The Best Worst First Date
“Who is she?”
“She has to be someone. He’s been hanging around for weeks.”
“I can’t find anything. She’s clean. Divorced, with a kid. Co-owns a restaurant.”
“There has to be something. Look harder.”
“Seriously, she’s no one.”
“…and the queen lived happily ever after in her own damn
castle with her own money and took care of her fucking self.”
Taken from Pinterest
I smell like chipotle chicken.
It could be worse, because the lentil-kale soup doesn’t smell that great, either. But I’d honestly not have any café smells on me at the moment.
The serving spoon from under the counter makes a great mirror as I touch up my lipstick for the third time.
This is a mistake. The date, not the lipstick. According to Lucy, Bodacious Berry Bliss is flattering for those with brown hair, brown eyes, and medium skin tone. Although taking an eight-year old’s opinion on fashion has proven to be detrimental more than once.
I hadn’t planned on telling Lucy about my date, but she’s like a bloodhound when it comes to secrets.
“It’s about time, Mommy.” Lucy did the thing she does when she’s excited – jumping up and down while clapping her hands. I step away when she starts because hands and arms with really sharp elbows fly everywhere. Then she started planning out what I was going to wear.
Sometimes she’s more grown up than I am.
Lucy was also part of the ‘Intervention’ staged for me six months ago by my friend Casey, my ex-husband Simon, Simon’s mother. Even Simon’s new fiancée, Penny got involved.
As unbelievable as it sounds, Penny actually made the event less awkward than it could have been. She’s been with Simon for about three years now; she’s smart, funny and Lucy loves her. I wouldn’t say I share that emotion, but I like her a lot.
“You need to get out of the house,” Casey announced at the beginning of the ‘intervention.’ “Lucy is amazing, but there’s more to life than her and work.”
“I have no problem taking her another night, right after school,” Simon offered. I can’t help but notice how good he looks since he’s been with Penny. She makes him exercise regularly and cajoled him into playing Ultimate Frisbee together.
I still feel a slight twinge of regret at times, but that’s it. I still love him, but not in that way. We grew up, we grew apart. Luckily, Simon is still one of my best friends and Lucy seemed to adjust well to the divorce.
“I’d be happy introducing you to some new people,” Penny suggested. “I know lots of single men.”
“If I’d known this is how you’d turn out, you working all the time, nothing in your life but Lucy and that restaurant, I’d have made Simon stay married to you,” Simon’s mother pronounced with her typical over-exaggeration.
“You need to have some fun, Mommy,” Lucy told me bluntly. “I’m lots of fun, but it’s not enough for you. You need to get out and do something with your life. Do something exciting.”
I may not have agreed with what my loved ones said, but I did listen. I made a list because that’s what I do, and I set out a plan. One new activity every three weeks, one new friendship every month.
That was six months ago and so far I’ve tried rock climbing, gone to two Ancestry.com seminars, a wine tasting at the local Longo’s and revisited my youth at a New Kids on the Block concert. I enrolled both Lucy and me in karate; I had stopped taking classes when I married Simon and I’m pleased with how quickly I’ve gotten back into it. I’ve made three new friends, one of which I’m doing my best to avoid because she’s a little too clingy. But tonight is my first date.
“You need a boyfriend,” Lucy had informed me. “You’re single and ready to mingle. And you’re not getting any younger.”
I couldn’t help but wonder when my little girl had gotten so precocious. What was Simon letting her watch on television for her to come up with a line like that? Single and ready to mingle?
There had only been a handful of dates over the years; definitely not a lot compared to other women my age, but becoming a single mother at twenty-three and co-owner of a restaurant two years ago, had a lot to do with that.
Whatever the reason, my life is uneventful and somewhat monotonous. While I don’t expect a man to fix that, Colin’s invitation to meet for a drink came at the perfect time. Casey informed me only last week, she has my profile ready to be posted on Match.com and PlentyofFish.
Colin has been coming into the café for months and we’ve been playing tag with our glances for the entire time. I love how he looks away with a little flush on his cheeks whenever I catch his gaze on me. Sometimes he looks back and smiles. It’s a nice smile, a mixture of shy, nervous and friendly. He seems sweet. Much more my type than the swaggering jocks I expect the online dating services to match me with. I grew up with a father and older brother, both Alpha males, who battled it out for control of the Scott household. To this day, cocky arrogance brings out the worst in me.
I can tell Colin isn’t like that. And he doesn’t give off any creepy guy vibes either; not like that well-dressed guy, Casey tried to hook my up with who claimed to be abducted by aliens no fewer than fourteen times. So I’m crossing my fingers he’s exactly the mild-mannered, normal kind of guy he appears to be. And oh, is he ever cute.
“Incoming – hottie with the glasses,” Casey had announced under her breath. She gave me a push towards the register. “You take him – you look adorable with your hair up like that today.” I stumbled to the counter, already flustered.
“Hello,” he said politely, with the most adorable Hugh Grant-like accent.
“Can I help -?” A jerk of my hand knocks against the napkins left at cash and the package falls to the floor. I bend to retrieve them and smack my head on the counter when I stand. “Ow. Sorry. Hi.”
“Are you all right?” He looked at me with concern and the faintest tinge of amusement, which sends the blood rushing to my face.
“Fine. What can I get you?”
“Did you know…your name tag…ah, I can’t help but notice, but it appears to be upside down.” I glanced down. My Soup Du Jour name tag, which I insist all my employees wear, was indeed upside down. Colin was staring pointedly at it, his head cocked at a funny angle.
“Oh. Uh…” I was at a loss because I couldn’t turn it right side up without reaching inside my T-shirt. “It’s Tenley. My name.”
“Yes, I know,” he says with his shy smile. “Tenley.”
I like the way my name sounds with his accent. ‘Ten-ley’, with a slight upswing on the second syllable.
“Oh. Um, well, I know you’re Mr. Tea-with-vanilla-and-two-sugars.” He consistently orders a medium Earl Gray with two sugars and a shot of vanilla, the low-fat version of a London Fog, every time he comes in.
“Otherwise known as Colin.” His wide mouth quirked up at the corners when he smiled. “Colin Darcy.”
“Really?” I asked with disbelief. “That’s really your name?”
“Yes…” His eyebrow cocked up and I flushed with embarrassment.
“It’s just…it sounds like a very British name,” I say, fervently hoping he is indeed British, and not Scottish or Australian. “You know like Colin Firth played Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. And Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Very British.”
Can it be any more obvious that I’m seriously out of practice talking to men? Have I ever been in practice?
“I see. You seem well versed in British cinema,” Colin said. “Do you know, Mr. Firth is a friend of the family?”
“Really? I loved him in -” I cut myself off when Colin laughed.
“Sorry, can’t do it with you. That’s just a line of rubbish I use to impress the ladies.” He winked at me and despite my discomfiture, I grinned in response.
“Does it work?”
“Can I get back to you on that? Perhaps you’d be so kind to have a drink with me Friday night?”
Maybe it hadn’t been the best meet-cute moment, but it had worked, because here I am checking my lipstick one last time as I wait impatiently for him to pick me up. Not because he’s late but rather because I’m fifteen minutes early and driving myself crazy standing here doing nothing.
The fryer needs to be cleaned, the fridges wiped down and there’s always paperwork to do. And I want to try out a new recipe and get a head start on the inventory for next month. And then there’s Lucy’s science project.
And, and, and. It never ends.
Breathe. I take a cleansing breath like they teach in karate class, close my eyes. Try and relax, I tell myself in a voice that sounds surprisingly like Casey’s. You’re entitled to have time off. It’s only a date.
Just a date.
Lucy is safe with her father, happily eating matzo ball soup at Shabbat dinner. Simon has her until Sunday night. And in case of emergency, my friend Casey is on call. I can only hope tonight is better than my last evening out three years ago with the guy who turned out to have a thing for waxed mustaches. I sent Casey a 911 and she responded with a hysterical call about a grease fire in the café that almost had me convinced she was telling the truth.
A quiet knock on the door startles me back into the present. I jam the cap on my lipstick and resist the urge to run and hide. He’s here. What if we have nothing to talk about? What if I can’t stop talking? Is he expecting me to have sex with him? What if I don’t want to? Or, what if I do, and he doesn’t want to have sex with me?
Why am I thinking about having sex?
This was a bad idea. I should make up some excuse and…
Stop with the panic attack, Tenley. It’s just a date.
Another tap. Framed in the front door of the restaurant, Colin gives a shy smile and lifts his hand in a little wave. Pasting a smile on my face, I take another deep breath and open the door.
We do the polite hi, how are you, fine how are you, we should go, okay fine back and forth. Colin, the gentleman, holds the door open for me, which doesn’t help because then I have to turn and wait for him to leave so I can lock it behind us.
When I move back towards him, I guess he must think I’m leaning in for a kiss, which of course I would never do, even though he smells very nice, much better than chipotle chicken-flavored me. And so even though I have my keys in my hand, when he sees me leaning in, Colin leans in too. For a second our lips are only inches away and moving ever closer.
“Just. Locking the door. You’re…in the way,” I say, jingling the keys and turning my face to the side at the last moment.
“Beg pardon,” he says, leaping back with an embarrassed grin. It’s a nice smile, embarrassed or not, even with a fingerprint smudge clearly evident on his glasses.
Then, because I’m the type who can’t let an awkward moment go without making it worse, I impulsively lean over and peck him on the cheek, leaving a plum–coloured slash of evidence.
“Shii – take mushrooms.” My parent-of-a-young-child curse is masked by my mouse-like squeak and I feel my cheeks heat to the boiling point. What was I thinking? “Oh no…I got some on you.” Using my fingers, I hesitantly attempt to wipe away the lipstick, feeling the hint of the end of day stubble under the surface. Is his beard the same reddish-blonde hair as on his head? “I’m sorry.”
What the hell am I doing? I should just wave the white flag right now and duck back into the café. Is it too early to text Casey?
“I’m not.” Colin looks me directly in the eyes – which is a first tonight – and smiles. His blue eyes crinkle at the corners behind his glasses. And that smile. While my heart doesn’t exactly do a flip, it does flutter considerably.
“Could we possibly start over?” I whisper.
Colin sticks out his hand. “Colin Darcy. Big fan of your café. Would you care to join me for a drink?”
I break into a relieved smile as his hand clasps mine, giving a healthy pump. “Tenley Scott. I think I need that drink.”