Finding Janice

The day I met Janice was a perfect day. She spread out her towel near mine on the beach, and soon the wind blew her hat over to me. We started to chat.

We ended up talking for hours. She told me about her annoyingly macho boss, her love of pottery, her sister’s cancer treatment. I told her about my favorite animals in my veterinary practice, funny pranks in school, my Mom’s repeated efforts to set me up with women from her church.

We had a seaside dinner and laughed at a little girl dancing enthusiastically to the music wafting out of the restaurant’s speakers.

Then a perfect night. We didn’t, you know, get physical. We just sat up till sunrise, holding each other, talking, really connecting.

But that was the last day of her vacation and only the first of mine. We swapped phone numbers and made promises. She left on the airport shuttle in the morning.

The rest of the week was lonely without her.

I spent hours staring at the phone I had sworn off for my vacation, trying to compose a text message that sounded friendly but not desperate. Yet all I could think of was how Rosemarie accused me of coming on too strong.

I went back to the restaurant where we had dinner and ordered the same steamed blue crabs with garlic butter dipping sauce. I was enjoying them until Annette broke into my thoughts, complaining I was overly sentimental.

In the souvenir shop I hunted for just the right gift. Something meaningful from our time together, but not over the top. Except Shannon’s voice kept echoing in my head, saying I was smothering her.

When I got home, I dialed her number, thumb hovering over the green call button, and heard Sarah calling me clingy.

I only ever wanted to be romantic, to show the women I cared about what they meant to me.

And I didn’t want to make the same mistakes this time. Janice wasn’t just another crush; I could tell. She was that special someone. I wanted to hold her, make her laugh, be there for her.

We said we would stay in touch, but I worried she would feel differently once she got home. Should I leave the memory perfect, unsullied by another rejection?

Two days later, a package arrived at my clinic.

Inside was a plastic crab with the date we met written on its back in puffy paint, the sand dollar we found walking along the beach, a sealed envelope, and a note.

“Dear Joe, it only took a quick search to find your clinic’s website, and I got your address from there. Hope I’m not being too forward. I really enjoyed our day together and hope you meant it when you said you wanted to stay in touch. If you do, open the envelope and solve the riddle to find me.”

My heart jumped up and down and started doing a victory dance in my chest. She liked me, too. I couldn’t believe it. This was real. It was happening. It would all work out. Of course, we fit so perfectly together, it was meant to be, and this was proof. I was smiling from ear to ear, and couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. There was a constipated puppy waiting for me in the lobby, but I couldn’t hold back. I tore open the envelope.

“Joe, I have a confession to make. If you’ve tried the phone number I gave you, you’ll know by now it’s fake. Sorry about that. I had a guy stalk me for a long time, so I never give out my real number anymore, just in case. Not right away.

“I need to know you were paying attention to us, not just biding your time till you could get closer. So think about us to gather your clues.

“Remember the little girl who was twirling around at the restaurant? What did she say to you?”

That my shirt was very blue.

“Who inspired my love for pottery?”

Her aunt.

“Which friend from vet school did you tell me about?”

Leonard.

“What work does my sister do?”

She’s an astronomer.

“Now, to put those clues together, go online and find a restaurant within 100 miles of you whose name fits all of them, and meet me there this Friday night at 8.”

I adore a good scavenger hunt, but at the moment I had to help a pooch to potty.

That night, I went online and searched for restaurants, trying various combinations, and eventually found Aunt Leona’s Blue Moon Bistro only about an hour away. I made a reservation for two.

I wanted to go all sappy and make her a time capsule of momentos from our day together, or plan some elaborate dessert adventure, but didn’t want to screw things up again. I decided to let her take the lead.

Friday night, I showed up with a single rose. She wore a deep blue dress and silver shawl, reminding me of the moon on a clear night.

“You look gorgeous,” I said.

“You found me,” she smiled. Then, a little more hesitantly, “You’re not mad?”

“You’re worth it.” Her smile got huge. “But you said you live in New York and this is LA. Anything else I should know?”

“Just everything about me, ever. I want you to know all of me. But nothing else needs correcting. I only fibbed on my phone number and where I lived.”

“So do I finally get your real number?”

“We’ll see how tonight goes,” she grinned.

Well, that night did go well, and the next one, and the next one. And a year later, she sent me on another scavenger hunt, tracking down clues from our whole relationship to find my prize, an engagement ring. That’s when she proposed. Over a beachside dinner of steamed blue crabs with garlic butter sauce.

And that, Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie, is why I love your daughter.

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