“You know he’s a serial killer, don’t you,” he whispered directly into my ear.
I don’t know why he’s whispering. No one else can hear or see Anthony. He means well, but sometimes I wish he’d butt out.
I’m starting to regret this blind date. If I’d known Anthony would be tagging along, I would have cancelled, stayed home, and watched television.
Anthony is my guardian angel. He turned up a few years ago when I was struggling with my job. Burned out from overwork, I couldn’t make a decision. Then Anthony appeared. He convinced me to quit my job and make the break before the stress killed me.
It was disturbing to have a strange man materialise in my living room. Curled up on the couch, I was crying my eyes out, stuffing my mouth with chocolate, and binge-watching Deadwood. I didn’t want to watch something contemporary that would point out all the things I’m lacking that today’s society deems important. I’m not pretty. I’m not rich. I’m not young. I’m not feminine. I’m nothing special. I’m just an ordinary woman moving from birth to death in the unremarkable way that most of us do.
Anthony told me who he was and why he was here now. He explained how only I could see or hear him unless he allowed someone else to. He said he could advise me but couldn’t make me do anything. He assured me he would be around whenever I needed support; that he was looking out for me and only me.
I was so depressed that I accepted everything he said with very few questions. I asked them between Deadwood episodes when I had to get up and change the disc in the DVD player.
I asked if I had to feed him which would be a problem because, at that point in my life, I could barely feed myself. He said no, he could eat but didn’t need to. I asked if he was going to watch me sleep or get dressed or have a shower because that would just be creepy. He said no, he wouldn’t be doing creepy things.
I took Anthony’s advice about my job and here I am now. Self-employed, a bit of money in the bank, and comfortable with my life. Except for the people around me thinking I need a ‘significant other’.
My best friend, Ashley, complains I’m boring. “You never go out. You work all the time. You’ll never meet anyone sitting at home.”
I don’t understand why my life is anyone’s business but mine. I like being boring and I like my own company, but everyone that’s not me keeps setting me up with friends of friends of friends.
You have no idea how many blind dates I’ve been on. I could look at my list and add them up, but who’s got time for that? I keep track of who I’ve dated so I don’t accidentally blind-date the same one twice. There are some books I’d reread and movies I’d rewatch, but I wouldn’t redate any of the guys on my list.
Which brings me back to this blind date. Who thought a picnic with a stranger in an orchard under a pear tree was a good idea? I can hear you wondering why a woman would meet a strange man in an orchard? Shouldn’t you meet in a public place? Well, normally, yes.
But, it wasn’t supposed to be just the two of us and this is a pick-your-own-fruit orchard, so it’s not as private as it sounds. Families and couples make a day of it, wandering around, picking their own pears and apples. You can eat as many as you want while you’re there, you just pay for any you take home. Believe me, you can only eat so much fruit before your stomach rebels. You’ll want to take most of what you pick home.
The orchard also caters for romance and laziness. For an obscene amount of money (to one who is self-employed), they give you a neat wicker basket, like the ones you see in old movies, packed tight with gourmet food and champagne. You also get a blanket and some cushions so you can picnic in comfort on the hard ground.
Ashley and Ivan, her current boyfriend, were supposed to be here too. I arrived early—I’m very punctual like that—and sat in my car while I waited. Two minutes before the agreed time, Ashley messaged to say “our car won’t start but have a great time with Leland and don’t do anything I wouldn’t”. That left a lot of things I could do but I doubted that I would.
I contemplated cancelling too but I could see a guy standing on his own at the entrance, possibly Leland. I was pretty sure he’d seen me, so it was too late to pull out now.
Possibly-Leland looked quite ordinary. Average height, average weight, average light-brown hair, average clothes. He wouldn’t stand out in a police line-up even if they were looking for an average man.
Anthony popped into my back seat making me jump.
“Go home,” he said. “This guy’s a loser.”
“How do you know? We haven’t met him,” I replied.
“I know things,” he said.
I’m not sure why, but Anthony telling me to stand this guy up didn’t feel right.
“I think we should give him a go,” I replied. “He looks extra-normal which is a nice change.”
“Suit yourself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Anthony said and disappeared in a huff.
I watched Possibly-Leland watching me as I walked over to him. Even up close he looked normal.
It was Leland. We laughed awkwardly and agreed to go ahead with our date since we were already here. We collected our goodies from the reception before walking through to a large paddock.
We couldn’t have asked for better picnic weather or a nicer venue. Apple trees and pear trees stood straight, like soldiers standing to attention, on a forest-green carpet. Today was one of those warm autumn days that makes you forget winter is the next season in line. A couple of wispy clouds barely moved, the sun shone, and the air smelled of sweet fruit.
We wandered like lost lambs until we found a spot under a pear tree. I spread out the blanket and Leland set out the food. If I was on my own, the honeyed pears in puff pastry would be where I started. Instead, Leland handed me a sandwich.
There was plenty of food and it was good in the way food is when you don’t have to make it yourself. We started eating, making small talk between bites. But by the time the champagne bottle was closer to empty than full, we were chatting like we’d known each other since high school. I was feeling light-headed and thought I might need to get a cab home.
We reached dessert (finally) and Leland said he didn’t normally eat dessert. I was ok with that. More for me. Anthony appeared again at this point.
From then on, every time Leland spoke, Anthony said something disparaging about him. Do you know how hard it is to have a conversation with a real person while an invisible one is speaking in your ear?
“You know he’s a serial killer, don’t you,” whispered Anthony.
“Just stop,” I hissed.
“Sorry?” said Leland.
“Sorry,” I apologised. “Talking to myself. I need to stop drinking or I won’t be able to drive home.”
“Who doesn’t eat dessert?” murmured Anthony. “Imagine how you’ll feel every time you go to a restaurant and he wants to leave before the best part of the meal.”
A bee buzzed past Leland’s face and he turned away from me for a second. I thought I heard him say something like ‘Normal people eat dessert and she’s not fat.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
He turned back, cheeks red with embarrassment. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I’m pretty sure you did,” I said.
“No, I didn’t,” he said, but he wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“Told you he’s weird,” said Anthony.
I turned and looked at Anthony.
“What are you looking at?” asked Leland.
“Nothing,” I said, turning back and flicking my hand as if to shoo a fly. “Just something irritating me.”
I ate both desserts (they tasted as good as they looked). Leland kept brushing his shoulder and shifting as if his cushion had flattened so much he was sitting on the ground.
When all the food was gone and all the champagne drunk, we sat in silence for a bit, but it wasn’t one of those awkward silences. I felt comfortable with Leland. The only thing off about this blind date was Anthony.
I felt drowsy so I lay back and closed my eyes, trying to ignore Anthony’s continuous prattle.
Leland said something but I didn’t quite catch it over Anthony’s whining.
“Hmm?” I said, opening my eyes. Funny how you seem to hear better with your eyes open.
“I said, do you believe in guardian angels?”
I sat up and stared at Leland’s flushed face. Should I be honest or would that be weird?
“As a matter of fact, I do,” I replied. “I’ve got one whinging in my ear right now telling me you’re a serial killer and that I shouldn’t have anything to do with you.”
“Oh, thank god!” Leland released the breath he’d been holding. “I have too. She’s telling me the same thing about you. But you seem normal to me.”
I turned and looked at Anthony who still wouldn’t meet my gaze. “What’s going on, Anthony? Come around here and let Leland see you.”
Leland looked over his shoulder and said, “And you, Bianca. Stand next to Anthony so we can see you both.”
Anthony moved around and stood in front of us with his arms crossed, sulking. A beautiful blonde woman shimmered into view next to him, also with crossed arms. They looked like pouty siblings about to be scolded by their parents.
“OK, what’s going on?” I demanded.
Anthony defiantly plucked a pear off the tree and bit into it. Juice dribbled down his chin.
Bianca shoved Anthony and said, “That’s gross. You haven’t changed, have you?”
Leland frowned and said, “You two have history?”
Anthony wiped the juice off his chin with his sleeve and said to me, “You don’t want to have anything to do with this guy, not if he’s being managed by…this.” He pointed at Bianca.
Bianca said to Leland, “We should go. This will never work.”
Leland and I looked at each other. He was the first man in a long time that I thought I might like to see again. We were so well matched. Neither of us was special, just normal people living normal lives. I sighed.
“I don’t know about you,” I said to Leland. “But I’m not ‘managed’ by anyone. I’ve had a good time today and I’d like to see you again.”
“I’d like that too,” said Leland. “But what do we do about these two?”
He pointed at our guardian angels.
“They either get along or get out of the way,” I said.
“And if they can’t get along, they can shut up,” Leland said with a nod and a smile.
The angels glared at each other, then at us, before vanishing, leaving us alone.
We walked slowly back to the orchard office.
“You’re not a serial killer, are you?” Leland asked me.
“Not today,” I said. “How about you?”