Raise high the roofbeams, carpenters.
Like Ares comes the bridegroom,
Taller far than a tall man.
Life in the Danforth household wasn’t perfect, but it was as near to dammit as could be expected by any reasonable definition of the adjective. Harold Danforth was happy to accrue large amounts of money from his investments in real estate, he was well pleased with his daughter, and he was quite fond of his wife. Placidity ruled the roost, with nary a tempest in sight.
Patricia Danforth, his better half – according to his better half – had been on a mission in recent months. Her daughter needed a husband. Desdemona disagreed in principle, though her heart was open to the tender ministrations of manly solicitude. No arguments ensued concerning this matter, though there were baleful glares. Yelling and recriminations never followed, nor sulky silence. Miniscule ripples in the pond. Eventually, as do all ripples in all ponds, they disappeared. Life returned to normal.
Mother Patricia had invited a young man for dinner, and she made it clear that Desdemona was to be in attendance. Further, she was also to be on her best behavior and wear a dress that accentuated a figure she didn’t have. Desdemona remonstrated. Yelling ensued, causing Harold Danforth to retreat to his office and continue working on this week’s edition of Kooky Crosswords. Ripples accrue.
Desdemona stomped out of the house, laptop in hand, and toward one of her favorite sanctuaries: Kelly’s Java Hut. A drive of three miles accomplished the twin objectives of getting Desdemona to her well-lighted and well-patronized hideaway, and to disperse her anger. To further alleviate the latter symptom, she ordered decaffeinated coffee.
Only one table remained when she got her coffee. Desdemona grabbed it and opened her laptop. She had been staring at a blank screen for five minutes before she noticed a man standing in front of her. She traded staring at a blank screen for staring at the man.
“May I sit here?”
Desdemona frowned. She wanted to be alone. Casting about the room, Desdemona saw that the only free seat in the establishment was the one the man wanted. With a slight gesture, she invited the man to sit.
One of the things that Desdemona despised was small talk. She didn’t care to chat about the weather, politics, inflation, or what a cute dog that man in the corner had. Right now, for example, she wanted to sit and contemplate her next novel.
Desdemona’s Cowgirls in Love series was a modest success, garnering her a high five figures per book. Though she wasn’t in the same league as Danielle Steel or Nora Roberts, she still made a comfortable living. The demographics of her audience showed that she had a durable audience for at least the next two decades. Women approaching middle age adored her writing.
Desdemona found it rather disheartening that most of these women were married; this cast a dim light over the whole romance-for-life thing. Her parents, likewise, weren’t so much in love as they were sparring partners, jabbing at each other with marshmallow words. This was always done behind closed doors, and Desdemona knew of this because she was a shameless eavesdropper.
Desdemona attributed her lack of any permanent relationship to these two factors. Married women shouldn’t need romance novels to stimulate their lives, and her parents shouldn’t need to gently pick at each other to show their devotion.
The man seated across from her hadn’t uttered a word throughout Desdemona’s ruminations. This irritated her. She understood that it was hypocritical to be irritated, given her views on small talk, but now she felt as if she were being shunned in favor of – something else.
“There’s a seat at the bar, if you’re interested,” Desdemona said, unsmiling and a little miffed.
The man looked at her. He was smiling, which made Desdemona not smile even more.
“Why would I want to do that? I’m sitting across from the prettiest girl in the room.”
Desdemona gazed at the man for a moment. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips, but she wasn’t yet willing to release the hounds.
“Hmm. Has that line ever worked?”
The stranger cocked his head slightly.
“Scores of times, when I said it to my mother.”
Desdemona couldn’t help but smile now.
“Touché, good sir. Double points for the mother reference.”
They sat in companionable silence for another five minutes before Desdemona felt the need to speak. The man had become an itch that she needed to scratch. So to speak.
“You are unusually quiet for a table companion. What gives?”
The man again cocked his head before speaking. Desdemona found it cute.
“You seemed deep in thought. Didn’t want to disturb.”
“Indeed. And I was deep in thought.”
“I was wondering how my parents, lovely people though they are, ever got together long enough to produce me. I can’t see it, myself.”
The man let out a rich, resonant laugh, one that reminded Desdemona of Garrick, her first literary creation. Garrick wooed and married a poor cowgirl, upending the status quo of the era and celebrating the true meaning of love. They went on to live, of course, happily ever after. Desdemona knew it was tripe when she wrote it, and was amazed that a publisher wanted to print it. But the publisher did. So far, she had penned six books in the series, each one selling moderately better than the last.
“Nor can I, thankfully,” the man responded quietly.
Desdemona found the stranger’s laugh pleasant and forthright. An honest laugh, a laugh that reminded one of substantial picnic fare and lazy evenings on the veranda. Desdemona didn’t believe in love at first sight, but she was beginning to believe in attraction at first laugh.
“You have a name, sir? I wish to know the possessor of such a good laugh and witty tongue.”
“I am blessed with three names. The first name is Jarod. I’ll reserve the other two names for future use. A little mystery in a relationship’s good, don’t you think?”
Desdemona noted the smile. A veritable sunrise with teeth, a lighted path with gums, a solar source between stubbled cheeks. Desdemona was heartened by the smile, and even happier that the man was not handsome. Ugly men, she believed, were more honest, worked harder, and appreciated women without an hourglass figure.
Desdemona admitted to herself that she didn’t have an hourglass figure. It could be likened more to an apple sitting atop an eggplant, the whole lot balanced precariously on two carrots. Desdemona searched for a fruit or vegetable that could describe her boobs, but nothing came to mind. Grapes seemed too big and raisins seemed too small and wrinkly. She left off thinking about her boobs, returning her attention to Jarod.
“Oh? So we have a relationship going on now, do we? You move fast.”
Jarod smiled and leaned forward slightly.
“Only as fast as I need to be.”
“I see. So, now that we’re in a relationship, I can be blunt in my addresses to you. First, don’t call me beautiful. Second, my name is Desdemona, which you didn’t even ask about, and third, can you come to dinner with me and my family tonight?”
Jarod’s eyes widened slightly – only slightly, mind you – at the invitation.
“I think you’re beautiful, but I’ll respect your wishes. Desdemona, though, is a beautiful name, and, yes, I’d love to meet the parents that somehow, in the dark of the night and within the sacred confines of the marital bed, created such an entrancing progeny.”
“You talk pretty,” Desdemona said. She, in fact, was a little stunned by the outpouring of Jarod’s tongue.
“I blame public education.”
It was Desdemona’s turn to laugh heartily. Her non-hourglass figure jiggled; Jarod admired the look of it. To him, the sight of Desdemona laughing was one of those pleasures that everyone who was skeptical about human nature should see at least once in their benighted life.
Desdemona gave Jarod her address and the time he should be there. He gazed at the address a moment longer than necessary before looking up. Desdemona had already flitted, hieing off to home, hearth, and sober contemplation.
She was smitten, and it scared her.
Jarod arrived ten minutes early, being of the school of thought that to be early was to be on time. The Danforth household did not adhere to such a heretical doctrine, opting instead for the motto that to be fashionably late was the height of civility.
Because of the clash of philosophy, Jarod was ushered in by a thin-lipped maid and seated next to the father, the only occupant of the room. Harold Danforth paid the boy scant attention, continuing with his attempt at solving this week’s Kooky Crossword. It was well-known among the Danforth family that the father would consider his life complete were he to solve one of these puzzles. The 1000-dollar cash prize meant little to him. He wanted his picture on the Wall Of Fame.
“Hmm. A former member of the Quisite cult,” Harold Danforth murmured. The Kooky Crossword Challenge was, in many respects, like many other crossword puzzles. The difference, however, was that The Kooky Crossword Challenge had twenty clues for twenty words, but it was interspersed with three “Kooky” clues.
Just as Harold uttered the clue aloud, Desdemona came down the stairs. Jarod’s breath caught, a slight gasp escaping his lips.
“Exquisite,” he said, a little too loudly. This is where it gets interesting.
Desdemona felt her heart flutter at the sight of a man she had just met, just as Harold Danforth clapped in glee. Desdemona had never seen her father clap, with glee or otherwise. He seemed happier than usual.
“Exquisite! Ex-Quisite! I commend you, sir!” Harold grabbed Jarod’s hand and pumped it vigorously.
“Um – “ Jarod stopped there. It seemed like the thing to do.
The doorbell immediately rang. A young man was shown in. Gerald Portnoy. Mama Danforth’s prize for her daughter.
Gerald Portnoy had money; he reeked of it, according to the good mama. It was rather unfortunate that he had the face he had. Desdemona thought that God had given the man all the required facial features, but those features had declined to work together in harmony.
His eyes were too close together for his eyebrows, or, conversely, the eyebrows were too far apart for the eyes. He had the correct number of cheeks, but they were pink and chubby, which did nothing to soften the sharp nose and weak chin. Altogether a repulsive face, in Desdemona’s opinion, though he was considered good looking by the standards of the day. Her mother, for example, found that handsomeness correlated perfectly with wealth.
Gerald stopped short when he spied Jarod sitting between Desdemona and Harold. In short, he was confused.
“A breath refresher for ranch hands,” Mr. Danforth murmured, shaking his head at the enigmatic clue. Two of the three kooky clues still evaded him.
“Well, this is a nice arrangement,” Gerald’s weak chin trembled, his cheeks became redder, and he was considering getting his dander up.
“Arrangement?” Jarod said out loud.
“Arrangement! A-range-mint! Stupendous, young man. Simply stupendous!”
Mr. Danforth eyed Jarod with admiration and approval.
“You’ve grown about three feet taller in my dad’s estimation,” Desdemona said to Jarod, her eyes sparkling.
“Perhaps I’ll stoop upon leaving, so as not to bang my head,” Jarod said. He was eyeing his intended rival with alarm. Dandified pretty boys had lost him more than one possible romance.
Mrs. Danforth chose this moment to descend the stairs. As she glided downwards, resplendent in a chiffon evening gown and Italian heels, one could liken her to a battleship in full regalia. Wide and long and sleek, a sight to behold, yet with plenty of ordinance below to quell any impending insurrection. Already, the shells were being loaded and primed.
Jarod was subject to a steely, hard gaze from the mother of his new acquaintance. She stopped briefly on the last step but two, casting an imperious eye over the interloper. Her journey resumed, and she greeted the impeccably-dressed – and rich – Gerald Portnoy with a warmth that belied her natural inclination towards stoicism and ever-so-subtle grimacing.
“Mother, I’d like you to meet Jarod. We haven’t been blessed with a last name as yet. Saving it for the wedding, I suppose,” Desdemona’s eyes gleamed with mischief. Mischief duly arrived.
“Hmm. A mongrel, to be sure. And he’s wearing jeans. How quaint.” Mrs. Danforth turned her attention to young Portnoy.
“Come, sit by me. Tell us all about your portfolio, my dear. Desdemona is ever so interested in how money works,” Mrs. Danforth shot a glare at her daughter.
“Well. Money. Interesting thing, really – “
“Tar, squared,” Mr. Danforth blurted out. He was in a tizzy, for he had never been so close to solving a Kooky Crossword. The last seven years had seen him struggle against the esoteric clues, never quite getting all three. Undeterred, he vowed to continue the struggle until the day was won.
“Harold!” Mrs. Danforth’s voice reached stentorian proportions, as befitted her bulk.
“Yes, m’dear?” Mr. Danforth muttered, paying not the slightest bit of attention to anyone. He was so close he could smell the victory.
“Shall we go in to dinner?” Mrs. Danforth’s word carried the chill of an ice flow in the Arctic regions.
“Excuse my mom, she a bit of a – “
Desdemona left the sentence unfinished. Jarod finished it for her.
“Um, yes. I was plumping for ‘bitch in a dress,’ but you get the general meaning.”
“Tartar! Tar times tar! Tartar! I’ve won! I’ve – I’ve – “ It was at this juncture that Mr. Danforth broke down and cried. Wet, large, manly tears invaded his face, wending their way down his cheeks and splashing on the expensive carpet.
Impulsively, he hugged Jarod, and Jarod would swear, later, that his cheek had been kissed. Mr. Danforth pumped his hand with a vigor that had never been known in the house. He hugged the young man again and slapped him on the shoulder.
“You may marry my daughter, young Jericho.”
“Jarod,” Jarod said.
“That’s what I said. Go to it, Jarroot.”
“Jarod,” Desdemona said.
“Yes yes yes. I know the boy’s name, no need to keep repeating it.”
The trio made their way to the dining table. Gerald and Mrs. Danforth had already ben seated, and one of them was ready to commit heinous acts on the latecomers. The other sat and worked on looking awkwardly at the far wall.
“Who’s that?” Mr. Danforth pointed at Gerald.
“Our invited guest. Gerald Portnoy. Desdemona’s date.” Mrs. Danforth’s words were clipped and tinged with judgement.
“Ah. I say, Jenson Pootnoodle, Des already has a date. Bad luck, old man.”
Mrs. Danforth stared at her husband in amazement. She had long known that he was scatterbrained and a little dithery, but he had reached new heights of not-with-it-ness in a very short time.
“Harold! Mr. Portnoy is her date, not this – this – raggedy specimen before you. He seems a nice enough person, but look at his clothes. His stubble, for God’s sake. The man can’t even be bothered to shave.”
“Ah, well, that’s as may be, but he helped me win Kooky Crosswords. And he’s betrothed to Des.” Mr. Danforth helped himself to a large slice of roast beef and got busy cutting it into bite-sized pieces.
Mrs. Danforth stared at her husband and fingered the butter knife on her plate. The ripples in the pond had reached tsunamic proportions.
“Um, not betrothed. Just getting to know each other, really. I like him, though. Could be worth keeping, mother.”
Mrs. Danforth declined to sob, though her heart felt near to bursting with sorrow. She turned to Gerald. He had not stirred during this exchange, feeling slightly overwhelmed by the situation. CPA’s didn’t normally deal with such an outpouring of emotion.
“I’m so sorry, Gerald – “
“You may leave my house, Jeeper Puddlefoot. My daughter is smitten with another.”
“Gerald Portnoy,” Gerald said.
“That’s what I said. Now, Mr. Prunenoodle, leave!”
He did so, and with some alacrity. Mrs. Danforth stared at her husband, unable to comprehend what had come over her husband. He gave her an imposing look.
“I’m a Kooky Crossword winner, thanks to this young man. Uh – Jabroot.”
“That’s what I said. Perfect man for Des. I will hear no more on the matter, Trish.” Mr. Danforth’s eyes blazed with a fervor that both frightened and impressed Mrs. Danforth.
“Fine. She can marry a penniless – “
“Not quite penniless. I’m a successful hedge fund manager, and I live two blocks over.”
Six eyes stared at Jarod. His two eyes scanned the others, holding them for a few seconds before moving on to the next pair of eyes.
Mrs. Danforth went through another transformation. Jarod was suddenly more handsome, and quite taller than she had given him credit for. Yes, she deemed him taller than any man she had ever met.
“Is this wonderful young man worthy of our daughter?”
Desdemona looked at her mom, smiling at her for the first time in months.
“The young man and I will determine that in the fullness of time, mother.”
“Tartar,” Mr. Danforth murmured. “Should have seen that one.”
Mrs. Danforth nodded. She was lost in thought. Her husband had become rather attractive, and she was anxious to see how this would work out in the future.
The younger couple escaped to the cool night air. Desdemona’s heart swooned just a little, and Jarod’s eyes sparkled the perfect amount of sparkling. A date was made for Wednesday.
How this couple fares is a story for another day. The future will write what transpires, in honest letters and the true accounting of events. The pond, for now, is as smooth as glass.