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It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. If you can't run with the pack, you're left behind sniffing dirt.
I got left behind once and I don't plan on that ever happening again. Now I'm on a mission to find Mr. Right. I've determined that tonight could very well be the night.
My name is Roxanne Ingram. People call me Roxi for short. I'm African American, thirty-nine years olda sneeze away from fortyand I'm a business owner. I think I'm a pretty good package but I'm beginning to question whether others see me as such. Like right now I'm asking myself what I'm doing in Manhattan at a speed-dating event.
Blame it on Margot Nanton, who is my best friend and who talked me into going to the Roosevelt Hotel. And now here I am mingling and smiling so wide you can practically see my cavities. And I'm making the rounds, in boots that are pinching, scoping out possibilities and hoping to find Lord knows what. Aaah! I want to go home.
I pat my straightened hair with the burgundy streaks that's pinned up into one of those swirly dos. Meanwhile two women are yakking in my ear and I haven't a clue what they're saying. This Long Island woman hasn't quite gotten the hang of Ebonics, and the rolypoly hip-hop girl and the J Lo wannabe are really going at it. Getting down.
"You need ta chill," roly-poly says to J Lo.
"No, I need ta be hooked up with one ah dem fine brothas." The hip-hop girl twirled one of her many earrings and looked around, she locked eyes with a dark-skinned man with a shaved head and gold chains matching his teeth.
"Ya want ta get laid, it's as easy as this." Roly-poly pops her fingers and begins inching her way in the direction of the man they've targeted. "Nowhear me conversate."
A coordinator rings a bell and shoos us into an adjoining room. Aaaah! I want to go home.
Margot and I have fake names. I am Scarlet and Margot is Yolanda. We probably sound like two exotic dancers but Margot couldn't think of anything else at the time. I'm here because I'm getting over getting dumped and I need to start putting a big toe back in the water.
Margot and I sit two tables apart. We are separated by Teresa and Wendy. Teresa is a plump Puerto Rican stuffed into a dress that is way too tight. Rolls of flesh pop over the top and sides. She reminds me of a child's toy, the kind that bobs, bobbles and never topples over.
Wendy is an African-American woman with one of those hairstyles that looks like a fountain. She occupies the seat next to Margot. I am fascinated by the cascades of hair in different shades of pink. I am fascinated by her pierced nose and the hoop in her bottom lip. I don't even want to think what other parts of her anatomy has rings.
I pick up the sheet of paper with the instructions. We have six minutes to exchange life stories and make an impression. When the bell rings the man moves on to the next woman. There's a one-minute period to check "yes" or strike him out of your life forever.
Margot and I shoot each other amused looks. This is woman power. The hostess rings her bell.
"Welcome! I'm Judi. I'm your coordinator," she chimes in one of those squeaky voices that sounds as if she inhaled a mouthful of helium. "We're here to have fun, right? Just let me go over a couple of minor housekeeping details with you then we'll get started."
Judi begins ticking off the dos and don'ts of speed dating on her fingers. "Be respectful in terms of the questions you ask. You're here to meet Mr. Right, right? Keep things light, positive and upbeat. You don't want to scare off any would-be honeys. After I count to ten we'll start. One, two, three "
While she is counting I check out the male prospectsall in my opinion a scary lot. I already know I will have little in common with them. I remind myself I'm here to get over Dave, my latest disappointment.
Dave and I were dating for several months. Things were going well, or so I thought, then one day out of the blue he called and told me it was over. Being dumped is one thing but when you learn you're being replaced by a man that's an entirely different matter.
I will not think about Dave or how ugly I'd gotten. I'd been at my worst and it wasn't pretty. After a suitable amount of time I'd brushed myself off and made myself get back out there again. This time I'm the one who intends to play the field. I'll be keeping my options open.
I haven't seen any buttoned-down men here, just lots of open-necked shirts with chest hair protruding and lots of flashy jewelry. You know the kind. Big thick chains and manacles circling the wrist. I like my men looking like men: well groomed and conservative.
But there is one smooth dark-skinned man with glasses that captures my interest. He is dressed in a tailored suit and understated paisley tie. He seems out of place in this sea of urban characters as if he's not sure what he is doing here.
Another man, still wearing his winter coat, has potential. Clothing hides a lot but he seems to be in decent shape. An expensive-looking cashmere sweater peeks out from under the open coat. His teeth sparkle, white on white, a nice contrast to his Hershey-colored skin.
"Ten," the hostess finishes.
We are off.
Bachelor number one sticks out a hand before sitting down. It is limp when I shake it.
"Michael Winthrop, Scarlet." His eyes are fastened on the name badge above my left breast or maybe it's my breast that's got him spellbound. I don't want to think about it. "You've got beautiful cinnamon skin," he says.
I thank him and flash him a perfect set of whites. Heck, I paid enough for them.
Michael is an overweight kid, probably in his mid to late twenties. He has one of those great big smiles that wreathes his face in triple chins. He sounds very eager to make me like him. "What do you do, Michael?" The sales pitch follows. He tells me he's a marketing executive for a Madison Avenue firm. He wants to know if I enjoy trips to the Caribbean since he spends two weeks of the winter at Sam Lord's Castle; a luxury hotel. He wants to know how I feel about children. He has a two-year-old from a previous marriage.
The alarm bells go off. I get the feeling Michael might be shopping for a housekeeper and nanny to help out. He isn't a bad guy, just not for me. At thirty-nine I'm not looking for anyone quite as young. I've raised my child, Lindsay, and a two-year-old is not part of the plan. I am very happy when the bell rings and he has to move on.
Bachelor number two, Colby, slides into the seat and begins drumming his fingers on the oak table. He must be nervous because his deodorant is failing him. He's got ring around the armpits and the sweet-sour odor coming from him makes me want to gag. I try putting him at ease by asking the questions, but all of my inquiries meet with one-word answers. Next.
I check "no" on my card and hope Colby's stink doesn't linger. Wendy, the woman next to me, is in for a treat.
Bachelor number three is unremarkably boring and is a blur. I don't recall a single thing he says. Bachelor number four leaves a lot to be desired in the grammar department. He says he's a professional but I can't imagine what company would hire him. Then again corporate isn't what it used to be.
In between bell rings, I am trying to catch Margot's eye and tip her off as to what to expect. We know each other so well that a raised eyebrow and a fluttered eyelash speak volumes. We try this silent communication before the next bachelor sits down.
I've about given up on the crowd when bachelor number eight takes a seat. He doesn't seem the type to attend a speed-dating event. This guy is reserved and classy. His cognac complexion glows. He is tall, athletic and clean shaven. His hair is trimmed very close to the scalp and he looks like he could be a Brooks Brothers ad. He is my kind of man.
"I'm Scarlet," I say, flashing my big smile.
He nods his head. "Leo." He gives the hand I offer a firm grip.
Leo puts on his glasses and takes out a set of index cards from the breast pocket of a navy jacket. I presume there are questions written on them. He lays them on the table in front of him.
Too anal for me. But I'm intrigued. He's an African-American male of a certain age and appears to be the full package: fine, in shape, successful. That's as good as it gets. No baby-mama drama so far. Why not hear him out.
Leo's jacket comes off to reveal a monogrammed shirt, mother-of-pearl cuff links at the cuffs. Sweet. He sweeps an index card up in hands that have seen a manicurist and looks at me.
"Nice hair," he says, and then focuses on the card in front of him. "If you and I were on a date at a restaurant and one of my old girlfriends comes over. How would you handle it?"
I hike an eyebrow and parry back. "If she's an old girlfriend why would it matter?"
"Good answer." Leo's sherry-colored eyes twinkle behind his glasses. I feel as if I'm on a game show. I can't wait to see what else is next. "You're a secure and confident woman," he adds.
"That may be the case but why would I get bent out of shape if she's an old girlfriend. I'm not insecure."
Leo peers at me over those attractive horn-rimmed spectacles. "Women who come to these things usually have self-esteem problems."
"Not this one? And what about you men? Why are you here?"
Leo stares at his manicured nails. "I'm here to see what's out there."
I smile sweetly. "So am I. Does that mean you and I have something in common?"
"You're more together than most," Leo has the gall to say.
"You must be meeting the wrong women."
The bell rings and it is over.
He flips a business card at me and then gives me that obnoxious finger. You know the one, a synchronicity of thumb and index finger, as if he's pointing a gun. He moves onto Wendy.
I am down to bachelor number eleven. I am chastising myself for letting Margot talk me into this when John sits down. He is ex-military with a brush cut and the manners that goes along with years of discipline.
"Evening, ma'am, I'm John."
Ma'am? God, I feel old. My smile wavers but I manage, "Evening, John, I'm Scarlet."
"As in O'Hara?'
We both crack up. Under that stiff exterior lies a droll sense of humor. John gets it and possibly gets me.
"Ladies first," he says, giving me a chance to ask questions.
I go for the standard. "What do you do?"
"Take a guess."
"You're an attorney?" He has that poised look to him. "No."
I am fishing, no pastor I know looks like him, but there are always surprises.
"Agent," John says when I've pretty much exhausted all of my options.
"What kind of agent?"
"Sports agent. I represent some of the biggest names in the business."
John reels off a bunch of names that are supposed to impress me. When my eyes glaze over he takes pity.
"You don't follow basketball, do you?"
"I don't follow sports, period."
"What do you follow?"
The devil made me do it. I swear.
"And what is your heart telling you to do now?" John asks.
"Put on my track shoes and run."
John waggles a finger at me. "Now, that's not very nice."
"I'm not nice."
"I want your phone number,"
He shoves his business card in my hand and, palm open, waits for mine.
I rifle through my purse, find my card, the one that says Owner and CEO of Wife for Hire. I slide it over.
John glances at it and stares at me. "Impressive. You're an independent woman."
The last bachelor; a lanky white guy sits down. He gawks at me.
"Is there something the matter?" I ask. Someone needed to start the conversation.
"Wr-wr-ong? Everything's r-r-right. You're beau-beautiful. You you're tall and elegant, j-just like I I I like."
His name badge reads, Neal.
Neal sounds sincere but I'm not interested. It has nothing to do with his stutter. He just isn't my type. I thank him and hope the bell rings soon. It's the longest six minutes of my life.
Sure, I've been told I'm beautiful. Men will tell you pretty much anything. After a while you don't just believe them. The right outfit and makeup do wonders for a woman, and tonight I look good. I'm wearing boots with heels and a wraparound dress made famous by the designer Diane Von Furstenberg. I've had no time to flat-iron or curl my hair, so on went the mousse before I pinned it up.