Sunnyvale, California. Jeff stared grimly at his computer screen. The letters materializing from the online lovelorn network were less than inspiring. Such personals as “SFSM for nite of pn”- Single female seeks single male for a night of passion, didn’t exactly add up to someone looking for a lifetime commitment. He had checked countless personal ads, matchmaking agencies and been on more blind dates in the past few months than any healthy American male should be forced to endure. But let’s be real, what did he have to show for all this activity? Nada. Nothing. Not even the slightest proverbial zing had passed between himself and the women he had dated.
I Love You Miss #3198
He took stock of himself as future husband material. At thirty-five, he was in good physical condition from weekly workouts with his personal trainer. He held a challenging job in one of Silicon Valley’s foremost computer companies. As a product manager, his income was more than decent. He was considered a pretty nice guy, at least that is what his sister-in-laws told him when asked. So why was he having such a hard time finding the right woman to setup house with? He had experienced what most men would consider the ultimate smorgasbord of available women, from nose-pierced students to silk bloused lady executives.
Sure, at first it had been fun meeting a new woman every night, taking them out to different restaurants and movies. But lately the awkward good nights and milquetoast handshakes had, well, become less than satisfying, try damn frustrating. He wanted to see the same face every night, to be invited inside, to lie down in bed with her and to stay for the rest of his life. It just wasn’t happening.
Pulling a hand through his thick black hair, Jeff faced the computer screen and clicked-up the menu to the network message board. Maybe wonder of wonders something new had popped up since the last time he looked? Right now he was open to any suggestion that would get him out of his present dating funk.
The computer star burst into action with the click of the mouse, as if he were light-speeding into another universe. There, in the magical world where modern technology became part of the mythic legend of love potions, millennium man expected to find the tonic pat answer to all of his heart’s befuddling demands. An animated cupid shooting arrows appeared on the screen. The little cherub winked at him, aimed and let fly an arrow. It hit the heart dangling from a nearby message tree. Upon contact with the arrow the heart split open to reveal the paid message: EASTERN BLOCK WOMEN EAGER TO MEET WESTERN MEN. FIND YOUR IDEAL MATE. ORDER YOUR CATALOGUE TODAY. Below the message was a phone number to call. Jeff tapped the screen and leaned back in his swivel chair, reaching for the phone.
He had tried everything known within the North American hemisphere, so what did he have to lose? With the Cold War over, the Pacific was just separating two large land masses containing fairly similar populations. He dialed the number. An operator with a heavy Slavic accent answered the phone. He decided to order ten catalogs, knowing that they would contain an estimated one thousand faces. Surely he could find one that met his idea of the perfect mate?
Yeah, right… he frowned, recalling all the women he had met and dated. He ordered ten more. Two thousand suddenly sounded a safer number. Feeling as if he had just taken a giant step in the right direction, Jeff poured himself a cup full of his favorite percolated mud.
Holding a Chip-tech logo imprinted mug, he saluted the air around him. “To the future Mrs. Jeff Morgan, wherever you may be found…” Taking a sip, he sighed with contentment. Tomorrow night was the beginning of the weekend and, for the first time in weeks, he was looking forward to staying home and ordering pizza-in.
St. Petersburg, Russia. Natalya Trvosky paced her friend’s small living-room apartment reading aloud the typed paper before her. “Number 3198 likes music, books, and cooking. Never been married, she’s a 27 year old single looking for a man who will make both a good husband and father. Write her today and she may become yours truly.” She paused and looked incredulously at the tiny brunette seated on the faded sofa in front of her.
“You’re crazy. This may have worked for you Anna, but me?” She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Please,” pleaded her friend, the engagement ring on her left finger flashing as she placed a hand on Natalya’s arm. ”’Give it a try, I know it will work for you too.”
Two weeks ago, Anna found herself engaged to an American commercial photographer named Bob White. She was divorced from an alcoholic husband, and with an eight year old son to care for, had never expected to fall in love again. But Bob had miraculously accepted both of them. She owed her present happiness to the marriage-broker service which helped arrange for her to meet her future husband. Now, as she sat waiting for her visa to arrive from the American embassy, she wanted to help her friend.
Skeptical, Natalya continued to shake her head. It couldn’t possibly work. She just wasn’t nearly as pretty or as vivacious as her outspoken friend. Within minutes anyone knew where they stood with Anna, but with her? No, not likely. A relationship, she told herself, took time.
Noting the defiant look in her friend’s brown eyes, Anna said, “Listen, Natalya, every time I come to see you, you’re thinner and sadder. You have to do something before you fade away altogether.”
Anna passed a critical eye over her taller friend’s willowy frame. She tried to see her through the eyes of a stranger. Natalya’s large, slightly slanted brown eyes and long honey-blonde hair were all to her benefit. The fact she did not have a classical jaw line and did have a pert nose did not detract from her sweet appearance, which could be summarized as naturally pretty. No, her friend may not look like a Miss World contestant, but she was a definite contender for a cherished Mrs. title.
“Anna, I know my books won’t keep me warm at night. But… ” She made a wry face and said, “the men here are so boorish.” She rolled her eyes and admitted, “Finally I just prefer to be-“
“Alone,” finished Anna for her with sympathy. “That’s why I want you to try this. It’s simple, a little expensive, but well worth it. Who knows?” She flashed an impish grin at her. “Maybe there’s someone out there waiting for you, just as there was for me.”
Someone waiting for her… the phrase rang through Natalya’s thoughts and into her heart. Three days later she telephoned Anna and told her to send the application in. None of the men here seemed to understand her quiet, but strong-minded ways. As a translator from a relatively well-to-do airplane designing family, she stood out noticeably from the other young women who had neither the education nor her privileged status. The combination of status and wealth made the majority of the men she met uncomfortable, and absurdly competitive. Often she found herself having to defend what she and her family had worked so hard for.
And if she couldn’t find a man who respected her intelligence and warmly applauded her family’s hard-earned achievements, hadn’t she better look elsewhere for someone who would? Ideally someone better-off than her own family? Yes, but where to find such a man? Most of the men who did come close to fitting her wish list were either already married, divorced with children to support, or so tiresomely full of themselves she found herself staring blankly into their eyes when her turn came to speak. The seeds that Anna had sown in her thoughts began to take root.
She considered cautiously the almost impossible odds of falling in love with a man from halfway around the world and came to a decision “Make certain they take a picture of me smiling,” she said. “I wouldn’t want him to think I’m desperate.”
“Never,” laughed Anna. Then, talking a mile a minute about what she should say and wear for her video interview, Natalya arranged to meet with her the next day at Cupid’s Arrow Office where she would become Miss #3198.
Sunnyvale, California. Two weeks later, Jeff held the package covered with stamps and blue ink from the customs office with the exact same excitement he had felt when, as a young boy, he had received a cereal box top toy in the mail. This time inside the package, there was no plastic whirly helicopter waiting for him to unwrap. He hoped his future was and that of someone else.
He kicked-off his shoes and began to read the neatly typed letter of introduction enclosed. He stopped upon noticing that two of the ten CDs he had ordered were missing. It would appear that number 3306 and 2814 had already found husbands. Didn’t that prove how well their service worked? the letter slyly boasted. Not necessarily so, the skeptical side of Jeff voted. It could simply mean that the Gregorys and Viktors who lived next door to the ladies might have scored points for home side courting. There was after all an advantage to living on the same continent as the one you are courting.
He noted that of the two missing CDs, one had been recommended to him by his mother, Betty Morgan. He smiled as he recollected how the whole family had taken an active interest in his scheme to find a wife. When, after wading helplessly through the catalogs, he discovered he couldn’t keep focused on both the faces and interests, he decided to use his secret weapon- the highly opinionated Morgan clan.
Arriving at his parents’ home with the look of one who has spent too much time in front of the pastry shop, he knocked on the door. His mother answered, greeting him with a kiss on the cheek. She eyed the stack of catalogues. “All of those women for you to choose from… Give them to me Jeff,” she said, and before he could utter a word, she swept them out of his arms.
His twin brother Gary and his wife, Lynn, greeted him from the family room. Joe Morgan, the patriarch of the family, stepped inside from the garage and nodded his head at him by way of greeting. “Better be careful before you entrust any of those books to your mother, son,” he said, “or you’ll find she has picked out a bride and booked the church even before you can say your name to the girl.”
“Really Joe, I’m not as bad as all that,” retorted his wife, carefully arranging the pile of catalogs on the coffee table. She sat down and began writing down numbers. Family chatter stopped. All stared at the intent mother-in-law to be as she peered through her reading glasses down at the semi-glossy photos, completely engrossed.
Joe, a grin as wide as the streak of oil on his cheek, bent over his wife and stage-whispered into her ear, “Jeff might want a pen and paper too, honey.” At this the room broke into a roar of laughter. Flushed, the mother of the noisy brood stood-up, placed a swift kiss on her exasperating husband’s face and went to fetch pens and paper for all. By the end of the evening candidates were submitted for his final scrutiny. The determined gleam in his mother’s eyes seemed to silently telepath to him that hers were by far the very best of the batch.
For another hour he looked over the photos of the women they had selected. When he reached his father’s choices, he couldn’t help but laugh. Apparently, Dad’s idea of the ideal wife for him bordered on theatrical fantasy. All of the women looked like the glamour vamps from the Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie cataloge. They stared out at him with pouty lips, thick eyelashes and Dolly Parton hairdos. Obviously his father thought he needed a sexy woman to warm his bed, Jeff chuckled to himself. He had chosen one of the sexy women with a fake fur-lined sweater to humor him. Now, he leaned back against a bean bag chair and plopped down in front of the television. He planned on viewing all eight of the tapes that night.
Moscow, Russia. Natalya stared at the Texan in front of her. It seemed almost surreal that the man she had been corresponding with for the last two weeks by e-mail was actually sitting right across from her in this small café. His light blonde hair had been closely shaved into a short military cut, and above his mouth, was a neatly trimmed mustache. His pale blue eyes watched her as she came in and sat down. Natalya remembered from his letters that Mr. O’ Keefe was in his early forties, had been married before, but had no children.
He was one of the handsomest men she had ever met. She felt a tad uneasy. He looked too good to be true. He in turn was looking her over, taking in the in the pinstriped linen suit she wore, the way her shoulder-length hair was pulled fashionably back with a gold leaf clip.
“Well, how do I measure up?” she asked, her accent hanging thickly in the air with the noise of the people talking behind them. It was nearing lunch hour and students crammed the tiny Café Margarita to order late morning pastries.
“Fine, fine,” he said slowly, as though trying to picture her in some other way. He grinned at her with a large, boyish smile as she looked at him quizzically. “You’re the first one I’ve met today who actually spoke English to me. That’s a point for you. I’ve had to use an interpreter my lawyer hired for me with the others.”
“I am the first one?” she asked, a frown lightly crossing her brow. She looked around her to see if there was someone else he knew there. “What others are you talking about?”
“I thought you knew. Well, at least I wrote you, didn’t I? I’ve been meeting with women since early this morning,” he said as if he were talking of hiring a woman to be his wife. “I wanted to meet with you all. You know, to figure out which one of you would make the best wife for me.”
“Oh-” said Natalya, a sick feeling fluttering in her stomach, suddenly embarrassed. Naively she had thought she was the only one he had written to setup an appointment with. When he had written and said he wanted to meet her and contact some of his other friends in Moscow, she had foolishly thought he meant other Americans like himself, not other single, Russian women.
“How many more are you going to meet?” she asked carefully, trying to keep her voice light, even though her pride hurt.
“You’re number four. I’ve got one more rendezvous with a lady at three and then I will make-up my mind.” Then, as if he suddenly remembered that she was one of the women he was supposed to be interested in, he brought out an expensively wrapped package.
“Here, honey, this is for you,” he said handing it to her.
“Thank-you,” she answered and politely put it beside her. He looked at her expectantly.
“Well, aren’t ya going to open it, Natalya?”
“Oh, of course,” she smiled at him. And while she undid the wrapping paper he sat back and drank his coffee.
“I had been told you ladies all love clothes from the west, so I thought I’d bring you all a present from back home.”
Natalya forced a smile. It was very considerate of him to think of such a gift, even if it made her feel as if she were some sort of fashion doll he was trying clothes on. She took the lid off the box. Beneath the tissue paper lay a pant outfit with black velour leggings and matching bodice. She noted that the waist was elastic.
“The description of you all was small,” he said as way of explanation. “But I thought it best to buy one outfit that would fit any size. The last gal I met was so excited she jumped right-up and gave me a big kiss.”
“Yes, it was most thoughtful of you,” she said politely. Then looking at him as if to summarize her own feelings about their present encounter she asked shrewdly, “You have already come to a decision, about us, haven’t you? You are just meeting with me today out of politeness, because we agreed to, correct?”
He sat up a little straighter. The look he gave her told Natalya that she was putting him on the spot. Some innate sixth sense had told her just from the few minutes that they had spent together that he had already decided whom he wanted to marry.
“Yes,” he answered, some of the good ol’ boy facade slipping. She stood-up and held out her hand.
He stood as well, and she gave him a genuine smile of friendship.
“Then, I think I will be going, Mr. O’ Keefe. I hope the rest of your stay in Moscow is a pleasant one. It was nice to meet you.”
“No ma’am, the pleasure was all mine,” he said, shaking her hand, obviously relieved that she was not sore at him.
She walked out the café door. At least, she told herself as she headed towards the train station, she had not invested herself too much in the Texan and gotten her heart broken. Although Mr. O’ Keefe had behaved like a perfect gentleman, she was lucky to have escaped becoming his future wife. She was not certain that a man who bought clothes for her on their very first date would want to limit himself to choices involving her wardrobe.
The encounter with the Texan did not put Natalya off from the idea of finding a foreign husband, but she told herself she would be more particular about the letters and e-mail she chose to reply to in the future.
Sunnyvale, California. It had been almost four months since Jeff had begun corresponding with the eight women from The Cupid’s Arrow Catalog. One woman had written him openly asking for money, so she could come and visit him, she had said. But Betty Morgan hadn’t raised a fool and he told the woman that he would be happy to repay her expenses once she arrived in the states. He never heard from her again.
Only two had made him feel as if they were writing to him and not to his bank account. He had begun corresponding exclusively to one of them over the last two weeks. She had been the only one who had written to him without the help of a translator and appeared to be seeking not just a husband, but a close friend. Their conversations by e-mail and in online chat rooms had become more and more intimate and personal. She sent him her home phone number.
They had gone beyond the typical chitchat of strangers meeting for the first time and he had recently found himself daydreaming about her sitting next to him on the living room sofa of his townhouse, talking and laughing with her after a hard day at work. He had begun to have a clear vision of introducing her to the Morgan clan and their becoming more than just pen pals.
That night he spoke to her on the phone, “Natalya, I have been thinking it over, and I think it’s time that we met. I’ve enjoyed our communications, but I want to meet you in person. Do you want me to come to St. Petersburg?”
“To meet face to face…” she murmured breathlessly, then with firm certainty. “Yes, Jeff, I would love for you to come!” Her reply caused his heart to skip a beat. He could hear the happy delight in her voice.
The next day he began to make arrangements to take time off from work and to book a flight to meet her. Saint Petersburg, Russia. Natalya looked at Jeff. He stood a head taller than her and she had to look up to see into his warm hazel eyes. Since the moment he had stepped in front of her in the reception area, she had not been able to take her eyes off him. The way he smiled down at her made her melt.
“Natalya?” he asked, looking at her.
“Yes,” she said flustered and excited, at last meeting the man whom she considered to be her special friend these last few weeks. She almost wanted to pinch herself to make certain that the moment between them was happening, that it was not just a figment of her romantic imagination. He had come all the way to Russia just for her.
She put a hand on her heart. “I am so happy to meet you at last, Jeff.”
“Me too,” he smiled back.
That night they went to a little restaurant not too far from his hotel. They laughed and talked for hours. Natalya said goodnight and they agreed to meet the next day when she intended to take him on a sight-seeing tour of the city. By the end of the third day, as he walked with Natalya on his arm around the city, Jeff knew that everything between the two of them was going to work out.
Since the moment he had locked eyes with Natalya, everyone and everything around him hadn’t really mattered, except this beautiful woman. In the evening, he sat staring at her from across a candlelit table. She was so pretty and refined, he felt like the luckiest man in the world to be there with her.
“Is something the matter?” she asked. “Do I have food on my face?”
“No, no,” he had smiled. “It’s just the restaurant, the wine, the candles, the conversation and well… being here with you, Natalya.”
“Me?” she asked, pleased. “What about me?”
“Adorable!” he said, “You are beautiful inside as well as out.” He shook his hand expressively as if he had just touched a hot stove. They both laughed.
But the seriousness of their conversation returned as Natalya confessed, “When you wrote and told me about your family, I knew that you were a good man. I think you will make a wonderful husband and father, you are such a sincere person.”
Jeff said, “I like you too, Natalya. You are an amazing lady. I never thought I would meet someone interested in me. A lot of women back home think I am a computer nerd.”
“They must be fools, then,” she said, dismissing these others with the wave of her hand.
“Not to mention, they lack your intelligence, your wit,” he swallowed and whispered boldly, “your sexiness.”
She smiled, a light blush making her cheeks rosy.
“Would you like to come up to my apartment and meet my mother?” she asked, ready to take a leap of faith concerning their relationship and introduce him to her family.
“I’d be honored,” he said as he felt the small box weighing heavily in his right hand pocket with the diamond pear shaped engagement ring inside. The zing he had been feeling in his heart was definitely there. He turned towards her as they reached the apartment door.
Holding her face gently in his hands, he said softly, “I think I am falling in love with you, Natalya,” and kissed her the way he had wanted to since the very first moment they had met. It was a kiss full of promise…
The Author: Beverly Adam is a romance author living in northern California’s Silicon Valley. She lives with her two children in the Silicon Valley.