The restaurant seemed designed for a first date. The tables were covered with white cloths, but the rest of the decor wasn't overly twee. The menu had enough trendy items to mark the chef as with the times, and enough old favorites to please the fussiest of eaters. The Zagat sticker on the door made it seem dependable. It came across as elegant and fun, which would hopefully reflect the same attributes onto the person--me--who'd chosen the spot. In fact, there was only one problem with the restaurant.
It was closed.
I knocked politely on the glass door. "Hello?" I called. The bartender looked up from polishing the stemware. I pointed at my watch. "Your website says you open at four thirty."
He flipped the lock and opened the door for me. "Are you the new hostess?"
I blinked at him. "No. Becky Fuller. Table for two at four thirty."
"I haven't even checked the reservation list yet," he said with a shrug. "You can come in, but there's no way we can seat you for another ten minutes or so." He peered around me, then fixed me with an appraising look. "Where's your number two?"
I frowned, feeling defensive. Didn't I look like someone who could get a date? Even a 4:30 date? "He'll be here soon." I checked my watch again. "It's only . . . four fifteen."
The bartender smirked. "That I know." Was he flirting with me? Not particularly adept flirting, maybe, but I was hardly one to talk. Also, a little awkward, what with me actually waiting for a date.
Inside, I folded myself into the tiny window seat near the coat check and whipped out my BlackBerry.
"Can I get you a glass of wine?" the bartender called across the empty restaurant. I was beginning to suspect he was, if not the owner, at least the manager of the restaurant. Why else would he be here all alone?
"I'm fine for now," I replied, my thumbs moving furiously on the keyboard.
After a minute, he spoke again. "Do I know you?"
I glanced up. I didn't think I knew him. Not bad-looking, about my age, or maybe a few years older. Slightly receding hairline, with the corresponding close-cropped cut that guys with receding hairlines liked nowadays.
Actually, that might be a good story. "Why Bald's Not Bad." Or maybe something more positive-sounding. Tie it into bald celebrities. Bruce Willis. Vin Diesel. Not that we ever lacked for trend pieces. It was real news stories that tripped us up.
"Becky Fuller," he mused. "Wait, did you go to Fairleigh Dickinson?"
My thumbs stopped and I peered at him again. "Yes."
"Me too," he said, though my mind still drew a blank. "Ben Smith."
Nothing. And the common name didn't help. Did I go out with him? I tried to picture him with hair.
"Maybe you'd remember my boyfriend," Ben Smith went on. Okay, so not flirting. Man, I was bad at reading signals. Epically bad. We'd done a piece two months ago on face blindness? People who couldn't recognize their children, their husbands, their own faces in the mirror? Well, I clearly had flirt blindness.
And probably hadn't dated him either. Though college was a long time ago, and with my track record, I wouldn't be surprised if there'd been a few gay guys on the list. "His name is Steve Jones?"
Steve Jones and Ben Smith. Unlikely. I could name every member of the Hoboken City Council for the last five years. My BlackBerry listed the phone number of the dean of every institute of higher learning from Berkeley to William Paterson. I could rattle off the stats of every New Jersey athlete drafted by a professional sports team since the turn of the millennium. Unless Steve Jones was one of these people, I didn't know him.
"You dropped out, though," he went on. "What happened?"
I lowered my BlackBerry and hesitated over whether or not to spill my life story to a restaurant manager I did not remember who'd apparently attended the college I'd dropped out of. Usually, I was the one around here doing the interviews.
The door to the restaurant opened and in walked my date. I shoved my BlackBerry into my jacket pocket and popped up to meet him.
"Becky?" He smiled. Nice smile.
I smiled at Ben in triumph. See? There was a number two. "It's a long story," I said, as he grudgingly grabbed a pair of menus to show us to our seats.
Why had I dropped out of Fairleigh? I'd had a better offer.
Six minutes later, I wondered if I'd have been better off having that glass of wine with Ben after all. It was now officially 4:30, so the restaurant was officially open and we could, I supposed, officially order. That was, if the waitress ever finished her staff meal and got her butt over here.
Also, in six minutes, my BlackBerry had gone off in my jacket pocket no fewer than four times, and it was taking all my concentration not to answer its siren's call. Focus I should have been using to make up for all the elegance and fun that this restaurant apparently didn't have at 4:30.
Ben Smith had departed to points unknown, which lessened the pressure I felt to reminisce with him about vaguely remembered school days. Though that conversation might have been easier than the one I was trying and failing to keep going with my actual date.
"I'm just glad you were able to meet me so early," I said, trying not to toy with my silverware. "I know it's a pain. . . ."
"Oh, that's okay," said my date. "I've . . . never been to dinner at this time. Interesting crowd."
Interesting indeed. In one corner of the restaurant, a duo of octogenarians were squinting at the menu from behind their bifocals. In another, two waiters and a busboy were finishing up their staff meals.
I forced a smile. "Professional hazard. See, I work at Good Morning New Jersey--"
"On Channel 9, right?" he replied. His name was Jon, but not, I'd discovered, Jon-short-for-Jonathan, which was a little confusing. My downstairs neighbor had set this up. Jon worked in her office. New in town. The usual.
"Exactly, and we're on really early, so I've got a bedtime like a toddler." Why not just John? I was Becky, not Beccie or Beki or anything weird. Once people started getting creative with the spelling, things always went wrong on the prompters. Well, it would be fine with Jon, but still--
My BlackBerry began to buzz again. I could feel it purring in my jacket pocket. I know it sounds crazy, but I think I've developed a sixth sense about these things. This was a particularly desperate purr.
"Sorry, I have to--" I pulled it out and checked. "I'm working on a story about the mosquito infestation in Ho-Ho-Kus near the . . ." I read the email and grimaced. Did Anna think I was freaking Wikipedia? I glanced up at Jon. "Do mosquitoes bite or sting?"
"Not sure," Jon said. "But when I lived there, I was pretty sure the Ho-Ho-Kus mosquitoes used martial arts."
Cute. He was cute. And patient. I rushed through my email--I went with "bite," for the record--and set the BlackBerry down on the tabletop. "Okay, done and done."
"So," Jon said, his eyes glinting. "You were talking about your bedtime?"
Well played, sir. But I remained cool. "Well, we used to be on at five a.m., but then the station got bought by this giant company and they decided to run us instead of infomercials since we generate slightly more revenue, so we start at four a.m. now."
The BlackBerry went off again, skittering across the table like an electronic cockroach. I grabbed it.
"Let me just . . . ," I said as Jon gave me a raised eyebrow over the top of the menu. Right--once was a pass. "I'll turn it off."
As soon as I checked the readout, that is. Oh, crap. Anna.
"So sorry," I said to Jon, as I pressed the phone to my ear. "This will just be two seconds--hi."
"Becky," Anna's voice came on the line. "I don't mean to interrupt, but please tell me you got that last email."
"He confirmed for tomorrow," I said. "I sent you the list of questions."
Jon flipped a page in the menu. Desserts? Really? But we hadn't even ordered.
"And do we have any--," Anna went on.
"I already pulled the footage from the Weehawken mosquito investigation two years ago. Okaygottagobye! Wear bug spray!" I hung up, turned back to Jon, and smiled in apology. "I know, it's so annoying when people do that. You just want to go, 'Check please.'"
"No--," Jon said.
"It's just that it's a kind of 'round-the-clock job, you know? Even at the local station. I mean, we're nothing special, it's not like we're the Today show. They're the gold standard."
"Really--," Jon said.
"Yeah, if you think about it. And we're just . . . anyway, sorry about that. I won't touch it again."
Jon looked skeptical. Crap.
"This place is nice, huh?" I tried. "It reminds me of Matthews, in Waldwick? We used to go there when I was a kid."
"Not familiar--," Jon said.
"I always had the Belgian waffles," I went on, helpless to stop myself. Not only was I flirt-blind, I was apparently also banter-impaired. No wonder I liked to stay behind the camera. "Then my dad died when I was nine, and my mom moved to Florida five years ago for her phlebitis--apparently, blood clots differently in Florida. . . ."
Jon was staring at me, clearly as flummoxed by my babbling as I was.
"Anyway," I said, getting control of my mouth. "What do you do?"
He hesitated for a second. "I'm in marketing. For an insurance company."
"Oh," I said, as gamely as possible. "That's . . . nice."
The BlackBerry began to do its insect impression again, making a trembling dash for the table edge. I caught it in midair.
"Oh my God, this is my boss. I have to--"
Jon opened his menu again.
"I could . . . call him back."
He flipped to the "About Our Chef" page, the last refuge of the truly bored. "No, no. Go ahead."
"Really?" I beamed. "It'll just be a second, I promise." I slid from my chair and answered. This had better be worth it--Jon was growing increasingly restless.
"All I want to know, Becky," said Oscar, "is that you got that CEO."
I cast a glance back at Jon, who was watching the octogenarians squabbling over whether to order the beet salad or the grilled radicchio. Perhaps he was envying their companionable vibes. Damn, I was bad at dating.
"I left three messages with his attorney," I said. "And if he doesn't call back, I'll just wait outside his office."
It was way easier to nail down stories than dates.
Jon signaled to the waiter. "Check please."
My eyes popped open as soon as the alarm went off: 1:30 a.m. Another day. I reached for the remote controlling the dresser TV. Good morning, CNN.
I flicked on the TV on my bookshelf. Guten tag, MSNBC.
And the one gracing the storage chest at the end of the bed. Okay, FOX News. This is your last chance. Show me some love or I'm trading you out for C-SPAN. I mean it this time.
I brushed my teeth, keeping one eye on the state of my gums and the other on the reflection of the bookshelf TV in my bathroom mirror. A whole lot of nothing this morning. The other producers better have come through with that mosquito stuff, especially since they'd ruined my date with Jon.
He'd been a cute one, too. Given my hours, it was rare to meet someone outside the field of night security or newspaper delivery. There'd been that nice baker from Hoboken two years back, but I'd put on fifteen pounds while dating him. I hadn't eaten like that since leaving college.
A breaking news bar flashed on the CNN screen. I whirled, toothbrush and all, to catch the details. Wait . . . a car accident in Phoenix? Never mind. They certainly had a broad definition of the term "news" down there in Atlanta.
I got dressed, grabbed my computer case, my purse, my tote bag with my gym stuff, my other tote bag with my folders on developing stories, and my jacket. As I shoved the key into the lock on my door, I passed Jim, my neighbor, who was clearly just returning from taking his Puggle to piddle.
"Night, Jim," I said, making a wide berth around his yapping dog.
"Morning, Becky," he replied.
And that's my life. Dinner dates at 4 p.m., in bed by eight, up at 1:30 a.m. and ready to share important news stories with the world.
On a perfect day, that is. Sometimes what's important ends up being more about the best places to buy organic chicken than actual hard-hitting journalism. But who is to say that poultry info isn't utterly relevant to the housewife in Edgewater? There's no law that says all news should be about Yemen or North Korea.
In the car, I started flipping stations. Soft rock, advertisements, a Christian call-in show . . . ah, news. Weather, traffic, got it covered, covered it yesterday, wait . . . what did Kim Kardashian wear? Hmmm. Maybe worth a trend piece?
Nah. Not another one of those. Someone give me some real news. Talk to me, NPR.
I stopped to pick up the newspapers and pulled into the Channel 9 parking lot.
My friend and coproducer, Anna Garcia, pounced on me as soon as I was inside. I hoped it wasn't more questions about mosquitoes.
"So? How was the date?"
A few years younger than me, Anna had the benefit of still thinking every blind date had the potential of being The One. It was easier to do so when you were Anna Garcia, though. She had the face of an angel and a knack for serial monogamy. In the entire time I'd known her, she'd never been single for more than a month, total.
Perhaps I should lie and spin her a marvelous tale about my epic evening. Maybe I should tell her I didn't get home until some ungodly hour . . . like 9 p.m.
"Pretty good," I said. "He was nice. We, um, kind of hit it off." Or we did until I started checking my BlackBerry every two seconds like a crazy.
Anna regarded me skeptically. "Did you check your BlackBerry every two seconds like a crazy?"
"Yes," I admitted. "But I did it in an adorable way."
Anna smirked. Yeah, I didn't buy it either.
Excerpted from Morning Glory by Diana Peterfreund. Copyright © 2010 by Diana Peterfreund. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.