Fred and Lorraine made a date to meet at Dynamite Coffee in a week, and Lorraine, with a song in her heart, was determined to lose ten pounds before that time. Of course, sadly, her nerves got the best of her, and she would alternately starve herself and then, weak from hunger, gorge herself on Ben and Jerry’s Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. As a result, she actually gained five pounds before her date.
Undaunted, Lorraine squeezed herself into Spanx, and layered a black cashmere Tunic over some very slimming black Eileen Fisher pants. She wore black boots with a high heel to create the illusion that her weight was more proportionate to her height. She applied her make-up extra carefully, teased her black hair into a flattering pageboy, and dabbed some Chanel Number Five on her wrists. Off she went, her heart in her throat, to meet her potentially “new boyfriend”. “How would I refer to him?” she wondered. “Am I too old to call him my boyfriend? How about companion? No. That sounds too fuddy-duddy. Maybe ‘husband’? Oh! I’m getting too far ahead of myself.”
Somehow Lorraine made it to Dynamite without getting into a wreck. She climbed out of her car and picked her way across the rutted parking lot on her high heels. She went inside and said hello to Zach, who was working behind the counter that day, and scanned the room for Fred. At first she saw only the usual suspects: people who seemed always to be working on their laptops in the coffee shop. Then she spotted a stranger and made her way over to his table, where he was reading The Wall Street Journal.
She approached the table, and nervously asked, “Fred?”
A man with twinkling eyes looked up at her over his half glasses and smiled. “Lorraine?”
“Yes!” she laughed.
She liked his face. He had an elfin look about him. He had small, fine features in a chiseled face, with high, sharp cheekbones. His sandy hair was partly obscured by a black watch cap worn at a jaunty angle over one eyebrow. He stood up and extended his hand. He was wearing a red and blue plaid flannel shirt and a black down jacket. His blue jeans were slightly worn, but they were neatly pressed. He wore rugged hiking boots. But when he stood up, she could understand his obsession with petite women. He was only as tall as her shoulder and weighed about as much as one of her thighs.
“Um, um,” she stuttered, trying not to look disappointed. Hoping he wouldn’t bolt right out of the coffee shop. She suddenly felt like The Hulk.
Fred’s eyes went from her head to her toes, and Lorraine felt herself curl inward like a dying leaf. “Get yourself a cup of coffee,” he instructed warmly. “I already got some.”
Maybe she didn’t gross him out! Then he called, “You’ll probably want a danish or something too. Don’t mind me. I don’t eat snacks.”
So he had decided that she must be a snack eater… Oh well. Thanks a lot, Spanx! She got a black coffee just to show him a thing or two. Maybe he’d think she had a glandular problem. And she sat down opposite him at a small table by the window with the sun streaming in on their faces and shoulders.
“So tell me about yourself: something I couldn’t get from reading your Match profile,” Lorraine began, sipping the hot, bitter brew.
Fred smiled. “Well I grew up in New York City, as you may know from my profile, but I have lived in the South for years.”
“I’m from New York also,” interjected Lorraine. “Where did you go to school?”
Fred looked uncomfortable and hesitated as he studied his hands on his lap. When he looked up at her, she could see pain in his expression.” I come from a large Irish family from Hell’s Kitchen. My father left and my mom couldn’t afford to take care of us. Social Services investigated and decided to take my five brothers and me to an orphanage in Staten Island. We grew up there and attended what schooling was available at the place.”
Lorraine was shocked. It didn’t gel with the image of Fred she had constructed in her imagination. And it certainly didn’t compare with her privileged up-bringing in Manhattan. She had a flash of John Irving’s Cider House Rules. “Was it hard?” she asked, without wanting to make him more uncomfortable.
“Oh, yeah!” he rejoined, shaking his head. “I’m a small guy, and the bigger guys liked to prey on small guys. I often spend the night crouched on toilet seats in the boys’ bathroom to escape them. I learned to get along on very little sleep.”
Lorraine was overcome with emotion. She wanted to gather this tiny man up in her arms and hug him, but, of course, that would not be appropriate. She decided to become his new best friend and offer him as much affection as she could. “But you have gotten so far in your life! A PhD and everything! How did you manage all that?” She pulled a scented handkerchief from her Chanel bag and dabbed carefully at her eyes, patting her mascara to keep from turning into a raccoon.
“I knew I wanted to make a success of my life. One of the priests at the orphanage took an interest in me and helped me get started in an internship as a printer. From there I used all my earnings to pay for schooling, and gradually I earned my doctorate. It took a while, but I did it!”
She was moved by his positive energy, especially considering his hideous childhood. There might actually be something there, she thought. This date was good so far! Lorraine glanced at her watch. She gasped at how quickly the time had passed. She had an appointment this afternoon with the exterminator. Forty-four Cherry Street was an old building and roaches could be a problem. “I hope you don’t think I’m rude,” she said. “I must go home now and wait for the exterminator. I really don’t want to end our conversation so soon, though. I find you very interesting! It might seem forward, but would you like to come by my place and have a glass of wine while we wait for the exterminator to show up?”
Fred looked pleased. “Why, yes! I would. Thank you! We really haven’t gotten too far in our mutual introductions.”
And they left together to return to Lorraine’s apartment.