Authors: Abigail Barnette
FIRST TIME (IAN’S STORY)
Copyright 2015 Abigail Barnette
All rights reserved.
I don’t know who invented blind dates. I do know that whoever
it was, he was a miserable bastard who deserved some horrific,
medieval execution. Ripped asunder by horses. Smashed into little
bits by a pile of heavy stones. Boiled in oil.
Dating, in general, was a terrifying
concept. I’d never been any good at it. I hadn’t gone on my first
official date until college. It had ended in front of her
dormitory, with her saying, “Well, this didn’t work out, did
After eight years of trying to push a
consistently failing relationship up the steep side of a mountain,
I wasn’t sure I had it in me to try again. But the woman I was
expecting to meet was “perfect for me,” and I would “definitely
No pressure there.
She’ll love you,” Sophie,
my friend Neil’s wife, had insisted. “She wants all the same stuff
And what do I want?” I’d
asked her, thinking to delay the inevitable moment when I would
give in and agree to the damn fix-up.
said, “She wants a family. And you do, too.”
I wish I’d never told her that.
It was true, though. When
I’d married Gena, I’d assumed we would have children. She’d said
she wanted children. But, as the years had gone by, and we’d kept
putting it off, it had become clear to me that children were likely
not in the cards for us. At first, I’d been satisfied just to have
her. I hadn’t wanted to chase her off with unreasonable demands.
Maybe that had been our problem. I’d been so wrapped up in trying
to keep her happy, I hadn’t bothered to make
happy. And, when I’d finally
tried to, everything had fallen apart.
I’d been forty-five when I’d met her, and
I’d feared my chance to be a dad had passed me by. As it turned
out, that was what she’d been banking on, despite her protests to
the contrary. Now that she was gone, I found myself missing
something I’d never had in the first place.
Having a child at fifty-three didn’t seem
fair, either to the kid or to whatever woman I managed to procreate
with. I’d never pictured myself as an old dad. I’d wanted to be the
guy throwing the baseball with my son in the backyard or
threatening my teenage daughter’s dates with certain death. Even if
a child of mine were born tonight, I’d be too fucking old and way
too fucking clueless to be a good parent.
Now, here I was, sitting in a stuck-up
restaurant, in my second uncomfortable suit and strangling necktie
of the day, wondering whether or not I should have kids with a
woman I hadn’t even met, yet. I could have been at home drinking
some beers and jerking off. Why bother deviating from my normal
You’ve done this to
. But what the hell was I supposed
to have done when Sophie called me? She’d been so transparently
wheedling on the phone. Me meeting her friend was obviously
important to her. But I hadn’t gone on a date since before I’d
started going out with Gena, and even then, we’d never gone on a
proper one. It had been more of a “hook-up” as the kids would say.
We’d met at a party and gone back to my place; she never went
I checked my watch. My date
was five minutes late.
That’s not too
late, is it?
God, if she stood me up, that
would be humiliation in the extreme. I’d already told the maître d’
I was meeting someone, so I wouldn’t be able to pretend I meant to
come here alone.
And there was the smarmy bastard, now,
oiling his way across the dining room like a Monty Python version
of a restaurant host. He’d probably come to ask if I were planning
to hold the table. I would hold it all damn night, just to spite
That’s when I saw her.
She was like a curvy, sequined, Coke-bottle
mermaid walking around on legs. Her green dress flashed like a
fishing lure. Her hair hung around her shoulders in long golden
curls. She looked like a country music star on the way to the CMAs.
It surely wasn’t anything I would hold against her.
The fact that she looked
like she might be a fucking teenager? Now,
could be a problem.
Sophie and I
Mr. Pratchett? Your guest
The wee fairy girl nearly plowed into the
maître d’, who took an alarmed step forward. He opened his mouth,
likely about to deliver some withering remark. I hadn’t properly
introduced myself to this girl, but I knew I didn’t want her to
wither. She exuded an intoxicating sort of earnest vulnerability
that made me feel shockingly protective.
I’d never felt like I had to protect a woman
in my entire life. And she could probably take care of herself,
which made me feel like a caveman for even thinking it.
The best defense is a good offense, so I
stood and took a step away from the table. The maître d’s only
choice was to move aside and be ignored.
Penelope?” I asked. I
wasn’t sure what answer I was hoping for. On one side of the coin,
she was ridiculously attractive. On the other, I felt like I should
check her driver’s license.
My impression didn’t change much when she
corrected me. “Penny.”
And then, I shook her hand. I shook it like
she was on a fucking job interview. It had to be some kind of world
record for crashing and burning at the beginning of a blind
The maître d’ made a move for her chair and
pulled it back. Shit, was that something I should have done? Were
men still expected to do that? If it was, I wasn’t going to let
this prick make me look bad. I shooed him out of the way as Penny
sat. “Let me. I’m trying to impress the lady.”
I thought I noticed a little smile on her
face as I helped her adjust her chair. It was more likely she was
laughing at me and how horribly this date was already going. Though
I didn’t often enjoy being the butt of life’s jokes, the evening
seemed absurd to me, and a failure already. With the pressure off,
I couldn’t help but smile, too.
She put her hand over her mouth, as though
she could disguise her amusement at our situation. “What are you
You.” I chuckled and felt
myself finally relax. If I’d already made a poor impression, there
was nothing I could do about it, now. That left me free to be as
honest as I wanted to be. “You’re… Well, I wasn’t expecting
Something uncertain flickered behind her
eyes, but it was gone in an instant. Whatever it had been, her
expression didn’t seem as warm as before, though her smile was no
less beautiful. “Oh? What about me is so unexpected?”
Honesty was one thing. Rudeness was another.
I’d strayed too close to that boundary, and now, I felt myself
drifting across it. “Well, maybe I should have assumed, because
you’re Sophie’s friend…” I cleared my throat and tried to adopt a
comfortable, neutral posture to combat my awkwardness. “But I
didn’t expect you to be so young.”
I assumed Sophie had told
you that our ages were…way different. She told me.” Penny made a
face, as though she were affronted for both of us.
That made perfect sense to me. “She probably
figured you needed more preparation.” I moved my hand to pinch the
bridge of my nose but diverted just in time to cover up my
annoyance. Maybe Sophie thought any middle-aged man would be
thrilled to find himself on a date with someone like Penny, but I
couldn’t think of a thing we could possibly have in common.
H-how so?” Penny
I leaned forward, hoping my massive
embarrassment wasn’t overheard by the couple at the next table.
“Imagine if you came in here, expecting some young, handsome guy,
and here was a slightly fat, gray-haired old man. The fact that you
showed up at all is reassuring.”
Wait a minute, are you
comparing me to a young, handsome guy? That’s kind of a weird
compliment, but I’ll take it.”
When you put it that way,
it does sound like a strange way of flattering you.” Christ, this
first impression couldn’t have been a bigger disaster if one of us
It was too soon. What the hell was I doing
out on a date with someone when the ink on my divorce papers had
barely dried? Gena and I weren’t getting back together; the chances
of a reconciliation had evaporated. Maybe there was, as my friend
Neil had advised me, no time like the present. But my nephew,
Danny, had warned me that getting over a divorce took two months
for every year of the relationship.
What the fuck did he know?
He was a Roman Catholic priest; it wasn’t like
ever been divorced.
Besides, at that rate, I’d be dead before I
could consider dating again. Gena had moved out in March. Nothing
was really stopping me from meeting a woman and having a good time.
Nothing except my sudden aloofness with women, apparently.
Penny’s expression was kind as she added,
“But you are not fat.”
You haven’t seen what’s
under here.” I gestured to my torso, actively campaigning against
myself and powerless to stop. “This is all a gory wreck, courtesy
of the ravages of age.”
Oh, shut up.” Her eyes
sparkled. God help me, but they sparkled. And her laugh turned my
knees to jelly, so it was a good thing we were sitting.
Damn it, man, pull yourself
I’d googled “dating advice for
men” throughout the afternoon, and while it hadn’t
don’t call yourself fat or
refer to your body as “gory,”
perhaps it was something that went without saying.
The sommelier approached with the wine list
and began rattling off suggestions to consider while selecting our
meals. I didn’t hear them over my concern at the look of fear on
Penny’s face. Then, I recognized it. The panic that comes with
realizing you’re out of your depth in a situation.
Her eyes flicked to mine then she looked
away sheepishly. “Oh. Um. You pick?”
We probably don’t want to
order the wine until we’ve decided what we want from the menu.
These are just suggestions to keep in mind.” Did that sound
patronizing? I didn’t want to make it seem that way. I took the
wine list from the sommelier and turned my attention back to Penny.
“Pardon my curious expression. I was just trying to figure out if
you were of legal drinking age.”
From the angry red color that blazed in her
cheeks, I suspected she hadn’t appreciated my witty remark. “Yes,
I’m old enough. I’m twenty-two.”
Oh good God, I’m going to
This girl shouldn’t have been here
with me, having some stuffy, boring dinner date. She should have
been out…bowling. Or whatever unhip activity young people did
Against my better judgment, I said, “That
is…young.” I may have even whistled like a bomb dropping.
You should get up and walk
, I warned myself.
She looks amazing in that dress. She probably looks amazing
underneath it, too. But this is stage one of the midlife crisis you
swore you were never going to have.
Like the one I’d assumed Neil was having
when he’d been banging his much younger girlfriend in the bathroom
at his fiftieth birthday party. Now, sitting across the table from
Tinkerbelle’s sexier body double, I was really starting to see the
appeal in the cliché.
But it probably didn’t matter, now. She
looked so annoyed with me, I doubted we’d make it all the way to
dessert, let alone back to my place.
Look, I’ll understand if
you’re not cool with the age gap. I’m not going to be offended,”
she assured me.
Oh, neither will I, if you
decide it’s mad to be on a date with a man who’s old enough to be
Stop pointing that out.
Fucking hell, what’s wrong with you?
summoned up as much charm as I could—and I’ve never thought of
myself as being particularly charming in the first place, so I was
already starting at a negative—and tried again. “But I came to meet
a woman with whom my friend thought I would ‘work well’.” Why she
thought that was beyond me. I had literally nothing to offer this
woman. But a part of me wanted badly to ignore that. “I think it
would be short-sighted of me to not at least get to know a little