The Bandbox Hat
Previously: During a group bowling date, Austin accidentally lets go of a ball too soon and it almost hits SarahJane. He apologizes by taking her on a private date in the alley’s 1950’s style diner. While they’re eating, they hear noises coming from the kitchen. When they investigate, they find Nathan and Amanda kissing.
At least Nathan had to good grace to look sheepish as he ran a hand through his hair. “Hi, SarahJane. Austin.”
I felt a nudge at my side and turned.
“Let’s go,” Austin said. “We’ve got our own date.” He leaned close to whisper in my ear. “There are still cameras here, even if they’re not in our faces.
I gave Nathan a glare but managed a wobbly smile for Austin. “Yes, we do.” Showing Nathan my back gave me a moment’s satisfaction.
Austin and I sat again but I’d lost my appetite.
He covered my hand with his. “Let’s pretend it never happened. Maybe it won’t be in the show.”
“I wish, but even I’m not that naïve. I know we’re going to be the teaser for this episode.”
He let go of my hand and picked up his burger. “Maybe. Or maybe something even more exciting will happen. Maybe … maybe we’ll catch my mom behind the lanes.”
I laughed. “Your mom has sense enough to avoid dark places.”
“Then we’ll have to improvise. Do something shocking ourselves.”
“I want to avoid being the teaser, not ensure it.” His easy manner did help unknot my stomach muscles and I sighed.
“Oh, right. Well, we can lock Amanda and a few other girls in the restroom. They might turn on each other.”
“Is this place really wired for sound and pictures all through the building?” I hadn’t taken the time earlier, but now I looked at the ceiling and wasn’t surprised to see the opaque half-globes that meant a camera was watching.
“I think so.” He put down his burger and leaned back in his chair. A bit of ketchup clung to his lower lip.
“You’ve got a little something—” I pointed.
He gave me a wicked grin. “I know.”
Heat flashed up my cheeks.
“I lost my napkin in the excitement of catching your brother and Amanda.”
I handed him mine. “Here.”
He laughed out loud, a carefree sound that unleashed my own pent up giggles. With a swipe of white paper across his mouth, he removed the red splotch.
I felt oddly deflated, like that ketchup had been an invitation or a test. I didn’t get the feeling that I’d failed, but I definitely didn’t do as well as I should have, given that I was a teacher.
“Shall we bowl some more?” He stood and extended his hand.
I took it and we walked back into the main area. “Thank you for lunch. It was delicious.”
“My pleasure.” He stopped in front of me and took my hands. “I mean that. I know this is crazy, trying to meet people and start relationships surrounded by other women, cameras, and production people all telling us where to look and turn. When all I want to do is spend some time talking like normal people do on dates. But since that’s not going to happen for at least a few more weeks, I want to tell you that I’ve enjoyed every conversation we’ve had, SarahJane.”
I couldn’t help the smile his words brought to my lips. “Me too. And that goes for your mom as well.”
His eyes crinkled. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”
“She sure is.” Strangely enough, as sweet as Austin’s speech was, it was still a speech and felt rehearsed. But when I thought about Linda, the opposite feeling came. She was completely relaxed and casual. “How does she do it?” I asked. “She seems like she’s the same person whether cameras are around or not.”
He leaned in close. “Can you keep a secret?”
I mimicked locking my lips and tossing the key over my shoulder.
His breath tickled my neck under my ear and my shoulder reflexed into a shrug. “She’s a former actress. No one knows. I mean, of course the production company does, but none of the other women here have recognized her.”
I pulled back to look him in the eyes. “Really? Should I know her?”
He shrugged. “Ever heard of a show called The Samantha Scheme?”
I pulled away to stare at him. “Are you kidding me? Your mom was Samantha?”
He shook his head. “No, she was Samantha’s best friend, Madeleine.”
“I watched that show in reruns when I was in fourth grade.”
He nodded. “She did a few other things after that, but decided not to act anymore. But never forget, she’s an actress. A very capable actress.”
Austin leaned close. “Speak of the devil.” He turned and waved. “Hi, Mom.”