Home > The Singles Table (Marriage Game #3)

The Singles Table (Marriage Game #3)
Author: Sara Desai



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   When Zara Patel, hopeful girlfriend of an A-list movie star, entered Peter Patterson’s Extreme Paintball Adventure for her cousin’s bachelor-bachelorette party, there was a spring in her step, a song on her lips, a cake in her hands, and a celebrity autograph on her arm. Nothing could spoil her good mood, not even the high-pitched shriek of Parvati Chopra, her roommate and long-suffering best friend.

   “What happened to your dress? Stacy is going to kill you!”

   On a scale of disasters, a stained dress was hardly cause for alarm even if Stacy Jones, the bride’s Maid of Horror, did tend to overreact. In the last six months alone, Zara had lost two jobs, three boyfriends, and four tires—stolen off her Caribbean Blue Chevy Spark when she’d been arguing a case in court. She’d also been rejected five times from the Hamilton app, which meant it would be at least another year before she could even try to get discount tickets to see her favorite Broadway musical of all time.

   “Chad Wandsworth signed my arm!” Zara turned to the side to better display the bold strokes of the movie star’s name etched in black Sharpie on her biceps. “I’m never going to wash again.”

   “I’m more interested in that stain.” An ER doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, Parvati liked to drill down to the facts as quickly as possible. “I didn’t think the dress could get any worse.” Her gaze fixed on the bodice of Zara’s hot pink ’80s-style explosion of a dress adorned with taffeta, tulle, bows, sequins, ruffles, and sleeves puffed so high they obscured Zara’s peripheral vision. “It’ll be awesome,” Stacy had said when she’d informed the bride’s friends that they would be wearing secondhand bridesmaid’s dresses for the paintball game. Zara wasn’t convinced that a cleavage-baring minidress was the best attire for playing paintball in the middle of a forest, but she adored her cousin Tarun and his bride-to-be, Maria Gonzales, so she’d said “yes” to the dress and handed over her five dollars for the thrift store special.

   “I was in an ice cream shop. You know I have no self-control when it comes to anything ice cream.” She gave a resigned shrug. “I had a milkshake in one hand and the cake in the other when Chad—we’re on a first-name basis now—walked in. He’s in entertainment. I want to get into the business. I figured I should give him my card in case he ever finds himself in need of an attorney. I put the milkshake on the cake box, reached into my purse, and . . .”

   “I can see what happened.” Parvati sighed so loudly she startled a couple walking past. “I should have known the temptation would be too much. You couldn’t just go in and buy the cake.”

   “Thank goodness for that,” Zara retorted. “And for the fact my dress is standout hideous. Chad would have walked right past me. Instead, being a gentleman, he stopped to help me.” She shot an envious gaze at Parvati’s sky blue gown. With seven tiers of ruffles, puffed sleeves, and a hoop skirt, she was missing only a pair of glass slippers and cartoon birds fluttering around her sleek dark hair. It wasn’t fair. Parvati didn’t care for musicals. If anyone should have had the Enchanted-style princess dress, it was Zara. Instead, Stacy had punished her with the worst ’80s fashion had to offer simply because Zara had accidentally spilled a glass of wine on her at the engagement party when she thought she’d seen Lin-Manuel Miranda at the bar.

   “We’d better get the cake to Stacy,” Parvati said. “She’s already upset that we have to have mixed teams. When she sees your dress she’s going to lose it.”

   Zara followed Parvati through the log building that was the beating heart of the paintball experience. Men in full camo and tactical gear stalked past them, ammo belts strapped across chests, weapons slung over backs, faces masked or painted like they were about to go full commando in the bush. “I thought this was supposed to be a fun, family-friendly activity,” Zara muttered. “They look like they’re about to go to war.”

   “Some people are very serious about paintball,” Parvati said. “They buy their own custom gear and get an annual park pass so they can come here every weekend. You don’t want to be on the field with those guys. They play to win. No mercy.”

   Zara shuddered as a monster of a man lumbered past, combat boots thudding on the plank floor, his body so heavy with gear he could barely walk. “I’m really rethinking the dress idea. I have a feeling we’re going to wind up with a lot of bruises. Maybe even dead.”

   Parvati looked over her shoulder as the dude walked away. “Or we might find a Prince Charming in need of rescuing. If you see a hot guy with a broken arm or leg, a branch through his eye, a perforated gut, or even just a twisted ankle, text me.”

   “You’re such a romantic.” Zara couldn’t keep the sarcasm from her tone.

   “Romance is overrated,” Parvati said. “I work eighty or ninety hours a week. I don’t have time for flirting and long dinners. I don’t want to waste valuable hours gnawing on an overcooked, overpriced steak in a dimly lit restaurant when all I really want is to get down and dirty.”

   “Even if he’s injured? His performance might be impaired if he’s in pain.”

   “I’ll save him, heal him, and then I’ll take him to bed.” Parvati opened the door to the party room. “The grateful ones are the best. So eager, compliant, and willing to please.”

   “Cake is here.” Zara smiled at the twenty women seated around a long table covered with a white plastic Be My Bachelorette tablecloth.

   “I thought you’d never get here.” Stacy gave a dramatic sigh and took the box from Zara. By some incredible twist of fate, Stacy had managed to “find” a brand-new perfectly sized pomegranate chiffon dress at the thrift store. With a waist-cinching bodice and elegant plunging neckline, the “secondhand” dress accentuated her slim figure and set off her beautiful auburn hair.

   Zara gave Maria a quick hug before joining Stacy at the refreshments table where oblivion was waiting in the form of a five-gallon Box-o-Chardoneigh garishly decorated with pictures of galloping horses. She filled two glasses and gave one to Parvati before drinking hers in one gulp, shuddering at the bitter, acrid taste. Maybe the pictures of horses on the box were a hint that the liquid inside wasn’t actually wine.

   “Oh. My. God. Your dress!” Stacy slapped a hand over her chest like the shock of a stained dress that was imminently going to be splattered with paint pellets might actually stop her heart. “You’re all wet.”

   “I hear that a lot,” Zara said dryly. “And never as a complaint.”

   Parvati choked on her Chardoneigh. Maria laughed out loud. Half-Portuguese and half-Spanish, Maria had gone from street kid to award-winning food-truck chef and was one of the most hardworking people Zara knew. After meeting Maria at her food truck one sunny afternoon, Zara had hooked her up with Tarun. Six months later they were engaged and Zara added another win to her matchmaking scorecard.

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