Jackson leaned in for a kiss. Miranda turned her head, brunette curls swinging, allowing a peck on the cheek, and whispered in Jackson’s ear.
“What are you doing? This isn’t a real date. Remember?”
Jackson moved his lips to her ear, pretending to give her a little nibble, and whispered back.
“We need to make it look real. There are cameras everywhere.” The cameras loved them. His short, straight blond hair gave contrasted well with her shoulder-length, curling brunette. Her soft, caramel skin offset the alabaster hue of his. A dark pink scar, stretching across his left eye, and a diamond stud in his left ear turned a bland facescape into a canvas of wonder. Her face could have graced the cover of any magazine in its natural beauty, including a tiny dark spot on her right cheek, and full, sinuous eyebrows, with an unusual double dip.
Miranda gave him a hug, arms around his neck, full, firm breasts against his chest. She brought her lips almost to his.
“You’re right. I was just concerned you were getting carried away.”
“Would that be so bad?” he asked, lightly touching his lips to hers.
“This is supposed to be a date. So let’s pretend it is.” Miranda turned to stand beside Jackson and put her arm in his.
“It’s lovely. You have excellent taste.”
It was difficult to tell who led whom. They moved towards Monte Carlo.
“You’re certainly proof of that.” He smiled.
“Table for two, please. The Cohen party.”
The maitre d scanned his reservation sheet. “Ah, here we are.” He looked down his nose at the camerawoman shadowing the couple. “I’m very sorry sir, but your videographer cannot film inside. Our guests deserve their privacy.”
Beth LaFrance lowered her camera and stepped up beside Jackson and Miranda. “I won’t be filming anyone else. Just these two. They’re on The Best Match.”
The maitre d clasped his hands together and beamed. “I love that show!”
“Then you know what’s at stake,” Beth answered. “They’re trying to win one million dollars. We need to film their second date.”
“Then their second date will need to be somewhere else. We have a Congresswoman here, but not her husband. A noted television evangelist, trying to convert someone half his age. And others who come here because we are discreet.” He glanced down. “I can put them near the kitchen, and give you a seat next to them. But your camera must stay here.”
Beth looked at Jackson. “If you’re willing to fill out a report card after this date, we can skip filming for now. But we need the footage. You’ll need to go on another date, within a day or two.
“I have to go on an extra date with her?” Jackson shrank away from Miranda and pouted.
“In your dreams, mister.” Miranda raised her hand to slap Jackson’s face, but caressed it instead. They both laughed.
“OK then,” Beth concurred. “Call me tonight, and we can figure out your next date. And I can get that report card to you.”
+ + + + + + + + + + + +
After ordering, Miranda and Jackson took advantage of the lack of cameras.
“Listen, Jackson, you’re a nice guy. But you’re not my type. I can fake it enough to get through the show, especially with a million dollars at stake.”
“Have you considered acting as a career? I think you’re pulling this off very effectively.” Jackson took a sip of water. “What is your type, anyway?”
“I don’t have a type as much as I know who’s not it. And thank you for the compliment on my acting. You’re not doing too bad yourself.”
“Thank you, I think. Not having a type, but ruling some people out, seems risky.” He looked at Miranda, then went on. “Never mind. Even though this is a fake date, and there are no cameras, I suggest we make the most of it. Here’s to a platonic date.” He raised his glass.
Miranda clinked her glass against his. “To platonicism, if that’s even a word.” She set her glass down and went on. “This is a nice restaurant. And I’m really looking forward to the Stuffed Filet Mignon Oscar, in spite of the price. We can go Dutch since we’re not on camera.”
“That’s OK, I’ve got this. And you’re right. It is a very nice place.”
“Have you been here before?”
“Why did you choose it, then?”
“According to the reviews I read online, the cuisine is excellent, and the ambiance superb.”
“You did your homework. I’m impressed.”
“It might be a fake date, but we have a competition to win.”
“More homework next time, Romeo. If you knew we couldn’t be filmed here, you might have chosen a different restaurant.”
“How do you know I didn’t know that? Maybe I wanted an extra date.”
“Yeah, right.” Their food arrived, closely followed by the sommelier.
+ + + + + + + + + + + +
“If you don’t have a specific type, what would be your perfect date?” Jackson took another bite of his Coq au Vin.
“He’d pick me up in his limo. The aroma of two dozen roses would fill the back seat. He’d hand me a little black box with a diamond bracelet inside, something for me to wear on our night out. I’d have champagne and he’d have water, while the chauffeur drove us to the airport.”
“So you prefer he doesn’t drink?”
“Not yet. He needs to be sober, because he flies his private jet to Paris. We take in a fabulous show, eat at an elegant restaurant, maybe on the sidewalk. Then we go to the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel, where we can see the Eiffel tower from our suite. Three days later, after touring Gay Paree, we come home. How about yours? Perfect date, or type? Or both?” Miranda savored another bite, giving Jackson time to respond.
“I don’t think the Best Match will pay for us to go to Paris. You’ll have to settle for a more mundane date until we win. As for my type? She’d need to be brilliant, witty, and adventurous. A good sense of humor, complementing mine, so we could surprise each other and share laughter. The perfect date? I’ll have to think about that for a minute.”
“What would she look like, Jackson? Thin, willowy, Rubenesque, tall, short? What color of hair, eyes, skin?”
“Looks aren’t everything, you know. You didn’t tell me what your fellow looked like. Oh, right - you don’t have a type. He might even look like me.” Jackson noticed the spark in her eye and the set of her jaw, so he relented. “But I’ll go along with this. I suppose she would have some substance. Some prefer rail-thin women, others like a lot of booty. I’m somewhere in the middle. I like a nice pair of breasts, a waist I can wrap my arms around, and long, sensuous legs. I’m not one for blondes, redheads offer some fire, but I think brunette is my favorite hair color. On women.” He paused to take a sip of wine.
“The color of her eyes isn’t what matters; it’s their depth. I want to look into vibrant eyes, alive, with a spark deep within. As for skin tone, I really don’t have any preference there at all. Her skin color might dictate which gems would look best on her, but I’m willing to buy diamonds, rubies, emeralds - anything that would make her stand out.” He paused, then switched topics.
“This Coq au Vin is amazing. Using morels and small bites of sourdough baguette really make it unique.” He took another bite.
“So is this Filet Mignon. And Hollandaise in lieu the Bearnaise allows the steak and crab to remain the star of the show.” Before Miranda took another bite she challenged Jackson to continue.”
“Perfect date. You still haven’t told me about your perfect date.”
“Do you trust me? And are you adventurous?”
Miranda gave Jackson a quizzical look, eyebrows straightening as she raised them. “I guess I better trust you if we’re going to have a chance at winning the Best Match. And who doesn’t love a good adventure? As long as it doesn’t involve skydiving. I worked for a man once who had special boots, a limp and a cane, all after one bad landing.”
Jackson snapped his fingers and swung his arm down in an “Aw, shucks” gesture, but he chuckled. “No skydiving,” he promised.
“Nice try, mister. Now that we know I trust you and can be adventurous, tell me about your perfect date.”
“I don’t want to tell you. I want to show you. I’ll talk to Beth, and arrange for our next fake date. We’ll do that on Thursday if that works for you. How early can I pick you up?”
“I could be ready any time if I call in sick.”
“Do that. Call in sick. I’ll pick you up around 10 in the morning. If that works out for Beth and the station.”
“You made a mistake, mister. You gave me a clue. Your perfect date is in the daytime.”
“Got me. I knew you were brilliant. Please bring extra toiletries.”
“Another clue. Apparently, we’re doing something outside in the daytime. No change of clothing means no overnight.”
+ + + + + + + + + + + +
Miranda looked out her window, small cosmetics bag in hand. A white stretch limo pulled up in front of her townhouse. She noticed neighbors looking out their windows. And Beth LaFrance, standing outside a KGN van, her camera aimed at the limo. Jackson climbed out of the back seat and started towards her door. She couldn’t wait, so she opened the door, stepped out, closed it, and bounced to meet Jackson halfway down the walk.
“You’ve got me now, Jackson. I can’t imagine where we’re going for a daytime date in a stretch limo.” Jackson just smiled, took her arm, and led her to the car. The fragrant scent of roses wafted out as she climbed inside. There were two places left to sit; one for her, one for Jackson. The rest of the back seat was filled with red roses. She gave Jackson a wide-eyed look, raised eyebrows straightening from their double curve, and took the seat on the far side. He climbed in behind her, closed the door, and the limo pulled away. Almost hidden amongst the roses, she noted a small red light, indicating an active camera.
After he belted in, Jackson poured her a glass of Dom Perignon, filling a second glass for himself.
“Almost perfect,” she smiled, lifting her glass to take a sip. “You’re not drinking water.”
“I’m not a pilot,” he answered, taking a sip of bubbly from his own glass. Miranda laughed.
“Touche. And we’re not going to Paris. Where are we going?”
“Paris.” She gaped at Jackson. “Technically, we’re not going to Paris. We’re going to Westchester County Airport. Then we’re going to Paris.”
“You’re kidding. Right?”
Jackson produced a small, black jewelry box from somewhere. Miranda stared at Jackson, the box, him, finally taking the box. She set her champagne down and opened the box. An exquisite diamond bracelet by Cartier nestled inside.
Miranda looked at Jackson, eyes wide, slightly flushed. You’re not kidding, are you? How did you get the station to pay for all of this?”
Jackson stared at the red light on the nearly hidden camera. “I told you nobody reads credits.” He turned back to Miranda. “I’m one of the Executive Producers of the show. So Best Matches is paying for all this. Technically I’m paying for it, along with the other two Executive Producers and KGN.”
“Wow! I’m truly impressed. None of the other contestants are going to be able to compete with this.”
“I hate to tell you Miranda, but we are not eligible to win. Partly because I’m one of the Executive Producers.”
“Only partly, Jackson?”
“Yes. Because you might have felt like we were going on fake dates, but they were real for me. As soon as I saw your audition, I felt drawn to you. Getting to know you has only strengthened that feeling.” Jackson wasn’t ready to let Mirando know the true depth of his feelings. He planned on making his proposal in Paris. If things worked out, that is.
“This so not the perfect date, Jackson. I feel like you duped me, used me, and now you’re taking advantage of my description of the perfect date. How could you?”
“I’m sorry, Miranda. You’re right. I should have been open and honest with you from the start. But haven’t you enjoyed our dates, even though you thought they were fake?”
“To be honest, Jackson, I really did. But now I don’t trust how I feel about them. I don’t trust my feelings right now. I don’t trust you. Can you have your driver take me home, please?”
“Will you please listen while we drive to the airport? Then she can take you home, if that’s what you want.”
Miranda turned away from Jackson. She downed the rest of her Dom Perignon in one gulp and poured herself a second. Her thoughts spun and tumbled. “This isn’t fair. I really liked him. I did have fun. I might have come to love him. I looked forward to more dates, and more intimacy. Even on camera. And I could sure use the half a million dollars if we won.”
“All right. I’ll listen. Halfway to the airport.”
“If halfway is all you’ll give me, I’ll take it.”
“We can drive all the way, but I want half the ride to talk, while you listen.”
“Fair enough. Would you like to start, or should I?”
“Go ahead, Mr. Jackson. I’m still seething.”
“Thank you. First, let’s talk about the money, even though that’s the least important, to me. I’m fully prepared to give you a million dollars, tax-protected.”
“But my share would only be half that.”
“If we were truly competing, and won. But since I wasn’t honest with you, I’m willing to give you the entire amount. Whether you go to Paris with me or not.”
“One point for you, ninety-nine to go.” Miranda sipped her champagne, keeping a poker face. Her mind continued to whirl. “He’s being honest now. I could have read the credits. He has a woman driver. He’s offering to pay me the entire amount. And taking me to Paris.”
“I might give you another point if you have anything to eat in this land yacht.”
Jackson smiled, pushed some roses aside, opened a small cabinet, and brought out a tray holding water crackers, black caviar, and a tiny silver spoon. “Sorry, no blini or cream cheese.”
“What’s a girl to do? I guess I’ll give you a second point, anyway.” Miranda accepted the tray, piled some caviar on a cracker. “You were saying?” She popped the cracker into her mouth.
“We can still go to Paris. I can get a second suite for you, if that’s what you want.” Jackson looked at his watch. “Let me cut to the chase, so you have your time to talk before we get to the airport.” He paused, gathering himself. “Is this my one chance? Should I bare my soul, or hold back? Here goes.”
“I love to see your mind at work. You make me smile. It pleases me to see you eat like a real person, instead of fussing over every calorie. It probably helps that you don’t need to watch calories, because you look nearly perfect.”
“Nearly perfect?” She frowned at him and placed her left hand on her hip. “I was about to give you 50 more points. Now I have to drop it to twenty.”
“I love your minor imperfections, Miranda. Your mole is cute, your eyebrows fascinate me. Based on the indoor rock climbing on our first date, and the way you outclimbed me, I see why you don’t need to worry about what you eat. You have proven to be adventurous.”
“You’re a smooth talker, I’ll give you that. You’re right around 82 points now.”
“I think I love you, Miranda, but to be honest, I can’t be sure yet.” Miranda smiled and raised her glass in a toast. Jackson frowned, but lifted his glass as well. “It might be now or never,” he thought. “That’s another lie. I love you, Miranda. I have an engagement ring in my suitcase. I planned on proposing in Paris, if it seemed like you felt anything for me.”
“But you lied to me. You duped me. You planned this from the start.”
“Hey, now. You were willing to lie to the people on the show. Pretending to date, trying to win the money.”
“Not the same. Not even close.”
“But you’re up to 90 points.”
“Only 90? What does that mean?”
“It means if you take me home so I can pack more clothes, I’ll go to Paris with you. You’ll figure out, in Paris, whether to propose or not. I’ll figure out whether to say yes.”
“We’re almost at the airport. I had planned on taking you shopping, to buy whatever you needed in Paris.”
“You were going to actually go shopping with me?”
“I think it would be fun.”
“Ninety-five points, Jackson. I can’t go any higher than that until we share Paris.”
“I’ll take it! I feel like we just won the show. My show.”
“In your dreams, lover boy. Just wait and see.”