I check my phone for the third time. Randy should be here by now, this is the third time he missed a date. The first two times I understood, his mom needed him and then his cousin needed him, but this time he promised me that he would be here.
It was our anniversary for God’s sake, why would he miss one of the most important days of our relationship? The tiny pessimistic voice in the back of my head whispered, Maybe he’s cheating on you. Maybe he doesn’t want you anymore and found another person. I shoved those thoughts away, trying to think of the happiest memories I had with Randy.
“Is this seat taken?” I look up, an apologetic older woman is leaning over the chair.
It takes a second for the words to register, but I nod quickly. “Yeah, um, my boyfriend should be here soon.” I give a hard look to the door, trying to wish him into existence. The woman gives me an odd look, but wanders away in search of another chair.
In the tiny restaurant, I can feel everyone’s eyes on me, pitying eyes. I pick up the menu, trying to ignore the stares. The words blur together and before I know it, tears are pricking the corners of my eyes, and I’m fighting back tears.
Distantly I heard the bell on the door jingle, but I was too caught up in my head to really notice.
“Sorry I’m so late, handsome. Traffic was horrible,” I looked up to see an unfamiliar, but extremely good looking man pulling out the chair across from me.
“Do I, uh, know you?” I asked, staring wide-eyed at him. I tug on the rainbow bracelet on my wrist--a nervous habit--and try to keep my eyes from wandering from his face.
“Can you believe there were three accidents on the highway?” He exclaimed loudly, and I wanted to punch him in the face so badly. Ruin that perfectly shaped nose of his or something. Couldn’t he just let me be miserable in peace? He raised his hand to call the waiter. Then turned back to me and whispered, “I’m Michael, by the way. Please just go with it. Randy is a complete idiot for not showing up, so I’m standing in for him.”
“What would you like to order tonight?” The waiter flips open his pad and clicks a pen. I jump, not expecting him to be so close. “May I recommend the linguine and clams? We just got fresh shellfish today,”
I was still dumbstruck by this incredibly cute looking boy at my table. I couldn’t form coherent sentences, but Michael jumped in to save me.
“Um, that sounds great! Two linguine and clams for us, please. Thank you.” He flashes a winning smile at the waiter.
People have stopped staring now, it’s like the world has been restored to a balance. “I still don’t know why you’re doing this. How did you even know that I was waiting for a man?” I squinted at him, trying to gauge how likely it was that he was playing a prank on me, and this was all for a laugh. He kind of looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. “Do I even know you, somehow?”
“My gaydar was going off, and I’ve seen you and Randy together on Campus…” Michael said, his voice changing from lighthearted to--if I didn’t know better--jealous? Why would he be jealous of us? And how did he know? Randy insisted on us being a secret.
“How…?” I trail off unsure of what to ask.
“When you see two people go into a storage closet from around the corner, it raises a couple of questions.” He smirked a bit.
He looked like he was going to say something else, but the waiter is back. He looks slightly miffed by something, but otherwise pleasant. “I forgot to ask, I’m sorry, what would you like to drink?”
Michael looks expectantly at me. “Um, I’ll have a Coke,” I said.
“Me too,” He smiled at me, it gave me this weird feeling in my chest. I tried to push it away from me. I was cheating on Randy, emotionally anyway at the moment. I couldn’t have feelings for this guy who I had met five minutes ago. Not while I was still in a relationship.
“So why did you decide to stand in for Randy?” I asked, clenching my fists under the table.
“I saw you in the restaurant and, this sounds so stalkerish, but I can promise you it’s not. And I watched you for like ten minutes and then I decided to step in.” Michael said, his eyes laughing.
“If I said, you need to leave right now, would you?” I tilted my head to the side. If it had been Randy sitting across from me, he would say no. I know that for a fact, even if I turned him down a million times, he would always keep pushing.
A strange, happy look came over his face. “‘My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you would silence me on this subject forever.’”
“Excuse me?” I narrow my eyes. I had heard that from somewhere, but I couldn’t place it. Maybe Eleanor had said it to me at some point, when she was telling me about one of her romantic endeavors.
“Sorry, that was my English major speaking; we had to write an essay on the themes of Pride and Prejudice last week. But seriously, if you want me to leave and let you be miserable alone, I will do that.” He gave me a small smile, and my brain turned to mush.
“You do know, I’m in a relationship with someone--” Movement outside the window catches my attention.
Two figures outside the window, painted in the warm light from the restaurant stand facing each other. What’s even worse is it’s snowing, white flakes making it look like a scene from a romance movie. Randy stands hand in hand with a girl who I have never seen before. They lean in, but I turn away before their lips touch. Why would he do this to me? Was I the first person he could get to kiss him. To experiment?
I hear a clatter and see Michael stand up from his seat, the chair thrown back. “I’m going to punch that, mother--” I jump up before he can make the grandmother two tables over faint.
“I’ll handle him,” I take a deep breath, grab my coat, and slowly march out the door.
The pair are giggling, their heads close together and that’s what makes it more infuriating. I clench my fists. One, to keep myself from punching him, and two, my fingers feel like they are freezing off.
“Randy, what are you doing?” I asked. He jumped away from the girl.
“Amir!” He let out a fake laugh. “What are you doing here?”
“Who’s this, Randy?” The girl pulled her hat lower over her ears.
“No one, someone from campus--” He’s grasping at the straws, but I cut him off.
“I’m his boyfriend, thank you very much.” I snapped. If he wasn’t going to say it, I had to.
“Randy!” She slapped his hands away from her. “You idiotic bas--” Randy clapped a hand over her mouth before she could finish.
“This isn’t what it looks like, Amir.” Randy backs away from the both of us, more away from her than me. Which is probably the best decision because there’s nothing more dangerous than a heartbroken woman.
“Oh, then what is it? Enlighten us.” I growl. I didn’t know I had that in me, but there’s this burning fire in my chest that’s clawing its way up my throat, threatening to explode.
“No, it is what it looks like, me and this jerk were on a date.” The girl said sharply. “We’re done, by the way, if that wasn’t clear.” She turns to me expectantly.
I add on, “So are we, you are an idiotic fool. I’m dumping you too,” Those were words I never thought I would say.
“But--” Randy was cut off by the girl punching him in the face.
“What part of we’re done, do you not understand? Get lost,” She made a shooing motion with her hands, and he didn’t need to be told twice. Randy scrambled to his feet and took off down the street. The girl turned to me like nothing happened, “I’m Skye,” She held out a hand. “You mind if I joined you? Randy was kind of my ride.”
“Sure,” We reentered the restaurant. Michael looked pretty happy.
“I wish I got a swing at him, he deserved it.” He looked like the equivalent of a human golden retriever.
“Mhmm,” Skye nodded nonchalantly, like she punched people all the time.
“Uh, here are your drinks,” The waiter finally arrived. He doesn’t look at all surprised that Skye is now at the table. “Do you want something, ma’am?”
“I’ll take a Pepsi, if you have any.” She said flippantly, pulling out her phone.
“A Pepsi!” I leaned back with my hand on my chest, gasping like it was the worst thing I had ever heard. “How could you like Pepsi more than Coke?”
The waiter’s lips quirk up a little. “I’ll get your drink, and your dinner should be coming out soon.”
Michael stared at me. There was this look in his eyes that I couldn’t quite place, I couldn’t even name if I tried.
“Ugh, do you have to do that here, Michael?” Skye slapped his arm.
“What did I do?” He asked, giving her a glare.
“Stare at him, with that, ugh…” She mimed throwing up. “If you are going to keep staring at him like that, I’m going to leave.”
“Stare at who?” I asked. Who would he stare at in this restaurant? It couldn’t be me, how could such a bright, extremely cute person stare at me?
Skye pushed herself up from the table. “I’m leaving, okay? Just tell him, stop pining. Just tell him!” She smirked at Michael. “What’s the worst that could happen, honestly! Men.” She flipped her hair, adjusted her beanie, and stalked out of the restaurant.
“Your linguine and clams,” The waiter set the plates on the table. Just before he left, he called over his shoulder, “You make a very cute couple.”
I didn’t know how to respond, but Michael grinned broadly. “Thank you,” He called after him.
We ate in almost silence, with a moan of how good the meal was every couple of minutes. I finished first. I waved over the waiter and asked for the check, but when I went to pay for it, Michael stopped me.
“Let me pay, I already intruded into your date night.” He said, pulling out his wallet. He had a small bit of linguine stuck on his upper lip.
“You have a little…” I gestured to his lips. “Thing there.” He wipes it off and is about to say something, but I jump in first. “Really, I should pay, because it was supposed to be my date night and then I ruined your evening, and--” I’m rambling now, but Michael cuts me off.
“I’m going to pay, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He pulls out a card from his wallet and puts it on the tray. Before I can react, the waiter appears and whisks the card off to the register.
“Thank you for coming, have a nice evening.” The waiter says. The both of us get up together and walk out.
It’s still snowing. The little white flakes dance in the cold air. “Thanks,” I smile, trying to tamp down the disappointment that I’m probably never going to see him again. You just broke up with your boyfriend, you can’t move on this quickly. I think, trying to be rational, but when is the heart ever rational. I make a move to walk away, Michael catches my arm and spins me back to him.
“Wait, can I ask you something?” he sighs, rubbing his face with his other hand. “I know this is sudden and you just broke up with your boyfriend. It’s really bad timing, but could I have your number? So we can set up another meet up?”
I just stare at him.
I must have been silent for too long because he lets go of my arm and groans. “Sorry, that was too sudden. You probably never want to see me again, anyways.” This time he turns away from me.
I grab both of his wrists and face him. “Two, three, one. Four, seven, two. Nine, seven, two, four.”
“That’s my phone number,” Shock registers on his face, but he whips out his phone and looks at me expectantly. And I repeat the numbers.
They feel freeing, like I'm leaving behind something and now finding something beautiful. And I smile.