Bad Bear Day by Milly Taiden

 

Chapter One

The late afternoon sun cast gentle scarlet-hued shadows through the tall plate glass windows of the fine Italian eatery in downtown Manhattan. Jasmine Roman and the board of directors for the Hands Mending Hearts charity were having a working lunch. It was a friendly affair, as usual, though Jasmine’s thoughts were far away on other things.

They’d finished their meals and the orders of business. Dr. Carlson had started to regale the group with another tale from the “good old days” of medical practice — one they’d all heard three months before at their last quarter luncheon. Jasmine chuckled to herself, watching Gerri Wilder nod along with Carlson’s story with eyes that clearly said, not this one again, old man!

She had no idea how old Gerri herself was. Still, despite the white hair, Gerri seemed decades younger than the septuagenarian. She always had more energy than all other board members and was always ready to tackle the biggest challenges.

As the charity’s accountant, Jasmine tried to emulate the woman’s strength and grace. Though the youngest member of the board, Jasmine never hesitated to give her input and advice or answer the other board members’ questions.

Working with Gerri was one of the highlights of Jasmine’s volunteering with Hands Mending Hearts. The woman had a fierce fashion style and a no-nonsense demeanor that Jasmine hoped to hone herself one day. Not to mention a snarky wit under layers of sweetness that belied her razor-sharp intellect.

#AdultingGoals

Even better? Gerri had no qualms about interrupting the doctor’s repeat story. “That’s fascinating, Dr. Carlson, but I’m afraid I’ve been stuck in this chair for too long. I need to excuse myself for some fresh air and to get my circulation going through these old joints… you know how it is.”

The table all sent relieved and thankful glances her way, and others made excuses for having to be somewhere, essentially ending the meal and meeting.

They said their goodbyes, and Jasmine excused herself quickly when her phone rang.

“Hey, Krissy, what’s up?” She answered, stepping outside to the large outdoor terrace rather than fighting through the noise to the restaurant exit.

“Have you reconsidered the costumes?” her friend of many years asked.

“No, there’s no need for that. I told you, I’m not doing any sexy-whatever costume. You do you, I’m all for it, but I have no interest in it.” Krissy had recently embarked on a fitness journey and was eager to show off the goods at the New York City comic con.

Jasmine was proud of her, but not enough to dress in tiny strips of fabric and run around showing her own skin off — regardless of how good or bad her body looked.

The door to the terrace swung open behind her, and Jasmine turned to see Gerri had joined her.

Gerri noticed Jasmine was on the phone and took a few steps away, giving her space but showing she wanted to wait around and chat. Good for Jasmine, since she loved any chance she could get with the woman.

“Oh, come on, your dark wavy hair? Your curves for days? The men will go gaga...”

“I don’t go to comic con for the guys!” Jasmine cut Krissy off. In the past, Krissy hadn’t either. They’d both been two chunky girls buying merch, meeting stars, and partying all night long with other geeks.

“Jaz…” Krissy whined. “We’ll look so dumb if I’m in something skimpy and you’re in some armor kit covered head to toe.”

“Not at all,” Jasmine countered. “Think about how good it looks when one person is Boba Fett, and the other is wearing Leia’s gold bikini.”

Jasmine heard a chortle and glanced at Gerri. Jasmine smiled and shrugged, shaking her head to show my friend is nutty.

“I don’t want people to make fun of me for dressing sexy…” Krissy said, finally. “I’ve never done it before, and I’m afraid I’ll embarrass myself.”

“I’ll beat anyone’s ass who tries,” Jasmine promised.

“You’ll beat the internet’s ass?” Krissy asked. “Because they won’t say it to my face. They’ll say it in comments online.”

“Who cares about that?” Jasmine cried. “The only person you want to impress is Ben, and even to that, I say he’ll be impressed by any well done and meticulously recreated costume of anything you’re a fan of.”

“I just feel like I always covered up to hide my body, and now that I look good, I should show it off…”

“Then show it off! If you feel happy wearing Leeloo’s white strips of fabric, do it. I understand and support you completely and think you should do what you want to do. I’ll be your Korben Dallas.”

“Or Ruby Rhod,” Krissy giggled, finally cheering up.

“Not sure I can pull off the broadcaster’s hairstyle, but I’ll think about it.”

“Thanks, Jaz.” Jasmine knew Krissy was referring to her listening to her troubles, not thanking her for actually agreeing to go as Chris Tucker’s character. “You’re a good friend.”

“Talk to you later, K,” Jasmine said before ending the call. She turned back to face Gerri. “Hey, Gerri! You stuck around!”

“I did,” Gerri said, smiling. “Everything okay with your friend?”

Jasmine shook her phone before tucking it away into her purse. “I swear, it’s tough being a woman sometimes. First, you’re not thin enough. Then, when you are, you’re worried people will slut-shame you for showing off your fantastic new body.”

“When you should be showing it off no matter what your size!” Gerri replied. “Dress for yourself, not for what others might think.”

“That’s exactly what I’m trying to tell her,” Jasmine replied.

“She’s lucky to have a good friend like you,” Gerri said. “Though, the right man will like you no matter what you wear or what size you are while wearing it.”

“Exactly. That is if you’re interested in finding a man. Personally, I’m over all that. Too much trouble.”

Gerri blinked. “You’re a little young to be so jaded.”

Jasmine shrugged and sighed. “You waste enough time on the wrong men, and you learn it’s better to just live your life for yourself, you know?”

“Says the woman putting in enough hours for a charity to qualify as a full-time job.” Gerri quirked an eyebrow. “You sure you’re not just burying yourself in activities to run away from loneliness?”

Jasmine flicked her eyes at Gerri, ready to become defensive, but she couldn’t snap at the woman. She had too much respect for her. Besides, Gerri could see right through her. Instead, Jasmine sighed and told her the truth. “If I could meet the right guy for me and be guaranteed that he was the one, I’d love that. But I’ve been with so many assholes, so many cheaters, so many users, that I feel like I can better serve the world by not allowing myself into a situation where I’m crying in my room eating pints of ice cream for weeks on end while healing a broken heart.”

A slow mischievous smile crept onto Gerri’s face, and the twinkle that brightened her eyes gave Jasmine a feeling of dread.

“My dear…” Gerri said slowly. “You might not know this about me… but in my free time, I’m a bit of a matchmaker.”

Jasmine blinked in surprise. “How did I not know this about you?”

“I serve a very specific clientele.” Gerri shrugged nonchalantly while picking off a bit of lint from her Chanel suit. “But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t help you.”

The blood drained from Jasmine’s face. “Oh, no, Gerri, no. I’m a hopeless case.”

“I have a very good track record,” she replied, tossing her head with pride.

“And I have a very bad one.” The full-on panic had set in, and Jasmine’s thoughts ran a mile a minute while she tried to figure out somewayto convince Gerri of what a bad idea this was.

“I don’t take on users, cheaters, or assholes,” Gerri reassured her. “You can trust the man I send you.”

Jasmine remained unconvinced. “I have a feeling, in my case, he’d somehow become the exception.”

Gerri shook her head, seeming completely unfazed. “What if I could find you a date for the comic con? And guarantee that he’s the right one by having him show up at your door dressed in matching themed costumes? If a man were willing to do that, would you be willing to give him a chance?”

Jasmine narrowed her eyes. “I’m not interested in the kind of man who’s going to go by the Spirit Halloween store and buy an off-the-rack costume to match me just for a chance to get laid. My kind of geek would be a bit more serious than that, in which case, he probably has his own fandoms and wouldn’t want to attend the con representing someone else’s.”

Gerri closed her eyes and quickly shook her head as though rattling the thoughts in her brain to sort them out. “That’s a lot of words to process.” She opened her eyes. “But the guy I’ll send to you will wear the right costume because he’ll be the right guy for you.”

“Bet,” Jasmine said — slang for okay, sure, but Gerri took it literally.

“Nope, not a bet. A guarantee. A Gerri Wilder guarantee.”