I didn’t really want to date. Divorced less than a year raising three children alone, I didn’t have the time and certainly wasn’t ready, but I let my girlfriends talk me into going out on my birthday and that’s when the fun began. I knew there was a reason I didn’t like dating. It was the men.
“It’s your turn to get the drinks, birthday girl.” Debbie nudged Connie. “That guy over there has been watching you all night.”
I rolled my eyes, asked what they wanted and headed to the bar. A hairy-chested guy in a powder blue suit with his Saturday Night Fever shiny polyester shirt open to his navel and sporting almost as many necklaces as Mr. T attempted what I’m sure he thought was a smile. I ordered the drinks and waited, trying not to notice the stench of Mr. Saturday Night Fever’s cologne. “How ‘bout I get those for you,” he wheezed in my ear. Must be his idea of sexy, but it wasn’t mine.
“Thank you, but I can manage.” I picked up the drinks and headed back to my friends while they made faces at me and pointed. I knew he was there; I felt his hot breath on my neck. I should have worn my hair down.
As I set down the drinks and stepped back, I bumped into him. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know anyone was there.” His hand was warm on my elbow.
“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry for acting like a jerk. I didn’t know how to get your attention.”
“It worked.” I managed a weak smile. He wasn’t bad looking if you ignored the long Elvis sideburns and concentrated on his thick, curly black hair. Outside of the hideous clothes and the overwhelming amount of gold he wore, he might be a nice guy.
“Would you like to dance?”
My girlfriends huddled together and nodded, giggling and urging me to say yes. I was outnumbered and it was only one dance. “Okay.” He took my hand and led me to the dance floor just as a slow song started.
When he pulled me close, I fought the urge to sneeze. I finally recognized the cologne he bathed in; it was Polo. It smelled better in the bottle. I was fine as long as I held my breath, at least until I passed out. He pulled me closer and pressed his cheek against mine. He was a good dancer, but I was uncomfortable. I fought the urge to sneeze and needing to breathe, as the black spots in front of me grew bigger. I stepped on his foot, pulled away, and turned my head to take another deep breath when, suddenly, the song was over. I thanked him for the dance.
“See you tomorrow at work,” he said as he kissed my cheek and left.
I looked at my friends, but they looked everywhere but at me. “What’s going on?”
Darlene shifted in her seat as if she had ants in her pants. “Didn’t you recognize him?”
“No. Who is he?”
“You should take a break once in a while, look around, pay attention to the cleaning staff.”
“Shelby cleans our office.”
“Carlos is her boss.”
“Some friends you are.”
They hadn’t set me up, but Carlos was in the break room when they discussed how to get me to agree to go out on my birthday. He’d noticed me. Since I seldom got up from my desk, he didn’t know how to get close enough to ask me out. He’d suggested meeting us at the Blarney Stone and they agreed. “You need to get out more. Go on a date.”
“I don’t want to date.”
“You’re too young to close up shop,” Debbie said. Darlene and Connie agreed. “He’s not so bad. Owns a cleaning company.”
“He’s single,” Connie said.
“Well, he’s not so bad once you get past the gold and the polyester and the cologne. Not bad at all, as long as I don’t breathe.” I smiled and my friends laughed. “There is that,” they chorused.
“But before you do anything else,” Connie said, “maybe you should check your lipstick.” She offered me her compact and pointed to her right cheek.
There were black specks like coal dust down the side of my right cheek where Carlos’s cheek touched mine. “His face didn’t look dirty.”
“Not his face, his sideburns,” Darlene said. “It’s shoe polish.”
“To hide the gray.”
Just my luck. “What’s next, a safety pin to hold his zipper closed?” We all laughed.
The next night at work, I bumped into Carlos in the lobby. He wore a gray polyester suit with a plain white shirt and red silk tie. He smelled of soap and fresh air. “I forgot to wish you a happy birthday.” He held out a small box wrapped in silver and gold. His smile transformed him into something approaching a nice guy, all the bravado and attitude gone.
I opened the package. It was a small leather bound copy of “Pride and Prejudice” with gilded edges.
“I noticed you like her books.”
“Thank you, but I can’t accept this.”
“It’s bad luck to refuse a birthday gift. Please take it.”
“Thanks.” A blush warmed my cheeks.
“Would you like to go out to dinner this weekend?”
“I have to work.”
“You have to eat. Let me buy you dinner.”
I said yes and before the month was out we had dinner together three times. One night, when it was too cold to walk across the parking lot to the diner, he brought a picnic basket full of food he’d made. As I got up to go back to work, Carlos touched my arm. “Would you like to go to a movie this weekend? We can take your kids.”
I had so little time with the boys as it was and I didn’t think they were ready to see me with someone other than their father. Carlos was a nice guy with a chivalrous heart. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll talk to my boys and give you an answer tomorrow.”
“No gold chains, no safety pins, no cologne.” Carlos grinned. “And no shoe polish. I promise.”
My cheeks got hot. “How…?”
He winked and pointed to my three friends peeking through the window in the break room door.
Carlos wasn’t perfect, but he had a generous soul and I suddenly realized I wanted to get to know him better. I guess I wanted to date after all.