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Contemporary Funny

Hope felt good in her sensible blank pumps. Their 2-inch heel gave her a graceful lift without torturing her feet. Her slim-fitting black pants showed off her shapely legs, while her blue flared shirt hid the slight bulge in her middle-aged belly.

            She pushed aside the discarded dresses and tops that were strewn across her bed. She had practically emptied her whole closet searching for the perfect outfit. But doesn’t every woman scour their closet before she goes out for an evening, even once she’s on the other side of 50?

            Before leaving her apartment, Hope stopped to inspect herself in the entrance hall mirror. Her eyes were lightly defined by liner and her cheeks and lips showed just a touch of pink. Her thinning brown hair was tamed, the ends curving under her chin.  She eyed the clock on the wall. It was 7:20. Perfect. She wouldn’t arrive too early – or too late. 

            She grabbed her keys and the tiny purse that was too small to fit her wallet.  She had managed to stuff in some cash, her driver’s license, cell phone, two Tylenol wrapped in a tissue (just in case) and her pink lipstick. 

            The drive was easy, not much traffic tonight, so she stayed on her arbitrary rigid schedule, arriving promptly at 7:45. She was always battling time – either trying to keep up with it or wishing it would move faster. This was just one of many reasons her stomach was churning this evening.

            She parked her mid-sized Toyota sedan, careful not to pull up too close to the luxury car ahead of her – or the enormous SUV in her rearview mirror. As Hope walked up the brick walkway to the Victorian house, she could feel the nervous churning getting worse, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other. She and Rose had been in library book group together for years, but she only knew Rose’s husband Sal from the stories Rose shared during their monthly meetings. She tried to recall one of those now. Why hadn’t she asked more about him?

            Regardless, Hope was pleased to be breaking down a social barrier. It was hard to go from being Facebook and library book group friends to real friends who went out on weekends and visited each other’s homes. She used to have so many of those friends, the type who would call you or come over and drink wine on your couch while you talked for hours. Now people communicated their deepest feelings through posts and comments, not real  conversations. She still hadn’t adapted. 

            Hope smoothed out her pants as she approached the large double front door. She was the only one from book group going, but her friend had assured her that other singles had been invited. It was a chance to connect the old-fashioned way.

            Rose opened the door, wrapping Hope in a big hug. Hope stiffened and then relaxed into the embrace, feeling some of the tension dissipate. 

            “I’m so glad you could make it,” Rose said as she pulled away.  

            “Of course.” Hope shrugged, as if walking into a party where she didn’t know anyone was no big deal. As if this party wasn’t the only thing on her calendar for weeks other than work and yoga class and a dentist appointment. Was that coming up soon? “I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”

            Rose beamed. “You’ll have fun tonight!” Hope took in her purple dress, which blended in with the brightly colored walls and artwork in the large foyer.  Her own living room was a mix of blue and white, with lots of dark wooden pieces taken from her parents’ home. Understated elegance, or that’s what she told herself.  

“I love how bright and colorful your home is,” she gushed. “Although I shouldn’t be surprised given your taste in clothing.” 

            Rose laughed. “Thanks - I try to tone it down, but you know how it is?”

            No, Hope didn’t know, but she appreciated the vibrant space.  You couldn’t be stressed in such a happy room, could you?

            A group stood nearby, each holding a glass of wine stiffly. “Hey, guys, this is my friend Hope.” Rose began rattling off names, and heads nodded in response to each one. Okay, Mary with the thick woolly, hair, like Mary had a little lamb, Hope repeated in her head, trying the memory trick she had read about in a magazine. 

As she focused on one name, she realized she had missed half the others, but she picked up on Bob. He looks muscular like Bob the Builder. That was all she heard before Rose finished her introductions and rushed off to get Hope a glass of wine. 

Bob grinned at her. He had nice eyes, and Hope felt her cheeks burning as she averted his direct gaze. “So, how do you know Rose and Sal?” she asked, remembering that it’s better to engage people than to start talking about yourself.

“Sal and I work in the same construction management firm,” Bob said, taking a sip of his wine. Yes, perfect. Bob the Builder. Hope bit her lip to keep from smiling. “Hey, did I miss something?” 

“What?” Hope squeaked, feeling the pink spread from her cheeks to her toes. 

“You have this amused expression on your face.” He peeked over his shoulder, and then the other. “Is something good going on back there?”

            He was joking with her, right? Having a little fun. But why her? She was about to respond when Rose came over and handed her a large glass of wine. It was like finding water in the dessert. Hope took a sip, and then another, praying this liquid courage did its job quickly. “No, you’re not missing anything.” 

“As long as you’re sure,” Bob said. “I hate to miss a good joke."

“Believe me, you didn't. I don’t know anybody here except Rose,” she admitted. “She and I are library book group friends, and this is the first time I’ve been to her house. I’m just taking it all in.” There, small talk isn’t so hard. She rewarded herself with another sip, alarmed at how quickly her glass was going from full to half full. Or was that half empty? 

“Ah, so we’re in the same boat,” Bob the Builder – no, Bob – said. “Sal and I are good buddies at work. This is the first time I’ve been invited over.”

“Me too.” said… was it Mary, yes with the wooly hair. “I’m a new neighbor.”

Bob looked momentarily irritated at Mary’s intrusion, but his expression quickly changed. “That’s nice,” he said, but his attention was distracted by something. Ah yes, food. A woman was headed over with a large platter of mini quiches and Greek filo dough pastries. Bob took one of the paper plates she offered and loaded it with goodies. “Want to share?” he asked.  “Less juggling that way.” 

“Oh.” Hope couldn’t hide her surprise at this intimate gesture. She nodded, hoping Mary wouldn’t be sharing too. Fortunately, she took her own plate, and loaded it up before the server  moved on to serve the forgotten-name people.

“Please, I can’t eat all this myself. Well, I could but I really shouldn’t,” Bob held the plate in front of Hope as he popped an entire mini quiche effortlessly into his mouth. 

“As long as you don’t mind holding both the plate and your wine. I can never make that work.” The wine was already making her feel relaxed, and a bit flirtatious. She picked up a filo dough thingy, discreetly sucking in the flaky crumbs as she bit into it. 

“I’ve always fancied myself a good juggler,” Bob said, washing his food down with a slug of wine. 

“Do you mean literal balls in the air or figurative?” Hope peeked down to make sure no filo crumbs had landed someplace inappropriate. 

“Definitely both.” Bob nodded in confirmation.

“I know just what you mean.” Hope had no idea what he meant.

“Hey, listen, do you want to get our of here?” Bob asked, popping a filo into his mouth in one motion. That’s one way to avoid crumbs.

“I’m not sure that’s…” Hope felt her throat closing. She’d heard about guys like this.

“I didn’t mean out of the party,” Bob said, an adorably embarrassed smile breaking out on his face. “I just meant out of this lineup.” 

 That’s exactly what it looked like, this row of strangers clutching their wines and paper plates. Hope laughed, and boy that felt good. “Where would we go?” She asked, surprised that she was on board with this plan.

“I bet there’s a comfy couch somewhere in this house.”

“Do you think we’re allowed to venture into the living room? Hope felt adventurous.

“I think we ought to find out, before I spill something on this oriental rug.” Hope looked down, and they were in fact standing on an expensive looking rug. 

She and Bob gave a cursory wave to Mary, who was chatting with the nameless people, and head off in search of seating. Hope grinned as she watched Bob make his way through the room, taking each step as though he were on a secret mission. “I think I spot empty folding chairs” he whispered.

“Grab them!” she whispered back, feeling as if this were a real mission.

Bob swept in, just as the last two chairs were about to be taken and put a hand on top of each one. “M’lady,” he said, motioning for her to sit. 

Hope did something like a curtsy – what had gotten into her – before sitting as gracefully as she could on the vinyl seat. Bob sat beside her and as they each grabbed for another hors d’oeuvre, their fingers grazed for a moment. It wasn’t exactly fireworks, but the contact left Hope feeling… tongue tied, and Bob got quiet too. They sat in companionable silence, each taking in the crowd of people around them.

“So, what do you do when you’re not going to parties,” Bob asked.

“I’m a research librarian. Not exactly exciting, but I enjoy it.” Hope always felt she had to defend her job. It was so cliché, the introverted librarian.

“Living in a world of books with all that information at your fingertips. That sounds pretty cool to me,” Bob said.

“I’ve never thought of it that way.” Hope swallowed the lump of quiche and washed it down with more wine. She almost choked, but at least no crumbs.

“Maybe now you will,” Bob said.

His response was perfect. There was nothing more she could say on the subject. “Hey, is that Sal over there?” she asked.

“The balding guy in the button down who’s waving his arms around? Yeah that’s him.”

“I recognized him from the pictures Rose showed us of their trip to London,”

“They’re a great couple,” Bob said. “The kind that text up and back all day, planning their candlelight dinners or whatever it is happy couples do after work.”

 “That’s nice,” she said. “They’re lucky.”

Bob looked thoughtful, but then he started waving as Sal walked toward them. “Hey Bob, glad you could make it.”

“Yeah, me too.” Bob put down his wine so he could fist bump Sal. “Nice party.”

“Thanks, this is our first annual. I’m just hoping it doesn’t get out of hand,” Sal joked.

“Then maybe you should consider pouring smaller glasses of wine,” Bob said.

“Or stop inviting lightweights like you,” Sal quipped.

Hope laughed, and both sets of eyes turned toward her.

“I don’t think you’ve met Hope,” Bob said to his friend.

“Hi, nice to meet you Hope.  How long have you known Bob?”

“Oh, I’d say six or seven minutes,” Hope said.

“Really, It feels like it must be closer to eight by now,” Bob said, scratching his chin.

“So, you two didn’t come here together?” Sal asked. 

“No, I’m Rose’s friend from book group.”

             “Ah yes, the famous book group.” Sal nodded.  Rose never stops talking about it. You two had me fooled there. I was sure you were together.”

            “No, just chatting.” Hope felt like she’d be caught in the act. 

            “Yeah, comparing notes,” Bob said, downing the last drop of his wine.

            “I guess that’s my cue to get you a refill – and one for Hope too,” Sal said. “Don’t worry, I’ll just fill you up halfway.”

            As Sal walked away, Hope looked at Bob and then down at her shoes. Just the suggestion that they were a couple left her feeling self-conscience.  “It’s nice to finally meet Sal.” 

            “Yeah, he’s one of the good ones,” Bob said. “I’m glad I came tonight.” He hesitated. “I’m having a good time talking to you.”

            Hope was speechless. She needed time - a reset. “Thank you,” she said stiffly, and before she could see the disappointment on his face, “I’ll be right back.”

            The room was a bit wobbly as she got up to find the bathroom, so she took it slow. 

            When she walked into the brightly lit guest bath, she stood frozen in front of the large mirror. Her lipstick was a bit faded, but otherwise her make up looked good. Every hair was in place thanks to all the hairspray she applied earlier. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was, she’d been having a great time with Bob, feeling smart and funny and attractive until she wasn’t. She had allowed her insecurity to creep in.

She could leave this bathroom and head out the front door without him seeing her.  She’d be home in 10 minutes and laying on the couch in her sweats in 20. She could practically feel herself snuggled under her warm throw blanket, the TV taking her away from reality, from parties where it required so much energy to make conversation with strangers.

But Bob didn’t feel like a stranger and the conversation had flowed. They had made each other laugh. Still, it there were no guarantees their fun banter would turn into anything. But it definitely wouldn’t if she left now.

Hope took out her pink lipstick and relined her lips, putting a bit on her cheeks and rubbing it in. If this didn’t work out, it would just be a story to tell at the next book group. 

She closed her eyes for a moment, envisioning herself not at home on her couch  but back on that vinyl folding chair, talking and drinking wine with Bob. She opened the bathroom door and like someone on a mission she walked back, hoping he was waiting for her and not flirting with some other woman. She smiled when she reached him. He was sitting in the same spot, his leg propped up on her chair, holding two half-filled glasses of wine. He looked up at her. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to…” Hope started to say but stopped when her voice caught.

“Sorry for what?” Bob grinned. “Hey, I fought to keep this seat, and I was about ready to drink your wine if you didn’t get back soon.”

He moved his leg and Hope sat down, taking her glass from him. “Then it would have been my fault if you drank too much.” She took a large gulp of her wine, not caring if she was already tipsy.

“Yeah, that’s right. All your fault,” Bob teased. 

“Maybe we should eat more of those little filo dough thingies to make sure we we’re not drinking too much on an empty stomach.” Hope felt everything easing inside of her.

Bob’s facer lit up. “Filo dough thingies. I love it.” He waved his arms at a woman heading over with a tray. “Excuse me, madam, we’d like some filo dough thingies,” he says in a proper-sounding voice.

The woman smiled as she lowered the tray and Bob filled up a fresh plate for them to share. 

            “Now show me how you pop those things in your mouth in one bite,” Hope said. “I always get crumbs in awkward places.”

            “it’s not something you can learn in one evening,” Bob explained. “It takes time to perfect a skill like that.”

            “Is that so?” Hope turned around to see her friend standing across the room, smiling at her. Rose winked and lifted her glass in cheers. Maybe there would be a good story to tell at book group – maybe even a great story. Hope turned to Bob and watched as he began his demonstration, his eyes filled with mischief.  She could let this play out – this evening, this connection. Time would tell if there was anything there. She relaxed into her seat.  We have all the time in the world. 

January 22, 2024 02:10

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4 comments

Hannah Lynn
17:33 Jan 31, 2024

I enjoyed your story! It can be incredibly stressful going out to socialize especially with the blanket and TV tempting us to stay home!

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Karen Hope
19:07 Jan 31, 2024

Thank you so much. It's good to see I'm not the only one who loves the comfort of my couch!

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Trudy Jas
01:36 Jan 29, 2024

Geez, Karen. I know we haven't met. So are all over-50 women like me? You capured that insecurity and hopeful bravado so well. Tha kd=s for reading my story.

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Karen Hope
15:51 Jan 29, 2024

Thank you - I'm glad you can relate. I appreciate the feedback!

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