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Just three dates, p.1

Just Three Dates, page 1

 

Just Three Dates
 


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Just Three Dates


  Just Three Dates

  Copyright © 2017 By David Burnett

  All rights reserved.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Lisa Dawn Martinez, Editor

  Cover Design by Deborah Bradseth, Tugboat Design

  Table of Contents

  Mark

  Karen

  You Need a Husband

  Pool Party

  The Catalog

  First Date

  Reflections: First Date

  Second Date

  Reflections: Second Date

  Third Date

  Mountain Climbing

  The Mountain Grill

  November

  Basketball Game

  Breakfast

  Valentine’s Day

  Three Months Later

  Reception

  Finding Lucia

  A Walk in the Park

  Wedding Bells

  Other books by David Burnett

  About the Author

  Mark

  “You need a wife.”

  The waiter had just refilled his glass, and, as Mark Stuart raised it to his lips, taking a deep drink of water, his mother spoke, causing Mark to gag. He plunked the glass onto the table, snatching the napkin from his lap and covering his mouth, barely preventing the liquid from spewing out. Then he lifted his head to see his mother sitting back in her chair as if prepared for a fight.

  Mark’s eyes met hers. He now understood her dinner invitation, why his father had not accompanied them to the restaurant, and the reason she had chosen the Plantation House, with its tuxedoed waiters, soft music, and thirty-dollar midday entrees—a place only a woman like Elizabeth Stuart would have selected as the scene for a confrontation concerning her son’s need for a wife.

  Surely, he would not make a scene, not here, not in public, not as he had each time she had broached the subject in the past.

  That was, without a doubt, what his mother would be hoping.

  His eyes stayed fixed on hers as he took a deep breath, internally debating his response. Mark placed his knife and fork across his plate and reached for his glass—a goblet of wine—this time, taking a long, slow sip, returning the glass to the exact spot from which he had lifted it. Then, he rested one forearm on the table and leaned forward, primed to meet his mother’s attack.

  Her hand quivered and a few drops of water sloshed over the rim as she lifted her glass for a drink, but she did not look away.

  “Tell me, Mother, why do I need a wife?”

  He almost smiled as her head snapped up, surprise written on her face. His question was uncharacteristic. Generally, he led with a denial.

  “Mark, we’ve been through this so many times.” She sighed as she reached out to pat his hand. “You need a wife to help you in your career. A college is not solely an educational institution, you’ve seen that for yourself. It’s social. It’s political. You’re a brilliant mathematician, Mark, but if you want to be a department head, or president of a university, you must do more than teach and write papers. You’ll be expected to attend parties and dinners, court donors. You’ll always be expected to bring someone with you, a date, perhaps, but preferably your wife.

  “If you do need a date, well, you are twenty-nine years old and practically all of your friends are married. You’ll soon find yourself recruiting your sister to be your date.”

  She held up a hand as he began to respond. “Moreover, you’ll be expected to give parties and dinners, and you know nothing about such things. You need a wife who can help you.”

  She paused, apparently waiting to hear his rebuttal. It would have been one she had heard before—his assertion that teaching was a noble calling, that he was happy to have received that call, and that he had no ambitions beyond the classroom.

  But Mark knew she would counter each of his arguments and the back-and-forth would continue until they both were tired and angry, neither daring to mention the woman he had almost married—the real reason he had no interest even in dating, much less in marriage.

  So, today, he did not rise to her challenge. He waited.

  Seeming to take his silence as agreement, his mother continued.

  “You’re lonely.”

  Mark shook his head.

  “Yes, you are. You live alone, you dine out by yourself. You love photography, you love hiking, and they are both solitary pursuits. You depend on me, your father, and your sister to listen when you want to talk. We love to see you, Mark, but, as I said, Emily is getting married, soon she’ll be busy with a family of her own. And your father and I, we’re getting older…” She opened her arms, palms up, as though her point should be obvious. “You need a wife.”

  Again, Mark did not respond. His mother smiled, a jungle cat sensing a win. Still, she pounced for the victory move. “It’s expected, Mark. People will think something is wrong with you if you aren’t married.”

  “You’re afraid they’ll think I’m gay?”

  “If they thought that, it might be different, but you’re not,” his mother rolled her eyes, “so they will think you’re weird, or antisocial, or that you’re so disgusting no one will have you. Mark, you need a wife.”

  Argument was pointless. His mother’s mind was made up and, knowing her, she had a plan of some kind, a plan he might as well hear now. In any case, he had not even dated in over three years so agreeing with her would not send him hurtling toward the altar.

  “You may be right.”

  Mark almost smiled as half a cup of water poured onto the floor as his mother’s glass thumped onto the table, sending an observant waiter dashing forward with a towel. His mother ignored the waiter, shrugging off his offer of assistance.

  “I am? I mean…I mean…good…good. Yes. Well, then, I’m glad you’ve seen the light.”

  Mark took another bite of his steak and closed his eyes as the flavor filled his mouth. Then, when he could prolong the silence no longer, he spoke.

  “Which woman should I choose? I mean, there are so many…” He swallowed, staring toward the ceiling, as if waiting for inspiration. As his mother began to respond, he continued.

  “We have a couple of unmarried secretaries in the dean’s office, and the barista at the coffee shop formed a heart when she poured milk into my latte this morning. Rumor has it that, just last semester, the students, the female students, voted me ‘hottest professor on campus,’ and the last time I went barhopping I ran into three women from my gym. Attractive, healthy, fertile…Two of them volunteered to have my baby that very night.”

  He knew he shouldn’t bait his mother. None of the women he mentioned would remotely be what she had in mind.

  “Plenty of candidates.” He pretended to cough and he covered his mouth to hide his smile at the look of horror on her face.

  “Don’t be silly,” she huffed. “You’ve never been barhopping in your life. And a secretary? A waitress? You can’t date a student.” She rolled her eyes. “This is serious. None of those women will be equipped to help you in your career.”

  “All right. Where do I find her? The woman of your dreams.”

  Mark’s eyes drifted toward the entrance pretending to scan for his wife to be, and he started as a tall woman with auburn hair appeared in the doorway.

  Lucia?

  Mark began to rise, but he caught himself, realizing it was not her, and he sank back into his chair, disappointed, wondering once again what brutal flaw of his had driven her to treat him the way she had.

  “She’s not here, Mother. So, where do I find he
r?” he repeated.

  “If you were going to find her, I’d have grandchildren already. I’ll take care of it.”

  “Oh, right. You’re Yenta, the Matchmaker.” He shook his head. “Mother, this is the United States, and it’s two thousand fourteen, the twenty-first century. We don’t do arranged marriages.”

  “Of course we have arranged marriages.”

  “We marry for love.”

  “Oh, pooh. Marriage for love has been around for only a hundred years or so. A newcomer on the marriage scene.” She patted his hand. “Mark, many marriages are arranged today, perhaps not as openly as in the past, but, nevertheless…”

  “Name one.”

  “Your father and I.”

  “Thirty years ago…and you loved each other.”

  “Since you’ve known us we have loved each other.”

  Mark sighed. He had no inclination to listen as his mother retold the story of how his grandfather had feared his wild, empty-headed daughter would bring home a long-haired, unwashed ne’er-do-well who wore love beads, smoked pot, and flashed peace signs while boycotting classes as he protested the war in Viet Nam. And how, as a result, he had selected a man for her to marry and presented him to her for approval. Her account of their courtship had grown so elaborate over time that he was no longer certain how much of the story was true.

  Although he could easily imagine that his grandfather might formulate such a plan, he had difficulty picturing his mother as either wild or empty-headed, and he was still as amazed as he had been when he had first heard the story almost twenty years ago, that his strong-willed mother would go along with it.

  “So who are we talking about?”

  She smiled a smile that told him she had come prepared.

  “We had lunch with Margaret Wingate a couple of weeks back. Remember?”

  Mark nodded. He recalled having lunch with Ms. Wingate—though he hadn’t the foggiest why he’d joined his mother and her friend for lunch. But the baked flounder had been delicious, and he had eaten every bit of it.

  He glanced at the table, wishing he could finish his meal today.

  “Margaret was quite taken with you, you know. Now, she has a daughter. Karen is twenty-five, four years younger than you. She majored in art at Mary Stevens College, loves to paint, and is employed at the museum.”

  An artist with a degree from a women’s college in rural Virginia? Mark rolled his eyes. He was a mathematics professor with a doctorate from MIT.

  Artists gushed over beautiful sunsets, lived in cluttered lofts, were flighty at best, and followed their feelings like puppies trailing after a fresh bone. Mathematicians stood in awe of elegant proofs, craved order, and embraced logic.

  Artists and mathematicians were polar opposites. He had not so elegant proof.

  Lucia was an artist.

  Lucia was an artist…

  He shook his head and dismissed that thought.

  “She’s very attractive.”

  “Who is?”

  His mother gave him the look she reserved for when she thought he hadn’t been paying attention, and then she reached for her purse and withdrew a small brown envelope.

  “Here. See?” She opened the envelope and handed him several photographs—Karen Wingate in an evening gown, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, bundled in a ski parka, lying by a pool in a bathing suit. Mark wondered if Karen knew that her portfolio was being shown to a prospective groom for his approval.

  His head was beginning to ache and he gently massaged his right temple, recalling, again, their dinner with Margaret Wingate. At the time, he had thought it resembled a job interview. Apparently it had been just that.

  “Now I haven’t talked with Karen yet, although I’m assured she is a simply wonderful girl. Polite, well organized, a good conversationalist, intelligent but not geeky, and you can see she’s nice looking. Not a great beauty of course, but then you don’t want someone who would attract the attention of other men. She’s everything you need in a wife.”

  Mark glanced again at the photograph in which Karen wore the bathing suit. He thought she was beautiful. He took a sip of wine and turned back to his mother.

  “They call her the Ice Queen.”

  “They call her what? Who does?”

  “She went to school with Emily. They’re still friends, you know.” Mark wondered if his sister knew what their mother was up to. “Her friends call her the Ice Queen.”

  “And what does that mean? What does it have to do with anything?”

  He looked at his plate. New York Strip steak, potatoes au gratin, and cucumber salad—not Mark’s typical midday meal, and he intended to enjoy it despite the direction in which the conversation had turned. He let his mother wait while he savored the last of his potatoes.

  “You know perfectly well what it means, Mother.” He cut the remaining piece of steak in two. “No guy has ever made it past first base with her and most are tagged out as they step away from home plate.” He smiled, enjoying the taste of the rib eye.

  “Well, that’s good. I’m sure you’ll hit a homerun your first time at bat.”

  Mark had just swallowed, and he choked, again snatching the napkin from his lap to cover his mouth. He reached for his water and gulped.

  “What? What did I say? As a boy you were quite good at baseball, as I recall.” His mother squinted at him as she tried to understand his reaction.

  Mark coughed and cleared his throat. “I’ll have Em explain it to you.”

  “All right…Anyway, she’s a nice girl. Besides there are other things more important in marriage than…than sports.”

  “All right, then. What is important? What should I be looking for in Karen Wingate, in my barista, or in anyone else who might be in the running?” He took the last piece of his steak, placed his knife and fork on his plate, and waited.

  Elizabeth cocked her head to one side.

  “The most important thing is that you like each other and enjoy being together. Your father understood my sense of humor, and you know most people don’t. It’s like yours.”

  Mark nodded.

  “We liked the same movies, the same books. We had friends in common. Your father was kind. I knew he would never hurt me, he would never hit me or humiliate me or make me feel stupid.”

  “So you liked him, enjoyed being with him, and he was a nice person. That’s why you married him?” He raised his eyebrows in disbelief.

  “If those things are true, then you can easily get past any problems.” His mother shook her head. “Ice Queen,” she huffed.

  “What attracted him to you?”

  “The same things, I think. Then, too, I was the perfect corporate wife.”

  Mark rolled his eyes. Her argument always circled back to a wife’s influence on her husband’s career.

  “Well, I was. Still am. I can throw a party on a moment’s notice. I can talk with anyone about nothing. I’m nice looking if I do say so…”

  “You’re beautiful, Mom.”

  “Thank you, dear. I am attractive, but I’m not one of those…bimbos who you see at parties and receptions. The ones who flirt with every man present, who have bleached hair and dark red lipstick and low-cut tops and…and…breasts as big as…as…footballs and…”

  Mark smiled at the image, his first real smile since they had arrived, and his mother blushed. He glanced a third time at the photograph of Karen in the bathing suit, which lay among the others on the table before him, much like photos of a house that an agent might place on his website to be viewed by prospective buyers.

  “At least she doesn’t have that problem.”

  “Oh, Mark, let me talk with her. If she seems right, will you just give her a try? Three dates.” She held up three fingers. “Just three. If you don’t like her, you need not see her again. Please? I want you to be happy, Mark. Please do it for me.”

  Mark quietly processed his mother’s request.

  After a moment of silence, she excused herself to go to the res
troom. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief as she left the table, and a wave of guilt swept over Mark. A good son would never make his mother cry.

  Mark leaned back, noticing for the first time the painting hanging on the far wall, a picture of Drayton Hall, one of the old plantations up the Ashley River, not far from Charleston. A woman with auburn hair walked toward the front steps beside a man wearing a riding habit.

  They could be Lucia and me, he thought. Had I been enough for her…

  He shook his head. He’d had no interest in dating for almost three years now, not since he and his fiancée had parted ways.

  “My almost-fiancée,” he whispered.

  He drifted off, back to his junior year abroad, when he’d met Lucia in Cambridge…

  Mark sat at a table in the corner, studying. As he stared through the window watching the fading evening light, he felt someone plop into the chair beside him and lean against his right arm.

  “What are you looking at?”

  Hearing a woman’s voice, he turned and his head bumped against hers.

  She laughed as she pulled back from him. “Sorry. Just trying to see. What are you staring at so intently?”

  “The light. It’s ten o’clock and the sun is just setting.” He shook his head. “Strange.”

  “Oh, you’re a Yank, aren’t you? Not accustomed to late twilight.”

  Mark regarded the girl. Auburn hair, blue eyes, pale skin.

  “Scots?” he guessed. “Or Irish.”

  “Scots. Born and bred in Inverness. Know where that is?”

  “Of course.” Mark nodded.

  “If you want to see a late sunset, you ought to come home with me in a couple of weeks. Seems like it never gets dark in early summer.”

  Mark’s eyes wandered back to his book.

  “So, you are a Yank?” she asked again.

  “I’m from the United States, the southeastern part of the country. You should know that calling me Yank is like my calling you English.” He smiled as a frown crossed her face, and he explained to her how Southerners felt about those called Yankees.

  “I’ll not make that mistake again. English, indeed,” she muttered. “I’ll tolerate being called a Brit—but English?” She shook her head then turned toward the window and leaned her body across his as she gazed into the twilight, searching for the sun.

 
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