“What do you mean I don’t date enough?”, a slightly hyper Anna asked her friend.
Rita continued to give her the look, completely unaffected by Anna’s outburst. She just put up her hands and indicated everything in Anna’s vicinity.
“Look at yourself, Anna. You are at work on a Sunday morning. For the past 6 months, I have seen you put in 80 hour weeks. You really need to get out more”, exclaimed Rita while maintaining her death stare.
Anna broke her eye contact and looked around at her cubicle. Her cubicle was all she had been seeing for as long as she could remember, but she couldn’t help it. She was a self-proclaimed workaholic and she had no other hobbies. Her family lived out of state, so she seldom found any reason to rush back to her apartment.
“The workload is tremendous Rita. If I don’t get it done today, we would have to extend the deadline. Besides, you are here on a Sunday as well”, groaned Anna with her voice ending on a note of petulance.
“I am here because I forgot my husband’s birthday gift on my desk. I am on my way out now”, replied Rita as she saw Anna’s cheek flush with color.
Anna had completely forgotten that it was Mark’s birthday. She was thinking about whether she should buy him a present as well when her silent dilemma was broken by Rita.
“And you get done whatever work you have by noon; you have a lunch date.”
Max was finishing up with his last customer of the day when his door jingled, signalling another customer.
“Sorry my man, I am closing up. Why don’t you come again tomorrow?”, said Max without looking up from his register.
“So you become the best tattoo artist in the city and suddenly I have to make appointments to meet you?”, chuckled a familiar voice.
Max looked up to see his old army buddy Mark walk into the shop. Max gave him a huge grin and went around the counter to give him a hearty handshake.
“So are you here to take me up on my offer of a butterfly tattoo on your butt?”, asked Max with as much seriousness he could muster.
Mark burst out laughing and said, “In your dreams tattoo boy”. He accepted the beer offered by Max and sat down on a stool before continuing, “But I must admit I have an ulterior motive for tonight’s social call.”
Max’s interest was piqued at this last comment. Mark and he served in the same battalion for almost five years before coming back home. Mark came home and met Rita, settled down with her in a 9 to 5 job and a mortgage, where was Max was always on the move, exploring different cities. Max had no family to speak of, and truth be told, he still had to find a place that could call home.
“Well, you have my attention, Mark. Dazzle me”, said Max. Mark took a big gulp of his beer before saying, “I am worried about you, brother. I know you said that you like to explore, I know adventures are your thing. But at some point in life, we all have to settle down.”
Max was a little taken aback by his friend’s statement. They both have had plenty of discussions about Max sticking around, but never so direct.
“I have never been against settling down brother. In fact, I adore what you and Rita have. But it’s just not in the cards for me. I have been on plenty of dates, but it just never works out”, said Max in a fact-of-the-matter tone.
“Oh, I have seen your choice of dates Max. They were never meant to last. But as long as we are on the subject of dates…”, Mark trailed off as he finished his beer with a last huge gulp and set it back on the table before continuing, “You have one tomorrow”.
She protested, she really did. She tried to reason with her, tried to bargain with her and even threw a hissy fit. But Rita didn’t budge an inch and now Anna found herself sitting in an Italian restaurant on a Sunday afternoon waiting for her blind date. Rita refused to give her any details about this guy except that his name was Max and that he served in the army with Mark. Anna looked at her watch and thought that he was also a bit tardy for a soldier.
She took a sip of her water and started studying the menu when she heard a voice in front of her and she looked up.
“Hi! Anna? I am Max.”
Max wasn’t too enthused about going on a date with Rita’s friend. That’s because he rarely called up a girl for a second date as he never wanted to get into a relationship. Of course, he told his date this beforehand, but even then the some of his breakups did get a little heated and he didn’t want Rita mad at him.
But Mark was pretty persistent about this girl and after about 30 minutes of emotional blackmail, Max agreed to the date.
He was later surprised to learn that it was a lunch date, he never had one, and Mark refused to share details about this mysterious girl.
“Her name is Anna and she works with Rita. If you want any more details, you’re gonna have to ask her”, declared Mark.
Max had groaned at that but agreed nevertheless.
He opened his cupboard to choose his attire and decided on a simple shirt and jeans, along with his motorcycle jacket.
Upon reaching the restaurant which Mark had told him, he realized that he might be under-dressed as he saw several people come out in complete business formals. But there was no time to change, as he was already a few minutes late.
He went inside and told his name at the reception and was guided to a table which already seated a beautiful woman clad in very formal clothes. He was suddenly very conscious of himself, unlike him, as he walked towards the woman who seemed engrossed in the menu at the moment.
Anna looked at the handsome man standing in front of her and for the first time, she was thinking that the date might not be so bad after all. It took her a second to collect her thoughts and then she said, “Yes, I am. Hi!”
As Max took a seat opposite her, Anna couldn’t help but notice her companion’s attire. She was so used to seeing suits all day long, this seemed like a refreshing change.
“I apologize for being late. And also for my attire, I didn’t realize it was a fancy place”, said Max apologetically.
“It’s alright, I came in only a few minutes ago. And to be honest, I am dressed like this because I came straight from work”, admitted Anna.
“Work? On a Sunday?”, asked a surprised Max.
“Oh you don’t know the half of it”, chuckled Anna, as she called over the waiter to place their orders.
Anna spent the next hour telling Max about her childhood, her parents and her siblings, her college and work. She also learned a lot about Max like his career in the army, his tattoo skills and about his family, or lack thereof.
“My parents passed away when I was little. No siblings. I bounced around a lot, I still do. Guess you could say that I am still finding my home”, said Max as he picked around in his food.
Anna felt a twinge of sadness at that. Although she rarely visits her sisters and parents, she could not imagine her life without them.
They were almost through with their lunch and as they discussed their hobbies and likes, a very prominent fact had emerged which neither of them could ignore.
“We are poles apart”, said Max with an amused voice.
Anna couldn’t agree more. She had spent her entire life trying to be a stable, steady-earning, responsible citizen of the country. Whereas Max had no use for the word stability and preferred adventures and exploration. She wondered why did Rita think this was going to work out.
“Yeah, I think that as well. I put in 80-hour workweeks while you probably spend your nights prancing around in seedy clubs on the wrong side of town”, teased Anna and then burst out laughing at the fake hurt expression Max’s face.
“I will have you know that my choice of hangout spots is very much appreciated by everyone”, proclaimed Max.
“Don’t blame me but I am having a little trouble believing that”, said Anna while finishing up her dessert.
“You don’t believe me? Well, I can prove it”, said Max as he looked at his watch and then continued, “We still have a lot of hours of daylight left. Let’s go to a spot of mine and you can see it’s not all bars and clubs.”
“Unless…”, teased Max, “You plan on playing miss workaholic the rest of the day?”
Anna really had planned on getting back to work after the lunch but Max’s comment on her work life got to her. And if she were honest with herself, she didn’t want to end the date yet.
“You are on. But the deal seems a little one-sided”, said Anna.
Max thought for a second and said, “Well, we can go to one of your favourite spots after. How about that?”, asked Max.
Anna smiled and nodded.
They signalled for the bill, split the check and left the restaurant.
Once outside, Anna started to wonder how were they going to travel as she had taken a cab from her office. She looked over at Max who was sitting on a beautiful motorcycle, grinning from ear to ear.
“Ever ridden one?”, asked Max as she came close.
“No, but I have always wanted to”, said Anna as she continued to admire the bike.
“Well, today’s your lucky day. Hop on!”, exclaimed Max as he passed her a helmet.
As he rode his bike through the streets, he always felt a certain sense of peace. Today, however, the gentle breeze on his face was not the first thing on his mind.
This date was unlike any he ever had. Any inhibitions he had last night were long gone and he was actually enjoying himself.
Therefore, he was very pleased with himself when Anna had agreed for a day out with him.
“So are you going to tell me about this secret spot of yours?”, shouted his passenger over the wind.
“We are almost there, then you can see for yourself”, he shouted back.
They were on the outskirts of the city when he turned onto a dirt road and within minutes they were at their destination.
“Shooting range?”, said a puzzled Anna as soon as Max turned off the ignition.
“Not what you were expecting huh?”, grinned Max as he led Anna inside.
He went up to the counter, paid for them, gathered the gear and led Anna out to the range.
He quickly set up the rifle with excellent precision as Anna looked at him with awe.
He started explaining all the different parts of a gun and other tips to shoot the target.
“Let me go first and then you can see how it goes”, said Max as he took position and fired three shots in quick succession. All on the target.
He looked over at Anna to look at her shocked face but instead, he saw her smiling.
“My turn now, isn’t it?”, asked Anna rhetorically as she moved up to take the position.
“This ain’t no place for a suit!”, screamed another shooter in the distance.
Max was about to scream at him to mind his own business when he saw Anna take a perfect position so swiftly, that he was shocked. She then proceeded to fire three shots, all on the mark.
“Let me know if you need some lessons from the suit”, screamed Anna.
Max couldn’t believe his eyes and saw Anna burst into laughter at his expression.
“I can give you some lessons too, you know”, Anna teased Max.
“Probably beginner’s luck, let’s go again, shall we?”, laughed Max as he took position.
They were coming out to the parking lot after their game when Max finally asked her, “How did you learn to shoot like that?”
“My dad taught me. We used to go to a shooting range every other weekend before I moved here”, said Anna as she grabbed the helmet from the bike.
Max rarely spent enough time with someone to really know them. But today, as Max looked at that stunning woman, adjusting her beautiful flowing hair as she put on the helmet, he felt something, something which he had never felt before.
“Come on! It is my turn now!”, exclaimed Anna, breaking Max’s train of thoughts. He smiled as he got on the bike and asked, “So where to madam?”
“The science centre!”, said Anna and laughed at the horrified expression on Max’s face.
“Any particular reason we are doing this or is it just to torcher me?”, asked Max.
Anna laughed as they moved on to the next exhibit.
“It opened last month and I have been meaning to come here. Seemed like the perfect opportunity”, winked Anna.
Anna remembered how she has always been fascinated by science since her childhood. She used to beg her parents to take her to places like these. But, she always had trouble finding people whom she could take to these places. Truth be told, that was the reason she was not able to visit it until now.
She saw a little boy at the next exhibit, marvelling at the way springs were arranged, to create the perfect balance.
“It's very elegant, isn’t it?”, she said to the boy.
“Yes, it is. But I don’t understand how can so many different springs be balanced”, the boy replied.
Before Anna could reply, Max said, “It’s about balancing the potential energy of the springs which does not necessarily mean its size.”
He then proceeded to explain the basic laws which govern the entire mechanism, which prompted the boy to say, “You are really smart mister. Thank you!”, and scurried away.
Anna looked at him with a mix of awe and admiration. Seldom she found anyone who could follow her scientific curiosity, let alone surpass her. She was also amused with the way Max patiently explained to that little boy.
“I didn’t know you spent your free time in the library”, said Anna.
Max chuckled and said, “I have always been interested in science. My high school counsellor even suggested a career in the same. But sadly I was too much of a nomad to stick to a college.”
Anna felt utmost respect for Max at that moment. He was dealt a bad hand in his childhood but he still managed to make an honest living. And he was also smart, which in Anna’s books was the hottest quality in a person.
It was starting to get dark by the time they made their way out of the science centre. Ride back to Anna’s apartment was quiet and uneventful, as both of them were lost in their thoughts.
They got down near the building entrance and Max walked Anna up to the entrance. They stood there silently for a minute, neither of them knowing what to say.
“So, this was fun”, said Anna, breaking the silence.
“Yeah, it really was. Apparently, even a suit knows how to have fun”, said Max.
Anna chuckled at that. She looked at Max as she slowly moved closer to him and they kissed.
Max’s heart leapt from his chest as Anna kissed him. He had been wanting to do that since the shooting range and thanked the Gods that Anna had the same idea.
This kiss was different than anything he had ever experienced. It sounded cheesy even to him, but it felt like his whole mind and soul were involved in that kiss.
When their lips finally parted, Anna asked him, “Do you want to come up for some coffee?”
Max looked at her for a few seconds before saying, “I shouldn’t. I have to leave for a biking tour early in the morning”.
The tour part was true but he was indeed already packed. The fact was that he was scared of falling for Anna. He was scared of commitment, of having real ties to somewhere, or someone.
“How long would you be gone for?”, asked Anna.
“I am not sure yet”, said Max.
It crushed Max to see the expression of hurt on Anna’s face but he had no choice. They said their goodbyes and Max rode back to his apartment.
At his apartment, he tried arranging his accessories but all he could think about was her face, her hair, and her voice.
He noticed the blinking light on his laptop, indicating an e-mail. He opened it to see one from the trip organizer asking his final confirmation for tomorrow.
He stared at it for a few minutes before steeling himself and sending his reply.
“Oh My My! Sounds like you had an amazing time!”, exclaimed Rita as she heard Anna’s recollection of her date.
“Did you not hear about the indefinite bike trip part? He is gone Rita, I don’t think I will see him again”, said Anna in a dejected voice.
“He will be back Anna, I am sure of it”, said Rita.
Anna looked down and said, “He told me he is still finding his home, Rita. I am afraid I am not it.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of it”, grinned Rita as the elevator doors dinged open and out came Max who was walking towards them with a big bouquet of roses.