When my name was Chelsea Lyndon, I was a romantic fantasy slut.
But I was not a cliché. I didn’t break off the heel of my shoe as I rushed to be somewhere. I was already where I wanted to be when I stumbled and twisted my ankle, which snapped the straps of my platform espadrilles and sent me face-first into a patch of mud.
This wouldn’t have been so bad, except I was on my fantasy date. The date about which I’d dreamed since I was a little girl.
Thank goodness I wasn’t with anyone who mattered.
My Grandma Judy loved watching movies, and one of her favorites was Moonstruck with Nicholas Cage and Cher. There was a scene where Cage invites Cher to the Met. For some reason—probably because I was only about eight years old the first time I saw the movie—I decided that an opera date meant true love. So when Baird McKechnie, a casual business acquaintance, invited me to the opera, I accepted.
Like generations of women in my family, I was looking for a happy ending.
Oh, I was careful. World-class summer opera sounded a bit sketchy. Besides, I didn’t know Baird all that well. And I wasn’t completely stupid. I checked the Internet to make sure the Glimmerglass Opera was legit. The opera was for real. Based on the website, its potential for fantasy fulfillment was high, especially if the outing included one of the advertised gourmet picnics. And Cooperstown was also the hometown of the guy who wrote the book on which The Last of the Mohicans—the movie with Daniel Day Lewis—was based, and it was only about an hour and a half from Syracuse, where I lived at the time. Overall, the Glimmerglass possibilities outweighed Moonstruck.
I should have known better.
Baird purchased our meal in a restaurant in the village. I noticed immediately it was not the one listed on the Glimmerglass website. Shaneybrook’s was cute on the outside: white stucco with Mediterranean-blue trim. Festive pink-and-white-striped petunias filled planters on either side of the door. I waited in the car.
We made it as far as the opera’s picnic grounds high on a hill above the theater. I noted the other picnickers had bottles of wine, stemware, wicker, brightly hued tableware, fabric napkins, and tablecloths. The setting appeared so civilized, so surreal—almost like a movie set. There was no gaily-striped tablecloth to spread over our table, no napkins, and no glasses.
I tried to eat the sandwich from Shaneybrook’s, while I longed for lemony grilled chicken with orzo salad or duck confit on a bed of wheat berries.
Instead, I had pink processed meat and white American cheese on bread so stiff and dry that it reminded me of the asphalt shingles on my grandmother’s apartment building. Mayo, iceberg lettuce, tomato, and onion. I’m sure that was someone’s dream sandwich, and another woman might find it wildly romantic, but not me.
And it was hot. Humid. My long sundress clung to my thighs. Perspiration trickled down the sides of my face, along with my makeup. The air was so thick it was like breathing yogurt.
My footing in my platform shoes was a bit wobbly as we started down the hill to the theater. Then I fell. In the mud.
So much for a romantic date. Baird didn’t even help me to my feet, leaving that honor to an older gentleman who’d been eating at the picnic table next to us.
Fifteen minutes later, we were back in Cooperstown parked in front of those ragged-edged petunias. Baird didn’t say a word to me but grabbed the lunch bag with our leftovers and stalked through the front door of the restaurant.
I needed a restroom, so I followed him despite being an embarrassed, muddy, barefoot mess and despite the pain shooting up my left calf and thigh like splintery, ragged spears attacking me. I gritted my teeth and limped onward. Wetting myself wasn’t an option.
The dining room was nearly full. I looked for someone to ask about using the restroom. That’s when I heard Baird scream, “You bitch!”
He couldn’t possibly be talking to me, but the words still sliced through me like a hot knife through cold butter. I followed the sound of his vitriol and pushed through the swinging doors at the rear of the room.
Roasting garlic perfumed the air of the restaurant kitchen. Something sizzled in a pan on the stove. Baird was screaming at a man in chef whites, who brandished a knife at him. A big knife. Baird threw the bag with the leftovers, and the chef skewered it midair.
Something flew past me. An onion hit Baird on the head, halting the stream of obscenities spewing from his mouth.
I turned to see who had hurled the onion.
Daylight poured through a huge window, catching the culprit in a shaft of gold, turning his sun-kissed hair into a brilliant nimbus. Everything about him glowed, like an award statuette in a spotlight.
I’d like to win him, I thought.