Kissing Couple

The Pineapple Dating Club

To be published summer 2017

Chapter One: All for one and one for all


Welcome to the Pineapple Dating Club where friends and family have completed your profile and will help to select your dates each month. They know you best, after all! The first meeting will be at 8 pm next Wednesday at Dionysus Wine bar.

Remember, happiness is only one date away!

Amelia


Jenna pushed open the door of the Dionysus Bar and stopped. To be confronted by visions of happy couples wandering along a white sand beach hand in hand, dressed in wedding attire when you are single and intend staying that way, at least for the moment, was not a good start to the evening. She shook her head and let out a long sigh. As much as she wanted to turn and run, she had to go through with it. The sight of her mother and brother’s excited faces when they’d presented her with the voucher for one year’s membership of the Pineapple Dating Club was scant encouragement however. Why was coupledom the default? It was the twenty first century after all, wasn’t it?

A large red arrow pointed up the stairs. She dragged her body up them. What would she give for a long hot bath and a glass of wine? Work today had been a bitch with gossip about mergers and takeovers. The office was like a wasps’ nest with everyone scurrying about ready to launch their venom at anyone who got in their way. ‘Damn and blast’ she swore as the heel of her new shoes caught on the top step. If the evening was a disaster she’d demand a refund. There was precious little money coming in now her mother couldn’t work.  If only she could wangle a promotion, everything would be so much easier.

She stopped at the entrance to the upstairs bar and smoothed down her hair which the winter rain had made frizzier than usual and ran a hand over the soft brown curls. Weren’t men supposed to be attracted by happy, confident looking women? Perhaps they should see her at work? She took a deep breath, pushed open the door and froze. An assortment of men and women, aged between eighteen and fifty were perched on metal chairs around a series of small tables. She sniffed. The smell of polish, spilt beer and clashing perfume wafted her way. A thunderous beat was pumping from the speakers. No one was dancing. This wasn’t for her. It was time to make a quick exit.

‘Do come in my dear, you must be….’ A woman clutching a sheaf of papers headed towards her. There was no escape. While she scanned her list Jenna was able to get a good look at her. She was tall and blonde with hair swept up on to her head, rather like the top of a pineapple. She had sharp pointed rat like features with dark sculpted eyebrows which suggested that her hair colour was the bottle variety. Perched on her nose were a pair of rectangular red framed glasses that gave her a look like a 1950s secretary but without the sex appeal. The image was further enhanced by a navy pencil skirt and white ruffled blouse.  Jenna guessed her age at mid-forties but her hands had a few age spots so she could be closer to sixty.  

‘Jenna Masterson, got you… recommended by family…’The woman looked up and smiled, showing tiny, pointed teeth. ‘Lovely to meet you. Find a seat and we’ll be ready to start in a minute.’ She handed Jenna a badge. Jenna pinned the piece of plastic to her lapel and sank down in the nearest spare seat.  

A blonde leaned across. She tucked a stray wisp of hair behind one ear and held out her hand. ‘I’m Sarah. Although if you’ve got eyes and can read you probably know that already.’ She smiled. ‘It’s a bit like the first day of school, isn’t it?’  

‘I bloody hope not’ her companion said and laughed. ‘The last thing I want is my mother turning up because I’ve forgotten my handkerchief.’ She held out her hand too. ‘Charlene but never ever call me that. It’s Charlie.’ Jenna liked her instantly and took the hand. It  was warm and podgy.

‘Have you forgotten your handkerchief or anything else?’ Sarah winked at Jenna.

‘Never use one. Use my sleeve or my knicker leg.’ Charlie exploded into laughter. Rolls of flesh wobbled underneath the biscuit coloured baggy cardigan that covered her like a horse blanket.  Underneath the cardigan she wore a dress that looked as if it had been made out of old curtains in shades of green and brown. Jenna liked her even more.

Sarah was dressed more like the rest of the female clientele in a grey shift dress that matched her eyes. Like Charlie, her outfit didn’t say single woman on the pull. Jenna smoothed out the folds of her sleek blue shift dress, crossed her legs, encased in black tights that contrasted with the nude shoes and felt decidedly elegant and sophisticated; a feeling she was not used to but could get to like. Sarah leaned forward. ‘I don’t suppose this was your idea either?’ There was no time to reply as the hostess had gone to a table at the front, picked up a microphone and tapped it.

A screech of feedback drowned her first words. She glared in the direction of the bar as the barman hurried forward, flicked a few switches on the console of the sound system and all was silent. ‘Can you hear me?’ she asked. A murmur of assent rippled through the room. ’Good well let me welcome you to the first meeting of the Pineapple Dating Club for the new season. Some of you I know well, some are newcomers but all of you are failures in love aren’t you?’ Jenna glanced around her, expecting shocked faces. There were none. Charlie was looking down at her feet, everyone else accepted the insult.

‘Silly me. I realise I’ve not yet introduced myself. I am Amelia Smythe and I own the club and…’ she reached into a bag under the table, ‘This is our symbol.’ She brandished a tin, decorated with a spiky green top, like leaves and with a white label and the date two year’s ahead written in curly black lettering. ‘Take a good look at the date because I guarantee before the date is passed, you will all, and I repeat all…’ she emphasized the word all as her eyes ranged over every person in the room, ‘will have found true love.’ The tins were passed around in silence.

There was a sound as Charlie shifted uneasily in her seat. Whether that was the result of her discomfort at being squashed into a small chair or discomfort at the words she had just heard, Jenna was not sure. She turned her attention back to Amelia who had moved next to a flip chart. ‘So what will happen next I hear you ask? Let me tell you.’ She turned over the front page to reveal a list of dates and times. ‘Today is week one as it is our first meeting. Between now and our superb singles night presentation each of you will go on one date, selected from our vast data base by your family and friends, with a little bit of help from me, of course.’ She flashed a smile at everyone, her rodent like teeth glittered in the light. ‘Any questions?’

A tall, horse faced girl waggled her hand in the air. ‘Excuse me, what about connecting with the dates via Facebook?’

There was a general murmuring of assent and the words Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram could be heard. ‘Ab so lute ley not’ Amelia made each syllable sound like a gunshot. A few puzzled faces accompanied the general muttering. ‘Ladies, gentlemen, girls, singles,’ the last word sounded like an apology rather than a description. ‘How many of you have already tried these?’ A few hands lifted into the air, copying Amelia’s example. ‘How many of you have succeeded?’ Her arm snapped back to her side. The rest followed. ‘There you are. It is what we have known for years, the old ways of dating are the best. You are forbidden to use any of these to contact or to investigate your dates.’

There was a communal intake of breath. ‘What not even Google?’ a voice called out from the shadows at the edge of the room.

‘No Google, Bing, MSN or any other search engines may be used and if we discover you have, we will suspend your membership. The same will happen if you divulge any details of your dates to your family or friends. After each date you will complete our online report card and return it to us and we will do the rest.’ The same smile swept around the room like a light house beam. Jenna breathed in deeply as Sarah leaned forward to whisper, ‘I hope they haven’t taken much notice of my family. They’d have me married off to the first single fella, even if he was a serial killer.’

Amelia must have had ears like a bat’s radar, detecting any small hint of dissent. She glared in Sarah’s direction. ‘Some of you…’ she fixed her eyes on Sarah, ‘may be concerned that your family or friends are not the best judges.’ There was a pause. ‘Believe me, there is a fabulous date just waiting for you somewhere out there.’ She waggled a hand in the direction of the window. ‘I know you are all desperate to find out who your first date is but before I give you the sealed envelope which you must open when you get home and not before, I want you to mingle, mingle, mingle and get to know each other. Dionysus Wine bar has arranged an assortment of exciting cocktails all date themed.We have the Tall, Dark and Handsome, the First Kiss and of course, Love at Last which is a special mix of champagne, brandy and kir, all topped with a rim of pink sugar crystals. Wine and soft drinks are available too’ she added in a less than enthusiastic voice. ‘Music please and let’s get mingling.’ She clapped her hands, the lights dimmed to an eerie purple glow, the sound system kicked into action and the room was filled with a pulsating boom.

Sarah leaned forward, ‘I suppose we’d better do as the boss says, but those cocktails look as if they could stun a bull at fifty metres. What about I get a bottle of Pinot and we tell our life stories, unless…’ she indicated their compatriots who had swarmed onto the dance floor and were now whooping and punching the air as if their life depended on it, ‘You want to join the fresher’s disco?’

‘Pinot would suit me fine’ Jenna replied. She checked her watch; she’d stay for one drink and leave.

‘Me too. I’ve never been exactly a dancing type and neither are those guys,’ Charlie nodded in the direction of two lone males who had also taken to the floor and were gyrating, patches of sweat already staining their check shirts.

There was amicable silence until Sarah returned with the wine. She poured three glasses and raised hers. ‘Ladies, here’s to us and the excitement of the Pineapple Dating Club or as I would prefer to describe it, a club to date, relate and mate before the eggs in our ovaries are scrambled by the vagaries of time. Cheers’ and she raised her glass.

‘Here, here’ said Charlie as she knocked back a good half of the glass she’d been given.’ Who’s first to tell their life story?’

Two hours later Jenna looked around at her new-found friends. Thank God, she’d met them. She might have a chance of surviving the next few weeks if she decided to go on one of the dates.

Amelia tottered over. ‘Ladies, I’ve noticed you haven’t been mingling.’ The slight slur in her speech indicated she had sampled at least one of each of the exotic cocktails on offer.

‘Oh yes, we have,’ Sarah looked up and smiled sweetly. ‘I’ve never met these two women before and getting to know them has made my first visit to Pineapple so worthwhile.’

‘Oh , sooo kind’ Amelia swooped down and hugged Sarah. Her air kisses sounded like a wet fish hitting the deck of the Titanic.  ‘If you like this so much, you are going to love the next meeting when we have our Singles Night—‘ She was prevented from continuing by the general groan that accompanied the lights brightening and the sound system muting. ‘Oh, that’s the signal for the envelopes with details of your dates.’

Sarah raised her eyebrows at the others as Amelia ambled back to the table at the front and clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention.  ‘I’m sorry to stop your fun but this is the time when I hand out your envelopes so that those who have to leave can go back to the bosom of their friends and family and find out who their first date will be.’

As she went around, checking the names on the envelopes against their badges, Charlie leaned forward. ‘I know it’s a bit much to ask but do you think we could exchange numbers and perhaps get together some time? I haven’t dated for years.’

‘I’d like that.’ Jenna said.

‘Agreed’ Sarah thumped the table, ‘It’s a bit like The Three Musketeers, isn’t it? All for one and one for all. We might need all the help we can get over the next few months.’

‘’Now remember, no peeking till you get home’ Amelia reminded them.

Outside the club, Sarah, Charlie and Jenna clustered together. The rain had now stopped and their breath steamed in the cold night air. ‘So we’ll keep in touch, right?’ Sarah said.

They exchanged numbers and emails adressses. Jenna handed over her card. ‘If for some reason you can’t get hold of me, my work place email will allow one or two private messages, in an emergency’ she added.

‘Carew, Drew and Doubleday’ Sarah read aloud and tucked the card in her purse.

‘We’ll email and Facebook to confirm’ Charlie said. She sniffed and in the light of the streetlamps, her eyes were shining or perhaps they were wet. Jenna couldn’t tell. ‘You really don’t know how much I appreciate this.’ She looked from one to the other, ‘and how much I need it’ she added.

‘I reckon by the time this is ended. We might all be in need of support’ Sarah looked at the other two.

‘Or a wedding dress?’ Charlie said and smiled. ‘After all, dating clubs must work out right for some people, mustn’t they?’

Jenna said nothing. Over the course of the evening, she’d decided what to do. She’d go on one date to satisfy her family and she was going to get that promotion if it damned well nearly killed her.

Kissing Couple

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