By Connie Arbuckle
It was planned as a fairly harmless, blind double-date, escape route planned. All good. But when I saw him for the first time, the harmless part wore a little thin. He was on his cell phone when I got to Fortunato’s Ristorante, and Maury and Lexi weren’t there yet. I recognized him from Lexi’s photo, but his back was to me, so he didn’t realize I was directly behind him.
“Listen, Maxine, last night was one too many margaritas,” he spoke into his phone as he raked his hand through his dark hair. His nice, dark hair.
I felt bad eavesdropping, but way better to know if he was in a relationship before putting myself out there, right?
“I get it, but I’m out to dinner right now, so let’s do this tomorrow.”
Who was this Maxine? Do what tomorrow?
“I know. It’s complicated. Starbucks at 8:30, good?”
He was listening as I squatted down below the booth, shooing servers away. Just a little bit longer, I vowed to myself.
“I know you are lonely, but I need time to figure this out. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Figure what out? Did I really need a blind date with this guy who had too many margaritas with Maxine last night? I was considering slipping out before Maury and Lexi showed up.
“Hi, Dana. What are you doing down there?” I felt like a whack-a-mole popping up to join them, acting as if we’d arrived together. James quickly ended his call and introductions began.
All charm and on his feet, James shook my hand, “I’m James Connell.”
I didn’t make eye contact. My Irish flush always gave me away. “Dana,” I chirped out.
“Here’s a seat for you,” he motioned to the seat next to him, so I sheepishly sat down.
I could not believe I was going to sit there and act like I didn’t hear his conversation with this Maxine. If I said anything, chalk the date up to crash and burn. I knew it was none of my business, but still.
Lexi started discussing her maid of honor duties for her sister’s upcoming wedding, and we ordered a round of drinks. Lexi ordered a margarita, but James ordered a Coors Light. Too many margaritas last night? I glanced at him suspiciously.
“Are you okay?” he asked, wary of my look.
I nodded too quickly, trying to recover. “You just don’t look like a Coors Light kind of guy.” Really?! The words were out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying.
He raised his eyebrows, leaning his chin on his fist, “Hmmm. What would you peg me as?” Then he smiled. I wasn’t sure if he was flirting, just curious about what I thought, or on the path of making a complete ass out of me.
“Well,” I acted like I was trying to analyze him in some intuitive, psychic way.
“I’d say a margarita man,” my answer came out sounding like I was a really bad palm reader.
“Wow, do I reek of tequila?” he playfully cupped his mouth and pretended to smell his breath. “That’s what I was drinking last night.”
“A-ha!” I said out loud. He admitted it! But now the three of them were silently staring at me like I was the only one who got my bad joke.
I stuttered a bit, “So, lately I’ve been trying to figure out people’s drinking tastes by observing them. Kind of like dogs looking like their masters. Or the other way around, you know what I mean.” I was rambling.
James gave me a sideways glance and teased me, “So are you saying I resemble a margarita the way I look like my black lab?” He was really smiling now, laughter in his eyes. Was I entertaining him with my asinine jibber-jabber?
“Well, not exactly, but now that you mentioned it, a black lab does look like you …or should I say, you look like a black lab.”
“Okay, not sure if that’s better or worse than a margarita,” he was clearly having fun with this as I was getting deeper into my bullshit.
“Let’s order,” Lexi interrupted, shooting me her all-too-familiar look that said ‘what the flying fuck are you talking about, and NO! I don’t even want to know!’
We all opened our menus, but I couldn’t focus on mine. James was actually kind of cute and fun, but what was he figuring out with Maxine? Did he sleep with her last night because of her loneliness? Is that what too many margaritas did to him? Were my recent suck-ass dates screwing with my head again?
They all ordered various ravioli dishes, and I realized I needed to choose. I spotted Maximilian Lasagna, and my wheels started churning; I’d found my way to throw her name into the conversation.
“I’ll have Maxine’s Lasagna,” I said keeping my eyes on my menu.
“You mean Maximilian Lasagna?” The server corrected.
“Oh yes. My mistake,” I avoided looking at James, but he was now staring at me with a smirk on his face.
“Care to clue me in?” he asked in a sportive way.
“About what?” I was fucked.
“Margaritas, Maxine…are you a stalker?” He laughed as he said it, knowing the possibility was slim but not impossible.
“Okay, alright, busted!” I raised my hands in the air. “I heard you talking before I sat down. It sounded like you were in a relationship with a Maxine…or something.”
“A-ha!” he mimicked me and laughed. “Maxine, my sister, wants to keep Colton, our family black lab, at her new apartment. After a few margaritas, she started crying, and I said maybe we could work something out. I get it, living alone for the first time, but my parents love that dog.”
At this point, I imagined myself sliding down under the table, vanishing, but seeping away like a bad fart never to be seen or smelt again. I shook that sadly-middle-school thought along with the rest of my evening’s behaviors from my mind and responded.
“Okay, I’m down with you chalking this up as a bad date, and I’m sorry I acted like a psycho.” With that, I shut my mouth.
As the server poured Chianti in each of our glasses, James said, “Actually, I think you are hilarious, Dana. How about next time I introduce you to Colton and Maxine. And we can have margaritas for the hell of it.”
I was surprised and glad. I thought he’d never want to see me again or out of sheer embarrassment, that I’d never want to see him again. But luckily, as he made this offer, not seeing him again was feeling damn near impossible for me.
Blind Date Blind Date