Read an Excerpt
*Snowflake: coconut bottom with coconut
vanilla buttercream top
'"MICHELE! DANA'S HERE!"
Elbowing open her bedroom door while fastening the clasp on her necklace, Michelle Snow called out, 'Be right there!' in response to Christina's update. Liz, one of the foursome, was already in the tiny kitchen, brewing coffee and mixing a pitcher of mimosas for the weekend brunch. Dana, not surprisingly, was the last to arrive. She'd marched to a different drummerand kept time to a different clockas long as the four Alpha Phi sisters had been friends.
It had been too long since the group had gotten together, and Michelle was thrilled to be the one playing hostess this time. Yes, they'd be doing a lot of stepping around one another in her pint-sized condo, but she knew not a one of them cared. They had food, drink, and the best of company with whom to share the afternoonnot to mention months' worth of gossip to catch up on. And her place, well, if nothing else, it offered an intimacy no Friendship Heights venue could.
Taking one last look at her reflection, Michelle smoothed the skirt of the dress she'd changed into after making sure the table was set and the food ready. She loved dressing up as much as she loved cooking and entertainingall joys instilled by her mother through the years. If she turned out to be half the hostess Ann Snow was, Michelle would consider it one of her life's greatest accomplishments.
With that thought came a smile that warmed her all the way to her toes. She really had hit the jackpot with her friends as well as her family, and counting herself both lucky and blessed, she headed for the front room. There, she held her arms wide in welcome, greeting her Sunday guests. 'You guys look great! All of you! I'm so glad you're here!'
'Are you kidding?' Dana set her purse on the chest beneath the flat screen TV just inside the front door, her gaze never leaving Michelle's as she pushed a riot of coffee-black curls from her face. 'Look at you! I love that dress!'
Laughing, Michelle spun once where she stood, the periwinkle fabric flowing softly against her skin. 'I do, too. I don't know why I don't wear it more often.'
Dana took in the table set with Waterford crystal and Royal Tara china, then frowned down at her penny loafers, khakis, and chino vest. 'I feel decidedly underdressed. And plain. And I know Oxford casual does nothing for my eyes. But then again, there's not a lot to be done with brown, is there?'
'You're anything but plain, silly!' The other woman's complexion was perfect for the earth tones Michelle had never been able to pull off. 'You're chocolate cake and iced tea and Portobello mushrooms rolled up into one.'
'And mud. Don't forget mud.' Dana wrapped an arm around Michelle's shoulder and hugged. 'Actually, all that rolling would make mud, wouldn't it?'
Michelle laughed in answer, the two walking toward the kitchen where Liz had been trapped by Christina while the stunning blonde showboated about her love life. 'Coffee or something stronger?'
'Coffee for now,' Dana said, giving a wink to Liz. The other woman, obviously desperate for a rescue, mouthed, 'Thank you,' then turned her back on Christina to pour.
Michelle pressed her fingers to her lips, hiding her smile. Christina would always be Christina: the center of attention, the life of the party, the monopolizer of all conversations. Still, the others loved her, so like animals in the wild had learned over time to adapt.
Dana, adapting, went on. 'I'll save the hard stuff for later, when talk turns to the lack of time most of us have for dating, and the lack of men most of us have to date. I figure I'll be needing a buzz by then.'
Her attention pricked, Christina hurriedly swallowed, holding her drink to the side and fluttering her fingers. Her brightly lacquered nails looked like tiny brake lights flashing. 'Time is one thing, sure. But lack of men? Totally a rumor. They are coming out of the woodwork.'
'And that right there is the problem.' Gathering the crushed bronze silk of the ankle-length skirt she wore with macramé roman sandals, Liz wiggled her way out of the kitchen, moving to the seat with her name card. 'I don't want to date insects. Or vermin. They're disgusting, diseased, and too big to squash with your shoe.'
'Some parts of them are small enough,' Dana put in, taking her spot across from Liz. 'Their wallets, for starters.'
'Tell me about it.' Michelle set a basket of sliced poppy-seed loaf on the table before going back to the fridge for the fruit salad. 'The last guy I met for dinner? He walked out on the tab while I was slipping on my sweater. I don't mind paying my part of the bill, but good grief. How cheap can you get?'
Nibbling on one of the almond crescents intended for dessert, Christina settled into her chair. 'You're going about this dating thing all wrong, Michelle. All of you are. Take charge of your destiny. Stop hoping a guy in a club will actually deliver, or relying on friends for fix-ups.'
Dana fluffed her napkin and draped it over her lap. 'I dunno, Chris. Fix-ups aren't so bad. As long as whoever's setting you up knows both you and the guy. Dating sites give off a really bad tempting-fate vibe.'
'True, though they have almost as much compatibility data to work with as friends do,' Michelle said, sliding a knife through the quiche she'd pulled from the oven and serving a wedge to each of her guests.
'What they don't have is the personal touch that can make all the difference,' Liz countered. 'A computer doesn't know that smelling Drakkar on a man's skin makes you want to throw up. Or that you hate having a date suggest something on a menu when he has no clue what you like.'
Christina overruled Liz's objections with a snort. 'Even friends can get those things wrong.'
'I've thought about signing up with a service,' Michelle offered, surprised to hear the words spilling out. Thinking of doing so was one thing. Admitting she'd considered it had a whole lot of backfire potential.
'But?' Christina queried. 'Not willing to put your money where your mouth is?'
Bang! 'It's not about money as much as time. I don't have any. But it's some of what Dana says, too. Tempting fate. A recommendation from a friend goes a long way to soothing nerves and fears. Hooking up with a random stranger, not so much.'
'You're overthinking things. Trust your instincts.' Christina turned for the pitcher of mimosas behind her on the kitchen bar. 'It doesn't take much reading between the lines of a dating-site profile to separate the wheat from the chaff.'
Pushing her fringe of strawberry-blonde bangs from her eyes, Liz gave Christina a look of disbelief. 'You're saying there are no rats and roaches online? Because from what I hear, that's where their kind thrives.'
'Of course there are, but we're not talking about stalkers and pedophiles here,' Christina said as she poured her second drink. 'Just singles like us looking for company. Taking precautions isn't that hard. Make sure someone knows where you are and work out a code. Keep your phone handy with their number on speed dial. That sort of thing.'
'I think I'd rather try eight-minute dating,' Michelle said, wondering why Christina hadn't gone into the business of selling luxury cars instead of becoming a literary agentthough, she supposed, both took the same sort of playing hardball that made Christina Christina. 'At least that much face-to-face time gives you a sense of their personality.'
Dana licked a spot of the poppy-seed loaf's orange glaze from her fingertip, then said, 'Not to mention their nose hair and breath.'
Giggles erupted, fueled by champagne and appeased appetites and the letting down of hair that only happened in the company of close and trusted friends. Savoring the tang of the cheese in the quiche, Michelle listened as the others discussed the ups and downs of dating, of men, the creeps, the players, the basement dwellers, then moved to argue the pros and cons of settling for good enough versus waiting for true love.
©2010. Alison Kent. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Icing on The Cake. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442