The Bandbox Hat
Previously: Sarah Jane arrives at the Date My Son mansion where she meets Austin and his mother, Linda. Sarah Jane is rescued from the other women by another contestant named Cassie. Sarah Jane tries to find Liam to quit the show but it begins when Austin and his mother each give a Premiere Edition charm bracelet. At the end of the show, the woman with the most charms wins the chance to date Austin. Austin gives his bracelet to Cassie. Linda is about to announce her choice for her first bracelet. Her eyes lock with Sarah Jane’s who is trying to hide behind the couch and a redhead with a short poufy dress.
Linda’s gaze never wavered from mine. “My Premiere bracelet is for the woman who felt completely unpretentious and natural. Sarah Jane.”
My knees buckled and I would have fallen if Cassie hadn’t tugged my arm up and then propelled me around the couch.
I stumbled and turned to glare at her but she just grinned and made forward movements with her hands, shoving empty air ahead. I twisted forward again to wave at Linda and demur.
A camera with a blinking red light blocked my view of both Linda and Austin. I had to bob and weave to see them, waiting patiently at the front of the room.
Finally, I stood in front of Linda who held a bracelet of delicate silver links with one charm dangling from it. A rosebud.
“Sarah Jane, I hope you’ll wear this bracelet and agree to stay so Austin and I can get to know you better.” Linda’s eyebrows rose as she smiled, a question in her eyes.
I glanced over my shoulder to see a broad grin on Cassie’s face. Another girl shifted slightly, blocking my view of Cassie. This girl was tall and slim as a corn stalk, with hair the color of corn silk and eyes the same green as young corn leaves, when the stalks are growing daily and pouring sugar to the kernels. This girl’s expression was far from sweet though. She stared at me with a singeing intensity and I turned back to Linda and Austin just to get away from the heat in her gaze.
“I … I’d be happy to accept this bracelet.” The words sounded rehearsed but they popped out of my mouth like a miniature golf clown spitting out white balls.
Linda fastened the clip and hugged me. “I’m so looking forward to our next chat,” she whispered in my ear.
Austin hugged me as well, a proper and chaste hug with only our shoulders touching.
Oddly, it was that hug that I found most appealing about him. It told me his mother raised him right. I could see my brothers doing the same thing to a girl they’d just met but were expected to show some affection and warmth to.
Harrison stepped to Austin’s side. “We’ll continue with the cocktail party. At the end, the rest of the Premiere Edition bracelets will be offered to the women Austin and Linda hope to get to know better.”
The camera operators backed away from Harrison. As soon as a path cleared, girls swarmed in and vied to reach Austin first. The cool as corn girl didn’t seem to move any faster than anyone else, but she reached his side before the others.
“Austin,” she cooed. “Can I steal you away for just a minute? Then I’ll let everyone else have their turn.”
He smiled and tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow. “Let’s go sit by the pool.”
A palpable atmosphere of frustration and thwarted hopes pulsed throughout the room. The also-rans glommed onto Linda as their consolation prize.
Cassie and I watched and soon found ourselves alone in the kitchen again.
We leaned against the counter. “I can’t believe it,” I said. “I was going to quit. How did this happen?”
Liam walked in, his tablet computer apparently welded to his hand. “You made an impression, just like I told’ya you would.”
I shook my head. “I am so unprepared for this. What made me think I could go on a dating show? I’m from Rosedale,” I said, as if my hometown was responsible for my naiveté.
“I’m from Wyoming,” Cassie said. “There’s no way Rosedale is more rural than Brockton City.”
“You’re both doing great,” Liam said, before leaving.
He’d barely disappeared into the dusk outside when the corn girl entered.
She appraised Cassie and me, her cool green eyes sweeping over us and finding our casual clothes too tacky for words.
“I’m Sarah Jane,” I said, sticking out my hand. I mostly wanted to know her name so I could stop thinking of her as corn girl.
“Amanda,” she said. She accepted my hand but hers was limp as a wet newspaper. “Pleased to meet you.” She took her hand back and immediately left. I think I only imagined her wiping it on the front of her gown.
Cassie grinned. “I think we better buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”