I shuffled through crowded tables at half past six, searching intently for a red haired woman who might possibly fit the picture on my phone. I’m color blind and my depth perception is nearly nonexistent, so I didn’t trust my ability to match the picture with any remote accuracy, but my pride and nerves kept me from texting her to request her whereabouts even though that would be a completely acceptable move on a first date. I imagined my fresh start as bold and romantic: striding confidently into the restaurant with eyes for only her, walking straight to her table and announcing she was the one I’d been…
“Waiting for someone?” The red haired, big breasted, slim waisted waitress didn’t fit the picture but I damn near wished she did.
“I, urm… yes, ma’am. I apologize…”
“Reservation only.” She gestured toward a supposed sign on the door that I would not have been able to read even on a good, distraction free day. “Do you have one?”
“No ma’am, I…”
“Make one online, our next available is next weekend.”
Before I could respond, she was offering a welcoming smile to a man in a cashmere suit with an equally expensive woman on his arm. This date was going all wrong. At this rate, I wouldn’t even get the chance to spend money I didn’t have, on delicacies from a menu I could barely read, with a woman I’d never met. My New Year's resolution was to go on at least one date. When the first of December made its way on my calendar, the 31 days left to fulfill the resolution loomed over me.
I stopped subscribing to the phenomenon of love on April 10th, 2016, after being a faithful believer for the first 36 years of my life. The day I broke my own heart began like any other day. I woke up to a combination of Shayna’s snores, her cat’s claws, and my snoozed alarm’s increased volume. I yanked myself out of bed before Shayna’s warm body could lure me back in, kissed her quickly on the forehead, and stumbled toward my coffee pot. I picked up my phone to five missed calls and twenty text messages from my childhood best friend Britni. I scrolled through a frantic stream of where are you and I hate you, deleting as I went for fear that Shayna would see them. Brit and my relationship was too complicated to explain, but she needed me, and at least from my perspective, our bond was strictly platonic. I gained gray hair every time I thought about unraveling the convoluted triangle I had created. If I broke up with Shayna, my world would come to a screeching halt. If I ended my toxic friendship with Britni, she would most likely end her life. It was that thought that always propelled me to call her back, in spite of my fragile reserve in front of the coffee pot minutes prior.
“Can I come over?” Her whisper was breathless, almost staged, or so my logical mind suspected.
“What do you need, Brit?” I kept my voice level so as to pretend to myself I was in control.
“I need a shower and that’s all. Bryan … lost control and I have a job interview in three hours. I just need a place to clean up. I’m so sorry.”
Shayna was forever faithful and understanding. Either she felt pity for Britni or she was tired of protesting. I let her know Britni would be coming over and she barely nodded amidst her slumber. Britni’s entrance was dramatic yet secretive. I showed her to the guest bathroom through her rhythmic sobs.
“I just can’t do this anymore! If there’s no point in believing in love again, I may as well die.”
Her threat froze me in my tracks. In hindsight, I should have called for help. But in that moment, the fragile game of Janga I had been balancing for years felt on the brink of collapse if I did not strategically move this next piece. I stepped toward her waiting arms with guilty robotic movements. My lips, heavy with years of placating and boundary setting, fell limp against her eager skin.
“My name is Bryson Ainsworth,” my Bumble bio read. I created it on December 1st, 2021 mostly as a therapeutic joke, knowing full well no one would swipe right on my heavy, blubbering description. When someone did, I figured she was either a cat fisher or a recluse, but now here I was, waiting for her. “I’m a 37-year-old divorcee. I cheated on my wife after 12 years of marriage because I didn’t know how to set boundaries with my female best friend. I told my wife immediately. I learned that love is not always patient nor kind. It is often messy and selfish, composed of humans at their worst the deeper you get. I can’t promise you much. I am a messy man. But I can promise you I will never be unfaithful again, and I know more than anyone wants to know about what not to do in relationships. Only swipe right if you have wrestled with your demons, and if you’re ready to give your all in the journey of…”
“Love the jacket!” Her compliment came as I huddled deeper in its downy fabric, the late December chill taunting my shoulders. Her red hair flowed softly at her waist. She took her seat beside me on the bench, a smile battling for control on her lips. I caught her eye for a moment, then quickly looked away at the drunk cashmere man stumbling out of the fancy restaurant, his expensive date nowhere to be found. That was quick, I thought. Love was a gamble and he lost.
“I’m Lydia. Are you Bryson?”
“ I am Bryson. Are you Lydia?”
She looked at me and laughed. I laughed. We laughed. Love was young and odds were slim. But I’m a gambling man, so I decided to play to win.