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Once Upon a Blind Date
By Wendy Markham
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2004 Wendy Corsi Staub
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne Week Later
"Eeeww! What is she thinking with that hair?" Maggie looks up from her computer monitor and leans toward her friend Belinda's computer.
"I don't know ... I think she's kinda cute," Maggie protests, gazing at the woman in the photo on the screen. Belinda-dubbed Bindy by her finishing school roommates, a nickname to which she clings as ferociously as her waning youth-announces, with a wrinkle of her cosmetically altered nose, "Her hair is pink."
"She can't help what she looks like, Bindy." "Trust me, there is no pink hair in nature. This is deliberate." Bindy clicks the mouse, and the picture vanishes. "There. I'm done."
"You've been through all the Metro Women Seeking Metro Men listings?" Maggie asks in disbelief. "Yup."
"Including the boroughs?" "Brooklyn and Queens. The Bronx is too dangerous-" "Not all of it," Maggie protests. "-yes, all of it, and Staten Island is too inconvenient. But I went through everything else." "And you didn't find one potential date for Dom?" "Nope."
"What about that pediatric musical therapist who directs the church choir in her spare time? She said her hobbies are tennis and the Yankees and that her favorite food is pizza. She'd be perfect for Dom." "She had a huge space between her teeth." "So does Lauren Hutton."
"She's Lauren Hutton. She can get away with it. Didn't this chick ever hear of braces? If you're going to put yourself out there in a matchmaking service, you do a little basic maintenance first."
Maggie again regrets bringing Bindy along to Matchmocha, Matchmocha-a cozy little exposed brick-and-rafters Bleecker Street cybercafe catering to spouse-shopping, frothy-java-concoction-sipping singles. She might be one of Maggie's closest friends, but she's notoriously picky and judgmental when it comes to- well, okay, just about everything.
Not that Maggie isn't picky, too-at least, in choosing a potential date for Dom. She's got to find the kind of woman who wouldn't mind taking care of a man who can't take care of himself. An old-fashioned woman who isn't already married to her career-and who wouldn't be opposed to rolling up her sleeves and pitching in with Dom's family restaurant on occasion. That's an absolute must in the Chickalini family. Even Maggie has boxed her share of fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza pies.
So far, she's only found two women who might fit the bill, and neither struck her as particularly appealing aside from the fact that they stated that they know their way around a kitchen.
"Look, Bindy, I'm going to keep browsing. Why don't you check out the guy listings?" Maggie suggests. Bindy's salon-arched eyebrows disappear beneath a swoop of sprayed dyed-blond hair. "Are you kidding? Why would I do that?"
Maggie shrugs. "You're available. Maybe you'll see someone you like."
"I wouldn't date somebody who has to advertise himself," Bindy says, as though Maggie has suggested that she strip naked and do a pole dance for the two Wall Street types at the next computer terminal. "I mean, this is barely one notch above taking out a personal ad in the Post." "Get over it, Bindy. Everybody does it these days." "I don't. You don't."
"That's because I have Jason and you ..." "Have class?" Bindy gives an airy wave of her shiny plum-colored manicure. "And anyway, you don't have Jason right now. You might as well be advertising yourself as available, too."
"A long-distance relationship doesn't make me 'available,'" Maggie protests. "It does if he doesn't come back." "He's coming back."
"Mmm hmm." Bindy shrugs. "Anyway, you said you were both allowed to see other people. What if he found somebody else?"
"I'm sure he'd have told me if he had," Maggie says with a confidence she doesn't quite feel. Three months into their relationship, Jason Hendrix flew off to South America to provide medical care for poor, underprivileged, native children.
Bindy isn't nearly as impressed with Jason's noble lifesaving mission as she was with his East Thirty-eighth Street town house, his family's Bedford estate, and his unmarried colleagues. In fact, with her thirtieth birthday looming and nary a potential fiancé on the horizon, Bindy accused Maggie of sabotaging both their love lives by telling Jason not to stay in New York on her account. But what else could she do? He had made arrangements for the mission long before he and Maggie locked eyes across a crowded elevator in Saks that rainy October Saturday. And he did offer to stay.
So why didn't she ask him to? Everything about him is right. He's exactly what she- and every other woman in Manhattan-has been looking for. Wealthy, handsome, professional, athletic, fun loving, adores kids. He's even Catholic, a quality that's a prerequisite in all marriage candidates, as far as Maggie's parents are concerned. Not that they have any say over whom she marries ... but it will make it a heck of a lot easier to get them to pay for the wedding, that's for sure.
How could she let him slip away? Maybe Bindy is right about her having been a fool to let him go. She was probably a fool to agree to seeing other people, too. He's probably taken full advantage of that, while she hasn't so much as glanced in another man's direction.
Well, Jason will be back next month, and, presumably, they can pick up where they left off. In the meantime, she's got plenty to keep her busy, what with her job as media planner on a cosmetics account, working out at the health club, hanging out with her friends-oh, and finding Dom a domestic damsel.
"Can we go now?" Bindy asks, checking her Philippe Charriol watch. "We've been here forever."
"Just give me another fifteen minutes. I want to answer a few more women for Dom."
"Don't you think he should be answering them himself?" "Are you kidding, Bindy? He's a great guy, but he's not exactly the most eloquent person I've ever met. Besides, I promised him I'd take care of all the details."
"Is it really fair to these women that you're pretending to be Dom? I mean, first you fill out his questionnaire for him, now you're writing e-mails pretending to be him." "Of course it's fair. It's not like Dom doesn't exist." "Yes, but Eloquent Dom doesn't exist. I think you're cheating."
This, from a woman with an illegal sublet and socks in her bra. Maggie rolls her blue eyes. "You want another coffee?" Bindy asks, rising and picking up her red velvet Kate Spade bag.
"Sure ... but make it decaf this time, or I'll be up all night. And make sure it's skim, okay?" Maggie watches her friend sashay toward the barrista, then turns back to the computer screen, twirling a length of shoulder-length black hair around her forefinger as she concentrates.
Alison Kramer looks interesting, but according to her questionnaire, she's the single mom of a five-year-old. Baggage. Dominic definitely doesn't need baggage. Maggie clicks the mouse on the NEXT button, and finds herself gazing down into a pretty, all-American face. A face, she sees, scanning the accompanying questionnaire, that belongs to a woman named Julie P.-no last names at Matchmocha, Matchmocha.
Julie P. is a pastry chef who lives in the Village and, according to her questionnaire, is an old-fashioned girl at heart. She says she's ready to settle down and start cooking for two. Eating for two, too.
Perfect for Dom. He's ready to settle down, too-even if he doesn't know it yet.
Maggie's always been one step ahead of him when it comes to his life. She was the one who suggested that he major in business so that he could take over his father's pizzeria. When his sister Nina decided to take over the business instead, it was Maggie who suggested that Dom follow her into the advertising industry. She got him the interview at Blair Barnett, the agency where she's a media planner, and the next thing she knew, he'd been hired as an assistant account executive.
"Sometimes I think you know me better than I know myself, Mags," Dom likes to say. "You know what I need before I do."
True. She does pride herself on being a take-charge kind of person. Plus, she's known him for six years now, having met him on her first day of freshman year in college, and if there's one thing she's figured out about Dominic Chickalini, it's that he likes to be taken care of. He had all the girls in the dorm competing for the chance to help him with his laundry, his English Lit papers, even his Christmas shopping.
It's the same at the office. The other day, Maggie actually caught one of the female account coordinators bringing Dom a cup of coffee. Not even coffee-cart coffee that you get down the hall, but the kind you have to leave the building to get from Au Bon Pain.
He's the eternal motherless little boy, soaking up the nurturing affection of women like a paper towel in a Bounty commercial.
He needs to be showered with love, especially now that his sisters are married and caught up in families of their own. He needs a wife. Not so that she can fetch his coffee, but so that she can take care of him.
That's why she needs to be a certain kind of woman. An old-fashioned kind of woman. Like this Julie P., who comes right out and says she enjoys cooking, cleaning, and sewing.
"Here's your decaf," Bindy says behind her. "Thanks," Maggie murmurs, lost in Julie P.'s questionnaire. Reading over her shoulder, Bindy snorts. " Is this chick for real? 'I also know how to darn socks and churn butter, and in warmer months I grow fresh vegetables on my fire escape ...'? Maggie, this is just-"
"I know! She sounds almost too good to be true, doesn't she?" "What is she, Amish?"
"She's just old-fashioned. I think she's perfect for Dom. I'm going to reply to her."
"Whatever. I still don't think it's right." Her fingers poised over the keyboard, Maggie wonders if maybe it is deceitful, pretending to be Dom, even with his permission. Maybe he should be selecting his own women, writing his own e-mails ...
Maggie's gaze shifts thoughtfully back to the questionnaire. Her intuition is saying that this is the right woman for Dom, and when her intuition speaks to her, she listens. It's for your own good, she tells the smiling Julie P. Yours, and Dom's. You'll both thank me someday ... you can name your first daughter Maggie.
Her mind made up, she clicks the mouse on the SEND E-MAIL button and begins typing.
"Ooh, look, Charlie, I've got mail!" Julie says cheerfully, leaning over his shoulder as her sign-on screen pops up at last. Matchmocha, Matchmocha is busy tonight; they drank two mochaccinos each waiting for a free computer terminal.
"Yup. You've got a lot of mail," he replies, after clicking to open the mail icon. His eyes widen at the long list of responses that pop up. "I told you I did a great job on your questionnaire, Jul'."
"I still don't think you should've put in that thing about darning socks. I don't even know what darning socks means."
"Which means there's no chance you'll ever have to actually prove that you can do it, Julie." "I guess, but ... what about the part where you wrote that I can't wait to start a family and I want at least four children. Don't you think that's going to scare off most guys?"
"Not the kind of guys you're looking for. You want family man types, Julie. And there must be a bunch out there, because look at all these replies."
"Great. Let's start reading them." She plops into a chair beside him and leans in, her chin balanced on his shoulder as he clicks on the first e-mail. The faint scent of vanilla sugar wafts beneath his nostrils.
"Okay, here we go. 'Dear Julie: My name is Neil and I think you're totally hot ...'" "Yuck. Next."
"Don't you want to hear what else he has to say?" Charlie asks, scanning the rest of Neil's e-mail. "Actually, no, you don't." He presses DELETE, sending Neil and his lewd plans for Julie into cyberpurgatory. The next response isn't much more promising. Somebody named Theo has never dated a pastry chef before and wants to know how creative she can be with whipped cream and melted chocolate.
"I feel like I need to take a shower," Julie says with a shudder. "Delete him, please." "Already done. Don't get discouraged, Julie, you've got over thirty responses here."
"If they're all from oversexed losers-" "They won't be."
Yes, they will. At least, that's the way things are shaping up after the first dozen or so responses. Apparently, there's something about a woman who creates desserts for a living that brings out the kinky underbelly in a small segment of the male population.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this," Julie says, pushing back her chair as Charlie deletes yet another response. "Where are you going, Jul'? We can't leave yet. What if Mr. Right is in here somewhere?" He gestures at the remaining responses on the screen.
"I doubt that." She glances restlessly around the crowded cafe. "I'm going to wait in line and get another mochaccino and one of those sugar cookies. I bet you anything it tastes like sawdust, but I love the way they piped the icing around the edges of the heart. I want to get a closer look. You want one?"
"Nah, I'm good. I'm going to go through the rest of these guys. If anybody looks promising, I'll holler." "Yeah, I won't hold my breath."
After Julie walks away, he clicks through another couple of losers. One has a foot fetish and wants a close up photo of her toes; another is in his midfifties and lives with his mother, who, in the space of one short e-mail, is mentioned way too often for comfort. A third is married and looking for "good clean erotic fun" on the side. Charlie is starting to feel like he needs a shower, too. Then he opens the one from Dominic C.
This is crazy, isn't it? I mean, it would be much easier for an old-fashioned guy like me to meet an old-fashioned girl like you in the old-fashioned way. Welcome to the twenty-first century, huh? Here we are at Matchmocha, Matchmocha-so here's the link to my questionnaire so that you can see for yourself that I'm not some leering two-headed lunatic.
Charlie clicks on the link. A photo appears. Nope, not a leering two-headed lunatic at all. In fact, Dominic C. is a good-looking guy. Unaccustomed to giving a fellow male more than a quick glance, Charlie forces himself to analyze the candidate, trying to see him as a woman might ... whatever that means.
Dark hair combed straight back from his forehead, good build, and dressed almost the same as Charlie is right now, in jeans and white sneakers and a long-sleeved polo shirt. Good. He looks natural-a Regular Joe.
According to Julie, Frenchy the Ex enjoyed wearing custom-made suits, and wore polished loafers with his jeans. In Charlie's opinion, there's just something wrong about that.
Dominic's shirt is dark green, as opposed to the navy one Charlie has on; and his hair is a few shades darker and not as shaggy as Charlie's.
There's only one drawback. He looks like the kind of guy who wears cologne, Charlie concludes. He, himself, is not that kind of guy.
Excerpted from Once Upon a Blind Date by Wendy Markham Copyright © 2004 by Wendy Corsi Staub. Excerpted by permission.
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