Miss Matched by Pepper Swan

 

Dani 1

 

 

A few days before Christmas…

Once again, I was headed into the holiday season without a boyfriend. This pathetic, solitary state was nothing new for me, but I’d gotten so close this year. I had an actual boyfriend, Mike Crenshaw, my strategic communications professor.

We were in love.

We were soulmates.

We were our forever afters.

That was until his wife returned from her teaching sabbatical in Italy. A minor detail this communications guru neglected to communicate to me when we started on our exceedingly hot and sexy journey together.

I’d thought all our clandestine hookups were due to his being my professor, and teacher-student affairs were frowned upon. I could handle that kind of sneaking around. It added to the heat of our budding romance, especially when we did it in his office, on his desk, in the middle of the day, right before he had a meeting with another professor. In truth, our covert affair was merely to shield him from being caught by his traveling wife, who, I might add, would also be teaching at Hutton Hill U.

Could the situation get more pathetic?

I didn’t think so.

“I can’t believe he didn’t tell you,” Sarah said as she sat cross-legged on my bed in our colorful two-bedroom apartment just off campus. “I mean, he’s the head of the communications department.”

“The new head of the communications department. Nobody knew he was married. He’s only been at school since the beginning of this semester. His profile doesn’t state his marital status, and none of his social media says anything about his personal life. The man is Fort Knox when it comes to anything not related to his career. He kept all that information to himself. He made it clear how he doesn’t like to talk about anything private on social media, so there was nothing about his being married. Not anywhere. And believe me, I looked.”

I’d been crying for two days straight, feeling totally and completely sorry for myself and hating men in general, especially older men. Mike was in his late-thirties, or at least that’s what I figured him for, but even his actual birthday was hidden.

Regrettably, it hadn’t been the first time I’d been dumped this year. There’d been a few other times, and all of them had been tied to other women. I was beginning to think I was a misinformation magnet. I could be easily fooled by charm and a hot male body, rather than truth and an average male body.

Who needed all those rippling muscles, narrow hips, and flat stomachs anyway? They weren’t the stuff relationships were made of. Hard bodies were merely window dressing for hard lies.

“Okay, so he was a player, and players run by their own rules,” Sarah declared, trying to soothe my breaking heart. “He’s scum. The lowest of lows. It wasn’t your fault. You had no way of knowing.”

I pulled a tissue out of one of the many open boxes next to me. I liked being prepared. “Oh yes, I did. I should’ve known better after my horrid year. I should’ve seen the warning signs. He told me I was his soul mate. My last two boyfriends used those exact words. That we were old souls and had been in a relationship several times before in our previous lives. That part was new, so I fell for it. He said we were destined for each other. Another tell I ignored. I ignored everything. It was all lies,” I told her, then sobbed a little more as I hugged one of my many pillows.

At least I’d managed to sit up in bed. It was the first time in twenty-four hours that I was in a partially vertical position, and Sarah had helped me get there. She was a true friend and a great roomy. We’d lived together for the last three years. From the first moments we’d each decided to live off campus before our senior year, we knew we’d be sharing an apartment. We’d always gotten along and had helped each other through all sorts of drama that not only included our various disastrous hookups with men, but when we’d get a bad grade on a test or a paper we’d worked our asses off to get right. Plus, there’d been general college bullshit that we each had to wade through, and knowing we had each other’s backs meant everything… as it did right now when my heart, once again, was getting stomped on like a country music dance floor.

“You’re better off without him. He’s a total shit,” she said, looking defiant. “I never liked him. His smile always seemed fake to me. Besides, it was crooked. I make it a point not to trust anyone with a crooked smile.”

“And you know people with crooked smiles?”

“No. Mike was the first, but he proves my point.”

Another thing I liked about Sarah… her over-the-top logic and self-guiding dogma which she stuck to, for the most part.

“Why didn’t you… you tell… me?” I asked between gut-wrenching sobs.

Oh yeah, I was going through those boxes of tissues now. The trash can next to my bed overflowed with tear-stained tissues.

“Like you would’ve listened? Let’s face it. When it comes to matters of the heart, we’re both easily swayed by attention and flattery.”

She had a point, and even though she was in a committed relationship with Gary Gardener now, she’d had her own share of miserable breakups.

She and Gary made an adorable couple. Gary had to be at least six feet tall, had a sixpack most men could only dream of, and a face that women were attracted to like moths to a light. Sarah, at twenty-three, was a full three years younger than me, and much more street savvy and worldly. For one thing, she’d started college at seventeen due to her having skipped an entire year of high school. She was way smarter than I deserved to be around. Of course, you’d never know it. She never, ever talked down to anyone, and despite knowing words I’d never heard of before, she rarely used them.

She’d grown up in a big city and had no intention of ever returning to that fast-paced, fast-food tempo. Central PA would be her new home, no matter what. And when Sarah made up her mind on a subject, no amount of glitz or glitter could persuade her otherwise.

This self-assured dynamo wore her gray-blond hair short and sassy and streaked it with either lavender, pink, deep red, orange or even apple green, depending on her mood. She couldn’t be more than five feet tall, had a petite but shapely body, and a personality that could change even your darkest moods into sunshine.

We were both in the master’s program for public relations, but she was acing it, while I struggled to keep up my GPA.

Just being around her made me smarter… and happier.

Not today, though. Today, I felt dumb, miserable, and wretched.

Gary seemed to love her to pieces, and Sarah glowed in his presence. I had a feeling this was the real deal, even though Sarah was still somewhat cautious about her expectations.

I wished I’d adopted that trait several years ago… but nooo. I jumped in with both feet, ready for true love, and ended up sinking to the bottom of the murky pool… alone.

“And let’s not forget a pretty face. Mike had a truly pretty face,” I reminded her, as I stuck my hand down into the bag of cheese popcorn that she’d just opened to lure me into eating. Not only had she opened the popcorn, but she also opened a bag of cheese puffs, Hawaiian chips, and spicy blue-corn tortilla chips. All my favorite junk food surrounded me, waiting for me to dive in. Every bag had been purposely opened, with the tops folded over to showcase the contents, to entice me into partaking in their high-calorie, high-carb debauchery.

“He was a gorgeous man, no denying, but all the more reason to be wary,” she said, after she opened the final bag of caramel corn and strategically placed it next to me on my disheveled bed. She knew how I liked sweet with my salt.

The woman knew all my most basic cravings.

Nothing brought me out of my misery like great junk food.

All I needed now was a thin-crust pizza with pineapples, olives, and anchovies. The absolute best pizza in the entire world… especially when I was in this crushing state. If I added a pint of dark beer, I could withstand anything.

Even a breakup with my supposed soul mate.

“That wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so close to Christmas. I thought for sure I’d have a date, especially since I decided to stay put this year. We were going to spend it with his family, at least that was the lie he’d floated. Now I was alone, and he was spending the holidays with his wife. Oh my God, I’m such a loser!

The waterworks hadn’t truly subsided for any notable length of time since he dumped me two nights ago right after we’d had sex in his essentially unfurnished Tudor mansion only three blocks from campus, in one of the prettiest and most sought-after neighborhoods in the town.

We were coming down from, well… coming, when his phone buzzed on the nightstand. I was surprised when he took the call, sat up and, as soon as he disconnected, he handed me my clothes and stripped the sheets off the bed, telling me I had to leave because his wife had returned a week early to surprise him. He literally dumped me when he pulled the sheets out from under me, and I rolled off the bed and hit the wooden floor with a resounding thunk.

“You’re not a loser. He is, and I have an idea of how to get you through these holidays,” she said, all smiles.

“What? Go home and never come back again?” I asked, wiping my tears, then blowing my drippy nose. I was a total mess. I hadn’t even changed out of the jeans and red sweater I’d worn when Mike had sent me packing. Oh yeah, a complete loser.

“There’s that, but if you went home now and stayed there, you wouldn’t get the degree you’ve been chasing for the last year and a half. Not to mention how much I’d miss you,” Sarah said, as she pulled out a handful of caramel corn, her fave.

“You’re right. I’m not going home. I refuse to spend another Christmas with my family when I’m the only single one left, and I’m not even the baby of the family! Even my nineteen-year-old sister is dating someone. How could I come from a family of six kids, and they’re all either married with children, in a serious relationship or engaged? What happened to me? Am I destined to go through life alone? Is that it? My grandmama was right. She’d wanted one of us to either be a priest or a nun. I should’ve heeded the call right from the start. Is it too late for me to join a convent? Do they care if I’d already had sex… I mean, a lot of sex… with three-men-at-once kind of sex?”

Sarah’s face brightened. “You had sex with three guys at the same time?”

“Yes, and it was sooo hot,” I told her, reflecting on that crazy time during freshman year before she added some stability to my life by moving in with me.

“Why don’t I know this?”

I shrugged, then buried my hand deep into the cheese puffs bag and came out with a whole handful of cheesy goodness. “You never asked.”

“How would I even know to ask? That’s so out of the mainstream.”

The cheese puffs helped. Next, I tried a handful of caramel corn.

“Yeah, I know… but it was so dirty and so much fun.”

When I knocked off most of the cheese puffs, I went in for a deep dive on the tortilla chips.

“You realize you stopped crying when you talked about dating other people. And you look much happier.”

“It’s the junk food, not the conversation,” I assured her as I stuffed my face with yummy goodness.

“Still, do you remember that dating app you registered with a few months ago, before the Professor Mike lust fest?” she asked, reminding me of another low point during this last year. I’d gotten onto the app due to my childhood BFF Jenna Parks, who did the PR for Perfect Matchup4U. Jenna was almost two years older and lived the life I wanted or thought I’d wanted until Mike shattered my world. I wanted that high-flying, high-paying PR position with a company exactly like Perfect Matchup4U. It was my dream job or at least it used to be. I didn’t know what I wanted now, other than more junk food.

The way Jenna had hyped the app, I promised I would try it, but secretly I’d known I was already dating my soul mate. No way would I go on a dating app, but I promised to fill in the forms and hold them just in case I might need them in the future… which at the time, I thought was a ridiculous waste of my mental effort.

Not anymore.

“Yeah, what about it?” I asked, wanting to slip back down under the covers.

“Well, I’ve been uploading more info for you ever since your breakup, and you’ve already had some interesting men respond,” she said.

“Wait a minute. It’s way too soon. I’m not nearly over Mike. I haven’t even had my favorite breakup pizza yet!”

“Well, get over him,” she said. “And let me show you everything I’ve done.”

She left for a few minutes while I pigged out on my open bags, then she returned with her laptop.

“I don’t want to date anybody right now. I don’t even want to meet anybody,” I told her between bites of chips. “All I want to do is sit around here through the miserable holidays, eating all my favorite foods and binge-watch Christmas movies on Netflix. Or better still, paranormal, dark movies, or murder mysteries with subtitles that force me to concentrate on something other than my loserness.”

She grabbed the bag out of my hand, and the contents flew out all over my bed. “I’ll order and pay for a large breakup pizza from Boston Pizza in Montoursville, but you’ll have to drive over and pick it up. It’ll get you out of the house. In the meantime, I’ll continue adding your info to the dating site. I’m sure with enough effort, we can find your perfect match before Christmas.”

“Fine, but I’m done with losing my heart to these guys. I’m leaving in a few months, and I don’t want to have anything hindering my big escape. Maybe you should fix me up with someone who’s my complete opposite. Someone I would never date. That way, I won’t fall for him, and he won’t fall for me. Not that any of my previous guys fell for me, or I wouldn’t be going through all this misery now.”

I choked up a little more but then managed to pull myself together when I thought of my luscious salty-sweet pizza.

“I can do it if that’s what you want. I’ll give you my likes and dislikes, etc. and throw in a few big-city type traits just for fun. That way, there’s no way this guy will be your match, but at least you’ll have a date for the holidays… maybe. If you and Mr. Mismatched can stand each other long enough for a couple of dates.”

“Now, this is something I can sink my teeth into,” I told her.

“Just sink your teeth into your pizza, and let’s get this night started.”

Montoursville was the next town over and about a forty-minute roundtrip drive.

“Okay, and if you throw in a Philly cheesesteak on a soft roll from the deli next door with extra cheese and peppers, you can even add that my new Mr. Mismatched has to be an owner or part owner in his own business,” I told her, making sure we were opposites. “I mean there’s no way I’ll be staying in PA after graduation, and he’ll have to because of his company. I’m a little short on funds, right now. So, your treat is much appreciated, and it can be my Christmas present. I spent most of my money on a new red dress and shoes for what I thought would be a turning-point dinner with Mike.”

“But wait. Wouldn’t you have to stay here if Mike had tuned out to be you perfect match?”

I shook my head. “No. He kept telling me that he still had a couple of irons in the fire, and any day now he would get an offer from either USC or UCLA, both of which are now suspect. The way I had it figured, I’d follow him to either of those places and at least I’d be in California.”

“Personally, I think he lied about everything,” she said.

She raised an eyebrow, as I realized my last date with Mike had indeed been a turning point, but it had turned in the wrong direction, a horrible, miserable, degrading direction.

I slipped down in my bed and sobbed again.

“Oh no, you don’t. You’re done wallowing.” She tugged on my arm, trying to pull me out of bed. “You just asked me for a cheesesteak for Christmas. Do you even know how tragic that sounds? This has to end now. Get up! Get out of that bed! Wash your face. Put on a warm coat and drive over to pick up your breakup food. But promise me one thing.”

“What’s that?” I asked as she threw the covers back, scattering chips, popcorn, and cheese puffs all over the bed and on the floor.

I grabbed a handful of cheese puffs off the bed and stood, crunching as I walked towards the bathroom. I took a few messy steps, knowing this would be nasty to clean up.

“I’ll buy everything, even the beer. I could use a Philly cheesesteak as well. You have to promise to stop eating all this crap and be out of here in the next ten minutes, or the deal’s off.”

I stared at her for a moment, realizing that not only did I have to get dressed, but I had to face the cold, which now seemed impossible.

Still, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Deal.”

She picked up her phone off the nightstand and put in the order for the pizza first, then she called in the two sandwiches.

Oh yeah, I’d do almost anything for my favorite breakup pizza… even sell my soul to a dating app.

The good news was, it was Jenna’s approved dating app, and not just any dating app, so I knew absolutely nothing could possibly go wrong.