by Virginia Elizabeth Hayes
She tried to wipe the dog hair from her new dress as she rushed into the coffeehouse toward the roped-off room. A tall, square-shouldered man in his forties wearing a tailored suit stood in the doorway, observing the array of couples.
"You’re the manager of the Quick Date party?" She dug into her purse for a rumpled card reading: 14. "Here."
The man gave her a curious glance. "Do you own a kennel?"
"No," she sighed, wiping again. "It just looks that way. I was trying to get here on time when a leashless husky ran up to me, jumping. Licking. She took off all my makeup."
"You don’t need it. The dog just ran up? Licking?"
"Yes. It took me forever to get her into my car and find the address on her tag. That’s why I’m late. And furry. And damp. And oh so attractive."
"A strange dog found you, then you dropped everything to help her?"
"I knew she needed me."
"Just like that?"
"It sounds weird, but, when you know," she shrugged inarticulately, "you know."
"Apparently, she knew too. Dogs are good judges of character."
"You are more than welcome to tell that to Mister Fourteen." She squinted into the room of well dressed people, then at her watch. "Or did they reshuffle? It’s hard enough to meet people, but now they’ve invented a way to do it on speed dial. They’ve probably switched tables by now."
"A few times, I think. Everyone pretty much looks the same, so it’s hard to tell. You could explain to them why you’re late. I’m sure they’d let you back in the mix."
"Doubtful." She watched the party taking place without her. "This is all probably a sign. Besides, it looks like I’m older than everyone else here."
"True. Just the women." She looked away from the rows of young, perfect figures and the men her age paying close attention to them. "I don’t think I’ll quite fit in."
"Yeah. That many cheerleaders make me nervous, too." He shrugged, and for the first time she noticed tattoos on his wrists, peering out from his cuffs. Watching her note that, he gave her a quick glance.
She raised one brow, mildly curious. "Do you have a full set of sleeves?"
"It doesn’t phase you?"
"Hey, I’m covered in dog hair. And drool. At least you’re covered in something you chose." Watching the couples change tables without so much as a glance toward her, she flopped the card in her hand. "Lucky fourteen, indeed."
His laugh lines appeared. "It worked for our estimable burglar."
She grinned at the reference. "I love The Hobbit."
He smiled, revealing deep dimples. He slipped his hand into his pocket. "It’s my favorite book."
She caught herself grinning at him for a few seconds longer than an imperfect woman should. She blinked away. "Since I’m the wrong age for everybody here, I’m going to head out."
"To where?" He gave her a slow, head-to-toe and back-again look. "Someplace that appreciates a woman who’s old enough to know who she is?"
"There’s a fantasy story for you. Show me where that place is and I’ll follow you straight there, Mr. Baggins." She shook her head. "No. I was hoping for something a little more reality based, like a cheeseburger and some onion rings. Hold the bo-tox."
"With or without hot sauce?"
"With. Definitely." She blinked again. "Could you do me a favor?"
"Just one. Tell Mister Fourteen that honestly, I’m sorry I missed him."
His laugh lines reappeared.
"What’s so funny?"
He lifted his hand, holding up the card from his pocket. It read: 14. "I sat out."
She stared at the card. "I thought you were the manager."
"Why didn't you say something."
"It was the most interesting conversation I’ve ever had tonight. I didn’t want to ruin it with facts."
"You sat out? Why?"
"Too many cheerleaders make me nervous." He lifted on shoulder. "They’re all allergic to ink, don’t carry around enough dog hair." Reaching out, he touched her wrist.
Her doubt and embarrassment dispelled from her skin where his fingertips made contact with it. When you know, she thought, you know. "A plate of rings sounds good."
He nodded toward the door. "I know just the place."
Seeing more ink peep out from his collar as he turned, she stepped beside him, intrigued.
Author's Peronal Information/Bio:
The ninth daughter of a surgeon who accidentally cut off the tip of his own index finger, Virginia Elizabeth Hayes developed a keen eye for the absurd at an early age. Her fiction has been published at The Red Line Short Story Magazine (Joy Short List), Driftwood Press (Vol 1, iss. 4) and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Lucky 14 has a word count of 740. If possible, please list the author's name as Virginia Elizabeth Hayes.