Sax / LOVE GAME
Everyone talks about the calm before the storm, but nobody warns you about the calm after the storm, bubeleh. I know, I know—storms are scary. All that wind blows you to hell and gone and can turn you upside down. Drown you. But in love, dolly—and in matchmaking—drowning can be a good thing. Things should be stirred up. Things should be moving. Chaos is love’s friend. You know what I mean? So if your matches are drowning, if they are having their kishkes blown to smithereens, that might be a good thing. Be happy for storms in your matches’ lives. Be happy for the couples who are holding on for dear life. But if the wind changes and it becomes dead calm, dolly, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Lesson 57, Matchmaking Advice from Your Grandma Zelda
I screamed and threw a bucket into the corner of the shed. I heard Grandma’s designer heels click- clack toward me on the stone walk.
“Don’t worry, there’s nothing poisonous in there,” she called in my direction. “Not since the end of rattlesnake season.”
I didn’t know there was a rattlesnake season in Cannes, California. I had moved to the small mountain village only five months earlier to live with my grandmother and work in her matchmaking business. If I had known there was a rattlesnake season, I might have stayed in Denver to work on the cap line at the plastic-bottle factory for more than the six weeks I was there.
I raised the can of bug spray above my head as a warning to all the creepy crawlies in Grandma’s shed. There were a lot of them.
“Are you sure rattlesnake season is over?” I asked as she opened the door wider and peeked her head inside. She was decked out in what I suspected was a Badgley Mischka wedding dress, two sizes too small, her flesh threatening to burst out of the seams.
“Normally it’s over by the beginning of October,” she said, adjusting her lace bodice. Grandma was a lot of woman, but she had style and was never caught out of her house without full makeup and at least a fake designer ensemble. Not that she ever got past her property lines. She was a homebody, what people uncharitably described as a shut-in. It didn’t matter, though—the town came to Grandma, as she was the indispensable matchmaker and all-around yenta. And she knew things that couldn’t be known.
“Normally it’s over?” I asked, peering into the corners of the shed.
“The last one slithered out of here at least a week ago,” she said, certain of herself.
I screamed and sprayed the wall. “There’s spiders the size of Rhode Island in here.”
“If you don’t like spiders, don’t open your red suitcase, dolly,” she told me, shaking her head. “There’s some nasty ones in there.”
My sweaters were also in the red suitcase. And my good coat. The weather in Cannes had turned cold with the arrival of apple season, and I had been wearing the same Cleveland Browns sweatshirt every day for the past week and a half. It was time to unpack my winter clothes, but I didn’t know if I was brave enough to fight off nasty spiders for a wool coat.
“You could borrow something of mine,” Grandma told me, seemingly reading my mind. “I have a lovely velour jacket with feather detailing that’s very warm, and it’s just attracting moths in my closet.”
“Hold your breath, Grandma,” I said. “I’m going in.” I took a gulp of fresh air and resumed spraying. I made it to the red suitcase, doused it with the last of the poison, grabbed the bag by the handle, and shot out of the shed like a bullet.
Grandma looked down at the dripping suitcase. “Yep, there are some nasty ones in there,” she said.
I tossed the suitcase into the trunk of my Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and closed it successfully after three tries. The rust had overtaken my old silver car, making it look two-tone, with large red rusty patches. I had never minded the rust, but now it had infected the lock on the trunk, making it nearly impossible to shut.
“I’ll have Dave open the suitcase,” I told Grandma. Dave was the owner and operator of Dave’s Dry Cleaner’s and Tackle Shop. He was both fastidious and a lover of bugs. My suitcase was right up his alley, and I would have my winter clothes back clean and pressed within twenty-four hours.
But Grandma wasn’t paying attention to me. She stood in the driveway, ramrod-straight, her head raised, and her eyes closed. A cool breeze blew against her bouffant hairdo, making it stir ever so slightly.
“Something wrong?” I asked her.
“The wind has shifted,” she said, flustered.
“Don’t I know it. What a relief.” September had been chaos. The whole town had gone crazy. But now we were a week into October, and it was calm and relaxed. Cannes had settled into its Apple Days events, and apple cider and apple pie were being sold at just about every store in the historic district. Everyone was in a good mood, including me.
In fact, I was in the best mood I had been in since my three days as a cashier at a medical-marijuana dispensary in Monterey. My bank account was finally in the black, and I was starting to think I might have the hang of the matchmaking business. My last match was working like gangbusters. Even though it had been years since I’d settled down in one place for more than a couple of months, Cannes was starting to grow on me. It was beginning to feel like home.
“An ill wind,” Grandma muttered.
I turned my face to the breeze. I could smell the fires coming from the neighbors’ fireplaces, nothing else. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Isn’t it time for the Dating Do’s and Don’ts class?” I asked.
“What?” Grandma’s house was usually Grand Central, with no end to singles coming to her in their journey to find love.
“Not today. Nobody.”
“Did you cancel it?” I asked. “Are you feeling all right?”
Grandma ignored me and walked up the driveway to the front door. I could hear the rustle of her panty- hose as she walked, her thighs rubbing against each other. It was unusual behavior for my grandmother, and I had begun to follow her into the house when I heard a car horn.
The sound got louder, until finally the most beautiful Mercedes I had ever seen barreled around the corner and up onto the curb at the bottom of the driveway. Without turning off the motor, my friend Lucy Smythe hopped out.
“Help! Now! Come!” she shouted in my direction. Despite her panic, she was impeccably dressed, not a hair out of place, her face made up to perfection.
“Wow, is that a new car?” I asked her.
“Don’t just stand there, darlin’. Get in the car.”
“What’s the matter?”
Lucy stomped up the driveway and tugged at my arm. “No time to talk. Come along.”
“I’m on my way to Dave’s. I have spider clothes that need to be cleaned.”
Lucy seemed to notice me for the first time. My hair was tied in a frizzy ponytail on the top of my head. I was wearing my threadbare Cleveland Browns sweatshirt, torn jeans, and slip-on sneakers.
“What’s that smell?” she asked.
“Bug spray,” I said. “I might have gotten some on me.”
“You smell like citrus death.” She waved her hands in the air. “No time to change.”
She pushed and pulled me until I was sitting in the calfskin-leather passenger seat of her salmon-colored Mercedes. “My butt is warm,” I noted.
“There’s also a massage setting.” She pressed a button on what looked like the control panel of a fighter jet, and my butt started to vibrate.
“Oh, that’s nice,” I said.
“Bridget says Mercedes has made a leap toward women’s sexual independence,” Lucy told me. Bridget was our friend, my grandmother’s bookkeeper, and a militant feminist.
Lucy raced down the street, driving erratically and nearly clipping a garbage can as she turned the corner. I snapped my seat belt into place.
“Is someone dying? Has someone been murdered?” I asked Lucy. It wasn’t a stretch. Since I arrived in Cannes, I had come across a few dead bodies. I was getting a reputation.
“No, why? Have you heard something?”
“No. Should I have heard something?”
Lucy was sweating, and she hadn’t blinked since she started to drive. It was out of character for her, to say the least. She wasn’t the erratic kind of woman. She was a very successful marketer, whatever that was. She was a Southern belle who had traveled the world and was calm in every situation.
In fact, I had seen her flustered on only one occasion.
“Lucy, does this have something to do with Uncle Harry?” I asked. Uncle Harry wasn’t really Lucy’s uncle. He was a magnetic man a few years older than Lucy with a fortune from a questionable source. He lived in a giant house east of town with man-eating Rottweilers, a gate, and a security man named Killer. Okay, I didn’t know the security guard’s name, but he looked like a Killer.
At the mention of Uncle Harry, Lucy’s eyes glazed over and her hands slipped off the steering wheel. She let out a squeak, as if she were a Kewpie doll and someone had given her a hard squeeze.
“Coffee!” I shouted in warning, but it was too late. Despite Lucy coming to her senses and slamming her foot down on the brake pedal, the front door to the Tea Time tea shop sped toward us, or at least it seemed that way. Actually, it was Lucy’s car that sped toward Tea Time’s front door, but in the end it was the same thing. The salmon-colored Mercedes with the warming vibrator tushy seats pulverized the massive wood doors of Tea Time and took large chunks of the walls with it.
Tea Time used to be a saloon, back when Cannes was a gold-rush town in the late 1800s, but now it was all lace tablecloths, yellow painted daisies, porcelain teapots on every table, classical music piped in at a respectable level, and a rack of crocheted tea cozies for sale at ludicrous prices. It was owned by eighty-five-year-old Ruth Fletcher, a crotchety old lady who despised coffee drinkers. Despite Tea Time’s name and Ruth’s demeanor, the shop had the best coffee in town.
I stumbled out of the car, past the deflated air bags and the debris. Miraculously, no one was hurt. The shop had been experiencing a lull in the day, and there were only two people inside. Ruth and her danger-prone grandniece, Julie, stood behind the intact bar, their mouths hanging open, the sunlight filtering past the dust through the gaping hole in the wall and onto their shocked faces.
Lucy opened her car door and hobbled out. One of her sling-back heels was broken, making her limp. Besides that and her toppled hairdo, she was unscathed.
I saw red. “My coffee!” I yelled at Lucy. “You killed my coffee!” I couldn’t live without my coffee, and Ruth made the best lattes on the planet. I needed Ruth’s lattes.
“I didn’t do it!” Julie squealed, waking Ruth out of her stupor. Ruth threw down her bar towel and stomped over to us.
“This building has been in existence since 1872,” she spat at me, her words coming out in clipped consonants as she gestured to Tea Time’s destroyed front wall. “Had! Had been in existence!”
“Strictly speaking, I wasn’t driving,” I said.
“You’re just like your grandmother,” she accused. “Wackos think they know everything. I bet she didn’t guess this little event, did she?”
She had a point. Besides saying the wind had changed, Grandma could have warned me not to get into the car with Lucy.
I pointed at Lucy. “She did it,” I said.
Lucy swiped her hair out of her eyes. She climbed over the debris and hobbled toward us, riffling through her purse as she limped closer. She pulled out her wallet.
“I’ve got five hundred dollars here. Do you think that will cover it?” she asked Ruth.
I thought I saw steam come out of Ruth’s ears. “This is a historic building in the historic district of a historic town,” she said. “It will take at least a month to fix the damage, during which I will be out of business. There is no wall here!” she shouted, pointing at the hole that used to be Tea Time’s front door.
“You have five hundred dollars in your purse?” I asked. For the first time in months, I was up-to-date on my bills, but I had only $7.50 on me. Marketing sure paid well. Whatever that was.
“I’m in a hurry,” Lucy said. “I don’t have time to stand here and chat, Ruth.”
“Well, then maybe you shouldn’t have taken a detour into my shop!” Ruth said, stating the obvious.
“Here’s my insurance card. I’ve got to get to Uncle Harry. He’s waiting. Come on, Gladie, let’s go.”
“Are you serious?” I stammered. “I’m not getting in a car with you!”
“Gladys Burger, did I not save your life not one month ago?”
And there it was, the trump card. Lucy and Bridget had come to my rescue a few weeks back, and I owed her one, to put it mildly.
“Okay,” I agreed. “But not without coffee. I need coffee.”
“Don’t look at me!” said Ruth. “I’m not about to make you coffee.”
I stared Lucy in the eye. “Not without coffee.”
Excerpted from Love Game by Elise Sax. Copyright © 2014 by Elise Sax. 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.