Marc hates first dates. But after scouring the menu during his scouting mission last week, he looks forward to devouring one of the enormous, succulent lamb chops Pierre’s specializes in, and savoring every drop of the fresh peach vinaigrette drizzled on top.
His snazzy red blazer with subtle pink stripes is out of character. After Dana realized her advice to “spruce up” meant nothing to her brother, she thought this would give his wardrobe a small bit of personality. The bland button-down Marc has underneath speaks more loudly about his true form, nervously overcompensating for the funky jacket.
‘I look ridiculous.’
The insincerity inherent in this type of formality sets Marc on edge. Given limited experience, he plays the traditional first date card with this lavish French restaurant. White table cloths engulf the room and older couples chatter along at raised volumes to create a cloud of unintelligible noise. Electric chandeliers cast only a slight glow below, placing the illuminative responsibility on each table’s unqualified set of candles.
Two cloth bands hold the presumably ever-evolving paper menu in place on a heavy plank of wood instead of the traditional pleather backing with slits at each corner. This is one of the small touches that feign a ‘rustic’ vibe to insincerely appeal to Marc’s age group, yet the menu’s unappealing lack of prices deftly counters any aesthetic success or promise of delectability.
When the hostess asked Marc which seat he wanted he felt more of an obligation to answer quickly than make the correct selection, now left admonishing himself for not choosing to face the entrance. Switching seats would feel like admitting a mistake to the entire room, so he keeps his back to the door, prepared for his date’s arrival to sneak up on him at any moment, neglecting the use his phone to pass the time.
‘I can’t be slouched over staring at the screen
when they point her in my direction.’
Marc quickly reads the menu five times. Then closely twice more. He pulls on one of the elastic cloths and lets it snap back. It’s louder than expected but he counts only two perturbed looks from nearby patrons.
After unconsciously ripping a small piece off the corner of the incongruous protective paper over the tablecloth, Marc slowly balls it between his fingertips.
‘If this goes well maybe I can just cook at her place next time?
Everyone says being a good cook is a turn-on,
but if I offered a home-cooked meal on a first date
she’d be too scared. Or offended about the implication.
Maybe… Probably both.’
A light tap on his shoulder stirs Marc out of his mind and he turns to find Anna.
“Hey Marc, sorry I was a little late. I hope you weren’t waiting long.”
He stands up, awkwardly prepared for a hug as she walks over to her own seat. Taking the ‘rejection’ in stride, he regally transitions into the part of a polite gentleman who has risen for the sole purpose of allowing the lady to sit. Proud of his deft physicality, Marc genially says “No worries at all. The menu looks amazing. Lots of great options.” Then takes a seat.
“Well if you’ve already chosen, I hope you don’t get impatient while I peruse.” She throws Marc off with a wry smile.
“Oh no. I didn’t decide. I just had a chance to read it.” He stumbles “But not because you were late. Well, yes…”
Anna releases a full bright smile highlighted by a little giggle. “You can tell me what looks good. I heard you’re a great cook.”
Perking up, Marc says humbly “well I’ve got a lot of good recipes. But I hear nothing beats the lamb here.”
“I don’t see it on my menu.”
“That’s weird.” Marc swiftly reviews his menu multiple times to confirm. “Here, you can look at mine.”
Holding the top of the menu, Marc eagerly flips it around to offer across the table. As the spin reaches 90 degrees Anna quickly bursts “Watch--“
A corner of the wooden menu briefly dips into a candle flame, but Marc removes it quickly enough to avoid the menu itself catching.
In the process of moving the menu away Marc jumps up, hitting his knees on the table, bumping the entire surface and all its contents. Upon landing, the dangerously tall candles topple down and the paper sheet covering the table bursts into a bright flame. The minor fire burns away any possibility of a successful date as Anna removes herself.
‘I need to be careful with candles.’
Marc sits at the table staring towards the entrance. Blind dates terrify him. Tinder keeps failing, but at least at 35 some of his friends’ friends are getting divorced so there’s a new group of women for him be set-up with. Many his age have romantically ‘lapped’ him.
Dana’s matchmaking skills are untested, but no matter their differences she knows who Marc really is.
Anna sounded attractive. Even if she did just get out of a long-term relationship, she isn’t a divorcee, and for some reason that makes Marc feel better. No kids. Unlike him, Anna’s crazy busy job provides a good reason to still be single, and while still at the mercy of Dana’s judgment, she says Anna is her funniest friend.
‘Maybe if she’s not actually funny she’ll be able to
convince herself she’s not too good for me’
After Marc monitors every entrant to the restaurant for forty-five minutes, the hostess finally points a woman in Marc’s direction. Anna walks over, immediately reaching for her chair, pulling it out just as Marc stands up, his arms spreading for a hug. She appears to take pity and shuffles over so they can wrap their arms around each other. With almost zero physical contact, calling it even a light embrace overstates their observed comfort.
‘Ok. The hug is a bad idea.’
Ignoring that awful greeting they sit and Anna says, “sorry I was a little late.”
“No need to apologize. I know the hospital makes scheduling tough.”
“Oh, it had nothing to do with that. I just didn’t want to come.” Anna darts her eyes away from Marc, picking up the menu and staring down. “Ohhhhh, I love it when they don’t show the prices! Then I don’t have to pretend I just want the cheapest thing!”
Marc hardens, silent well beyond any awkward pause into just plain unresponsive.
Dipping the front of the menu down, Anna looks up to reveal a wide grin and shifting sapphire irises.
‘Just assume she’s joking with everything.
Maybe she’s actually funny.’
Having missed the moment, Marc takes a deep breath with only a forced light chuckle.
“Here I was thinking you were trying to save someone’s life before you got here.” Marc looks down and smirks, snidely adding “Did you let someone die to think of that joke?”
Anna’s face tightens with deeply furrowed brows. “I was at the E.R. you ass. Now I see why Dana was so desperate to set you up with someone. I don’t need this shit.”
Pushing her chair out, Anna stands up and proudly walks out the door.
‘No politics. No religion…
And don’t joke about a doctor killing someone.
You’re not funny enough.’
Marc has been stewing at the table for over an hour, now in the middle of his third vodka pineapple and twelfth or thirteenth reading of the menu.
‘If she stands me up does ordering dinner concede defeat?
Maybe just an appetizer?’
Summoning the waiter with a raised hand, Marc had decided on the fried calamari, and mumbles out the order.
‘If I don’t have to pay for two dinners then
I should still have one really good one.’
Marc closes his eyes and inhales the uplifting scent of the lamb on its way to the next table. Any rule about keeping his phone away has been eliminated by tardiness and alcohol, so he scrolls Instagram until his own food arrives.
The final ring of calamari now lays on the plate surrounded by fallen crumbs and splatters of spilled marinara sauce. Moving his eyes from the plate to his phone, Marc realizes another twenty minutes have passed. No call, no text. He summons the waiter again.
“Lamb, medium rare. And another vodka pineapple.”
“Would you like me to leave a menu?”
Refusing to make eye contact with the waiter, Marc said “just take them both.”
His hand briefly fidgets on the table before snatching his phone back up.
‘I can’t believe Dana put me up to this.’
Dana deserves to know what her friend did to him.
Marc beats the message onto the screen: ‘Anna never showed. Thanks a lot for another terrible night. I told you I didn’t want your help. I can’t believe you listened to Mom. I never should have come.’
Marc hits send and immediately hears a light voice flutter “Marc?”
Anna nervously comes around to face him and looks nothing like her picture. Dark hair springing out from every part of her head and no makeup might be an appropriately ‘natural’ look, but there appears to have been no effort at all made to clean up. Obvious specks of blood on her ear confirm she is past visual disappointment and a literal biohazard.
After a long silence she asks “aren’t you Marc? I’m sorry I was late I had to come right from work.”
‘Am I shallow enough to be that disappointed by her appearance?
Her job is a good excuse if she’s late.’
“Sorry, I’m Ted. I’m just dining alone tonight. But this Marc might have preferred if you came cleaned up or at least texted.”
A few women at the surrounding tables quietly gasp. Anna looks down to shake her head and roll her eyes before storming out. “You’re not worth my anger.”
Leaning towards her husband, one woman nearby loudly whispers “prick.”
Marc then eats his delectable lamb chop in peace.
‘I can be a real asshole.’
Marc feels the time passing, more compelled by the second to check the time on his phone. It’s clearly getting late as he impatiently slurps the last drops of an iced tea. A tall, beautiful brunette appears at the hostess’ stand.
‘She really looks incredible. And too good for me.
I can’t believe I wore this jacket.
I definitely look ridiculous.’
Dana showed him a picture, but it hadn’t done justice to the overwhelming essence Anna exudes from across the room: the power & selflessness of someone who saves lives, the body of a model, and face of a movie star. Her tight midnight blue dress effortlessly flows along her back up to waves of glistening black hair.
‘I’m surprised Dana even convinced Anna to come. Far too good for me.’
The hostess points at Marc’s table and he starts to stand, subtly waving a hand on the way up. He momentarily looks down to place his napkin on the chair and by the time his gaze rises Anna has disappeared, presumably having come to the same conclusion as Marc about their compatibility.
Drooping into his seat, Marc’s face screams rejection to everyone within eyeshot. The owner walks over to share her own empathetic eyes and asks “Mr. Brock?”
“If you would still like to dine with us this evening, your meal will be complimentary.”
‘Could pity food make up for a deep blow to my
self-esteem? This is worse than being stood up.
I can’t believe a restaurant would do that.’
Marc can’t imagine passing up the offer until the surrounding tables’ suddenly hushed tones and the owner’s face make it clear how pathetic he truly looks. This public ogling pushes Marc out the door. “Thank you, but I think I’m going to go.”
As Marc gets up to leave, the owner adds “Have a good ni--”
Without breaking stride, Marc briefly looks down, shuts his eyes, then shakes his head as he walks past.
“Thank you for coming. We hope to see you again.”
‘I can’t think of anything worse.’
After familiarizing himself with the menu, Marc peeks at his phone to find it’s still five minutes early. A text from his mom pops up, ‘how’s the date?’
‘I still can’t believe she sent the whole family an e-mail
telling them I needed to be set up. I don’t get in my
own way and overthink things, no matter what she believes.
And she didn’t have to say that to everyone.
And if I do overthink stuff it’s not a bad thing.
This date better be worth the embarrassment.’
A tall brunette appears at the table, breaking Marc out of his head.
“Hi, I’m Anna.”
She extends her hand towards Marc, who embraces the soft welcome after rising out of his seat. Anna is stunning, but not in the vein of a model or movie star. Her gentle features and plump body exude the warm comfort perfectly suited to a doctor. She is radiant not because of her looks, but because she raises the mood of her surroundings. Marc hadn’t believed in an aura until this moment.
“Yes…” Marc realizes he has been silently awe-struck for a moment “um. I’m Marc. It’s great to meet you.”
Anna’s little dimples notify the room she is flattered by Marc’s stumbling “You too. Dana has told me so much about you.”
“Me too – I hear you’re very funny.”
“I don’t think so. Why would she say that?”
Anna appears offended. Everything had felt great and Marc was relaxed, so he is taken aback by this swerve. Another pause allows him time to find the joke. A combination of nervous and earnest laughter follows.
“Good to know I don’t have to deal with a sense of humor,” Marc finally answers with another building grin, proudly regaining his conversational footing. “I figured I’d have to be on the lookout for sarcasm.”
“I love that jacket. It’s a funky style that goes well with the simple shirt. That’s not sarcasm either. Can’t be too crazy, right? That one’s a little sarcastic.”
“I thought the white would keep me the right amount of classy.”
“But not too classy.”
“Never.” They exchange devilish smirks. “Are you this funny with your patients?”
“Of course. Just because I watch people die all the time doesn’t mean it’s a morbid place. Except for the patients with heart problems. Never joke around those. I’ve lost three to laughter.”
He laughs “Oh good, now I know where your humor line is.”
“There is none. Don’t try to push it just because, but funny is funny. And delicious is delicious. I hear the food is great here, but Dana told me your guac and turkey burgers are incredible.”
“I love to cook. Let’s see how this food is and maybe I can beat it.”
“I’d love to try. A man who cooks is super sexy. Maybe that’s sexist, but it’s still true.”
The waiter surprises them both “are you ready to order?”
“Oh.” Dana hasn’t even picked up the menu yet. “I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to decide. Give us a couple minutes.”
Marc and Dana exchange love struck grins optimistically.
Marc looks at the clock in his car. 7:52. Eight minutes until the reservation. He examines his jacket and shirt, peeks at himself in the rear-view mirror, and slowly nods his head.
‘I got this.’