39: First proper date

7 days.

For the 100th time today, the voice of Samara from The Ring rang in Ben’s head…

That was also the number of times he’d checked his phone’s clock since he sat down. ‘She sure is running late.’

He was sitting at a candlelit dinner table in Gregori’s, an Italian restaurant, by himself. The sound of couples chatting blended with light classical music to create the perfect romantic atmosphere for a date. Ben had spent a lot of time researching online to find this place, attempting to make this occasion perfect, but he wasn’t meant to enjoy it alone.

Yesterday ended getting no new phone numbers, so he was depending on today’s date. He arranged to meet Katie, the anime-fan girl from the park a week ago. They confirmed it yesterday for this time and place. ‘She said yesterday that she’d come, so I’m sure she’ll be here soon.’

An old male waiter with a kind disposition put his hand on Ben’s shoulder. “Young man, it’s been 2 hours. I don’t think she’s coming…” He had a sympathetic face and eyes that sheltered their own painful memories, the sort of eyes that had a story to tell…the sort that spoke without saying a word.

Ben gazed for a long time into those honest eyes. It was as if he could see himself in them; the him that made foolish mistakes, the him that hid from pain and difficulties, that avoided the truth…

“Who?” Ben asked. “Who’s coming?”

“I’m not waiting for anyone. I’m alone. I like it here…”

They stared at each other for several seconds, before both glancing at the empty seat opposite Ben. There was a five-course meal there!

It was Ben’s first proper date. He was so nervous that every time the waiter asked him if he needed anything, he couldn’t help but order something else for both him and Katie.

He looked back into the old man’s sincere eyes, feeling bad for the ridiculous lie he told before…

“My wife died.” Ben doubled down.

“Today was our 3rd anniversary…”

The old man’s eyes were like a clear pool of water. They were deep, filled with life’s vicissitudes. He listened to Ben’s tale while nodding his head with warmth and understanding. “…Did she?”

“No.”

The waiter sighed…He gazed into the distance, lost in his own memories, the good times and the bad times, the pain and the happiness. It wasn’t until several minutes later that his mind returned to the present.

As the waiter’s bittersweet eyes looked at Ben’s table, they gained a touch more bitterness…

‘He didn’t pay.’

Ben escaped! He left a dozen untouched dishes!

As the waiter’s bittersweet eyes looked at Ben’s table, they gained a touch more sweetness…

‘I’m going to eat it.’

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Life’s vicissitudes! The sadness and the joy!

That was his goal all along!

***

Some distance from there, Ben was making his escape. ‘Forgive me old man. I can’t afford that meal. Plus, your weird cross-eyes were freaking me out…I’ll pay you back in my next life so you can buy Lasik…’

His head hung low as he walked to the place he agreed to meet Antonio. His first date was a flake…a total rejection…a total failure.

“Yo cuz! Why the long face?”

Ben looked up and found Antonio waiting for him at a bench on the sidewalk. Grabbing a seat next to him, Ben fought through the depression and narrated his failed date over the sounds of cars and pedestrians.

After hearing the full story, Antonio nodded as if he knew what the problem was. “Cuz, there’s a lot of s*** I don’t know, but I’ve been on a good amount of dates, I’ve read about it and Beluga’s told me some stuff. In short, you made a lot of errors. I’ll break it down…First, you never have one of your first dates at a restaurant. Food is high octane fart fuel…you should always prefer your chicks on electric or hybrid power.”

Ben blinked in confusion. “I can’t speak donkey lord or whatever language you just uttered…but don’t most people go for dinner on dates?”

Antonio sneered. “Most people are clueless. Food dates have too many issues. First, some chicks expect you to pay for them since you invited them. You already know payin’ is for suckers, so there’s no point in simpin’ out…’

When he thought of the next point, Antonio shook his head in disgust. “Then, after eatin’, the chick’s gonna feel fat and tired, she’s not gonna wanna get naked while feelin’ like a butter golem.”

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Ben’s eye’s widened in realization. “She’s the one who suggested dinner. So you’re saying…it’s a trap…”

Antonio nodded. “One where you’ll end up with nothin’, not even a handjabba the Hutt…”

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