Roger E. Bruner's Little Home on the Web
Roger Bruner's Internet Home


Matchmaker Payback: Chapter One

"Jessica?" The elegantly groomed man took several short steps towards me before glancing at his phone and then looking back at me. "You are Jessica Jenkins, aren't you?"

Did he ever sound confused! He was correct about who I was, but who was he?

I eyed him cautiously. He didn't look the least familiar, and I wouldn't have forgotten a man whose picture belonged on the annual Richmond's Best-Looking Men magazine cover. Although looks didn't mean that much to me, what kind of single thirty-five-year-old woman would I be if I didn't pay at least a little bit of attention to a man's appearance?

I was in a quandary about how to respond to this stranger, though. He obviously knew at least a little more about me than I did about him, which was totally nothing. If we'd been standing outside the playhouse instead of in the lobby waiting for the auditorium doors to open, I might have begun defensively touching the handle of my concealed carry.

But I was safely surrounded by hundreds of other theater goers. And I was only facing an innocent-looking man who at least had the good sense not to enter my personal space without being invited to. I wasn't about to do that unless and until he gave me good reason to.

His confused expression obviously meant, "I know who I think you are. But are you who I think you are or not?" I almost felt sorry for him.

Since he had come to the playhouse to attend the premiere matinee performance of the spectacular new Easter musical The Identity of Divinity, he probably wasn't dangerous. He might even be a Christian.

Even so, I could almost feel my fists tightening. Why did I feel so apprehensive even after convincing myself that this man wasn't dangerous?

I sighed. No matter how badly I wanted to simply ignore him, I wasn't normally rude except to people I knew and was fond of. People who willingly forgave me when a bit of tactlessness slipped out. That was a trait I'd picked up from my mother.

"Yes, I'm Jessica." My friends call me Jessie, though, but you should continue to call me Jessica until I tell you differently. "I don't believe we've met." I intended for my tone to convey a strong sense of And I'm not sure I want to meet you now.

No such luck. Whoever he was chuckled pleasantly. "I suppose we haven't. I would've remembered. I'm Ollie Lewis. I'm your date for this afternoon's performance."

What!!! Did Mom do it to me again even after I told her I'd strangle her if she did?

"I don't have a date, Mr. Lewis." I sighed quietly. Not with anyone. And I am not accepting one that Mom has arranged. Not even with someone who appears to be completely respectable and a huge improvement over the smoker she'd sent my way the week before.

"Your mother didn't tell you I was going to meet you here this afternoon?"

I shook my head. Vigorously.

"She gave me this when I stopped by her house on my way over here." He pulled a theater ticket from his inner suitcoat pocket and held it up for me to see. "She also promised to email a picture of you dressed exactly as you are right now."

A picture of me? Oh, but of course. When I stopped by her place on the way to the theater—I'll bet I barely missed running into Mr. Lewis—she took one before I had a chance to protest.

He chuckled. "She's not much of a photographer, is she? Look. This is why I couldn't be sure you're you."

When he held his phone out, I looked at the screen and broke out laughing. Mom had captured all of me in that photo except my head and upper shoulders. Hmm. My new One Vote for Every Citizen tee-shirt looked even better with my favorite jeans than I'd thought. No wonder the poor man hadn't been sure about me.

And no matter how amusing that picture was, I couldn't keep from looking at it again and bristling at the way Mom had interfered in my life once more in spite of my determined, long-running efforts to prevent her from doing so.

I'd made the mistake of stopping by her house to thank her for the ticket to that afternoon's performance. But how did she respond to my visit?

"Jessica Jenkins, why are you wearing jeans? I can't recall the last time you wore a dress. You don't even dress up for church. You are such a beautiful young woman and would be even more beautiful if you dressed appropriately for important events like this play. Don't you know you'll never attract the perfect man wearing those jeans."

Funny. She didn't mention the tee-shirt.

I groaned. Loudly. "If the man of my dreams doesn't think jeans are dressy enough, he can jolly well move over into some other girl's dreams. Mom, you and Daddy should've named me Comfy Casual Jenkins, not Jessica Lynn."

She groaned back. "You're incorrigible." She'd learned that word from The Sound of Music, and I'd hated that movie ever since.

"Of course I'm incorrigible. I'm your daughter. You might as well give up. How many times have I told you I'll do my own man-shopping? I don't need or want you to keep playing matchmaker."

I glared at her. "Anyhow, I'm comfortable in jeans, and this is how I'm going today...and I'm leaving right now. Without one of your horrible, hideous, setup match-dates."

That's when she sighed, slid a phone out of her apron pocket, and snapped a quick picture. Hmm. I guess I should've been thankful she didn't get a rear shot.


Huh? Oh. I'd forgotten I was still staring at that picture. When I looked up again, he-what did he say his first name was (as if I cared)?-slid his phone into the beautifully tooled leather holster on his belt. Complete with the initials O.D.L.

O? I snapped my fingers. Of course. He said his name was Ollie. Ollie Lewis.

I looked him over again. Nice enough looking-downright handsome, in fact-but those clothes? His suit was just one step down from a tuxedo.

I might not have been very up on men's clothing, but I'd bet it was a four-figure outfit and not just a three-. Even his tie probably cost more than all of the clothes I had on-inside and out.

Nope, a well-to-do, fancy dresser like Ollie Lewis was not my type of man. He probably wouldn't be able to dress down to my level any more successfully than I could dress up to his.

Our tastes in other things would undoubtedly be just as different, too. In fact—Lord, please forgive me for even thinking this comparison—our interests would probably be as far apart "as the east is from the west."

I giggled. Wouldn't the two of us make a lovely pair that afternoon, though? I snickered at my sarcasm. As dressed-down as I was, I was surprised—no, shocked—that Ollie was even willing to be seen with me, much less to carry through with my mother's planned date.

"My mother..." I couldn't come up with anything to say that didn't require the use of language I didn't even permit myself to think.

A hint of concern tinged his attempted smile. "Your mother? She..." He must not have been able to finish that sentence, either.

I shook my head slowly. "That woman should've been a professional matchmaker. She's certainly practiced enough on me."

I shook my head again. "I just wish she would quit trying to help. When I find the right man I won't need her assistance to catch him."

He chuckled pleasantly. "I'm sure you won't." He pointed to the auditorium doors. "Looks like they're letting people in now. Shall we...?"

I looked at his nicely slicked-down, perfectly coiffed hair. "Oily, uh, Ollie, I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not letting Mom get away with this. Our date is over. Finished. In fact, it never happened."

He looked so upset I almost regretted having to reject him. He might've been a good date—maybe even a great one—if we'd just been there together without Mom's help. And if he'd been wearing jeans and possibly a tee-shirt.

He looked into my eyes and smiled. "We both want to see this play. Right?"

I nodded.

"I completely understand about your mom. If our mothers weren't such close friends..."

Oh. So Mom didn't simply spot Ollie walking down the street and say, "Young man, you're a terrific-looking fellow. Wouldn't you like to have a date with my terrific-looking daughter?"

He drew a deep breath. "Listen, Jessica. Our tickets are for adjacent seats. Since we can't change that, we'll be sitting side by side anyhow, date or no date." Then he narrowed his eyes.

What are you thinking?

"Tell you what. If we go in separately, won't you feel like you've defeated your mother's intentions? Once we're both seated, we won't even talk unless you want to."

After thinking for a moment, I shrugged and pointed to the open doorway. "After you, sir."

He narrowed his eyes playfully. "No way, ma'am. After you."

Why wasn't I surprised that Mom had bought tickets close to the front? Undoubtedly to show me off to all of the other men in the auditorium. Ha! Of course she'd assumed I would be dressed beautifully enough to be worthy of putting on display that way.

I wove my way through the multitudes who were weaving their way through other multitudes until I finally reached row 5. The only two unoccupied, adjoining seats were about a third of the way in; they had to be F and G.

Oh, great. I would have to climb over five other people to reach my seat. So would Ollie. Uh! But if I sat in F, he'd have to climb over me, too.

No way was I going to have any physical contact with that man by allowing him to brush against my knees to reach his seat. So I excuse-me'd my way past the comfortably dressed occupants of A through E, glanced longingly at seat F (the seat my ticket was for), and plopped down in G.

Then I looked over towards the aisle, expecting Ollie to be approaching our row. Hmm. He wasn't there. I squirmed around in my seat to look back up the aisle, but I still couldn't see any sign of him.

What? Had he changed his mind? Had he decided that watching this outstanding production wasn't worth being seen sitting beside someone whose attire looked like it had come from a secondhand store?

Okay, so the sweater I'd almost forgotten to bring did come from Goodwill, but I'd bought the jeans and tee-shirt new. Of course Ollie didn't know that. And it probably wouldn't have made any difference.

So help me, if that man had stood me up after our mutual decision to keep this from being a date, I would never let Mom live it down. Even if it killed me, I would find some unspeakably horrible way to keep her from continuing to interfere in my life.

I was still stewing when I heard a man's voice coming from my right. Ollie's? Had to be.

He lowered himself into seat F and smiled at me. Then he handed me a program. Not one of those cheapy things that barely says anything, but a thick glossy-print booklet that had mountains of information about the play and the cast and cost more than I could've justified paying.

"I...I can't accept this, Ollie."

That was something a thoughtful man might do for his date, but I wasn't his date; I was just the woman he would be sitting beside. So I sighed and handed it back.

Jessie, you idiot! You could've looked through it first. What would that have hurt?

He narrowed his eyes. Too late I realized he'd done it playfully. "Suit yourself, Ms. Jenkins, but now I don't know what to do with this extra one." Then he smirked. "I guess I can take it to your mother."

I yanked it out of his hand and mumbled, "Thanks." Too quietly for him to think I really meant it.

"You're welcome. And don't worry. That program doesn't have any strings attached." He hesitated. "I told you in the lobby that we won't talk unless you want to." He proceeded to do the lip-zip thing with his thumb and forefinger.

A few minutes later a harried-looking woman holding a wireless microphone came onstage and announced that they were having trouble with the lights. She apologized and said they hoped to have everything fixed in another twenty or twenty-five minutes.

Oh, lovely. Twenty or twenty-five minutes of having to sit by this man without talking? Mom, I'm going to kill you! I'd already read the program booklet—parts of it several times—but Ollie must've been a slower reader. He was apparently still engrossed in his copy.

How could that man ignore me so perfectly? But a promise was a promise, and he must've been a man of his word.

Several minutes later he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the floor. A lipstick tube had rolled down from somewhere and stopped at the leg of the seat in front of me.

I tilted my head and wrinkled my nose.

He chuckled. "I'm just asking this as one stranger to another. That's not your lipstick, huh? I thought maybe it had fallen out of your purse."

I couldn't take it anymore. "Responding as stranger to stranger, thank you for your concern, but you must not have looked at me very closely. I seldom wear makeup—and I don't have any on today."

His eyes opened. Wide. Then he looked at my face. Having him examine me that way felt a bit weird, but I kept my mouth closed. "I'll be. You aren't wearing makeup, are you? Just take this as the sincere compliment I might make to any other beautiful stranger if it was appropriate, but you obviously don't need makeup."

I rolled my eyes playfully. You may be overdressed for my taste, but I love the way you talk. "Strangers in a checkout line—even men and women—sometimes start talking, don't they? Even though they might learn a lot about one another if the line is long enough, that doesn't constitute a date."

He gave me a slight nod. "Neither is it a date for a man and a woman in adjacent auditorium seats to start talking if they choose to. Remember: I said we wouldn't talk unless you want to. I'm agreeable if you are."

That broke the ice. Or so I thought.

I got as far as saying "I want" when the curtain went up and the play began. So much for talking. Was I being overly optimistic in hoping that one stranger might invite the other to go out for coffee or maybe even dinner after the play in order to have the non-date conversation the play had cheated us out of?

At least that date wouldn't be one Mom had planned. Or would it?

The play couldn't have been better. The music was fresh, unlike any I was familiar with, and it enhanced the drama amazingly well. The dialog and the acting? What could I say? I felt like I'd been transported back two thousand years and was actually watching the events of the last week of Jesus's earthly life while they were taking place.

The trial and crucifixion scenes were so powerful—so convincing—that I grabbed Ollie's hand and held it tight. Tight enough to hurt him, I'm sure, although he didn't protest. Truth is, I didn't notice what I'd done until the women came to the tomb on the third day and found it empty.

I released his hand then, thankful that the theater's dim lights prevented him from noticing how red my face was.

Neither of us made an effort to talk as we worked our way back out to the lobby. I was still digesting what we'd not only seen and heard, but the way the play's realism had moved me so deeply.

I suspected Ollie was doing the same thing. Despite our differences, I assumed we had a relationship with Jesus in common.

Once we exited the auditorium, I couldn't keep from sighing. I was no longer in New Testament times, but back in this contemporary world. A world where differences often mattered more than similarities.

Ollie led me to a less congested part of the lobby and looked into my eyes. "Jessica,-"

"Jessie." I spoke my nickname gently. Encouragingly. He had earned the right to call me Jessie. Especially if he was about to ask me out.

He smiled. "Jessie, if you don't already have plans, would you—?" He stopped abruptly.

Why, I wondered? Was something wrong? I didn't catch on until I heard a male voice behind me.

"Hello, Mr. Lewis. It's good to see you. That play was amazing, wasn't it?" Then the speaker stepped around me and stood where both of us could see him.

Although he looked vaguely familiar—his voice sounded even more familiar—I couldn't place him. Yet I felt like I should've been able to.

He looked at me and cocked his head for just an instant. Then his expression brightened. "Jessie? That really is you, isn't it? I was nearly positive that was the back of your head. I would recognize it almost anywhere. How long has it been now?"

With that, he threw his arms around me in a bear hug.