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He saw her name on the sign-up sheet. His heart raced. It had been like that ever since he’d seen her for the first time.
Hey, maybe this is how I get a date! Greg thought, his excitement growing.
The notice posted on the employee bulletin board invited staff to join the company’s mixed curling league that fall. There it was! Jenny’s name was on the list! He added his, nine names below hers. He was annoyed for not having seen the notice sooner; he could have signed his name closer to hers.
Getting a date with Jenny had been a challenge. This would be a long-range gamble, but he’d been striking out repeatedly even with invitations just for a coffee. The reason she kept giving was that she lived out of town and had to catch a ride home immediately after work. She even declined his numerous offers to drive her.
From the day Jenny had started with the company, Greg hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her attractive face and body. He would never forget the day: June 21. Until then, the 24-year-old had intended to be a confirmed bachelor. He had been focused on his career. Now here it was, months later and he was enamored more than ever. Even though office romances were frowned upon at the time, everyone knew. He pretended they didn’t know, and so did they.
Greg was a young reporter. He’d begun his career four years earlier at a small newspaper out west, recently acquired by a newspaper chain. He’d been transferred east, to one of the chain’s larger papers where he hoped to further develop his career.
Greg’s boss was the city editor, an egocentric overbearing blowhard with a reputation for being obsessively competitive. To suggest he was feared and hated were understatements. Geoff was a self-admitted, unrepentant bully who’d do almost anything to win.
The day that Geoff noticed Greg’s name on the list of prospective curling league players a thought had struck him. He strode over to Greg’s desk.
Everyone was startled. Never before in recent memory had Geoff deigned to personally visit the desk of a lowly young reporter. He would beckon and they would come. Period. In fact, he made it clear to all young reporters that in his view they were among the lower forms of life on this planet, allowed to exist only through his personal dispensation.
Holy shit! Greg thought, seeing Geoff heading his way through the corner of his eye. In this era before computers, the deafening sound of clattering typewriters eased noticeably. He knew Geoff’s unusual behavior could only mean that something extremely serious was up, like maybe he was about to be fired, for some reason, real or imagined.
What have I done? He thought, crouching low over his typewriter, fear skyrocketing higher by the second. Worse yet, he’d no longer get to see Jenny!
“You’re on my curling team!” Geoff announced loudly to the startled young reporter and everyone else in the vast newsroom as he sat at an adjacent reporter’s desk. He shooed away the hapless occupant with an indifferent backhanded wave.
“Do you want to be the Skip?” he asked. Then he answered his own question, as usual. “Of course, you do. You’re gonna skip. I don’t mind. We’re gonna have a great team, a fabulous team!”
Geoff promptly stood, a smug look on his face, and strode back to his place at the head of the long U-shaped editing desk. The cacophony of typewriter noise returned to its pre-deadline feverish level. Everyone in the newsroom feigned being busy, pretending not to have witnessed Geoff’s extraordinary side trip.
Curlers and fans will know the position of ‘Skip’ is the head of a four-member curling team, and normally the best player on the team.
Greg was stunned. He was caught by surprise… felt blindsided. He didn’t know how to answer Geoff, or whether to, or what to say. He said nothing. There were other things, or rather another person, preoccupying his every conscious minute.
Months later, when the start of the curling season approached, Greg was delighted to see Jenny’s name appear on a notice listing the six teams that comprised the company’s league. He had hoped to be on her team, but accepted the fact this was far too much to expect. But then Geoff’s proclamation at his desk had made any prospect of him sharing a team with Jenny a nonstarter.
All the teams had titles, chosen according to the last name of the skip, except Geoff’s team, which bore his name. No one was surprised. Greg noted with dismay and an abundance of foreboding that he was listed as the skip. It reminded him that he needed to do something about that.
Greg was far too preoccupied trying to think of a way to get a date with Jenny to concern himself with Geoff’s curling team. Furthermore, Greg had been in and out of the newsroom for several weeks, assigned to an investigative reporting team that, mercifully, had taken him out from under Geoff’s oppressive thumb. But he also desperately missed seeing Jenny as much.
Meanwhile, Geoff had busied himself bragging to everyone that his team was going to defeat all the other teams. After all, he said, he had a ‘ringer’. Greg was from the west, and Geoff was convinced the best curlers in the country came from the west.
Meanwhile, Greg spent every free moment imagining Jenny’s team playing against him and Geoff’s team. When that happened they’d be on the same sheet of ice together. Greg’s excitement grew. He could hardly wait.
Greg daydreamed about standing beside her while their opposing teams played each other. He knew it would be almost impossible for him to be calm while trying to make small talk with her. What was he going to say? How in the world was he going to keep a conversation going long enough for The Big Question – asking her for a date, again? Each time he tried to think about asking her, his mind went blank with fear. What if he froze while trying to talk with her? What if he became tongue-tied? It would be mortifying. And what if she rebuffed him, like she always did in the office? What then? The thought filled him with dread!
Two weeks before the curling league’s first games, Geoff called a strategy meeting of his other team members. He went on for half an hour about what he thought the team should do to outfox the other teams – not always ethically – and win the trophy. Then he turned to Greg:
“Well, you’re our Skip!” he said. “What do you think of that?”
“Darned if I know, Geoff,” Greg replied. “I’ve never curled a game in my life.”
Geoff’s eyes grew big. They bulged as he stammered and stuttered, emitting a fine spray of saliva, struggling for words. The two other team members ducked the spray while struggling hard to suppress chuckles. They failed. What Greg knew about curling was next to nothing. He had watched part of a game while interviewing a contact for a news story once. At the time, he’d noticed how people threw curling rocks, and had been curious why others kept sweeping the ice. That was it – his entire knowledge of this strange game.
“What the goddamned hell do you mean?” Geoff thundered, regaining his voice. “You told me you knew how to curl! You lied to me, you little son-of-a-bitch!”
“No, Geoff,” Greg said firmly, but with much trepidation. “I said no such thing! And you never asked.”
The first games of the curling league began with Greg assigned to the team’s most junior position, called ‘lead’. He managed to mess up his first attempts at curling, much to Geoff’s rising anger, no doubt further aggravated by Greg being preoccupied. Greg had noticed that Jenny was playing lead as well; he could barely take his eyes off her. He’d learned from others this was also her first time curling.
Hey! Greg thought, we have something in common, and it’s something to talk about!
During the game, Geoff kept yelling at him, “Sweep, damn it! Sweep!”
Again and again, Greg’s attention kept straying elsewhere. It was a challenge for him to pull his eyes back from where he kept watching Jenny curl, two sheets of ice away.
Finally, all the teams had finished their games for the evening. Everyone was grouped in a room at one end of the building, near the exit. Some curlers were leaving. Greg panicked. He’d lost sight of Jenny. She’d been with Elaine, the woman who’d started in the newsroom the same time as Jenny. Then he saw Elaine. They exchanged a few pleasantries while Greg scanned the room. Elaine was tall. Jenny was tiny, difficult to locate in a crowd. She wasn’t to be found.
Finally, discouraged and disappointed, Greg moved toward the exit, fearing she’d left already. He looked out the door into the parking lot. No sign of her. He took one last look back over his shoulder before leaving. He caught Elaine’s eye. She tilted her head. Greg looked in that direction. There was Jenny, her back to him, speaking with another man, another single reporter. Sharp pangs of jealousy coursed through his body!
Greg walked as casually as he could manage past the two, happily chatting away, trying to manoeuver subtly but obviously into Jenny’s range of view. It didn’t seem to be working. The spirited conversation continued. He was disappointed, and more jealous than ever. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he felt compelled to accept defeat and head home to his tiny apartment to commiserate on his lost love interest.
“Oh, there you are!” said a wonderfully familiar voice behind him. He stopped breathing; his heart skipped a beat. “Elaine said you were looking for me. Well, here I am!”
Jenny promptly accepted his invitation for a coffee and offer to drive her home. Thereafter he considered their first sort-of date as a double-header, both a coffee and a drive. Jenny would admit later she was secretly hoping Greg would sign up for the curling league. During the drive to her home in a nearby town, Greg invited Jenny on their first real formal date, a newly released movie called The Sound of Music. She accepted. Greg’s heart soared.
Finally! For months he’d been blaming a dumb gaff he’d made the day after they’d met, for failing to get a date with Jenny. She’d been hired as the first female ‘copy boy’ after convincing the managing editor she could do the job as well as any boy. Jenny even offered to work for free the first two weeks to prove she could do the job. She was hired. The two key assignments of ‘copy boys’ were to pick up news stories that reporters had written and take them to the city editor and other editors for review, and to haul armloads of new editions of the newspapers from the pressroom in the basement to the newsroom on the third floor, where they distributed the papers to reporters and editors.
On her second day of work, Jenny had worn a black dress. Tiny pieces of paper, almost like confetti, that had come off the newly printed and trimmed newspapers were clinging to her dress. Trying awkwardly to make conversation Greg had suggested to Jenny, with the best of intentions, that a black dress might not be an appropriate color for the job. He found out later she’d gone home that evening and worked for hours to clean the specks of paper off her dress and wore it the next day just to spite him.
Unbeknownst to either, Jenny’s mother Rachael had picked up immediately on the significance of that emotional reaction to a boy Jenny said she ‘disliked a lot’. But even then, she was surprised at how quickly the relationship between her eldest daughter and this still-unknown young man had blossomed.
A few months later, Jenny invited Greg for supper one Sunday to meet her family. She thought it was a good idea for her mom and her six siblings to get to know him.
You see, by then Jenny had decided she was going to marry Greg. It’s just that, well, Jenny’s mother didn’t know it yet, and neither did Greg.
“Curling Up On Their First Date” is Copyright 2016 By James Osborne. All Rights Reserved
Photo Credits: Newsroom photo courtesy of The Journal-American; Editors’ desk courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine; all others: Google Images.