Excerpt: My So-Called Love Life | Sweet City Hearts | Author Allie Pleiter

Excerpt: My So-Called Love Life

Book 1: Sweet City Hearts

America's Most Effective Date Killer

Let's get right to it, shall we?

Come with me to the corner table of the Treble Caf, a trendy jazz club here in town. It's about eight-thirty at night, I've just had a killer fettuccine Alfredo we are suspending all calorie counting for this evening, thank you very much and are heading into the cheesecake portion of tonight's festivities. Soft rhythms and a smoky alto voice float out over the darkened room. Kyle, our man of the hour, has made it to crucial Date Number Three.

Which means I've just told Kyle The Secret. The fact that Kyle has made it to the secret-revealing third date shows my irrepressible hope that somewhere out there is a man who can handle The Secret. Who will not be added to the long list of men who disappoint once learning The Secret. My nonstop, unsinkable faith that He May Be The One.

I'm holding my fork in midair, paralyzed by anticipation. I await the reaction for which I have long yearned. For which I have prayed in biblical proportions for what seems like forever.

Wait for it...wait for it... Come on, Lord, I'm ready....

"You're kidding!" he says.

This is not a good sign. Still, there is hope. I ignore the little red warning light flashing in the back of my mind. God is a big God. Kyle is an appealing man with lively brown eyes and hair that falls in that casual, almost-mussed way men somehow achieve effortlessly. He could still be The One. After all, he hasn't laughed yet, and that's a plus.

I should point out here that they never believe me. I've never quite understood that. Would I make up the crazy thing I do for a living? Lie about something that has proven America's Most Effective Date Killer?

No, I wouldn't. Which is why I do my best to divert all "so what do you do?" questions until at least the third date.

Right here, right now.

Kyle's face is beginning the transformation I know far too well. My handsome, stable, sales manager of a date is mutating into a fourth-grade boy right before my eyes. The flashing red light has blossomed into a full-blown air raid siren. Code blue! This date is now in cardiac arrest. Those of you with delicate constitutions may wish to turn the page....

"Do it!" yelps Kyle with an awestruck expression. "Do her."

Any and all hopes of an adult relationship have now flown out the window.

Why do they never understand that asking me that is like asking a dentist to drill your cavity for yuks? If you're a garbageman, I wouldn't ask you to haul out the restaurant's trash just so I could watch. "Her" is what I do. It's not who I am. The average guy smart enough to graduate high school should be able to understand that.

I apply The Look. The "please don't ask me that" look. A last-ditch chance at survival, at diverting the fatal episode about to take place. Kyle sits back in his chair, eyes wide, arms crossed over his chest in smirking expectation. Just because I really like Kyle, I apply The Look a second time.

Nada. "Come on, just once. Do her. Pleeeeeeease?" Whining. An actual whine, from someone old enough to have a mortgage.

Condemned to watch this relationship dissolve before my very eyes, cursing the optimism that got me here, I go into ten seconds of her.

Maggie Hoot. The wisecracking owl from Arborville, the animated series.

Yes, that Arborville. That series. That owl. That's me. More precisely, that's my voice. Important distinction, as you will soon learn.

Once I become Maggie Hoot, all humanity is lost. Suddenly I am nothing else to Mr. Third Date except the voice of silly Maggie Hoot. Which means I am not a date, nor a woman, nor even human.

I am a cartoon.

And you'd no sooner date a cartoon than you'd date your grandmother.

It's gotten to the point where I can watch the transformation with an almost clinical detachment. Kyle stares at me for six or seven seconds, his brain trying desperately to reconcile the voice with the face before him. In his eyes, my face dissolves into Maggie's, my mannerisms become mere hints of hers. They think I'm just Maggie with skin instead of feathers. They try to make me laugh, somehow thinking that my laugh will be Maggie's hooting, trademark laugh.

Even if I've laughed just ten minutes before The Secret.

Then it starts. I hear about how much they love the show, how cool my job must be. All that stuff is nice to hear; gratifying both personally and professionally. I do understand how blessed I am to be working on a successful television show. I'm not an ungrateful idiot I thank God every day for this job.

Oh, if it would only end there.

But it never does. I get about ten seconds of gratification until it slides into how cushy my life must be. How I must be raking in the bucks and spending my free time answering fan mail ahem...no. How there must be almost no work involved in voicing a weekly animated series No! The really awful ones ask me to do their phone answering machine messages Really, no! Or call their nieces No! Or their old girlfriends Absolutely Not!

Sigh. My life's a hoot, that's for sure. All right, enough of this social carnage. Fast forward two days to the place where Maggie really does exist.

Welcome to Arborville. Well, where we make Arborville. Treehouse Studios.

That woman over there behind the big shiny desk? That's Daphne, this year's thousand-watt enthusiastic intern. We get one of these every year, each one more peppy than the last. Thrilled down to their blue-sparkle toenail polish to be fetching coffee at Arborville. And where does our fearless leader Nigel put them? He's no fool: he puts those starstruck voices right where they can do the most good and the least harm answering the phones. Of course, we do usually have to do a little session on how to dress professionally and why it's best to stick to under a dozen earrings stuff like that. Have you noticed how people assume all creative people are eccentric? Weird even? Lots of us are, but most of us are pretty ordinary folk who do laundry, eat peanut butter, go to the dentist and drink milk out of the carton when nobody's looking.

Voicing Maggie is a fabulous job, the job of a lifetime, really. But Maggie doesn't hug me when I need it or buy me birthday presents and she won't visit me in the nursing home. And if you ask my mother, Maggie can never be my husband, which means she can't make my life complete, "settle me down" or pave the way to adorable grandchildren. Yes, well, Mom's a bit preoccupied with my almost-famous-but-still-not-married status. I thank God for every inch of distance between Boston and Los Angeles.

Back to Nigel, he is one of the reasons I stay in this business. Nigel Langdon is the brains behind Arborville. His title, which enthrones him as Treehouse's head artistic honcho, is "Creator." We all voice figments of Nigel's highly fertile imagination. Nigel's created a world of animals that truly mirror real people. Arborville"s birds, squirrels and mice are dead-on reflections of people you and I all know. They're geeks and hyper people, pessimists and geniuses, lovers and womanizers only they're bird-izers, but that's what makes it so funny. Nigel's brilliant. Nigel calls the shots at Treehouse. Nigel's this decade's golden boy of animation.

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