The Guidebook to Love

Step 1: When Looking for Mr. Right, Avoid Mr. Wrong like the Plague

Love sucks. It's that easy. It just sucks. And I would know. I've been in more failed relationships than I can remember. I've heard every cliché breakup line and then some. But that's okay. I mean who hasn't had trouble with love?

I sat at the bar waiting for my date to arrive. I know, pathetic right? But my choices in dates have been so bad lately that when Rena, my best friend, offered to fix me up I accepted. What a mistake that was. I've been here for nearly a half hour and he still hasn't shown. Rena's definitely going to get an earful tomorrow for this.

"Amanda? Amanda Foster?"

I turned behind me expecting my date. But to my dismay the man standing behind me was no stranger. He was my ex. "Brad!" I exclaimed, faking enthusiasm the way I faked… err… some aspects of the relationship. "How are you? I haven't seen you in…" I had no idea but it wasn't long enough.

"Six years." He said slowly as he looked me over. "You look good Mandy. I almost didn't recognize you without the pink hair. I see you've gone back to blond and it's longer now." He touched a strand of my hair. "It looks nice."

"Ya…" I said while trying to back myself away. "Nice."

I considered myself to be somewhat rebellious back in those days. If it was something I thought my parents would disapprove of, it was the first 12 reasons why I had to go out and do it immediately. I cut my hair super short, dyed it hot pink, and wore a dog collar around my neck. I had piercings in places a normal person wouldn't even think you could pierce. I wore tube tops and baggy pants and always exposed my midriff to show off my tattoo. And let me tell you what an unpleasant experience that was to remove. I thought I was so cool back then. I shudder just thinking of it now.

Brad still looked the same though. Same long unwashed hair. Same dirty torn clothes. Same cigarette behind his right ear. It was comforting to know that all the grossness I had left behind was still there. If he had become some really great guy I'd be kicking myself about now. The fact that he was the same dirty Brad I had dumped all those years ago was kind of relieving.

"So what have you been up to? Judging from your appearance, the punk band dream didn't work out."

"I can't sing. I have no musical talent. We both knew I would never be in a band." I prayed my date didn't show up now. There was nothing worse than making a first impression by listening to old mistakes.

"You could have been if you wanted to. You were so hot, you could have made anyone do anything. I still get chills when I think about those big blue eyes of yours… or that freckle right above your lip… or-."

"I think that's enough of the trip down memory lane for one day."

"Aww, Mandy I'm just havin' a little fun. Those were good times for me. No one could believe you were my girl. I kind of think of those times as my glory days."

I stared at him skeptically. "I'm sure you don't mean that."

"But I do! Parading around with you on my arm, I got to show all those little rich shits that I could date a hot chick too."

"That's uh… sweet… I think." Actually the word repulsive came to mind.

"Ya, it was pretty sweet… so Mandy, are you seeing anyone now?" He winked at me suggestively.

"Well actually I-."

"Because I was thinking," he ran a finger over my lips and leaned in. "Maybe we could hook up some time."

Ew. Oh my god. Ew, ew, ew. I could wash a thousand times and still feel dirty from the thought of that image.

"Okay Brad," I pushed him away from me. "It was nice seeing you but I'm actually supposed to be meeting someone." Not that it was hard to remember why I broke up with him but he was making the bad memories that much simpler to recall.

"Got a hot date? Anyone I know?" He nudged my arm.

"I certainly hope not." Oh God, if Rena set me up with Brad, I'll kick her ass. "What are you doing here anyways?" I took a sip of my drink.

"I'm waiting for my fiancée. We were supposed to meet here but she's running a little late."

I nearly choked. "Fiancée? You? You have a fiancée?" I heard the words but I refused to believe it. How could creepy loser Brad have a fiancée before me? What kind of world do we live in that guys who wore ripped band logo tees and had long greasy hair could have fiancées before girls who straightened their life out, went back to school and became respectable? Life is so unfair. And I swear if his fiancée shows up before my date, I'm giving up completely on the whole love thing.

"I know, its crazy right? I can hardly believe it myself." Him and half the world I imagine. "I guess when you know you just know."

This coming from the guy who used to use peanut butter when we ran out of toothpaste.

"Sure… so, congratulations I guess."

"Thanks… oh hey, I see her outside. This is great, I'll introduce you." He rushed off to meet his fiancée. I saw them through the window and it almost made me sick to think of some poor unsuspecting woman marrying that. She looked normal though. Shoulder-length brown hair, navy pant suit. She held a briefcase in her hand and had the other resting on his arm. She smiled warmly at him and for a second I thought about how happy she must feel. But only for a second. She turned to look through the window and Brad pointed me out. I waved stiffly at them and they came inside.

The fiancée grabbed my hands and I nearly fell off my stool. "You must be the Mandy I've heard so much about! I'm Stephanie, Brad's fiancée. It's such a pleasure to meet you!"

She's heard about me? He talks about me? And why then is she so glad to meet me? I've never wanted to leave anywhere as badly as I wanted to leave that bar. "It's uh, nice to meet you too." My mind drew a blank for anything else to say.

"I owe you quite a thanks. If you hadn't broken up with Brad all those years ago, we wouldn't be together now. She reached out to hug me but I leaned back to avoid. Frankly it was just too much.

"It was uh… my pleasure?" Please oh please won't someone save me from this nightmare?

"Oh!" She giggled. "Mandy, you're so funny. Brad never mentioned how funny you are." She stepped back toward Brad again. A possessive maneuver I supposed. "We should be friends. Then the three of us can hang out. Wouldn't you like that Mandy? Do you have any plans now? Why don't we find a table and order some drinks?" She began looking around for an empty table.

"Oh, well, I…" I had no excuse, but I needed one and quick. "I…"

"She actually has plans at the moment. But if you want to give her your number maybe you can reschedule." An unfamiliar arm swept across my back and rested on my shoulder. I could feel his breath on my ear and all the little hairs on my neck stood on end.

"Mandy you silly girl, why didn't you just say you had a date? Here," Stephanie handed me her business card. "Just give me a call and we'll get that drink another time." She linked her arm in Brad's and I blissfully watched them leave the bar.

The kind stranger removed his arm and sat on the stool next to mine. "So, you must be Mike. You're 45 minutes late you know. It's a good thing that happened to be an amazing save you just made or I'd be pretty upset right now." I ordered another Fuzzy Navel while he ordered a beer.

"I think you have me mistaken with someone else. I just happened to see a damsel in distress and did my part to help out."

"Well whatever the reason I owe you. Your timing was perfect."

"So who were they? Old high school friends you'd sooner avoid?"

"My ex and his fiancée."

"Ouch… but seriously, you dated that guy?"

"It was a long time ago. He was the kind of guy my parents disapproved of and that made him appealing to me."

"Teen rebellion at it's finest."

"Exactly." Wow, who was this guy? Nice, normal and whoa, how did I not notice how gorgeous he was? His neatly trimmed brown hair lay just above his ear. His deep green eyes twinkled in the light. He had a dimple in his left cheek when he smiled and perfectly straight white teeth. His broad shoulders offset his muscles perfectly. A girl could fall hard for a guy like that. Which I wasn't. Aren't I supposed to be on a date?

"I should probably be going before your date comes. I wouldn't want to give him the wrong impression."

Did he just read my thoughts? "Oh, don't' worry about him. I doubt he'll even show. He's just some guy my friend tried to set me up with. But as you can see, at now an hour late, it didn't really work."

"That's unfortunate. But it's entirely his loss."

He smiled at me and I melted watching the dimple.

"Why don't you stay a while? Have another drink. My treat for rescuing me."

"I would sincerely love to but I'm actually late for a meeting. Perhaps we'll run into each other again some time." He stepped off his stool and kissed my cheek. "It was nice meeting you Amanda." He began walking toward the door.

"Wait!" I called out across the crowded room. "I don't even know your name!"

He raised an arm and flicked his wrist in goodbye.

I settled back into my stool and finished the rest of my drink. He was the first nice guy I'd talked to in a long time and now it was over. It was just my luck that he had to leave. He was probably married or had a terminal illness or something. Ya, that's right. Nice, attractive, charming, single men don't really exist. They're just a figment of my imagination. I should just forget about him before I make him out to be something he could never be.

If I only I could get him out of my mind.