“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
-Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays
Gia felt her nerves rattle as she watched the man from across the dimly lit restaurant. Sweat was forming at the base of her neck, her breathing was coming short with each inhale, and her palms were clammy as all get out.
God, what had I been thinking? she thought as she stared at the most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on. It wasn’t even the first time she had seen him that day and yet, she was as nervous and anxious as ever.
The confidence she had earlier when she boldly invited the man out after a misunderstanding at the dry cleaning store in which she worked was nowhere to be found. The alluring man had walked in bright and early that morning, barely ten minutes after she flipped the open sign, expecting his pristine suit to be finished and tagged for pick up. But Al, the owner of the store, had been the one to ring up the order and hadn’t relayed the message to Gia. So when he walked in, confident and amiable and just plain mesmerizing, she hadn’t the first thing to say or give to him, and she had stared at him stupidly, openly, like a fish in an aquarium.
And even though the man was completely understanding about the whole ordeal, only stressing that he would need the suit no later than the next day, Gia felt an almost compelling need to make it up to the stranger. When he went to leave, she just blurted out an offer for her to take him to dinner that night in exchange for the lack of decent service.
He hadn’t even suggested taking his service elsewhere! He just offered to wait a little bit longer.
And even more shocking? He smiled at her when she asked him out, uncharacteristically, and he looked at her in a way she hadn’t been looked at in a long time as he agreed to her spontaneous offer.
Had I just been imagining it? She wondered as she slowly made her way to the table he sat at. She meant to be here before him, and she was in fact early for their...date? But there he was, waiting for her, dressed elegantly in a gray button down shirt that was rolled up to his elbows. He was sitting, therefore she couldn’t make out what his bottoms looked like. A silver watch was on his left wrist, hands folded over the menu, though he wasn’t so much as looking at it.
No, instead his eyes had found hers as she walked over nervously, wringing her hands at her sides.
Gia wanted to appear presentable for the evening even though she didn’t really own anything extravagant. She was wearing a plum colored blouse that she tucked into a black skirt that had a slight slit up the side.
She was embarrassed to admit that these were her interview clothes. Clothes that she wore to appear professional. They weren’t sexy or chic, but they made her seem more put together than she was. Gia couldn’t really afford anything else. Most of her money was dedicated to a devastating discovery that she uncovered seven months ago when she was donating blood at a LifeSouth blood bank.
The thought of that day made her want to pause in her strides. She was suddenly questioning why she was here. Why did I ask him out? she asked herself. What’s wrong with you?
The man watched her the whole time she walked to the table, and although her clothes were mediocre and made her look like she was about to condone someone for speaking too loud in the library, the look in his eyes was almost...indecent.
Gia wasn’t an overly curvy woman, but she had meat to work with and a nice pair of tits that men seemed to like to stare at as she handed them their freshly dry cleaned clothes.
Her strawberry blonde hair was down for the evening, cascading just past her shoulders in a silky wave. She wasn’t an expert on make-up, but tonight she tried her best, her green eyes lined with a brown eyeliner and eyelids polished with a pink eyeshadow. Her plump lips sported a light pink lip gloss that made her mouth appear shiny and smooth.
It felt like it had been forever when she finally made it to the table. The man immediately stood and came to her side of the table to pull out a chair for her. It was then that she noticed he was wearing dark wash jeans and polished black loafers. She glanced down at her own black flats and wished that she could have been the type of woman to wear heels, or at the very least own a pair.
With a force of bravery, Gia met the man’s eyes. He truly was the most attractive man she had ever seen in all of her twenty six years of life. His skin was dark, a deep brown that reminded her of the chocolate drizzle that came on the mocha frappes from McDonald’s. His lips were very full on the top and bottom and smooth and slightly pink, the bottom plumping out past the top ever so slightly. His eyes were an even deeper brown that held such a gentle motion, yet somehow charged with something she was scared to name.
Because surely that look couldn’t be for her...right?
Only, he was looking right into her eyes, as if nothing else in the room had registered to him but her.
She sat down in the velvety chair and used her thighs to scoot her legs under the table. He helped her and for some reason it made her blush.
He’s such a gentleman.
“Thank you.” She said quietly, her voice laced with shyness.
He smiled a brilliantly white and wide smile that had her heart leaping in her chest. She really couldn’t get over how handsome he was. And polite.
“It’s my pleasure.” He replied, and the southern twang of his voice washed over her like silk sheets.
She thought his accent sounded like something from Louisiana, but she couldn’t be too sure. She also didn’t want to assume. A lot of people get offended if you guess their origin wrong. Gia was not so inclined to ask.
And yet, she found herself really wanting to.
Perhaps she should have been asking what his name was first, she thought in mortification. How could she ask someone out without even knowing their first name?
Even though the thought flitted across her mind, when Gia spoke the words that came out were, “If you don’t mind me asking...where are you from? I can’t confidently place your accent.”
The man smiled again at her and scooted his legs under the table. She felt his knees graze her own and a shock of pleasure filled her core. She had to fight to keep in the rough gasp that wanted to escape. “Hmm. I’ll let you guess first.”
Gia bit her lip, suddenly even more nervous under the penetration of his stare. He was watching her so intently, his eyes flicking over every inch of her face that she felt her cheeks flame. She wasn’t wearing blush so she knew it was obvious to him that she was blushing for him.
His grin widened as he waited for her to respond.
“Louisiana?” She guessed, her voice still timidly soft. It frustrated her and yet she couldn’t find the confidence to raise it. He made her so nervous.
“You’d be correct, ma’am.”
Her green eyes widened in delight. “Really?”
“Yup. Born and raised in southern Louisiana.”
“Can you speak Creole?” She wondered, the words spilling before she could stop them.
“Oui.” He said, “Well, a little bit. Not so much now that I don’t speak it as much. I was fluent once.”
“Do you speak another language besides English?”
“No. I mean, I know a little bit of Spanish, but nothing grand. Just a few simple phrases.”
The man nodded, seeming to absorb her words, trivial as they were, and he seemed about to say something else when a waitress appeared out of nowhere, startling Gia.
“Good evening. My name is Kylee and I’ll be your server tonight. Can I start you off with something to drink?”
Gia hadn’t even looked at the menu to see the drink selection. Swiftly, she picked up the menu and did a quick scan of the list of beverages.
“Would you like some wine?” She heard the man ask. She peered over her menu at him and looked at his questioning gaze.
“No thank you. I actually don’t drink.” At least not anymore since she got on a certain medication. Swallowing down sudden nerves, she added, “Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. I don’t drink either. Recovering alcoholic, actually.”
The way he said, so matter of factly and blatantly in front of Kylee, impressed Gia. And the fact that he would have been willing to be in discomfort while she indulged showed her the type of character he was.
“I’ll just have water, no lemon please.”
“Be right back with those while you two look over the menu.” Looking mildly uncomfortable, Kylee plastered a fake smile and hurried away from the table.
The two were left in silence. Gia couldn’t decide if it was awkward or not. There was tension, but she couldn’t tell the sort of tension it was.
“So...you’re a recovering alcoholic? How long have you been sober?” She asked. It was a bold question for her to ask, but he had already opened the box. And the way he spoke about it made her think he wouldn’t mind her prying.
Her instincts were right as he smiled and responded with, “Two years and five months in counting.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
“It’s not something I care to celebrate. I see it as taking care of myself, doing what’s right for my health. I don’t view it as an achievement, because really, I got to that state myself and had to pull myself out of it. I’ve had a lot to make up for the past two and a half years. I’m still making up for those mistakes, actually.”
“But you had the strength to overcome your disease. I’d think that’s something to celebrate.”
He looked at her more intently then, his eyes more curious and questioning. “I can’t believe I’m telling this to a stranger...and I just realized that I don’t know your name.”
Gia smiled shyly. “My name is Gia.”
“Gia,” he said, echoing the name in an almost affectionate tone. “Gorgeous name, that.”
She blushed. “Thank you.”
“Aren’t you going to ask my name?”
She blushed harder. “Sorry. What’s your name?”
“I like that name; I think it suits you.”
“How?” he laughed.
“I don’t know,” Gia said honestly. “It just does.”
“Do you know how beautiful you are?” He asked out of left field, taking her off guard.
Her lips parted, tongue dry at the compliment. She didn’t really know what to say and luckily Kylee returned with two waters in hand at that exact moment.
As soon as the water was in front of her, Gia took a sip. The icy water cooled down her throat and moistened her tongue. She felt out of her element here, even though Leon had only made a simple inquiry that sounded more like a statement than anything. It had been so long since Gia had been on a date, and she kept it that way for obvious reasons.
That, and the fact that it had been months since a man showed interest in her at all.
“Have you had a chance to decide what to order?” Kylee asked.
The menu was still between her two hands, but Gia hadn’t so much as glanced at it since Kylee left the table.
“Um...” She was still reeling from his statement and couldn’t think properly.
Get a grip for fucks sake, she berated herself. For God’s sake it hasn’t been that long, has it?
“I think we need a few moments,” Leon said swiftly.
Kylee nodded politely and left.
“I’m sorry,” Gia said once she was out of earshot. “I have to admit that I’m really nervous right now.”
Leon looked at her warmly. “Please stop apologizing. It’s okay to be nervous. I am too, if I’m honest.”
“You are?” She asked in wonder. He seemed so relaxed and composed. Confident in the way he watched her.
“Very,” he nodded. “My heart is beating a mile a minute.”
“Really?” Her own heart skipped a beat at the thought.
“Oh yes. I’ve never had such an immediate reaction to a woman before.”
He laughed. “Really. I’ve made it a rule for myself to be honest one hundred percent of the time. I can assure you that I will never lie to you.”
That was the most refreshing sentence in the world to Gia. She had been lied to for months and it had resulted in something life changing. She had her fill of liars.
“That is so refreshing,” she admitted, immediately wanting to take the words back.
“May I ask why?” Leon asked.
Gosh, he is so polite.
“I...” Gia’s lips shut like a flytrap. There was a not so subtle panic building in her chest. It felt as if a volcano was about to abrupt in her lungs.
Sensing her discomfort, Leon reached a hand across the table and encircled her wrist with a gentle yet strong hand. The pads of his fingers were rough against her soft skin. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.”
The softness in his voice made her whole body tingle, soothing her nerves almost instantaneously.
“Thank you. I’m sor...It’s a sore spot.”
“I understand. There is time for you to tell me.”
Once again, the man shocked her. “There is?”
“Gia,” Leon began, voice tender-laced and oh so sweet. “I feel like you’re someone worth getting to know. Maybe I’m moving fast here, but I can’t seem to help myself. You’re so...”
“I’m so what?” Gia inquired, a lump in her throat.
“Kind,” Leon continued. “Shy, tender, timid, lovely, exquisite. I can tell all these things simply by watching you. I feel like I can read you like an open book. Every emotion I see in your face is so easily written in the lines of your eyes. I can’t really explain it; I think I need to know you.”
Gia’s eyes were wide as teacups, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. The words were spoken so adamantly, so carefully, that she felt overwhelmed. No man had ever spoken to her this way. And the crazy thing was, he seemed to mean what he said. His dark irises were earnest and wide on her own.
This man, someone she hadn’t even known for a whole day, was speaking so sweetly to her and it felt as if it was more significant than anything she’d ever experienced. She couldn’t explain the thoughts, just that it felt that way.
“Have I made you uncomfortable?” Leon asked when she remained in her stunned stupor.
Blinking rapidly, Gia found her voice. “Not at all. The opposite, if I am honest. I feel the same way. I can’t explain why I asked you out earlier. I felt compelled to. And not just as an apology for what happened at Al’s. Though I am sorry about that.” She smiled as his nervous expression softened.
“It’s already forgiven,” He released her wrist and leaned back to his side of the table, grabbing his own menu. “I’m glad that we’re on the same page.”
“Me too.” Though as she said the words, she wasn’t so sure. How can I get to know someone that I ultimately can’t be with? she asked herself.
Leon seemed to be in a good spirit as he ran his eyes over the menu. “Do you see anything appealing?”
Gia still hadn’t looked at the menu. Instead, her green eyes had been cataloguing the features of Leon’s face. The dimple in his chin. The patch of pink on his lower lip contrasted against the light brown of the rest of it. The protruding Adam’s apple of his thick throat. The dark patch of hair that peeked out of the undone button of his shirt at the top.
Breaking out of her trance when Leon glanced up at her and smiled knowingly, she quickly peered down at the menu.
“I’ve never tried gnocchi.” She said the first thing that stood out to her.
She peered back up at Leon, unable to help herself. He was already staring back at her, his expression observant, scrutinizing.
“Neither have I,” he replied. “but I personally prefer something with more spice.”
“Is that the Louisiana in you?”
They smiled at each other. It was the first smile of the night that Gia actually showed her teeth and Leon focused on her mouth as she spread her lips.
“You have a beautiful smile,” he said, “but I suppose that is the Louisiana in me. People don’t go sparingly on spices. To me, there is nothing better than authentic soul food.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever tried real soul food.” Gia said, still blushing from his former comment.
It was comical how wide Leon’s eyes opened in shock. It was such a youthful expression that Gia couldn’t help but giggle. His expression straightened at the sound, but he still appeared noticeably confused.
“There is nothing like it,” he said convincingly. “My grandma makes the best crawfish known to anybody. One taste and you’ll be ruined for life.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Afraid not. I can’t really trust that unless you get a taste for yourself.”
Gia giggled again, making his eyes light up once more. “I’d gladly try it if I had the chance.”
Kylee returned to their table as he began to respond.
“Have you decided what you’d like to order?”
Gia peered back down at the menu. “Um, I think I’ll have the gnocchi.”
“Make that two.”
Kylee jotted down their orders then scurried off with a quick, “coming right up.”
“I thought you preferred food with more spice?” She asked curiously.
“I guess there is always time to try something new.”
Gia got the impression that he was talking about more than the gnocchi.
She wasn’t brave enough to bring attention to her suspicions, so instead she sought a change of topic.