I’m not a betting man.
I’d been to the horse races a few times, but every time I backed a horse to win, it would come last, and if I backed it to place, it would come fourth.
Then, every time I bought a lottery ticket, my numbers never seemed to come out, as if they were heavier than the others.
You get the picture, gambling, and I didn’t get along.
That being said, Vernon, a friend from school days, and then, having made the graduate program for the same company, remained friends into adult life. He was a betting man, he bet me he would be married first, he picked horses that came first, and always walked out of a casino with more than he walked in with.
And he was right, he got married first, had children first, settled into a manager’s role, and was content.
I was not so eager to follow in his footsteps; I often said that I hadn’t found the right girl yet, but the truth was, I wasn’t exactly putting myself out there. A couple of bad experiences had put me off the whole idea.
He had a side bet with another of our friends that I would not get married before I was forty. He had mentioned it to me some time ago, and I’d agreed with him; it was a safe bet.
The thing was, Evie had learned about that bet, and it was, in her mind, a situation tailor-made for her, being Vernon’s very popular wife, and not one to pass up a romantic challenge. Not after Vernon had suddenly decided to make a bet with her, to find me a girlfriend. With a time limit, of course, of six weeks. Just to make it interesting.
Of course, I had no clue this challenge existed, not until much later.
What I did knew was that she had a vast array of both married and single girlfriends and acquaintances, and was known to throw memorable parties on a Friday night. She had issued me with a standing invitation a long time ago, one that kept promising to honour, but I never seemed to get there.
I knew some of her friends were singles, and that she had a reputation of being something of a matchmaker. Vernon told me that those Friday night affairs were where some of his other friends had found romance and that it wouldn’t surprise him if I was not a target.
I agreed with him, but coincidentally, right after he said this, I got a call from Evie who all but ordered me to attend this Friday’s festivities. I was going to decline, but she added it was Chloe’s fifth birthday, and as her Godfather, I was obligated to attend.
It had been an honour when Vernon first asked me, it still is, but it seemed to me it was going to be used for some other reason, so I was going to have to be on my guard.
Over the years I had met most of Evie’s girlfriends and they were fun, yes, I’d heard about the exploits on weekends in Vegas, but it was not for me. I was the quiet, shy type, and they, in a nutshell, were not.
I’d met most of Evie’s family. She was one of five girls, the one in the middle. The two older sisters were professionals, one a doctor, the other, Geraldine, a lawyer. The two younger sisters were more hands-on, the second youngest, Zoe, was a home caterer, and the youngest, Yasmine, with no head for, or desire to own, a business, was more carefree. Like Evie, she was family orientated and still lived with her parents. The most level-headed, and the one they all turned to for advice, was Melanie, the eldest.
She was the first person I saw after I arrived. I thought I would get there early because I never wanted to make an entrance.
“I haven’t seen you around for a while,” Melanie said, already a champagne flute filled, in her hand. Something else I knew, she liked to drink wine. She was also married, but I remembered her husband was away a lot.
“Part of the low profile I try to keep. How is Leonard, still the king of frequent flyer points?” His travels had finally earned him a special card reserved for very few.
“He’s in Paris, probably with his mistress.” She shrugged. “Husbands are like accessories these days. You can keep them or throw them out. I’m sure Genevieve will get tired of his soon and send him back.”
A unique attitude, for one who was supposed to give advice.
“You’re still not married, I see, Good choice. Marriage these days seems to be only good for a year or two, then sue the other for everything they’ve got. Sorry, I lost a case today, so I’m feeling a little cynical. Come back when I’ve had a dozen champagnes.”
She suddenly spotted one of Vernon’s neighbours and headed in his direction.
Zoe was walking past with a tray of canapes in her hand and stopped. “Ian? It is you. It’s so long since I’ve seen you.”
“Geraldine’s wedding. You catered that. A splendid feast I might add.”
Geraldine’s wedding had been a year ago, and after everyone had gone home, I found Zoe out the back in tears. She didn’t tell me then what had happened, but we talked for hours. Out of all the Wolverhampton’s, she was the most sensible, and the one I liked the most. But, like all those like her, she was spoken for.
“It was. How have you been?”
“Working, eating, sleeping, repeat.”
“It’s a bit like that, isn’t it? It gets to the point where all the days seem to run into each other, and in the end, you don’t know what day it is. That’s why I have a smartphone. It’s certainly smarter than I am.”
Something I had learned in that discussion was the fact she suffered from low self-esteem, perhaps from being a younger sister, perhaps because her parents had higher hopes for her than just being a caterer. Given her grades at school and later university, she could have been anything.
I was going to disagree with her and sing her praises, but one of her serving staff came up, and told her there was a problem.
She sighed, handed the tray to the new girl, and with a wan smile, disappeared towards the back of the house.
I thought then that I should leave because I doubted I would be missed.
Whenever I had to go to a party, particularly like one of these, where no one was sitting, and everyone was mingling, I usually set myself a task, picking a focal point and then following it all night. This night it turned out to be Zoe. I was curious about how she managed, running staff, organizing food and drinks, organizing the waitstaff, and managing crises.
In between times, Evie was introducing me to various people, married and unmarried, without appearing to do her ‘magical’ thing. Vernon made sure I remained in the mainstream, and not ‘hiding’ as he called it, and the conversation centred on football and baseball when I was with the men, and about vacations and children when I was with the married women and their husbands, and gossip when I was with the single and divorced women.
And all the while I kept an eye on Zoe, zipping in and out of the back rooms, in earnest discussion with what I assumed were prospective new clients, and occasionally on the phone. Not once did she take a spell, and relax for a few minutes.
It was, I had to admit by the end of the night, a pleasant way to spend a few hours, made all the more pleasant by not having to worry about Evie trying to ‘match; me to any of her single friends, though she made sure I knew who they were. Of course, as always, there was not one or another that fitted what was my subconscious selection test. There was one whom I agreed to call and have coffee, but that was an open-ended arrangement, done to please Evie more than anything else.
After the last guest left, I wandered out the back. Vernon had asked me to stay, and sample a new after-dinner wine he had discovered.
I’d been there for about half an hour when, instead of Vernon, Zoe came out with two glasses in hand.
“Vernon has stood you up, I’m afraid. He’s getting to be an old married man who had to be in bed before midnight. You’ll just have to settle for my company.”
“So long as you are going to tell me how I should be married, have two and a half children, and be living in a grand house in the suburbs, your company will be fine.”
She handed me a glass and sat next to me on the swing seat. It was a clear, cool night, and I’d been spending time searching the stars for constellations. Sorry, I was never very good at astronomy.
“You don’t want that?”
“I don’t know what I want. Wouldn’t that all fall into place when you found the perfect partner?”
“Is there such a thing as a perfect partner? We start out thinking that, think we’ve found it, then the bastard goes off and had an affair.”
There was a lot of anger in those last few words of her statement. It explained the few heated exchanges I’d seen her have in what she thought were private moments. I wasn’t prying, I just happened to be nearby at the time.
“Then perhaps my expectations have been set too high. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Everyone told me what he was like.” She shrugged. “Another box ticked for life’s experiences.”
We drank wine and sat in silence. Unlike some others that evening, where it was kind of awkward, I didn’t feel that with Zoe. In fact, I was not sure what it felt like. Companionable?
“Look, I don’t have the best sort of shoulder to cry on, but if you need someone to listen, it’s one thing I’m good at.”
There were tears forming in her eyes and I’d only just noticed them in the moonlight.
“I could do with a hug. Are you any good at those?”
“I could try, and you could let me know. Always looking to add strings to that proverbial bow.”
She smiled. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Nothing in particular. Why?”
“I need someone to just take me away from all this, if only for an hour or two. Vernon said you have a cabin by the lake, and I’ve never been fishing. Is it too forward for me to ask, I mean, sorry, sometimes I just speak before I think.”
“One thing at a time. Hug first, then fishing. Maybe.”
Upstairs, Evie rested her head on Vernon’s shoulder as they both looked out over the back garden, and, more specifically at Ian and Zoe on the swing chair.
“What are the odds, Eve. I told you he had a thing for her,” Vernon said.
“I would have said ten to one against. It’s so unlike her. I mean, he’s just so boring.”
“Is he now? That’s just the impression he gives everyone else. So much for your matchmaking.”
© Charles Heath 2020-2022