Home > To Sir, with Love

To Sir, with Love
Author: Lauren Layne

One


“What am I looking at here? What is that smile?”

I drop my cell phone back into my bag and turn my full attention to the baby settled on my thighs, my hand resting protectively over his warm tummy. I wipe a tiny bit of drool from his adorable mouth. “That smile is me plotting to steal this baby. And maybe the baby’s beautiful daddy.”

My best friend is unfazed by my threats to steal her child and husband. “Never going to work. Felix assures me he’s partial to Jewish women. Oh, and he likes big boobs.”

“I can convert.” I make a cooing noise at the baby. “And get a boob job.”

“I hope those fake boobs produce milk. Because Matteo here’s still breastfeeding.”

“You’re a boob man already, hmm?” I ask the baby, who wraps tiny fingers around my own and shakes, grinning at me.

“Not for long,” Rachel says. “I’m trying to wean the little bastard, but bottles make this one gassy.”

“Farts from bottles?” I look over. “That’s a thing?”

“Oh, trust me,” Rachel says in a dark tone. “It’s a thing. Too bad there’s not a return or exchange policy for children.”

“No need.” I make smooching noises at the baby. “I’m stealing him, remember?”

“So you said in your attempt to distract me, but back to your Disney princess smile over whatever you were looking at on your phone. I’ve known you for over twenty years, and I know that smile. You’re in your Cinderella mode.”

“I do not have a Cinderella mode.”

“You totally do,” Rachel says. “I just watched you feed half your sandwich to the pigeons. Who you named.”

“Are you even a real New Yorker if you don’t befriend pigeons in Central Park?”

“And then you sang to them,” Rachel continues.

“I hummed. A slight but crucial distinction.”

“Mmm-hmm, and what song did you hum?”

I purse my lips and refrain from answering the question. I’d been humming “It Had to Be You,” Frank Sinatra style. To the pigeons. Which, when not in my so-called Cinderella mode, I know are basically sky-rats.

This isn’t looking good for me, and we both know it.

Rachel very slowly shakes her head. “Gracie Madeleine Cooper, you are in love and you didn’t tell me.”

I snort. “That’d be a hell of a feat, considering I haven’t been on a second date in almost six months and waaaaay too many first ones.”

She holds out her palm. “Phone.”

“What?”

“That dreamy smile comes on your face every time you check your phone.” She reaches over me to grab my purse in the confident, overbearing way of a best friend of twenty years. “Let me see it.”

“What? No! Here,” I say, trying to maneuver Matteo into her arms. “Let’s trade. Your baby for my privacy.”

Her jaw drops. “You never want privacy! You have a secret!”

“I do not have a secret!”

I do. I totally have a secret, and it’s delicious and also a tiny bit embarrassing to admit, even to someone who’s held my hair back over the toilet of a Coney Island bathroom after too much blue cotton candy.

I manage to safely get the baby back into her arms, and Matteo takes my side and starts to fuss, granting me a brief reprieve from my best friend’s prying. As though reading my mind about the hair thing, Rachel shifts Matteo to her shoulder and hands me a hair band. “Tail me,” she orders, turning her back to me.

Obediently, I gather her thick hair and attempt to wind the elastic around her mass of gorgeous curls. I smile as a childhood memory bubbles up. Me, on the first day of third grade at a new school, my ponytail a lumpy mess, courtesy of my widowed father who did his best but didn’t know the first thing about little girls’ hair.

Rachel, the definitive alpha of Jefferson Elementary’s third-grade class, had taken one look at my stricken face, marched over, and announced that she needed to practice her French braiding and that I was her muse.

We’ve been styling each other’s hair ever since.

“You have the best hair,” I say, tucking an errant curl into the band and studying my handiwork.

“Attempt to distract from the matter at hand rejected,” she says, turning back around.

“You’re such a weirdo.” But I sigh and relent. “Okay, if I tell you what’s going on, you have to promise not to lecture.”

She makes a mock-wounded face. “If you care about me at all, you wouldn’t ask me to deny my true nature.”

“Fine,” I relent. “But as you lecture, at least try to remember that I already have an older sister who has yet to grasp that I’m thirty-three and not ten.”

“I will take it into consideration. Proceed.”

I take my time, leaning back on the green park bench, studying the cheerful energy of Central Park at lunchtime on a late summer’s day.

I exhale. “So there’s this dating app.”

“Tinder?”

“No.”

“Hinge?”

“No.”

“eHarmony?”

“Okay, you rattled those off way too quickly for someone who’s been married for seven years,” I say. “And it’s called MysteryMate.”

Rachel makes a face. “Oh, I don’t like the sound of this at all. There is no good use for the word mate outside of the Discovery Channel.”

“Yeah, the name’s not great,” I say.

Their tagline’s even worse: Love at no sight. And that’s not even the embarrassing part of my secret.

“So how does it work?” she asks.

I reach over and rip off a piece of her unfinished sandwich and toss it to my pigeon friends, Spencer and Katharine, as in Tracy and Hepburn.

“So, you know how Tinder is all about first impressions based on someone’s photo?” I say. “Well, this is sort of the opposite. There are no photos. No names, even. Instead you choose from these little cartoon avatar things and a screen name, and the app matches you with potential mates.”

I emphasize the word deliberately with a grin, and she rolls her eyes. “Okay, I get it. The app is all ‘beauty is on the inside.’ What happens after you’re matched?”

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