Chapter 42: The NOT-Date (Part 2)
I breathed a soft sigh of relief as I climbed out of Torin’s silver-colored KIA Soul and stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the dockside cafe. We made it this far in one piece! I wasn’t sure how all this was going to go, and my stomach had been in knots all day long.
I’d been glad that both Rainie and Rhonda were at the door when we arrived, lessening the awkwardness of meeting Torin one-on-one right off, as I wasn’t sure what his temperament would be. He looked a bit nervous himself but was friendly and pleasant enough. I guess I was so used to cringing whenever I thought about seeing him, that having to confront him willingly was a whole new and slightly frightening experience!
As I waited for him to come around to the sidewalk, I kept reminding myself not to babble, as I usually did when I was nervous. “Just play it cool.” This was no big deal anyways, right? Unfortunately, if things went south, I’d either have to rely on him to get me back to his place to pick up Anne or figure out how to get a taxi in Navarro Beach. Did they even have a taxi service?!
Turning my attention to the establishment we were to eat at, as Torin opened the door for me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The colorful facade of Coral Reef Burgers & Shakes had nothing on the interior, as we were welcomed to an interestingly mixed theme - aquatic 1950s diner. If they renamed the place, it could be The Little Mermaid meets Grease!
The hostess set us at a table with plush clam shell-shaped booths. But, situated next to the wall-length window in the back, I got a wonderful eyeful of the Gulf of Mexico and the soon-to-be setting sun, much to my delight.
“Nice view, huh?!” I ventured as we both took a clamshell bench across from the other.
“Uh, yeah.” Torin replied simply, glancing out the window momentarily.
“Have you eaten here before?” I asked, picking up my menu to see the selection.
“No, have you?” Torin answered then hurriedly interjected, “No, of course you haven’t. You already said that the other day.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Was it possible that he was more nervous than I was?!
The waitress appeared and both of our attentions reverted to the young woman in ’50s regalia wanting to take our drink order. I chose a sweet tea and Torin went for a chocolate milkshake, then we went back to reading our menus. Torin finished before me, as I couldn’t decide between the Melted Swiss Burger or something different like the Seafood Platter.
In the middle of my decision making Torin suddenly piped up. “That was really nice of Anne to present my mom with cookies. I don’t think most kids even know about hostess gifts nowadays.”
I smiled, “Yeah, my mom’s always been big on etiquette like that, and I try to pass on those things to Anne. They don’t teach social things like that in school, you know.”
“No, I guess not.”
The waitress returned with our drinks, and looked at me, ready to take my order first.
“Oh, I, uh...” I still hadn’t decided what I wanted and looked at Torin. “If you know what you want, you can go first.”
To my surprise, he told the girl to come back in a minute, then laughed. I don’t think I’d ever heard him laugh before, and I thought it had to be the most pleasant laugh I’d ever heard - deep and almost musical, if a man’s laugh can be called that. Just as my stomach began to flutter over the short-lived deep chuckle, I tensed. What was he laughing at?!
He suddenly held my gaze, humor still in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have laughed. I guess it’s just a bit of karma come to bite me.”
I looked at him oddly.
“Now I understand how you probably felt at the award dinner when we were ordering food.”
At first, I thought he was going to make fun of me, and I sank back in my seat a tiny bit, my breathing halted, waiting for the impact. Then all the humor left his eyes and a serious expression replaced it. “Can I apologize for that night? I know you were nervous, and I shouldn’t have been so rude.”
An apology?! I blinked my eyes.
I cleared my throat, not really wanting to relive that hurtful moment, yet having him apologize was making me squirm in a whole other way.
“Uh, I already told you that all is forgiven and we’re starting from scratch.” I was going to try to brush it off, quickly moving on, but something in his expression begged for me to take him seriously. I softened my own panicked expression and nodded. “But, as you’re apologizing again, I accept.”
I could see him physically relax, releasing his breath and I couldn’t help but smile. He was definitely more nervous than me!
The waitress appeared again, and while I hadn’t actually looked at the menu again since she’d left before, I went ahead and ordered the Swiss Burger, while Torin went for a Southwestern Burger, light on the jalapeños.
I figured the waitress was the perfect interruption from the serious route this conversation had turned, and I was ready to start up something different. But Torin, turning his attention back to me, blurted out first, “October, I know you said all is forgiven, but I need to get this off my chest before we go any further.”
If he didn’t knock this off, I was going to feel bad about every mean thing I’d uttered under my breath and in my mind about him since that day in Rhonda’s office. I still felt bad about the wife-death comment, but I got the impression that if he knew that he’d be mortified.
Yet, it’s not every day that a man is man enough to apologize, and he looked like he might be in some serious pain if he didn’t get whatever it was off his chest. So, intrigued, I sat up closer to the table again, folded my hands on the table and regarded him seriously, waiting for him to continue.
Taking a sip of his milkshake, he began. “Look, I’m usually a pretty good judge of character, being in my line of work and all, but I started off on the wrong foot with you and instead of correcting course, drove myself right onto the rocks.”
I appreciated the nautical correlation and nodded, so he pressed on.
“I wanna say I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions about how you handle the animals at the rehab and for thinking the worst of your work ethics and practices.”
Then without taking a breath he embarked upon a monologue. “I also want to say I’m sorry for yelling at you in Mom’s office. And for being a jerk at the grocery store, saying that you weren’t a good mom. And for making you upset at the bowling alley and giving you indigestion.”
I choked slightly on this, having to take a sip of my own drink - damn, he’d obviously seen that I was eating like a crazy person that day! Now, I was getting embarrassed. Yet, he continued.
“I should never have made you feel bad at the award ceremony, and I really shouldn’t have let my silly aunt get under my skin at La Azteca. And even more so, I should have stuck up for you when Mrs. Williams treated you rudely at the Summer Center, and I never should have tried to tell Rainie not to hang out with Anne...”
Now he was getting into things I didn’t even know he had done wrong or had on his guilty conscience and my eyebrows began to rise ever so slightly. He was wringing his hands over the table as he leaned towards me slightly, and I had the overwhelming desire to tell him to shut up and kiss me already.
“Oh, God this is definitely not how I envisioned this going,” I thought to myself and I wasn’t sure where my mind was going either. If he didn’t stop soon, he was either going to hurt my feelings again over some transgression I hadn’t known existed or I was going to have to take him to the hospital due to the heart attack I was sure he was about to have. Either way, we’d cause a scene in the nearly empty diner and tomorrow’s headlines would read: Navarro Beach Marine Patrol Chief Dies from Floundering at the Coral Reef Burgers & Shakes.
I considered slapping him out of his panicked trance of a confession, but I didn’t think that would bode well for me. Or, even better, I could lean across the table and plant a kiss on the sexy lips that were spilling his heartfelt apology. Finally, deciding that kissing him at this moment would be highly inappropriate, I instead reached out and grasped his still-moving hands between mine, holding them hostage.
He froze, his next words on the tip of his tongue, ready to spill out at any moment.
“Torin, please stop,” I said pleadingly, clearing my throat. “I get it, I get it. I really do! And I really appreciate what you’re saying. But you have to stop! I forgive you already, I do!”
He didn’t necessarily seem convinced and I wondered just what sort of vile things he had thought about me all this while, making him feel the need for such a confessional!
" But, I…” He tried to continue.
Finally, deciding that pleading wasn’t getting through to him I opted for a different route. “Look, if you don’t accept my forgiveness, then I’ll just have to take it back, then we’ll have to tell the cook to stop making our burgers so you can take me back to get Anne and I’ll go home.”
I think he thought I was dead serious for a moment, at least until I gave him a little smirk, and then he laughed.
“I’m sorry, I just don’t...”
“Nope!” I interrupted. “Not one more ‘I’m sorry’ this evening, okay?! We’re starting fresh, remember?”
At that moment, I’m sure my heart melted for the look of embarrassed gratefulness that came over his entire being, gracing his perfect lips with the most handsome smile! I’m not a hundred percent sure how long we maintained this moment, but when we finally came to, we both realized that I was still holding firmly onto his hands, so I quickly retracted my arms, placing my hands politely in my lap, pretending that nothing happened between us as I took a deep breath.
The waitress came to fill my barely touched drink, and I knew I was going to leave her a nice tip for her impeccable timing. “Thank you,” I nodded to her as she poured about three tablespoons worth of sweet tea into my cup.
“Your food should be coming out soon.” We both nodded our thanks to her.
“So,” I started again, “Rhonda said that you guys lived in Naples until you left home?”
And so began a much more normal dinner and conversation. I was able to get Torin to relax, and in doing so, I relaxed as well. Besides our daughters, his mother, and the rehab as the place we all connected, we actually had a lot in common. We had similar tastes in movies, music, and a common love for boating, the water, and sea life.
Our food came and we ate. But I barely noticed the delicious food that I slowly savored. My attention was focused on the very interesting and lively man sitting across from me. In the end, the only thing I regretted was that this was not a date.