I straighten the tablecloth, the one with the cherry-red flowers.
Pushing the basket of bread a few inches to the right and successfully covering a stain, a sigh escapes my lips.
It’s finally perfect.
The candles are lit, the roses are placed, the perfume has been sprayed.
I pull at the slightly uncomfortable velvet green dress which hugs my body in a way that makes me look curvier than I am.
I promise myself a day in pyjamas tomorrow if I swallow the urge to tear this tight dress off. It’s only for this night, and if I get lucky, I’ll get to take it off earlier than expected.
I am alone in my small yet cosy apartment.
Earlier today, I had managed to convince Marianne to go to a party with her obnoxious friends, pleading for privacy during my date. Even though she had left making lewd motions with her hands and raising her eyebrows all the way to her hairline, she had left me alone after all. I even made an arrangement with one of those she-devils to let her sleep over.
Sitting down on one of the chairs, I ignore my sinking stomach and keep wiping my sweaty hands on my dress, my knee wobbling up and down.
The doorbell rings, and I’m up, almost tripping on the heels I’m wearing and breaking my head.
I hop over the carpet and reach the door, looking through the peephole.
He looks calm, a blazer over a reasonable shirt, his hair neatly combed back.
Opening the door, I slyly wipe my hand on my dress and extend it to him.
He is clearly more confident than me as he swats my hand away with a chuckle and hugs me lightly, his strong scent engulfing me. I hold in a sneeze as I hug him back.
I lead him towards the modest dinner, the lights dim and the curtains open, displaying a familiar view of loud lights and loud people.
I serve the starter; a dish I always make for all the times I have dinner at my place for dates.
As he munches carefully on his piece of garlic bread, pulling at the cheese with his teeth, I can’t stop staring.
Before he looks at me with a question in his eyes, I put a piece of the bread in my mouth, the comfortable taste making me more at ease.
“Wine?” I ask.
“Sure, why not?” he says, his voice muffled by the bread in his mouth.
I pour the already open bottle into his glass, the thick red liquid the same colour as the tablecloth.
After I pour it in my glass, I raise my glass and he clinks it with mine.
Taking a small sip, the burn runs down my throat all the way to my gut.
“So, Helena isn’t it?” he starts, putting down his piece of bread.
I like the careful way he says my name, it makes me feel all important for some reason.
I nod, and get up, bringing the casserole with the main course to the table, a cloth in my hands holding the handles.
“And you are Josef, yes?” I ask, grunting as I place the casserole on the table, and he nods.
Opening it, steam billows out, revealing the chilli pasta I spent a few hours making.
I serve him and sit down, my hands shaking as I serve myself.
He takes a sip of wine.
There is only the sound of us eating our food that fills the air for some time.
“So, I’ll be the first to break this awkward silence,” he starts, and a bark of laughter escapes my mouth.
“Oh, thank God, I got a reaction out of you,” he says, a light smile on his face.
I shake my head, unable to get out the words that I was nervous, that this was my first date in a while.
He cranes his head, looking around.
“I like the place,” he says.
“Thanks,” I push out, my mouth filled with food.
“So, Helena, what made you want to be a child therapist?” he asks, and I have to stop my jaw from dropping.
“How did you – who told – how?” I ask, and he laughs, apparently amused at my inability to talk full sentences.
“I went through, and let me be honest, memorized your dating profile. Now I know almost everything and yet nothing about you. So, what made you want to be a child therapist?” he asks again.
“I, well, when I was younger, I always wanted someone to talk to, someone to share my feelings to. So, I decided that when I got older, I would try to be the person I’ve always needed,” I blurt out, not ever having to explain my career choice to anyone before this.
“That’s pretty cool,” he says, and I feel a strange warmth at the fact that he finds me cool.
“So, you tell me something now Josef,” I ask, feeling more comfortable with him now.
“What do you want to know?” he says, twirling the noodles with his fork.
“Something not a lot of people know,” I say, and he sits back, tilting his head slightly to the right in deep thought.
“I, um, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but when I was about thirteen or fourteen, I blew up my chemistry lab at school,” he says, and I can’t stop myself from laughing.
“Not what you expected, right?” he says, his cheeks pink.
I shake my head, still laughing loudly, my stomach beginning to hurt.
He just looks at me with a smile, his cheeks and ears flushing deeper with every second.
My laughter slows down, and I cough, my throat raw with all the laughter.
“So, how did you do it?” I ask, stifling a laugh at the end of my sentence.
He crosses his hands, looking away from me in a way I’ve seen angry children do.
“I won’t tell you,” he says with a resolute expression.
He looks so adorable; I might just kiss him unconscious.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry for hurting your feelings,” I say, and he loosens his stance, the now-familiar smile coming back on his face.
“Now you tell me something Helena,” he says, and now I don’t know what I should tell him.
He seems nice enough, and frankly, I think I’ve got a little crush on him.
This is it.
The deciding factor.
Will he leave without looking back, or will he stay?
I hope he stays.
I take in a deep breath, ignoring the puzzled look on his face.
“I – I can’t have children,” I say, lowering my eyes and staring intently at the food that has now gone cold.
The silence is deafening, only interrupted by my chewing and sipping, and the music and traffic from outside.
Everyone else is talking, except for the one person I want to hear from.
I risk a glance at him, and he looks away from me, his eyes glistening.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dampen the mood,” I say, and he shakes his head.
“No, you didn’t dampen the mood, I did,” he says.
He places his hand on mine.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispers, and I close my eyes, willing myself not to cry.
“You’re so brave, you know that?” he says, and I nod, still not trusting myself to talk without bursting into tears.
“It’s not your fault Helena,” he says, and like a dam that has fallen, tears flow out of my eyes.
I hadn’t realized that I had been waiting to hear those words.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that; I should have talked about how one time I got lost in a shopping mall, or the time I peed in the swimming pool, or the time I threw up on my date,” I say, and a surprised chuckle escapes his lips.
He squeezes my hand, using his other hand to gently wipe my eyes.
“No, I’m honoured. Honoured that I’ve been deemed worthy of something as personal as this,” he says.
“Why are you like this?” I ask him, genuinely confused.
“Like what?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“So unbelievably nice. Usually, people just lose all interest in me after I tell them that I – the truth,” I say.
“People who are honest are always the coolest. And besides, it’s going to take more than the truth to scare me away,” he says, displaying his white teeth.
The time flies as we chat further, and soon it’s time for him to leave.
As I get up to lead him to the door, he hugs me.
I hug him back, and the scent I inhale doesn’t make me want to let him go.
Pulling away from him, I meet his eyes, and our faces are barely an inch away from each other.
Maybe it was me, maybe it was him.
Whoever made the choice to break the distance between us, soon our lips are in tune with each other, his hands slowly reaching for the zip of my dress.
I walk backwards, hoping that we reach the bedroom in time, my emotions swirling in my stomach, my body arching towards him with hunger, hunger for more.
We fall on the bed, and don’t let go.
I have never been in a long-term relationship. People always found a reason to dump me.
It all changed with Josef.
I can’t even remember what my life was like before him.
I don’t want to imagine my life without him.
It doesn’t take long before Marianne leaves my apartment, mascara running down her face as I comfort her, and Josef moves in with me.
He makes me feel safe, comforted in a way that I’ve never felt.
It doesn’t take long to confess our love to each other, to confess that we are meant to be together forever.
One day, I return home after work to find all the lights are dim.
Not unlike the setting of our first date, candles are on every surface. When I take off my shoes and stretch my feet, I feel something soft underneath them.
I pick up the mystery item to find that it is a rose petal.
“Josef, honey, where are you?” I say, my heart pumping faster than usual.
I walk forwards and find myself looking at Josef, on his knee, with a familiar-looking box in his hand.
My hands come to my mouth as I force myself not to scream.
He smirks at my reaction and beckons me forward.
“Sorry, before you do this, can I ask you something?” I say, and he nods with a confused expression.
“How long have you been sitting there on your knee?” I ask, and a sheepish grin appears on his face.
“A long time. My knee hurts. But it’s worth it,” he says.
“May I begin, now that all doubts are cleared?” he asks, and I bob my head eagerly.
“Helena, the first time I met you, I knew that you were meant to be mine forever. Do you know when exactly I knew?” he asks, and I shake my head.
“When you told me that you couldn’t have children,” he says, and I tilt my head.
“No one I had ever met had the courage to say anything to me but lies. The fact that you were honest, even though there was a chance that I would leave, that told me that you were more perfect than I could have imagined,” he says, and tears blur my vision.
“So, Helena, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to adopt children with you, and I want to grow old with you, I hope that’s okay,” he says, and I smile through my tears.
He is crying too now as he opens the box and a sparkling ring stares at me.
“Helena, will you make me the happiest man in the world, and marry me?” he asks.
“Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes!” I say, and he grins as he slides the heavy ring on my finger.
He gets up from his poor knee and kisses me like I might float away if he lets go.
I kiss him back, and our entangled bodies and hearts make the rest of the world go away in a second.
A light thud sounds from the living room.
I run there, hoping and praying that Georgina didn’t fall and hurt her head somewhere.
When I reach the living room, I find Josef and Georgina standing next to the mantlepiece, looking at something on it.
I stand behind them and see that they’re looking at mine and Josef’s wedding photograph, the one where my face threatens to split with my grin.
I put my arm around Josef’s waist, and he kisses my head.
Georgina puts her arm on Josef’s other side, getting a kiss from him too.
“You guys look pretty cute in this photograph,” she says with a snort.
I look up at Josef, and he kisses me lightly on the nose.
“Of course, honey, we are still pretty cute,” I say.
“And pretty cool,” Josef adds with a smile meant only for me.