Tuesday, September 1, 2009


(written November 2008)
Aaron M. Smith

“Yes, I’d like a bottle of the merlot, please,” I told the waiter, folding the drink menu and handing it back to him. He smiled simply, took the menu and trotted off. I folded my hands in my lap, then unfolded them, then placed them on the tabletop, then at my sides.
I could not figure out how to not look anxious. But I didn’t want it to look like I was trying too hard, or trying too hard to not try too hard.
Aw crap, I was starting to sweat. She was going to see sweat on my shirt, and it was going to be all over. I had to wear the blue shirt. Blue shows sweat. Of course, she had mentioned the other day that it brought out my eyes. How could I not wear it?
I glanced for the hundredth or so time at the door, past the other candlelit tables perched on tiny individual red carpets on the deep, hardwood floor. Not there yet.
I couldn’t help but feel conspicuous, sitting alone at my table. Nobody goes to a French restaurant and sips merlot and listens to the live piano all by himself, staring across the table past the candle flame to… an empty chair. Geez, I must’ve looked like a leper. All the other couples in the restaurant looked so casual, like they were all good at this. I was not good at this. Dating, that is.
I hadn’t really dated anyone since college. I dated the same girl for almost three years in undergrad, and after we split up I just didn’t have any motivation to look for another. After I graduated, my exposure to women my age became limited to the girl working at the desk at the bank (she’d been giving me eyes lately) and other teachers my age. And you know what they say about relationships with co-workers.
Someone sat something down on the table, and I said, “Thank you, but I won’t need the wine until my date arrives,”
“Well, Mister Harper, if this is indeed a date, I hope you ordered a nice merlot,” said a rich, deep feminine voice, and I turned to see the woman at my table. She was wearing a long, black dress, stylish yet conservative, with a tight necklace of small pearls around her neck. She smiled, and her dimples shone in the candlelight; I couldn’t keep from smiling. She pulled one auburn curl back from her face.
“Nice to see you, Ms. Faraday,” I said through my grin (carefully pronouncing “Mizz”). I stood and gave her a light hug before pulling out her chair for her. She smiled at me and sat down.
“Please, call me Carol,” she said.
“If you’ll call me Mark,” I said. “Only my students call me Mister Harper.”
The waiter arrived with the wine, and poured two glasses, and we drank.
“I have to say, Mark,” Carol said to me over her wine glass, “I expected a heartless gargoyle like yourself to be a little more… offsetting.”
I stammered for a split second, then chuckled. “I take it Haylee’s been talking about me at home?”
“And you’re the teacher she likes,” She smiled.
“Well, I went through something like that when I was fifteen,” I defended over my merlot.
“Which was, what, last week?” She was teasing me, and I grinned.
“Hey, I’m old enough. I have a masters degree, thank you very much.”
She smiled, showing white teeth. The corners of her eyes crinkled attractively, and candlelight flickered in her warm hazel eyes.
“At some point, shouldn’t we get on with the parent-teacher-conference portion of the evening?” Her glass was nearly empty. I took the bottle and tipped a little more into it. I then sat up as straight as I could in my chair and smoothed the wrinkles out of my shirt.
“Well Miss Faraday, it seems I caught your daughter with cigarettes on school grounds. That’s a mandatory one-day suspension,” I held my voice with mock authority.
“Well, since you previously stated that you too had a rebellious streak, Mister Harper, don’t you think she ought to be given some leeway?”
I flashed a grin at her. “Had a rebellious streak, Ms. Faraday?”
She grinned, her natural, throaty voice returning. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked out during an after-school meeting before.”
I flashed back to the previous week; I actually had caught Haylee Faraday with cigarettes and, school regulations, had to call her parent. Haylee's mother had arrived that afternoon wearing grey suit pants and a tight green sweater and no ring on her left hand, and I was knocked off of my feet. I was wearing a white polo shirt with a coffee stain on it. I asked her out before it had occured to my brain that she probably would say no. She hadn't.
“That coffee stain looked good on you.”
I laughed again, and then realizing she was being half-serious, I blushed furiously. Thank goodness for the concealing power of candlelight.
Carol took the wine bottle in her hands and turned it around, reading the label. “1990, good year.” She grinned, as if remembering something fondly. “I hadn’t even dreamt about Kaylee in 1990.” She turned her gaze to me, mischief in her eyes now. “What were you, in the 3rd grade?”
“Fourth,” I corrected, smiling back. “And you know what they say about wine. It gets better with age.”
“That’s not the only thing,” she replied, winking. My blush deepened by shades, but I laughed.

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