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Miss-Match Chapter 1

Close Encounter of the First Kind


Clancy Fitzgerald sat uncomfortably perched on the doilied sofa facing the seventy-six year-old woman who was trying to run her love life. Clancy was fast approaching that magical age of thirty and, according to this woman, Minerva Goldberg, she was as good as dead. The old Jewish woman had taken Clancy under her wing and was intent on finding her a husband but her latest date had been a failure, in a long line of failures, and it looked as though her single status was going to continue.

“Please! Aunt Goldie!” Clancy wondered who she had wronged in this life to be suffering now as she worried a long strand of blonde hair between her fingers.

“But Clancy dear… what was wrong with Michael?” Minerva Goldberg peered over her wire-rimmed glasses from her overstuffed chair and watched as Clancy rose and paced the hard wood floor of the parlor. 

“You know, when my mother asked you to look after me, I don’t think it included my love life.” An agitated hand passed across her brow in frustration. 

“Oy vey. I have never failed in my duty, Clancy, and you are not going to be my first.” 

Clancy sighed. She knew that Minerva took her matchmaking duties very seriously. 

“So, what was wrong with Michael? He had parsley between his teeth? His tie was crooked? He dribbled his soup? What?”

“There was just no magic there, Aunt Goldie.”

“Magic isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Clancy honey. You’re a sweet girl.…”

Clancy moaned inwardly. Oh no… you’re a sweet girl. It was the kiss of death. It meant just about anything, from you’re an ugly bitch, to there’s a booger hanging out of your nose, to you need mouthwash… and badly.

“You have set me up with… how many men?” she asked.

“At last count, eight, and you’ve rejected all of them. Too tall, too fat, too thin, too short, too… this and that. They were all too….”

“…much, Aunty. I want to live my own life.”

“But you should have a man….”

“And none of them appeal to me. Is it me or is it them?” 

“None…at all? Not even in your college years?”

Clancy knew she had been dragging her feet as far as catching a man was concerned, hence Minerva’s interference in her life, but somehow she just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to actively seek out a husband. “I was too busy for that kind of thing. I had a plan for business college and boys weren’t in the schedule.”

“Can you at least tell me what you are looking for? Tall? Short? Thin? Fat? Breathing?”

“Why is it so important to have a man at twenty-nine anyway?”

“Because twenty-nine is the beginning of the end, Clancy dear. If you don’t have a man by thirty, well… it’s all downhill from there. All the good men are taken when you reach thirty.”

“Says who? Is it in some manual or something?” Clancy demanded.

“Of course, dear. My manual. I’ve had years of experience.”

“Couldn’t you be wrong just this once?” It was a hopeful plea, but Clancy suspected that Minerva had other ideas.

“Hmmm…”

“What?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Minerva smiled and flipped open her card file that sat next to her chair. Her fingers danced across the cards until she found what she was looking for.

Why did Clancy have a feeling that nothing was actually something? Surely there were other twenty-nine year old virgins in the world besides herself. What was the big deal anyway?

Minerva read the information on the card with a secret smile. “You have a date Saturday afternoon. Dress casual for lunch at the 24th Street Café.”

Clancy sighed and her shoulders slumped. “It’s just going to be the same, Aunty.”

“Nonsense!” Minerva rose to her feet and hung an arm across her niece’s shoulders. “This next one will be perfect. Trust me.” 

She walked Clancy to the front door of her small house. “One o’clock lunch… oh, and wear a white carnation.” 

Before Clancy could argue the point, she had been shooed out the front door with a wave and a smile. Clancy sat in her car and saw the front curtain drop back into place. Minerva had been like a mother watching some prospective teenage boy take her daughter out. Clancy shivered. Minerva was in her home making phone calls, and they all meant trouble.


* * *


“You’re going on another date?” Emma said, aghast.

“I know I said the last one was it, but what can I say? The woman is a friend of the family.”

“Who, if I remember rightly, you called a busybody not so long ago.”

“Well, she is but I just couldn’t say ‘no’.” 

“Are you that desperate to find a man?” 

Clancy shrugged her shoulders.  

“I’m telling you this as a friend. Stop being such a wimp!” Emma stood in front of Clancy with her hands on her hips. Short, cute as a button and several years older, Emma had been Clancy’s right-hand woman for a number of years and, of late, her voice of reason.

“I am not a wimp!” Clancy said with as much conviction as she felt. She couldn’t look Emma in the eye. “One more, okay? Just one more date then I’ll tell her.”

“One more… right.” Emma rolled her eyes. “When will you get a backbone and just say no to your parents?”

“Hey!” Clancy replied.

She had been lenient with Emma about her criticism of her life for a couple of reasons. Emma knew the business better than Clancy did and it would cave in without her expertise. More importantly, however, Emma was her friend; a friend who told it like it was. Emma was right. Maybe she needed to take back control of her life. “I’ll let Aunt Goldie know after Saturday, all right?”

“You can tell her before if you want. It’s not like you’re going to find the love of your life at a diner.”

Despite everything, Clancy hoped that the meeting would be just that.


* * *


Clancy arrived at the café five minutes early, requesting a booth near the window in the hope she would get a good look at her lunch date before he arrived. She ordered a hot cup of tea and idly watched the sidewalk traffic go by. Several men entered the establishment but none wearing a white carnation. As the clock on the wall ticked by, finally clicking to one-thirty, she began to think she had been stood up. Just like her life…ticking toward that ever-shortening deadline.

While in mid-sip from her mug, a tap on the window made her jump. A woman on the street was waving at her and mouthing the word sorry, while pointing to the cell phone pressed to her ear. Clancy looked around to see who the woman was communicating with but found no one paying attention. When she looked back, the woman had turned her back to her and seemed to be having an animated conversation with whoever was on the other end of the phone.

She sat her now empty mug down and waved to the waitress, who hurried to her. “I’m ready for my check.” 

“Stood up?” the waitress idly asked as she prepared to write up the bill.

Just as Clancy was about to answer, the other side of the booth was occupied and a melodic voice apologized. “Sorry about that. I had to settle a little work dispute.”

Clancy blinked at the woman who had tapped on the window moments before. “Er…. I think there’s been a mistake.” 

The woman tucked her long black hair behind her ears and looked at Clancy with vibrant blue eyes. “Mrs. Goldberg sent me.” She held up the corner of her black shirt where a small white carnation was pinned.

“But… but you’re a woman.”

“Give the girl a cookie.” Those same blue eyes lit up with mischief. “I’m glad somebody noticed.” 

“I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

“Well, it seems Goldie is trying to match you up with a woman.”

“A w-w-w-woman?”

“Let’s not go through that again, okay?” The woman seemed amused. “Hello, my name is Carmen Pratka.” 

An elegant hand extended across the Formica booth top in greeting. 

Dumbly, Clancy took it in her own sweaty palm, forgetting to shake it. Her mind was still playing catch up with the situation. A woman? What possessed Goldie to do such a thing? Maybe it was a joke. Yeah, that was it.

“Look, er…”

“Carmen.”

“Carmen. You can report back to Goldie that I got the joke, okay? I will try harder next time. Now… if you will excuse me….”

“Hey! Hey! Hold on! I just got here.”

“I think Goldie is playing a joke on you.” Clancy just wanted to disappear and forget the lunch date ever happened.

“That’s not what she told me.”

“Told… you?” Clancy sat down again, wincing as the leather cushion whooshed with her weight. “What… did… she… tell… you?”

“Well, I think that would be breaking doctor-patient confidentiality.”

“True, except Goldie isn’t a doctor and I’m sure you are not her patient.”

“She warned me about your skepticism.” Carmen asked the hovering waitress for a menu then turned back to Clancy. “She’s never been wrong about these things you know. Mrs. Goldberg is a legend in this neighborhood.”

Clancy wagged her finger in the air. “I am not gay!” 

She cringed as she heard her own voice echo in the now very quiet café. She bit her bottom lip as she sank down into the booth, trying desperately to disappear. 

“Do I look gay?” she asked in a harsh whisper across the table to her smiling lunch companion.

“You could pass,” the waitress said with a serious nod as she delivered Carmen’s menu. “I’ll give you a minute to decide.” 

She winked at Carmen before leaving.

“See? Maybe you just haven’t given it any thought.” Carmen said as she studied the menu.

Clancy crossed her arms over her chest and pouted. How could her aunty even consider a woman as an option for her? “I’ve never….”

“That’s what Mrs. Goldberg said.” Carmen closed the menu after making her lunch choice. She looked across the table at Clancy. “Maybe, just maaaybe, Mrs. Goldberg has you pegged. If not, what’s the harm in sharing a little lunch?”

Clancy was about to blurt out no, but paused to consider the situation for a moment. What harm would it do to have lunch with the woman? She certainly was easy on the eyes and her personality radiated from her, filling the room. It wasn’t like she was going to carve the woman’s name in her forearm or anything. Besides, they were both already seated and ready to order. What could possibly happen?

“Okay. Lunch.” Her finger came back up and shook once again in Carmen’s direction. “But nothing else.”

“We’ll see.” Carmen said and shared a perfect smile. The waitress returned and Carmen pointed to two items on the menu before giving the woman a sultry smile and a wink. She turned back to Clancy.

“It’s okay, you know. I’m not going to eat you. I’ve already ordered and since you weren’t on the menu, I settled for pastrami on rye.”

Why didn’t that calm Clancy’s nerves? The predatory smile Carmen gave her when she said ‘I’m not going to eat you’ made Clancy mentally add ‘yet’ to the conversation. Could it have been those piercing eyes boring a hole into her? Or the feline smile that spoke volumes about what the woman was thinking? The woman looked like she was stalking her and she was the prey.

The silence was maddening. “So, what do you do, er…” What was the woman’s name?  “Carmen.”

“Clothing distribution.”

“That’s it?”

“Pretty much.” 

Clancy could see that Carmen was getting perverse pleasure out of seeing her squirm. Why was she continuing this conversation? After lunch she wasn’t seeing this woman ever again. “That’s like saying I work for a living.”

“It’s a job. What about you?”

“I thought you said Goldie told you everything?”

“Everything that was important. Not the boring stuff.”

“My job is boring?”

“Is it?” Carmen asked, then laughed.

Clancy inwardly groaned. She hadn’t seen that trap coming and she fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. “I have a very important job,” she announced, but Carmen looked disinterested. “I do! I am a… a… government contractor.” Clancy smiled, pleased with her exaggerated job description.

“Like a spy or something?”

Clancy chewed the inside of her cheek. “Maybe.”

“I think you’re making it up.” Carmen eased back and allowed her sandwich to be placed in front of her. 

Clancy bit her bottom lip and watched her so-called date flirt with the comely waitress. She hardly noticed when a plate was set before her until the scent of hot sourdough bread and roasted vegetables tickled her nose. She examined the sandwich closely, pulling the bread apart and inspecting the interior.

“Don’t worry, there’s no meat,” Carmen said before tearing into her own sandwich with gusto.

“Goldie told you I was a vegetarian?”

“Like I said, the important stuff.” Carmen took another bite of meat and rye. 

“So what else did she tell you? My bra size?”

“34B.” Carmen’s eyes were plastered to the food she was feeding into her mouth. “Hey, this is pretty good,” she mumbled around the masticated food.

“Oh, Lord….” Was there no privacy? If Goldie told this woman all her secrets, what had the men she had dated known?

“What?” Carmen’s mouth stopped chewing. “The food’s no good? You can always order something else….” She was about to signal to the hovering waitress when Clancy cut across her thoughts.

“No! No… it’s fine.” Clancy picked up the sandwich and took a healthy bite. At least it would stop her putting her size seven foot into her mouth. This had to be the worst date of her life, if it was a date. No, stop that! It’s not a date. Now her mind was arguing with itself. She was losing it. Why was this woman upsetting her? 

“So, Spygirl, are you planning my demise? Gonna torture me into submission?” White, even teeth appeared as Carmen grinned at her impishly. “Now that could be interesting.”

“Stop that!” Clancy hissed across the table. “Why do you keep teasing me?”

“Cause you’ve got to loosen up, Clancy, if this relationship.…”

“Hey! Hey! Hang on! Relationship? What relationship? We are having lunch and already it’s a relationship? When did that happen?”

“In the five minutes you were contemplating whether to eat or run.”

“Maybe I should have run.” 

“Maybe you should have.”

“Are you a stalker and I don’t know it yet?”

“Stalking is such a harsh word. I am known for my persistence though. Does that count?” 

Clancy knew Carmen was watching her play with a strand of her hair. She wondered if the woman realized what a looker she was. Probably. Someone that stunning had to be aware of her looks.

 “So, you know Goldie?” Clancy asked.

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“I don’t know.”

“You should, since you’re her niece.”

“She’s not really my aunt. She’s more… more… a good friend of the family.”

“Then you should know her even better. Goldie is not shy about dispensing information.”

“Yes, I’ll have to have a word with her about that.” Clancy looked at her near-empty plate. She hadn’t thought she was hungry, especially with all the butterflies mating in her stomach, so she was surprised to see only a few scraps left.

“Do you want some pie or something?” Carmen lifted her finger to attract the friendly waitress.

“No, I’m fine.” 

The waitress hovered next to Carmen and brushed against her arm. This little maneuver didn’t go unnoticed by Clancy who, for some reason, felt a sudden hostility toward her. 

“Coffee, please,” Carmen told her.

Clancy was pleased to see the waitress go, but not the lingering glance Carmen gave her as she walked away. Clancy cleared her throat. “I thought you were having lunch with me.”

“I’m seated. I’m eating. You’re talking. Lunch seems to be going fine.” Carmen grinned at her then took another bite of her sandwich. The waitress returned with the coffee, placing one cup down in front of each woman. She poured the hot liquid and moved away, nodding to Carmen in passing.

“Am I disturbing your lunch date with the waitress?”

“No, everything is good.” Carmen finally finished eating and leaned back against the booth. “So, where do you want to go for dinner?”

“Dinner? Who said anything about dinner?”

“I figured it was better to start early and avoid the rush. Trying to get a reservation–”

“There is no dinner! No breakfast, no lunch, no dinner. Nada. No.”

“So that’s a no, is it?”

Clancy sighed in desperation. She so wanted to strangle her. 

Carmen continued blithely. “Lunch is not long enough to get to know someone. You know what I mean? There’s the time taken to get to know one another, then holding hands, and let’s not forget my favorite part–the kissing and making up.” 

Clancy’s jaw dropped. 

Carmen laughed out loud. “I’m joking! Can’t you take a joke?”

Lunch settled into an uneasy draw as each woman pondered the other.

Clancy was busy trying to figure a graceful way out of the restaurant. She contemplated setting a fire in the women’s bathroom and making her escape in the mayhem that followed. Or I could just set her on fire and run. Clancy was saved from committing a capital crime when Carmen’s cell phone rang. 

There was another heated exchange between Carmen and who ever was on the other end of the line before the phone was flipped closed. “I’m sorry to eat and run…,” Carmen wagged the phone in the air, “…but I have to go kick some drama queen’s ass.”

And just like that, lunch ended. 

Clancy sat for a long moment alone in the booth. It had been the most bizarre hour she had ever spent with another human being in her life, and that was quite the statement considering her overbearing parents and her aunt Goldie.

“Anything else, sweetie?” the waitress asked as she picked up the now empty plates.

“Just the check, thank you.”

“Your girlfriend took care of it.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Clancy huffed, scooting out of the booth.

The waitress smiled sweetly. “Can I have her number then?”

Clancy’s jaw dropped open. “No!”

“Sheesh. So selfish. If you’re not going to grab her up at least give the rest of us a chance.” 


* * *


Clancy should have gone right home but instead she detoured to Aunt Goldie’s house while her righteous indignation was still in high gear. How dare she! A-a-woman! Goldie tried to hitch her with a woman? She was pretty sure that she had stipulated a man when the ludicrous idea of a matchmaker was brought up. Clancy sifted back through her memories to that fateful day. Hmm…. Yes, a man. She definitely said a man. That left senility.

The front door rattled as she banged energetically on the glass. 

“Yes? Who is it?”

“One angry woman!” 

“Sorry, I already gave.”

“Goldie, open this door!” Clancy could feel the old woman’s presence behind the cloth-covered glass. “Damn it, woman. Open up! Now!”

“Watch your mouth, young lady.” The door flew open and an irate Jewish grandmother stood before her, angrily waving a crooked finger at her. “I will not tolerate such language.”

“But…” Clancy’s offensive had suddenly gone on the defensive. “That lunch date.…”

“Ooooo.…” The frown was replaced with a smile. “Come in, come in. Tell me all.”

“All? There’s nothing to tell. How could you?”

“How could I… what?”

“Don’t play innocent with me, old woman. That was a nasty trick to play on me.”

“Trick? No, that was no trick.”

Clancy searched those muddy brown eyes for the truth. “It was for real? Why? What on earth possessed you to arrange a date with a… a….”

“Woman? It’s not a dirty word, Clancy, dear.”

“It may as well be. You know I said men when we started on this journey of yours to Wonderland.”

“Well, Alice, since you have shown absolutely no interest in any of the men I slavishly organized to take you out, I had to try something… or someone… else.”

“But… why her?”

“Carmen is a lovely girl, Clancy. She is easy-going, funny, vivacious and, best of all, unattached.”

Clancy mentally reviewed the list. “Okay, that’s all true. But let’s not forget the female part. I am not gay!”

“Eh.” Goldie shrugged. “Is it such a bad thing?”

Clancy’s mouth flapped open and closed. What could she say, that hadn’t already been said, what would get her out of this predicament?

“So, how was lunch?”

“I ate, she ate, she left.” Clancy let the words sink in. “By the way, why did you tell her things like my bra size? What has that possibly got to do with a blind date?”

“I didn’t, my dear. Carmen was always very intuitive.” Minerva gave out a little giggle. “Smart woman.”

“Smart-mouthed woman, you mean. She embarrassed me, aunty!”

“Nonsense! I’ve known Carmen for years. She’s a sweet girl.”

“Sweet girl? Are we talking about the same woman?”

“Five foot eight, blue eyes, dark hair.”

“That sounds about right. I’m sorry, but this match is over.”

“Carmen was trying to get you to relax. Look at yourself!” Clancy unconsciously did as Minerva suggested. “You’re all tense and agitated. Your life isn’t going to end at thirty.”

“What? You’ve been telling me for the last three years that it will. Now, you’re telling me it doesn’t matter?” 

“Clancy, dear, stop pacing and sit down.” She patted the sofa. “Now, listen to me. If I had said you had all the time in the world, you’d be dragging your feet until you were forty. I’m afraid my matchmaking skills won’t last that long.”

“Is something wrong?” Clancy straightened in her seat and looked at Minerva with concern. “What’s happened?”

“Nothing is wrong. Stop jumping to conclusions. I’m not prepared to spend the next ten years of my life trying to find a man that will never be enough. It’s obvious to even these old eyes that your interest lays elsewhere. What’s wrong with exploring that elsewhere and see where it leads us?”

“I am not gay.” Clancy had a foreboding that she’d be saying that sentence numerous times in the next few weeks. “I… am… not… gay,” she repeated for effect before she stood up.

“Is that such a bad thing?”

“If you talk to Carmen tell her thanks, but no thanks. You got me?”

“If I see her, I’ll pass on the message.”

Clancy was tempted to look behind Minerva’s back to see if her fingers were crossed. She growled at her and left, leaving an amused Minerva Goldberg rushing to the phone.

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