Thank you for your patience as I wrestled deadlines, contest judging, and a conference. I’m excited to be back with Sarah Jane. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun on this journey!
The Bandbox Hat
Previously: Sarah Jane watched a season of the reality dating show Date My Son. She decided to decline until she got a call from her sister-in-law Anna who insisted Sarah Jane come home to Rosedale. She offered to fix Sarah Jane up with someone who’d put up with her. Sarah hung up and called Liam to say she wanted to be on the show.
The last few weeks had flown by in a whirl of more interviews, along with end-of-the-year projects for the kids at school. Now it was June 1st and I was packing. My collection of Old Navy Ts and capris barely filled my suitcase.
I eyed my pillow. There was room. Was bringing it too pathetic? Like taking a blankie to college. Or was it sensible? I’d sleep better with my own familiar pillow. A well-rested Sarah Jane was a happier Sarah Jane.
I set the pillow on top of my favorite pink ¾ sleeve top and quickly zipped up the bag.
A quick glance around the room confirmed I hadn’t left anything behind.
Liam said a car would be here for me at nine o’clock. It was now ten till and I was completely ready for my new adventure. The whole thing had been a roller coaster ride since the night I called Liam and agreed to be on the show.
He couldn’t give me any details but said he was pretty sure this season’s mom and I would hit it off. It seemed strange that I was more concerned about the mom than the bachelor.
Liam also refused to divulge any of the locations. I’d begged, saying I needed to know how to pack but he said just to bring whatever and the show would help out if I got into a bind.
I’d done some Internet research on the show and felt pretty confident that we’d be going somewhere warm. Somewhere with ample opportunities for girls to strut around in bikinis and flaunt themselves in front of the bachelor. So beaches, resort pools and hot tubs, even mineral springs were likely. I’d bought a new one piece bathing suit that I thought flattered my long legs but wasn’t too revealing.
I’d prayed pretty much nonstop that I wouldn’t do or say anything to embarrass myself on this show. It seemed like a modest swimming ensemble was a good start.
I stood on shaking legs and pulled my bag to the door. A quiet knock sounded just as I tugged it open.
“Miss Richter?” The driver looked like he could’ve been a long haul trucker. A ball cap, a plaid front button shirt and Wranglers with a wide leather belt and a shiny metal buckle. “I’m Arnie. Are you ready?”
I gulped. “You’re my driver?”
He nodded, reached for my suitcase, and dragged it down the three steps from my apartment to the sidewalk. I pulled the door shut and drew a deep breath before I followed Arnie to the black Escalade at the curb.
He tossed the bag into the back compartment then held the rear passenger door open for me.
I stared into the back seat. “If it’s all right, Arnie, I’d rather sit up front with you.”
He shut the door, shuffled over two steps and opened the front door. “Wherever you’re most comfortable, Miss Richter.”
I slid into the buttery leather seat and pulled my skirt in after me. Arnie closed the door with a firm click that sent shivers down my back. What was I doing? Getting into a strange car with a strange man.
Before I had time to tell Arnie I had changed my mind, we were pulling into traffic.
He draped one wrist over the steering wheel. I could almost see the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
Maybe some small talk would help my nerves. “How long have you been doing this, Arnie?” I asked. “Driving for the show?”
He shrugged. “I’m a gaffer for a cable news show’s local bureau. Got laid off six months ago. Now I do whatever I can find.”
“A gaffer? You don’t look that old.”
He shot me a quizzical look. “A gaffer is an electrician.”
I felt my ears turn red. “Oh.” I cleared my throat. In for a penny… “Will there be gaffers on this show? What else should I know?”
“If there’s electricity, there’s gaffers.”
“Hmm hmmm.” I waited for him to go on, but that seemed to be the sum of his explanation.
We made the rest of the drive in silence. Arnie drove us onto the 110 freeway. I only knew that because the signs informed us we were headed to Hollywood. After exiting, he expertly piloted us along city streets and finally turned into a residential neighborhood, then through a pair of wrought iron gates that sat at the bottom of a steep driveway.
As we reached the top of the steep entry, I gasped. A Moroccan castle, complete with turrets, presided over the grounds.
Another Escalade was parked in the roundabout. Cameras were positioned around the driveway, cables snaking along the ground.
I spied Liam with his table computer talking to a man in a suit.
Arnie let the Escalade idle us up the last of the incline, then he braked so we were behind the first car. He watched Liam and the suit man. Liam lifted one finger at us.
“What do we have to wait for?” I asked.
“It’ll be your turn in a few minutes.”
“My turn? For what?”
“To meet the bachelor and his mom.”
A knot formed in my stomach. “No. That’s not until tomorrow. Today is settling in at the hotel. Tomorrow we all meet and then head to Belize. Or St. Croix.”
“I don’t know about that, Miss Richter. I just know that guy in the suit is the host of the show and the bachelor and his mom will be coming out of that door in about six seconds.”
I looked where Arnie pointed and sure enough, the door swung open and a tall man walked out with a steel-haired woman on his arm.
“But … Liam said … I’m not dressed …” I turned in my seat. “My bag! I have to get my dress out.”
“It’s too late.”
We were rolling forward again. Arnie stopped the car and the door swung open. Suit man reached out a hand to help me.
I swallowed the bile in my throat and plastered on a grin.