We met at Franco’s and although there were several cars in the parking lot we were seated right away after I covertly dropped a bill in the palm of the hostess. When the waitress came to ask us what we would like to drink, she ordered without waiting for me to even look at the menu. Some sort of salad and just the glass of water already on the table. Not only that but she mentioned separate checks. This really was just a meal and not a date, and she wasn’t going to make even the meal easy on me. I shouldn’t get my hopes up but really, I wasn’t even expecting this from her. And also, the boyfriend. Charlie was his name. Was he even a boyfriend? She didn’t make it clear, but he still proved a barrier to us taking this any farther.
“So, you take me to an Italian restaurant and order water with a salad? Seems like a waste.” I saw her upturned nose at me ordering a steak meal.
“This is the issue with eating with a physician, especially a vegan physician. I noticed your heart attack on a plate you ordered and will start with my free medical advice. Vegetables are important in a healthy diet.” It made me laugh.
Since cleaning up I gave up so many vices but a good steak proved harder to leave behind. It made me think of another vice we talked about when I was in the hospital while she sewed my leg up. “You could get a glass of wine or something if you want. It won’t bother me.”
She looked over at me, “I don’t drink either.”
“Why? Because it is unhealthy?”
She smirked, “That could be a verisimilar statement.” Another big word. I already had looked up Elysium. I liked that one. It meant paradise, but I wondered why she used them. It didn’t really seem her nature.
After the waitress left, there was a small period of silence. While she busied herself with adjusting her place settings, I couldn’t help but steal a glance at her occasionally. The dim light in the eating area played off her chestnut hair and made the color spin with all the different shades it made up. It looked like milk chocolate met raspberry and all I could think of was how it would feel to touch it. The golden hues in the hair played off her taupe flawless skin now that her bruise had healed.
I wanted to know everything I could about her but more importantly, I was just amazed she came to eat with me. Why was I so nervous around her? I never got nervous like this in the past. I even fumbled for the right words, anxious about putting my foot in my mouth. It probably had something to do with never having to chase a woman before. I never had to do more than look at a woman, and she would drop her panties, but now look at me. My palms were sweating for fuck’s sake.
Gathering my courage, I started with the best small talk I could think of, “You must be from California if you eat nuts and twigs all the time.”
She lifted her glass of water and before she drank stated, “No, actually my last job was in Georgia.”
“I couldn’t tell. I don’t hear the southern bell accent.”
Taking a sip of her water she set it down. “I didn’t say I was from Georgia.” I may have broken the ice, but she wasn’t going easy on me making me believe it could be some sort of punishment for stalking her the way I did.
“So, where did you grow up then?” She looked down bothered at the fork in my hand. Unknowingly I twiddled it expelling some nervous energy but soon dropped it.
It must have appeased her as she answered, “Chicago.”
Looking for the best way to get her to answer with more than one word, I continued, “What brought you to Georgia then.”
“My husband’s job.” More words but not the ones I was ready for. She must have seen my displeasure, as she continued, “My ex-husband.”
“You are divorced?” Thankfully I wouldn’t have to deal with a husband on top of a ‘not so serious’ Charlie. A husband was off-limits entirely. Not that I didn’t go after married women in my past, but she didn’t look the cheating type even if I hadn’t turned over my new leaf.
“Divorced for several years now.” I waited and finally, the silence got to her. “We married my last year in residency. He studied at a local college but went back to Georgia where he grew up and took me with him. We were married a total of six years before we got divorced. It was amicable but I will never do that again.” Amicable came out like it left a sour taste in her mouth.
My eyebrow lifted with her admission, “Follow a guy for his job?”
She shook her head, “Marry.”
“So, does Charlie work in town?” The mention of his name brought a look to her face I couldn’t quite discern. Somehow it seemed I upset her by asking.
“No. Charlie doesn’t live in California.” Long-distance affairs were always hard and I found my spirits lifting. I shouldn’t. She was so far out of my league but I couldn’t help it. She looked so beautiful and sat right in front of me, willing to talk and eat with me knowing my background. I definitely lucked out.
“Is Charlie a doctor too?” Don’t all doctors marry doctors? Just another way I was out of her league.
“I don’t want to talk about Charlie.” Her face turned to stone and her demeanor matched. Before I could apologize, the meal showed up. Her small salad and what she referred to as my heart attack on a plate. It kind of made it hard to enjoy it but I still ended up eating some.
The conversation lulled as now I was nervous about pissing her off again. She was the one to ask the next question. “You play the guitar if I remember correctly.”
It startled me, “Yeah, I guess.”
She looked up and shook her fork at me, the lettuce shaking on the end, “Social Offender, right?”
I smiled, “Yes, you’ve got a good memory.”
“It helps when you are going through medical school. Do you still play?”
My smile faded, “No, not for a while.”
Not being shy she asked the obvious question, “Why?”
I shrugged trying to be painfully honest in my answer. I learned it never did any good to lie but I didn’t want her to take pity on me either. “Playing the guitar for me is bittersweet now. I loved it. It was my life since an adolescent and I taught myself to play. Music was always there to lift me up and make me forget about my shitty life but I realize now that it is a two-way street. It is hard when something you used to love has changed and you forget what it feels like to enjoy it anymore. It helped make me feel better but it also led me to the place I am now. Without the fortune and fame, I wouldn't have gotten into drugs and fucked over a friend.” Then a little quieter, “It is a good respite and a bad antagonist and I haven’t found a way to get back to it safely. Not yet at least. Maybe never.” I shrugged, “Besides, I sold all my guitars to pay for drugs. I don’t even have one left.”
She took her time to think about it, sipping on her water. “It is a shame you know. You enjoyed it once. You should be able to enjoy it again.”
I didn’t answer as I had no answer. I missed it yet I was afraid. Afraid to admit I was never really a good person. And if I didn’t have the ability to strum an instrument I wouldn’t have gotten the fame or female interest. I missed it though because I missed the simplicity of it. The way I would stay up all night to write a song or to let the music take me over to produce something out of this world. Part of me was afraid I would never get it back.
“You are honest with me even though it doesn’t paint you in a very good light.” I thought she was done talking, but then she added, “It is refreshing.” She smiled and I smiled back. The way her whole face lit up and the twinkle in her eyes. There were faint crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes but nothing else to give up her age. On the contrary, she was a classic beauty. A woman of at least some years that was secure with her looks and her personality and so much better than the fake women of a younger time.
“I’ve got nothing to hide. I screwed up my life, and I am just trying to dig myself out.”
She pushed her napkin to the side and motioned to the waitress. “That in itself is something to be proud of. Don’t ever look at it as a weakness.”
The waitress came over as Nina pulled out some cash and told her to keep the change. I guess our non-date was over. I pushed my plate to the side, and she stopped me, “No, please. Don’t let my leaving distract you from finishing your heart attack.”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t count on that. Job security for you, right?” She laughed and I saw the playfulness in her eyes and it almost stopped my heart right there.
“Don’t worry. There is plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t wreck yourself on my account.”
“Well, then maybe I should walk you to your car?“I went to stand up not wanting this to end so soon, but she just motioned me to sit.
“You don’t need to walk me to my car. I live close by here.”
Nina pretty much told me to stay. She didn’t need anymore smothering and I guess she didn’t want me stalking her outside her work either. I bent my head down knowing this was the end but not wanting it. I wanted to see her again. Foolishly, I thought I could keep going with my long-distance brooding of her but I realized it was probably a moot point now.
Grabbing her purse, she remarked. “Goodbye, Mr. Harries. I enjoyed talking with you.”
I sighed not knowing what to say except goodbye but that seemed too final. “I take it you aren’t interested in a has-been guitar hero keeping you safe anymore from the boogie man?”
She started to walk away and then almost as an afterthought turned back to me, “Dr. Blackmore and I switched shifts. I work the Thursday night shift so he can go to his kid’s soccer game.”
With that, she walked out the door, and I was left wondering. She told me she would be working Thursday instead of Wednesday. I smiled after I realize why. She still wanted to talk to me. I knew this couldn’t go on much further since she already had this Charlie guy in her life but man, I couldn’t help but want more with her. Maybe it was time to start my A game?