The Blind Date - Lauren Landish

Chapter 1

Riley

“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