On my way through the ground floor, though, I passed several of those booths that are set up seasonally in the mall's main corridors, the ones with the usually annoying salespeople and fascinating yet useless electronic toys and baubbles. I was wandering slowly through the mall, gazing at the windows of the stores, and thinking to myself, "My, it's lovely to not have a girlfriend this time of year!" It was dawning on me, as I walked through the most expensive and posh mall in Columbus (the name of the mall is "The Polaris Fashion Place", which should tell you something), that I didn't have the time, money, or inclination to be forced to purchase something because I was in a relationship with someone. And that's when I heard the sweet voice behind me.
"Sir, do you have a lovely woman in your life who might be in need of some pampering this holiday season?"
I stopped short, realizing that I'd drifted close enough to one of those temporary booths in the middle of the floor to be within the Salesperson's Selling Sphere of Sadistic Sorrows (say that three times fast), where they suddenly perceive that, if they say something to you, you'll be reeled in, or will at least glance over their merchandise.
I wasn't actually thinking about it, and the words just tumbled out:
"Why, no, I don't. I'm actually delightfully single." I smiled at her, and the words just kept coming. "Do you have a handsome man in your life?"
I'm not actually sure whether I was initially amused or horrified at this entertaining little discussion I was suddenly having. I was only vaguely aware of the people wandering around me. The girl was very attractive, and maybe a little older than I was, and seemed to be selling something aromatherapy- or candle-related. Whatever it was, it was the kind of stuff you expect to stink to high heaven if you get too close. But I wasn't smelling anything unnatural at that moment.
She looked at me for a moment, unsure how to respond. I felt myself losing my nerve at that point, worried that I'd embarassed her (or worse, that her boss was right behind me and I was causing her real problems), but she brightened a bit before any sort of fear could take root, and answered. "No, there's not."
"Is that good or bad?" I asked. "Most people shouldn't be alone for Christmas unless they want to be. Me, I'm pretty fresh out of a long relationship, so being alone doesn't seem like a bad idea."
She smiled, and the smile touched the corners of her eyes. "No, it probably doesn't. What are you up to around 6 PM?"
I still wasn't really thinking, so the truth sort of fell out of my mouth. "I'm meeting three women for dinner. Why?"
She looked a little crestfallen, and I knew what I'd accidentally done: either I was playing the field pretty damn wide, or I was gay. The idea that a guy can meet three women as friends is never the first thought, and for good reason. Now I figured that was when she was getting off work and wanted to meet or get a drink or something. I'm still not sure what the process of actually picking up a girl is supposed to be, so figuring out how to do it is still completely beyond me, in a tactical sense.
She started to say something, then stopped. I took that opening to "finish" my previous thought. "I'll probably be available in a week or so, after Christmas, if you're interested in chatting more?"
This brought the smile back to her eyes. "I think I might like that. Can I have your number?"
It wasn't lost on me that I'd never been asked by a girl for my phone number before, at least not without some sort of pretext of, "Oh, I need to call you about our project," or, "In case I want to know more about the Grove." I scribbled it down on a scrap of paper, and smiled. "By the way, my name's Mike," I said as I held out my hand.
She took it. "Jill. Pleasure to meet you."
"The pleasure's mine. I'm afraid, though, that I have to do some more shopping before I head up to meet my friends. Drop me a line sometime soon."
It occurred to me sometime later that, when she calls, she's going to hear a woman say, "You have reached Tina and Mike. . ." so we'll see what happens, I guess. I'm laughing just thinking of that.
I finished my curcuit of the mall, and hung out near the doors to Molly Woo's. I sat there for about ten or fifteen minutes, waiting for mmefrufru and her friends to show up, watching the pretty (and, generally speaking, underdressed) women bustle in and out of the cold.
The girls showed up about five minutes late, mmefrufru producing a small gift certificate for me and giving me a hug. We trundled into Molly Woo's and sat down, where I got to catch up on various aspects of mmefrufru's life and times (always spectacular and entertaining). We ate, laughed, and managed to cut the bill down a tad after some shuffling and some mental arithmetic.
After that, it was off to the Columbus Zoo. One of the girls got dropped off at a Bible study and didn't go with, so it was just three of us. We all got in free, mmefrufru because I had an extra person on my Zoo membership card, and the guys in front of us in line had an extra ticket that they weren't going to use. We also managed to avoid paying for parking.
We saw every animal who was out that cold night (not many were, but a select few managed to brave the cold). We spent about two hours at the Zoo, and then went our separate ways.
All in all, a good night.