Sunday, July 15, 2012

First Date

Tray in my hands, I eased into the booth in the company cafeteria and sat opposite Andy, my new best friend at work for the past month. Rookies on the job, we both worked as computer programmers for Holland Graphics. Looking up from his crossword puzzle, he said, "Wendy, are you all right?"
"Does it show that much?"
"Your mouth's drooping."
I stared at my burger, apple, and carton of milk on my tray.
"Just got an e-mail from home, " I said.
"My ex-boyfriend from college got married."
He looked at me cautiously. "Is that good or bad?"
"Good," I said. "I mean, I'm happy for him, but...I don't know...the thought hurts a little."
Andy offered me a soft smile. He has the deepest brown eyes. "Want to tell me about it?"
"It's been almost two years..."
"Tell me anyway."
I plucked my food off the tray and set everything on the table. "All right." I explained that when Tom and I met as seniors in college, I thought—Bang!— this is love at first sight. I'd found my soul mate. But one night, after about three months, Tom told me if I was thinking marriage, he wasn't the marrying kind. "'But you're lots of fun to be with,' he said. 'A very good sport.'"
Andy shook his head. "What a jerk."
"So Tom and I broke up. " I blew out a long breath. "When I think about it now, I realize he simply wasn't interested in marrying me."
Taking a big bite of his sandwich, Andy said, "The guy must've been crazy."
Surprised at that, I flushed a little.
Then Andy surprised me again, saying, "How about after work, we take a walk down by the river at LeClaire Park? I'll buy popcorn, and we'll feed the ducks. "
"I'd like that," I said.
"You look like you could use a little sunshine right now."
At LeClaire Park, five o'clock in the afternoon, Andy and I strolled along the sea wall with a pipe railing that ran parallel to this stretch of the Mississippi River. Paddling in the river, ducks followed us quack-quack-quacking! along the wall as we tossed popcorn to them. Eventually, we halted and bent to prop our elbows on the railing.
"So after Tom bailed, " Andy said, "why didn't another guy didn't latch on to you?"
"I decided to give my social life a rest. Graduate. Find a job."
"You haven't dated at all?"
"I've kept busy other ways. I like to read. I can knit up a storm. I work out three times a week." Then I looked at Andy curiously. "How about you? Do you date? Certainly there's been romance in your life."
"Several times—but I'm still looking."
I dumped the last of the popcorn over the railing for the ducks and dropped the cellophane bag in a nearby trash barrel. As we ambled along the bike path, Andy said, "When I was a kid, I wanted to do something exciting with my life. Like becoming a riverboat captain."
"I took dancing lessons. I wanted to be a star. But those dreams faded when I didn't even make show choir."
Andy pointed at a wrought-iron park bench under the shade of a giant maple tree. "Want to sit?" he asked.
When we sat down, his right arm looped the back of the bench but didn't touch my shoulders. Still, despite sitting in the shade, I felt an amazing warmth spreading through me. We saw a couple—teens, maybe—meandering across the grassy park. They stopped under a tree and kissed.
"My first kiss," Andy said, "was from Mary O'Leary. Ninth grade hayride, Halloween night."
"Tenth grade for me." I was surprised I was going to tell him this. "My front porch. After the Sweethearts Dance. His glasses poked me in the eye."
We both laughed. I loved the way his smile tugged his lips into a soft upward smile. I couldn't remember ever, ever feeling so at ease with a man and sharing memories like this with him.
Finally Andy said, "How about a Maid-rite? It's nearly supper time."
"All right. Haven't had a Maid-rite in ages."
When we stood, I don't know how it happened, but somehow, quite naturally, our hands found each other, and our fingers lace. Then I said ruefully, "Have you somehow cleverly tricked me into a date, Andy Blake?"
"I think so..." he said, and smiled again. "At least, I've been trying to."
 A little breeze blew my hair in front of my face. Andy reached out and brushed the wisps aside. My heart shivered.
"But if you don't want to call this a date—" he said.
"No, no," I said, and squeezed his hand. "Friends on a first date—I can't think of anything more romantic."
The End