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Second First Impressions
Author: Sally Thorne

 


CHAPTER ONE


One of the “benefits” of working in the front office of Providence Retirement Villa is I receive feedback on every aspect of my lifestyle and appearance, whether I want it or not. (I do not.) Here are the three questions the residents always have for me:

•How old are you? (Twenty-five)

•Do you have a boyfriend? (No)

•Why not? (Miscellaneous reasons, none of which will satisfy them)

 

“There’s more to life than having a boyfriend,” I once told Mrs. Whittaker as we walked up the rain-slicked front path to her town house, her arm hooked into mine. “I’m right where I want to be, helping you all.”

“That’s true, Ruthie, honey. You’re a good worker,” she replied to me. “But boyfriends are a very nice part of life. I once had three at the same time.” She shuffled inside, her walking stick clicking on the tiles. Just as I was thinking I’d misunderstood, she said over her shoulder, “They knew each other, so it wasn’t awkward. Boy oh boy, I was exhausted. You’re prettier than I was, why don’t you try doing that?”

I was left on the doorstep, fighting the urge to ask some follow-up questions, primarily:

•How?

 

It’s likely Mrs. Whittaker could still get more action than me, and she’s eighty-seven. I think about that conversation a lot.

While my boss, Sylvia, is on her cruise, I get her desk with the good view. I’m emailing maintenance, and I’m also grappling with my daily three P.M. wave of melancholy. I save a yogurt for this exact moment. Sitting at my usual desk is Melanie Sasaki, the temp. She doesn’t understand the concept of pacing oneself, so she eats her lunch at 10:30 A.M. I can hear her stomach growling as I peel open my snack.

In a desperate outburst in the silence, she says, “Ruthie, I was thinking about you.”

I wish she wouldn’t. “Let me just finish this email to maintenance, then we can talk.”

I know I sound like a prissy jerk, but to survive these next two months as acting office manager, I’ve been trying to enforce a quiet-time policy. When Sylvia is here, I never speak to her if she’s typing. Or clicking. Or unless she speaks to me first.

Hey. I haven’t been this relaxed in years.

Melanie would probably talk while under a general anesthetic. “Let’s make you a dating profile.”

I break my own silence rule. “How do you know I don’t have one?” She’s teasing me, I know it. The residents of Providence are, generally speaking, brutally honest with me. But it’s always well intentioned.

She says, “You don’t even have an Instagram account, so you’re not exactly the type to put yourself out there. Am I wrong?”

She’s not. “Let me just finish this, Mel.” Quiet Time Shields Up.

I reword my request to maintenance from a where the hell are you guys to a more diplomatic as per my last email. There’s only so much DIY I can learn from YouTube.

When that’s sent, I find a Word document titled “RUTHIE_ PROFILE” in my personal folder. According to the file history, it hasn’t been accessed since I wrote it in a weird lonely moment last year, when online dating felt like a good idea for about thirty seconds. Maybe it’s not that bad? A workable base draft for a dating profile that will find me my Mr. Right? If Melanie wasn’t staring at me, I’d read it through my fingers.

Can I Take You Home to My Churchy Parents?

I’m a very old soul (24 going on 124). I’ve only seen one penis firsthand (briefly) and was not impressed enough to seek out another (probably should, though). Seeking patient, safe cuddle-bug soul mate to tell me when my cardigan is buttoned crooked. I live and work in a retirement villa. At this rate I’ll retire here, too.

 

Okay, so the only update to this I’d make is I’m now twenty-five going on a hundred and twenty-five.

Like she’s my impatient supervisor, Melanie asks: “Are you done now?”

After deleting that incriminating evidence, I counter with, “How’s that new resident profile you’re setting up for me in the system?”

Melanie purses her lips like, Spoilsport. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to utilize my true talent. The one I can’t put on my résumé.” She pauses for dramatic effect. “Getting peeps all loved up. If you only knew who you had here sitting across from you, you’d be jumping on this chance.”

When someone is that confident in themselves, it does make the offer tempting. “Well, you do have a lot of things on your résumé.”

Melanie stretches her arms above her head. “You know I’m livin’ dat temp life. I’m dating all the jobs, until I find my perfect match. And I’m dating all the boys, too. Answer this quick without thinking: Are you ready to be in love?”

“Yes.” I don’t have enough strength to hold that word in, and it’s humiliating how much force my answer had.

Every night as part of my security rounds, I walk to the western edge of Providence to check that the roller door securing the dumpsters is padlocked. I know that no one wants to steal garbage. I lean on the chain-link fence and stare at the town lights below. The knowledge that my cuddle-bug soul mate might be just there under that particular streetlight star, but I’m too chicken to go find him, makes my heart feel like a toothache. If I don’t attend to it soon, it may have to be pulled out altogether.

Every night when I check the padlock, I look at the lights and apologize to him again.

Melanie is looking at me with such naked empathy in her expression that I scramble to try to cover up how much that word yes means. “I mean, everyone hopes they find— ”

“Shush, shush, shush,” she repeats until my face-saving caveats fade away. “Don’t worry. I’ll help you.”

In the three weeks that she’s been here, Mel’s had at least four first dates, all at a tapas bar she calls “the Thunderdome.” Before each one, she puts in an excessively long black ponytail extension and makes me check it from all angles. She also writes down the details of each date, “in case I’m murdered.” She trusts me to be her police witness? I’m conflicted about how honored I am.

I recheck the calendar. She really has only been here three weeks. Maybe I should take the opportunity to consult with this seasoned professional. She’s like an electrician for my love life. “Well, what’s your dating profile say?”

Her phone is always in her hand. She can open the app without having to glance down. “Mine says: ‘High-maintenance twenty-two-year-old half-Japanese princess who makes no apologies. Take me on adventures. No weirdos, little dicks, broke dudes, or fugs.’ ”

I can’t categorically say any of those would be a deal breaker for me. “What if your soul mate is one of those things? A … broke weirdo, or …” I study the banana and the ChapStick on my desk. The world is full of a lot of variables. My neck is getting sweaty under my ponytail.

Melanie shakes her head. “He won’t be. You believe in soul mates? I wouldn’t have picked that.” She studies me with an Aaww expression. “You secret l’il romantic you.”

“You don’t need to help me, I’ll work it out myself.” I try to backpedal but it’s too late— she’s taken the case pro bono.

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