Sam LaCour hasn’t given up on men, even if they’ve given up on her, and she doesn’t give up on her colleagues either, even when a dead body turns up, and she faints in front of the cameras, her family, and a television audience.
I dress for success, in conservative suits—gray, charcoal, black, violet, navy blue, hunter green, and maroon—either skirts or slacks, with my long hair in a chignon, out of the way of my intense blue eyes. By nature, I look younger than I really am; however, the suits add age to my youthful face, cherubic grin, and dimples. My blouse and pants were pressed, and I’d spent a half-hour on my hair, while my date probably spent significantly less time in the bathroom. Men can get away with that sort of lackadaisical attitude; women often can’t.
Aaron Nevers, my date, wore a three piece, navy blue suit with a red and blue striped tie, an Oxford shirt, white, and black shoes polished to a fine shine. With his dark hair slicked back from his face, he could have passed for a B-list actor in a low budget movie. He had a single dimple on his left cheek, and his eyes twinkled every time he smiled. Even though I’m not particularly impressed by cars, he drove a 2009 Nissan 370Z, or so he told me, and he picked me up at my door, waiting with a single yellow rose in his left hand, as he grasped my right hand in his, kissing the top of my knuckles. As far as first dates went, we had reached a level I had previously considered unattainable. But I had no idea where we would go from here, since we were in uncharted waters, and all I saw was blue.
The date started off pleasant enough with some mild conversation, a few questions, a few stares, and a few shots from my water glass. Aaron assumed the appropriate amount of interest, nodding at most of the appropriate places. He was different than my other dates, more attentive, less into himself, more focused on my face than my chest, a lack of challenge in his eyes, and so far he had kept his elbows off the table. He had his shoulders leaned forward enough to let me know he was interested, but not so far forward that he crowded my space. My personal space bubble extends further than most, and I gave him an extra point for sitting across from me. Right now, he was in the win column, and he didn’t even know it. But I’d known dates that had started off promising: The one who tried to grab my breasts as he slid to the floor after having stumbled into the wait staff, after having downed one too many Bloody Marys, was at the top of my list of disasters. But I was supposed to focus on the positive, however hard that might turn out to be.
My challenge was to make it through the night without emptying my water glass, food flying, or obscene remarks uttered by the opposite party—the most recent of which happened to resort to obscenities. We were seated in a nice restaurant with a muted ambiance, waiters in pressed white shirts, candles, and live music coming from two guys and one guitar, the vocals a somewhat soothing melody of which I wasn’t familiar. The restaurant, however, wasn’t the problem: It was my date. Instead of sitting across from me, he was now seated to my right. After having made some lame excuse about needing to use the restroom, he commandeered the chair that was most likely to invade my personal space—and on two occasions, he moved his chair closer to mine, inches away from my left knee, while I inched away in the opposite direction; he stuck his arm around my shoulder, before I gently removed it and leaned in the other direction; he held a Sam Adams in his right hand when he wasn’t navigating the circumference of the carpet; I didn’t touch alcohol; and his smile had a hint of evilness that he attempted to disguise with playfulness. But I remained open to the possibility that this might still turn out well even if my instincts had heightened to the occasion. With my personal space bubble shrinking, I wasn’t too keen on the end result. The end result could very well lead to disaster: The worst offense involved a police officer and a previous date being dragged away in handcuffs. I took a deep breath and pictured my living room and me in it with no one else around. This seemed to help, although it wasn’t quite enough. I preferred to be the one in control of the touching, not the other way around, and certainly not on a first date.
I ordered a small filet mignon, while he ordered a larger version; both came with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans mixed with almonds and cashews. The conversation drifted from jobs to amusing antidotes to previous vacation experiences, and when we reached a pregnant pause, I didn’t rush to fill in the gap. My date liked to rock back and forth in his chair when emphasizing a point. I waited for him to break the force field of gravity and end up sprawled on the floor: It didn’t happen. The music men took a break—maybe even a siesta, or that might have been my own wishful thinking—and I stared at this rather amusing gentleman out of the corner of my eye, who had a rather annoying habit of smoothing out his tie every four minutes. Not that I was counting.
“Do you play?” he asked. He nodded his head in the direction of where the band had been.
“I’ve always enjoyed live music, but I could never hold a tune.” I told myself I had an awesome voice when I sang in the shower. I resembled both Beyonce and Christina Aguilera.
“I played in a band once. We were known more for playing loud than being any good. Our best gig was our spring formal, and the only reason we even managed that was the first four bands canceled in a matter of days. The school was desperate, and we were probably even more desperate than they were.”
I sipped from my water glass, nodded, and excused myself. As far as he was concerned, I planned to powder my nose. I checked my hair, slowed my breathing—the whole touching and personal space issue—and stared at myself in the mirror for a moment longer than I should have. I’d once had an anxiety attack in the middle of a restaurant, while my date had a piece of lobster between his jaws. After that horrific experience, most of which had to do with the lobster poking out of his teeth, I was determined not to let it happen again.
When I returned to my seat, I found my food waiting for me. Aaron had his hands in his lap. Before I could sit down, he stood up, waited for me to sit down, and then resumed his seat at the table.
When I picked up my fork, he picked up his and held it poised over his plate, as he waited for me to make the first move. I did, and he followed my lead. The size of our bites differed, and the amount of water I consumed to his beer differed, although not much else did.
He said, “I’m told you enjoy sports.”
My sister never ceased to fill in a few extraneous details. “I’ve been known to follow them on occasion.”
The air filled with modesty, as my date’s nose filled with curiosity. He dropped his fork: It made a soft clatter. Hushed conversations ensued around us, although I tried not to pick up on the actual words. When I wasn’t careful, my curiosity got the better of me. Listening was an art form; talking was a skill I still hadn’t quite perfected.
“Who do you like?”
He almost choked on his piece of steak. He hacked twice, and then he swallowed three sips of beer, each one larger than the one before it. He blinked, his eyes flitting away from my face, the pupils slightly larger than normal.
“Your favorite player?”
“Troy Polamalu,” I said. My voice filled with more than a hint of emotion, as I pictured the Samoan darting through tacklers, his long dark hair whipping in the wind.
“Pittsburgh doesn’t have cheerleaders,” he said.
His concern for trivial matters that had no reflection on the game itself surprised me. I chewed in silence, savoring each bit of steak, before washing it down with additional sips of water. Once, I probably even closed my eyes in delight. Charboiled, the best steakhouse in Hampton, VA, on Settlers Landing Road, has a reservation system reserved for those with careful planning in mind. Often two weeks’ notice is required, so Aaron had already reached a level of optimism most of my other dates had not. And he exuded a certain amount of confidence that I found both intriguing and disconcerting at the same time. The whole touching thing notwithstanding.
“You aren’t a Redskins’ fan, are you?”
“I’ve always been partial to the Eagles,” he said.
Unsure exactly how to respond, I chose to refrain from it altogether. I stabbed a piece of steak that had captured my attention and pretended to look amused.
He quizzed me on my football knowledge, and I accepted the challenge. Most of the questions were answered without hesitation, although he did manage to stump me on a couple of occasions. Growing up, my dad had wanted boys. Fate had laughed at his request, and he ended up with two girls, only one of whom even came close to sharing his passion for football. I’d been to one game at Three Rivers Stadium when the Steelers played the Raiders. I couldn’t remember the outcome, but I did recall that it was one of the best days of my life—my dad and I cheering on our beloved Steelers, the roar of the stadium, the promise of a successful outcome hinged on every play—despite the cold weather and the promise of snow in the air. After that experience, I had never been the same, and my fate was forever entwined with Pittsburgh. Although we had more good seasons than bad, we lost a disheartening Super Bowl to the Cowboys when Neil O’Donnell showed a certain lack of judgment on more than one occasion. The loss stuck with me much longer than it should have.
“You were never a cheerleader, were you?”
I shook my head. “What gave me away?”
“Your reaction to my cheerleading comment.”
“I don’t have anything against the activity,” I said. “But I’m not the type of person to paint my face with false enthusiasm and have men leering at me rather than watching the game.” Big breasts were a foreign concept to me, and I’d had more than one date comment on my lack of enthusiasm. Besides, I wouldn’t take my eyes off the field long enough to do even one cheer-worthy act. I finished my steak several minutes after him; I decided to forego dessert; he didn’t; he placed his hands on the edge of the table; I placed mine in my lap; he leaned forward in his chair; I leaned back in mine; my shoulders remained in that perfect posture position.
When dessert came, he offered me a spoon. I politely declined. While he finished up and paid the check, I excused myself once more.
He asked, “Are you sure your nose needs the additional powder?”
“Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to check.”
Everything was in the same place as it was before. I checked my hair in the mirror, dabbed pale lipstick on my bottom lip, and readjusted my blouse and one errant bra strap.
Aaron helped me into my jacket, right before we met the cool night air head on. I shivered as the wind gusted around me. As I feared, he’d saved his most interesting comment for last, and it happened less than five minutes into our walk with his hand lightly brushing my own. The date had gone well enough, or so I had thought.
“Since you’re an accountant,” he said, “would you like for me to perform an internal audit?”
I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, as Aaron took a couple more steps before he realized the procession had ceased. I stood in the middle of oncoming traffic, my loose lips opened in protest, the wind whistling through my ears, the ticking time bomb ready to explode upon impact, and a look in Aaron’s eyes that I rather wish I hadn’t seen. A minute later—and what felt more like ten—I found my voice. “You know I’m not that type of accountant, right?”
“Does that mean you’re not interested?”
When he’s not writing, Robert can be found reviewing, blogging, or smiling. Falling Immortality and Graceful Immortality helped him discover his true love: hard-boiled mysteries. This is his third novel.