Summer (The Matchmaker Chronicles)
“You said ‘baby.’ Give me your safety pin!” A chorus of giggles accompanied the lucky winner’s squeal.
In Maggie Barnes’s opinion, whoever had thought up these stupid shower games should be punished to the fullest extent of whatever law handles this type of torture. Taking another sip of her fruit punch, she wished for the tenth time it had rum in it. The tablecloth was pink, like the damn virgin punch. VIRGIN punch.
The centerpieces consisted of cloth diapers formed into giant roses. The pink and white mints rested in miniature baby carriages. Baby-themed confetti sparkled over the tables like tiny ha-ha-don’t-you-wish-you-had-one messages directed at Maggie, the non-grandmother whose daughter didn’t seem to be looking for the father of the most perfect grandbaby that would ever be born.
She glanced down at her watch. Two-thirty. The party had barely started. She couldn’t leave for another hour without offending the hostess, especially since their cubicles were next to each other at work.
Maggie stood and threaded her way through the clusters of guests until she reached the bathroom. She flipped the toilet seat down, sat, and dove through her purse until she found her cell phone. Rina will understand. She typed in one sentence.
M: OMG, get me out of here.
And hit send.
No response. Rina was probably enjoying the wedding she was attending too much to be bothered texting. Maggie had practically dragged her best friend into the twenty-first century of text messaging. It hadn’t been easy. Several minutes passed. Heaving an exasperated sigh, she decided to vacate the premises in case someone needed the room for its intended purpose.
Unlocking the powder room door, she navigated to where the hostess was refilling an iced tea pitcher. The future grandmother sat at the counter, talking non-stop.
Summoning her party face, Maggie said, “I haven’t been able to congratulate you, yet. You must be very happy.”
“Thank you. I can’t wait to get my hands on her. I did tell you it was a girl, didn’t I? That makes four grandchildren, now.”
That’s it. Twist the knife. I can take it. Maggie smiled and excused herself. In the hall, her phone trilled.
She read the text. Chopper, huh. Rina, you’re a laugh riot.
She typed back.
M: Funny. How r u?
Returning the cell to her purse, Maggie rejoined the others. She slid into a chair beside a young woman bent over a denim baby carrier. The baby was crying, its face scrunched up and red. If it was anything like Jenn had been at that age, it wasn’t stopping any time soon. The mother’s face glowed with maternal pride, though shadows of exhaustion could be seen in her eyes as she lifted out her child.
“How old?” Maggie asked.
“Two months and he’s fussy. It’s hard to get him calmed down.”
“Do you want me to try?” Maggie asked.
The exhausted mother nodded and handed him to Maggie.
With his warm body cradled in her arms, she breathed in the sweet smell found only in a baby. Mm, baby shampoo. This is what she wanted for Jenn. This miracle of having a baby.
The infant wiggled and gurgled up at her.
“Maggie, you’ve got the touch. Little ones love you,” said one of Maggie’s coworkers.
Maggie smiled and stroked the infant’s cheek. But Jenn’s would be cuter.
“He’s perfect.” With a final pat on his back, she relinquished her precious cargo to his mother. I’m happy for them. But I want it to be my turn.
* * *
People and their technology. Karina Thorn studied her table companions. Even at the wedding reception, the gray suit was having an animated conversation on his cell while his wife was playing a game of some sort, Angry Words with Birds or something like that. The woman in the retro pink pillbox hat was Skyping. They were all twenty-something, sweet babies who didn’t know better. It would be easier if the next generation inserted phone chips straight into the brain. She, on the other hand, was a woman in her fifth decade who understood what was acceptable. She didn’t have to get sucked in. No siree.
Rina did her best to ignore the heralding horns emanating from her special occasion, Sunday-go-to-meeting Coach bag. Sliding her fingers into a slot on the side of her purse, she eased the phone from the compartment. Maggie was trying to reach her. It could be…important. All those adorable tiny clothes and the “oohing” and “ahhing” probably overloaded poor Mags. With a few swipes of her index finger, the message appeared.
M: OMG, get me out of here.
Using her thumbs like a professional, Rina tapped out a response.
R: Do you want me to swoop in with the chopper?
Dear friend, why are you texting me instead of enjoying
the BS, as in baby shower?
Several minutes later, heralding horns announced the arrival of another message.
M: Funny. How r u?
GREAT. Just great. Rina’s chest tightened as she watched the bride gaze into her new husband’s eyes and kiss him. Their love was palpable. Weddings made her wish for things beyond her reach. She wanted this type of connection for her sons, not that either was anywhere close to marriage. The groom was three years younger than Ander. The image of her oldest son standing beside the woman he loved swirled through her mind, teasing Rina with the possibilities.
R: Been Better. Café Ole? One hour?
A few seconds later.
M: You’re on.
* * *
“Damn, this Margarita is good. These are the best in Boise.”
Rina tilted her head as she studied Mags. “By the way, I love the new haircut and color. The gold highlights set off the red. It suits you.”
“Thanks. Just don’t call me feisty.”
“Never entered my mind.” Rina grinned and crossed her fingers over her heart.
Maggie sipped her Margarita. “Yum. The only good thing about afternoon weddings and baby showers are they’re an excuse for cocktails in the evening. Did I tell you she was having a girl?”
“Yep.” Rina suppressed a laugh. “Five times.”
“Sorry.” Maggie shrugged.
“Let’s lift our glasses. A toast to the much anticipated arrival of this baby.” Rina raised her Margarita.
“Whatever,” Maggie said with a curl of her lip.
“Maggie, don’t leave me hanging.”
“Fine.” They clinked their glasses. “Rina, you want grandbabies as much as I do.”
“Yes, I admit it. But there’s something even more important than grandchildren. I want Ander and Aaron to be happy.” Rina stilled as a wild thought flashed through her mind.
“What?” Maggie asked. “You’ve got the look.”
Rina’s eyes widened and she straightened. “Let’s stop bemoaning our fates and do something about it. The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
“What can we do? We raised our kids to be independent. What are we going to say, ‘Hey, you’re getting married and having a baby.’ Fat chance.”
Rina shook her head and took another sip of her drink. “True, that would be too easy. Aaron is busy getting his business established. Romance is low on his list. Ander is a different story. He’s had years to find someone. Ever since she-who-will-be-unnamed-skank broke his heart, he’s had a series of no-strings relationships.”
“He dodged a bullet.”
“True, but that woman changed him. Has he found someone to share his life with? Is he even looking? No and no.”
“It’s depressing. Stop hogging the chips.”
Rina nudged the half-empty basket closer and Maggie scooped a big dollop of salsa onto her tortilla chip.
“I’ve learned if you want something to happen, you’ve got to be the one to do it.” Rina snagged a chip, dipped it, and waved it at Maggie. “I’ve waited for Cupid to release that arrow. Aaron is completely out of range. Either Ander is good at dodging or Cupid’s falling down on his job.”
Maggie squinted and pursed her lips. “If you’re serious…we need another drink.”
Rina smiled and motioned to the waitress. “Let’s do this.”
“How do we start?”
“With the basics.”
“Animal attraction?” Maggie smirked. “I like that.”
Rina rested her head on her hands, then looked up. “I agree. That’s basic. But we need a little more than chemistry. Common interests, values. Those are the biggies. Can you think of anything else?”
“I’m good with those.” Maggie laughed. “Where do we find these candidates?”
“Church?” Rina suggested.
“If Ander were interested in anyone at church, wouldn’t he have met them by now?”
“Good point. Work. What about men from your credit union?” Rina ran her finger along the rim of her glass, dislodged some salt, and licked it.
“Don’t get me started,” Maggie said. “None of them are right for my Jenn.”
“Why do you say that? You’ve never mentioned any ax murderers that I remember.”
“The good guys are already married. The others are either players or single for a reason,” Maggie said. “Jenn never had a father and I never had a man I could count on. My Jenn needs someone she can depend on.”
“You did a great job raising her.” Rina extended her fist and Maggie bumped it.
“I’m proud of her. But she missed out on a father and I can’t help wondering if that’s one reason she’s not looking for someone.” Maggie frowned at her drink.
“Are you sure you’re not projecting your negative experience on Jenn?”
Maggie colored. “We’re not talking about me. Let’s get back to the kids.”
“Be that way. Match.com? Or one of those other dating sites?”
“Those people lie. Not that I have any experience with it,” Maggie mumbled and ducked her head. “What about at your school? Any good prospects?”
“There are some single teachers.” Rina knew one that would be perfect for Ander. She was kind, smart, and funny. “I’m hesitant. What if it didn’t work out and I’d have to see this young woman every day? What if he breaks her heart? What if she breaks his heart?” Rina shuddered. “Either scenario would be horrible.”
“Not if you pick the right girl,” Maggie pointed out.
“Well, that’s true. I do know Ander better than he knows himself.”
They both laughed.
“Between us, we should be able to field a large enough pool of eligible candidates,” Rina said.
“It would be a hell of a lot easier if Ander and Jenn fell in love with each other.”
Rina held up both hands and leaned back. “I’m going to cut you off if you start talking nonsense.”
“What’s wrong with those two?” Maggie hesitated. “Is it the race thing?”
“Don’t make me reach over and slap the taste out of your mouth with that crazy talk.” Rina waved her straw around. “Black. White. Race isn’t the issue. Those two together would be like…like—setting him up with his cousin.”
“—Ewww. You’re right. When they’ve peed in the pool together as children, they really don’t look at each other romantically. Besides, if they’d liked each other that way, they would’ve already hooked up.”
Rina raised her glass. “To childhood friends.”
They toasted again.
“How do we set up Jenn and Ander with the candidates? She won’t go on a blind date.”
“We throw a party.” Rina rubbed her hands together. “That way, it won’t look like a set-up. The school year ends in a month. I can have a party to celebrate summer.”
“Hold on. We need to write this down.” Maggie dug through her purse and found her notepad. “Okay, let’s start with the guest list.”
“I wonder how Ander will react to our plans?” Rina sipped her drink.
“What?” Maggie’s drink slopped over as she slammed it down. “You’re kidding. Right?”
“No, I’m not kidding. It’s easier for me to tell him the truth. If I wait, I can hear him saying ‘I can’t believe you’d do this to me’ or ‘Why are you interfering with my life?’ I’d rather get the lecture done with now.”
“No way I’m telling Jenn.” Maggie rolled her eyes. “She’ll get all pissy and accuse me of meddling. Sometimes, she’s a real pain in my ass.
“That independence thing, huh?” Rina sympathized. She knew how that worked.
“Yeah. I love that she’s grown up to be a strong woman, but the flip side is she thinks I don’t know what’s best for her.”
“Crazy kids. Don’t worry. If things go as planned, this time next year Ander will have a wife.” Rina raised her glass. “Here’s to my future daughter-in-law.”
“And to the father of my grandbaby.”