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If you are anything like me, you are looking forward to seeing the backside of 2021. It has been, and continues to be, the longest year of my life, filled with stress and pandemic accommodations. While feeling more like a century than just twelve months, I’m hard pressed to remember much of what I’ve done, because so much of it has been the same, day in and day out.

One of the unexpected bright spots of my year has been the New York City Midnight contests. This year, I competed in both the short story and flash fiction competitions, having my best year yet, particularly in the flash fiction category. I came in first in round two with my second round story and, though it didn’t get me through to the final, I received an honourable mention for my third round story.

In celebration of the holiday season, and to leave this heinous year on a lighter note, I am gifting you with this story- a romantic comedy that had to incorporate the word rendezvous and hot dogs. Enjoy!

How Do You Say Rendezvous in Swedish?

Serena shifted in the unyielding Jokkmokk chair and sipped her second cup of bitter coffee as she waited in the impersonal, and chilly, IKEA Bistro. She watched a young couple laughing as they struggled to steer their wandering cart chock-full of Nordic patterned cushions and assorted kitchenware, happy and building a life together, on their way to the bank of elevators. She wanted that again. So, shocking herself, she’d relented when her sister set her up on this blind date. Serena insisted on meeting this Arthur, somewhere crowded and familiar. What could go wrong in IKEA? At least she could pick up the Flistat stools and plush vegetable sets for her kindergarten classroom while she was here.

Serena’s stomach gurgled loudly beneath her new pink sweater. Arthur was late. He’d better show up soon, or she was going to break down and buy a hot dog, her new low-carb diet be damned. Serena fiddled with the end of her thick French braid, sighing. Why had she agreed to do this?

“You’ve got to get back out there,” her sister, Laura, had said. “You’re not getting any younger.”

 Truth was, Serena was tired of being lonely. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and all that. Her sister had assured her that Arthur was a “catch.” Dependable, well employed, and ready to have a family. Everything her ex-husband had not been. Arthur was late- not a great sign- but her ex had always bristled at her insistence on punctuality. Look how that had turned out. She clearly needed to change. Sexual chemistry hadn’t been enough to save her marriage.

            “Open mind, new chances,” Serena muttered to herself. Her mantra for the day.

            The little girl sitting at the table to her left, chubby toddler cheeks smeared with IKEA vanilla soft serve, was staring, so Serena waved. Such a cutie. She should have had a couple of her own cherubic toddlers by now. If she’d picked a better husband, she would have. Her sister was happily married, with three kids and a lovely suburban home, even if she and her husband were more roommates than soul mates. Why did it have to be one or the other? Serena dismissed the flutter of panic. She wanted sizzle and dependability. Was that too much to ask?

            “Excuse me,” a deep voice said from behind. Serena whirled and came face to face with the denim clad crotch of a well-built man. She forced her gaze upward, swallowing, and looked into the warmest chocolate brown eyes she’d ever seen. He smiled, teeth white against his well-groomed beard. “Is this seat taken?”

            Laura had undersold Arthur. He was a stone-cold stud. Tall, broad shouldered, in a tidy plaid shirt, form fitting jeans and steel-toed boots, his generous hands filled with hot dogs. Oddly, he was wearing work boots- she’d assumed he worked with Laura at the accounting firm. Maybe he was remodelling the office? Ooh, perhaps he was the landscaper? Serena liked the idea of a rugged man with skilled hands.

            “No, I’ve been expecting you,” she said.

            Arthur’s caramel coloured brow crinkled for a moment, then his Nordviken chair scraped against the cement floor. Serena’s heart raced- probably the caffeine. Sitting straighter, she patted her auburn braid and grinned.

            “So, why IKEA?” she asked, batting her lashes at him, glad she’d taken the time to curl and mascara them.

            “I can’t turn down a good deal,” Arthur said, gesturing to his multiple hot dogs. “Besides, this is near to the job site and the only place I can get veggie dogs.” 

            Veggie dogs, nice, though a twenty-minute drive hardly qualified as close. The toddler, now sticky, was kicking up a fuss, her frothy black pigtails bouncing as her dad retreated to the elevator. Arthur waved, and the toddler squealed in delight. Serena’s brand-new distressed jeans grew damp. Hot and fatherly. Oh my.

            “You hungry? I’ve got plenty.”

            “Thanks,” she said, reaching for a dog. As they ate, she pictured his plush lips taking a bite of her instead. She flushed furiously, and refocused on her hot dog, the next bite sending a blob of mustard sailing right onto her pink clad boob.  

            “Uh, you got some mustard on your shirt,” Arthur pointed out, wiping his damp mouth with a stiff, white paper napkin.

            Well, poop. Serena dabbed at the yellow puddle, only pushing it deeper into the fibres of her new sweater. She’d hoped to appear put together for at least the first date. Serena flashed an embarrassed smile across the table.

            “So, here shopping? Or just popping in for a quick lunch?” Arthur gallantly changed the subject.

            Serena was puzzled. Didn’t Laura tell him anything about her?

            “I’m here to get some supplies for my classroom. And to meet you, of course.”

            Arthur laughed, a dimple appearing above his beard. Serena licked her lips. “Nice. I have so much respect for teachers.”

            “You have kids?” Laura had been very cagey about Arthur, saying only that he was dependable.

            “No. Always wanted them. Too busy with my contracting company. And I never found the right woman. You?”

            Serena glanced at the divot on her ring finger left by her wedding band. “No. Still looking for the right guy.”

            She locked eyes with Arthur over the blond Norraker table and a zing of electricity raced up her spine. His face lit up with a slow, sensual smile as the clatter of the bistro fell away. Serena startled when someone kicked the table leg, breaking the spell. Irritated, she turned toward a lumpy figure in a rumpled dress shirt with a scowl. The scent of onions and body odour overpowered the faint smell of cinnamon perfuming the bistro.

            “Serena?” the short, balding middle-aged man asked hopefully. “Sorry I’m late, missed my bus. I’m Arthur.”

            He thrust out a limp, clammy hand and Serena peeked at the dark- haired hottie she’d been flirting with. Who the hell was he? Oh my god! Who had she been flirting with? Serena looked at the doughy Arthur, and a wave of sadness washed over her. Of course, her sister would pick practical over romantic. Serena wanted a partner, yes, but clearly, she also wanted to be swept off her feet. Glancing from one man to the other, she decided.

            “Sorry, I think you have me confused with someone else.” 

            Bewilderment replaced hope on Arthur’s sweat sheened face. “Oh, sorry.”

            Guilt stabbed Serena as the real Arthur shuffled to the touch screen to order some lunch. She was going to have to come clean with her sister. Serena turned to the fine man sitting across from her. Brown eyes twinkling, he offered his hand.

            “I’m Nehan. It’s nice to meet you, Serena,” he purred. Serena blushed but leaned to grasp his hand. God, he had strong fingers. “This place doesn’t scream romantic rendezvous. Want to have a proper lunch with me?” Nehan gestured toward the second-floor restaurant with his bearded chin. Serena shivered.

            Perhaps she was better at picking men than she thought.