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Pretty Special Woman
By Katherine Lois
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Katherine Lois
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Date
Her name was one of the few things her parents agreed upon. That and the bottle of vodka they drank the night she was conceived. Her mother rarely missed an episode of "I Love Lucy". She adored Lucy's neighbor. Her dear dad memorized every song lyric to "Gypsy" and worshipped Ms. Merman. So Ethel it was and is. Mimi advised that she not use her real name in business - for security purposes, of course. But Ethel Finklestein would not consider it anyway. Who, at her age, goes out into the world with such a name? She did not ponder an alias for very long. After all, since every call girl mocked, loved, hated and claimed "Pretty Woman", Ethel amusingly chose its main character, Vivian. Amusing, of course, only to her.
Earlier that day, before she left for campus, Mimi informed her of the date that evening. Seven o'clock at Gary's Bistro on Walnut Street. With palm pilots everywhere these days, most would automatically enter the information there. Ethel pulled out her Snoopy planner and wrote it down. Tonight's engagement would constitute her second official date. Fifty bucks just to show up and be treated to dinner and drinks. Anything beyond canned Mac and cheese was a plus. And anything beyond the meal would be negotiatedbetween the two of them. This kept Mimi's business legal. Mimi briefed her on the process of securing a safe, solid and lucrative deal. Actually, in the past few weeks, Mimi briefed her on everything. Ethel poured her heart out to Mimi while Mimi revealed little about her own background.
A first impression of a crusty, astute businesswoman gave way in small increments to a sympathetic nurturer. Yet she masterfully maintained a distance between herself and employees. She educated Ethel that this also works well in dealing with clients. Mimi spent hours grooming this naïve young girl. What to wear, what to say, what not to say, what to expect - she'd mentored novices before. And she'd marketed them too, each with their own distinctive characteristics. Traditional and conservative described Vivian, Mimi assured her. Others were adventuresome, playful, spontaneous. Ethel clearly wanted nothing kinky. Currently, Ethel was the only employee actually living in Mimi's house. Some just stopped in from time to time. Others used the home as a pick-up point while others utilized the facility for part or all of the date. She observed little of this, opting to spend most of her time studying in her room.
Ethel made a quick stop at the thrift shop on her way home from class. Thinking of Mimi's house as her home still disturbed her. But at this point, choices did not exist. She spent a few dollars on a glittery scarf with sparkly second-hand high heels and a clutch. Mimi suggested dressing flashy but not sleazy. With so little money, Ethel chose a basic black skirt and sleeveless top which she accessorized with her new purchases. At a mere five foot two, the shoes and hair piled on top of her head provided a few more much needed inches. With one last quick glimpse in the mirror, she was off.
She walked the two blocks to the bus stop. Mimi's instructions repeated in her mind. She transferred to the el which soon descended below ground as it neared the outskirts of Center City. Most urban areas were designated with the title of "downtown". Why Philadelphia's metropolitan hub had such a distinctive moniker became a puzzler to her during the cross country trip with Clark. Each time when they drove into a new town and Ethel would make reference to Center City, Clark pointed out her small error. This was among the million wonderful things she learned that summer.
He, tonight's date, claimed to be a thirty-something businessman - white, medium build- looking for a dinner date. His name? Edward. Classic. It was the name of the Richard Gere character in "Pretty Woman" that played opposite Julia Roberts. Ethel fidgeted with her fingernails. Mimi suggested pink instead of red. Cheap polish chipped so easily. She emerged from the subway. The early summer sun still shone. The uncomfortable shoes caused her to walk awkwardly. Only three blocks to the restaurant. She entered Gary's Bistro and disappeared into the ladies room.
* * *
Rather than drive the long trip home and back, Edward remained at his downtown office. Last year, he had purchased a modest, traditional frame home in the rural and quaint town of Media, just west of the city. The classic two story residence, recently renovated, was located a few blocks off the main thoroughfare of State Street. Sometimes, after driving home, he would walk to one of the many charming eateries and grab a quick dinner to go. But more frequently, Blair would make reservations at a highly regarded restaurant in Center City.
He freshened up in the men's room before heading down the elevator and onto Twelfth Avenue recalling that just one week ago, he had met Artie for drinks. He had needed to vent. It usually worked the other way. The cruise was a disaster, at least to him. How was it possible for Blair to feel the exact opposite? Her only criticism concerned his pouty mood. So when he broke it off, she expressed shock mixed with anger. How dare he dump her when she, in fact, was the victim? And after all she had done for him, too. Everyone would think him insane for breaking up with such a beautiful, successful, sophisticated woman - everyone, perhaps, except for Artie.
"Never liked her anyway," he insisted.
"You never said anything before," Edward argued.
"Dude, she was your girlfriend, then," Artie explained. Edward understood. In fact, Artie and Edward understood just about everything with each other since the fifth grade. He didn't have to explain to Artie, for instance, that he wanted to be called Edward instead of Eddie or Ed. The only "Eddie" they knew was bad news, always in trouble at school or in the neighborhood. In high school, "Eddie" progressed to run-ins with the law for such offenses as vandalism and underage drinking. Last they heard, Eddie was serving time for armed robbery. So "Eddie" was out. And forget Ed. With a talking horse in reruns, no explanation was necessary. Conversely and without question, Edward accepted Artie's girlfriend who was now his wife. Indira, named after the female Gandhi, met Artie on campus at Penn. When Artie first informed him that his new love was Indian, he didn't need to say "India Indian - not Native American Indian". It wouldn't have mattered either way, just as it didn't matter that she was very dark skinned and rather plain looking. If Artie loved her, that was enough for Edward. He figured she was ridiculously smart and that proved true.
And now these two brilliant friends of Edward were about to reproduce. Indira was entering her last month. Under other circumstances, Artie would have stepped in to travel in Blair's place, but not now. Peripheral friends, co-workers and family members would undoubtedly be unavailable at such short notice. Edward felt certain that the trip must be cancelled. He wouldn't go alone. Even Artie knew not to persuade him on that front. Edward lived alone, travelled on business alone, shopped alone but this was different. He'd planned this trip for almost a year but had talked about it incessantly since the inception. Artie also knew that a reconcilliation with Blair was not only impossible but unwise. Artie and Indira found even casual socializing with Blair an uncomfortable chore. But as true friends do, they bided their time, hoping that Edward would emerge from the spell of Blair.
"Man, she was like a drug." Edward shook his head. "She sucks you into her world and you just can't see out. "
They had drained the life out of the subject for the past week. Artie saw no need to revisit the grave. So he cautiously moved ahead with the bold and novel suggestion. He chose his words carefully.
"Maybe you might consider one of those services that provide a companion ..."
"Are you out of your mind?"
Artie expected that response. "Just hear me out. I've actually done a little research on this one."
Of course he did. That's what the two of them always did, from analyzing a new marketing strategy to buying a sound system. And Edward would always make lists - lists of pros and cons, lists of places to shop, and always lists of places to visit and adventures to pursue. Artie jumped right in before Edward could protest further. He explained the difference between on-line dating networks and escort services. He further differentiated among the many variations within the industry. As far as references were concerned, Artie personally knew a business associate who had an out-of-town client who regularly utilized a small but discreet and reputable organization. Of course the yellow pages advertised "Alluring, discreet ladies to your door in 30 minutes or less" but he had knowledge of a more legitimate business geared toward professionals. And not all about sex, "Although," Artie offhandedly added, "Hey, let's not be naïve".
Edward was listening now. His best friend looked out for him and guided him skillfully toward a solution to the problem, simple and logical as that. With no website or yellow page ad, Artie provided the phone number on a yellow post-it note. Edward slipped the note in his shirt pocket and promised to think about it. They shared another round and talked about Artie's new boss, Edward's audit review and Indira's false labor pains. The following day during his lunch break, Edward closed his office door and pulled out his cell phone.
* * *
Edward entered Gary's ten minutes before Ethel and headed straight to the bar. After ordering a draft, he took the list from his pocket. No sooner than he had done so, he heard, "Edward?" He clumsily stuffed the paper back into his pocket and nearly knocked over his mug. He stood and awkwardly offered his hand.
"Yes. Um, hello."
Relief crept through Ethel. He looked pretty normal. Nothing stood out, but his receding hairline did make him look older than expected. Mimi had told her that clients were as diverse as any other group of random people. They varied in age, appearance, race, language and occupation. It was her observation that men rarely lied to her knowing they would be found out all too soon; evasive, perhaps, but seldom outright deceptive. And grooming rarely proved to be problematic - men are at least as vain as women, no matter how little they may have to work with. She could quickly and accurately judge potential clients and since this was only Ethel's second date, Mimi hoped to throw her another softball. This one floated on target right over the plate.
"I'm Vivian." He didn't react. No doubt, he'd never seen the movie.
"Can I get you a drink?" She sat down on the stool next to his. Mimi suggested remaining in the bar for awhile if possible, but not too long. Make sure he doesn't skip dinner. This is part of the contract. Not being much of a drinker- who could afford it - Ethel ordered an apple martini. She expected the initial conversation to be awkward, but Edward took the lead with standard small talk.
"Did you have trouble finding this place? Have you been here before? It's one of my favorites." He barely waited for her responses. His nervousness served to put her at ease.
"Tell me about yourself." Edward beat her to the punch.
"I'd much rather hear about you." Mimi had provided the script. They usually like to talk about themselves, except for the creepy ones, she explained. Edward seemed grateful for the prompt. He launched into a sketchy bio. When he pressed her again, she offered the same. Both born and raised in Philadelphia. He in the same house, she moved around a lot. He left Philly for a while but returned. They also both reported fractured families. When their glasses were empty, he asked if she wanted another.
"Actually, I'm pretty hungry." She really wasn't but didn't feel comfortable straying from her rehearsed lines. They moved to the dining room which was moderately full for a weeknight. Both found comfort in the bustling activity of diners and servers. Edward ordered a second drink. Ethel switched unnoticeably to club soda. She had only dined in a restaurant this fancy once before. Clark took her to Olive Garden the night of her high school graduation. She was faced for a second time with a menu the size of a poster. Remembering her namesake in the scene where Vivian dines at a posh restaurant, Ethel suggested that Edward order for her. The waiter reported on the specials of the day.
"Do you like snapper?" Edward inquired. Snap what? She hadn't a clue.
With menus and waiters out of the way, without hesitation, Edward jumped right in.
"So what is it you like to do?"
"Wow. That was quick!" Ethel blurted out. Regaining her composure, she returned to the script. "What is it that you'd like me to do?"
His confusion turned to realization then embarrassment then denial. "No, no, no. I didn't mean. I mean ... I meant ..." He sputtered in an attempt to repair the missed communication. But it only got worse. "I mean recreation."
Ethel tilted her head and widened her eyes as if to say, call it whatever you want, bozo. Edward closed his eyes and sighed.
"I just want to talk, get to know you."
Talk, yes. Mimi had explained that if all they wanted was sex, they'd be on Market Street picking up hookers. Her clients wanted to rent a girlfriend, if only for a night.
"Golf. Yes I like to golf. And fish. And take in an occasional Flyers game."
Exhilaration overtook Edward. "Really?"
Ethel's serious expression melted into a warm gotcha smile. Yeah, right. Edward did, in fact, get it. Every guy's dream girl. He let out a laugh. "Actually, I like to read. Read, walk, movies, music, the usual."
"Candlelight dinners and walks on the beach." Edward smirked and nodded.
"Hardly. But I love to travel."
This fed right into number six of Edward's list. "Where have you been?"
"Just one cross-country road trip. But someday ... How 'bout you? Have you travelled?"
"Well, I lived in California for seven years. But when I travel now, it's mostly for business. So that means hotels, coffee shops, office buildings and airports," which sounded plenty exciting to Ethel. She provided a natural transition to his next question. "What was your favorite stop on your trip?"
"The Grand Canyon," she replied without hesitation. "Ever been there?"
"No, but it's on my list. How long were you there?" "Long enough to hike to the bottom and back. Breathtaking."
"Who did you go with?" Edward stopped short realizing that the question might be too personal. Earlier, he had told Mimi he'd never used a service before. She gave him the thirty-second list of do's and don'ts. Personal questions were in the top five. "Sorry. Guess I shouldn't ask."
"That's okay," she reassured him. "I went with my brother. Long story." The few times in her life she had used the word "brother" she felt the discomfort of lying, partly because Clark was only a half-brother and partly because they grew up in separate households. But she'd feel equally dishonest referring to him as a friend. Just another one of those life conundrums, she had concluded. "So what else is on that list? What is it that you like to do?" She was making this way too easy.
"Oh, golf, fish, take in an occasional Flyers game." Ethel in turn was beginning to get him. "Really, though, I do," he continued almost apologetically. "And I work out but not nearly enough," he said patting his pudgy belly. "They call me a 'sponsor' at the fitness club because my dues sponsor the other people who are regulars."
As salads arrived Ethel hesitated and looked around before selecting a fork. There were fortunately only two to choose from. In the movie, Vivian struggled to select from many more. Edward resumed with ease. "I read a lot, too. And movies, I can watch the same one over a dozen times. But sports, that's me. "
"Do you play any?"
Stupid, Ethel thought. If you have time to watch, you have time to play. She had difficulty understanding this male mentality. Then they became soft, pudgy stereotypical spectators of life. She was careful not to point it out at this moment. "Which sports?"
"Any, all. If it involves a ball, puck, racing, scoring - I'm pathetic. Sorry." But apologetic he was not. Sports, unlike much of his past life, ended neatly and with a clear victor. Save the occasional bad call or bench clearing brawl, athletic competition compared favorably to accounting.
The snapper melted in her mouth. Never before had she tasted anything so wonderful. Furthermore, Ethel liked Edward. He liked her. The conversation flowed. He was back to the list.
"Your favorite movie?"
"Shawshank Redemption. Want to know why?"
Excerpted from Pretty Special Woman by Katherine Lois Copyright © 2009 by Katherine Lois. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Pretty Special Woman is an entertaining, comedic book. This is a drama-comedy with a romantic twist. Although this book will likely find more of a female audience, it appeals to anyone who can appreciate an intelligent, and occasionally sarcastic sense of humor. The protagonist is a young woman who is self-motivated and smart. She ultimately finds romance in a very unlikely situation. I look forward to reading more novels by Katherine Lois.