Now, she found herself torn. Caught between fashion and comfort What a horribly stereotypical dilemma, she thought to herself. She glanced at the clock beside her bed. Shit. I’d better pull myself together, or I’m gonna be late. I can see it now. ‘Sorry I’m late, Jack. I couldn’t find anything to wear that didn’t make me feel fat, and I have too many shoes. Oh, and by the way, I also can’t park straight, and sometimes I try to put my make up on in the rear-view mirror while I’m driving down the freeway. I’m pretty much a 1950’s caricature.’
She made the hasty choice, opting for some red canvas slingback wedges with woven grass heels and a tiny enamel skull and crossbones nestled into the bows that adorned each peep-toe. Violet hastily dumped the contents of the large brown purse she used every day onto the bed, sorting through it for the things she’d need for the night and depositing them into a little straw handbag with red gingham lining that she’d be using for the night, scooped up her keys, and all but ran out the door.
She knew that she was running late, and felt bad for it. She was generally a very punctual person – a firm believer in the philosophy that the perpetually tardy were selfish attention-seekers. Even as uncertain as she was about her overall interest in Jack, she hated to keep him waiting. She felt like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, and involuntarily sang the little tune in her head. I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello; goodbye! I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!
She gave a little whoop of glee when she pulled up to the taco joint that they’d chosen as a meeting place to see a parking space open, front and center. Spots like this were highly coveted in this part of town, and it would save her a good ten minutes of searching and at least four blocks of walking. “My feet thank you, person with excellent timing,” she mumbled as she swung her car into the spot.
Violet paused behind the wheel for a last minute hair and makeup check before taking a deep breath and stepping out. The eatery was on a gentle slope a few feet above street level, and as she exited, Violet was partially hidden behind the concrete rise. Tension and indecision formed a tight knot in her gut as she psyched herself up to climb the handful of steps.
She felt horribly out of practice; it had been well over a year since she’d accepted a date from anyone, and she was suddenly flush with the feeling that she wasn’t ready for this at all. As if it were an exam for which she hadn’t studied. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and soldiered on. Too late to turn back now, she told herself.
She approached the hostess podium situated just outside the front door. She plastered a smile across her face and made the approach. “Hi,” she said. The hostess had a snotty look on her face, as though working at a busy restaurant was beneath her. She didn’t answer Violet’s greeting, she just raised her eyebrow haughtily and stared.
Rather than make her feel unsure, as the look was obviously designed to do, it simply made Violet bristle. Beautiful women often wrote her off because she was pudgy and short, and it really brought out the bitch in her. Violet was willing to bet dollars to donuts that if she were standing here beside good-looking Jack, this woman’s attitude would be completely different. Violet iced her tone. “I’m supposed to be meeting someone here tonight, and I’m running a bit late. He might have gone inside to wait? You’d notice him if he had walked by, I’m sure. Tall, red hair, fit… very good looking.” She used her voice to dig at the girl.
“Very good looking, eh?” said a voice behind her.
Violet recognized it instantly, and was absolutely mortified. Unable to casually brush the words off under the scrutiny of Hostess Bitchface, she turned slowly on her heel, smile frozen on her face, and tried to act natural. “Jack,” she said in a falsely flirtatious tone. “As if you didn’t already know you were.”
He grinned back at her, seeing the situation for just what it was and obviously planning to milk it for all that it was worth. “Well, maybe,” he said. “But I didn’t know that you thought so. I’ll be holding it to you, though, so don’t try taking it back. I’ve got a witness.” He jerked his thumb at the hostess, who was watching the exchange with almost no interest at all.
Trying to maintain control of the situation, Violet inched away from the podium, tugging Jack along with her by the hand. His bemusement was evident to Violet, but blessedly, he didn’t call her out on it. Instead, he took the lead, drawing her toward one of the little bistro tables that lined the sidewalk. A half-finished margarita sat in the center. “I tried to flag you down as you came up the stairs, but you seem to be sorely lacking in peripheral vision.”
“I was just intent upon my goal,” Violet said with a smirk, feeling her nervousness rising in her chest again, and trying to disguise it with sarcasm. Jack pulled out her chair for her, a move that surprised her slightly, and then scooted her deftly up to the table.
“You,” he said, as he crossed to the other side of the table to be seated himself, “Hardly look yourself at all.”
Violet couldn’t help but smirk as she replied, “You don’t know me well enough to make that assumption,” she said. “You’ve only seen me the one time.”
Jack took a sip of his drink as the waiter approached. Violet ordered a beer for herself, and was met by a raised eyebrow from Jack. “What, no margarita?”
“Tequila makes me mean. And punchy.” Violet replied.
“Good to know,” Jack said, nodding and throwing her a playful grin. Violet was a sucker for a great smile, and Jack’s was just fantastic. Open, genuine, not too much tooth, and it reached all the way up to his dark brown eyes, crinkling the corners attractively. Violet felt her nerves begin to give just a little bit. He was just such a nice guy. “Anyway,” he continued, “All I’m trying to say – and very badly, it seems – is that you look fantastic.”
Violet blushed. “And so do you, Jack,” she replied, her voice sounding small and foreign to her ears. “I’m actually feeling a little bit surprised. On the phone, it sounded like you weren’t really all that certain what to expect, but you’ll fit right in.”
She wasn’t just giving him lip service, either, he really would fit in nicely. His hair was combed back in an almost James Dean style, held in place with plenty of product. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt, reminiscent of a bowling shirt, but white with pin-tuck pleats on either side of the buttons and scrolls and flowers in white embroidery in vertical columns from hem to collar. Underneath, he had on an old-fashioned sleeveless undershirt – she could just see the outline through the handkerchief-thin material of his shirt.
His dark blue jeans were a perfect fit; they hugged his hips just so, and were snug but not tight. He had on a black belt lined with silver pyramid studs, and the jeans were cuffed smartly at the leg, above a pair of well-loved combat boots.
“What’d you do, wiki the word ‘rockabilly’?” Violet quipped.
“Maybe. Did you google ‘edgy Joan Holloway’?” he returned, winking quickly.
Struggling not to spout off a witty and cutting retort, Violet ignored him and answered with just a snort. Being a busty and hip-y girl, she was used to the comparison, and even though most men meant it as a compliment, she never quite knew how to take it. She was so much more than her body, and bristled over her unintentional sexpot image.
“I see that I’ve maybe struck a nerve,” Jack said sheepishly, hiding the lower half of his face behind the comically large margarita glass.
“Well…” Violet didn’t want to get into this discussion. In her tense and nervous state, she didn’t trust herself not to engage in a little self-sabotage. “Without getting into the depths of the subject, suffice it to say that I don’t really want to be reduced to the sum of my parts. There’s more to Violet Prince than T’n’A.”
“Like what?” Jack asked. He seemed genuinely interested, and since the point of a date is to get to know each other, Violet tried to open up. But it was hard for her to talk about herself. She wasn’t in the habit at all.
“I’d like to think that I’m a smart girl, a complex girl, even. Contradictory maybe? I mean, I work, I have my hobbies, I have my interests and my social circle. I’m not afraid to say that I’m progressive, and savvy, and maybe go against the flow just a bit. But at the same time, I bake, I knit, I sew. I’m pretty sure that one day I’ll make a fantastic mom, and when that time comes, I’d rather be the kind that stays at home and works on projects for the PTA.”
Jack nodded. It was becoming very apparent to him that Violet was one of a dying breed. Complex, a mixture of old traditions and progressive forward-thinking. He had a sudden vision of her wearing a frilly apron, smiling as she held a freshly-baked pie. It was silly, but he enjoyed the thought.
He’d really been looking forward to seeing Violet again. After asking her to lunch the first time they’d met and being shot down, he’d watched the land sale very carefully. As soon as he’d seen her name register in his system as the new owner, he’d gotten her number from their files so he could make the call to ask her out again. But it had taken him several days to get up his nerve – what if she’d only used the “business and pleasure” excuse to put him off kindly?
He had to admit, he’d been more than a little bit shocked when she’d beaten him to the punch. And then, when she’d come up those stairs looking so fantastic, but so clearly nervous, and the hostess had looked at her like she was something she’d scraped off her shoe, his inner white knight had reared his head.
But Violet had handled it just fine once she’d found her footing; in fact, she seemed to lose much of her nervous tension once she’d copped a little bit of return attitude. Jack had been glad to see the spark that he enjoyed so much return for Violet. Traditional was fine, but a backbone was better.
They continued to have good conversation over their food, neither one actively attempting to impress the other. Violet found Jack to be very funny and bright. In addition to the normal getting-to-know-you conversations - where she discovered that he was the youngest of three kids with an older brother and sister above him – she also learned that he’d wanted to run away and join the rodeo when he was a little boy, but discovered by the age of 12 that he was terrified of horses. He played the piano, and liked to read books while he watched TV.
And Jack finally managed to get Violet to open up some about herself, as well. She told him about her photography interests and about the long drive that had led her to the little rundown house in the middle of nowhere, and how she’d immediately felt like it belonged to her. It felt good for Violet to be able to talk openly about the house to someone other then Mr. Hightower and the inspectors. Made it all feel more real, but less scary. She still wasn’t sure why exactly she felt the need to keep it a secret, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
They talked a bit about the little things – movies, music, books, television and hobbies. Jack was impressed, but not surprised, to find out that Violet had a broad artistic streak. She liked to paint some, and used to be an avid writer with visions of being published before finally admitting that she lacked the attention span to write a complete novel.
But what caught Jacks attention more than anything was Violet’s obvious joy in making handicrafts. Embroidery, cross-stitch, quilting, knitting. Girls like Violet were extremely hard to find. Most of them that he’d encountered locally tended to be incredibly conservative dresses-only fundamentalist Christians that wanted to stay at home and churn out babies until their wombs ruptured. So finding a girl like Violet who managed to walk the line between progressive and traditional, made Jack feel like he’d just hit the lottery.
And Violet felt equally impressed with Jack’s reading habits. He was a book reader, and men so rarely were, she’d found. He’d read anything you put in front of him, he confessed. He even blushingly admitted to having a mild addiction to trashy romance novels. “But nobody knows about this,” he added conspiratorially. “They get delivered to my house, and I invented a sneaky book cover camouflage to help me hide them when I read.”
Violet was fascinated by this. They had finished their food, paid the bill, (Violet insisted on going Dutch, and in that moment, Jack started to feel himself fall in love with her). And were walking the three blocks to the Continental Club as they talked.
It was full night now, and what a beautiful night it was, too. The light breeze still held the barest chill of springtime, but the pavement under their feet radiated the accumulated warmth of the day. It was a night made for being outdoors, on a date, with someone you really liked and both Jack and Violet were feeling the magic. “So, tell me about your book cover camo,“ Violet said with a coy smile.
Jack reached out and impulsively took Violet’s hand, and she surprised him by interlacing her fingers with his. He’d expected her to pull away and insist on taking it slow. “Well,” he said, in a relaxed tone that his excited nerves didn’t actually feel, “It sounds much more ingenious than it actually is. See, the best romance novels have some of the most embarrassing covers you could imagine. Bad enough for the women in the target audience to read in public, but for a dude? I’d never live it down!”
Violet laughed. It felt good to laugh.
“So, he continued. “I devised a scheme. I go to the library, or sometimes use some of my own books, and scan the covers onto my computer. Then I fit them to the size of the book, print them out, laminate them for re-use and voila! Non-embarrassing cover. I can read Her Lover’s Embrace in the middle of the courthouse, and everyone who sees me thinks I’m reading Catcher in the Rye or Slaughterhouse Five.”
“That’s kind of awesome, Jack,” Violet observed. “You could be sitting on a goldmine. Have you ever thought of maybe marketing that idea?”
“Sure I have, but then everybody would know that I’m using them to hide my trash novels, and then where would I be? I’m in far too deep to just quit now.”
Violet looked at him out of the corner of her eye when he said that, feeling that it was code for something else. His golden brown eyes were turned toward her, his face open, and without effort Violet read the deeper meaning in his statement. She didn’t really know what to say, so she said nothing. But she couldn’t stop the blushing.
“To hide my shame, I’d have to become a hermit, and then I’d end up crazy.”
Violet raised a sardonic eyebrow.
“What?” he said, his face a mask of feigned innocence. “Have you ever heard of a sane hermit?”
She laughed at him then, eyes twinkling with merriment, dimple flashing deep in her cheek. Now that the early tension of the evening was fully drained away, she had to admit; she was having a wonderful time.