Going all In

By: Michele Shriver

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” ― E.E. Cummings

Chapter One

Lauren Chase stared into her closet and wanted to let out a wail of a defeat. Why had she agreed to a blind date? And with a professional hockey player, no less? “I can’t do this,” she said. “It’s a terrible idea.”

“It’s not a terrible idea,” Riley Marks said. “It’s a wonderful idea. And why do you say you can’t do it?”

“Because I have nothing to wear. All of my jeans make me look like a fat cow.” As a nurse, Lauren wore medical scrubs to work each day. They didn’t look good on her, but they didn’t look all that good on anyone else, either. Lauren loved that about her work wardrobe. It leveled the playing field. That was important, because as a plus-sized woman, Lauren often felt that the field was tilted against her.

“Then wear a dress,” Riley suggested. She was a second-year resident at the same hospital Lauren worked at, and this whole thing had been her idea. Riley’s boyfriend, San Antonio Generals defenseman Noah Mann, was hosting a charity golf tournament to benefit the local youth center. Riley would be there to support Noah, and she invited Lauren along to meet one of his teammates. Lauren didn’t know why she agreed, other than the fact that it’d been eight months since she’d been on a date, and it had turned out to be a disaster. She was tired of being home alone every night.

A blind date with a hockey player sounded like a good idea at the time, but now Lauren was less sure. “It’s too cold to wear a dress.” If it were summer, it would be a no-brainer. Having struggled with her weight her entire life, Lauren knew there were certain types of clothing she looked better in, and she wore dresses better than jeans. Except it was late February, and chilly, at least by Texas standards. She couldn’t wear a sun dress to a golf tournament.

Riley sighed. “Okay, fine. Point conceded.” She marched over to Lauren’s closet. “You do have a pair of plain black leggings, right?”

“Of course. They’re a wardrobe staple.”

“I concur.” Riley rifled through Lauren’s closet, and finally pulled out a tunic top in solid green. “Here. Put this on with the leggings, and a pair of cute boots, and we’re good. Better than good. You’ll look great.”

Lauren was less convinced, but followed Riley’s advice. Once dressed, she studied the end result in the full-legth mirror. Great might be a stretch, but overall, she was pleased with how she looked. Lauren didn’t often get to say that. “Okay, this’ll work.”

Riley grinned. “Told you. Tunics were a great fashion invention. They can hide a multitude of sins.”

Lauren rolled her eyes. “How would you know that? You have no sins.”

Her friend laughed. “Oh, I have my fair share of sins and struggles. Everyone does.” She gave Lauren a gentle smile. “You’re nervous, aren’t you?”

“Of course. Wouldn’t you be, if you were me?”

Riley nodded. “Yes. I was nervous when I met Noah, too. It’s natural, I think, with blind dates.”

“Maybe,” Lauren said, “and it’s worse when you’re fat.”

“Stop it!” Riley said, her tone gentle. “You have to stop with that kind of talk, Lauren. It’s self-defeating.”

“I know,” Lauren said, “but I can’t help it. It’s how I feel most of the time. Defeated.” She sighed. “I’m trying to be more positive, but it’s hard. I’m scared, Riley. When you first suggested this, I was excited. I didn’t want to turn down a date, especially with one of Noah’s friends. Now, I’m not so sure.” She knew nothing about this guy, other than his name was Trenton and he was a member of the San Antonio Generals. Since Lauren didn’t follow the hockey team all that closely, she wasn’t familiar with most of the players. She didn’t even know what position Trenton played. Then there was the bigger issue of what he might have been told about her. That part scared her the most. What if she didn’t live up to his expectations? And how could she live up to them?

“It’ll be fine,” Riley said.

“You don’t know that. Have you ever met Trenton?”

“No,” Riley admitted, shaking her head. “I don’t know him, but I do know Noah, and I trust him. I think this is going to turn out well for you.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Lauren wanted to know.

“Then the guy’s a jerk, and he doesn’t deserve you,” Riley said. “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, though.” She smiled at Lauren. “He’s going to love you. You’re pretty, and sweet, and fun to be around, and smart, too.”