The Blind Date Page 1

Author: Lauren Landish

Genres: Romance

Chapter 1


“Hey, Sunshiners!” I say to my phone, holding it at arm’s length in my right hand while my left hand is under my chin, fingers out and wiggling in what I affectionately dubbed the ‘Sunshine Salute’. It’s my way of sending my followers some Rays of Sunshine, and I do it at the start of every video because who wouldn’t want a little extra brightness in their day?

“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I ask, doing a slow twirl to give everyone a quick view. Spring has sprung in Briar Rose, and the days of rain have made every flower bloom full and lush. The sun hits them to create a dazzling array of colors everywhere you look. “Mother Nature is truly an artist, isn’t she? Makes me feel . . .”

I pause dramatically, my smile lifting another inch before I look directly into the camera, “Everything. Because joy is right here in front of you, if only you take the time to see it. What’s bringing you joy today? Tell me in the comments so we can enjoy it together.”

I see a flower that’s fallen off its stem to the dirt below and focus my camera on the blooming plant and then the loose, wilting pink flower. Some people would only appreciate the larger plant, but I pick up the slightly crumpled flower, making sure to show my yellow-painted nails in the frame, and then place it behind my ear. I give one more smiling wave to the camera, tilting my head to highlight the bloom with sunlight. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be appreciated. It’s all good enough if it makes you smile. You’re good enough to make others smile.”

I give another wiggle and click off, still grinning widely as I double-check the video before posting it to my Instagram timeline. By the time I tuck my phone back into my bag, it will have already been shared across multiple platforms, gotten hundreds of likes, and have comments listing out what brings my followers joy today.

I love them. Not just the little hearts and compliments about my fresh manicure. I mean, I love all my followers, the people who let me lead the life I enjoy. Without them, I couldn’t get ad revenue from my daily videos and photos, and I couldn’t get companies to hire me for sponsored posts. So it’s to their credit that I’m able to do what I do. But it’s more than that too. They let me into their hearts, trusting that I’ll bring a bit of my special brand of Riley Sunshine to every day. It’s a responsibility I take seriously, not because it’s my trademark but because it’s who I truly am.

“Are you done yet?” a faux-bored voice sighs out next to me. My eyes lift from the phone screen, and I stick my tongue out at my best friend, Arielle Daniels. She does it right back like we’re six instead of twenty-six.

“Ladies, ladies . . .” Eli Taylor, the third of our motley group of musketeers, scolds. He holds his hands out, one toward each of us as though we’re going to throw down. To be clear, we’re not. The only thing Arielle and I will fight over is the last garlic knot when we order pizza. Or the last egg roll. Or donut. Okay, food. We’ll fight over food, but who wouldn’t?

“I think we need to continue heading to our lunch date, post haste, before we have bigger problems.” He leans toward me, talking behind his hand as though Arielle can’t hear him. “You know how she gets when she’s hangry. I estimate ten minutes before she starts stealing ice cream from babies.” He lifts his chin toward an adorable toddler with chocolate smeared across his face and a cringing mother standing by with a wet wipe.

I look from Eli to Arielle, who’s rolling her eyes. I answer with an eye roll of my own to be safe because I can see that Eli is right. Arielle’s scanning the street like a hot dog cart might pop up out of nowhere. Luckily, our favorite burrito place, which was our destination to start with, is right ahead and undeniably safer for our bellies than dirty-water-soaked meat sticks. Or half-eaten, stolen ice cream.

“Ten minutes? I’m leaning more toward seven-point-five, five if Miguel is cooking fresh carne asada.”

Arielle’s stomach growls loudly, and she slaps her palms over her belly as Eli and I laugh. “Come on,” Eli says, leading the charge toward the best burritos in Briar Rose. Miguel’s place doesn’t even have a name. It’s just a window in the side of a building with some picnic tables scattered outside. If you know it’s there, you’re lucky. If not, well, you’re missing out.

We order and sit, claiming one end of a table for ourselves. We attract attention no matter what we do. I’m Riley Sunshine—not famous, exactly, but more well-known than the average social media influencer, and my style is rather in-your-face sunny with my trademark yellow knee socks, white Doc Martens, and a halo of blonde waves held back with big yellow sunglasses. Eli is gorgeous, to put it lightly. He’s six feet tall, broad-shouldered, tanned, and dresses like a Ralph Lauren ad. Today, he’s wearing a slim-tapered navy Italian suit and chestnut brown loafers with no socks. He’s every preppy-lover’s dream come true. And Arielle is a stunner with dark hair pulled back in a carefree ponytail, thick, dark lashes, and red lips. Her work scrubs do nothing to hide her luscious curves.

We look as though we would have absolutely nothing in common. A business guy, a no-nonsense medical field worker, and a flower child who never grew up. But we couldn’t be closer.

Years ago, we met at the mall, of all places, each of us holding down jobs at various stores there. We’d walk in at opening, out at closing, eat in the food court, and over time, the head nods of recognition became our own little world of friendship. Ultimately, we created a group called “The Crew” comprised of us musketeers plus a few others we met at the mall. But today, it’s only the three of us for lunch.

As we tuck into our burritos, Eli drops a bomb. “I had a date on Friday.” It’s not that Eli’s dating is a surprise. It’d be more of a shocker if he hadn’t gone on a date, but Arielle’s right brow lifts the tiniest millimeter.

Eli’s more than good looks. In fact, he’s very smart, one of those types of people who knows a little bit about everything. It makes every time we meet up a fun time, because Eli’s interests are always unpredictable. He can talk at length about everything from photography to politics to the Police Academy movies, and often without ever quite explaining why he’s doing so or where he gleaned the varied knowledge.

But he’s usually careful to not throw out too much dating detail in front of Arielle. They’ve had a super-casual, friends with benefits situation off and on for years. They’re ‘off’ right now, neither of them having an itch to scratch, but their dating lives aren’t something we usually discuss together.

“He or she?” I ask, thinking maybe that has something to do with the hook Eli’s dangling, and Eli laughs. That’s another thing about Eli. He’s all about ‘hearts, not parts’ and dates based on connection, not genitalia. His conversations about sex can be very eye opening, and I’ve learned quite a few things from Eli.

“She,” Eli says matter-of-factly.

A thousand questions go through my head, each wanting to jump off my tongue at once. But Arielle is glaring fiercely at Eli, though he is blissfully oblivious. He’s usually not tight-lipped with me, but he seems to have said his piece, and Arielle has nothing to say for a change. I decide that I really don’t need to know details right this second, especially if it’s going to hurt Arielle. I would never do that, though I’ll definitely ask her what’s up with the reaction later.