The ambience of the restaurant struck Jack as rather somber and dreary as he pushed open the door and went in. The light was a bit bright, too. His eyes were stung by the brightness and he blinked twice. There was always too much light when he was not bright himself. An irony indeed.
“You’re early,” he remarked as he sat down across from Alexandra. Her hair was wiry, her countenance emotionless and plain, yet she had nevertheless a brilliant smile that bespoke of her unawareness of her pitiable look.
“Oh, I didn't know,” she said and drank her tea.
Jack shifted his feet uneasily, the impossibility of speech suddenly dawning on him. He swallowed and stared past Alexandra at a woman with dazzling blonde hair that reflected the glittering light pleasantly. He was self-conscious of his stare and blushed. “You look amazing in your dress today,” he muttered despite his more acute judgment of beauty.
“Pardon me?” asked Alexandra.
“You look amazing,’ he said in a magnified voice, not bothering to repeat the last few words. He tried to strike up a conversation, but he could think of nothing.
The woman behind Alexandra was still visible to him, and the blonde hair transformed into auburn waves. Jack found it tempting and easy to admire her, her prominent features and the inviting pair of azure eyes.
“How are your parents?” Alexandra asked politely, snapping him back into reality.
“Oh, my parents? They're doing great,” he said, his mind almost drifting off again when the realization of his task today hit him. “Your parents?” he added quickly.
“They’re fine. Overjoyed, actually. They know I’m with you,” she whispered and gave him a knowing smile.
He smiled wanly back and was spared the need to talk again when the waiter arrived and put down their appetizers.
They ate silently, the main courses and desserts, interrupted only a few times by his futile attempts to form a conversation. The woman behind Alexandra was looking out of the window, he noticed. His curiosity overwhelmed him and he followed her gaze. There wasn’t anything but a bank that he could trace. The Westpoint bank, he instinctively recognized. Alexandra’s father was a manager in one of the branches, he thought.
He wiped his mouth with a napkin and said, “Alexandra, do you remember the first time we went on a date?” he was hoping she would recall and lead the conversation, since he didn’t actually remember anything besides the unforgettable woman who kindly helped take a picture of them.
“Of course, even though it’s five months ago,” she said proudly, though her hoarse voice made it sound rather cross to his ears. “I remember the snow. It was beautiful, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, yeah. The snow. Wasn’t it wonderful? I mean, we really had a good time then and ever since,” he said and tried to look straight at her. No it was impossible. He couldn’t ignore the woman behind her. It was inextricably hard to tear his gaze away, and his eyes kept centering on her dazzling hair.
“Jack, I’ve always liked you since we met in my father’s office. Am I being foolish?” Alexandra said, blushing, which was rather out of place on her placid face.
“No, of course not. I like you very much as well,” he said awkwardly. “And there is one reason I brought you to this restaurant today.” But as soon as he said it he realized his blatant mistake. Alexandra invited him to this high-end restaurant of which her father was a major investor.
“What reason?” Alexandra said expectantly. Much to his relief, she didn’t seem to reach the same realization. It didn't surprise him at all, though. If there was one thing Jack knew for certain about Alexandra in their blooming relationship, it was her simplicity and innocence. And he was appreciative for that, mind you. Otherwise she would dump him, or never take an interest in him in the first place. He was a dislikeable scholar with no experience whatsoever.
“There is a reason,” he repeated, confirming to himself.
“What reason, Jack?” she said patiently, smiling stupidly at him.
“I would like to . . . No, my entire family would be honored to ask . . . ask you to marry me. Would you?” he said and there he had finally done it. He tried to convey his sincerity through eye contact, but it was brief and his focus involuntarily turned to the woman behind her. She was getting up now -
“You want to marry me?” Alexandra gasped, evidently elated. “You want to marry me, Jack?”
“Yes, I do,” he said impatiently. Wasn’t she the one that’s supposed to say this? “Would you marry me?”
“Of course, oh, Jack. How sweet of you!” Alexandra exclaimed and clasped her hands over her mouth. “You know I love you, Jack.”
He knew he should return this declaration of love, however absurd and unnecessary it seemed, but the woman behind Alexandra was all he beheld now. Her arresting features were rendered clearer as the scintillating light shone directly on her. She was the embodiment of the intrigue of life, of the defiance of the ennui of ordinariness. How could he ever forget the woman and her dazzling hair! It was impossible.
“I . . . Alexandra . . . I,” he stuttered. He stared hopelessly at the woman as Alexandra naively waited for him to tell her how much he loved her. Like it was all real, he thought, when in fact there was no understanding between them to begin with.
In agonizing enchantment, he watched the woman walk past him, shattering every bit of hope he still held tenaciously onto. He was distraught, but at least liberty and resignation were finally granted to him. It finally dawned on him at length! There was nothing about love after all.
“I love you, Alexandra,” he whispered gently, no longer caring about the ideals he had upheld. There was sacrifice in life, he realized. And as he reached for Alexandra’s hands - the tender hands she had - Jack the would-be groom could finally look at her. At the plain face that promised all the fortune, and the happiness of a stable life.