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First Date

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Natalia

Shit, shit, shit. I’m late, aren’t I? Let me just check my…

Yep, I’m late. Is that her I spy through the front window? Oh, God, it is. Eugh, why is this door so heavy?! She’s already sat down. I feel so bad…

Hi, my…

This is our first date. What is she? My friend? My girlfriend? My…acquaintance? No, too formal, but it is way too soon to call her my girlfriend, right? Like, we literally met once and we were both very drunk. I guess we have messaged a…

Can I help?

The receptionist is looking at me like I’m crazy while I just stand here casually having my internal existential crisis.

Sorry, my, er, friend booked a table. I think she’s already sat down.

Correction. I know she’s sat down because I saw her through the window because I’m a shitty date and I’m late.

She sweeps her arm out, gesturing to a dining area that’s alive with the buzz of voices and the oppressive heat of hundreds of bodies packed into one room. I feel a bit…

Head on through. Someone will be through to take your drinks order shortly.

..sick. This is way too formal. How did we decide upon this place?

Okay, got to somehow manoeuvre myself around these these tables…

Seriously, just accept the actual size of your restaurant and work with what space you have!

..without falling over. Don’t want to fall flat on my face because she’s literally looking right at me. She’s got her phone in her hand. I bet she was just messaging her friends and telling them what a shit date I am. I mean, late on the first date? Couldn’t get off to a worse…

You look lovely.

Thank you, so do you.

Oh, but she's not just lovely. She’s beautiful. I didn’t notice the smattering of freckles dusted across her cheeks and nose at the party, but there they are, like stars against the backdrop of her olive skin…

Is that a rum and coke on the table?

Oh, you got me a drink already. Thanks.

That’s seriously so cute. My gran struggles to remember my name…

Yeah, erm, sorry. I should’ve asked what you…

No, no, no. Not at all. This is great. Rum and coke is my favourite anyway.

Why am I just standing here, beaming down at my drink like a weirdo? I just need to sit and be normal, whatever the hell that entails. Oh, God. She looks mildly concerned, her eyes fixed on my drink. Is she regretting this date already?

Hello, ladies. Can I get you a basket of bread whilst you’re deciding?

Ooh, yes, please. Ooh, yes, please.

Well, at least she’s as enthusiastic about bread as I am. Can two people be fated for one another because of their mutual appreciation of bread? Maybe our next date should be…I don’t know, a tour of a bakery? Is that a thing? Or maybe I should focus on getting through this first date and not fucking it up even more than I already have. Eugh. Late on the first date… Never going to live that one down.

Oh, dear God. She’s wearing that concerned expression again. I pick up my drink, nervously swilling it around in its glass. She catches me staring and smiles, a patch of peach pink suddenly blossoming on the apples of each cheek. She brushes a loose tendril of her raven hair behind her ear. She laughs and… Is it creepy to think it’s one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard?

You good?

Take a swig of my drink, try to be casual…

I’m…

Oh, God, what’s she going to say? I’m thinking this date was a bad idea? I’m sickened by the fact that you had the audacity to be late to a first date? I’m…

I’m fine. Just nerves, you know.

A wicker basket of bread descends upon the table before I can say anything. Our hands shoot forward to snatch a roll. From her perspective, I can almost 100% guarantee I just looked like Bilbo trying to grab the ring from Frodo in LOTR. I adore bread.

Ah, fuck. Our fingers just brushed. Is she going to think that was deliberate? That I’m trying to set up a cheesy rom-com scenario?

I’m nervous too, but we can’t both be nervous, right? Someone needs to step up to the plate and direct this date somewhere, anywhere, other than the disastrous track it’s headed down.

I laugh, trying to act as nonchalant as possible.

Seriously, don’t be nervous. I don’t bite. I plaster the most reassuring smile I can muster across my lips.

Shit. Did I actually just say that I don’t bite? That could definitely be misconstrued, right? Or am I overanalysing as per usual? The only thing that could have made that more cringe-worthy was if I’d winked when I’d said it. Argh, why am I putting this act on? I pick up my bread roll and begin tearing it into strips.

I guess I’m a bit nervous too.

Here’s to being nervous.

Did…did she just raise her bread as a toast? Yes. Yes, she did, and that is seriously the cutest thing I have ever seen. I better raise mine too. She looks mortified and is staring at the still-raised bread roll as if she’s seeing its kind for the very first time.

I’m laughing. Oh, God, I really hope she doesn’t think I’m laughing at her… Well, I guess I am. This innate cute charm of hers is everything.

She hesitates… She’s leaning forward…

..and the bread rolls bump together as though we’re clinking wine glasses.

To being nervous.

Maybe this date isn’t such a disaster after all.

Here. She passes the butter.

She always looks so…so alarmed whenever she does something. Is she okay? I just wish I knew what was going through her head right now. I bet she’s regretting coming on this date, I bet that’s what she’s thinking. I mean, I was late and I did pretty much laugh in her face after the bread roll toast.

Is that the waiter heading back over? Shit, I haven’t looked…

Have you decided what you’d like?

..at the menu, let alone decided what I want.

Oh, God, I haven’t looked at the menu.

The waiter’s eyelid twitches, the only outward indication of his annoyance. I guess a fancy place like this has a booking list a mile long. I imagine he wants to get everyone in and out as quickly…

Would you like a few…

I’ll have the pie of the day.

Same.

Shit. I’m a vegetarian. Why did I blurt that out? When has a pie of the day ever been vegetarian-friendly? It’s definitely going to be steak and kidney or something equally as meaty, just to spite me and make me look even more stupid. What am I going to do if it is? Just sit here pretending to admire it? Force myself to chew it down for appearance’s sake? No, I need to be honest.

I think that was a case of panic ordering. I don’t even know what the pie of the day is!

I start laughing, borderline hysterically, and she’s laughing too. What exactly are we laughing at? Are we laughing about pies, or is it something more? Are we laughing in dismay at our mutual nervousness, whatever it is that’s making this date such a disaster? I can feel tears rolling down my cheeks, big, fat ones that no doubt have mascara encapsulated within each of them. Great. A hysterical panda, that’s what she’s come on a date with.

I can feel the burn of disapproving stares as we howl and now she’s picking up her drink… What is she doing? Has she never experienced the shame of having to spit your drink back into your glass because…

Oh, my God. Clearly not. She’s just snorted on her lemonade… Lemonade and what? Is it just lemonade? Am I just boozing it up on my own?

Whatever it is, it’s dripping from the end of her nose and down her chin, the droplets splashing upon the table as she stares down, horror etched upon her face.

No, no, no, no! Now this is definitely hysteria bubbling over the rim of my self control and seeping into my laugh. Her confidence is going to be destroyed by the end of the evening if I keep laughing at her mishaps. Would it be weird to try and choke out that I’m just laughing because… I find her endearing? Does anybody even use that word anymore?

I’m laughing so hard that I don’t notice the same waiter materialise beside our table, a pie in each hand. He stares us down, his eyes communicating more than words ever could.

Shut up, or get out. Two pies of the day.

Seriously, why have we come to this snooty place? Whose idea was this? Who are we trying to impress? I mean, we met at a house party, a party at which she’d had to hold my hair back as I spewed into a plant pot – I wonder if that plant’s okay? – and she’s still interested apparently. Clearly, I don’t need to worry about impressing her.

Thank you. I feel another bout of laughter straining against those two syllables.

He deposits a plate in front of each of us and walks away. I can already smell the meat permeating the pastry. Still, I arm myself with a knife and fork and cut into it.

Chunks of meat are nested inside, each chunk glistening with congealed gravy. My stomach lurches and I gingerly spear a piece on my knife.

Shit. There’s a pregnant pause.

I’m a vegetarian.

I look at her…

..she looks at me…

..and we’re laughing again.

What the actual fuck is wrong with me? Who panic orders a pie?

My gaze shifts beyond her shoulder and the seed of an idea is planted at the sight of two homeless men huddled in a shop doorway beyond the restaurant’s window. She twists around in her seat.

They might appreciate a meal.

Aside from where I’ve sliced the pastry, the meal is untouched. She turns back around and smiles a smile so warm that I’m momentarily floored. It might be a disaster date, but I’m glad it’s with her.

She pushes her own plate away and grabs her purse from a bag on the floor. She unzips it and yanks out a couple of twenties.

And I know a great veggie place in town.

She slaps the notes upon the table and I reach for my jacket. It can’t get any worse, right?

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