I sat at the bar, quietly surveying the crowd. It was a good crowd for a Saturday, I just had to find the right girl. This was the perfect part of town to find my type. Smart, willful, playful, with a high pressure job. Those were the ones who needed to let go the most. The past couple of weeks of hunting had been frustrating. Things with Lauren hadn’t gone the way I planned. I really thought she was going to be the one, she ticked all the right boxes and she was a joy to be around. She had balked at the last minute, though… and she dumped me. I don’t know which was worse, that or how things had gone with Kailee. Kailee had gone too willingly, it was too easy to move her along… there was no challenge, no thrill. Kailee had been disappointing. I had gotten what I thought I wanted, but I had to cut her out of my life after I had it. It hadn’t been easy to admit, but she hadn’t been right for me. I needed more from my partner.
I scanned the girls… too loose, too messy, too cold. I would know her when I found her, I knew my type. She would look oh-so-serious with some very adult and mature fashion, but there would be a tell. Lauren’s had been a peek of Hello Kitty panties. The ones under the most pressure to succeed were always the ones who wanted someone else to take over. Life was too hard for them, they needed to be “on” all the time at work, had to do a better job than the boys, had to be perfect. That was just part of life in Silicon Valley. By the time I came along, they were so happy to hand over control.
Finally, she caught my eye. A boho girl, that style was getting popular. Multiple bracelets, dangly earrings, earth tone makeup, chunky sandals… she had a good figure, you could tell she worked out. She had a smile that lit up her eyes, someone had just told her a funny joke. Ah, but the tell. The tell was her purse. She couldn’t help it, she needed something cute… her purse was shaped like a squirrel - she had what was essentially a stuffed animal on her at all times. This is how I knew she wanted the loss of control I needed to give. I had to have her.
The latest K.Flay blared overhead, conversation was impossible… so I’d have to do this with a look. I leaned back, my hair brushing the bartop and I watched her. Humans could feel when someone was watching them with intent, this wouldn’t take long. Her eyes found mine, and I smiled. I had a million smiles, every one practiced carefully. This smile said, “I like your style, and I’m pretty sure you like mine.” She looked down into her drink and blushed. That was all the invitation I needed. If I had read her wrong, she would have reacted with fear or hostility, not with embarrassment. She wanted to be noticed. I waited for her to glance up again and I tilted my head. This smile said, “I’m nice and I’d like to talk to you.” You could say so much with just a look if you knew how.
I turned slowly as she moved closer, drawn by my wordless communication. I signaled the barkeep. I order a Guinness for myself and an Apple Bomb for her. We’d see if my read was spot on or not. When she slides up next to me, I don’t make eye contact. I just turn slightly so she can see the smile on the corner of my mouth.
“You looked thirsty,” I measured my voice… it was hard to do under the dirty bass of K.Flay, but I was practiced. My voice was low, resonant, but playful. I turned slowly to face her as the barkeep set down our drinks. With a fluid motion, I picked up the Guinness and took a draw, but didn’t touch hers. “Ever tried an Apple Bomb?” My guess was that she hadn’t, it wasn’t a very popular drink even though it was from this area. But big girls who were hiding little girls inside… they liked it.
“No, I haven’t… thanks. I’m Dani,” she slid up next to me and took the untouched drink and sipped it. “Wow, this is really good. Thanks again.”
“Vanessa,” I smiled, turning toward her fully and sweeping a strand of hair back from my face, tucking it behind my ear. I tapped my own dangling earring on the way down, causing it to glint at Dani. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dani.” I had to play this part carefully. Too strong and she’d bolt, too weak and she’d ignore the hook. “It’s so good to just relax with some music, away from the pressures of the office.” Nailed it. Her right hand tensed as I said it, she had some stress getting to her.
“Ugh, it really is,” she said, letting her weight rest more fully on the barstool. “What do you do?”
“I’m a consultant. Systems analysis,” I smiled warmly - this smile said, ‘I have a tough job, too’. My job was to find the weak points in an organization, and destroy them. And I was very good at what I did, reading people is what made me so good. “What about you?”
“Herding cats,” Dani grimaced.
“Project management then,” my smile projecting ‘I feel your pain’, “I’ve been there.”
“How did you know?” she laughed lightly, musically, the blue light of the bar dancing across her green eyes. Oh, how I wanted her.
“Lucky guess,” I finished the Guinness and paid the tab. The hook was set, I couldn’t linger. “I’ve got to go, it was really nice meeting you, Dani. I thought I was up to this, but I’m still busted up about my girlfriend dumping me. Maybe I’ll see you around?”
Her eyes flashed a twinge of disappointment. Perfect.
“Yeah… it was nice to meet you, Vanessa. Thanks for introducing me to this drink, I like it.”
“I’m glad - have a great night.”
I stepped through the front door of the bar, pausing to look back at her. She was watching me go. I gave her a smile that said, “I really wish I didn’t have to go now.” She gave the smallest wave in return.
I exited into the crowd of Castro Street, the heart of downtown Mountain View… but I didn’t go far. No, I had just ruined Dani’s night. She wouldn’t be staying much longer. She would suddenly want to go home… if I was right.
It took her about ninety seconds longer than I expected. She slipped out the front door alone and started walking north. I flowed through the crowd, following her. It was a warm night, but not too hot. The bars were full and the people were happy, it was a good night. Dani went straight for her car. Silver Prius, so typical. I leaned on the corner, obscured by a tree.
“Naughty girl,” I said quietly to no one, “You shouldn’t drive after having that drink. I’ll punish you for that later.” I committed her license plate to memory and watched as she drove off. North, then west. I adjusted my purse on my shoulder and started walking home myself. I had some research to do.
I spent two days studying Danielle Peters, learning her habits, her path, her preferences. Every tidbit I learned only solidified the feeling that I had to have her. Her credit card statements laid everything bare to me. Dani was a reader, a painter, a jogger. She went to the same coffee shop in Sunnyvale every day and ordered the same thing - iced chai, the only thing on the menu at her coffee shop that came to the amount that went on her card daily. She had no pets, and according to her social media profile, her last relationship ended roughly. Her name was Elaine, another high-powered type… they probably drove each other crazy. Too similar. I knew where Dani worked, what gym she went to, what gas station she filled her car at, what grocery store she frequented… credit cards were beautiful things for an interested party like me.
I just happened to be at her favorite coffee shop at exactly the same time she visited normally the next day, laying in wait… sipping a mocha. Dani didn’t want someone too similar. Normally on a bright day like this, I’d wear a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasses… but I needed Dani to notice me and recognize me, so I suffered through. I thumbed through a magazine, Us Weekly, something Dani wouldn’t be interested in. She had no time for gossip. I had positioned myself so she’d see me just as she came out with her chai.
“Vanessa?” her voice was light, unsure. I looked up and smiled at her ‘Oh, I’m so surprised but so very happy to see you here!’
"Dani! Wow, um hey - I’m sorry I disappeared on you the other night. You seemed really nice… I just… " I trailed off, an invitation for her to step in.
“It’s okay,” she said as she stepped closer. I gestured to the chair across from me, inviting her to join me. “I’m really glad I ran into you… that drink was amazing.” She covered. She was interested, she took the bait. Now I just needed to coax her in.
“I had a feeling you’d like it, you just seemed like an apple sort of girl… sweet,” she blushed… I was coming on a little too strong, I had to play it just a bit shier. "I… I was kicking myself all night that I didn’t ask for your number. You seemed so nice… just this energy about you… " I looked down, feigning embarrassment, “It’s stupid.” I pushed my chair back and started to stand. She reached across the table and placed her hand on mine. She was trembling ever so slightly… the hair on her arm was raised.
“No, Vanessa… I was wishing the same thing,” the last word rang flat. A lie. She hadn’t been thinking the same thing, but she wanted me to think she had been that interested… she was ready to take a risk. Blushing on command wasn’t easy, but I did it nonetheless.
"I uh, here… " I fished a business card out of my purse and scribbled one of my cell numbers on it. I slid it across the table to her, I had to appear reluctant to touch her back. The weakness would draw her in. "Would you… like to get dinner sometime? I know this Chinese dumpling place that I haven’t been to in a while… " I knew she liked the place, she’d left a positive Yelp review for it, she hadn’t been there in eight months.
“That sounds really nice… how about Friday?”
“I… that sounds great,” I looked her in the eyes now and my smile read ‘I really, really like you but I’m afraid you don’t like me the same way’. “I’ll text you the place and we can meet there?”
“How about I pick you up?” Shit. I misread that one, I couldn’t be the passenger in her car, it would tip the power dynamic too far in her favor. I was playing too timid. My mind spun for a moment on how to salvage this.
“Actually, I get carsick if I’m not driving. How about I pick you up instead?”
“I would like that a lot,” her smile read ‘I think I’m falling for you already, I need to know more about you’. I needed to feed her a tidbit.
“I’m really glad you didn’t think I was coming on too strong at the club. I really like that song and you looked so beautiful under the lights. Your eyes light up when you laugh… I knew I had to learn more about you.”
“I’m an open book,” she was actually completely open. She was making herself vulnerable, faster than I expected. I hoped this wouldn’t turn out to be another Kailee. “What would you like to know?”
“What’s your favorite movie?” I asked - it was a test. If she was a Kailee, she’d tell me something cutesy. I’d break it off right there and resume the hunt anew this weekend, I’d done it often enough. No amount of wanting her was worth making the wrong pick again. If she had a shell for me to crack through… she’d say something serious.
“It’s stupid because nobody likes it, but Stranger Than Fiction - you know, that Will Ferrel movie that wasn’t really a comedy?” A drama about a writer. Funny, but not silly. A good answer.
“Oh, I like that one. His antics usually bother me, but he was really good in that one.”
“Exactly! What about you?” I went similar to her with the last response, I had to give her something mysterious, something to draw her in here.
“You’ll laugh,” I said sourly.
“I won’t laugh, I promise.”
“The one about Mozart? Okay, I didn’t expect that one. Why?”
“Tortured artists,” I smiled. Just then my phone alarm went off. Two minutes earlier in the conversation than I planned. I had set it up to use a ringtone as the alarm, so it would look like I was getting a call. I slipped my phone out of my purse and held it under the table. “I’m sorry, Dani… I’ve got to go. It’s work, you know how it is. Text me your number and address… I’ll pick you up on Friday.”
“Sounds great. I’m glad I ran into you, Vanessa.”
“I’m glad you did too,” I agreed, “Hello?” I greeted my telephone alarm, silencing it, grabbed my mocha with a little wave to Dani, and walked off.