Prologue: The Plan
Her name was Anna. Pronunciation: “Ah-nuh.” Any other pronunciation was unacceptable, so you had better not try “An-ah” or any other nonsense like that. Anna worked as a secretary at a paperclip corporation, and she rode her bike to work because she read in The Times that it was good for your health. She had lived in New York City all her life, and lived in the most sensibly priced flat she could find. She was twenty-eight and a half years old and lived with two roommates, Marcie and Ivy, and exactly one dog. The dog was small, and properly trained, and it never wet the floor.
Anna was just like everyone else, but she had a secret. She would be going somewhere under false pretenses tonight. Now, this may sound unlike Anna. I suppose I have presented her as a rather sensible person, someone who was not likely to engage in dubious affairs. However, to Anna, these actions were prudent indeed- though she was breaking a rule of society, it was for a very good reason. You see, Anna liked food. She liked it very much. But not being an extravagant person, who did not make a large salary at the paperclip company, she had devised a way to experience New York’s finest delicacies- every single night.
Anna opened a large, spiral-bound planner, in which she kept all important appointments and meetings. Every day, written at the bottom of the daily schedule, was a different man’s name. No, Anna was not a serial killer. She had a different date, every night, with a different man, with a purpose: to receive one free dinner.
The men, you see, had no idea in the slightest of Anna’s devious plan. Anna didn’t have a lot of friends, but she had recently reached out to every person she knew in search of set-ups (but really food, of course). She scheduled eight dates, one after another, and was looking forward to a glorious eight days of free dinner, paid for by the unknowing men. They would think they were simply out for a nice date, happy to buy dinner for a pretty girl. In reality though, they would all be in the clutches of the evil Anna. They would never receive a call back after the date, and Anna would get away scot-free, with a full stomach and unchanged bank account.
She smiled to herself. This plan was truly quite genius.
Chapter One: Stanley Penton
That night, Anna put on a dazzling dress and spritzed some perfume. She wanted to impress her date, so he would buy the entire menu for her. She took a cab to the restaurant- it would be rather unfashionable to ride her bike. During the ride, she recalled what she knew about her date. Her coworker, Ashley, had recommended him. She said that while he didn’t have a lot of prospects, he was cute!
She met him outside of a sparkling restaurant in the center of town. Stanley Penton, recently divorced and nearing forty, had a simple smile and an innocent demeanor. He looked like the kind of man who has nothing to hide. Hopefully, Anna thought, that includes his pocketbook.
She sat down to dinner across from him, feeling slightly overdressed to his shabby suit. That was the point, after all, in wearing such an extravagant outfit. It communicated to him that she was a woman worth spending money on.
In the time she spent with him, Anna did not learn much about Stanley, perhaps because there was not much to learn. He was an uncomplicated sort of fellow, who seemed rather comfortable in his life, although obviously bothered by his recent divorce. He still wore his wedding ring, which struck her as strange. Perhaps he had many strange habits, which was all the more reason to dump him after this one date.
Not much conversation ensued, as Anna was focused entirely on her dish: roasted mushrooms over oysters with a side of pickled pears. Several minutes later, she pushed her dish forward with a sigh.
“I am finished, are you finished?” said Anna rather curtly.
“Well, yes, I suppose,” Stanley said, surprised. “Can I escort you home?”
“I don’t think so.” she responded. “Have a nice night, Stanley Penton.”
You might have felt bad, squeezing an expensive dinner out of this poor man. But not Anna. She was completely heartless, or at least, that was what she told herself. It’s possible a twinge of guilt followed her home as she left Stanley behind to pay for his own cab.
Chapter Two: Landon Hunter Bryce III
Not having a large amount of contacts in her phone, Anna had called an old college friend, who still lived by the university. Kensey Mackenzieson answered with a cheery, “Anna!! How ARE you? It’s been so long!”
Anna was unprepared for Kensey’s energy. “Look, I’ll be straight and to the point. I need a date.”
“Oh, like a date for a, like, wedding, or-”
Anna cut her off. “No, just a date. Do you know of anyone?”
“Well, there’s not a ton of like, people here that are like, your age… I mean there’s a couple of guys that have been here like, forever or something!”
“That will do,” Anna said. “How much do they typically make?”
“Well, their dads are like, suuper rich, you know.”
“Good. Thank you.”
“Sure thing sister! I’ll stop by the frat house and see who I can find. We gotta like, catch up sometime!”
“Yes, forward me his number please once you’ve found one, and thank you.”
And so, Night Two of the Genius Plan was formed.
Landon and Anna found themselves at an upscale restaurant off of campus. Her date was 27, and had thinning hair and the body of a man who enjoys quite a lot of beer on weeknights. He was dressed in baggy shorts, a tank top, and sandals with socks. Landon ordered a large plate of wings off of the bar menu, while Anna knew she would enjoy the expensive lobster.
“So, you friends with Kensey?” Landon said.
“Yes, we went to college together,” Anna responded, politely picking at her food.
“She came around the frat looking for a date for you. Lucky for her I had just lost a drinking bet with my buddy Jase.”
“Oh… how lovely.”
“Yeah, my buddies and I are always getting up to something like that. But I'm Vice President of the frat alliance, so that’s lucky for you. Following in my dad’s footsteps.”
“Ok,” Anna was not quite sure how to respond to that. “Um, what do you study?”
“Sports management. Yeah, I should be graduating around March.”
Anna felt obliged to point out that nobody she had ever heard of had graduated in March, but she stayed silent and relished her lobster.
“Yeah, I got a pretty good metabolism,” Landon said, unprovoked. “Probably could order about fifty more of these wings if I wanted to.”
Anna wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be impressive, but she was sure of one thing: the lobster was delicious.
Chapter Three: Pete Chang
“So, is your full name Peter?” Anna sat in an upscale diner across from a short man shaped like a 6-year old boy.
“Naw, it’s just Pete. My parents named me that. Are you questioning my parents?!”
“Oh! No, not at all.” She hadn’t expected him to take offense from this. “I was just wondering.”
“What is your occupation?” she continued. Surely this simple question wouldn’t anger him.
“Haven’t really got one,” he said. “I live with my parents.”
Pete Chang, 51, did indeed live with his parents. Mr. Chang was a dentist; Marcie’s dentist. If you may recall, Marcie was Anna’s roommate.
Curse Marcie and her all-too frequent dental cleanings, thought Anna.
“Are you ready to order?” she said aloud. It was best to get the food and get out as quickly as possible.
“Sure, I’ll have the CHICKEN NUGGETS!” Pete said, raising his voice and turning directly towards the waiter. “Gourmet chicken nuggets,” he specified when the waiter came closer. “No sauce. And I’ll have a side of bread and French fries, and Sprite to drink.”
Glad there’s no commitment here, thought Anna. Just a date between friends. Friends of friends. Well, friends of dentist’s friends, really.
“If I may ask, what made you want to go out with me?” Anna asked, just trying to make conversation.
“I need to get married,” Pete said bluntly.
Anna’s water sprayed from her mouth involuntarily.
“Allergies?” Pete questioned.
“Um… sure,” Anna responded. What kind of allergies would cause a person to do that, she was unsure.
Anna felt uncomfortable approaching the subject again, and they stayed in silence until the food arrived. Ben’s childish meal was in contrast to her elegant salad, topped with delectable vegetables and a refined dressing. It was a diner, but a classy one, so long as you didn’t order from the kids menu, like her date did.
“Why do you want to get married?” Anna asked, finally reigning up the courage.
“My parents will says I have to get married before I inherit.” Pete said, shoveling fries into his mouth. “Dentist money, you know.”
“Oh, how interesting,” Anna said, stabbing an olive with her fork.
“Every dentist clinic you see around here, that’s my dad,” Pete said, before washing his bread down with a large gulp of Sprite and burping. “My dad though, he’s been in it for years. Work’s been hard on him. All those teeth.”
“I can’t imagine,” said Anna politely.
“Anyway, he’s getting old, doctor says he doesn’t have much time left. He won’t listen, just keeps on dentisting.”
“Yeah, the money’ll be mine pretty soon. So what do you think?”
“What do you think about what?” Anna said, hoping it wasn’t what she thought it was.
“Wanna marry me?” he belched again.
“I don’t think so. To-go box?” she flagged down a waiter.
Another failed date, another successful dinner.
Chapter Four: Boris Kazvolokoff
“In my country, we no eat these… how you say, paellas.”
Boris Kazvolokoff’s curly hair was all that was visible from behind a menu. It stuck up on its end like the Bride of Frankenstein, Anna observed. His thick foreign accent was only slightly more confusing than his blue tracksuit. They were at a Spanish restaurant, and Anna was contemplating ordering the tortilla de patatas, doused in hot sauce.
“What is your country?” Anna inquired.
“Oh, you could no pronounce it.”
Very strange reason for declining to answer me, Anna thought. Perhaps he is a foreign spy, here to assassinate our government leaders! I better eat fast.
Boris was staring at his water in a very odd manner.
“When shall we have wedding?” he asked.
“What??” asked Anna indignantly.
“You mail-order bride, are you not?”
“I responded to an advertisement in the classifieds that my roommate Ivy showed me. I am not a mail-order bride!”
“You are… not mail-order bride?”
“I am not mail-order bride!”
Two wedding proposals in a row was a bit of a headache. No matter, the tortilla de patatas was ravishingly divine.
Chapter Five- Ben Quell
Night Five found Anna and her date at a sushi restaurant, famous for its made-from-scratch wasabi. Ben Quell, 32, was a confident man with a winning smile. While they munched on their food, she couldn’t help but notice he was rather toned.
“Do you work out?” she asked.
“I do, I certainly do.” He spoke in short bursts, with huffy breaths in between. “In fact, I jogged on the way over here.”
“That’s quite impressive.”
“I believe so. But I think even more important than physical fitness, is the teeth. Always make sure to brush your teeth.”
This guy was so easily distracted. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Anna said, in reference to the teeth.
“Wanna get together for brunch sometime? I like brunch.”
“I like sushi. Which is why we are here.”
“Oh, yes, of course, I like brunch though, I do.”
“I think it is, hey, have you heard of Scientology?”
“The religion. You see, it’s really quite fascinating-”
“Ok, I think that’s enough.” Anna left the restaurant. The sushi was spectacular.
Chapter Six- Carter Rah
The dazzling dress was in the dry cleaners. The old standby, her Little Black Dress, would have to do. Night Six was with a man Anna had met at the dry cleaners. Carter Rah, 29, had accidentally left his red sweater in her washer, dying all her white sheets an ugly pink. He asked if he could buy her dinner, by way of an apology. And Anna, as we know by now, is not one to turn down dinner.
She met him outside of a snug Italian restaurant of her choosing. He pulled the seat back for her, and poured her water. He spoke with a smooth accent, slightly Egyptian in dialect.
“Do you fancy a scone?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you so much.”
As to why there were scones in this Italian restaurant, Anna had no idea. But it was perfect. The dimly lit room with a small number of customers set the mood just right, and the sound of an elegantly played piano resonated in the background.
“Where is your family from?” Anna could not help but be intrigued over his exotic accent.
“Egypt, originally, but my mum is from Great Britain. So I ended up with a sort of mix, I suppose.”
“I think it’s lovely,” Anna said, and for once her focus slipped away from food.
“Shall we order?” Carter asked.
“Ah, yes of course,” Anna responded. She was jolted back to Earth with the reminder of the real reason she was here.
Anna ordered a light, creamy pasta, and Carter asked for a ravioli dish. They did not eat in silence, but rather exchanged stories. Anna told of growing up in New York City, and Carter of dividing his time between London with his mother, and Cairo with his father. He told magnificent tales of his travels with his father, the famed archaeologist. Carter detailed everything from the many historic ruins he had visited, to the meaning of Egyptians amulet symbols. He told the tales of the creation of the world, and of the sun god Ra, from which his name derived. Anna felt something that night. Something she had never felt before. But she pushed the feelings aside. She thanked Carter for the meal, and returned home, another night complete.
Chapter Seven: Rain Morrison
“British Hippie Rockstar” was perhaps the best way to describe Rain Morrison. Anna’s gym teacher had met him at yoga class, and while he wasn’t her type, she said Anna could do fine with him.
“This taco is lovely, that is,” he said in a very thick British accent. Night Seven was located in a Mexican restaurant, and Anna had ordered a large taco plate. Rain had proceeded to steal one of the tacos, much to Anna’s disdain.
He was dressed all in black, and smelled like a mix of cigarettes and essential oils.
“See the animals, this is what they eat.”
“Guacamole?” Anna asked, confused.
“Veg-e-ta-bles!” Rain enunciated every syllable.
“Oh, yes vegetables. I suppose animals do eat that.”
“See, I learn from them.”
“The animals!” Rain was completely animated. “I go to a zoo, I learn from them.”
“Oh, you’re a zookeeper?” she queried.
“No, I don’t work there. I go to LEARN from them. Animals, see, they know everything. They have the key to the universe in their pockets.”
“Animals have pockets?”
“Pockets of the MIND! Where they store all of the information!”
This guy was off his rocker. But the guacamole tacos, those were right on the nail, whatever the animals might say.
Chapter Eight: Prof.Thomas Timothy Worthington-Bumberson, PhD
“I never had much time for dating,” Date Number Eight said. “Too caught up in the ‘academic world,’ one might say.”
Prof.Thomas Timothy Worthington-Bumberson, PhD, age 36, was a professor of medieval looms and weaving. He looked like a man out of time- he wore a tweed jacket and little round glasses. He wasn’t old, but his dress and demeanor made him seem so. Anna got the feeling that he had dressed like this since his college days. Probably his whole life, in fact.
“I daresay, this scotch is mightly fine!” Prof. Worthington-Bumberson, PhD, said. I should note; he was not British.
“What does your academic life entail?” Anna asked.
“Oh, you know, the usual,” he responded, “lectures, research, teaching, loom-bearing, loom-whistling, loom-seeking.”
“Oh how interesting. And what made you study the loom?” Anna peered out the window cautiously. They were at a restaurant in a high-rise building, with much too many glass windows for her nerves.
“What made me study the loom? Loom-researching, loom-surveying, loom-excavating. That sort of thing just piqued my interest, and I knew it would be my life’s work. You should come to one of my lectures sometime!”
Anna couldn’t hear him. She was much too busy stuffing herself with tomato risotto.
Chapter Ten: The End of the Plan
The plan was over. Every dish was clean, and her bank statement remained the same. She had gotten everything she wished for, but something was missing. These eight days had changed her. The search for food had been fulfilled, yet still she hungered. She found herself opening her drawer- the linen drawer. Her spare sheets splotched with an ugly pink.
Anna knew what she had to do. She scrolled through her contact, past washed-up Stanley Penton, spoiled frat boy Landon Hunter Bryce III, man-boy Pete Chang, suspected foreign spy Boris Kazvolokoff, Scientologist Ben Quell, cigarette-smoking hippie Rain Morrison, and time-traveling Prof.Thomas Timothy Worthington-Bumberson, PhD. All these names, but one stood alone, a name that taught her that she wasn’t quite as heartless as she once thought. She pressed the words, “Carter Rah” and it only took one ring before he answered the phone.