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"Oh, c'mon, Lisa, think about it. What have we got to lose?"
Maturity, for the most part, had been kind to Paulette Calhoun, leaving few of the customary telltale age lines on her face. Closing in on sixty, the tastefully dressed strawberry blonde with deep blue eyes leaned her still very trim body in, as if the proximity would add more weight to her urgings and win the other woman over.
Lisa Scarlatti, younger by three months, sat facing her lifelong friend across a black lacquer-top table for two. She held a cup of tea between her hands, the warmth just beginning to fade.
"Well, offhand, I'd say our kids. If Dave so much as smells a romantic setup, quiet though he normally is, he'll read me the riot act. And, if memory serves, I'm pretty sure that goes double for your independent, outspoken Kara."
Laughter sparkled in Paulette's eyes. "They won't smell a setup because they know that we know better than to try one, which is the beauty of all this."
Lisa frowned. Her heart fought with her brain. Since they lived a good sixty miles apart, she and Paulette got together for lunch several times a year. More often now that they both found themselves unavoidably and sadly unattached. Paulette's husband had died almost thirteen years ago, while Lisa's had passed away after an accident eight years ago.
"I never thought of alienating my child as having anything to do with beauty," she told Paulette. "For heaven's sake, Thomas and I put that boy through medical school. I'm finally coming out from under that staggering debt. Let me enjoy Dave for five minutes before I do something that will have him renouncing me in the public square."
Paulette rolled her eyes. "And here I thought I was the dramatic one. Dave's not going to renounce you," she insisted. The subject of setting up their children had been on her mind ever since she'd heard about her second cousin's overwhelming success in playing matchmaker for not just her daughter, but her friends' daughtersand sonas well. Hell, if Maizie could do it, she could, too. And so could Lisa.
"Listen, this plan is perfect," Paulette enthused. "You said your niece's little boy has a birthday coming up, right?"
There was a trap here somewhere. Lisa knew Paulette too well for there not to be. "Right," she replied cautiously.
"And what, according to you, does Melissa's adorable son, Ryan, want more than anything in the whole world for his birthday?"
Lisa sighed. She saw where this was going.
"'The Kalico Kid' video game," Lisa finally said because Paulette was obviously waiting.
Nodding, Paulette asked, "And what is impossible to get?"
Why were they playing this game? "'The Kalico Kid' video game."
Paulette's wide smile grew wider. "And where does my daughter work?"
Lisa closed her eyes. She was being sucked into this, but there was no other course open to her. "At the video game company that puts out 'The Kalico Kid.'"
"Exactly," Paulette declared with feeling, warming to her subject. "So, since Dave is a softhearted sweetheart who likes making his cousin's little boy happy, and Kara has access to copies of the all-but-impossible-to-get game, it's all very simple." She paused for a moment for effect, then delivered her plan's grand finale. "I ask Kara to get a copy and deliver it to Dave when he's volunteering at that free clinic near where Kara works"
"And just like that" Lisa snapped her fingers, a touch of uncustomary sarcasm in her voice "they'll see each other, and angels will sing while the sound of heavenly music echoes everywhere."
"No." Paulette dismissed her friend's convoluted scenario. "Dave'll be grateful and offer to take Kara out to dinner to repay her for her kindness. You raised a very polite son, Lisa." Paulette folded her hands before the still halffull teacup. "And then they can take it from there."
"Maybe there'll be no place to take it," Lisa suggested.
She knew how stubborn her son could be. He hadn't told her anything close to personal in more than ten years. The only way she deduced that he was unattached was that he kept coming back to his childhood home on his days off. Much as she loved seeing him, she wanted him to spend his days off with a woman worthy of him, nurturing a relationship.
"At least we would have tried," Paulette insisted. She attempted another tactic. Putting her hand on top of her friend's, she peered up at her, a silent plea in her eyes. "Don't you remember how we used to all go on family vacations together when our husbands were alive, just the six of us? And you and I used to watch the kids play and dream about Dave and Kara getting married?"
"We used to watch them fight," Lisa corrected. "And anyway, that was a long time ago. It hasn't been the six of us for a while now," she reminded Paulette. "Thomas and Neil aren't around any longer." The words weighed heavily on her tongue. All these years later, she still missed Thomas as if he'd died yesterday. She doubted that the ache would ever really go away.
"All the more reason to get our kids together," Paulette pressed. "Neither one of them is getting any younger, you know."
Lisa pointed out one glaring fact. "It's not like we haven't tried before."
More than once they had attempted to get their grown offspring together, but something always came up at the last minute, preventing it. It had been years since Kara and Dave were even close to being in the same room at the same time.
Paulette waved her hand, dismissing the argument as not worth her time or effort to get into.
"That was for occasionsChristmas, Thanksgiving," she specified. "One or the other always begged off, saying they had to work. I swear Kara logs in more overtime than any other human being on the face of the earth, with the possible exception of Dave. You ask me, they're perfect for each other. All we need to do is get them to see that."
Paulette beamed at her friend. "There was no pressure before. We kept it light. But this time, I mean business," she announced. "This is going to be more like a sneak attack." Her eyes glowed with anticipation. "They'll never know what hit them."
Lisa still didn't like it. She enjoyed the relationship she had with her son. They didn't speak as much as she'd like, but he did call her and he appeared on her doorstep on many of his days off, which were rare. She treasured that and didn't want anything to jeopardize their relationship.
"But we'll definitely know what hit us," she countered.
Paulette stared at the friend she'd had for more than five decades. "Since when have you gotten so negative?"
Lisa shrugged. Then, because once again Paulette was waiting for an answer, she tried to explain.
"If we don't try to get Dave and Kara together, I can always hope that someday it'll happen. If we do get them together and it blows up in our faces, then it's all over. The dream is gone. For good. I'd rather have a piece of a warm, fuzzy dream than a chunk of stone-cold negative reality."
Paulette summoned a look of complete disappointment. "The Lisa I knew and went to school with was absolutely fearless. Where did she go? What happened to her?"
"The Lisa you knew was a lot younger. I like peace and quiet these days. And a son who calls his mother once in a while."
The sigh that escaped Paulette's lips could have rivaled a Louisiana hurricane. "So you're not going to ask Kara if she can get that game from her company for Dave so that he can give it to Ryan?"
Lisa's frown deepened several degrees. She knew when she was outmatched. Paulette could wield guilt like a finely honed weapon. "I hate it when you put on that long face."
The long face was instantly gone, replaced by a wide smile of satisfaction. "I know."
It was Lisa's turn to sigh. "I think if anyone should do the asking, it should be you. Otherwise, Kara's going to be suspicious. I don't call her," she pointed out. "So getting a call from me might alert her that we're up to something. In any event, this'll make it your fault when Dave and Kara decide to put us out to sea on a tiny ice floe."
"They'll have to interact with each other in order to do that," Paulette concluded, grinning. "So, either way, it's a win-win scenario. Okay, that's settled," she declared happily, adding, "Suddenly, I feel very hungry." She picked up the menu.
Lisa's eyes narrowed as she looked at her best friend. She'd walked right into that one, she thought. "Suddenly," she countered, "I'm not."
Paulette raised her blue eyes to Lisa's face. "Eat. You're going to need your strength."
Which was exactly what Lisa was afraid of.