look handsome standing next to us.”

“Don’t we get to participate in the ‘research’ too?” Charles whined.

“YOU can research the booths, Maria and I will conduct the rest.”

Once the two “Bettys” had been located, Maria and Perry went off with her clipboard in one direction, Jane and Charles went with her clipboard in another. Together the two couples flanked the would-be men-hunters.

Elizabeth and Charlotte felt very ill at ease. The hall was filled with booths touting the latest in fantasy apparel, satisfaction guaranteed ‘pleasure’ toys, books sellers and even more than they could ever imagine. It was The Castle Boutique* on steroids. To make matters even more uncomfortable were the men who walked by ever so often and bumped shoulders, hoping for an introduction. Elizabeth had never felt as many eyes roam up and down her body as she did then. They had plenty of men willing to talk to them, unfortunately most of them looked to be about 30 years older than they and who thought this was still the 1970’s. Too many Saturday Night Fever rejects – with tight fitting shirts unbuttoned halfway down their chests and gold chains dangling around their necks.

For a while Jane and Charles watched with amusement until something assisted Jane memory that she was here to help, not laugh. A nicely dressed couple, nearly their age, started to talk to them. Charles thought they were just being friendly until he noticed the man checking out Jane and the woman sizing up him. He politely excused them, claiming a need to continue their original purpose.

“They seemed nice enough,” Jane commented naively.

“They were looking for a partner swap.”

Jane looked stunned. “They were?”

“Ah huh.”

“Oh.”

”Unless of course, you are into swinging?” Charles finished with a smirk, knowing full well his she was a one-man woman.

“The only swinging I do is on the dance floor or playground.”

“I think I can arrange that.” Bingley just smiled. “Okay, Let’s not forget the reason we came, to watch over and help Liz”

Jane nodded and began looking around for men with potential. She spotted a pair of clean cut looking guys not to far from them. Neither was paying any attention to her sister. She gathered up her courage and walked over to the pair.

“Excuse me,” she asked in a confident tone. “My name is Jane Benson and my colleague and I are here today for research for a paper we are preparing and I was wondering if I could ask for you help.”

“Charles Bartlett at your service,” Charles said as he offered the two wary men his hand.

“As I said, we are in the middle of an experiment and this gathering is a perfect place to continue it. Do you see those two women over there; one has a red top and the other blue.” Jane motioned towards Liz and Char. “Those two are helping us in our project. We’re here with another couple, they are next to the Hot Lips Bar; they are looking at us right now.” Maria and Perry nodded across the way.

“All four of us are working on a paper about sexual repression in woman. The two ladies I just pointed out are our two test subjects for the day. They think they are just here to observe and give us their impressions of the event. In reality, we are here observing them. We wanted to see the effects of such an open display of sexuality on the sexually suppressed woman. They happen to be friends of mine and I know for a fact that they smother their sexual instincts. However, I believe that a little extra stimulus, the attention of desirable men in this setting, would have the potential of breaking down their barriers.”

“We would be greatly indebted to you if you would at least go and talk to them. The type of men they seem to be attracting does not look promising. Would you be willing to do that? We ask nothing more than a few kind words.”

The one man looked at the other, who returned his unspoken question with a shrug.

“Alright, Miss…” the man looked at her credentials, “Benson. Denny and I will have a go at it. Just talking for a few minutes, right?”

“Yes, Oh, and I don’t want you to have the misapprehension that they are innocent. Years ago they were active, one much more than the other, but circumstances change and they have long shunned boyfriends.” The man called Denny looked alarmed.

“And to answer the question, they are straight. They were just singed years ago and have yet to recover.”

“Which one was the bigger player?” the alpha male asked.

“I’ll let you try and discover that. Can I at least have a first name for my records?”

“The name is George, and my pal here is Denny. You don’t need our last names, right?”

“No, first names are fine.”

“Can you at least give me a hint?”

“Still waters run deep, if you get my drift.”

“Still waters… Oh! Ok!” George knew to engage the quiet one. He didn’t bother screwing around with near virgins.

“Thank you, gentlemen. We will stand back and watch.”

After George and Denny were out of earshot, Charles whispered to Jane, “Remind me never to play poker with you. You make look like an angel but there is a devil under there.”

Liz and Char did not see the two men speaking with Jane because they were too occupied by the show on stage. So when the person who had been standing next to her spoke, Elizabeth was startled.

“Interesting show.”

“I’ll say!” Elizabeth replied after she recovered her poise.

“My friend Denny and I decided to come down here today for a lark.”

“Us too,” Elizabeth lied.

“My name is George, George Wickham. This here’s Denny Carter.”

“Liz Barnes.”

“And you?” George turned his attention to Charlotte.

“Char Lowry,” she said softly.

That’s the hidden tiger! George thought. The other seems a bit too bossy, like she’s compensating for something.

Elizabeth realized these two were the best they would most likely get, so turned on the charm. She would attack the cute one first.

“Are you from around here, George?”

“No, moved from Illinois a few years ago, got tired of the snow. How about you, Char?”

“Me? I grew up in the Valley. It’s always been home.”

The conversation continued in much the same vein as it had with Bill Collins. Elizabeth desperately tried to get George’s attention, but when that failed tried flirting with Denny. But Denny remained aloof and George preferred Charlotte. It was all quite vexing!

George ended up pulling Char aside to ask for her number, they decided to meet that evening for coffee instead.

Elizabeth was incredulous. The only offer she ended up receiving was from a guy in platform shoes named Ramon – who wore a cape of all things! Things were going from bad to worse.

It was time to petition Jane for help.

Just like her older sister had planned.

* Castle is an American adult toy store chain

Part 7

There wasn’t time for the ladies to meet on Sunday for a recap of Char’s coffee with George. Elizabeth picked her up from her central Phoenix apartment and they drove to north Scottsdale to visit the men’s expo. Char filled in the curious Elizabeth along the way.

“We met at the Starbucks on the corner of 1st Street and Washington. I figured it was a public enough of a place on a Saturday night.”

“Good choice.”

“Anyway, a got there before George so I ordered my latte and waited. A few minutes later he came sauntering in and greeted me like an old friend; leaning over to kiss me on the cheek.”

“Uh oh!”

“Yeah, the alarm bells started going off right then and there. I also caught him trying to sneak a peek down my shirt when he greeted me with that kiss.”

“The idiot! Why don’t guys realize that women notice these things? So what happened next?” Elizabeth was starting to get the feeling that George was crossed off Char’s list – to Elizabeth’s competitive joy!

“He ordered his espresso and we sat down to talk. He may have seemed nice at the convention center, but the longer he talked about himself, the more convinced I became that he was a rather self-centered man. He just seemed too smooth.”

“But what gave him away?”

“The trifling fact that his gaze kept leaving my face and traveling down to my bust line. I can understand having a hard time maintaining eye contact, but please! You look up and to the side, not stare at my breasts!”

“Hehehe! How did you manage to extricate yourself?”

“I simply thanked him for the conversation and wished him a pleasant evening. I stood up and walked away before he had a chance to respond.”

“Nice! Does he have your number?”

“I was going to give it to him, but then we decided to meet up for coffee so I sorta skipped that part.”

“Saved by your discretion. Well, at least we have this chance to meet some guys today. It should be a more tame crowd, and most of the women who will be there aren’t out looking for a guy.”

“How do you know that?”

“Come on, Char! Would you normally be caught dead there?”

“Well, no.”

“The women there are with their men because they are shopping for a new boat or RV or something. Upon further reflection, we may look perfectly normal.” They both started giggling again. One thing was for sure, this uglifying might be a lot of work, but they hadn’t remembered laughing – or cringing – so much in years!

They arrived at Westworld, driving past the bronze sculptures of rearing horses and found a place to park, paying dearly for the privilege.

They decided to head off the boat and fishing section first.

“This place reminds me of a joke.” Elizabeth told Charlotte. “What do you call a championship fisherman?”

“I don’t know, what?”

“Why a Master Baiter, of course.”

“Hahahaha! Liz! Shame on …. (laughter)… you! Oh look, so many men in NASCAR gear.”

“They look harmless, and I was right about the women, we look just like the rest of the gals!”

“What do we do now?”

“Stroll, and be ready to chat up a guy. Just make sure there’s no plumber’s crack. That’s definitely a bad sign.”

They walked among the different bass boats on display first.

“Good grief, I’m walking in Redneck Alley! Have you ever see so many # 3 Forever or NRA t-shirts in one place in your life?”

“At least their cowboy boots have a worn look to them, unlike all the good ol’ boy wannabe’s around town.”

“Shhh, I think we may have some company.”

Two rather shy looking men walked up and asked them if they liked to fish.

“We’ve only been a few times in our lives.” Elizabeth said, taking charge of the conversation.

“We thought you ladies were looking at the boats like you were interested in them.”

“Oh we are. We decided it would be fun to find a new way to spend some time outdoors. Since there are so many lakes around, and we really aren’t into water skiing, this seemed a natural choice. Would you mind helping us out? We really have no idea what to look for in a boat and we wanted to look around before buying something. I’m Liz, by the way, and this is my friend Char.”

“Greg,” the taller of the two announced, “and this here’s Johnny. I’d be happy to show you around.”

The next 45 minutes was spend in an abbreviate lesson on fishing boats. The men patiently explained the different types of boats used for different types of bodies of water. They discussed the merits of aluminum versus fiberglass watercrafts as well as the need to have an appropriate sized outboard motor. The ladies learned about electric trolling motors, depthfinders and livewells. After a while, they were beginning to think that they may finally have found a couple of nice guys who were more interested in what they liked rather than how they dressed.

“You gentleman really have been a big help. I won’t feel so stupid going to a boat dealer now.” Elizabeth said to thank them, and encourage them to talk about something other than fishing.

Johnny, the quieter of the two men smiled goofily at them and looked like he was about to say something. Then he got a nervous look on his face and ran his hand through his hair. Sighing, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a can of Skoal and offered it to Greg.

“Not now, thanks buddy,” Greg replied. Johnny shrugged his shoulders and then put a wad of tobacco in his mouth, seemed to relax, and then smiled shyly back to Charlotte. “Uhm, would you ladies care to have a drink with us sometime?” Greg continued. He didn’t see Johnny’s grin turn to embarrassment when he saw Charlotte look at him with a wad of tobacco in his mouth.

“Excuse us,” Johnny mumbled before he dragged Greg away. The two men had a quiet word and Elizabeth and Charlotte stood awkwardly awaiting them. Greg came back.

“Umh, Johnny just reminded me that we need to get going. It was nice meeting you. Good luck on the boat thing. Maybe we’ll see you on the lakes.”

Greg was gone before Elizabeth could react. She sighed, it was better that they stopped it there. One of the tenants of iLaw! was that there was no dating guys who used spit tobacco. Elizabeth cursed her mistake. She should have looked for the worn ring of a can of chew on the man’s rear pocket! Foolish, wretched mistake.

Char looked defeated. “Can we just go home now?”

“Don’t you want to look around at the other sections? There’s a Texas Hold’em Demonstration as well as ones on cars and RV’s and a bunch of other things.”

“I’ve had enough disappointments for this 24 hours. Can we please leave?”

“Sure, lets go find the car.”

They rode in silence westbound on Greenway Road.

“Do you want to call off the bet?” Char finally asked.

“I don’t think we’ve tried long enough. We are both a little tired and discouraged and not in the best frame of mind. We might kick ourselves later if we quit now.”

“You’re probably right. What I need is a nice hot bath and an evening with curled up with a good book.”

“That sounds heavenly!”

****

That night Jane called Elizabeth.

“How did it go?”

“I’d rather not talk about it now,” Elizabeth said tiredly.

“Fine, let’s do lunch Tuesday. I have an idea to run past you.”

“Macayo’s?”

“Where else? Meet you at 11:00. Hang in there, sis.”

Jane hung up the phone and handed it to Charles. “Your turn!”

Charles dialed the number. “Will! Are we still on for lunch with Luke tomorrow? Great, see you then.”

Since guys don’t like to prolong conversations when they are depressed, Charles had mercifully ended the call.

He flashed a huge grin at Jane. “So far, so good! I’ll reserve a table for eight Saturday at Phoenix City Grill. Perry and Maria are still coming?”

“A herd of wild elephants couldn’t keep Maria away!”

“Will they ever forgive us?”

“Liz and Char?”

“And Will and Luke?”

“Eventually, after they are couples. Trust me, I have a really good feeling that this will all turn out well.”

Charles grabbed Jane by the waist and she shrieked. “Come here you big game hunter!” he growled. “How tough are you when faced with a tiger?!”

Part 8

McGurkee’s was one of those dives found near most college campuses across the US. The interior was ‘quaint’ and the sandwiches were to die for. It was one of William Darcy’s favorite places to eat in the whole city and it was only a hop, skip and a jump from the central corridor, a block away from Phoenix College. He never went to school there, Junior College was below him. But he had spent hundred of hours at the track running laps and bleachers. The west stands were pre-cast concrete and great for running and plyometric training.

Charles was waiting when Will and Luke arrived. They ordered their standard fare and sat down to enjoy some comfort food.

Charles went straight for the kill.

“Either of you found your newest girl yet?” The two men squirmed. Charles knew they hadn’t he had his sources.

“See, I’m in a bit of a bind here. I can’t ask out anyone from work, that would lead to some really uncomfortable situations at the end of the month and I don’t want my employees to hit on me!”

“There are more places to look than work.”

“You don’t expect me to go looking at my normal haunts. I do have a reputation to maintain!”

“Exactly!” Luke affirmed.

“We wouldn’t want it known that either two of you would lower your standards, eh?”

Both had the grace to remains silent.

“It just so happens that I am in position to help you. You remember Jane, the woman you couldn’t get her phone number from.”

“Chuckie,” Will said menacingly under his breath.

“Hear me out, Wilma. It just so happens that Jane has a sister that is currently unattached. She may not be the beauty that Jane is, but she’s a nice woman.”

“If she’s Jane’s sister, I would expect her to be handsome.”

“Well, I’ve seen her and while I would never say that her Momma fed her hay, I would say she fits the conditions of the bet.”

“That’s only one girl,” Luke pointed out.

“When I saw Jane’s sister Elizabeth, she was with a friend. Said friend is also currently unattached for much the same reasons as is Elizabeth. I’d like to set the two of you up with the two of them. Jane suggested we all meet for dinner on Saturday and you two can take things from there. We’ll even invite another couple along so you don’t feel like you are in such a confined situation.”

“These woman aren’t… strange?” Luke asked

Charles laughed. “No, no. Jane just says they are flowers waiting to blossom, they only need some tender loving care.”

“Whoa! This is only for one month. When it’s over the dating is off.”

“Calm down Will. Yes, I said one month. You might not find it so intolerable, especially if you gave the women a chance. There is much more to a person than their outward appearance. You were the one complaining to me about the shallowness of the things you have been seeing lately.”

“I require a girl who is more than just tolerably good looking to make me happy, Charles.”

“Suit yourself, but you are not going to have this kind of opportunity to meet as normal, if not plain looking woman again to settle our bet, at least I’m done introducing you to any others.”

Will knew his friend was just trying to help. “You down with this Luke?”

“Might as well take it. Where and when?”

“Saturday at 7:00, Phoenix City Grill. Not to fancy, and it has some privacy. I’ll take care of making the reservations. You take care of coming with a good attitude, especially you, Will.

*****

In their opinion, Macayo’s on Central was the top destination for good Sonoran-style Mexican food. Jane and Elizabeth took advantage of any excuse to dine there. Nothing was better than their shredded beef chimichonga for lunch topped off by splitting a serving of fried ice cream for dessert. Elizabeth ordered her chimi without the sauce, and Jane with. Elizabeth recounted her wretched weekend, filling in the details Jane did not already know about Char’s date on Saturday.

“I’m starting to lose my confidence about this whole thing. I mean, I’ve never flirted so shamelessly and had so little response. Maybe men are that shallow.”

“I don’t know about that. Charles seems to be like a very together guy, as does Maria’s boyfriend Perry.”

“Yeah, conveniently taken, too.”

“Maybe I can introduce you to a guy.”

“I’m not sure that is in compliance with the rules.”

“I’d set up Char too, just to be fair.”

Elizabeth thought that seemed reasonable.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve talked with Maria and she agrees with me about this.”

“I don’t mind.”

“We also agreed to talk to Charles and Perry to see if we could find some guys to introduce you to. Charles has two friends who owe him and who have agreed to meet you.”

Oh great, they are agreeing to be set up because they owe Charles. What’s wrong with them.”

“Nothing. Charles said that they are old friends who are a bit tired of the dating scene right now.”

“So they’ve consented to meet me? Don’t I feel special.” Elizabeth spat out bitterly.

“Hey! I’m trying to help have a chance to win this stupid bet! I’m doing the best that I can!” Jane added just the right touch of righteous indignation to make Elizabeth feel remorse.

Elizabeth exhaled a sigh. “I know, it’s just not good for the old self-esteem to know someone agrees to meet you only because they owe another person.”

“What I think Charles meant was that they were looking to meet women who possessed character and intelligence. You are Char have both in spades. Say you will come. Please?”

“What about Char?”

“Maria is coming with Perry. She’ll make sure he sister is there.”

“Ok. It’s not like I have been getting any dates on my own. Just tell me when and where and I’ll be there with my best Betty look.”

*****

Maria had her hands full as well.

“Come on sis, all of us will be there, four guys, four gals.”

“Maria, if you had had my luck as of late, you would understand my hesitancy.”

“Look, if this is bothering you so much why don’t you talk to Liz about calling it off?”

“We did talk, but we decided not to yet.”

“Then come to dinner on Saturday. Jane’s boyfriend assured us that these two guys are normal.”

Well, ok. It should be safe enough. Does this count as a date?”

“Not!”

“You can’t blame me for trying. But if one of these guys is at all a potential nice guy, I’ll do my best to get my four dates with him and be done with it. I do not want to lose.”

“That’s the spirit! So we’re on?”

“Oh yeah, we’re on!”

Thus the stage was set, the trap was sprung, the noose was tightened, and four unsuspecting people were about to have dinner on a night that would change the course of their lives.

Part 9

Elizabeth was the first to arrive at the restaurant. She had taken great pains to affect a very unattractive looking hairstyle and had even used some makeup to make her look worse than normal. Her outfit was bulky and unflattering, though not as old as the dress she wore her first night uglified. She took advantage of a large potted dwarf palm that partially concealed her from the people entering the establishment. She was not disappointed when Charles came inside with a gorgeous man at his side.

Whoa! Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all. If he can get past my appearance, that is one good-looking hunk of potential Significant Other!

The man took a station on the other side of the plant, concealing her presence from Charles.

“I hope Jane’s sister shares her looks. I think I could tolerate a date with a…”

“Stranger?”

“Yeah, stranger… if there was some potential attractiveness.”

“Darcy, please tell me you don’t pick your dates based on the potential for good looking children?”

“Hey, I try and think of each date as a potential mate.”

“No wonder you are so f*****d up when it comes to women. Maybe I shouldn’t inflict you on Jane’s sister and her friend. You need to seek and see the beauty within. Otherwise, Caroline is always a phone call and plane ride away.”

Elizabeth saw Charles’ friend shudder and wondered who this Caroline was.

“You made your point. I shall try and be the polite and attentive gentleman. Are you satisfied?”

“It will have to do. Look, there’s Jane. Come on.”

Charles walked away, dragging his friend with him. Elizabeth decided to move before they came back inside.

“Liz!” Jane cried out in greeting when she saw her sister, “You’ve met Charles before, this is his friend William Darcy.”

“William.”

“My friends call me Will.”

That’s good to know, William. When we are friends, I shall call you such.”

Will clenched his jaw in annoyance, but held his tongue.

Yes, this one will do nicely! He sounds like he could use a good dose of humility and I do like a challenge. William Darcy, by the end of our next two evenings together, I will have so befuddled you that you will beg to see me again.

Eat your heart out, Char!

Jane saw the gleam in Elizabeth’s eyes. This should be interesting.

*****

When everyone had arrived and been introduced, Jane pulled Elizabeth and Charlotte aside.

“I forgot to mention this before, but Will and Luke are under the impression that Charles and I met at Marjele’s just a few weeks ago and we would like to keep it that way. I, uhm, I helped Charles pull a practical joke on them and it would not be a good thing if they found out about it tonight.”

Elizabeth eyed her sister warily, “Is this why you said they owed Charles? Is tonight the pay off?”

“Mostly. Expect them to ask you out on a date.”

“Jane, what the… We don’t need any help from you.” Jane looked at Elizabeth with a knowing smirk on her face. “Ok, I admit that things have started off slowly, but Char and I will not have you finding our boyfriend-of-4-dates for us, thank-you-very-much.”

Char felt relieved, but for the sake of solidarity with Liz, per iLaw!, she nodded in agreement.”

“All we are doing is setting up the chance for you to meet and get to know each other better – after a first date, the rest is up to you.” Jane lied.

As Jane walked back to the group, Liz held Char back. “I’m going after William.”

“You already know that? Maybe I was interested in him.”

Elizabeth told Charlotte about the conversation she overheard and her motives for “teaching the arrogant prick a lesson or two about women.”

“Sounds good to me. Luke seems nice, and he’s just about as easy on the eyes.”

“Just relax and be yourself. Since we know we are going to end up with a date from these guys, we might as well see if they will make it to a second date.”

*****

When Jane and Maria had decided to make it a party of eight, neither considered the logistics of the seating arrangements. In order to put the two guys next to each other and directly across from the two gals, one of the couples would have to be split up. Maria trusted Jane to better keep Charles and Perry in line, so she took one end of the table with Will and Luke to her right and Liz and Char to her left. She and Jane had agreed to arrange it so Liz and Will were sitting across from each other since they had a fairly good idea that Char and Luke would hit it off. They did not want them distracting Will and Liz.

The Bettys had gone for the frumpy look this night, but Elizabeth could not help herself and included the reading glasses on the chain again; it was just too tempting to pass up. Besides, she was still a beautiful woman and anything to distract the observer from looking too closely at her face was a good thing.

Charles had specifically reserved the large table in the back corner of the restaurant. It was fairly secluded and offered the party privacy from prying eyes. When they were looking over the menu, Elizabeth once again plunked the readers on the end of her nose and pretended to read the menu. She already knew what she was ordering – the pot roast, always the pot roast! – and figured it was a great way to stay in character.

The eight made chitchat, trying to break the mood of unease. Elizabeth figured it was best to just dive in.

“So, Luke, William, tell us what you two do for a living.” Elizabeth was surprised to see them slightly squirm.

“I work in the construction industry,” Luke replied. No way was he going to tell her his family owned the company.

“What type.”

“My firm is a homebuilder.”

“Custom homes?”

“That depends on how you define custom.”

“Custom usually refers to meeting with the homeowner, reviewing the plot of land, then working with them to develop and design, and then building that house.”

“We don’t do that. We do large developments but like to think that we help the client refine the designs to best fit their needs.”

“That sounds like the ad campaign for Copper Star Homes.”

“That’s my firm.”

“I’ll give you some slack, then. They have a good reputation and certainly are involved in the community.”

“Thanks.”

“Congratulations Luke, Elizabeth approves of your job,” Will challenged.

“And what about you, William? What do you do?” Liz accepted his challenge.

“I work in commercial real estate and property development.” Actually, he owned the biggest firm of that type in the state.

“Ohh. You build strip malls.”

Charles coughed trying to cover a snort of laughter.

“I hardly think our developments can be classified as strip malls.”

“Might I be familiar with them?”

“Well, I suppose you know where the Biltmore Fashion Square is? We have developed the properties on the south side of Camelback. You know, places like the Ritz Carlton and other such nondescript buildings.”

“Oh, OH! And would you have been involved in the destruction of the most beloved movie theater in Phoenix? The city still mourns the loss of the Cine Capri.”

Shit, I didn’t think she would link me to that.

“I didn’t have much choice in the matter, since the owner of the property wanted to build something that would generate appropriate revenue for a property in that location. I even worked with Dan Harkins to find a place to build the new Cine Capri. I had no more desire to see the place torn down than anyone else. I grew up in Phoenix too!”

“It’s not the same and you know it!” Elizabeth was getting quite worked up. The Cine Capri was THE place to see a film in the Valley of the Sun. It was the exclusive venue of the first three Star Wars films. For any really big film, you went to see it at the Cine Capri. The movie house was huge, with theater-like seating, wide aisles and plush reclining seats. There was even a curtain that covered the wide screen and you always became excited when the projector started and the curtains began to pull back. But that place was only a memory. It had the misfortune to be located on some of the most expensive real estate in the region and the out-of-state owners could not wait until the lease with the movie theater chain had elapsed. The end of the contract spelled the death of that incarnation of the Cine Capri. A new theater complex was built, and a special auditorium was hailed as the New Cine Capri, but as superior as the picture and sound and all were, it just wasn’t the same. The romance of the old place could not be moved.

Elizabeth was not the only person to retain a sense of indignation. Thousands of other Phoenicians felt betrayed by the loss of the icon. It was the last of the old style, large single-film movie palaces in the city. Now it was gone and the man sitting across from her was partially responsible for its demise.

“I know, I miss the place too. But it was going to be razed and someone was going to develop that property. My firm just so happened to be the one that did so. At least it went to a local company that will continue to operate in the Valley.”

“Yeah, whatever. So what big project are you working on now?”

Will was reluctant to say. If she nearly lost it over the Cine Capri, what would she say to the latest?

“My firm is working with the City of Scottsdale on the resurrection of the Los Arco Project. You must agree that to have it abandoned where it was bad for everyone, especially the neighborhoods around it.”

“I think it’s great that your firm is saving that project,” Jane interjected. Her comment brought Liz and Will out of their verbal duel to recall there were six other people at the table.

“True, Jane. I’ll give a pass on that one, William, but I’m still wary of your breed of businessmen.”

“That’s better than being relegated to third-class citizen for life.”

“Currently you are at second.”

“Now that you know my deep dark secret, what do you do?”

“I’m a business analyst.”

“And what exactly does a business analyst do?”

“I use statistical analysis to discover trends in manufacturing and help develop business plans for my employer.”

“Elizabeth’s degrees are in math and business administration,” Jane added, “and Char is a chemist.”

“What does a chemist do in Phoenix?” Luke asked.

“I work for Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute in their Glycoscience and Technology department. In simple terms, we work with plants looking for things that will help fight disease, among other things.”

“Whoa, sounds like science geek stuff,” Luke quipped.

Char grinned, “Yeah, I’m a science geek. But you must admit that possibility of discovering a cure for cancer in a plant is fertile soil for research.” (groans) “I did my dissertation on the subject.”

“Char has a PhD in chemistry,” Maria clarified. “Sure made it tough for the rest of us to have to follow her through school.”

Luke was impressed. Char was obviously a very intelligent woman, something he wasn’t used to dating. She seemed shy, content to allow her friend Liz to dominate the conversation, but she also had a sense of humor. And if one took the time to look, despite her current wardrobe and hairstyle, there was a hint of beauty there that was only hidden to those not willing to look closer. If this was Charles’ idea of a slump buster, he would play along. His mind was made up. Char would be the one he would ask out, he just needed to convince Will to go after Elizabeth. Will liked a challenge, and the way Liz was mocking Will, it would be a challenge for him to get her to agree to something as simple as a coffee. About time!

Part 10

When the waitress finally came back to take the order, momentarily bringing a reprieve to the heated discussion between Elizabeth and Will, Elizabeth was incredulous when Will said, “16th Street Beef Pot Roast, please.”

“You can’t have that. I’m having it!”

“There is nothing that says we have to order different entrees. Besides I always get the pot roast here.”

“But… but… I always get the pot roast.”

“Then you order yours and I’ll order mine.” Will eyed his potential “date” warily.

Elizabeth noticed nothing, however. She was in a quandary. She couldn’t imagine having the same tastes as him; it seemed so intimate, like they were sharing a meal together, just the two of them. But that was ridiculous because there were six other people at the table. Still, the idea that they could share something in common was disquieting. Sure, it was just the heavenly beef pot roast, but if they both were so passionate about it, what other tastes might they share? This was most inconvenient, since she had earlier vowed to teach the man a lesson! Now she could do nothing but glare at the insufferable man.

After the waitress left, Luke decided to take the plunge and get Char talking before Will and Liz went at it again.

“Char, your sister told us about you. Care to return the favor?”

“She works in the office of de Bough Investments.”

“de Bourgh Investments?!” Will and Luke chorused.

“Yeah, are you familiar with them?”

‘Familial is a better term’ Will and Luke thought.

“Annie de Bourgh is…” Luke began

“We’ve know Annie” Will interrupted, as he stepped on Luke’s foot, “and the de Bourgh family all our lives.”

“I forgot you guys are cousins,” Maria answered. Will and Luke both stiffened holding their collective breath, unsure of whom ‘you guys’ included. “Your friend Annie is certainly is a much different boss than Katy de Bourgh, God rest her soul.” Luke and Will exhaled in relief. “Katie was a demanding employer and I pitied her interns, but she knew her stuff and the company thrived after she took it over when her husband died. Annie is very hands-off, though, and it’s been an adjustment for everyone.”

“Sounds like things are going well?” Luke asked, still breathless from the near-miss of connections he and Will did not want made.

“They are. Business is great and morale is good.”

“For Annie’s sake, I’m glad to hear it. What about you, Jane? Charles never tells us anything. He just walks around with a goofy look on his face whenever the subject of his “Angel” is brought up.”

Jane turned and smiled at her boyfriend. She didn’t answer the question until someone cleared their throat.

“Sorry, what did you ask? Oh yes, I’m an attorney for The Cavanagh Law Firm.”

“Corporate law? That’s a very well-known law practice.”

“Commercial litigation and anti-trust.”

Elizabeth picked up the thread of conversation, with apparent pride. “She’s just finished working on an amicus brief for a case coming up before the Supreme Court.”

“I was a junior lawyer helping gather information,” Jane added demurely.

“Still, I think it great that a project my sister worked on will be seen by the highest court in the land.”. There were general congratulations all around, especially from Charles who beamed.

Perry and Charles were also asked in turn about their jobs, which stretched the conversation until the food arrived. Liz scowled as the meals where placed in front of her and William. She should be the only one at the table privileged to partake in such incredible comfort food. Still, she did her level best to ignore the man across from her, saving her breath, as they say, for later.

Luke filled in the awkward and obvious silence between Liz and Will by engaging Char in more conversation about her profession; he was unexpectedly fascinated with her research.

Between bites of their twin platters of roasted goodness with red bliss mashed potatoes, caramelized onion bourbon gravy and crispy parsnips, however, Will and Liz began another battle, as both tried to make a show of enjoying their food more than the other, uttering guttural sounds of pleasure and pulling ecstatic faces more often heard and seen in the bedroom than in a restaurant.

Maria and Jane started to giggle. Charles and Perry were not far behind. Char and Luke had no clue about what everyone found so entertaining.

“Maybe you two should take your pot roast,” Charles finally said, “and go find a room,” The attentive few laughed out.

Embarrassed to be caught out, both Liz and Will scowled and returned to their eating, sans egregious moaning. Some verbal appreciation couldn’t be avoided.

When the plates were cleared and dessert and coffee ordered, Elizabeth and Charlotte excused themselves to go the boardroom of womanhood: the restroom.

Luke took the opportunity to drag Will outside the dining room for an urgent strategy session.

*****

The four adults remaining at the table compared notes

“Luke is going to ask Char out.” Perry offered.

“Definitely, he would even without the bet.” Maria concurred.

“He did seem in a better mood than when he arrived.” Charles offered.

“I’m so pleased for Char.” Jane smiled.

“But Will and Liz! Talk about a pair of stubborn mules braying at each other.” Maria said..

“Purely a defense mechanism on both their parts.” Perry opined, smiling.

“What do you mean?” Jane asked.

“Will’s fascinated and he can’t admit it to himself.” Charles explained. “He keeps goading Liz to try and show that she would be a mistake. He’s looking for the fatal flaw, only Liz is KILLING him, meeting him blow for blow and he can’t back away.”

“And I bet that Liz is trying to see the worst in Will” Maria added, “to deny the attraction. Lets face it, those two are hot for each other. Yet they’re doing their best to prove it’s the exact opposite.”

“So I was right?” Jane asked hopefully. “This might work out for all four of them?”

“Only if Liz and Will don’t strangle each other before they realize how much they dig each other.” Perry finished.

*****

After a series of furtive peaks beneath the row of stalls, Liz and Char held court of their own .

“You still want Will?”

“Hell yeah! Couldn’t you tell?”

“What? All you’ve been doing is arguing with the man and moaning like an mmm-mmm-deranged Campbell’s Soup kid.”

“It’s part of my strategy,” Liz said as she readjusted the constricting bra she borrowed from her sister to compress her breasts. “I want to be so disgusted with him that I won’t fall for any sweet-talking charm he might lay on me.”

“Liz, I don’t’ understand you. How can you have this personal vendetta against a man you only met an hour ago.”

“He’s rude, arrogant and most likely a womanizer!”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’ve met his type before. I’ve dated his type before! You can see it in the eyes. Trust me, I know how to handle the Manimal and consider it my duty to all woman-kind to make the swine pay!”

Whew! Charlotte thought. Liz is out there. She must really be into him to go to this much trouble to try to hate him.

*****

In an alcove Luke told Will he was going to move on Charlotte.

“Don’t I get a say in this?”

“Sure, but you’ve done nothing except talk to Liz all evening. I thought my paying attention to Char was an obvious sign I was staking my claim.”

“A stake is what I’m going to need… No! I am not taking that shrew out for a month!”

“Scared a plain woman might wilt your willy, Will?”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Will shot back.

“Scared that a woman like Liz will be work? That she’ll make you exert yourself to get her to agree to another date? That she may actually be smarter than you?”

“As if I can be intimidated by a woman!”

“Okay, Dr. Phil. Prove it! Go after Liz and see if she will say yes.”

“But she’s so not my type!”

“You d***head, you lost a bet and now it’s time to pay the piper. And to be honest, Charles could have picked a helluvah lot worse looking women to set us up with. I dare say with a little effort at improving their appearances, both Char and Liz could look great. Their sisters are hot!”

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. No matter what Marcia Brady says.”

“Whatever, Will. I’m going to ask Char for her number and then I’m going to call her and then I’m going to ask her out.” Luke poked his finger at his cousin. “Stay out of my way. Got it? There’s more to these women than meets the eye. I’m trying to look at this thing positively. Maybe you should too.” Will looked aghast at his cousin’s sudden capitulation to the dowdy side of the force. Luke threw up his hands, stalked back inside and joined the group just as desserts arrived. Will came back some time later, in a decidedly somber mood.

“If you had been much longer, William, I would have eaten your Croissant Bread Pudding,” Elizabeth said, “since we ordered the same thing, again, and I just finished mine.”

For the first time that night, Will smiled. “No one, not even you, Ms Elizabeth Bennet, messes with my bread pudding.”

Elizabeth was taken aback by his tone of voice. The man with the well-thrust arse-poker was teasing her.

“Perhaps sometime I’ll be willing to test your assertion.” She tried to sound severe, but failed miserably and knew, even to her ears, it sounded like a come-on. Dang it! She was trying to loath the man and here he came back and said something teasing – in a nice way – in reply. Was the man bipolar or what?

*****

At last the meal was over, and Luke offered to walk Char to her car.

“Would you like to meet for coffee or something?”

“Yes, Luke, I would like that. Would you like my number?”

“That would help, otherwise I would have to call Charles and he would have to call Jane and then they would forget what they were trying to do and you would think I was some schmuck for not calling when I couldn’t because I didn’t have your number,” Luke said, all in one breath.

Char laughed. “Give me your cell and I’ll dial my number, then you just have to save it.”

Luke willingly offered up his phone and Char dialed her phone. He laughed when he heard Maroon and Gold* playing as her ring tone.

“It gets me brownie points at work. It’s either that or cure cancer.” Luke laughed.

“I’ll bet. I’ll give you a call you tomorrow.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

Luke wasn’t sure what to do, so he just stood up straight, smiled and said, “Goodnight, I had a surprisingly good time.”

“Thanks, me too.” Char replied shyly, daring to smile and look in his eyes before getting into her car.

Luke lingered to help her with her seat belt and, before he closed the door, looked her in the eye and told her to drive carefully.

*****

Fresh from milling around the foyer of the restaurant and after a pointed look from Charles, Will asked Elizabeth if he could walk her to her car as well. She reluctantly agreed, consenting only because she knew he needed a moment to ask her out. It was his method to this madness that surprised her.

“Elizabeth, Liz. I know I’ve not been very civil to you tonight and it was wrong of me. I’m sorry. I came to dinner tonight with a bad attitude and you have borne the brunt of it. You may not believe it, but I’m not usually like this. I’d like to make it up to you. I don’t know if you like sports or anything, but I have a couple of tickets for the Suns game on Thursday. The guy I was going with can’t come and I’d like to take you instead. What do you say?”

“Are they good seats?”

Will coughed in bemusement. “Yeah, mid-court, lower level.”

“How far down?”

“About half way, why?” Will was puzzled why she was so intent on knowing where the seats were.

“Oh, I was worried. A big-shot developer like you has enough money to burn on courtside seats. But I don’t like sitting in the first few rows. I like to be high enough to see what’s going on all over the court.”

“You like basketball then?”

“Yes, though I much prefer the college game, but that’s neither here nor there.” Lizzy shrugged. “Oh! and apology accepted. I’ll go to the game with you.”

“Why don’t I leave the tickets at will-call, so that way we don’t have to worry about hooking up before hand, in case one of us is running late,” he added quickly, though squelching the thought that this woman’s good opinion mattered to him.

“Sounds good.” Elizabeth opened her purse and took out a business card and wrote on the back. “Here’s my card and I wrote my cell on the back. At worst, you can call me at work if you lose it. The company operator can connect you to my desk.”

“I’ll see you Thursday.”

Darcy walked back to his car. His conversation with Luke had been a bit of a needed slap in the face. He needed Elizabeth to fulfill the terms of the bet. And Luke was right; she was an intelligent woman, if a bit too plain and frumpy for his liking. She may not be a looker, but she had enough self-confidence to expect a man to treat her respectfully, and up until his talk with Luke, that was something he had soundly failed to do. He had needed to apologize and begin to mend the fences or else he would need a new dime-a-dozen dame for the month.

He really had no idea where to begin until he remembered the game. As he revved the engine of his Viper and felt the vibration ease the tension out of his back, he began to think about his date with Elizabeth. It would be just like taking his sister out when she was in town. Yeah, he could just think of Elizabeth as another cousin or something and it was doable. Piece of cake. He could be polite and maybe even try a few new places – places where they didn’t know him, where his reputation would not suffer for bringing a date so bantam to his major league. Besides, he could always claim Elizabeth as a business acquaintance next time he went to a game.

Will grabbed hold and slid the stick into first, feeling mighty fine. Come Thursday, he thought as he made his way through the Phoenix night, it was t-minus 30 days until he was his own man again. Come Thursday.

* The Arizona State University Fight Song

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