Russell “Russ” Graham had known from the moment he walked into that diner that the girl with the supple lips and rose-tinted cheeks was Cordi, the girl his buddy Jake’s girlfriend had insisted he go out with. Had he known she would be that pretty, he would have agreed to it much sooner.
Russ knew from experience that everyone always had somebody he just had to be set up with, especially this time of year. What was it about mistletoe and fire glow that put everyone under some kind of holiday love trance?
At his age, rounding on thirty five, most of his friends were married, and some even had kids by now. Jake and Marta were the closest thing he had to single friends, since they weren’t married yet, and he joined them out-and-about often enough. For the past few months now, Marta had persistently gone on and on about her single friend from work, hoping Russ would give in and go out with her.
Maybe it was an unfair stereotype, but Russ was sure that single women who had to have their work pals set them up always came with a huge but. No, not butt. That, he wouldn’t have minded. This was the kind that negated the assets of said women. She was great, but…
Of course, he never found out about the but until he was smack-dab in the middle of an awkward date, or worse, a third or fourth date. He wasn’t taking any chances this time around, even if she was a sight for sore eyes.
He knew that Marta would have introduced him by his last name, Graham. It’s what all the guys in their group called him, and he wasn’t sure Marta even knew his first name, since it was never used, even in mixed company.
“My friends call me Russ,” he had told Cordi, and it was true enough. Maybe not all of his friends, but this gave him a chance to tell the truth without giving too much away too soon. He needed to get to know her a little bit and somehow set up a scenario where she would show him the real her that he knew wouldn’t come out if she was nervous or trying too hard to impress, as anyone admittedly tended to do on a first date.
He hadn’t counted on her being amazing. She was funny, easy to talk to, and wasn’t afraid to dig into a slice of buttermilk pie. When he took her home, it was almost like he was seeing stars as she thanked him and got out without even giving him a chance to ask if he could call her sometime. Maybe the stars had been the twinkling Christmas lights that lit a path to her apartment entrance doorway, but even those paled in comparison to the brightness of her eyes as she smiled and waved before closing the Jeep door.
Now, as he passed all the shops and buildings that lined the streets, each decked with lights that shimmered their reds, greens, blues, and silvers against the snow-covered ground below, he drove himself home from a long day of work. He just nearly caught himself pulling the Jeep over outside her apartment building, wanting to drop in just to see her again. He decided against it, partly because he didn’t know which apartment she lived in. Also, what kind of creep stalker would he look like if he just showed up on her doorstep? He thought better of it, and carried on down the icy street in four-wheel-drive.
He turned down the radio playing The Piano Guys’ rendition of Angels We Have Heard On High as he pressed the Bluetooth button on the steering column and stated his command, “Call Jake.”
The sound of the phone ringing filled the cab of the Jeep, and Jake’s voice came over the speakers. “Graham, what’s up, buddy?”
“Hey, did Marta invite Cordi to your Christmas get-together this Friday?” Russ asked, getting straight to the point.
“I’m guessing so. Why? You want me to ask her?” Jake suggested.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
Russ could hear Jake’s muffled voice calling out to Marta. “Hey, babe? … Graham wants to know if you invited Cordi to our get-together this Friday…”
Then Jake answered back into the phone, “Hold on. She wants to talk to you.”
Russ groaned internally, rolling his eyes up to the hardtop of the Jeep, but greeted Marta cheerfully when she got on the phone.
“Graham?” she said.
“What the heck, Graham? Cordi said you never showed up last night. What gives?” she admonished.
“I’m sorry. You must think I’m a jerk,” Russ admitted. He couldn’t tell her the real story yet without risking her telling Cordi.
“I think you probably have a darn good reason, but if you don’t, then yeah, I’m going to think you’re a jerk.”
“That’s why I called. I was hoping I could have a do-over. Is she coming to your party this weekend?” Russ asked, trying to come across as casual and not too eager.
“I’m pretty sure she’ll be here. I invited her to come. But you’re going to have to step up your game, now, because she met a really nice guy she hit it off with last night while she was waiting for you not to show up at the diner,” Marta told him, trying to put the guilt trip on him for ditching her friend.
Russ tried to hold back a smile, realizing that Cordi had mentioned him to Marta, and that she thought they had hit it off, too. Maybe there was still a chance.
“Okay, Marta. Thanks. I’ll see you guys Friday,” he said before pressing End on the steering column, just as he was pulling up into his driveway.
At that, he got out and trudged through the thick snow that had accumulated on the sidewalk, dusting off his boots as he slipped through his front door.
He had a renewed sense of anticipation as he started planning how he would approach Cordi at the Christmas party in just a few days.