First Date

A short story about a first date that Jenna doesn’t exactly want to be on. Contains content which may offend.

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I scan the crowd waiting outside the restaurant. I can’t see anybody that looks like they’re alone. Doesn’t help that I don’t know what he looks like; who doesn’t have Facebook in this day and age? I’m not going up to random men and asking them if they’re Jim.

7:01. He’s late. Not a good sign. Maybe he got stuck in traffic; it is only a minute. This is the why I hate blind dates. Never seen the guy, only text once or twice, everything was set up through my sister. This was destined to crash and burn, just like everything else.

A tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me.”

I turn and say the first thing that pops into my head. “You’re late.” Great job there. He could have at least made an effort; he looks like he’s just been for a jog or something.

“What?” he says. “Lady, I just wanted to know the time.”

A warmth creeps up my neck into my cheeks and I know I’m blushing. “Sorry. Thought you were someone else. It’s just gone seven.”

He walks off quickly. Doesn’t even say thank you. I guess I was a bit rude to him. If that was Jim, though, I’m going to kill Debbie. Another man comes around the corner and spots me. He waves and starts walking towards me. At least this one’s scrubbed up.

“Jenna?” he asks when he’s close enough.

“Yep. You Jim?” Before I can stop myself I’m looking at my watch.

“That’s me. Sorry I’m um, a bit, um, late. I, ah, had trouble, erm, getting out of work, um, on time.”

He got there in the end. “It’s no big deal. Shall we head in?” I start walking to the door and Jim follows.

Jim flashes a brief smile at the hostess. “Table under Montigue?”

While the hostess flips through her papers I raise an eyebrow at Jim. “Montigue? Debbie didn’t mention you were royalty.”

He forces a chuckle out. “Not quite royalty. It comes from some fourteenth century duke or something.”

“Interesting.”

The hostess steps out from behind her podium. “If you follow me, I’ll take you to your table.”

“So, what do you do for work then?” I ask as we walk.

“I, erm, manage an antique furniture shop nearby.” He stays close to me while the hostess darts off ahead.

“An antique store, eh? Sounds exciting.” This close, I can smell Jim over the scent of the food being cooked and served. He spends far too much money on cologne. It’s nice though.

“It has its moments,” Jim says.

We take our seats at the table and are given a couple of menus. Lilly, according to her name badge, says our waiter will be along shortly.

Jim leans forward in his chair slightly and places his hands on the table, crossing them. “You ever been here before?”

“Nope. First time.”

Our waiter appears with our menus and hands us one each. “Good evening. My name’s Alex and I’ll be your server tonight. Can I get you guys started with some drinks?” He hands us both a drinks list.

“I’ll just have a glass of house red,” Jim says, returning the list.

“And I’ll have the same.”

“Excellent. I’ll be right back with those for you.” Alex leaves us.

The crisp cloths on the table feel great on my arms as I lean forward. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a place this posh. There’s some crappy romantic music coming from the speakers dotted across the room. There are couples all around us. The tiny tables they put everyone on are perfect for a nice, intimate occasion. Whatever one of those is.

The waiter comes with our drinks and places them on the table. He says something that I don’t pay attention to. This is going really well so far. Just been sitting here in silence for a while. Great date.

“So,” I say, breaking the silence.

Jim looks over his menu at me.

“You been here before?” I ask. I start bouncing my foot up and down under the table.

Jim shifts his legs a little and bumps into my shoe. I pull my legs back.

“I come here quite a bit. It’s really good; you’ll love it.” He starts flicking through his menu again.

I open up my menu. Great. Everything’s in Italian. The only thing I can understand is the price and I’d rather not be able to read that part. I know now why I’ve never been here.

“Do they have anything in English?” I ask, letting out a nervous chuckle.

Jim looks over his menu and smiles at me. It’s filled with a warmth I haven’t seen in a while and I can’t help but smile back at him.

“They don’t, unfortunately,” Jim says, placing his menu down.

“You speak Italian?”

“Not even a little bit.”

Great choice of restaurant there, Jim. “So how do you order if you come here so much?” I ask. I start bouncing my foot under the table again.

He laughs. “I point and try to read it out to the waiter usually.”

“Great.” I pick my menu back up and try and make sense of what’s on the page. I lean an elbow onto the table and run my finger along each word, trying to remember anything I learnt from school that might be vaguely helpful. I know I’m mouthing the words as I read them.

“I think ‘pollo’ means ‘chicken’, if that’s any help?” Jim says, scanning his menu.

I pull my phone out of my bag and start typing. “I’ll just translate them.”

“I never thought of doing that.” He puts his menu down again and leans further forward.

I follow and put the menu down between us so we can both see it.

Jim points to one item. “I’ve had that. It’s really nice.”

I read out the translated version. “Basil-lemon barley with truffle.”

“I had no idea that’s what that was.”

“Is that like a posh risotto?” I ask, trying to type the next thing into my phone.

Jim chuckles. “Pretty much.” He attempts to read me out the next item on the list.

Not particularly helpful, but at least he’s trying. “These things really aren’t designed to type in a foreign language are they? I think that one is some kind of salmon. Salmon, grilled potato and dill wire, apparently.”

Jim looks up from the menu. “Wire?” he asks.

“That’s what it says. Maybe they wrap it in barbed wire so you really have to earn your food.”

Jim laughs. “I think I might have to go with that just to see what it actually is.”

“Just don’t come crying to me when it bites you in the arse.” Goddamn it, Jenna. I sigh as I look back down to the menu. Don’t swear. This is a posh place. “Spaghetti in a chilli and tomato sauce. That sounds nice.” It’s cheap too. I put my phone down on the table.

Jim takes a sip of his drink. “It sounds good.”

The waiter reappears. “You guys ready to order?”

Jim looks to me, I nod. I read out my order from the menu, I don’t completely screw it up. Jim does the same. Cheap spaghetti and wire salmon. Good picks.

“Excellent. I’ll get that sorted for you,” the waiter says. I’ve already forgotten his name. He takes our menus and leaves.

We both take a sip from our drinks.

“So, tell me about yourself. What do you do? Debbie didn’t really tell me anything.” Jim stays leaning forward.

I can smell him again. That cologne is actually quite nice. A lot better than the tuna on the table behind us, anyway. “I work in a tiny cubicle in an office.”

“Sounds exciting,” he says. There’s a bit too much joy in his voice. I don’t know if he’s being patronising or sarcastic.

“It’s no antique shop, I’ll give you that.”

Jim chuckles and lowers his head slightly. “Just yesterday we had a lady come in who wanted to buy two wardrobes. We could barely contain our excitement.” Now that was definitely sarcasm.

It’s my turn to laugh this time. We both take a sip from our drinks.

“Is an office job the dream?”

I cross my arms on the table, my hand starts rubbing up and down my upper arm. “It’s not. But it pays the bills. Who has time for dreams anymore, anyway?”

“You’ve got to have a dream, something to work towards. I trained as a carpenter, once upon a time. It’s why I’m at the shop; doing everything I can to get my own store set up.”

“There was a time when I wanted to be a writer.” I move my arms down to the table, mimicking Jim’s position almost. A knot starts growing in my stomach.

“Why’d you stop?” He moves one of his hands forward an inch before pulling it back and shakes his head a little.

“I gave it a go. I wasn’t very good at it. At least I didn’t think so. I mean, I wrote a couple of books but they never really took off or went anywhere. Eventually life got in the way and I didn’t have time to do it anymore.”

“That sucks. You ever think of going back to it?” Jim moves his hand to his face and rests his chin on it. He keeps moving his thumb to his mouth before pulling it back quickly. His nails look like he’s a biter.

“From time to time I think of picking up the pen again. The feeling passes quickly.”

The waiter arrives with our food and sets it down in front of us.

“What were your books about?” Jim asks before taking a bite of his fish.

“They were about a girl who finds out that she’s the descendant of a forgotten god. She gets up to a couple of different adventures over the course of the books.” I move my pasta around the plate with my fork before eating some.

“It sounds interesting. What happens to her?” he asks.

“A bunch of stuff, really.” I shift in my seat; my foot ends up resting against his leg. I pull it out of the way quickly.

Jim doesn’t seem to notice. “Like?”

“A bunch of stuff. She finds out that there are others like her. Some of them are trying to bring the gods back to destroy the world. She stops them, falls in love with one of the other god kids. Pretty standard stuff really.” My foot’s bouncing so rapidly under the table my wine glass is shaking a little. I stop myself before it falls over.

“It sounds good. I’d love to give them a read sometime.”

Sure you would. They all say that. It was nice of him, though. He didn’t have to say it.

“I think I have a couple of copies lying around at home somewhere.” I end with a shrug.

Jim smiles at me again and the knot growing in the pit of my stomach starts going away. I return his smile. He’s a nice guy.

“You’ll have to bring them with you next time.”

“You assume there’ll be a next time?”

Jim starts stammering, struggling to get any coherent words out.

“I’m joking.” I tap his leg gently with my foot as I say it. “How’s your salmon?”

“Really good. Want to try some?” He spears a flake of flesh on his fork and holds it out to me.

“There’s not any wires in there, are there?” I eat it before he can respond. “That’s really nice.” I wrap a few strands of my pasta around my fork and hold it out to Jim. “Try mine.”

He does. “Wow. I’ve had that before. It seems better than usual. Must be the company.”

“You cheesy fucker.” It’s out of my mouth before I can stop it. Well done there, Jenny. I open my mouth to start an apology.

“I’m so cheesy this place shakes me over people’s food and charges them for it.”

I can’t help but laugh. “That’s gross. Makes me glad I said no to the Parmesan, though.”

“Yeah, that was probably a good choice.”

Jim stops and, for the briefest amount of time we share a look. I gaze into those hazel eyes of his and it’s like we’re sharing a moment. Probably not though.

The waiter appears again. “Is everything okay for you guys?”

It was until you got here. Jim and I look at him.

“Everything’s great, thank you,” Jim says. He turns to me. “Would you like another drink?”

I take the final sip of the one I have. “I wouldn’t say no to one.”

“Same again?” Jim finishes his too.

I nod and push my glass to the waiter. What is his name? Fred?

“Two more house reds, if you wouldn’t mind.”

The waiter takes our empty glasses and leaves us alone.

Jim starts eating again. “Did you study writing?” he asks.

“No.” I shake my head. “I didn’t study anything. I didn’t finish my A Levels. Didn’t get on with them.” I keep my eyes down on my food moving it around with my fork.

“Yeah?” he says. “I hated school. I left when I was fourteen. That’s when I trained as a carpenter.”

I look up at Jim; his eyes are locked on me. “Why a carpenter?” I give him a brief smile before returning to my food.

“I just applied to a bunch of things and that was the only one that accepted me. Have you ever thought about going back to school?”

“Not really.”

The waiter comes back over to us. “Everything okay with your meal?”

“Everything’s fine,” Jim says.

“Okay then. Let me know if you guys need anything.” The waiter leaves.

“What is that guy’s name?” I ask. “I can’t remember and it’s been bugging me.” Thank God we’re changing the subject.

Jim chuckles. “It was Alex, I think.”

“Oh yeah, that’s it. Thanks. So, how do you know Debbie?”

“I don’t, really.” He puts his knife down and moves his hand back to his face trying not to bite his nails. “She used to work with my brother. The three of us hung out a few times and he’s kept in touch with her.”

Great. Thanks for setting me up with some random person there, Sis. “Is that when she worked at that accountant place?”

“Yeah.” Jim moves his hand back down to the table and continues eating. “She set everything up through my brother. I’m glad she did.”

He ends with that smile and I can’t help but smile back. It was nice of him to say that. He didn’t have to. “Me too.” I’m still smiling at him, our eyes locked across the table. It only lasts a moment but it feels like minutes. He has really kind eyes.

We break our staring and return to what’s left of our food. I haven’t lost my smile though. Jim finishes up the last of his meal. He crosses his knife and fork on his plate. I finish mine too and push the dish away from me slightly.

The waiter comes over almost instantly to clear them away. “Was everything okay? Can I get you something else? Dessert?”

“We’re okay, thanks. Just the bill,” I say before Jim can. I’m already going to be spending more than I should be tonight. I look back at Jim. “I had more fun than I thought I would tonight.”

“Thanks, I think,” he says.

“Debbie keeps trying to set me up on dates. Her friends, co-workers, wouldn’t surprise me if she was just grabbing random men off the street some of the time to be honest. This is definitely ranking pretty highly up there.”

“I’m glad. I had a really nice time too.” Jim pulls his wallet out of his pocket as the waiter, Alex, appears with the bill. He checks it and pulls out a few notes, making a nice neat pile with them.

“How much do I owe?” My hand reaches for my bag.

“Nothing.”

“Come on, how much?” I ask.

“Well, you’ve already called me a cheesy fucker so I think you owe me one.”

“No, really. How much do I owe? You’re not paying for everything.” I’m not really going to complain if he does, to be fair.

“I insist. I don’t get many chances to look like a gentleman these days. Let me have this.”

“Okay. If you insist.”

Jim flashes another of those smiles at me.

“But we’re even now, right on that cheesy fucker thing?” I say.

“I don’t know about that.” He sighs. “I might have to see you again to decide.”

“It’s a date. Shall we get out of here?”

Jim agrees and stands. He motions for me to go first and we leave the restaurant. He thanks the hostess as we’re heading out.

“How are you getting home?” he asks.

“I’m walking. I live quite close.”

“I’ll walk you,” Jim offers almost before I finish.

“Oh? Okay.” We start walking. “You still trying to be a gentleman?” I ask.

“I’m not trying. I’m being one.” He chuckles quietly.

Jim says a few things as we walk but I can’t stop my mind from wandering. This was actually really fun. I’m surprised. I pay enough attention so I can tell if I need to give a proper answer. I hope he actually wants to do this again. Not holding my breath for it though. This hasn’t exactly been the best date.

A touch breaks me out of my train of thought. His hand takes hold of mine and our fingers interlock. My heart flutters a little and we share a look. I realise that we’ve stopped moving. I restart our walk and Jim follows suit.

Jim keeps coming out with random statements as we walk.

“It’s quite a mild night, isn’t it?”

“Look at those stars. Is that Orion?”

“That cloud looks a bit like a rabbit.”

I start to smile as we walk along, not really saying much. The odd agreement to his rambling if it needs one. But just enjoying the moment. It isn’t long before we arrive at my flat.

“This is me,” I say.

He releases my hand and moves his up to the side of my face. His hand rests just below my ear as he leans in. I push myself up onto my toes, meeting him halfway. Our lips touch gently and for that brief moment it’s as if nothing else matters. His scent fills my nostrils, my heart starts thumping in my chest. I can feel his heart doing the same through his lips, or maybe that’s mine. I place my hand on his hip, the hairs on my arm standing up.

Jim pulls away, keeping his face close to mine. “Good night, Jenny.”

“Good night, Jim.” Well…maybe now’s not the best time to tell him I’m pretty sure I’ve slept with his brother.

Davina Chime is a Thanet-born hopeless romantic.

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