Sometimes the human quest for love takes us along a new path, leading us to the place we belong, even though we had no idea how to get there. So it is for Joe Sweeney‘s heroine in How I Met Your Father. With smooth and flowing dialogue, and warm and engaging prose, Sweeney tells a story of hope and promise: a story that could happen to any one of us. With a gentle push from coincidence, love can be closer than we ever thought.
Welcome. And, enjoy!
How I Met Your Father
by Joe Sweeney
The twin girls raced into the bedroom and jumped into their respective beds, laughing with glee. Sharon followed close behind and sat on the edge of one bed, while Joe sat on the edge of the other.
“It won’t be much longer before they’re too old for this,” Sharon said.
“I think that’s a good thing!” Joe said with a chuckle. “I’m getting too old for this.”
“Mom! Tell us the story of how you met,” Sandy asked.
“Yeah! Tell us the story!” Rachel said.
“Oh, you don’t want to hear that again,” Joe said.
“Yes we do! Yes we do!” both girls said.
“Oh, no you don’t! It’s way back before the Internet and everything!” Joe said in a cajoling tone.
Joe looked at Sharon. “Well, it’s your story dear.” He kissed Rachel’s forehead, stood up and kissed Sandy and Sharon, and then left the room.
“Well,” Sharon began, “as you know, I advertised for him…”
* * * * *
“Why do guys have to be such jerks?” Sharon complained as she dropped into her friend’s couch. Sharon Patterson, now in her late twenties, was still hanging on to the hope of attracting that special someone. It seemed that a slim build, long brunette hair, and a dazzling smile weren’t enough.
“It’s genetic,” answered Fanny Walton, Sharon’s longtime friend. Fanny was about twenty years older than Sharon, and had been married twice already. Both marriages had ended in divorce, and Fanny was now a bitter woman who had little regard, or use, for men.
“I was at Helio’s, minding my own business,” Sharon continued, ignoring Fanny’s remark. “This really nice looking guy, Mark, asks me to dance. A perfect gentleman while we’re on the dance floor. Then, we sit down at this booth with some of his friends. He gets up to get me a drink, and this creep friend of his starts pawing on me. I pushed him off and got up to look for Mark, and I find him dancing with some other girl! That jerk set me up with his scummy friend!!”
“Really, honey, you should just forget about men,” said Fanny.
“That slime-ball had no idea why I was upset. He had no clue at all.”
“You’re better off without them. They serve no useful purpose.”
Sharon exhaled heavily. “I don’t know why I even bother talking to you.”
“Because you know I’m right.”
“You are not.”
“Because every time you’re feeling depressed about men, I’m always here to give your self-esteem a boost.”
“What’s wrong with me? I’m attractive. I’m smart. I’ve got a sense of humor. What more could a man ask for?”
“A girl who will put out.”
“That is so crude!”
“It’s the truth, honey,” said Fanny. “Men are genetically designed for only one thing: sex. Everything else is secondary.”
“I don’t believe it.”
Fanny shrugged her shoulders.
“Pam called today,” Sharon said, changing the subject. “She’s taking Dad’s death pretty hard.”
“You said they’d always been close.”
“Yeah. She was always his favorite. The substitute mommy who did all his cooking and cleaning and helped take care of me after Mom died.” Her voice was bitter.
“It’s not your fault she died.”
“I know. But I feel like they blamed me. I mean, she died giving birth to me, so that makes it my fault, right? Now Sis wants to cry on my shoulder because Daddy’s dead. Poor Pammy, she’s lost her daddy. Well, what about me? Pam was ten when Mom died; at least she had a mother. Dad never had time for me, because Pam was always there for him.” Sharon buried her head in her hands and cried softly. Fanny sat down next to her on the couch and cradled Sharon in her arms.
“I’m sorry,” Sharon said.
“It’s okay, honey,” Fanny soothed.
Sharon reached for a handful of tissues to wipe her eyes and blow her nose. Fanny stood up, brushing her hands on her slacks.
“Can I get you some more coffee?” Fanny asked, anxious to give Sharon a few minutes alone.
Fanny disappeared into the kitchen. Sharon took the opportunity to pull her compact out of her purse and touch up her face a bit. After several minutes, Fanny returned. Carefully placing the mugs on the table, she seated herself in the easy chair.
“I’m sorry,” Sharon said again, forcing a smile. “It just makes me so angry how pitiful she is.”
“You don’t have to apologize, honey.”
Sharon took a sip of her coffee. “I’m so nervous about my evaluation tomorrow.”
“Six months, now, is it?”
“Yeah, I hope I do okay.”
“I know you will, honey. You’re a hard worker. I just had my yearly last week.”
“How’d it go?”
“About like I expected. ‘You’re a fine worker, Ms. Walton, a fine worker’,” Fanny’s voice took on a deep timber, and her face pinched together in an imitation of her boss. “‘But your attitude will get you into trouble one of these days.’”
Both women laughed.
“He sounds like such an old geezer!” Sharon giggled.
“Oh, he is, believe me!”
Sharon finished her coffee and stood. “I have to get going. I can hear Ralph upstairs whining to go out.”
“And you want a man?” asked Fanny, seeing her to the door.
“Somehow, the dog just doesn’t cut it. Thanks, Fanny.”
“Okay, hon. I’ll see you later.”
The door closed behind her, and Sharon hurried up the stairs to her second floor apartment. Once inside, Ralph was all over her, barking and wagging his tail. Dropping to her knees, Sharon nuzzled his neck.
“Did you miss me, puppy?” Ralph responded by frantically licking her face. “Okay, okay, go out.”
Sharon took the leash off the hook on the wall and clipped it to Ralph’s collar. A quick walk around the block and they were back home for dinner. Sharon hung up the leash and walked into the kitchen with Ralph close at her heals. After changing his water and refilling the food bowl, she set about preparing her own dinner. Then she settled down on the sofa with her meal, and turned on the television. A few hours later, she dragged herself off to bed.
Sharon’s morning routine varied little: dress, walk the dog, shower and dress again, eat. Then off to work. She tried not to let her pending evaluation weigh too heavily on her mind.
She was scheduled to meet with her supervisor at nine. That gave her very little time to prepare herself after getting to work. Shedding her coat and changing into work shoes, she hurried over to her office.
The door was slightly ajar. She tapped on it, and then began to open it wider.
Sharon stepped into the office.
“Ah, good morning Sharon. Come on in and take a seat.” Jane Brannigan indicated the chairs in front of her desk. Her short-cropped, black hair and dark skin accented her stern expression. Beneath that harsh appearance, however, was a surprisingly compassionate person.
“Good morning,” Sharon responded, sitting in the chair on the left.
Without looking, Jane reached for a folder sitting on the corner of her desk. Opening it, she glanced through several sheets of paper, then handed one to Sharon.
“This is the standard evaluation form for various aspects of the job. I’ve graded each aspect and included a few pertinent comments. Please read and sign it.”
Sharon took the paper.
“Overall,” Jane continued, “you are doing an excellent job. I am very pleased with your work. However, you are very quiet. I know you have the ability to go far with the company, and I would like to see you learn to be more aggressive and outspoken. Take charge of a few projects. There are several excellent workshops scheduled next month, I took the liberty to place a copy of the calendar in your mailbox.
“Do you have any questions or comments?”
“Uh, no, I don’t,” Sharon said, signing the document and handing it back.
“Very well. I’ll put through the paperwork for your raise.”
“Thank you,” Sharon said, standing up from the chair.
“One more item.” Sharon paused at the door. “I’ve also placed a folder in your mailbox containing the details of a project that just came in Friday. It’s a small one and a good start for you. Review the materials, then we’ll meet next week to discuss your thoughts on which direction to take with it.”
Sharon returned to her desk and located the folder Jane had mentioned. She scanned through it, excited at the prospect of the new responsibility, and then she set it aside. There will be time enough later to read it. First, she needed to catch up on the status of the other projects.
Sharon worked for a small publishing firm that specialized in pamphlets and booklets of all sorts. Up until now, her main responsibilities had been to coordinate the final copy with the printing department, and then to arrange for mailing.
Many of the editors started as she had – a secretary. They were given small projects to start, and gradually worked their way up to full editor. The editors worked closely with the clients, ensuring grammatically correct and visually pleasing products.
Sharon was pleased that her career was finally moving. After so many insignificant jobs out of college, it was a relief to feel assured that she was going somewhere.
The morning sped by. Just before noon, Robert and Tanya, two of the editors, stopped by her desk.
“Congratulations, Sharon,” said Robert. “I hear you’ve been assigned your first project.”
“Thanks,” Sharon answered. “I just got it today. I haven’t had a lot of time to look it over yet.”
“Come on, we’re taking you out to lunch,” Tanya said.
“Oh, no, I can’t. I really want to get a start on this project.”
“It can wait!” goaded Tanya. “How often to you get a free lunch? Besides, we already made reservations for three at the Italian restaurant across the street.”
“Okay,” Sharon acquiesced. She grabbed her purse and followed Robert and Tanya out.
Despite the crowd they were seated quickly. The central location downtown made it a convenient place for lunch. The waiter announced the specials of the day and took their drink order. A different waiter stopped back a few minutes later with the drinks.
“Are you ready to order?” he asked.
“I’ll have the linguini with clam sauce,” said Tanya.
“Hmm,” Robert frowned. “How about the chicken carbonara, and a chef salad with light Italian.”
“I’ll just have the antipasto special.”
“Very good.” The waiter collected the menus, bowed, and was off.
“So, Sharon,” asked Tanya, “what’s your project?”
“Oh, don’t be so nosy,” said Robert.
“That’s okay,” Sharon said. “I don’t mind. Maybe you guys can give me some pointers.”
“Sure,” Tanya agreed.
“Well, like I said, I didn’t get a good look at it yet. But the company’s name is Forever Ours, and they’re doing some kind of pamphlet to advertise their services.”
“Never heard of them,” said Tanya.
“Sure you have,” said Robert. “It’s one of those agencies that specialize in helping people meet. A dating service.”
“Oh, one of those!” exclaimed Tanya. “I would never use one. I meet plenty of men at the local bar.”
“If that’s the kind of men you want to meet,” Robert commented disdainfully.
“Men are men. They take me out on a few dates, and then I’m on to the next one. I have no interest in a relationship. Besides, this sounds like the same thing.”
“How are they different?” asked Sharon.
“I don’t think I need to explain what it’s like at a bar,” Robert began with a sidelong glance to Tanya. “With a matching service, you register with them a brief description of who you are and the type of person you’re looking for. Then you can choose from among a list. This way you already have an idea of what the person is like before you even meet them.”
“I know what I like just by looking,” laughed Tanya. “I don’t need any detailed description. And what makes you such an expert, anyway?”
Robert cleared his throat. “Well, I did subscribe to one like it. I’ve met a lot of interesting people, and it’s as safe as you choose to make it.”
“You mean men,” Tanya added under her breath. It was barely audible, but Sharon heard it. She shot a questioning look at Robert. He apparently had not heard Tanya’s remark, but was able to guess what Tanya had said.
“So, I am gay. I’m not ashamed of it.”
“Oh, lighten up, Robert,” Tanya said.
At this point, their food arrived. They ate quietly for several minutes.
“So, what’s the best way to start this project, anyway?” Sharon asked, breaking the silence.
“I suppose Old Brannigan gave you the ‘review it and talk to me’ line,” said Tanya.
“And that is very good advice,” added Robert. “She knows what she’s doing.”
“You also don’t want to do anything without her approval first.”
“Only for new editors. Once you prove yourself, Sharon, you won’t have to run to her for every little thing. I would suggest that you read through the material several times, and then come up with as many ideas as you can. It doesn’t matter how crazy they sound, she’ll listen to anything.”
“Should I make any phone calls to get more information?” asked Sharon.
“Definitely not,” answered Tanya.
“Everything you need to know should be in the folder,” agreed Robert.
After they finished eating, Robert picked up the tab and they returned to work.
The next few days flew by for Sharon. There was a lot of information in the folder to absorb, and she found herself thinking about it on a more individual level. Sharon had never investigated the personals for her own use; she never heard anything positive about them at all. So she just assumed it was no different than going to a bar. Robert seemed to think otherwise; he seemed to think it was safe enough.
Wednesday night, Sharon mentioned to Fanny that she was thinking of trying a dating service.
“Oh, no, no, no, honey. You don’t want to do that!”
“Well, because …” Fanny began. “Because, then you’ll have men calling you all the time.”
“I don’t have to give out my number. I can screen all the calls on a voice-mail system.”
“And it’s very expensive. Registration fees, charges for each phone call, charges for lists.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“And don’t forget all the time you have to spend selecting from the list, arranging dates, and all those dances and parties they invite you to so you can meet others and spend more money.”
“How do you know so much?” Sharon asked suspiciously.
“Honey, I’ve known more people who’ve been through this than you would believe. It’s very expensive and it’s very time-consuming. And in the end, you’re no better off.”
“But isn’t it worth it if you find someone? I mean, someone who actually has a life?”
“That’s an awfully big ‘if’. No man is worth that kind of trouble.”
Sharon left Fanny’s apartment depressed. She had gotten her hopes up the past few days. Finally, she had thought, maybe this is the way I can meet someone who’s right for me. But Fanny shot her down once again.
Sharon bought a newspaper Thursday night to read through the personals. What would it hurt? This would be a good way to see how other people did their ads.
Sharon was amazed by some of them. In many ways, Tanya had been right. There was little difference between this and a bar. Most were physical descriptions, obviously written without much thought. One or two made her laugh out loud. A couple of them, though, were clearly well-thought out. The writer new exactly what qualities they were looking for in a mate, and expressed it succinctly. Sharon was quite impressed.
If they can do it, why can’t I? Sharon thought defiantly. I’ve got nothing to lose.
Grabbing a pencil and some paper, she began scribbling ideas down. It turned out to be a lot harder than she imagined, and spent several hours perfecting her advertisement.
The following morning, Sharon waited anxiously for the right time to call the ad in to the newspaper. Jane was scheduled for a lunch meeting and most of the editors usually went out, so that would be the best time. When the coast was clear, nervous fingers dialed the phone.
“Classifieds,” said a voice on the other end.
“Yes, I’d like to place a personal ad, please.”
“Okay, how would you like it to read?”
“Single, non-smoking female seeks single, non-smoking male for possible relationship. Must have a self, a clue, and a sense of humor.”
The message was repeated back to her, and she confirmed that it was correct.
“Now, I’ll need your name, address and telephone number, and method of payment.”
Sharon recited the information and gave her credit card number.
“Alright. Your ad will appear in this Sunday’s edition. Please read it and call us if there is an error. Your access number to retrieve messages is the same as your phone number.”
“Thanks very much.”
Sharon hung up the phone, and sighed heavily. She was a bit shaky from the ordeal, mainly because she had never done anything like it before. Usually, she waited for some guy to make the first move. Now she was in control, and she liked it!
Looking around her desk, she dug out the calendar for the workshops that Jane had given her. Maybe it was about time she stopped waiting for life to happen to her, and take charge. Reviewing the dates, Sharon selected a convenient session and signed up. The session title, ‘It’s OK to be Aggressive and Assertive!’ intrigued her.
The rest of the day dragged by. Whoever said that waiting is the hardest part was right. Now that she had taken action, there was nothing left to do.
Sharon thought about telling Fanny, and then decided against it. She just couldn’t deal with any kind of negativity right now. Instead, she headed straight home to spend Friday night alone.
After she walked Ralph Saturday morning, Sharon decided to hang around the house and get some cleaning done before she had to meet her sister for lunch.
Pam was waiting for her at the cafe, a scowl etched onto her face. Sharon glanced at her watch; she was on time.
“Hi, Pam,” Sharon said, giving her sister a peck on the cheek and sitting at the patio table.
They sat in silence, speaking only to place their order. Apparently, Pam was not in a talkative mood. She seemed preoccupied with something.
Sharon could not think of a delicate way to begin.
“So, have you heard from the lawyer?” she asked.
“No. I expect to soon.”
“Do you think there will be any problems?”
“The will is clear, and Dad left enough money to cover expenses. The settlement should be quick.”
“That’s good,” said Sharon.
Pam was quiet for a few moments, then said, “Are you sure you don’t want anything?”
“I’m sure,” Sharon answered stiffly.
“You are welcome to anything …”
“No! There is nothing I want.”
“I really don’t understand your attitude.”
“He couldn’t give me what I wanted when he was alive, and I’m certainly not going to get it from a bunch of junk!”
“What do you mean, junk!?” Pam bristled. “Dad provided for our every need. We lived like queens in a palace!”
“Maybe you did. And maybe you enjoyed that.” Sharon stood abruptly. “But for me, it was like a prison. Don’t touch this! Don’t break that! Always dress like a lady! I wished just once I could hear ‘I love you’.” Sharon stormed off.
When she arrived at her apartment, she was still too agitated to do much. Grabbing the leash she took Ralph for a walk in the park. Her entire afternoon was spent chasing him around, exploring paths they’d never been on before.
Sharon returned home again as the sun was setting. Exhausted, she flopped straight into bed without bothering to eat.
She awoke Sunday morning half starved to death. Ralph was begging to be taken for a walk. Sharon grabbed a quick breakfast and took him out. While she was out, she stopped at a corner store to buy the paper. Her ad should be in it, and she was eager to read it!
Back home, she took some time to shower and eat again before reading the paper.
Thumbing through the pages, she found the personal section. She scanned up and down the columns until she saw her ad. It read exactly as she had written it. At the top of the page were instructions for retrieving messages. Should she check now, or should she wait a while? Since it was still early in the morning, on a Sunday no less, Sharon decided to wait until later in the afternoon.
Now, the problem was keeping herself busy until then. She managed to occupy herself with sundry chores for most of the day. By late afternoon, she figured enough time had passed. She dialed the number, followed the voice menu instructions, and entered her access code. A few moments elapsed, and then she heard the first message:
“We are sorry. There are no new messages at this time. If you would like to return the voice menu, please … “
Sharon hung up the phone.
Sunday evening continued without event. Monday crawled by; the highlight of her day was scheduling a Thursday morning appointment with her boss. Sharon was so depressed that she went to bed after a meager dinner. Tuesday threatened to be a repeat of Monday, until she went out to lunch again with Robert and Tanya. The outing cheered her a bit; enough to try the voice mail one more time and check for any responses. She finished a quiet dinner at home, finding dozens of excuses to stay away from the telephone, before she sat down and picked up the receiver.
Hesitantly, she dialed the number.
“There are 17 new messages.”
Sharon was surprised. She hadn’t expected so many.
Message #1: “Hi, my name is Steve. I’m a construction worker. If you want to get together, meet me at Jim’s Bar and Grill Friday night. I’ll be wearing my hat.”
Message #2: “Brad Stewart. People tell me I’m a very funny guy. Five-eight, blond hair, blue eyes. How can you lose? Ha ha. My number is 555-9781. I know I’ll be hearing from you.”
Message #3: “It’s Stan. I have a clue. In fact, I have several. You’ll have to go out with me to find out what they are. 555-8406”
Message #4: “Hi! My name is Sandi. That’s with an ‘i’, not a ‘y’ (tee-hee). I know your ad said single male, but I thought I would take a chance, you know. Call me! 555-2828”
Message #5: “The name is Frankie. I got a nice red Porsche for us to see the town in. And a beautiful mink for you for being my date Friday night. I got reservations at the finest restaurant. Call me. 555-3048”
Message #6: “Yeah, this is Sammy. Hey, what color’s your hair? Been out with too many blondes lately. Brunettes are okay. A red-head would be really nice. My number is 555-8811.”
Message #7: “My name is Arthur Singleton the Third. I would like very much to escort you to the opera this Thursday evening. Please RSVP no later than Wednesday morning. Leave a message at 555-1621 and I will get back to you. Thank you.”
Message #8: “Hi! My name is Mark, and I’m calling from Swinging Singles of America. I have a special introductory offer just for you. Call me at 555-4967 for details.”
Message #9: “There once was a man named Joe; Who was dying to let somebody know; That he did have a clue, and would share it with you; Were you to call him and ask him so. My phone number is 555-4770.”
Message #10: “Brian Highter. I’m not sure what you mean by a clue, but I’ll bet we could figure it out together, if you know what I mean. I’m free this … “
Wait a minute. Sharon stopped the message and pressed the button for the previous one. She listened carefully as the limerick repeated itself. She played it twice more, and then allowed the remaining messages to play themselves out.
Sharon couldn’t get it out of her head. Over and over again, she could almost hear that gentle voice reciting the words.
The words! Someone actually took the time to compose something original, and put it on her voice mail. Opening himself to vulnerability. Whoever this guy was, he sure wasn’t lacking in self-confidence!
Sharon resisted the urge to call him. She needed time to think, and to calm down. Tomorrow night, maybe.
It was quite some time before Sharon was able to fall asleep.
It was difficult for Sharon to focus on work. The limerick kept rolling around in her head, and she found that her imagination was putting together a response. Hurrying home, she rushed through walking Ralph and getting his dinner before sitting down with pencil and paper. Her hand trembled as she started writing down her thoughts for a response.
She didn’t have the nerve to call that night in case he was home. Instead, she waited for an opportune time at work the next day. Taking a deep breath, she dialed the number from the message. She breathed a sigh of relief when an answering machine picked up, and launched right into her prepared message:
“There once was a woman named Sharon, who drifted through life without carin’, then she met Joe, and…” Her bravado gave out at this point. “And she can’t sleep, or think, or do anything but walk around with a silly grin on her face. 555-1951.”
* * * * *
“That is so cool!” Rachel said.
“Yeah, cool!” Sandy echoed.
“I’m glad you think so,” Sharon said with a smile. “Now, go to sleep!”
Sharon gave the girls one last good night kiss, turned out the light and walked to her bedroom. Joe was already in bed with his nose in a book. He looked up as she walked in and plopped down on the bed.
“They never get tired of that story, do they?” he said.
Joe reached over and pulled her down next to him. “That’s a good thing.”
“It’s not going to last, you know,” she said, snuggling into his shoulder. “Soon they will be teenagers.”
“Please, don’t remind me!”
“Can you believe it’s been 15 years?”
“Time flies when you’re having fun.”
“At least we still are having fun.”
“Is that what we’re having?”
“Stop!” she said, punching his arm.
“That didn’t hurt.” Sharon got up and dressed for bed. Joe put his book down and, after she returned to bed, turned out the light.
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