“We’ll need a code word—just in case,” I suggested. “So if I need to signal you, Lanae won’t know what’s going on.”
“Do you really think she’ll care?” Kate tried sipping her coffee but set it back on the square wooden table between us. She liked it tepid. “She must know you’ll start dating sometime.”
“Maybe. But right now it’s all I can do to keep her from being over-the-top boy crazy.” I pictured my fourteen-year-old, perky and already gorgeous, but hopelessly goo-goo eyed over any halfway handsome teenaged boy. “If she knows I’m dating, she’ll want to jump on the bandwagon. That’s one thing her dad and I agree on—she can’t date till she’s sixteen.”
“And what if you find Mr. Right?” Kate leaned toward me, drumming her fingers on the table in a rapid-fire warning. “You won’t be able to keep that a secret.”
Searching for words, I swirled my iced latte with my straw. “Operation Yellow Brick Road.” I penned the acronym on my napkin and pushed it toward her. “If I text you a date and time with OYBR, you’re my alibi. As far as Lanae knows, I’ve met you for dinner and shopping at the mall.”
“Fine, fine!” She chuckled, shaking her head. “But you’re not even registered on Love-in-the-Wings yet. I think you’re getting ahead of yourself.”
Not so unusual for me—I liked living in the future. And now that Kate had found her soulmate through the online dating site that thousands of Midwesterners were flocking to, hope fluttered in my empty heart.
Kate and I had met six months ago, right after my divorce was final, at our daughters’ ice-skating practices. We had so much in common—both recently divorced from total jerks, both raising a teenaged son and daughter with little help from our exes. Our friendship had flourished rapidly in the pre-dawn hothouse of the ice rink where we spent five hours a week sitting on steel benches as our girls perfected their figure skating skills. Kate had been a lifeline. She helped me get past the trauma of the last few years when my marriage failed in a way far uglier than I could ever have imagined. She kept me focused on present joys and future options.
When Kate started dating a guy she’d met on Love-in-the-Wings, I was as thrilled as she was. The two lovebirds made a perfect couple—they were birds of a feather, just as the site advertised. Before long, she was urging me to join so I, too, could find true love at last.
“I’ll register tonight—after the kids are in bed.”
As usual, our conversation turned to reading. I gushed over Wuthering Heights, my latest Gothic novel. When Kate’s coffee cooled, she finished it off while sharing insights from her most recent self-help book. She devoured nonfiction of any temperature.
“NPD—Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Describes Tom to a T.” She scowled. “I can’t believe I just figured it out now—two years after my divorce.”
I sensed her bitterness surfacing and stiffened, preparing to stave it off. “MSC,” I announced. She knew the code: Mandatory Subject Change. By mutual accord, we wouldn’t allow each other to dwell on bygone hurts and regrets.
She ignored me. “That’s why when I wised up and stopped treating him like a small-g god, he couldn’t take it, and everything went south. He was nice enough as long as we worshiped him, but when the kids got too old for that, he melted down into the hard little ball of lead he really is inside.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, girl!” I touched her hand across the table. “Don’t go there. You’ve got a new man now, one who’s normal and sane and loves you. Don’t look back.”
She shook herself. “You’re right!” She squeezed my hand, then scraped her chair backward with a toss of her blonde hair. “Let me know as soon as you start getting matches. I can almost see Emerald City from here—for both of us.”
I stayed up well past midnight filling out all the questionnaires on Love-in-the-Wings and creating my personal profile. Five a.m. came way too soon. After Lanae’s practice and getting both kids off to school, I quickly checked my laptop before heading to work. Three matches! They would have to wait till late tonight.
With the kids in their rooms and their lights out, I locked my bedroom door and opened my laptop. Six matches now. But number one—showing nine-and-a-half out of ten wings—far exceeded the others, who each scored no more than six. Shivering, I clicked his profile. Could it be this easy? Was a new life of compatibility and love finally at my fingertips?
LitMan75—people didn’t give their real names on the site—was knockout handsome. A professor of British literature at a local private college, he sprinkled his profile with snippets of poetry and profound quotes from famous philosophers. He imagined shuffling through autumn leaves hand in hand with his heart’s companion. He enjoyed swing dancing, so he wanted to dance through life with the woman who would set his soul twirling. Mentoring young people and helping them find their purpose in life gave him great satisfaction, so he was open to someone with children. He had two teens of his own. His top attributes: compassionate, fun-loving, dependable, good listener.
The more I read, the more convinced I was that I’d found my ideal match. Everything I had suffered, the pain of my previous relationship, would fade into oblivion if I ended up with this wonderful man. I could hardly sleep, but when I did, I was walking through leaves or swing dancing down the yellow brick road with LitMan75.
The next day was Saturday. I pecked LitMan75 first thing to invite a contact, then texted Kate to meet me at the coffee shop. I couldn’t wait to show her my ten-winged demigod.
We took our usual table, and Kate set her coffee to one side so she could see my laptop screen.
My heart thumped in my chest, and my fingers trembled as I entered my password. “Wait till you see him. He’s a dream.”
When his profile popped up, Kate gasped. She lurched away, bumped her cup, and sent hot coffee pouring over the table and onto the floor.
With a scream, I whooshed my laptop to safety.
Attendants rushed over and cleaned up the mess while I stood staring at Kate. On her face was a look of sheer terror.
When we settled back into our places again, I raised both palms toward my friend. “What was that about?”
Wide-eyed, she reached across the table and gripped my arm. “Sonja—that’s my ex. That’s Tom.”
A weight like a runaway elevator crashed from my chest to my stomach to my toes. Alarms blared in my brain. Operation Yellow Brick Road is no go! Abort! Abort!
I should have remembered. Through the wizardry of self-promotion, a little man could make himself larger than life. Clicking my laptop closed, I faced Kate. “Thanks for pulling back the curtain,” I laughed. “I owe you another coffee.”
About the Author: Rebecca May Hope is an Adjunct English Professor for North Central University in Minneapolis. She also teaches middle and high school English at YEAH Academy and writes for eNotes.com as an online educator. When not teaching, writing, or reading, Rebecca loves spending time with her five children, walking her rambunctious ninety-pound Labradoodle, and pampering her Ragdoll cat. Find her author page and blog at RebeccaMayHope.com.