Romantically Challenged

Romantically Challenged

Think your love life is rotten? Meet Julie Burns, an L.A. entertainment lawyer who after being dumped and disgraced by her ex-boyfriend is now re-entering dating hell. All because she wants to find that one elusive commodity: a decent guy…who steals her heart, of course.

When Julie becomes convinced that finding The One is “just a numbers game,” she sets out to increase her numbers by any means necessary. From chance meetings and blind dates to dating services and the wonderful world of the internet, Julie Burns will try anything to meet her man. And in the process, she discovers a secret or two about the single life: Sometimes love sneaks up on you when you least expect it—and even the worst first impressions can lead to surprising results…

 

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Chapter One

The Wedding From Hell

“Marry me,” he said.

I looked down into his watery brown eyes. “You’re drunk.”

“No I’m not,” was all he managed before he belched again, filling the air with the sour scent of stale beer. “If you turn me down you’ll regret it. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”

It took me a few seconds to remember where I’d heard that sentiment before. “You can’t propose to me with lines stolen from Casablanca. And besides, that’s the speech Humphrey Bogart made to Ingrid Bergman to convince her not to marry him.”

“Oh,” was all he said before he closed his eyes and returned his head to the table, its resting spot for the previous half hour.

* * *

My cousin Sharon’s reception was typical of large Jewish weddings. A two-hundred-plus formal affair where everyone was drunk and the over-forty crowd sambaed its way across the dance floor. I was one of nine bridesmaids. The only one without a date. Which was why I got stuck sitting next to Peter, the fourteen-year-old brother of the groom. He didn’t have a date either. But at least he had a good excuse. He wasn’t old enough to drive his girlfriend to the wedding.

Despite the company, I spent most of the evening hiding at my table. It was the only place that someone dressed in a polyester teal-green gown with shoulder pads big enough for a linebacker and more tulle then a tutu could blend in. But when the fourteen-year-old looked like he could vomit at any moment, I decided to take my chances with the rest of the room. Even interrogations by my relatives were better than being puked on.

I’d only made it ten feet from the table before I heard my name shouted from the dance floor. I turned toward the voice automatically and saw my mother’s Aunt Rose waving at me. It was too late to run in the other direction. We’d made eye contact.

Aunt Rose’s white-blond hair sparkled in the light from the chandelier as she shimmied across the room in her black sequin cocktail dress, my Uncle Ed in tow. “Julie, dear,” she said, grabbing my hands, “where have you been? We’ve been looking for you all night.”

Avoiding my family. “Just blending with the rest of the teal ballerinas,” I said.

“Don’t be ridiculous dear, those dresses are beautiful. Aren’t they Ed?”

“Beautiful,” Ed said, mopping his flushed face with his handkerchief.

“So tell us how you are, dear,” Aunt Rose asked. “I don’t think we’ve seen you since the last wedding. Whose was it again?”

“Madeline’s.”

“Right.” She released my hands so she could use hers for emphasis. “Your poor Uncle Jerry having to make two weddings back to back like that.”

I nodded sympathetically. I’d hoped Sharon would wait until I’d at least found a date before she got married.

“Of course Joan is thrilled to have both of her daughters married. And both under thirty. How old are you now, dear?”

“Thirty-two,” I said and forced a smile.

“Don’t worry, dear. Your time will come.”

“Julie’s time better come soon or she’s going to miss out.” I recognized that snide voice even before I spun around in my matching teal heels bringing me face to face with my sister, Deborah. Somehow she’d managed to sneak up on me from behind. Not an easy task for someone with forty-eight-inch hips.

“What are you talking about?” I said. “Women can have children in their forties. My clock isn’t even ticking yet.” I’d repeated this statistic so many times in the last year I was actually starting to believe it.

“That’s if you want to have a baby alone,” Deborah said and smirked. “If you want to get married first, you’re going to have to do it by the time you’re thirty-five.”

“How would you know?” Deborah had gotten married right after college and had been popping out babies ever since. She was only four years older than me, but she already had three children.

“I read Modern Woman,” she said, but quickly returned to offense. “There was a big article this month about all the single women over thirty-five who can’t find husbands. Did you know there are ten million more single women over thirty-five than single men?” Deborah shifted towards Aunt Rose. “Apparently the few single men left think that once a woman hits thirty-five, all she wants to do is get married and have babies. They won’t even date them anymore.”

“You’re making that up.” At least I hoped she was.

“It’s true, lawyer girl. Look it up.”

Before I could tell Deborah that she was just jealous because I was thin and had a career and she was fat and didn’t, the band leader began a soulful rendition of “You Light Up My Life,” and Deborah left to find her husband. It was their wedding song.

“Just ignore her, dear,” Aunt Rose said when Deborah was out of hearing range. “Men love women who have careers.” She leaned closer. “They think if a woman has her own money, she won’t spend all of theirs.”

I glanced back at my table and saw that the fourteen-year-old was now sprawled across both his chair and mine. If I didn’t want to talk to any more relatives — and I didn’t — I could think of only one place to go. I said goodbye to Aunt Rose and Uncle Ed and headed towards the ladies’ room.

I hadn’t even made it past the tail end of the conga line before I was spotted by my Uncle Jerry. He stumbled in my direction, bow tie undone, but every perfectly coiffed gray hair still glued in place, with help from his sister-in-law Maureen. Uncle Jerry was the host, so I felt obliged to stop.

“Hi honey,” Maureen said with her trademark phony niceness. “Are you having fun?”

“She better be,” Uncle Jerry slurred. “Do you know what this wedding is costing me?”

“It’s great, Uncle Jerry. Sharon looks beautiful.” Thirty seconds of chitchat and I’d be on my way.

“I know,” he said and transferred his arm from Maureen’s shoulder to mine. “I can’t believe my baby is married. You know, after Madeline’s wedding we all thought you would be next. I even bet on you.”

Great, now I’m a racehorse.

“No, Jerry,” Maureen said, “that was two weddings ago. Since Julie’s boyfriend left her she’s been out of the running.”

After equally uplifting conversations with another great aunt and two distant cousins, I finally made it to the ladies’ room. I sat in the cold marble stall and forced myself not to cry—otherwise my mascara would run and everyone would know I’d been crying and that would be even worse than having to listen to all of my relatives tell me that they just couldn’t believe a smart, attractive girl like me couldn’t find a man.

With the exception of my mother’s Aunt Rose, the older generation considered my being an attorney a liability rather than an asset. It meant I spent too much time on my career, and not enough time on the paramount task of looking for a husband.

After ten minutes of deep, cleansing breaths, I stood up to leave when I heard Maureen’s fake laugh and another voice I didn’t recognize. I hiked my dress up again and sat back down. A cold toilet seat was still better than another conversation with Maureen.

“Who was that woman you and Jerry were talking to?” the Other Voice asked.

“Which one?” Maureen replied. “Jerry was all over the place.”

“The bridesmaid,” the Other Voice said. “The short one with the dark hair and the big chest.”

“That was Jerry’s niece Julie. Sheila and Phil’s daughter. I’ll have to ask Jerry if she had a boob job. Those definitely weren’t real.”

Boob job. Hasn’t anyone heard of a push-up bra?

“Is she here with anyone?” the Other Voice asked.

“No,” Maureen said. “Why?”

“I was thinking she’d be perfect for my brother. He just broke up with his girlfriend and he goes for those cutesy types.”

Why are the short girls always described as cute? Why are we never beautiful? Then I looked down at my teal green gown and realized in this outfit, I should be grateful for any compliment.

“I don’t think your—“ Someone chose that inopportune moment to flush the toilet, temporarily disrupting my eavesdropping. When the water stopped running, I heard Maureen say, “Her ex writes for that TV show Legal Love.”

“Which one is that?”

“The one on Friday nights about the female lawyers who love their jobs, but can’t find a decent man.”

“I saw that once. I thought it was good.”

“It is.” Maureen lowered her voice, but she still spoke loud enough for me to hear. “Supposedly the ‘Ilene’ character, the one whose boyfriend is cheating on her and she doesn’t know it, is based on Julie.”

That was it. I burst out of the stall and into the center of the ladies room. “I’m not Ilene, I’m Susan. The one that goes out with all the hot men and dumps them as soon as they fall in love with her.”

Maureen stood frozen with her mouth open, her lipstick hovering two inches from her face. The Other Voice, a pale, mousy woman gasped. The other two women, whom I thankfully didn’t know, just stared at me.

I sprinted out the door before anyone had recovered enough to respond.