Parent teacher interviews start at 7pm. Please be on time.
Cassie read the email as she dashed between meetings and groaned. Lucy’s ballet class finished at seven, Joel’s basketball match started at seven, and the blind date her friend Michelle had set up for her had texted to suggest drinks at seven. To top it all off, despite it being his weekend, Simon, her ex-husband had gone interstate on business. Simon’s interstate visits for business had precipitated the divorce. In Simon’s world, business was pleasure.
She rubbed her temples trying to stave off the start of a tension headache. The pressure of keeping all the balls in the air - of juggling her job as a buyer for men’s fashion at a national department store, the children and their increasing activities, and trying to find some time for herself –all of it bore down heavily, almost suffocating her.
Michelle stuck her head over the office cubicle. ‘So you’ve texted Nick for Friday, right? He’s totally gorgeous and I just know you’ll get on.’
Cassie forced a smile, feeling her muscles ache with the power of supporting it. Every one of the three men Michelle had introduced her to, she’d described as gorgeous. Gorgeous and boring, gorgeous and self obsessed, gorgeous and full of it. Obviously she and Michelle had definition conflict. After meeting the gorgeous Adam, she’d sworn she'd never again give in to Michelle’s persuasion.
‘Sorry,’ she said trying hard to sound it, ‘but I’m not going to be able to make it. I’ve got a monumental clash on Friday and I need to be in three places at once.’
Michelle almost pouted. ‘But you said it was Simon’s weekend, which was why I organized it.’ .
Cassie sighed. ‘Simon’s gone on business.’
She shrugged. ‘We’re divorced, it’s legal.’
‘But you must meet Nick.’ Michelle’s eyes glinted with determination. ‘I’ll help with the kids.’
In the year since she’d left Simon, she’d let Michelle talk her into blind dates, speed dating, online dating, supermarket dating, dinner introductions and even an ill- thought-out evening at a nightclub where she’d felt every bit of her thirty-seven years. But no more. Today she drew the line in the sand and she played her get-out- of-jail-card. ‘Thanks, but you can’t take the meeting with Joel’s homeroom teacher.’
Michelle crossed her arms. ‘Just text Nick and suggest you meet at eight.’
Eight meant dinner, which was worse than drinks. At least with drinks you could cut and run when gorgeous spilled over into scary. She shook her head. ‘I think the planets have aligned to tell me that the gorgeous Nick and I are not meant to be.’
Michelle’s expression implored her to reconsider. ‘But this guy’s special.’
‘They’ve all been special. ‘Specially not for me.’ She touched Michelle’s arm. ‘I really appreciate you trying to get me off the single rack but I think it’s where I belong.’
‘Don’t give up, Cas, we’ll find you –’
Cassie’s phone beeped as a text came through. Need to move drinks to eight. Nick.
Michelle gave a triumphant whoop. ‘It’s cosmic forces at work, Cassie. I’ll mind the kids.’
The school hall buzzed with conversation. Parents clutching pieces of paper scanned the room looking for the staff member listed next on their schedule. Long lines formed near the Maths and English teachers’ tables, while the Music and Art teachers hovered, ready to pounce on any bewildered parent who glanced in their direction.
Joel’s homeroom teacher was deep in conversation with another couple so Cassie poured a cup of coffee before returning to the general vicinity to wait her turn. Televisions displayed the student-made movies of year eight camp and she smiled as she caught glimpses of Joel attempting to stay upright on a surfboard for longer than forty seconds.
‘Looks like they had fun.’ A deep, rich voice sounded beside her.
She turned and her gaze met a broad shoulder clothed in a dark suit. Fine wool. Her brain automatically registered the material. She raised her gaze above the shoulder, taking in thick, black hair, olive skin and unexpectedly, the most dazzling pair of emerald green eyes she’d ever seen. Eyes that nestled behind dark designer frames and were glued to the TV screen.
She smiled. ‘They do look like they’re having fun and doing an amazing amount of different things. And to think, all I got told about camp by my son was, yeah, it was good.'
A knowing look crossed his face. ‘Is he talking in a series of grunts?’
Surprise ricocheted through her. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what’s starting to happen. Are you clairvoyant?’
He shook his head and smiled wryly, two dimples carving into his cheeks. ‘No, but I’ve visited the dark side and I know it well.’
‘The dark side?’
He laughed at her confusion, the rumbling sound warm and friendly. ‘My son’s seventeen and he’s just coming back into the light. The grunting’s fading and I even got a Morning, Dad, yesterday. The shock had me spraying the paper with coffee.’
His sense of humour danced around her. ‘Well, you look like you survived the dark side OK. Any tips, or better yet a torch?’
He shook his head. ‘Most of us just feel around madly in the dark occasionally connecting.’
She grimaced. ‘Now that’s a comforting thought.’
He grinned. ‘The baptism by fire generally lights your way.’
Her laughter bubbled up, bringing with it a feeling of lightness she hadn’t experienced in years.
He put down his cup, his expression sobering. ‘Keep them busy and keep them involved is my only tip. David loved sport and performing. That kept him connected to his friends and I could watch from the sidelines and the wings, and that kept me connected to him.’
His commonsense heartened her, settling her unspoken concerns about Joel. ‘That sounds like sensible advice, thanks. Are you sure you’re just a parent or are you a staff plant from the counselling department?’
His eyes sparkled. ‘Just a parent bumbling along like every one else. I’m entering a new phase now. I have a daughter in year eight. What about you?’
She nodded. ‘A daughter in grade six and a son in year eight.’
He glanced at his watch. ‘Do you think he’s going to be much longer? He tilted his head toward the teacher. ‘I said I’d meet someone at eight.’
‘Me too, but feel free to go before me. The last three Mr. Gorgeous my friend lined up for me haven’t been gorgeous at all.’
‘Sounds like my Ms. Sensational. I’ve had Ms. Anorexic, Ms. Pedant and Ms. Neurotic. I told my friend this date was the last one I'd take.’
‘Next.’ The teacher raised his head and beamed at them expectantly.
‘Go.’ She put her hand on his arm, her fingers feeling fine wool and firm muscle, and gently pushed him forward.
He shot her a look of gratitude mixed with something undecipherable. ‘Good to meet you.’
‘You too.’ A stab of disappointment caught her under the ribs as he turned and sat down.
8.15pm. Cassie was fashionably late as she pushed open the door to the lounge bar. The roar of the Friday night crowd was loud and raucous as they kicked back at the end of a working week. She scanned the room looking for a guy wearing a red and white striped tie. She spotted a tall man in a dark suit- wool blend -wearing the tie and leaning in close toward a woman who teetered on pencil-thin heels.
Leave now. But if she did, Michelle would never let it drop. She took in a deep breath and walked over. ‘Nick?’
He looked up, his brown eyes brazenly assessing her. ‘Cassie?’ He pushed his sleeve up and stared at his watch. ‘I decided you weren’t coming.’
Gorgeous and out-to-score no matter what. ‘Sorry I’m late. Kids, you know how it is.’
His blank expression told her that he didn’t.
I so need a drink. When she arrived at the bar, she edged into the gap between two men and ordered champagne to celebrate officially withdrawing from the dating game. As she waited for her drink, her gaze met a broad shoulder clothed in a dark suit. Fine wool.
A flash of pleasure streaked through her. ‘Hello.’
He sipped red wine. ‘Waiting for Mr. Gorgeous?’
She wrinkled her nose and tilted her head in the direction of Nick. ‘Ah, no. Seems he couldn’t quite wait for me.’
‘Ouch.’ Sympathy shone from his eyes.
‘And Ms. Sensational?’
‘Apparently I was her family’s idea to encourage her to change teams.’ He inclined his head to the right.
Cassie glanced around to see two women dancing cheek to cheek. ‘Ouch.’
She picked up her champagne and raised her glass. ‘To never being set up again.’
‘I’ll drink to that.’ He clinked his glass against hers. ‘We never did get around to proper introductions. I’m Mason Davidson.’
She smiled and extended her hand. ‘Cassie Peters.’
His large hand wrapped around hers. ‘Is it just blind dates you’re set against?’
His warmth travelled up her arm, trailing delicious sensations in its wake. ‘Just blind dates.’