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Twelve Dates of Christmas

 

Dedication

 

To our parents, Oliver Hugh Donaldson and Frances Olive (Relf) Donaldson,

who found the love of their lives in 1946.

Chapter One

 

 

“I’m giving up trying to be classy,” I said, staring at myself in the mirror. It actually wouldn’t have been a bad image if it hadn’t been for the sweater on inside out and backwards. How could I have not noticed it this morning when I put it on?

The doorbell rang. I knew it would be Kate, my best friend. I slouched down the hall to the door and opened it. I don’t know if it was the look on my face that made her glance at my sweater, or if she instinctively knew, but she immediately burst out laughing. Sometimes, I wondered about her sensitivity towards my problem.

“Well, at least you didn’t wear it somewhere,” she said, as she stepped through the doorway.

I turned and we went back to the bedroom. “What makes you think I put this on for tonight?”

“Oh, no,” she smiled. “Where did you wear it?”

“How about to a meeting with my staff, a luncheon with my ex-mother-in-law, and three interviews with new students.”

“Oh, a full day.”

I nodded as I pulled off the offending sweater and threw it in the laundry basket in the corner. It wouldn’t be so sad if this was the first time that an item of my apparel or an accessory had sabotaged my day, but it wasn’t. I have had the fine experience of wearing two different shoes of similar color, catching the back of my skirt in my underwear, walking out of a washroom with toilet paper on my shoe, and not noticing two runs in my tights. I even wore my pants backwards one day. Who knew that on these pants the zipper didn’t belong in the front and pockets shouldn’t be in the back. I still don’t know how I never felt the difference.

I don’t mean to sound bitchy but I hoped other women had gone through the same experiences, and I wasn’t alone in my oddity.

I donned a blouse and covered it with a cardigan, checking to make sure it was right side out and the buttons were in the right holes with no corner hanging down. I didn’t really feel like going out again after the long day, but Kate had informed me two weeks ago she was taking me for the first year celebration of my 49th birthday.

The restaurant was only two blocks away and we were going to walk. It was the 25th of November in Vancouver so the weather was cool and rainy. I pulled on a water-resistant coat and grabbed my umbrella.

When we entered the restaurant, I was surprised to see a table full of my friends. They all stood and yelled “Happy Birthday, Stacy!” embarrassing me in front of the other patrons. I could feel my face turning red as I turned and glared at Kate. I had specifically told her I didn’t want a party and she had agreed, saying it would just be a quiet night out. She smiled sweetly back.

“When have you ever known me to listen?” she asked.

I sighed. She was right. If I hadn’t been so busy this past month I would have suspected something like this. But it was done, and I was actually glad to see my girlfriends. The only time we managed to get together as a group was for my annual all girls Christmas party at my place.

I grinned and sat at the head of the table where a large glass of red wine waited. Before anyone else could do it I picked my glass and held it in the air. “To all my good friends. Thank you for coming to help me celebrate my birthday.”

They raised their glasses in return and we drank to our friendship. I considered myself lucky to have such wonderful women in my life. Pauline, I have known since school in Edmonton. She moved to Vancouver before I did and works in television. Lisa works for me. She is the athletic one of my friends and keeps trying to get me in shape. I’m afraid she is failing miserably.

Val, Mary, and Mona I met soon after I moved here. Val has bright red hair and is a real estate agent. Mary and Mona are twins. They were born in Japan but moved here when they were young. They each run a spa in the two hotels their father owns.

And what can I say about Kate? She is a professor at Simon Fraser University. We met at a barbeque put on by a mutual friend and have been close ever since. We have travelled together and shared breakups with boyfriends together. Right now she is in a relationship with a man she met on a dating site. He lived in Chilliwack but with her teaching at the university and him travelling back and forth to work as a contractor in the Alberta oil patch, they haven’t met yet. But they have both professed love for each other and she is planning to finally meet Charles in Hawaii for New Year’s Eve.

“I pre-ordered some dishes for us all to share,” Kate said. “They’ll be out in a few minutes. Meanwhile, here are your birthday presents from us.”

Kate handed me a large manila envelope. I opened it and pulled out a sheaf of papers and a credit card. I scanned the first paper. It showed that I had joined the Meet and Match dating site for a month. The next one was for Be Mine, and the third for Don’t Be Single. I stared at them not sure how to react. I’d already been married and divorced three times and survived many unsuccessful relationships. Did I really want to continue trying to find the right man for me?

“We know you’ve gone on dating sites before and they didn’t turn out well,” Pauline said. “But we decided it was time you tried again. You deserve happiness and we want to help. These are sites that you haven’t tried yet.”

“I don’t think this will be any more successful than the way I’ve been meeting men,” I said. Just recently there was John who complimented me on my boots while we were in line at Starbucks. We chatted and he asked if I wanted to go out for dinner. I accepted and we dated for about a month before he texted me that he didn’t think we should see each other anymore. Before him was Ben who I met at a seminar. We saw each other for about two weeks before I pulled the plug on the relationship. I don’t date married men. These were typical of the men I usually met and from past experience I knew many of the men who joined the on-line dating sites would not be better specimens.

Besides, I had Vince, a man I first made contact with while I was on a dating site two years ago. Vince and I texted and talked on the phone a few times. Then I had met Big Al, a man I wanted to spend time with. I told Vince I was going to quit corresponding with him. He hadn’t been very happy with our breakup. But, while Big Al and I had a strong attraction for each other, he decided to end our relationship at the end of this past summer. It had taken me a while to get over it. In October, I sent Vince a text and he happily welcomed me back. So far, though, like Kate and her Charles, I had never met Vince in person.

“I drew up a plan,” Kate said.

“I’m sure you did,” I muttered. Kate was a big planner. She never did anything on the spur of the moment. Everything had to be laid out right down to the last detail. I imagined it had taken her at least a month to organize this party. “But I don’t know if I want to hear it.”

“You do,” Kate continued. “You have signed up on these three sites for a month. During that time you will pick twelve men to date in December. That credit card is prepaid so you just give the number when you want to check a guy out. After the first date, you can decide if you want to see any of them again. Hopefully in the end you can pick a man to join you in Hawaii with me and Charles. I’m even calling the plan, Stacy’s Twelve Dates of Christmas.”

“You mean I have to go on a twelve dates with twelve different men in December?” There was no way I could do that.

“I was thinking more of meeting the men for dinner after work. That way you save time each evening by not having to cook.”

The food arrived before I could comment on the logic of that. Kate had chosen chicken and ribs, garlic potatoes, four cheese toasted bread, Caesar salad, and various vegetables. We dug in and it was a fun evening. The ladies told me the story of how Kate approached them and how they actually met to discuss what dating sites to register me on and for how long.

“We thought about Plenty of Fish for you,” Val said. “It’s free and you could go on there and chat with anyone you want.”

“Except a friend of mine says the men on it only want one thing and aren’t afraid to ask for it.” Mary added.

“And since you are getting older,” Pauline grinned, “we also looked at Cougar Life.”

“My older sister, who is fifty-eight, tried it,” Lisa told me. “She had a man tell her he loved older women and after they texted for a week he asked her to marry him and help him raise his seven-year-old daughter.”

“We discussed setting you up with him then figured it would be too mean.” Mona laughed.

It seemed they had a lot of fun at my expense.

“What makes you think a man I have just met and only had one or two dates with would want to, or even be able to, go to Hawaii with me on such short notice?” I asked.

“We don’t,” Kate said. “But it’s worth a try and I really want another couple with Charles and me. Vacationing is so much more fun with four.”

 

* * *

 

Later in my condo, Kate showed me what she posted in order to get me started. I didn’t know what to expect but was happy when it said I was a woman seeking men between the age of 45 and 65 and within eighty kilometres of my home.

“Your user name is Sam for Stacy Ann Martin and your password for each site is twelvedates. I think these sites are just like the others. Once you have filled in the questionnaire they will match you with men who meet your requirements. Then pictures of men will start coming through with profiles and comments. These will either be real comments from the men, or they will have chosen something from a list of “canned” suggestions. You can click on ‘smile’ if you like them and see what they do. If they like you, they will respond.”

After Kate left, I changed into my nightgown and petted Ginger, my long-haired, orange tabby. Then I opened a bottle of wine and poured a glass. I needed some more fortification before looking at the first site, Be Mine. What I’d drunk at the restaurant just wouldn’t do it. I downed half of the glass before starting.

Right off the bat they wanted to know my education level. Well, after high school I went on to finish a beautician course at a post-secondary college and I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta.

The next two were ‘my occupation’ and my ‘salary range’. I wasn’t sure how much of that I wanted to admit. I own a business, a very successful business. And as such, I have a very good income. I sipped from my glass.

But I am a private person. None of my family or friends know my true income, so why would I want to admit that to a bunch of strange men? I certainly didn’t want some man thinking he could move in with me and have me look after him. I’ve heard of the new term ‘mansession’ where men are looking for a free ride, where they find women who will support them so they can lay around the house and do nothing. And nothing means not even housework. They may start out with a job when trying to attract a woman but soon lose it or quit after marriage and, for some reason known only to them, can’t find a job they want to do or in the pay range they think they deserve. So they freeload off their wives and have no guilt about it.

I put in what I thought sounded like a reasonable, but not excessively high, amount and added I worked at a Flight Attendant College. I didn’t admit I owned it. For my height, I wondered if I should put it at five foot, five inches or the five foot eight I am in my heels. I settled on my real height. I finished my glass of wine and refilled it.

Eye and hair colour. Blue and light blonde, after a trip to my hairdresser.

How would I describe my body type? Should I be truthful? Everyone knew that men only want slender, big-breasted women. I began to mentally list the body types I wasn’t. I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t statuesque, and I wasn’t slender. I took a drink.

Would I call myself voluptuous? I stood and staggered a little. Well, what did I expect after the half bottle at the restaurant and a glass and half while filling out this questionnaire?

I went and scrutinized myself in the mirror on my closet door. I nodded. Voluptuous sounded good. I added more wine to the little left in my glass then filled in voluptuous for my body type.

Ginger jumped up on the table wanting my attention. I pulled her onto my lap where she curled up and purred.

What type of exercise did I like? Well, geeze, the answer to my body type should be an indication of the exercise I liked.

I don’t verbally speak any language other than English, but I do know sign language which I’ve heard is now considered a second language.

And so it went. I listed my favourite sports as none, my hobbies as none, and my weekend evening activities as watching movies. I liked pets, I smoked cigarillos and drank wine and I didn’t have children.

Then I had to describe what I wanted in a man. What was he supposed to look like, what was his education, his income, his hair colour, did he drink or smoke and so on.

And finally it was time to write my headline. Their tips were: don’t make it too long; show your humour if you wish; use your favourite one liner; just be natural. Then I was told, your headline is a great way to grab someone’s attention. It’s displayed at the top of your profile in search results.

It listed what other people had written: Friend, possibly more; email me, I will respond; I’m a goofball with a camera who will make you happier than a bird with a French fry; you only live once so live it with someone who makes you happy.

I finished what was in my glass and put the top back on the bottle of wine. I wrote that I was looking for a man to share good times with.

At last I got to where I was supposed to add my photo or put a face on my profile. Their tips were: smile in your picture; focus on you, not a group; use a recent picture; blurry is bad, well-lit is good.

In the photo square there was the warning: no photo equates to no attention.

My goodness, did they think we don’t know anything?

I went through my pictures looking for the one that would show me in the best light. They were a little out of focus but it could have just been the wine. I finally picked one showing me ready to tee off at a fundraiser. That would show what type of sports I was into. It also showed me smiling and it didn’t have other people in it. I added a head shot and one of me with my ninety-year-old mother.

If anyone was interested I could ask them which one they thought was me. Maybe they would like the fact that I would post one of my mom and me. Hopefully, they might think it was very thoughtful. That would last at least until they met me.

Finally I was told my profile would be reviewed within the next few hours and they would shoot me an email the moment it was live. But it wasn’t through. It showed me some photos of men and asked if I saw anyone interesting.

By then I really didn’t care. I slammed down the lid of my computer, had a large drink of water since I know that drinking alcohol dehydrated the body and that is why some people have headaches in the morning. I crawled into bed and pulled Ginger under the covers with me.

Chapter Two

 

I heard my automatic coffee maker grind the coffee beans and then run the water through the grounds. It was set to start at seven o’clock on weekdays so my coffee would be ready when I got up. I never changed the setting for the weekends, even though I usually didn’t get up until nine o’clock, or later if I had a gentleman over. I didn’t have a gentleman beside me in bed so I rolled over and went back to sleep.

I woke two hours later. I stretched then reached for the remote on my night stand and turned on the television set on top of the dresser. I didn’t have anything planned for the day so I was in no rush to get up.

The television was tuned to the local channel with Saturday morning news and other topics. I was just in time to see an interview with some sort of dating expert. Her name was Chelsea and she was talking about dating sites. Great. Maybe I could learn something to make this visit to a site more successful than my past ones have been.

“I’m really not a fan of the dating sites. I believe a person has to meet the other person and interact with them a bit before even thinking about dating.”

“What advice do you give to anyone wanting to meet someone?” Tanis, the interviewer asked.

“The first rule of attraction is about the sound of the person’s voice,” Chelsea explained. “A calm voice relaxes people. A woman likes a lower toned voice in man because it suggests more testosterone. A telephone conversation would be nice just to talk, to focus on what is being said and not get distracted on what the other person is wearing.”

“That’s true,” Tanis admitted.

“The second rule of attraction is smell. A person goes by the smell of the other person. Your glands are always working and making sweat and other odors. These odors are emitted by your body and the person will either like your scent or not.

“And no dating site can do that.” Tanis smiled.

“No. And then there is sight. Women like men with stubble instead of clean shaven, or with a beard. Both sexes like red on the other person. You need the full body experience, which you can only get by meeting someone in person. You are in a vulnerable state when you are looking for a mate and you need to learn the person and get their vibe.”

“So what pieces of advice do you, as a professional, have for people who are looking for a life mate?”

“The first piece of advice I give is, don’t be swayed by the photo. Cover up the picture and read the profile. Then if you are interested look at the picture. Talk on the phone three times, for thirty minutes each time, so you can evaluate their personality before going out with them. That is called the wooing stage. You have to be patient with the process.”

Well, I didn’t have to for all that. I threw the covers off and climbed out of bed. I needed my coffee. I put on my housecoat, picked up Ginger, and carried her to the kitchen.

I lived in a one bedroom plus den condo on Hamilton Street in Yaletown. The kitchen/dining room/living room was one long room. I liked the galley-style kitchen with the counter dividing it from the dining room. Friends sat at the two bar stools on the dining room side of the counter and visited while I prepared drinks or meals. My bedroom and washroom were off the kitchen.

The dining room consisted of a table, four chairs and a china cabinet. Above the table was a winedelier, which was a cross between a chandelier and a wine glass rack. It was a birthday present to myself. From it I had hung fifteen, clear wine glasses on three different levels. My brown leather couch and two matching chairs were set in a U facing a fireplace along the side wall. A glass-topped coffee table was in the center of the U and end tables with lamps were on each side of the couch. The far wall consisted of tall windows with a sliding door leading to a medium-sized balcony. I liked to sit at the bistro table with my coffee and watch the pedestrians and traffic below.

While Ginger was eating I poured myself a cup of cold coffee and headed into the bathroom. I ran the water and poured a large amount of bubble bath into the tub. With a small cigar and ashtray in hand I climbed in. I lit my cigarillo and picked up the latest book I was reading, Talent is Overrated. I opened it and continued reading while enjoying my smoke. At one point Ginger poked her head around the door but she didn’t come in because of the smoke.

I topped up with hot water twice then put down my book. I couldn’t stay here all day. I washed and conditioned my hair and applied a facial mask. While it dried, I shaved my legs and underarms. I pulled out the plug and turned on the shower to rinse everything off. I dried off and applied lotion.

I returned to my bedroom and opened the doors of the large walk-in closet. For work, my outfits are colourful and trendy. They have even been called flashy, glitzy, and flamboyant by my staff. Winter footwear choices vary from flat boots that reach my knees or higher to ankle boots with high chunky heels, to fancy cowboy boots. In summer, I sometimes wear heels that look like running shoes, or pumps with bright shiny bling embedded in them, or flat and heeled sandals. I liked to think I broke the mold of the black, stuffy skirt and jacket or pant suits for the career woman. I always wear jewelry: large necklaces, dangling earrings, bangles on my wrists, huge rings. Anything that I want.

But at home on the weekends I dressed more casually. I pulled on a pair of skinny jeans and a blousy blue shirt. On work days I put on make-up and puff and fluff my hair. Today, I had no plans but I still applied my foundation, blush, eyeliner, shadow, mascara, and then false eyelashes. I liked to feel good about myself, proud of how I looked.

Once dressed, I poured another cup of coffee, this time reheated it in the microwave and finally turned on my computer to see if I had any responses to my profile. I have only one email address for my private and professional life and my inbox had some business and some Be Mine dating site emails.

I ignored the business ones since it was the weekend. The first Be Mine email told me that my profile had been approved and I was ‘officially official.’ How exciting! I had the choice of verifying my profile or getting badges to show that I was real. Was that like Girl Guide badges? If I could prove I wasn’t a blow up doll would I get the Real Woman Merit Award?

My third choice was that I could start flirting. I clicked on that button to see what would happen. It listed a bunch of Major League Baseball teams and told me that I should add my favourite team to my profile. Where did they get the idea I liked baseball? I never mentioned it. And what did that have to do with flirting? What happened to a wink, a touch, a smile? Was going up to a man and saying I like the Toronto Blue Jays considered flirting?

“Hello there, big guy,” I said out loud in my best seductive, barroom voice. “What are the Toronto Blue Jays up to tonight?”

If that was true I was completely out of touch.

There was another email that showed I had some matches. There were two sections: daily matches…personally selected just for you; and your mutual matches where both you and a man match. These were rated by percentage. Of the ten mutual matches, most were ninety-three percent, one was one hundred percent, and one was a zero percent match.

What did that mean? Nothing like a boost to my ego to know that I had a zero match with some man. Must be one of my ex-husbands, I decided.

I gathered up my purse, keys, and grocery list. Time to stock up on my fruits and vegetables and wine. I went down to the secure underground parking lot where I climbed into my red Mercedes convertible, one of the perks of owning a successful business. I pushed the button on my key ring to open the gate. I liked to shop at Costco because I could purchase large quantities of my favourite foods.

At home after shopping, I unpacked my groceries and set the wine bottles in my wine rack. I checked my emails. There was one from the Strata Board where I had my rental condo. My tenants were a mother and daughter, Margaret and Nina, and they have lived there for nine months. When they moved in they paid the first month’s rent plus a damage deposit. But since then, they haven’t paid the rent on time each month. Usually, they give me some at the beginning of the month and the rest whenever they felt like it. So far, they hadn’t paid any of November’s rent. I’d been thinking that maybe I should send them an eviction notice.

I wondered what the Strata Board had to say as I opened the email.

 

From: Josh Small

Sent: November 26, 8:09AM

To: Stacy Martin

CC: members of the Strata Council.

Hello Stacy

We have been receiving complaints from our residents about suspicious activity that has been taking place out of your condo. Apparently there are visitors coming all day and night and it has been suggested that there is a drug enterprise going on. We, the Board, have also heard that you, the owner, are aware of this.

Cheers

Josh

 

I stared at the email. I didn’t know about any drug activity going on in my condo. No one had mentioned anything to me. What was I supposed to do about it? I sat and thought for a few minutes then decided to phone the police.

I looked up the phone number for the police station closest to me. It rang three times before someone answered.

“Vancouver police department,” a male voice answered.

“Hello, my name is Stacy Martin and I am the owner of a condo that I rent out. The Strata Board sent me an email stating that my tenant is involved in drugs and that I am aware of it.”

“What’s the name of the tenant and the address of the condo?”

I gave it to him and waited. Finally he came back on the line.

“I can’t find any complaints attached to that name or address,” he said. “If someone made a complaint, the police would have contacted you first about it.”

“Thank you.” I hung up and sent an email to Josh, letting him know what I had learned. I also forwarded Josh’s message to Margaret and Nina. Maybe they had an explanation.

Then it was time to go into the second dating site and make myself look good so that a man would want to date me, well twelve men according to Kate’s plan.

I opened the Meet and Match dating site and began to read their questions. After answering about my marital status I was told: Remember just answer naturally and have fun. There are no right or wrong answers. Let’s go.

How well does this generally describe you? Warm: not at all; somewhat; very well. And anywhere in between. I clicked on the little blue circle for ‘not at all.’ Same question for intelligent, dominant, (what did that mean? Was I into whips and chains?), outgoing, combatant.

I hit ‘very well’ for all of them. Suddenly, a small window came up and told me: Hold on there, Trigger-Finger; your answers are beginning to sound the same. Take your time and think about what you want to portray about yourself—it’ll be worth it.

What was the problem? This was the fun they had told me to have.

Up came stable. Really? Who was going to admit that they were psycho? Since I had been warned about answering ‘very well’ to all the questions I switched to ‘not at all’ for being stable.

Next word was loving- not at all; energetic-not at all; predictable-not at all; sympathetic-not at all.

Well, that got boring fast so for loyal and witty I clicked on the blue circle for somewhat. That wasn’t as much fun so I went back to ‘not at all’ for sensitive, generous, and sensual.

I must have been doing something right for I was told: You’re on a roll. You are getting closer to finding a meaningful relationship. You can trust that your answers are being tabulated. How encouraging!

I clicked on the Continue button and it took me into more of the same questions.

Did I consider myself to be happy-not at all; patient-not at all, especially with this questionnaire; caring-not at all; sincere-not at all.

Got that damned message to slow down Trigger-Finger.

I went back to clicking on ‘very well’ for being clever, animated, bossy, and irritable. To avoid the message for Trigger-Finger I switched back to ‘not at all’ for kind.

It wasn’t long before I grew bored and the joy had gone out of clicking on the little circles and skewing my responses. I could think of a lot better ways to spend my days off. I didn’t care anymore that my friends had paid for this. I was pissed off with the amount of time I was wasting I stretched and sat back. I didn’t need to meet a guy that bad. It was my friends who thought I needed male company.

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