“I am not a chocolate person,” Delia declared before taking a sip of her dirty martini. The pungency of the olive brine hit the roof of her mouth and she felt the relief seep through to her head. It had been a long week and a stiff, extra dirty martini was the perfect antidote.
“You don’t like any chocolate at all?!” Sahil seemed perturbed by the idea.
“Well, I like white chocolate.”
“That’s not chocolate.”
Delia took another sip of the martini to calm her pulse that was already ticking like a time bomb. She usually made up her mind ten minutes into the date on whether it was going to lead to another one. If she knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere, she focused on the other things about the situation she could enjoy while phoning the conversation in: the drinks, food, the ambiance, maybe a couple at another table whose story she could make up. It was getting close to her ten-minute mark and this date was already veering off track.
“OK, I get it. You like chocolate and Valentine’s day,” Delia hoped the summarization would lead to a subject change.
“Is there anything not to like about Valentine’s Day? It’s a day that reminds you to tell your loved ones that you love them. Seems like a worthy exercise.” Sahil leaned back in his chair and put his left arm across the back. That move that was supposed to signal nonchalance always irked Delia. She leaned back and crossed her arms across her chest in retort.
“Seems like you shouldn’t need a heart-shaped box of chocolates or a ring from Zales or whatever to let someone know you love them.” Delia’s eyes caught the glint of sparkles and she looked over Sahil’s shoulders to spot a woman ensnared in a sequined dress that seemed to weigh more than her. Delia should have known better than to be on a first date on Valentine’s day. The whole world was screaming glitter and roses and surprise proposals and she was mostly just trying to get through the day without losing it. It was just two years ago around this time, that she felt her life unraveling when she discovered the email that had shattered her from the inside out.
Sahil seemed to have caught her eyes traveling behind him and turned back to catch her sight trail. Delia considered his side profile as she took another sip. She liked the way his nose had a camel’s hump on it. He smiled and let a dimple dance on his right cheek. Delia felt her resolve soften a bit.
Sahil didn’t find her immediately beautiful; her eyes seemed too far apart and her nose too big. But there was something about the way the light reflected off her face that made it hard for him to take his eyes off her. He could feel himself wanting to lean in more but pulled himself back. “Remember Sahil, women don’t want you to try too hard,” he scolded himself. Her dating profile on Hinge hadn’t been anything notable but maybe that’s why he had liked it. After flipping through screens and screens of women with glamour shots, leaning in with pouty lips, and lashes that shadowed their eyes, he found Delia’s photo with her curls flying defiantly around her head endearing. Her profile hadn’t given too much away other than her job in tech and love for travel, but it did say what she liked in a man was witty banter. He had tried his hand at it but she now had her hands crossed across her chest which didn’t seem like a good sign. Time for a redo.
“Alright, those sequins are a bit much, I’ll give you that. And yea really the whole charade around Valentine’s Day takes away from the intent which is really just to remember all the love we have in our lives,” he paused before adding softly, “I hope you remember that today.”
Sahil thought he caught an extra glimmer in Delia’s hazel eyes that looked like a tear but it might have just been the light reflecting off her. It struck him again how enchanting she was with curls that seemed to veer insolently and her full lips that shivered slightly.
“I do forget that sometimes,” Delia said, almost talking into her martini glass as she reached for another sip. She was going hard at that drink; Sahil hoped it wasn’t so she could get through this date.
Delia stared at the email; she was reading the words on the screen but they didn’t register as actual sentences. She re-read every word a few times, not yet seeing them strung together. Or maybe it was that her brain had long processed what the words meant and she wasn’t ready to deal with that reality. The reality was that the love of her life, the man she had just spent the last week prepping a surprise meal for on Valentine’s day, was telling his ex-girlfriend how much he missed her. There it was, plain and simple, his promise that he would break it off with Delia that very day. Delia laid down on her bed, laptop on her lap, waiting for the tears to come, but they didn’t. She started at the cracks on her ceiling, dark against white, trying to find a reason for the email that could mean anything but what they meant. He was just trying to pacify his ex, Delia told herself. He was just being kind to her while he let her down because she was unstable. He had shared many stories of his ex’s meltdowns while praising Delia for never behaving that way. “Thank God, you are not like Maisha,” he’d say, “it’s nice to finally be in a chill relationship where I am not waiting for something to explode all the time.” So, she didn’t say anything when he got too high to make it to her company holiday party, or when he didn’t tell her his parents were visiting. Delia had suffered in silence so many times so she could be the anti-Maisha and secure their future together, but it was all washing away like a sandcastle by the sea.
“It’s easy to forget that we are loved,” Sahil said, his voice losing the edge it had before, “and maybe that’s why, one day a year where we are forced to remember, isn’t a bad thing. But I’ll stop going on about Valentine’s Day. I’m no expert on this love stuff anyways. But what I can say is tonight I’d rather be sitting across from you than a heart-shaped balloon and a sparkly dress.” Sahil put his palms up in a V and shrugged.
Delia polished off the drink and pulled the olive off the toothpick with her teeth. Whether it was the gin softening the contours of her brain or Sahil leaning back in toward her, Delia felt like she was ready to give herself another chance. She had spent too much time feeling unlovable and unwanted. She had spent too much time thinking any man interested in her was quietly wishing he was at another table sitting across from a sequined dress. Delia tucked an unruly curl behind her ear and grinned. As far as first dates on Valentine’s Day go, this wasn’t half bad.