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As I put on my jacket, I checked the mirror again for what felt like the hundredth time that night. It was another party, this time an engagement party, my fifth party that month and my third engagement party to boot. Everyone was at it. Getting married, making tiny people, buying excessively large houses to fill with the tiny people they intended on making. Buying rings, asking questions, and of course, throwing parties to let everyone know that they're doing all of these things.
I never went to a party alone, I wasn't that brave, or that stupid. There was always a friend, female or gay, or sometimes female and gay, which led to more and more questions at those parties. That's all they were to me now, not a party where you could let your hair down and relax, have fun, and a few drinks. No, they were interviews from all the smug married couples, engaged couples, or pregnant couples around me.
"Why aren't you married by now!"
"Where's the lucky guy?"
"You're over thirty you know what that means right? Tick tock!"
"Are you gay?"
"Are you just really bad at relationships?"
"What's wrong with you?"
You name it, I've heard it. It was never asked in a way that allowed me to address them with my right hook though, no, it was always done with that subtle dig with a sweet smile and look of pity. I was used to it all by now, sadly.
It's not to say I was some frumpy, antisocial, cat lady or anything… well not completely. Everyone had their moments where they embraced their inner hermit and wanted to hibernate right? And in truth I was more of a dog person anyway so I dodged that bullet, or at least that's what I told myself. No, I worked in Shreveport, having moved there when I turned twenty five. I left my cushy accountancy job in New Orleans for a fresh start and a new me. Of course that new me was still the old me, just in a different city, a little closer to my gran. It had taken me awhile to realize that there was very little running one could do, from oneself, so being back, or close to back to where I was from wasn't so bad.
Besides the shortage of decent men, of course.
"You ready?" Isabel asked coming from the kitchen with her half finished glass of wine in hand. I was ready, as ready as I'd ever be for a night of endlessly awkward questions.
"You look hot, let's go flirt with some men that can never have us, before we send them home to their wives or their tube socks." I grinned.
I giggled as I grabbed my house keys, she certainly had a way with words, and a way of cheering me up, that's for sure. Isabel was my opposite, at least in the looks department. She was a petite, Latino, stunning badass with her bob length black hair and lips that rivalled any Hollywood actress and her injections - only she was all natural, and she had no qualms of reminding everyone how natural all her curves were, and trust me, there were a lot of them. I on the other hand was considered lanky at five eight and blonde, I had a pretty decent rack all my own, but everything else was just about pancake flat. I longed for an ass like Isabel's, but she always told me not to want what I didn't have and appreciate what I did, she'd argue that she longed for my height and hair, and blue eyes. The grass was always greener on the other side, or as she'd say, the ass was always bigger.
Gifts were given, air kisses were had, toasts were made. It was an engagement party after all, but with more balloons than I thought was possible for one room. That and plenty of free booze, which was the main draw for most hard working people on a Friday night. I lost Isabel to Mary for a half hour of what I assumed to be wedding talk, when I introduced to various people by the soon to be groom. I gave them props for at the very least not singling me out as the only single in the haystack of married couples.
"And are you seeing anyone at the moment, Sookie?" Bill asked, handing me my third glass of wine that night. I knew it had to be my last, I didn't work well with wine but it drowned out my urge to slap him.
"Not at the moment, how about you? Anyone managed to ball and chain you, Bill?"
He smiled. He had a nice smile when it was genuine, he'd forced it a few times that night and I couldn't say he was alone in that action. I had fake smiled my way through the dinner and the drinks, and the obligatory congratulations.
"No, not at the moment, in truth I'm not very good at the whole…dating thing."
Bill was English and a friend of Mike's, Mike of Mike and Mary. Or as they referred to themselves now 'us'. Bill and I got to talking and he told me all of his move Stateside, and how he was adjusting at the new firm, and how much work he had over here simply because 'American's really did love to sue'. He seemed like a nice guy, and so, when he asked me out, rather awkwardly at the end of the night. I even more awkwardly accepted.
It turns out appearances were deceptive and Bill's nice-guy act was just that, an act. It lasted a whole thirteen weeks before it self destructed.
I really was terrible at this whole dating thing.
"So I'm going to need you to come to church with me," Bill said, out of the blue one Tuesday afternoon. "It's in Shreveport, and I think it would be really good for you."
"Oh, I have a church," I said casually, smiling at him. "But I guess I could go, but you'll be expected to make a show at mine on Sunday." I was always open to new things, expanding my mind and all that. I'd always been interested in religion.
I liked Bill, I did. We'd been spending a couple of days a week together, getting to know each other. He was a perfect gentleman, he didn't rush me on anything I wasn't ready to jump right into. We'd made out a bit, but we spent a lot of time talking. Lots and lots of talking.
It was a beautiful day, and as Bill told me more and more about his religious beliefs, I had to admit, they sounded interesting. More modern than my good old Southern Baptist upbringing. When we arrived at the Church of Scientology, however, all thoughts of enlightenment went out the window, and getting the fuck out of there filled every corner of my mind.
"Is this a joke?" I asked, in all seriousness. "Aren't you a Catholic?"
"One can be a Catholic and a Scientologist, Sookie," Bill said, beaming. "It's the beauty of Scientology. You can retain your faith, but open your mind. It's changed my life, and I just know-"
"Bill, take me home," I said, pulling my sweater around me, as autumn's air chilled my bones. That, or the idea of even entering the building was enough to affect me physically. "I'm not going in there. Not after Tom and Katie."
"Tom's a great guy. I've met him on several occasions. It's just a quick test, Sookie. You can find out a bit more about-"
I was team Katie, all the way. "Take me home now, or I'll-"
"You'll what?" he challenged, chuckling. "Sookie, I'm not going to force you-"
I could tell from his tone that he was trying to manipulate me. Maybe I was just feeling defensive. "Don't call me again," I snipped, as I opened the car door and climbed out.
"Sookie I'll drive you home."
"Don't call me," I called, as I began my hunt for a taxi.
While I walked around a sketchy part of Shreveport, I was forced to face some hard truths. I'd like to say Bill was an isolated incident, but he was really more like the straw that broke the camel's back. My recent dating varied, sordid, and generally terrible. In fact, that year alone, there'd been Quinn, Alcide, Hoyt, and Preston.
I was five losses, zero wins.
And it was only September.
I'd dated Quinn for two months. We met on EHarmony. Things had started out well. He owned his own business, had strong family values, and these amazing eyes that lit up his face in a way that made me swoon. We had chemistry too, the kind you couldn't fake. The thing was, his family values were a bit too strong. We couldn't spend ten minutes together without his mother or his sister calling. That included when we were together together. I drew the line when he answered a text from his sister while I was doing something that should have held his full attention. It was a real hit to my ego.
Hoyt. I'd known Hoyt from a summer job at his family's restaurant. He was a set-up from my friend Tara, who had dated him when they were kids. Three months in, I found out he was a real dog, and was seeing someone else while he was seeing me, and to add insult to injury, she was a real dog too.
Alcide was speed dating, round one. He was great to look at, but I soon discovered that that was all he was. I couldn't hold a five minute conversation with him about anything besides food, sports, or sex. Sad thing was, with my track record, that was almost enough to keep him around. I'd really debated ending things with him, but I finally had. I had given speed dating another shot, however, and that was when I met Preston.
Preston was rich, handsome, and successful. He was also whiny, insecure, and verbally abusive after a drink or two. I'd lost myself for a few months there, and almost fallen prey to his twisted charms. It was my gran that reminded me that I could do better.
"Sookie, you can do better," she'd hissed, when I'd introduced them at a very upscale restaurant that Preston was footing the bill for. "No one talks to my granddaughter that way."
So he didn't, not after that night. If my gran was calling hijinks, then I knew better than to question her on that.
When I finally got a cab back to my house, it was nearly midnight, and I was as crushed as I could ever remember being. I found myself angry at the world.
"He's out there. You just have to stop looking."
"Mr. Right will find you."
"You deserve someone really special."
Fuck everyone, I thought to myself. Fuck every fairytale, every love song, every romantic comedy. It was all fucking bullshit. Perfect things didn't just come along. You had to work for them. Make them happen for yourself. You had to take control of your own destiny; run your own show. That was the only way to ensure things were the way you wanted them to be. I ran my own business. I knew that better than anyone.
"Sookie, I'm getting married!" Tara squealed, two days later, as she danced around my living room. "JB asked me last night!"
I'd also dated JB. He was a dumb as a bag of bricks, but loyal, and sweet. Tara could have done much worse. I mustered all the enthusiasm I had in me.
"Oh, that's...that's great!" I grinned even though it felt unnatural on my face, trying so hard not to betray what I was really feeling inside.
"And you'll do the flowers, and you'll be my maid of honour!" She grabbed my hands and pulled me into her dance. "Just like we always talked about."
Suddenly, the conversations we'd had at fifteen were coming back to me, and I wasn't happy to see them again at all. You don't really consider it, not really, when you're a teenager you talk of all manner of things. Travelling the world, meeting and marrying your favourite crush, but you never consider that when the day comes to honor those conversations and promises made to old friends, that you'd be feeling lower than shit.
I could have been the one marrying JB if I'd done things differently. I wasn't sure if that made me feel better or worse. Was it really that I wanted to get married and do all those things for myself, or was it because it was what was expected of me? I wasn't entirely sure at that point. What I was sure of was that I felt like shit when Tara left. I was wallowing in self-pity when I should have been happy for her.
The next morning, I did what I always did. I slapped on a happy face, went into work, and thought of everyone but myself. I sent her a gorgeous bouquet of irises, since they were a sign of friendship, and I didn't cry about it, no matter how much I wanted or needed to, because it wasn't productive.
It was a week before Thanksgiving when I met someone that would change my life forever. I had spent the day before the party cheering myself up, pampering sessions and a really amazing blow-out were had before I got the courage to get ready for Isabel's birthday party.
It was there I met Pamela. Pam was, at first glance the most intimidating woman, I thought. As she stood there commanding the room making her speech about her lifelong friend on her thirty fifth birthday. Isabel looked proud as punch, she also looked a little drunk which probably helped her give her own speech to thank everyone for the gifts and in helping her 'overcome the milestone' of what she considered 'middle-age'. After that the party shifted a gear and there was a much less formal feel to the festivities when the shots were passed around.
"Sookie! Sook! This... This is Pam. Pam this is Sookie who I was telling you about before...before I drank all the drinks." Isabel giggled as she approached me, she had Pam by one hand and a cocktail in the other.
"Sookie Stackhouse, the girl with the unusual name. I remember her. It's nice to finally put a name to the face, Sookie." She batted her big brown eyes at me. "You're lovelier than Isabel described you."
"You too, Pamela, I've heard so many things. I swear she may have told me her life story at this point. You play a huge part in that story."
"It's Pam, and thank you. Yes, we've been friends now for … well let's not put a number on it, shall we?"
I knew a few things about Pam. She was a self professed mutt, having an Irish mother and an English father. She grew up in both places, leaving her with little sense of a real solid home to begin with, Isabel thought so, anyway. It was was when they moved to America when she was well into her teens, that they met. A fact that also explained her somewhat muddled, but extremely charming accent.
"So, I've really had no luck whatsoever with men. Ever," I said, after I felt like I'd been talking about myself for days, and finished telling her all my woes. "Ask Isabel. I'm a magnet for losers."
"Your dating pool is too small," Pam said, matter of fact, as she leaned across the table. "I can help with that."
I laughed. "It's more like a dating puddle at the moment. Oh, I've done the set up before. What, I suppose you have some lovely cousin who's just dying to meet some sweet Southern girl and really knows how to treat a lady. I should just get a dog. I think I'll get a dog. They're better than men anyway. No backtalk, no baggage if you get them young. I've always wanted a poodle. Getting a dog is taking control of your life. You go and pick one out, and it's yours, and it's loyal, and all it asks for in return is your affection, and a little dinner. It's the perfect modern woman's partner."
Pam shrugged. "Get your dog. When you find you have some other needs you'd like met, besides someone to love you blindly, give me a call."
For the next six months, my relationship with Sam, a sandy brown poodle mix pup I drove all the way to a New Orleans shelter a few days later to get was flawless. I taught him things, and he learned, and he loved me unconditionally. It was amazing having someone to come home to at the end of the day, and he never failed to give me a good cuddle when I needed it most.
I hated that Pam was right. He wasn't enough. He was almost enough, but he wasn't much of a challenge.
Pam was hardly surprised when I showed up at her unassuming office in New Orleans.
"You look like shit," She said bluntly. "Things didn't work out with the mutt?"
"They're working out just fine," I replied, "but...you were right."
"You'll find I'm always right," she said, tenting her fingers on the desk. "I'll give you a deal, because you know Is, and I like you, but know, I'm usually very expensive."
"What is it that you do, exactly?" I asked curiously. "Do you run some sort of dating service?" Isabel had always been rather vague on that aspect of her friend Pam's life.
"Are you a pimp, because I'm not looking for-"
"Not a pimp."
Pam stood and walked across her flawless, minimalist office and fetched her laptop. "I offer a service, for professional women, like you that are having trouble navigating the very chopping waters you find yourself in."
I wasn't following. "Okay?"
"I'll need you to answer a few simple questions, Sookie, and then we can begin." She pulled out a pad from her drawer. "Answer without giving anything too much thought. Three most important qualities in a partner."
"Loyalty, sense of humour, and honest." In truth I wanted someone who was loyal, who knew when to make me laugh and when sometimes honesty wasn't the best policy but to police it at all times when possible anyway. I figured that's why I was still single. Did that even exist?
"You're such a bore," she chuckled. "Do you want children?"
I froze at that one. "I thought I'd cross that bridge when I got there...I mean, I don't want them right now."
"But you don't not want them?"
"Next question?" I said, smiling at her.
"That's a pretty big question to skip," Pam shrugged. "It's your potential future."
"Fine, yes. With the right partner, sure."
Pam nodded. "Okay. Number of sexual partners-"
"Why is that important?" I clipped.
"I think it's very important," she said curtly. "For compatibility reasons."
Pam raised her eyebrows. "No one's ever asked that before."
"It's a valid question."
"Sex. How many people have you fucked?"
I felt the colour drain from my face, as I mumbled my response. "None."
"One?" Pam said cocking her head at me. "Really?"
"None!" I said, raising my voice. "Okay? None. I'm Sookie Stackhouse, I'm thirty-two, and I've never made it around the bases. Never hit it out of the park. There. Put that in your questionnaire." I felt the blush rise in my face suddenly.
Pam nodded, and wrote something down. "Hey, that might be your golden ticket, right there. Is there a reason?"
"I wish I could say there was some bizarre, crazy-ass anatomical wrong that was keeping me from... doing that. But no, the only real reason that I can figure is...me. I'm the reason it hasn't happened yet."
I'd started out wanting it to be something special, with someone I loved, and was married to, or would be married to eventually. That had morphed into me wanting it to be special, moved to being with someone I trusted, and now stood somewhere between someone I didn't despise and someone I thought was a decent person.
I hadn't found any of those people lately.
"Alright," Pam said, clicking around on her computer. "So, if I can just get a few more details, I can see what I can do."
"Pam, what is it that you do, specifically?" I asked, really just wanting her to tell me. "Don't tell me you're the founder of LavaLife or something."
She chuckled. "I would never leave anything so important as finding one's match up to an algorithm. I run an agency."
"What...what kind of agency?" I asked, becoming more and more hesitant with each minute that Pam spent focused on her computer. "I'm not paying for a list of singles-"
"Sookie," she said, glancing up at me. "You've just got to trust me. I've been doing this for years, and my record is nearly spotless."
Nearly spotless? "Record doing what?"
She handed over her card, and my guts churned as I read it, word for word.
Husband Procurer and Professional Matchmaker
"Husband procurer?" I stammered. "You're going to procure me-"
She smiled, and her eyes gleamed. "Oh, Sookie. I've got just the right one for you."