The Bandbox Hat
Previously: Sarah Jane was picked up by a driver and taken to a mansion where the production assistant Liam and a man in a suit waited for her. She thought the show started the next day. She’s not dressed up. The car door opens and the host of the show helped her out of the car.
I whispered a prayer of thanks that at least I had dressed in a flirty skirt and cute top instead of my usual cropped pants and T-shirt. Granted the top was still cotton and probably was a T, but at least it had a scoop neck and a floral print. Unfortunately, I could only distract myself with wardrobe thoughts for about twelve seconds.
“Welcome to Date My Son. I’m your host, Harrison Taylor.”
I climbed out of the Escalade and drew a breath. “Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I’m Sarah Jane Richter.”
A genuine smile flitted across his face before the practiced half grin I recognized from the weekend’s marathon DVD viewing assumed its place. “Come meet our bachelor and his mother.”
I knew enough to slip my hand through the crook of Harrison’s elbow and then managed to walk across the cobblestone driveway.
“Sarah Jane, this is Austin and Linda.” Harrison made the introduction then moved to the side where he and Liam bent their heads over Liam’s iPad.
“Sarah Jane, it’s lovely to meet you.” Linda greeted me first, with a firm handshake, then she pulled me into a quick embrace. “Relax,” she whispered into my ear. “He hasn’t bitten anyone since he was three years old.”
I felt my neck and shoulders relax under her hug. She released me and I turned to Austin. My heart froze for an instant before beating double time. Tall, tanned, with sun burnished hair that curled along his collar. I could see him on a surfboard, or skis, or hitting a volleyball.
“Sarah Jane.” He followed his mother’s example with the handshake-then-hug greeting. He took a step back and glanced from me to Linda. “Tell us about yourself, Sarah Jane.”
Linda gave him a playful swat at his midsection. “Oh, there’ll be plenty of time later to get acquainted. This is all about first impressions, right?”
Their easy rapport and candor about the awkwardness of this meeting relaxed me even more.
“I thought I was going to a hotel. I didn’t realize we were meeting today.”
Linda’s gaze flicked from me to something behind me. I looked over my shoulder and gasped when the camera lens stared at me, reflecting back my shocked expression.
“I enjoyed meeting you, Sarah Jane,” Linda said.
With the dismissal obvious from her tone, I turned to go back to the Escalade, but Harrison materialized at my side again. He grasped my elbow and walked me past Linda and Austin, toward the front door.
“Tell me, Sarah Jane, what’s your first impression of Austin and Linda?” he asked.
My heel caught in one of the cracks between the walkway stones and I staggered to regain my footing. “Oh, um … very nice. Yes, they both seem very nice.”
“Mmm hmm, mmm hmm. What else?”
I wracked my brain for something original and catchy and sound bite-ish to say, but it was no use. The word nice seemed to be on a repeating loop and since I knew enough not to say it again, I was left just smiling and nodding .
We reached the front door and Harrison depressed the door latch. “We’ll chat soon, Sarah Jane.”
He pushed the door open and I stepped from the Moroccan oasis into the Sahara. The air crackled with heat and tension. Girls sat on ottomans and couches. Girls leaned against walls and tables. Girls held wine and martini glasses. Girls dressed up in cocktail dresses. Conversations stilled as I entered. Fifteen faces turned toward me and I felt all thirty eyes travel up and down my frame, calculating the cost of my skirt ($30 at H&M), my Body Mass Index (in the normal range, thank you very much), the celebrity of my hair stylist (none unless Rosedale’s Curl Up & Dye ever applied for a makeover from Tabatha Takes Over).
A female version of Liam arrived at my side. She thrust a wine glass into my hand. “Come into the kitchen.”
Conversation resumed in the living room as I obediently followed like a newly adopted puppy, suddenly lonely for her siblings.
“I’m Cassie,” she said.
“Are you a production assistant, like Liam?” If I could figure out who was in charge, maybe I could get out of here before I showed up on any more footage. What they had of me so far would be easy to cut.