Memo to self, I thought, as I grumped my way up the sidewalk to Bernice’s front door. Never accept a Thanksgiving invite from your best friend. Next year, I’m telling her I’m spending it in the Islands. Even if the “island” I spend it with starts with “long island” and ends with “iced tea.”
Bernice greeted me at the front door with a bone-crushing hug and a cheery mug of hot cocoa. Pumpkin-spiced for the cocoa, of course. Gah.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was feeling about as festive as Frosty the Snowman. But my hands were down to a similar temperature, so I accepted the mug and tried to smile.
“Is he here yet?”
Bernice took my coat and turned with a completely fake “gee, whatever do you mean?” look on her face.
“Him. Whoever he is this year. Mister ‘I Know You’ll Be Perfect For Each Other.’ The one you’ve invited but haven’t told me about yet.”
Bernice’s neck turned a little red but she did a bang-up job of imitating total innocence. “Moi? Would I do such a thing?!”
“Come on, Bernice. Your grandmother introduces you as her baby yenta. You’ve tried to set me up on at least fifteen dates so far. With a track record of –”
She pushed me hurriedly toward the dining room. “So you and the bassoon player didn’t quite hit it off.”
“Bernice,” I interrupted. “It wasn’t just the bassoon player. There was that scion of a septic pumping empire. The periodontist-in-training who kept ogling my gums. And I think you once tried to match me with a door-to-door smoked-salmon salesman, too.”
Yes, indeed. I vividly remembered the smell.
“I just needed to make the table settings for dinner come out even,” she protested, herding me through the door to the dining room. “You didn’t have a plus-one to bring. You can’t blame me for adding an extra person, can you?”
I could, and I did. But it was obviously far too late to do anything about it.
A crush of bodies already surrounded the giant dinner table. Bernice had outdone herself this year. In addition to the regulation Thanksgiving fare – golden-brown turkey; whipped-senseless mashed potatoes; marshmallow-topped yams; onion-crisped green beans – there were multiple smaller platters of other delicacies as well. A quick sweep of my eyes identified Indian dal; Middle-Eastern hummus; and Chinese potstickers. Nearby were seven or eight dishes more I couldn’t name.
“I wanted to try something different this year,” Bernice interjected, catching the direction of my eyes. “Thanksgiving is always so –”
“Predictable?” I hazarded.
“Exactly. I wanted it to be a little different this year!”
Which, come to think of it, was exactly why Bernice was the last person who should help anyone find a mate.
In Bernice’s eyes, the wilder the better. Offbeat was cool. Non-traditional rocked. “You wouldn’t be bored!” was her only response when I declined her invitation to meet someone new at an international rock-climbing competition.
Not that I was looking for ‘boring,’ mind you. But someone with a job that paid actual money was a place to start. Someone who shared my values, maybe enjoyed the same music. Somebody who wasn’t eager to “help me get in shape.” Definitely not anyone who put “fun” in the same sentence with running up and down sand dunes at five in the morning.
Oh, yeah. Bernice had tried.
The smell of all that food already had my mouth watering, and apparently I wasn’t alone. One by one, guests found their assigned seats at Bernice’s table, courtesy of cutesy hand-lettered pumpkins she’d installed by each plate.
Suppressing a sigh, I searched for the spot with my name. There it was, near the head of the table. Beside Bernice, where she could keep an eye on me, I presumed. There’d be no sneaking out before dessert. And I’d have to at least try to be polite to whoever she’d stuck next to me. Bernice wasn’t above throwing a roll or two if necessary to keep her guests in line.
The seat to my right was still empty as I settled in and scooted my chair forward. Maybe the Thanksgiving Fairy had my back, I thought. Not that I was actively hoping for anything as dastardly as a car crash. But a minor attack of ptomaine poisoning? A sudden work-related boss-crisis? A tragically-infected hangnail? The notion that I might actually enjoy this meal was rising on the might-be-possible scale.
And then –
“Excuse me, I think I’m next to you.”
With a start, I scooched my chair sideways just far enough to allow the gentleman to take the chair beside me.
My first impression: tall.
My second impression: great smile.
Third impression: he didn’t sell salmon, door-to-door or otherwise.
Despite myself, I politely stuck my hand out. “Name’s Charlene,” I said.
“And my name’s Charlie,” he laughed, shaking my outstretched hand about as well as you could with too much crockery in the way.
Huh. I couldn’t help myself. “Sounds like we have the same name!”
To my left, Bernice was giving us a steady side-eye.
“Indeed.” His dark eyes were dancing. “That Bernice. She’s a kick, but she sure likes to fix people up. I bet you were dreading tonight as much as I was.”
Chuckling, I passed my companion the mashed potatoes.
A slow, quiet smile spread over Bernice’s lips.
“So, she been trying to set you up, too?”
“Only for the last year or so,” he grinned. “First there was this champion pinochle player, then some chick who raises camels for a living. They spit, did you know that?”
I choked back a laugh. “Trust Bernice to come up with unusual possibilities.”
His hand settled on a dish in front of him. “Speaking of unusual, I’ve never quite seen dal served at Thanksgiving before. But I have to confess, I rather like it.” He scooped a giant helping of the Indian delicacy onto his plate before passing dish on to me.
I had to admit I rather liked Indian food, too. So I followed suit.
I was thinking, with all this great food, there might actually be something to be grateful for this Thanksgiving, after all. And my dinner companion didn’t smell like salmon. That made two reasons for gratitude.
“Do you like music?” I asked.
“Anything that doesn’t have a bassoon in it,” he responded with another fine chuckle. “And I’ll eat pretty much anything except salmon.”
To my left, Bernice was leaning back in her chair, a self-satisfied smile on her face.
“So,” my companion continued. “I take it you don’t play pinochle or raise camels for a living.”
I shook my head.
His eyes were fixed on mine, now, his head cocked to one side, contemplating.
“You seem like such a nice, reasonable, normal sort of girl. Not the sort Bernice usually tries to pair me up with. I just hope you’re not looking for a fitness nut who loves to race the sand dunes at five o’clock in the morning.”
And that, my friends, was when I knew I was in trouble.
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