The public turns to her with their relationship woes, but does she really know anything about love?
“Dear Maddie – My boyfriend and I have been together for almost two years, but…”
Maddie never dreamed she’d be writing a newspaper column to the lovelorn. Her co-workers think her nights are filled with glamourous dates, but in reality, her life is boring. Until the day her boss insists on running a contest to win a dream date… with her. Now Maddie is searching for someone genuine in the mountain of letters from fame-seekers, braggarts, mama’s boys, and stalkers. Does God’s plan include finding true love through a marketing stunt? Or will she only have more loveless fodder for her column?
“No good deed ever goes unpunished.”
Ever thought you knew what God’s plan was for you?
As I gazed at a letter—I think it was number 4,075—asking for boyfriend advice, I found myself questioning that plan.
I eyed the ceiling. “Surely You didn’t intend for me to end up here?” At least, this letter wasn’t from a guy asking me on a date.
I swiveled to look out my small window at the rainy streets. Growing up, I had known for sure that He was in my life and guided me. I wasn’t feeling guided now.
As I turned back to my computer, the large framed letter on the wall caught my eye. The one that had started it all.
I am so frustrated with men. I finally find the guy that makes my heart pound, and he turns out to be a player, just like all the other men I’ve ever met. What is a girl to do? How am I ever going to find Mr. Right? Am I doomed to be a spinster the rest of my life? Please, help!
While talking to my editor, I had spotted the letter on his desk and was curious.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to it.
He snorted “We keep getting these letters to the editor asking romance questions. What is it with women?”
“Let me answer it.” I still hadn’t found my niche at the paper since earning my degree, and it seemed like an opening.
He jumped at the idea, and Dear Maddie was born. It was almost Ask Maddie Brandt, but that was too much of a mouthful.
It had been only about five years since that first letter, and it had taken me down a path I’d never dreamed of. Crazy how an innocent letter could change your life. That’s where I knew God’s plan for me came into play, but lately, I’d been thinking this couldn’t be what He’d really planned.
I used to think that writing for the newspaper would be exciting. But after five years of twice-a-week columns, I was turning into a crazy cat lady without the cat—living vicariously through letters and embarrassing my family. I mean, Dad wouldn’t even admit to his friends what I did. I had to remind myself almost daily that I was a writer with talent.
I turned back to my blinking computer screen with a heavy sigh and picked up the latest from an upset woman sure her boyfriend was cheating with her best friend. It felt like I’d been reading the same romance novel over and over, each with a different ending.
Suddenly, the door to my office burst open, and Jayne, my best friend slash boss’s secretary, bounced in.
“Hey! Aren’t you excited?” Her big blue eyes sparkled with excitement. Jayne was a petite blond who managed to be everyone’s friend.
I stared as she perched on the corner of my desk, wondering what news I’d missed on the walk to my office. “Jason’s getting hair implants?”
Jayne giggled and whacked my shoulder. “No, silly. About you and the date contest.”
I blinked my confusion.
She rolled her eyes. “Jason just said you’re running a contest for someone to win a date with you. Whoever wins takes you out on the town. Limo, dinner, the works.” She almost bounced off the desk with enthusiasm. “Won’t that be amazing? The best date ever.”
“A date contest? You mean, as in picking someone from the applicants and actually going on a date with him?”
Jayne focused on my expression of total shock, and her excitement level went down a couple of notches. “Didn’t you agree to this with Jason?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t agreed to anything. This is the first I’ve heard about it. I mean, Jason’s really been on my case about accepting a date with one of these guys that keep writing, but that’s all he’s ever said. No one suggested a contest.”
She licked her lips, obviously realizing she’d let something out of the bag, and slipped off the desk. “Well, maybe, I heard wrong.” She stepped over to the door. “I have to get back to work.”
She was gone before I could gather my wits. A date contest? With my dating record, how was that even a possibility? The previous night’s date flashed through my mind, and I blinked. No way did I want anyone to know how miserably they always ended. I stomped out of my office and down the hallway to the elevator.
Jason saw me coming, as his corner office opens to a clear view of the elevator. He was standing in the doorway, wearing a cheesy grin. “I was just coming to look for you.”
“I’ll bet you were,” I said through clenched teeth. “What is Jayne talking about?”
He chuckled but pulled me inside and shut the door. The better to block the screams.
“Sit down and let me explain it before you go off half-cocked.” He retreated behind his desk.
“Half-cocked?” I repeated, my voice rising as I stood—no way was I going to sit calmly—and put my hands on my hips. “I think someone else went off in that department. In our brief conversation the other day, you never said it was a possibility. You wanted me to think about it. The next thing I know, it’s for real, and I’m gonna have to date some dweeb?” I flung my hand toward his large office window, indicating the general population of men.
Jason gulped, and I swore his ears were turning red. “I know this came as a surprise—”
“Surprise?” I flopped down in one of the two chairs in front of his desk. “Surprises are roses from a handsome guy. Surprises are cupcakes your mom bakes for the class on your birthday. This is an ambush.”
He rolled his eyes and sank onto his chair, clasping his hands on his desk like he was about to pray. I wondered whether he really was, and my temper slipped. He wasn’t normally a religious guy.
Jason’s office was the standard messy editor’s closet stuffed with papers, framed photos with celebrities, and shelves of various nostalgic items befitting a man of middle age who had been in the newspaper business for decades. His desk was so large it took up most of the room, with his keyboard and monitors taking up a third of the surface and the rest covered with copy.
Apparently, he thought I’d blown off the bulk of my temper tantrum, and his expression told me he was going to try his negotiator tactic—forgetting that I’d been around long enough to know most of his tactics and how to deal with them. I waited.
“Now, I mentioned this the other day…”
I glared. “Mentioned is a little different from a set contest.”
He slumped back in his chair. “We need the story.” He surprised me with his bluntness. “The paper is starting to lose ground, and we need something new. The manager likes the idea and wants me to push it.”
Well, that put a different spin on things. If the manager liked something, it generally happened. I was stuck. Short of quitting my job—and despite my grousing, I liked a steady income—I was going to have to agree to the contest. That didn’t mean I had to be pleasant about it, though.
“And when is this contest supposed to run?”
His expression turned somber. “He wants the date to take place after Thanksgiving, so you have five weeks to get the word out, sort through letters, and pick the winner.”
“Five weeks?” My eyes felt like they were bulging out of their sockets. “That’s not enough time. Have you seen the mail we go through every week? The reason you hired Tonya part time last year was to help me handle the increased mail. We even had to borrow Brent when it’s a holiday season. It will take more people to help if he wants that time frame.”
Jason shrugged, suddenly looking old and tired. “Art gave the go-ahead to hire a temp or two if you need it. So, Tonya could go full time temporarily, or even a college intern would work.”
Five weeks? I tried to absorb the news, realizing that he’d already sidestepped my first complaint. Interns. I hated that it made sense. I didn’t want any good suggestions coming from the man who had ruined my holiday season. Thanksgiving? I would have to sort through the mountain of letters and emails likely to follow and pick a winner by the end of November?
It was crazy.
There could be a bright spot to this. I just had to dig for it.
“How is it being introduced? By me, or is someone in advertising doing it? And when?”
Jason leaned forward. “Both actually. He wants you to write a column to introduce the idea on Tuesday in your regular slot. And advertising is talking about doing a full page the same day.”
That wasn’t as much of a surprise, nor was it that big of a deadline. I could do it.
“When were you going to tell me?” I narrowed my eyes. “Or did you hope Jayne would break it to me gently?”
He chuckled. We’d both known Jayne long enough to know she never did anything in half measures. “I guess I was hoping she’d take the initial outburst.”
I made a face. Obviously, I’d worked here too long if everyone knew me as well as I knew them. “Fine.”
I didn’t have much choice, though I didn’t have to like it. Jason refrained from saying anything as I got up to leave, my mind already going through the wording of the introductory column. At least, the contest would save me from Miss Lovelorn number fifty thousand and her boyfriend troubles. The romance stories would get a break while we saw what reality offered.
Before I’d taken three steps, Jason caught up and grabbed my arm. “Hey, don’t make it difficult. Management expects you to be able to actually find someone, not make it impossible.”
Frowning, I realized that very thought had surfaced in the back of my mind. Good grief. Was I that much of an open book?
“I’ll find someone.”
His doubtful expression fueled my determination to surprise everyone. I could be reasonable when the occasion warranted it. Apparently, when my job was in question, it was warranted.
Back in my office, I plopped down behind my desk and glared at the computer monitor. So… they wanted a contest, huh? Something to get circulation going? Fine. Management asked. They would receive.
An idea ripened the more I thought about it, and with a grin I could see reflected on the screen, I started typing.
A half hour later, I called Jason, and he picked up on the second ring. “What?”
“What’s this date going to consist of? Where are we going?”
He chuckled. “So, you’re curious. That’s a good sign.” I groaned, but he continued. “You’re going to dinner in a limo, then to the theater. I think the plan is the two of you seeing the show at the Riverside Theater, and then you’re done.”
“Dinner and the theater.”
“Don’t you like theater?”
“I like theater as well as the next person. I just haven’t been in a while. The Riverside Theater is rather small. Are we going to be followed around by a camera crew?”
“What—are we growing camera shy now?”
“Since when did I like the camera?” I hung up.
Great. Dinner and the theater. I could imagine what kind of dinner management had in mind. Probably something formal that would make me more nervous than a cat in a room full of Dobermans.
Back to the column. I sat for a few minutes. What would my readers want me to ask? I couldn’t just ask potential dates whether they had a job, how much it paid, and if they still lived at home, even if that’s what most women wanted to know. The first question for next week needed to be deep, insightful… Shrugging, I decided to ask what I wanted to know and hope those reading my column would be interested in the answers.
I pulled my desk calendar over and flipped to November. Running my finger down the month, I chewed my bottom lip. This was the week before Halloween, and we published two columns per week, so I needed to come up with at least nine questions, probably ten. I’d get the copy done for the initial column containing the first question, then prep the rest. Since I wouldn’t have to answer any of the same-love-story-different-ending letters for an entire month, it’d be easy. Hopefully, I’d be ready to dive back into those when the contest was over.
I finished the copy for Tuesday’s column, sent it to Jason, and then called Jayne.
“When did you talk to Jason about this contest?”
She sighed dreamily. “This morning. I thought it was a great idea. I know it is something every girl would want. Just think—you get to pick your perfect date.”
I laughed. “You mean like that old board game?”
“Yeah! Didn’t you ever play that when you were a kid?”
“That was a little before our time. Where did you get it?”
“Ummm…” She paused, and I pictured her little cubicle down the hallway. Jayne liked to be comfortable when she talked on the phone and usually put her feet up on the edge of her desk, tilting back in her chair until it threatened to fall over.
“I think it was one my mom had. My friends and I would play it for hours, talking about the kind of guys we were going to date when we got old enough. You know… actually reached sixteen years old.”
“Yeah, I remember how that was. I figured I’d do the contest like that old television show where they picked between three bachelors. Do you remember that one?”
“Oh yeah. That will be great. What kind of questions will you ask?”
“I’ve already got them mapped out. But they’re a secret until each column so no one gets a head start.”
“Oh, you’re a party pooper. That’s not fair!”
I laughed. “At least I get to bump Tonya to full time and hire an intern to help with the mail.”
“You think there’ll be that many entries?”
I felt offended. “You know how many letters I get now. Why wouldn’t it increase?”
Jayne chuckled. “I’m not saying that. I’m just wondering how many guys read that section of the paper. I don’t know how big of a response they’re hoping to get.”
I moaned. She was right. Now that I thought about it, there was probably no need to worry. There could be a whole ten responses, and those would be easy to weed through. Who needed interns?
“I guess we should wait and see what happens before hiring anyone.” My confidence waned at the realization that big management’s readership idea might not be as exciting as they hoped.
“I’ll tell Tonya to have one waiting in the wings.” Jayne’s voice was consoling. “If you wait until the mail comes and we have boatloads, it will take too long to get someone then.”
Why did she always have to make sense? “Fine. You want to tell her, or shall I?”
“I’ll tell her.”
I hung up the phone and contemplated the questions outlined on my screen. Did I want tons of men sending in answers to my questions or only a few? What kind of rejection could my shallow self-esteem handle?
I took a deep breath and began fleshing out the rest of the questions. Might as well get the ball rolling.
ABOUT G. PARKER
G. Parker has been writing since she was 12. When not writing, she’s painting, cooking and tries to read anything she can get her hands on. She lives with her wonderful husband, assorted children and animals and loves to hear from her readers.