Kittens for Dinner!

I haven’t been on a first date in almost a decade. Praise Jesus! Hallelujah! ‘Cause frankly, I find that first dates kind of suck. I know, I know…that’s probably not the kind of confession a romance writer needs to make. First dates are supposed to be fun, exciting, and, well, romantic. If you believe what the average rom-com sells you, they’re supposed to leave you feeling giddy and giggly and girlish. And I suppose that’s exactly what they do for plenty of women.

That’s not what they do for me.

The last first date I went on was with my husband who, God love him, is the most painfully shy person I’ve ever met. I asked him out. Well, not exactly. I told him he should ask me out, so he asked me out. Yeah. That’s the way I roll. We had sushi. I tried and failed to make conversation. He squirmed and looked uncomfortable, probably because he was trying to plan his escape from this slightly crazy woman who ordered him to ask her out. I’m not sure how two such completely different individuals managed to fall in love, much less get married, but here we are. Probably has something to do with the fact that he’s as awesome as I am. Also, the sex.

But in writing this series, I find my characters encountering their own kinds of awkward first dates. Dates that make the pained expressions and forced conversations of my first dates look like the soliloquy from the balcony scene in Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. After all, how the hell do people manage to navigate the pitfalls of an ordinary romance, much less a post-apocalypse romance? How might such a hero even ask a heroine out? If you’re in my head, the scene goes something like this:

EXTERIOR. A STREET. 2043. NIGHT.
A broken, crumbling city. Rubble is strewn hither and yon. Rust abounds. A stray cat feasts on the entrails of a plague rat in a litter-strewn gutter nearby. In the dim light of a slivered moon, EVA, a beautiful but hopelessly grimy young woman attempts to lure the cat into a tattered net with an empty can of tuna.

Enter scene, ADAM, our unshaven muscular hero. His jeans are ripped strategically to reveal an impressive quadriceps femoris (no, no – that’s the thigh muscle, you foul-minded fiends), and he wears what was once a white t-shirt but is now more a network of spiderwebbed fibers held together by dirt, sweat, and chest hair. As he approaches, the cat darts into a nearby alley.

EVA stands, hands on slender hips, looking quite irritated.

EVA
That was supposed to be my dinner, dammit.

ADAM stares at her in barely masked amazement, shocked to find another soul not hideously disfigured by the fertility-killing plague’s telltale pustules and pocks. This may be love at first sight.

ADAM
I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was here.

EVA
Yeah, well, you were wrong. That’s the first cat I’ve seen in a week.

ADAM looks around, searching for signs of some scrap of food previously missed by the hordes of half-starved souls still shambling about the city.

ADAM
Let me make it up to you.

EVA raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow and purses surprisingly red lips. As required by patriarchal expectations of womanly beauty, lipstick and hair removal kits survive the apocalypse just fine.

EVA
And just how do plan to do that? You got a kitten in your pocket?

ADAM approaches slowly, seductively, and leans forward conspiratorially. ADAM is especially fond of adverbs of manner.

ADAM
Even better. I have a can of Dinty Moore beef stew I’ve been saving for a special occasion. It’s only eight years old.

EVA swoons, suddenly light-headed at the prospect of a meal involving a non-feline protein source. ADAM catches her deftly in his well-muscled arms. Cat meat, it seems, does a body good. He hurries away with his prize, eager to convince her of his worth as a potential mate. He suspects that his fear of insects may count against him, but is almost certain that his flea-free mattress will make up for it. This, he thinks, may be a match made in heaven.

Okay, so, maybe that doesn’t quite happen in any of my books. But what fun, right? Obviously, since I’m writing post-apocalypse romance myself, I have no problem with suspending disbelief. But even I have to struggle a bit when it comes to the realities of burgeoning romance once the electricity is out. How often do these people shower? When was the last time they had their teeth cleaned? Dear God, do they even own floss? In all of these imaginings, I can’t help but wonder how our species managed to make it as far as it has. My own grandfather didn’t even have electricity or indoor plumbing when he was born. And yet here we are. The ability of human beings to overlook things like plaque and body odor will never cease to amaze me. Seriously. I forgot to wear deodorant once this summer and could hardly stand to be in the same room with myself. The challenge in writing, I suppose, is to convince you that it’d still be a good idea to have sex once the indoor plumbing is gone.
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