Bekah sat cross-legged on the bed and watched Tamar cross the room, lugging an armful of clothes to stand in front of the mirror. She lifted her Chupa-Chups lollipop from her mouth, smacking her lips. “If you didn’t care so much about it, why are you trying on every outfit in your closet?”

Tamar scowled at Bekah’s reflection. “I don’t care. That’s why I’m trying on every outfit in my closet.” She pulled up a lime-green turtleneck.

“That’s hideous.”

“Exactly.” Tamar’s grin widened, tossing the turtleneck over her shoulder onto the bed.

Bekah scoffed incredulously. “Come on, Tamar. What’s the big deal? It’s just one date.”

“And I have to give him the message since he won’t get it,” Tamar rolled her eyes, lifting another paisley blouse in front of her chest.

“Didn’t you wear similar to that on your first meeting and he still wouldn’t leave you alone?” Bekah smirked. “Come on. You could probably wear a burlap sack over your head and he’d still talk to you.”

”Burlap sack dress… Rats, I should’ve thought about that.”

”Tamar, what–?”

”If you’re not going to help, go back to your place and study then,” Tamar said sternly, glaring back at her. “Shouldn’t you be helping me? Bring out your hideous clothes.”

Bekah folded her arms. “All my hideous clothes are in the wash. Sorry.”

“Of course they are…” Tamar glanced once at the clock and shook her head. Two more hours. Enough time to work on her hair. “Want to help me with straightening my hair?”

“Not a chance.” Bekah scooted off the bed, grabbing the clothes from Tamar’s arm. “Just wear something nice and be nice. If he likes you, what’s the big deal?”

“It’s a big deal, Bekah.” Tamar tugged the clothes back toward her chest. “I don’t need the extra trouble and you know it.”

Bekah’s gaze softened on her younger cousin’s face and she loosened her hold. “Tamar, that was two years ago. Things have changed. Besides, I don’t think this Sinatra guy will hurt you.”

Tamar stiffened under her cousin’s coddling tone. “I didn’t say anything about that. Look, I just don’t want any drama.” She spun around toward the bathroom. “Now will you help me fix my hair or do I have to do it myself?”

“Ugh, you’ll only make a mess of it. That curly mess can’t be tamed!” Bekah started after her.

Two hours later and Bekah regarded her cousin with a critical eye. “This is… not a good idea, Tamar.”

Tamar stepped up to the mirror and nodded in approval at her reflection. Her curly hair, now straight, hung over her shoulders. A color and pattern riot explained her outfit. Black and blue plaid high-waisted thrifted pants with a purple and pink polka-dot silk blouse that practically hung over Tamar’s slim shoulders. Bangles adorned her slender arms and she wore green loafers, her most comfortable pair of shoes besides her sneakers.

Bekah clucked her tongue as Tamar tugged at one stubborn strand of hair already springing back into a curl. “I feel so bad for Sinatra… So very bad.”

“I’m doing him a favor, don’t feel bad for him.” Tamar glanced once at her analog clock and frowned. Five minutes till seven. “Time to head down. Wish me luck.”

“I’ll be praying for you, dear cousin,” Bekah straightened an another curling strand of hair from Tamar’s face. “I give you an hour tops before your hair rebels against you.”

“That’s long enough to be back home,” Tamar called over her shoulder as she headed out the door to meet Dylan downstairs. Eyes of her dormmates peeled off whatever they were occupied in and turned to stare at her all the way down to the lobby. Tamar didn’t mind it as long as it did its job. She reached the front of the lobby and exited the building, walking over to perch on the bench, folding her hands on her lap expectantly.

Dylan glanced at his watch as he started up the sidewalk from the parking lot. Four minutes. He smiled. He’d made good time. Convincing Tonio to change their plans hadn’t been easy and he knew there would be an interrogation when he returned. It would be worth it though. He tugged absently at the navy blue pullover layered over his collared polo.

He had just rounded the building when he spotted a collage of colors. It could be described no other way; pinks, purples, greens, blues, blacks. He was almost certain the entire rainbow was present in the one outfit.  His gaze shifted up to take in the long straight hair and he frowned when he recognized Tamar.  Her style was eccentric, yes, but this was more than that. This was just plain tacky.

“Couldn’t decide on a color scheme?” he asked as he approached. He hadn’t want to scare her off with formal flowers and had settled on a lone daisy. Given how she’d dressed, he thought the decision a good one. “This’ll add some color.”

Tamar warily eyed the delicate flower he held out to her before looking up at his steady gray gaze. Her brow furrowed as her cheeks tingled under her freckled skin. Reluctantly, she accepted the flower before speaking. ”You came…”

“We agreed on seven.” His eyes raked over her outfit again and he shook his head. She was determined to make the situation about her being the “weird girl”, he realized. He had never seen a woman try so hard to avoid his attention. He would’ve walked away from the entire situation if she hadn’t made him so curious as to why. “You ready?”

”We did.” Tamar narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously from his put-together outfit.

A rich loafer, she decided and steeled her resolve. He was obviously taken aback by her choice of clothes but was being very polite not to say  anything or back out…yet. ”Where are we going? Hope you’re not thinking to take me to some stuffy eat-out place?” she made sure her voice conveyed disdain, her eyes refusing to look away.

He grinned and just barely resisted offering his hand, recalling how she felt about people touching her. “No, I had something better in mind. Are you going to come and see or criticize my possible plans all night?”

”Choice number two sounds so appealing…” She stood to her feet, smoothening the high waisted pants. ”But I guess I could just see what you have in mind first.”

He bowed at the waist. “Thank you, Your Highness, for gracing me with your presence,” he drawled as he straightened. “Your chariot is in the back.”

”You’re most welcome, Sir Noble Sinatra,” Tamar couldn’t resist with a smile tucked in her cheek as she walked ahead of him toward the noted chariot.

He laughed and fell into step beside her. “So you do like my singing. Knew it. You’re not fooling me,” he warned unlocking the car and opening the passenger side door for her.

Tamar paused hesitantly and glanced up at him before looking down at the seat. Telling herself this was different, she ducked inside the car. You’re a different person now. He’s not…him!

Dylan climbed in on the driver’s side and started the car, giving Tamar a quick glance before swinging into reverse. He wondered what she would think of the night he had planned. The thought she’d react negatively entered his head. He cleared his throat. “How was the rest of your day?”

Tamar glanced at him from the corner of one eye. ”Fine,” she answered after a thoughtful pause. ”Did you help an old lady cross the street and feed the homeless before coming to pick me up?”

“No. That’s scheduled for tomorrow after I help an elderly couple put their groceries away. Only you can make that sound like a bad thing,” he added with an amused smirk as he pulled into traffic, heading for the Mediterranean Vineyard.

”Nope. All are noble causes,” she said pointedly. ”Some more than others but all the same, noble. You get three gold stars for your effort.”

“How generous of you. How many until I get a reward?”

”Don’t get greedy,” she replied, staring it into the traffic. ”Besides, I think you might want to ask God about that, not me.”

“You’re the one handing out stars. You can’t give a man a reward system and expect him not to want to know about the next level, Tamar.”

Tamar smirked. ”I only hand out stars. Take it or leave it.” She peered out the window, taking note of the sign just up ahead. ”The Vineyard? Sounds fancy.” She couldn’t help but wonder to herself how many of his other company had come here with him.

“Stop trying to figure it out and just experience it,” he scolded gently as he pulled into a parking space and opened the door. “Wait right here.” He didn’t wait for her agreement. He got out of the car and jogged into the restaurant.

Tamar heaved a sigh once he was out of sight. ”This is hard work…” She glanced out the window at the wide expanse of sky and shook her head, pulling her gaze down to her hands resting on her lap. She wanted to take his advice and enjoy it but something nagged at the back of her mind, telling her to keep her guard in place. Her conscience won.

Dylan jogged back to the car a few minutes later, setting a bag filled with food containers in the backseat and settling back in his seat. “Now we’re ready.”

Tamar raised a brow at the takeout bag and hid a smile. So he was affected by her choice of dress after all. Why else would he bring the food to her instead of taking her inside? No doubt everyone inside was dressed more formally. One score for Tamar. She leaned back in her seat and folded her arms. ”You’re presumptuous, Sinatra…”

“Ah, what did I do now?” He pulled out of the parking lot and into traffic once more, heading for their final destination.

”You didn’t even ask what I wanted to eat,” Tamar replied, feigning a pout although the aroma from the food assaulted her nostrils, tantalizing her empty stomach.

“You strike me as the kind of girl who could use a surprise or two. I got enough. You’ll be able to find something you like,” he assured her as he pulled out of traffic to start down a quieter road.

A quick retort died in her throat as she took note of the secluded road. Her shoulders tensed and she slowly sat up in her chair. ”Well, I don’t like surprises. Where are we going?” Tamar managed to ask in an even tone though her body was stiffening by every inch away from the traffic and people.

“You’ll see. We’re almost there.” Even as he spoke, he was driving up to the entrance of the Sloping Hill park. A few late joggers populated the park, running the trails while a few others dribbled a soccer ball up and down an empty stretch of grass.  “Grab the food, please?” he asked as he parked and got out to open the trunk.

Tamar choked a laugh as she took in the scene before her. He’d brought her to a park for their date? She could feel her shoulders sink back into the seat, relieved to see people all over the field and joggers crossing past them. Her eyes followed him to the back of the car and she shook her head incredulously. ”If he pulls out a picnic blanket…”

Dylan pulled an old blanket out of the trunk. It wasn’t a checkered picnic mat but it was the best he could do. Tamar’s first criticism had been about fancy restaurants. He could only hope he hadn’t swung too far in the other direction.

Tamar stepped out of the car, bag of food in her small arms and she shook her head again as he lifted the blanket. ” Someone did his homework. Either you watch a lot of films or you have a sister… Or a girlfriend on the side.” She smirked. ”The surprise is a picnic,” Tamar said, impressed by his creativity.

He laughed, relieved by the smile on her face when he shut the trunk. “I have a sister. I’ve been forced to watch an occasional chick flick or two. Will this work for you?”

Tamar shrugged. ”It doesn’t matter. It’s your date. Lead the way.”

<<Chapter 2 || Chapter 4>>