The hostess seated us at a table in the far corner at the back of the restaurant. We were both on time for this initial date, with neither of us knowing whether there would be a second one. We’d spoken to each other by phone several times and he seemed chatty enough, but not like he was looking for any kind of special relationship.
My friend Barbara had set me up on this date with William, insisting that I widen my circle of friends and chiding me for complaining about not going out often enough. I’d met Barbara when I just moved to the area five years before when I prepared her taxes. She was a woman in her seventies, who believed in living her life to the fullest and did so about every weekend with five of her other girlfriends all around the same age. She had been widowed almost 30 years previously and once her children were grown, she fully immersed herself in enjoying the rest of her life. She traveled worldwide, went dancing, zip-lining, and mountain climbing. It was only a recent illness that curbed much of her travelling exploits.
“You work too many long hours!” Barbara would always admonish me. “You’re so young! How will you ever meet anyone this way?” She added, “William is the son of one of my best friends. He’s very sweet and he’s not seeing anyone at the moment.”
Barbara was right about one thing: I did tend to work long hours and didn’t have much of a have a social life, outside of girls’ night once a month with my co-workers. I wasn’t very good at making new friends and I hadn’t found the time yet.
I wasn’t expecting any type of blooming romance from this date, I was just trying to please Barbara. But she was right about William. He seemed very amicable whenever we spoke on the phone and I wouldn’t be losing anything from just having lunch with him.
It was a gorgeous 80 degrees summer day in July and I had taken the day off from work to meet with him in anticipation of what would hopefully be the start of a continuing friendship.
At first sight, William was very easy on the eyes. Tall, tanned, looked like he worked out. He had a goofy smile on his face which, although not altogether off-putting, certainly elicited a smile from me.
I adjusted my skirt which had ridden up when I sat down at our table. Our eyes met just about the same time and I flashed a disarming smile. I planned on taking charge of this meeting.
I opened with “Do you come here often?” at which we both laughed.
“Only once before,” he answered. “I spend all day in Springfield for work but I live so far away, you know?”
He then launched off on a tangent, as he usually did when we were on the phone together, with me paying little attention, as I usually did. He told me all about his hiking trip to Vermont earlier this summer, his family (he was the youngest of 4), his nephews and nieces, his black Labrador, his career, his second job, and on and on…
He always seemed very comfortable when speaking with me on the phone. But he would go on forever, unchecked, if someone didn’t step in and stop him.
Thankfully, our server arrived with the menus and asked us what we wanted to drink. I chose a Raspberry Nojito and he ordered a diet Coke. She left us alone with the menus.
I decided to jump in quickly before William got going again.
“So do you go hiking in Vermont every summer?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s something I started doing a couple years ago and it’s just kind of a tradition now.”
“So is it just you or a hiking club? Girlfriend? Boyfriend?” I was just making small talk but at least hiking was something I was interested in.
His ears turned beet red and his eyes widened. He stuttered, “N-no, it’s just me.” He averted his eyes.
“Oh so you’re straight, then?” I ventured.
It was my lame attempt to be funny and friendly, and for a few seconds neither of us spoke.
I averted my eyes and fidgeted with the menu.
He looked intently at me. “What do you mean? What have you heard?” he asked.
The server appeared suddenly with our drinks.
“Ready to order?” she asked.