“It will be impossible for me to find another girl on short notice. I’m a business man, I know how to negotiate. So let’s come up with a story together that we can both be satisfied with. How do you think our first date might have gone?”
For me to even pretend to marry someone, our backstory would have to be romantic. It wasn’t with my first husband. We were thrown together by mutual friends on a blind date and we had a few things in common. I didn’t think he was all that handsome when I first met him—definitely not love at first sight, or even, hmm, he’s kind of cute at first sight. In reality, I didn’t like the way he looked. He was a couple inches shorter than me. He chewed tobacco, so his teeth were stained and his gums were receding so it made his teeth look way too long. There was something false about his smile, the way it never reached his eyes. I should’ve known something was up with his personality during our first date when he kept complaining about his food and sending it back to the kitchen. How he talked down to our waitress, then left only a penny for a tip after threatening to not pay the bill.
Back then I thought he was a perfectionist, and that a man like that gets things done. I thought a man like that would be a good provider. I was wrong. In the short year that we were married, he’d been fired from three jobs and developed a bit of a drinking problem.
“Well,” I say, trying to think of a scenario that was both plausible and romantic, “I suppose your job is stressful, so one day you decide to take a walk in the park to unwind.” He leans back in his chair, arms folded in front of him as he listens.
I continue. “And I was in the park too. I’d been house sitting for a friend and was walking her unruly dogs when one of them got loose. You, seeing someone in distress, managed to wrangle the cocker spaniel and bring him back to me. I pay back your kindness by buying you a hotdog at a cart, and we end up talking all night under the stars.”
I can hear the whimsy in my voice. Even though marriage is the worst thing that has ever happened to me, I’m not immune to romance.
Heath smiles, and when he does, it changes everything about his face. It’s bright and warm, and the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. His stiff demeanor starts to crumble and there’s actually a human under there somewhere. My neck grows warm and I’m sure I’m blushing. I wonder if he has any idea the kind of power that smile possesses. I’m sure he does. I imagine a man like him probably has his fair share of lovers.
Suddenly I’m picturing myself as one of them, sprawled out naked on some ridiculously expensive bed, letting him have his way with me. I picture those nice full lips against mine, that hard body pressed against me …
I shake my head to clear those thoughts. Is the heater running in here? I’m starting to sweat. I need to stay focused. This is a job, not Match.com.
This guy is borderline perfect. Why does he need to hire someone? The whole thing is a mystery to me and makes me want to get to know him better.
“There are a few holes in that story,” he says.
“Really, like what?”
“To start, I would never eat food from a cart.”
“What?” I say aghast. “You haven’t lived until you’ve had a hotdog from a cart. What else?”
“Nor would I chase dogs, or be in the park at all. While, yes, my job can be stressful, everyone knows I thrive on a challenge and I never let anything get to me.”
“Surly you like fresh air.”
He nods. “I do.”
“Then you went out for fresh air. And I have a feeling if you saw someone in distress you would help them. Even if it involved chasing dogs.”
The taut skin around his eyes softens and he lets out an amused breath, but doesn’t confirm nor deny it. I know I’m right. Even through his stiff demeanor, his eyes are gentle. There’s something kind about him. Eyes don’t lie. It’s everything else in a man that does. That’s the one thing my ex never had: kind eyes. Sometimes his words were as sweet as cookie dough, but there was always something malicious about the way he looked at me, even when we were at our best.
“Are you busy?” I ask Heath.