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Contemporary Funny Romance

FIRST DATE

Yes

I must have stared at that word for ten minutes. Then I put my phone face down on the passenger seat, dried my palms on my slacks, and tried to slow my racing heart. When I picked up the phone again, that word, that wonderful word, was still smiling at me.

I stepped out of the car into the crisp morning air. Not a cloud in the sky. As I crossed the parking lot a flock of blackbirds burst from a nearby tree, racing above my head in one tight circle before returning to their branches, their song calling for the sun to peak one eye over the horizon.

It was going to be a great day.

Tom, the security guard, raised his gray eyebrows as I step into the lobby. “Damn, Seth, you’re lookin’ good! That a new suit?”

“What, this old thing?”

“Presentation today?”

“Nope.”

He whistled. “Then you must have a date tonight.”

I just smiled at him as the elevator door closed.

I wasn’t at my desk for five minutes when my co-worker Mark’s shiny bald dome peaked over my cubicle. All I saw was his face from his long nose up, and two hands gripping the wall. Kilroy was here.

“What’re you so happy about?”

I didn’t take my eyes off my iMac. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re whistling.”

“I am not.”

“You are,” said Donna, the office’s administrative assistant. She’d appeared behind me like a specter. She could have retired ten years ago but stays because she loves the work. “Through your teeth.”

I hadn’t realized.

“Hey, what’s this?” It was Brodie, the office gossip. He grinned under his bleached undercut fade. “Staff meeting to talk about Seth’s love life?”

Mark’s eyebrows shot up. “Love life? Seth has a love life?”

“You kidding me? Look at that suit!”

It was nice. Cesare Attolini. Charcoal. It cost me an entire two-week’s salary.

Brodie plucked at my sleeve. “On casual Friday? Delicious!”

“What would your husband say if he heard you talk like that?”

“Oh please. I’m talking about the suit. Not Seth.”

They both chortled. Funny guys.

Donna sidled up next to me, leaning against my desk. “Did you ask her?”

“Ask her?” Mark looked like he might try to climb over the wall into my cubicle. “Ask who?”

“Don’t you pay attention? It has to be our little contractor friend from the Zoom meetings. Didn’t you see the way he always had a question for her right at the end?”

“That’s so true,” said Brodie. “Every time. ‘Oh, Samaya, there are a couple more things I’d like to go over if you have a minute.’”

My scalp began to prickle, heat rising on my cheeks and forehead.

“Which one is she?” asked Mark. “The Indian girl?”         

“Pakistani.”

“No way. Isn’t she a little too…you know.”

Donna shot him a poisonous glare. “A little what?”

“Beautiful. I mean, she’s way out of Seth’s league. She’s a nine, at least. Maybe a nine-point-five. Seth’s at most a five-and-a-half on a good day.”

“Hey,” I said, “I’m right here.”

“Oh, come on,” snapped Brodie. “A nine? We don’t even really know what she looks like. We only saw her on a screen. She could be seven feet tall for all we know.”

Donna refocused her glare at him. “Something wrong with tall women?” She towers over both of them by two inches.

“True,” said Mark. “Or she could have hobbit feet.”

Brodie winced. “Hobbit feet would be a deal breaker.”

Donna put a hand on my shoulder. “I think she’s a good match for you.”

Finally. A word of encouragement. “You think so?”

“Yes. She’s very nurturing. I noticed the way she handled her staff.”

“That’s a good point,” said Mark. “Seth needs nurturing. He is pretty much a mess.”

“Pretty much,” echoed Brodie.

At that point, my face was broiling. “Isn’t there some work you all should be doing?”

“Where are you taking her?” asked Donna.

“Chez Paris.”

“Ooh! That explains the suit!”

“The snooty place near the wharf?” Mark shifted his gaze to Brodie.

“Big mistake.”

“Absolutely. Who goes to Chez Paris on a first date? Unless…”

Brodie nudged me. “You aren’t asking her to marry you, are you?”

“Might as well,” snorted Mark. “If he’s going to be shot down anyway, he should go out in a fireball.”

“All right.” I stood up and buttoned my coat. “You’ve had your fun. I’m going to get a cup of coffee. I hope by the time I get back you’ll have found something productive to do. Preferably someplace else.”

They were all grinning at me. At least I assumed Mark was. I could only see his eyes.

“Good luck, Seth. You’re going to need it.”

They laughed.

I responded with a smirk. “Go ahead. Yuk it up all you want. Nothing could ruin this day for me.”

I didn’t know it then, but God was laughing too.

#

When I left the office nine hours later, I was met by a gust of cold wind. Dark clouds raced across the dusky sky.

Odd, I thought. My weather app had mentioned another round of rain, but not until later. Must be moving in early.

I checked my watch. I’d allowed myself an hour to get to the restaurant, which gave me time to drop by the florists and would still get me to my table fifteen minutes before Samaya arrived.

As I approached my Camry, I could hear the merry trilling coming from the tree. Just as I was about to open the door, the flock of blackbirds again exploded from their branches and swirled above my head. Incredible. I imagined myself describing the scene to Samaya, her eyes shining as we sipped chardonnay. I smiled. It was a good omen.

Before I could enter the car, there was a sudden burst of rain. Big fat wet drops showered around me. I ducked inside, feeling lucky that I’d found shelter before the storm hit. The rain drummed on the roof, and then, just as abruptly as it started, it stopped.

It wasn’t until I started the car that I realized my windshield was spattered with dozens of white sticky blobs.

And then I looked down at my suit.

“Oh no. No, no, no.”

The sleeves and shoulders were covered in bird crap. And yes, I probably should have been worried about this expensive investment in my wardrobe, and if my cleaner could possibly salvage it, but all I was thinking about was Samaya. In my mind, the smile on her radiant face transformed to an expression of disgust.

I checked my watch again. OK. If I raced home, I could get a quick shower and change into my other suit and still make it to the restaurant before she got there. I started the car and punched the accelerator.

But I’d put it into drive, not reverse. I shot forward into the car in the space in front of me.

My hands shook as I wrote the note.

I ran into your car. Here’s my information.”

After jotting down my name and cell number, I stepped out of my car and stuck the slip of paper under their wiper blade, my eyes darting nervously toward the tree with its flock of vindictive blackbirds.

The rain started shortly after I left the parking lot. Real rain this time, not bird droppings. My windshield wipers smeared the original white deluge across the glass, which is probably why I didn’t see the pothole.

There was a bone-jarring thump and the unmistakable sound of a wheel rim rolling over asphalt. I pulled to the side of the road, stepped out in the rain, and ran around the car to the front passenger side to inspect the damage, fumbling with my phone to bring up the flashlight. If it was, as I suspected, a blowout, I’d still have time to call an Uber and let Samaya know I’d be a few minutes late.

But I never got the chance. My wingtip caught the curb, and I went sprawling, my phone sailing from my hands. It hit the sidewalk a good two seconds after I did with a sickening snap.

I picked myself up from the rain-soaked ground. The knees of my slacks were ripped, both of them, with gashes at least three inches long. Blood trickled down my shins from road rashes. I hobbled over to the phone. The screen was cracked and dark.

And even then, all I could think of was Samaya, sitting alone at a table at Chez Paris, checking the time and wondering where the hell I was.

A quick inspection of the tire told me the car was undrivable. The tire was completely flat. I could tell that even in the dark.  

I was three miles from the restaurant, and she was due to arrive there in half an hour. There was only one thing I could do.

I limped down the street.

The journey was excruciating but relatively uneventful. Yes, it started to pour during the second mile. And yes, I got odd looks from some of the passersby. I even got sympathetic nods from a few homeless people.

When I finally arrived, I was fifteen minutes late. But I’d made it. The restaurant was off the street, tucked behind a garden of flowering bushes and oak trees. The rain was still dropping by the bucketful, and it felt good to finally step inside.

The tuxedoed maître d’ appraised me, his Roman nose in the air, before looking down at his podium, determined to ignore me.

“Excuse me,” I whispered.

He shifted his eyes toward me without raising his head.

“I have a reservation. I’m a little late.”

He scanned me from the top of my soggy crap-covered hair to my scuffed wingtips. “Really.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Uh…yes. O’Brien. Seth O’Brien.”

He ran his finger down the reservation list.

“I see. And do you have any ID?”

“Yes, I…” I reached into my breast pocket. It was empty. I slapped my other pockets. Nothing.

“Do you?” he asked.

“I do, but…I fell, and it must have fallen out.”

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I stepped towards him, and he recoiled. “Wait. I’m meeting someone. A woman.”

“Really.” Again, not a question. “Can you describe her?”

“She’s…she’s kind. And funny. And a bit nurturing…”

The maître d’s jaw tightened. “What does she look like?”

“Oh. She’s beautiful. Long black hair. Pakistani.”

“And how tall is she?”

I almost said seven feet. Damn Brodie. “I…I have no idea.”

He nodded once. “Really.”

“Look, stop saying it like that! I’m not lying!”

He folded his hands across his podium. “A woman matching your description came in twenty minutes ago. I sat her down out of sympathy.”

My heart turned a somersault. “Can I go see her?”

“She’s already been joined by a gentleman.”

I blinked a couple of times. “What?”

“As I said, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“But can you tell her I’m here? Can I send her a note?”

“I do not wish to disturb her. If you want to speak with her, you can do it after she leaves the premises. Good evening, sir.” He turned his attention back to the guest list, pouring over it like it was the Wall Street Journal.

“Wait! Can I call her?”

“Be my guest.”

“OK, but my phone…” I pulled the shattered cell from my pocket.

“Can I use yours?”

He glanced down at his own breast pocket before saying. “I don’t keep mine with me while I’m working.”

Liar. But I knew it was pointless to argue. “What about that one there?” I pointed to the landline on the podium.

He laid his hand on it protectively.

“Please,” I said, a little too loudly. Then I whispered, “please.”

It was just pathetic enough to soften his expression. He lifted the receiver. “I’ll call her for you. What’s her number?”

I glanced down at the darkened cracked screen in my hand, then looked back at him. “I… I have no idea.”

He slowly returned the receiver to its cradle. His eyes narrowed.

“Really.”  

Defeated, I walked into the rain

As I shuffled through the garden, I took one more glance back, and there she was. They’d given her a seat by the window. I couldn’t stop myself. I had to get a closer look.

She was smiling, but her eyes looked sad. There was a white guy with brown hair and a black suit sitting across the little table from her, patting her forearm. Brodie and Mark would have scored him at an eight-point-five, at least.

And I stood there cursing my luck. Cursing the rain and that pothole and my flat tire and my torn slacks. Cursing the hot guy who was at this very moment comforting the woman I'd fallen for. And those birds. Especially those damn birds. I hated them with a hatred that was white-hot. I stayed there for fifteen seconds at the most.

It was one second too long.

Just as I turned to go, she looked up. Her face registered surprise. Then fear. Then recognition.

“Seth?”

I didn’t hear her through the rain-spattered window, but I could read her lips. Swearing under my breath, I turned and began to limp through the garden toward the street as fast as my skinned knees would allow.

“Seth!” Her voice rang through the garden.

I stopped and turned.

She was framed by the doorway of the restaurant. The dude from the table looked over her shoulder, smiling. No, smirking.

“What happened to you?” She was even more stunning in real life, in her forest green dress, her long hair in an intricate braid draped down one shoulder. She was tall, yes, maybe taller than me, but she’d never make it in the WNBA. No hobbit feet.

A million words dashed through my head, but only one came out.

“Birds.”

She stepped out into the pouring rain. “Are you OK?”

I picked a piece of lint off the shoulder of my waterlogged, mud-stained, guano-spattered Cesare Attolini suit. Nice and casual. “Oh yeah. Fine.”

By the time she reached me, she was already soaked. “You poor thing.” Her eyes brimmed with sympathy. And then she hugged me.

And as fireworks went off in my brain, there were so many things I could have said. Romantic things. Sensitive things. Witty things. But all I said was, “I have bird crap on me.”

She nodded, her cheek next to mine. “I know.”

#

An hour and a hot shower later, we were sitting in the kitchen of her apartment eating Vietnamese takeout. The handsome guy at the table with Samaya turned out to be her brother-in-law. By pure coincidence, he’d just finished a meal there with her sister Kali.

And he turned out to be a good guy. He called Triple-A and met the tow truck, then called Samaya to say he’d found my wallet in the gutter next to the car.

And now I’m telling her the whole story, in complete sentences this time. Her eyes are alight, and she can’t stop laughing.

Neither can I.

March 10, 2023 19:45

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2 comments

Wendy Kaminski
21:13 Mar 12, 2023

This was so endearing, I totally wanted it to be Creative Nonfiction! :) I loved your narrator's voice, really excellent for this piece. And of course the humor sprinkled throughout was just perfect, particularly given the situation! - flock of vindictive blackbirds - funny perception change :) - I almost said seven feet. Damn Brodie. - lol! - “Birds.” - bahahaha! Great stuff, Kevin! Thanks for sharing the laughs this week, and welcome to Reedsy!

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Dreion Allen
13:33 Mar 16, 2023

This story had me hooked, and literally saying aloud "His day can't get any worse right?". Excellent job at keeping the audience invested. My personal favorite part of the piece is the distinct voices of all the characters. It is very clear who's speaking just by their dialogue.

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