By noon in Dr. Robert William’s office, Audrey Tate was reliably exhausted. Various X-rays and cavities, cleanings and crowns had taken their toll; her shoes undeniably heavy by the time she finally sat down in the back room. Fran Yost, the round receptionist in her mid-fifties, was already comfortably stationed at the rectangular white table, the contents of her packed lunch scattered in the space around her. Like many phone operators before her, Fran was more mouth than bite, but nonetheless worthy of her own brash statements and occasional escapes from reality. Audrey opened the tan refrigerator, grabbing the leftover cob salad she made Saturday night, before sitting down in front of her fellow employee, both somewhat spacey after the morning’s slow crawl.
“I swear to God, if I hear one more housewife screaming about insurance I’m gonna completely lose it,” Fran said, her eyes reliably fixated on a trashy tabloid bought from the long supermarket line.
“Who was it today Fran?” Audrey asked, forking a cherry red tomato slice.
“Lisa Davidson…” Fran half-yawned before continuing. “Her husband’s that Mike Davidson, the weatherman for channel six.”
“Oh yeah, I know her. I think she got a boob job.”
“You’re not serious?” Fran looked up from the paparazzi photo of a scantily clad new wave teenage girl singer.
“Well you only talked to her on the phone today, right?”
“Yeah, she was scheduling to get her teeth whitened, again,” Fran replied in a dull tone.
“I saw her at the grocery store on Friday night, and they looked a lot bigger. I don’t know how to explain it, but after cleaning her teeth for more than five years, I can usually tell when something’s changed, something like that anyway,” Audrey chewed a long piece of lettuce, before wiping her mouth.
“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised. Some mothers take their daughters to get them done when they’re like fifteen now.”
“That can’t be true.”
“Oh it is. I saw this whole piece on Sixty Minutes about it a few weeks ago.”
“Well, that can’t be healthy.”
“Yeah, but it’s what the hip parents are doing these days.”
“I can’t see Benji asking me for implants anytime soon.”
“Well ya never know, Audrey.”
“I couldn’t afford it anyway with all the psychiatrist fees.”
“How’s all that going for him?” Fran asked, the veil of indifference in her voice lifting, and being replaced by legitimate concern.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if there’s been a substantial change and I’m just not noticing it or maybe he’s just hiding it from me.”
“It’s tough for everyone at that age. I mean, without everything else, ya know?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“But jeez I wish Ralph would chip in on some plastic surgery for me one of these days,” Fran cracked her neck, before sticking her large chest out like a mother hen for the briefest of moments.
“You don’t need any Fran.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You still have the same ass from college. Mine’s at least doubled since then.”
“Be glad. It’s not like my college ass is helping me out that much.”
“Didn’t the Connel graduation party go as well as you had hoped Audrey?” Fran asked, in a high pitched, slightly nagging voice.
“Ya know, I think they’re right sometimes when they say it’s impossible to get back out there,” Audrey Tate was cropping all the familiar clichés in her garden again, without much concern for their growth.
“That’s not true. My second cousin Phyllis was divorced at thirty-seven, played the field for a few years, and then got remarried last summer to this photographer in New York, I think his name’s Gerald or something. Anyway, she couldn’t be happier.”
“Yeah, but it took her years to get there.”
“Well, all I’m saying is don’t let one bad experience next door discourage you.”
“Thanks Fran, you are truly on top of your game for giving shitty advice today.”
“Hey, anytime sweetheart.”
Both women went back to their respective packed lunches with satisfied smirks on their faces, before Robert walked into the back, carrying a brown doggy bag. He sat down at the table next to Audrey, cleaning the smudges from his brown-framed glasses, before starting in on the large roast beef sandwich from the bottom of the bag.
The fifty-two-year-old, bald, Robert Williams was like all other suburban dentists, somewhat proud of his own practice, desk and chair, while still strangely longing for an adventurous alternative to the day’s cruel spin. Nonetheless, he prided himself on being a good boss, even on those days when he could very easily sense his employees’ spiteful looks directed at them in the back lunchroom. He couldn’t always be their best friend, not with all the suction he needed them for.
“So do you ladies enjoy instantly zipping your lips the second I walk in?” The dentist asked before shoving a large portion of the sandwich into his mouth.
“We were done talking, Rob.” Fran replied sassily.
“Well, fair enough.”
“So did Leona drop that off for you?” Audrey asked, looking over at her boss’ lunch.
“Yes, she did,” He said with a satisfied grin.
“And you never get sick of your wife going out of her way like that?”
“Not usually Audrey, no.”
“Remember when you used to take us out for lunch Rob, ya know, before you got remarried and turned into such a cheapskate,” Fran was hitting her under-appreciated stride that day.
“I didn’t think you missed The Olive Garden so much Fran,” Robert replied, looking up from the table.
“I kind of do. God knows when the next time Ralph will take me out anywhere.”
“Well, that’s not exactly my problem now, is it Fran?” Robert said with a certain orderly tone to his voice.
“It will be when my lack of enthusiasm on the phone diminishes just a little more each day,” Fran replied, knowing full well how to push her boss’ buttons.
“Do you want me to talk to Ralph about it next time I’m cleaning his teeth?” Audrey asked, jokingly, while still trying to cool down the both of them.
“I don’t think he’s due for another five months,” Fran responded, opening up her small one-serving bag of barbecue corn chips.
“Well, then you’ll both have something to look forward to,” Audrey couldn’t resist returning the familiar vibe right back to Fran.
“Oh boy…” She grumbled.
“Ya know, remember when this office used to be a lot brighter?” Robert said, optimistically, fully aware of both his employees eventual frazzled responses.
“Not on Monday, Rob,” Audrey said like his mother.
“Well, I guess I was the only one who managed to get laid this weekend.”
“Ya hear that, I can barely make out the multiple sexual harassment suits coming around the bend,” Audrey said, sitting up in her chair.
“Jesus, somebody must have had a bad two days,” The dentist uttered, not taking the time to think about such a truly brash statement and its effects on his employee.
“She didn’t find Mr. Right at her next-door neighbor’s barbecue,” Fran spoke out, Audrey instantly giving her a death stare.
“Well Mrs. Tate, I didn’t know you were looking again.”
“Thinking about a second divorce so soon, Robert?” Audrey replied, sarcastically.
“No, I don’t think so. But ya know, I do have a friend who’s sort of in the same boat.”
“Somehow I doubt it it’s exactly the same boat,” Fran was enjoying filling in Audrey’s blanks for her far too much.
“Who is he?” Audrey asked, vaguely interested, while still hoping for a different kind of answer from all the others she was unfortunately used to.
“His name’s Lewis Grayson, he’s my travel agent.”
“Already that sounds good to me Audrey, you definitely need to get the hell out of this town for awhile,” Fran’s wit rarely curbed at lunch.
“What’s his story?” Audrey questioned inquisitively.
“He’s in his forties, recently divorced, has a daughter, I think she’s about thirteen.”
“And you know all of this information about your travel agent?” Fran asked, plainly.
“I went in last week to get a deal on a trip to Tahiti for August.”
“Just you and Leona, no kids?” Fran went wide-eyed.
“They’ll have more fun if we’re both out of town anyway.”
“I guess so.”
“So, what’s he look like Robert, this Lewis Grayson, the macho single travel agent?” Audrey wasn’t going to let up on her hostility. It felt too natural at that point.
“He’s alright, I guess. I mean, there are a lot of uglier bastards I could probably fix you up with in this one-horse town.”
“Thanks boss, that’s reassuring,” Audrey placed the lid back on top of the salad, her appetite having diminished quickly.
“It was just a suggestion. I mean, one date wouldn’t necessarily kill you.”
The back lunchroom became silent for a few seconds as Audrey looked across the table at her confidant. “What do you think Fran?”
“I don’t think it sounds like a completely awful idea.”
“So should I make the call then?” Robert asked, his foot tapping on the ground like a nervous six-year-old.
A million thoughts ran through Audrey Tate’s brain at that very moment, the inclination of an actual first blind date, set-up by her boss seeming a bit unsettling, but at the same time, not the most farfetched of ideas. She knew that she needed to get back out there, and that possibly showing up at planned social events in and around North Shade, wasn’t the best way to go about it. Possibly, Robert William’s brain had been working on a different level of concern that day. It wasn’t just him telling all the youngsters he enjoyed torturing far too much with the drill, to floss. This was somehow different, and as the pictures became clearer around her, Audrey once again tapped into the bank of repetition. What was the worst that could happen?
“Okay Robert. I guess set me up with him.”
“Yes, seriously. I need to get out. Breathe on my own, ya know, all that shit.”
“Okay, well I’ll give him a call sometime today. What night’s are you free?”
“Jesus Rob, you act like you don’t already know the answer,” Fran said, butting in.
“So you’re free every night then Audrey?” The dentist asked.
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Well okay, I’ll make the call.”
Audrey tossed the remains of her salad in the large light gray trashcan, before leaning back in her metal chair and taking a breath. A blind date, she thought. It was almost an exciting concept, had the principle of it not been milked to death by every brash story and connotation out there. Audrey knew that she was at least ready for the initial step out the door, however whether or not she could maintain conversation and sound interesting enough, without bringing up the worst and most provocative incident in her life, would prove to be the major problem at hand. It would always be difficult, re-screwing one’s head back on, from the bottom up.