What the hell have I just done? I’ve agreed to go on a date with a man who I don’t know. Who no one I know knows? A man from out of town. And I gave him my home address? He knows where I live. Why didn’t I tell him we’d meet someplace. At least I’d have my own car that way. That would have been the safe move. Jeez, what had I done? Tonight at seven some strange man, attractive but still a stranger, from out of town who I don’t know anything about is going to show up on my doorstep and I’m going to just get in a car with him and...and what? Dinner? Why dinner? Why didn’t I say ‘just drinks’? A whole dinner committed to making conversation with someone I don’t know.
I pull out his card and look it over. It is nothing fancy. White linen stock with the logo of the engineering firm who made Frank’s new conveyor system. His name—Ben Sheppard—followed by some letters I don’t understand. Certifications, I guess. It has his job title. He is a ‘Senior Designer’. It has his work phone and email. I flip the card over. I do have his personal cell phone number. It is written in his own hand in blue ink with a crisp fine point pen.
I have to get over to Northern Kentucky for a Chamber of Commerce networking luncheon. After that, I’ll call Mr. Sheppard and politely cancel our date. I’ll make sure to be working out at the gym at seven just in case he decides to show up at my house anyway.
The Chamber lunch is like every monthly Chamber lunch. Everyone is on the make. Everyone is looking to find someone useful to their business. If you’re not useful, you’re useless. It’s always good to keep that fact in mind. Everyone is looking for someone to sell something to. That usually fails. It’s mainly a social hour for men and women who aren’t social but need at least one monthly social outlet. We trade rumors. Who filed bankruptcy? Who is building that new massive warehouse out by the airport? Who is late in payment? Whose divorce is going to run their business into the ground? Who got smacked with a sexual harassment complaint? Everyone bitches about the government. Why are they doing the road work now? Why is that exit closed? Are they really passing a new sales tax? Regulations are killing my business.
I was one of seven other commercial loan officers there to develop relationships. That’s our fancy way of saying we’re there to find people to lend money to. We each have our own niche modeled after our banks’ latest advertising campaign. There’s Jim, a portly, gregarious man in his early sixties from the good ol’ boys bank that’s been around since 1928. There’s Ruth, a stocky woman in her fifties who wears the same black suit every month. Does she wear it every day? She sells loans for the newer blue collar bank. The others fall into a category of banks that I call ‘earnest’. They are earnest banks and earnest bankers. They are eager to please. They smile a lot and are great at small talk and have their terms committed to memory and have the wonderful skill of never saying anything that sounds like a commitment or a promise.
Me? I work for the bank that tries to come off as if it’s a large, east coast lending institution thus making us look like exactly what we are: an always-struggling, mid-sized, mid-western regional bank. We all wear what we all think our borrowers think bankers in Manhattan wear to their office. What that means is I spend about four grand a year more on clothes than these other guys. Does it work? Not really.
Roger Klein, a tax lawyer, spots me standing alone from across the room and makes a beeline for me. He’s forty, handsome, six foot two with a trim waist. He thinks highly of himself. Outside of looks, I have no idea why. He’s applied for a loan with us. He makes an even hundred grand a year but with two ex-wives with alimony, an upside down mortgage and a credit score of 510 he’s not got a lot of credibility with me. He’s asked me out a few times. I’ve turned him down just as many. He can’t seem to get the hint. At a chamber cocktail event three years ago, he got drunk and cornered me in an alcove. He grabbed my ass and pawed my breasts and forced his tongue down my throat. A passing man saw me struggling and pulled him off. I thanked the Samaritan and got the hell home. I don’t think Roger remembers doing it. I’m not sure what makes me more mad: the fact he did it, that he never apologized or that maybe he doesn’t remember doing it.
The sad fact is, Roger Klein forcing himself on me was the closest thing to sex since Josh and I split up. Has it really been five years?
Roger smiles broadly at me and I notice his teeth seem unnaturally white. Oh, god, did he get caps? He must have. I give him a half-hearted smile and a nod then force myself into a circle of six people talking about the new hospital going up.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Roger slow his pace across the room. He looks at me annoyed then sees someone else to accost.
I make my rounds, always putting myself on the opposite side of the room as Roger. I hand out my card and cite some interesting rate figures and answer the constant question of “When are you guys going to start lending more?” I manage to keep myself from saying “When you guys get your financials in order.”
A curious thing is happening. I’m sizing up all the men and in my mind, almost against my will, I compare them to Ben Sheppard. I don’t know Ben Sheppard, of course. But there was a directness in his voice that these men don’t have. These guys have plenty of bluster. They speak with either unfounded arrogance or are just loud-mouthed. Ben had, what? I guess it was a voice of confidence. There were those forearms. Strong arms poking out of the rolled up French cuffs straining against the crowbar, forcing the machine he designed into place and commanding Bill and Diego what to do.
I find myself blushing at the thought when I realize the men in this room fall short.
Whatever, I tell myself. After this, I’ll call and politely cancel our date.
Back in my car, I pull out Ben Sheppard’s card again and pull out my phone. The private cell number is written precisely. The ten numbers look as if they’ve been printed out. They maintain the same bottom line and are of equal height and spaced evenly. I put the card to my nose. I don’t know why I expected it to smell of something—Old Spice or Musk—one of those man scents that’s not really pleasant but not bad either. Nothing. It’s just ordinary scentless paper.
My car’s clock says it’s a quarter to two.
I remember my two o’clock underwriters meeting and put the card and phone into my bag and start heading downtown. Maybe I’ll have Danielle, my assistant, cancel on Ben Sheppard.
I’m running late and by the time I park my car it’s 2:05 and I skip my office and go right to the fourteenth floor to meet with the underwriters. They want to complain some more about my fellow commercial lenders and me sending them unsuitable loan applications. They do this about every three months—as if folks are telling us they are bad credit risks when we meet them. Isn’t that what underwriting is for? To find out if they are good or bad risks? But I play nice and let them have their say. If a quarterly two hour meeting makes them feel better, that’s fine. If I smile and look like I really understand and care, they may make an exception for me with a borderline client. My annual bonus is dependent on how many loans I sell, after all.
My mind keeps drifting to Ben Sheppard. Not so much those forearms wrestling the crowbar now but the silver around his temples. When I saw him I assumed he was in his early forties but now that I think about it, I’m not so sure. Maybe he’s older. I remember I have a nail polish about that shade of silver. An image flashes through my head of my fingers, wearing that polish, sliding through Ben Sheppard’s little fields of silver. As the clock clicks toward four, I scold myself. I should have called him earlier to cancel. I’m getting into last minute territory now—especially if he’s driving up from Crittenden.
Okay, I tell myself. Once this meeting is over I’ll go back to my office and call him. No pawning it off on Danielle. I accepted the date, so I’ll be a big girl and break it myself.
The elevator opens to my floor and I walk out of it staring at my phone. I’m not using it. I just want to have something to look at. I don’t want to have to look at anyone else. I find most of my co-workers boring. As I near my office, I look up at Danielle.
She’s smiling like she’s just learned a secret. Our ages being so close makes it hard for our relationship to not morph into friendship instead of the boss-assistant that we are.
She’s a pretty girl. I’ve noticed men find her sexy. Too many guys stop by her desk to chat when they should both be working. She’s shorter than me—curvier, blonde and busty. She’s only two years younger but seems much more. She doesn’t have a serious bone in her body. She’s all smiles and giggles. She’s been married a year. She invited me to her wedding, but I used Danny as an excuse to get out of it. I sent a gift though. The year leading up to the wedding was a hassle. She couldn’t seem to talk of anything but wedding plans and sex. It seemed if she wasn’t taking a call about seating arrangements or flowers she’d drop little, disgusting bombs about how wet her Robbie makes her or how he ‘rocked her world’ the night before. The third time I heard her say he screwed her brains out, I put a stop to that kind of talk. I overhear it sometimes when she’s talking to the other admins, but at least I don’t have to listen to it directly now.
It bothered me mostly because it was unprofessional, but if I’m honest, I was jealous. I’m never wet. Never have been. When I was with Josh, my doctor gave me some supplements and told me to use lubrication. As for climaxing, that’s not in my skill set. It’s just never happened.
“Danny’s gone one day and you get right to living it up, huh?” Danielle says. She’s still got that smile on her face.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, he sounded very nice. Sexy, even.”
“Who?” I knew who. He called here?
“A Mr. Ben Sheppard called to say he had a work emergency and has to cancel your date tonight. He did want to know if you were free tomorrow. I told him you’d call him back. Then about three minutes later those showed up.”
I look into my office. A dozen yellow roses in a glass vase sit on one of my filing cabinets. They are stunning. I walk over and smell them. Wonderful. He wouldn’t send flowers, would he? Over a cancelled first date? He barely knows me. I barely know him.
“The delivery guy was cute,” Danielle says. “He said they were from Ben Sheppard. Anyway, what’s the card say?”
The card. Oh, yes, the card.
I find it in the stems, pull it out and open it.
It read: “With apologizes for cancelling our date. - Ben Sheppard” It’s written in his hand—an elegant and precise hand—in the same blue ink from the same crisp, fine point pen he used on his business card.
“So who is Ben Sheppard?” Danielle asks.
“I have no idea,” I say.
I have no idea but all the doubts I’ve been carrying around about going to dinner with him went right out my head. I want to know more about this Ben Sheppard with the strong forearms and silver hair at the temples who sends apologetic yellow roses with handwritten notes.
I look at Danielle.
“Please call him and tell him tomorrow night at seven p.m. would be just fine.”
“You have no idea?”
“Danielle, just make the call and close the door on your way out, please.”
On the drive home, I feel my blood sugar plunge and hunger hits me full in the belly. What I want is a bacon cheeseburger with American cheese. And fries. With a Cherry coke. I am never in the mood for those things, but, my God, they sound good now. My body seems to be craving calories. I even drove up to a place. Their lit-up menu has pictures of huge burgers surrounded by French fries, onion rings and—could I eat those?—something called jalapeño poppers. It looks disgusting but good. I think of my date the next night. I pass on the burger and carbs and I pick up a Sonoma chicken salad from Whole Foods. I eat it in front of the TV along with a half a bottle of Riesling.