I've included the prologue and first chapter of First Year as a sample. Enjoy!

SUMMER 1992

On a tropical August evening in eastern South Dakota I sat on the front steps of my house, sipping Diet Pepsi and contemplating the cornfield across the road. The sun was a big orange ball hanging over the cornstalks but the wind was beginning to rise. It had finally cooled off enough so that I could stand being outside; I'd be able to open up the house soon. Until then I'd enjoy the cooing of mourning doves and the soughing of the breeze. Bob'd be home for dinner shortly but it was too hot to cook. Good thing I got the phone service hooked up today. I'd be able to order a pizza.

"Yoo hoo, Mrs. Anderson! You hoo!"

Mrs. Nelson from next door was standing in her driveway waving frantically. Oh man, I'd hoped I could avoid her if I stayed in the front yard. Normally she spent her time bent over her back garden, her big pink polyester-draped butt a valentine for the neighbors.

"I've got some more tomatoes for you, Mrs. Anderson," she yodeled again. She was wearing a too-tight tank top and the skin on her upper arms was flapping. Geez, I thought, irritated at having my peaceful mood disturbed, if she weren't so heavy she'd be airborn by now. She'd even scared off the doves. And I had absolutely no desire to talk to her because Mrs. Nelson was a vicious gossip. I'd found that out the day after Bob and I moved in.

"You know she had men in there all the time," she'd whispered about Mrs. Swenson, the wife of Dr. Swenson, Bob's engineering professor and owner of our house. It sounded to me like Mrs. Nelson was trying to make a scandal out of grad students so I'd futilely tried to change the subject. I finally ran inside the house to escape her.

Today she trudged over, pulling a wagon with a bushel basket half-full of tomatoes. "Hot enough for you?" she bagan the ritual conversation.

"You bet," I said with a resigned smile.

"Well, you know, it's not the heat, it's the humidity," she chanted.

"You bet," I returned, right on cue.

We'd completed the opening hymn so she began her sermon. "I hope you can use some more tomatoes," she said, leaning into the basket and grabbing three in each large hand. She straightened with a groaned "oof duh", waited until I bunched my T-shirt into an improvised apron, and dropped them in. "Fritz always puts out a dozen plants and we can't use everything that grows. Now you take some of these here, slice them up, and put a little sugar on them. You're such a skinny thing we have to fatten you up," she chortled and various parts of her shook. I smiled and wondered how she managed to stay so...chubby. If her garden was any indication she worked hard and ate a lot of fiber.

She continued her prattle about recipes and I understood how she stayed so robust. "Now I like to take a few tomatoes and chop 'em up for my mac and cheese. Have I given you my mac and cheese recipe yet? Well, my Fritz just loves it..."

Her mouth was off and running so I let my mind wander. Marilyn had invited Bob and me out for the weekend at her cabin. I could save the tomatoes for then...

My attention returned to Mrs. Nelson when she moved in uncomfortably close and lowered her voice. "You poor thing. I heard all about that student business. It wasn't true, was it?" she asked sympathetically but her eyes gleamed avidly. I thought about blasting her with a few well-chosen comments about curiosity, old cats, and why the Eskimos put their old women on ice floes instead of social security--and the wisdom of that practice--when the admonitions of my Midwestern mentor, Connie Schwartz, surfaced.

"Stevie," she'd said, frowning in amused exasperation, "it's not wise to say the first thing that comes into your head. And it's not necessary to win every confrontation. Take a minute to decide what the consequences of your words or actions are worth. You're a smart girl and if you make it to my age without being being shot" (Connie was only eleven years older than me but she acted like a generation separated us) "you'll be a truly admirable woman but you need to work on your impulse control."

After reflection I'd decided Connie had a point so now I swallowed my nasty comments and silently counted to ten. Mrs. Nelson was a neighbor so I had to be nice, I guess. She seemed lonely so it wouldn't kill me to put up with her bad breath and spite for a minute or two. And she did grow great produce.

When I failed to respond with anything other than an inward stare Mrs. Nelson changed tactics. "That Ricky Anderson, he always was a trouble-maker. I don't think he has any business teaching though between you, me, and the fencepost," here she leaned in again and whispered, "he's pretty much finished at the University." She waited eagerly for my reaction.

"I wouldn't know anything about that," I said coolly.

"Oh," she said, disappointed. Then she brightened, "Tell me all about Hollywood. Is it true...?"

From her questions, I was pretty sure she got her information from the tabloids so I zoned her out again--which seemed to frustrate her. She wanted to gossip and I was the only neighbor who hadn't ducked out in time. Mrs. Nelson forcibly recalled my attention by grabbing my arm and hissing, "And Mrs. Olafson, in my church? Well, I heard that her third daughter..."

I didn't know Mrs. Olafson or her daughter--they weren't Lutherans--and whatever Mrs. Nelson was saying about them was probably fiction anyway. I told myself that I was paying for my tomatoes by pretending to listen and planned what I'd do with my big, red, juicy treats. Maybe I'd slice one of them up tonight and put Italian dressing on it. Bob hated tomatoes--he wasn't too wild about Mrs. Nelson either, for that matter--so he'd bitch but I could always peel a sack of carrots for him. Or I could drop some off at Connie's and report how I'd managed not to over-react to a stupid comment. She'd probably pat me on the head and give me a cookie.

I wonder what would have happened a year ago if I'd had a buddy like Connie to advise me about my impetuous rush into marriage. Leslie, my best friend in L.A., was just as young and stupid as I was so I didn't pay much attention when she tried to dissuade me. Knowing me, I probably wouldn't have listened to Connie either--assuming, of course, that she would've recommended caution.

Not that I regretted marrying Bob--well, not today anyway. Let's face it, if I'd been smart and cautious I would have missed out on a lot of adventures. On the other hand, I'd have missed out on a lot of crap, too. But don't you need crap in order to mature? I read someplace that life slaps you around until you learn to duck. But I could have learned to duck in Los Angeles; God knows I got slapped around enough there. And if I'd stayed in L.A. maybe I'd've become rich and famous. Ahhh, I probably would've ended up dead in a ditch. Of course, on the other hand...

Chapter One

"Stephanie O'Neill, you're up."

I grimaced and waved my size sheet, Polaroid, and headshot. The casting assistant grabbed my paperwork, glanced over it, nodded briskly, and marched out of the room. I followed slowly. After looking at the storyboard and reading the copy I was offended at the idiocy of the advertising world. Who did they get to write this crap? Had they no shame? I knew I didn't; I was about to do my best to sell it. As I walked to the video room running inane lines through my head I remembered all the years I spent studying Chekhov and Ibsen for my Master of Fine Arts degree. The academic life doesn't prepare you to sell panty liners--not that I have anything against panty liners; I just don't think they're necessary. I change my underwear every day. But I had bills to pay and if acting like I needed crotch protection--other than a .357 Magnum--would earn me some money...

I smiled brightly into the camera and chirped, "I love that fresh feeling!"

Man, did I feel stupid. And what's even worse--I was lousy.

I worried as I drove back to my condo in Hermosa Beach. Was I losing my grip? Had I really been that bad? Nyahh, it had to be the writing not me, I rationalized. The excuse gave me courage to call my agent, Heather. I reported that the panty liner thing was a stinker and did she have anything else in the pipeline?

"Stevie, I'm so glad you called. I need a Hispanic woman for an action film that calls for some nudity. Now, before you say 'No' right away, just listen. It could lead to something interesting and I personally feel..." Blah, blah, blah.

Before you get your shorts in a snarl about my last name and this Hispanic business let me explain: My mother was a Morales from Texas and my father was an Irishman form the Old Sod. I have dark curly hair, brown eyes, even white teeth, and can play anybody in the known universe except an Aryan. Hitler would have gassed me.

"Heather," I sighed into the phone, "you know how I feel about nudity."

"I know, darling, you've told me before but you only have a few more years to make the big money. If you haven't done it by thirty you probably won't. You've got to get your foot in the door."

"It's not my foot they want to look at," I pointed out.

But Heather was ready with an argument. "Listen, you only have to do it once..." More blah, blah, blah.

I've heard it all before.

The feminist in me says that all this frontal nudity crap is just that: crap. Do you see Tom Cruise letting his little dangler hang out in front of God and everybody? I don't think so. Why is it that if you're female, 25, and reasonably good-looking, the film world thinks disrobing is a plot point? And that's a purely rhetorical question. Everyone knows the movie industry is directed at prurient teenage boys.

"Heather," I interrupted with my usual excuse, "you know my chest isn't all that great. I'm under-qualified for the role. Don't you have any Playboy bunnies who don't mind showing their boobs as they're being blown up?"

Heather paused then said forcefully, "Listen carefully, Stevie, you're running out of time."

I'd heard that before, too. "Heather, it's creepy and embarrassing," I said.

"Well, if you're so sensitive I don't know if there's any future for you in this business," Heather said threateningly. This was not surprising, Heather always closed with a threat. "Should I submit you for the film, or not?" she finished.

For once in my life I took a deep breath before I said anything stupid. I'm a nobody. And educated nobody but a nobody, nonetheless. I needed an agent and Heather was the only one who'd shown any interest in me.

"Listen, Heather, I don't think it's good for me but I'll give it serious consideration and get back to you," I equivocated, then hung up and scratched the ears of my cat, Pudgy. It appeared she and I were in for another quiet evening at home. I love my cat but every now and then you need to talk to a person. So I called my friend, Leslie, who has the condo across the hall.

"Les, it's me," I said when she answered. "I think I hate my life..."

"Again?" she interrupted. "Well, come on over and we'll talk about it."

Leslie Williams is maybe the only real friend I have in the world. We're both new to Hermosa Beach; she bought her place six months ago, right after I bought mine. She's about my age, single, and also searching for her niche in life. We both like to talk and we both have nicknames that are considered sexually ambiguous. There our similarities end. She's tall, willowy, and blond; a WASP from Philadelphia. I'm, well, not short, but shorter, compact, and a runaway from patriarchal Catholicism. She has an MBA in Finance from Wharton and is now working for the local PBS station as a lark. I have an MFA in theater arts from CalState Northridge and I work for money. Les' parents are making the payments on her place and probably consider her California adventure an amusing bohemian interlude before she takes her rightful place as chatelaine in a mansion with a career in charity work and motherhood. I'm an orphan, make all payments on my own, and consider my Hermosa Beach condo the nicest place I've ever lived in--as well as a good investment, of course. Les in personable, witty, and says she likes to hang with me because I'm brave but she mistakes bravado for bravery; I just have a lot more practice tap-dancing on land mines than most people. But I'm glad she likes me. I trust her to feed Pudgy and pick up my mail when I can't. And there're not many people you can say that about.

"Most women would love your life. I came to Los Angeles to live your life," she declared after I'd unburdened my frustrations on her living room couch.

"I thought I'd love it, too," I grumped. "I'm beginning to think I should have gone to law school."

"You're just down because you had a bad audition," Les consoled. "We have to get you out of the house. What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. You're the one who's depressed. what do you want to do?"

We sounded like the two guys in Marty. I had no ideas; I just sat slumped on the couch. Les had little patience for such blatant self-pity. "We can always go to the grocery store," she suggested. "Maybe we'll meet someone cute. I need bananas anyway."

"I've had enough discussions with guys about produce," I returned impatiently. "I want to do something new, meet someone different...I want...Oh, geez, I don't know what I want."

"I've been telling you for months you need to get out more. You know, experiment? Even if it's short term, it wouldn't hurt you one bit to have a man in your life. Honestly, you're going to grow shut."

She had a point. I'd been celibate about a year now, which unsurprisingly enough, coincided with the anniversary of the death of my last romance. Les found my celibacy ridiculously cautious and I thought Les' sexual philosophy foolhardy. The fact that intercourse and AIDS were connected had apparently not penetrated her psyche. She seemed to think a trust fund would protect her from anything. I put more faith in a good condom. My last sexual partner, a fellow actor--who else did I meet, fercrysake?--claimed that I didn't trust him when I insisted on using protection and complained, "Stevie, I can't feel anything!" He was right about me not trusting him; I'd never found much reason to. And if he didn't feel anything, well, that was only fair; neither did I. He was more in love with his mirror than with me. I didn't miss him one bit when he left and I swore I'd never date another actor. And I haven't. Of course, I've haven't dated anybody else either.

This is not to say I'm a lesbian; I'd probably be better off if I was.

But Leslie had a point about rejoining the human race. I was tired of spending most of my free time watching TV with my cat. If I didn't connect with a human soon I'd have to invest in something batter-operated.

"Well, maybe you're right," I reluctantly agreed.

"Great!" Les exclaimed. "Let's go for a drink."

"Okay, but no sports bars!" I warned.

I had a good reason for my objection. Early in our friendship Les confessed that she was having a terrible time meeting guys. "I always see them in cars," she complained. "They have to get out of them sometime, don't they?" She gave the problem some thought and came up with a strategy. "When you're hunting big game you hang out by the watering hole," she decided. "So let's go find a bar. The guys have to get out of their cars to get in the bar, even if it's only to pee. Smart, huh?"

"Les, I am not going to stalk men and trip them as they go to the bathroom," I stated firmly.

"Stevie, sometimes you're so literal," she returned witheringly and waved the local free paper in my face. "I found an ad for a bar in West Hollywood. Look at the picture! This could be the place for us."

I stifled a grin. West Hollywood is known as Boys' Town...but one that has nothing to do with Father Flanagan. Les was crestfallen when I told her it was probably a gay bar.

"Darn, and the guys in the picture looked cute, too," she said wistfully.

"They're probably gorgeous," I agreed. "It's one of life's little tragedies that they're not even remotely interested in  us. As a matter of fact, you should consider them competition." I snickered at her look of dismay, and added, "Welcome to Los Angeles."

Les finally decided to try her luck at a local sports bar. "It's Monday night and there'll be a football game on the tube. I bet the place'll be packed."

"But I don't know anything about football," I protested.

"We're not going for the game," she returned shortly.

Well, she was right about the place being packed with guys. Les and I were among a handful of double X's (chromosomally speaking) brave enough to force our way in. And it was loud. Huge bellowing Y people stood shoulder-to-shoulder staring at TV screens scattered around the bar. And since Les and I were smaller and lighter than the men we got shoved around and stepped on. We finally squirmed through the crowd and wedged ourselves onto vacant stools. We screamed our beer orders at the bartender and then gave up on conversation; there was no way we would have been able to hear each other. Having nothing better to do, I finally decided to watch the game on the TV closest to me.

Now, the only sport I ever played was field hockey, which I was forced to take in high school to meet the PE requirement--and I never bothered to learn those rules either. The point of field hockey seemed to be running around for an hour with a stick in your hand and, if you perspired and panted enough to suit the instructor, you got to go home with your teeth. It soured me on team sports generally.

But here I was at a sports bar watching football. Well, how tough could it be to figure out? None of these people seemed to be mental giants and if they could understand it, I could too. I watched intently. One little guy in a blue and white uniform ran backwards as the others scurried around. The guy on the barstool next to me started yelling encouragement. On TV one big guy in an orange and white uniform jumped on the first little guy and flattened him. My neighbor groaned and drained his beer. Apparently, something bad had happened to the little blue man. Then another little blue man kicked the ball and all the people on the field jumped on it. A man in a striped shirt indicated that the orange side got to play with it and the action started again. Both sides got in circles, broke up, did something with the ball and they all fell down. At this point the man next to me was frothing at the mouth in excitement.. Finally, one orange man managed to run quite a distance before being mashed. My neighbor jumped up, gasped something about 'Down', and knocked my beer on my lap. He didn't apologize, probably because he couldn't hear me swearing at him--or maybe because he could. Les hauled me out of the bar before I could get in real trouble. It's a problem having the personality of a T Rex in the body of a bunny.

I never did learn the rules to football.

Les always giggles when I bring up this story. "Okay, no more sports bars," she agreed. "Hey, I know! I read about a jazz place in Hollywood. We've never done that before."

"Do you like jazz?" I asked dubiously.

"No, but it sounds cool, doesn't it?" she said ingenuously.

Well, it did sound cool. I knew very little about jazz myself but it seemed like such a sophisticated sort of thing to do I was willing to go along. I'll try anything within reason once.

So we went to the Vine Street Bar & Grill, clear over in Hollywood. The club was crowded so Les and I sat at the bar, sipped wine, and listened to a quartet. To save calories I decided I'd have a glass of wine, a glass of water, a glass of wine, etc., until my bladder blew up. I was still working on my first glass of wine when the band took a break but it seemed like a good time to get a head start on any leaks. I left for the bathroom and stood in line, waiting impatiently and kvetching with the other women on the shortage of stalls as we did our snake dance down the hall. I'd reached the point where I was blocking traffic when a tall, blond man came out of the men's room. I was turned away, loudly commenting that the management needed to hire a woman to design toilets, when I felt a light rouch on my should and heard a soft, deep voice say, "Excuse me?"

I turned, looked up, and got joilted by a pair of clear, blue-gray eyes sourrounded by the kind of white you normally only see on bathrubs. I was a tad stunned so I just gawped at him and said, "What?"

The skin around the blue-gray eyes crinkled and the full, wide mouth below them smiled. He gestured, "I'd like to get through."

"Oh sure, I'm sorry, go right ahead," I babbled and stumbled out of the way. At least I didn't wet may pants.

When I returned to my bar stool I related the whole sorry encounter to Leslie. "I feel so stupid. The one time I run into an attractive man I'm standing in the pee line," I said in a minor orgy of self-disgust. "The best thing that can be said is that I wasn't clutching myself."

Leslie waved her hand. "Relax. You'll probably never see him again anyway."

Somehow that didn't make me feel better.

The quartet started again and I sipped my wine moodily. What the hell, I was just out to hear music and be cool. I wasn't out to impress anybody. The goal had been to get out of the house and be entertained.; I would meet that goal. I lifted my chin, determined to enjoy myslef.

Of course, the fact that you're not cruising for men doesn't mean that some drunken, obnoxious piece of sub-human filth won't take a fancy to you, proceed to ruin your evening, and make a spectacle of himself. Not necessarily in that order.

The two stools next to me had been vacated by a couple and replaced, both stools, by a balding, overweight, very drunk man.

"Buy you a drink, honey?" he belched beerily in my direction.

I smiled coolly, said I was through drinking for the evening, thank you very much, and turned to Les to simulate a conversation. He wouldn't take the hint, though. He grabbed my arm to turn me back to him.

"Hey, good-lookin', I'm offerin' to buy you a drink," he slurred.

"And I already said thanks but no thanks," I replied as I tried to extricate my arm.

"What's the matter? Ain't I good enough for you?"

As a matter of fact he wasn't but I'd done my best to be civil. I could feel his fat, sweaty palm through the sleeve of my dress and I'd had enough. Personally, I think that a woman should be able to sit in a bar, have a drink, and listen to some music without being physically and verbally assaulted by the brain-dead of the world. Well, I'd been taking care of myself for a long time and a fight didn't scare me. My Irish and Latin were both up and I was taking a deep breath to begin an attack with I felt a hand on my shoulder (different hand, same shoulder) and heard a vaguely familiar deep voice saying, "I thought I recognized you. I was going to call and tell you I was in town. Imagine seeing you here. You've got to come over to the table so we can catch up. Excuse me, friend" (to the drunk) "this is the sister of my college rommate." It was the tall blond man with the blue-gray eyes. I grabbed Leslie's arm and he directed his attention to her. "Well, I haven't seen you in years either..." He continued his patter as he freed my arm from the slug's grip and led Leslie and me to his table. He seated us, returned to the bar, got our drinks, and returned, all without losing his smile or getting into a fight. Very smooth.

As he left to retrieve our wine Leslie asked, "Is he the guy by the bathroom?" I nodded. "I can see why you got so weird. He's cute," she murmured.

"Shut up," I hissed and composed myself as he returned. He placed the glasses on the table and sat down. "Thanks for bailing us out," I said sincerely.

"Oh well," he shrugged. "I hate to see women hassled."

"Were you watching us?" Leslie asked him, with an amused glance at me.

He looked startled for a moment then even in relative dark of the club I could see him blush. "Well, you, I..." he stammered.

"He was just helping out two women, that's all. Right?" I said to spare him and stuck out my hand. "My name's Stephanie but my friends call me Stevie. And this is Leslie. We both thank you very much. Don't we, Les." I kicked her lightly under the table to encourage her agreement, ignored her look of outrage, and turned my attention back to him. "Can I buy you a drink? You know, thanks and all that?"

"Oh no, that's not necessary," he replied, recovering. "More than happy to help out."

The music started again and we all settled back to listen. I caught Les sneaking peeks at him and I caught him sneaking glances at me. There was a lot of sneaking and peeking going on. I again offered to buy him a drink, which he again gallantly declined, but he bought me one (Leslie refused his offer since she was driving). There wasn't much conversation because of the music.

During the next break Leslie excused herself to the Power Room--the first time I'd ever heard her use that euphemism. Since she hadn't had much to drink it was pretty pbvious it was just an excuse to let me flirt.

The two of us sat silently. I waited for this guy to say something. I figured if he was brave enough to stop a drunk from bothering us and smooth enough to do it without a fight, conversation wouldn't be a problem. But he concentrated on his cuticles.

The wait went on with me sitting there expecting the come-one equivalent of the Gettysburg Address and him picking his fingers. Uncomfortable, I finally took the initiative. I cleared my throat and said, "You haven't told me your name."

His head popped up and I got another good look at those eyes. "I'm sorry. It's...Rob Anderson," he said. I wondered at the small hesitation.

"Pleased to meet you, Rob Anderson. Remember me? Stephanie O'Neill? Also known as Stevie?"

I expected him to say suavely, "I hope you'll let me call you Stevie. I'd like to be your friend", or some variation thereof. He said, "I'm pleased to meet you, Miss O'Neill."

Miss O'Neill? The last person to call me that was the receptionist at my gynecologist's office and she was from the Philippines. I got the feeling he wasn't from around here.

"Are you visiting Los angeles?" I asked to jumpstart the conversation.

"Oh no, I live here."

The end. No further information was forthcoming.

I was baffled. Was it worth the time and effort it would take to see if there was a personality hidden in that attractive hulk? He glanced up at me quickly and looked back at his fingers. I got a shot of those eyes again: intelligent eyes, rather shy. Shy? Of me? How flattering. Maybe this guy had potential if I could pry some words out of him. I redoubled my attempts to make him talk. "And what do you do...uh...what should I call you? Mr. Anderson, was it?"

"Just call me Rob."

"If you call me Stevie," I replied with a Groucho grin.

"Okay."

He smiled into my eyes again. Even the cartilage in my nose melted as I smiled bemusedly back. I enjoyed the moment before I remembered my responsibilities as icebreaker.

"And you do...what?" I continued.

"I'm an engineer."

"What sort of engineer?"

"Civil." Thud.

This was getting ridiculous. I felt like I was talking to a computer. Wait a minute, maybe he was hiding something. A woman living alone like me has to be careful who she takes up with so I backed off and said quickly, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to pry."

"No! That's okay! Go ahead and pry!" he said, sounding slightly panicked.

I eyed him. I was having a little trouble reading this situation. I'm not patient by nature and I was afraid I'd seen the best this guy had to offer. Then it hit me that I was the one who should have gone to the Powder Room. Maybe he was miffed because he was attracted to Les and got stuck with me. A wave of disappointment washed over me closely followed by pique.

Les came back, seated herself jauntily, and beamed at us. "So, where were we?" she sang.

"We were just leaving," I said as I grabbed my purse and stood up.

She looked at me blankly but obligingly got up again. I threw a couple dollars on the table explaining to Mr. Anderson that they were for the tip. I was being petulant and unreasonable but I coudn't seem to stop myself. Leslie was making excuses when I got control. Okay, so maybe he wasn't interested in me but he'd saved my butt and he deserved better than being pouted at. And maybe Les would have liked him. I was mean-spirited, childish...and ashamed.

"I'm sorry," I said to Rob Anderson, "I'm acting badly and I apologize." I turned to Les. "Do you want to stay?" I asked her with as much charity as I could muster.

Les looked at me like I'd lost my mind. "No, I'm ready to go if you are."

Mr. Anderson just sat there looking confused. Then he stood up. "I guess I haven't been very entertaining," he said to me and I smiled wryly, "but I was just trying to figure out how to get your phone number...without being too pushy," he finished in a blurt.

"You want my phone number?" I asked.

"I thought that, well, since you seem to like music, maybe, well, maybe we could go to the symphony or something. But I don't want you to feel pressured or anything. I mean, I know you don't know me or anything but I'm not dangerous or anything and, you know, if you wouldn't mind or aren't busy or anything..." His speech dried up under my gaze.

I hesitated for a moment, looked at Les who raised her eyebrows and shrugged, and turned back to him. His face had a slight sheen of sweat. He seemed harmless enough.

"Sure, why not." I quickly wrote my name and phone number on a cocktail napkin and handed it to him. He put it carefully in his wallet and removed a business card.

"Here," he handed it to me, "just so you don't forget who I am."

I put the card in my purse without looking at it. "Thanks." Now they were both looking at me expectantly but I didn't know what to do. Sitting down again would be ridiculous. A quick exit seemed like the only option. "Well, be seeing you. Ready, Les?" We walked out, leaving him standing, and drove home in Les' Volvo.

"That, without a doubt, was the strangest attempted pick-up I have ever seen," Les commented en route. "What's the business card say?"

I dug it out of my purse, turned on the interior light, and read: "'Robert Anderson, Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles.'" I frowned. "Department of Water and Power? He told me he was en engineer!"

"The city needs engineers to map out sewer lines and that sort of thing. He's probably legit," said Leslie.

"Anything's possible," I said doubtfully.

Leslie smiled. "What are you going to do if he calls?"

"I'm not going to worry about it." I mused over the card then put it away, out of sight and out of mind. I forgot all about the guy and the card.

A week later I got home from the library to find a message on my box: "Stevie O'Neill? This is Rob Anderson. We met at the Vine Street Bar and Grill? I was wondering, well, I mentioned the symphony and I have two tickets and I was wondering...well, I know it's late to ask someone put for Saturday night but if you'd like to go..." He sounded like he was strangling then managed to leave a phone number.

Of course! The guy with the great eyes and no verbal skills. I called Leslie. "Remember that guy at the bar last week? The one who saved us from the drunk? Well, he just left a message asking me to the symphony," I announced.

"I didn't know you liked classical music," Les said, surprised.

"Maybe I do. I've never really listened to any," I said.

"Oh," Leslie said, nonplussed, then asked, "So? You going to go?"

"I don't know," I said uncertainly. "He seemed nice but for all I know he could be Ted Bundy's evil twin. Besides, he doesn't know how to talk. It could be an absolutely horrible evening."

"Meet him downtown," Leslie advised impatiently. "That way he won't even have your address. And you won't have to worry about talking. You're not supposed to talk through the music."

"Yeah," I said unconvinced.

"And the best argument of all is," here Leslie paused impressively, "what else do you  have to do? Your cat can survive one Saturday night without you. Honestly, you make such a big deal out of everything. A good-looking guy just asked you to a concert; you don't have to marry him!"

"Okay, okay, I'll go," I said. "What should I wear?"

After we thrashed out the wardrobe question I called Rob Anderson and told him I'd love to go to the symphony with him. He sounded vaguely pleased even when I told him I preferred to meet him there. I hung up before he got too tangled up in his tongue and I started regretting my decision.

I had a date for Saturday night just like a normal person! I just hoped Pudgy wouldn't feel abandoned. I'd leave the TV on so she wouldn't miss the 60's sitcoms she like so much.

******

Soft-cover book ISBN:        9781462012633

ebook ISBN:                         9781462012640

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