"So what're you doing tonight?"
"Nothing much. I'll probably just sit at home and watch a video or something. No real plans."
"I'll be at your place at seven-thirty. I will be well-dressed and I will have dinner reservations at a very nice restaurant. When I come to pick you up, you will be dressed accordingly and ready to go or I will go alone and miss the fact that you aren't with me. The ball is in your court and it's entirely your choice." Click.
Five minutes later, the cell phone starts to ring. It is our mutual friend, Jessica.
"Howdy, sweetheart. News travels fast, eh?"
"This is a bad idea, Jay. You're pushing too hard. Call her back and tell her you were just joking."
"I absolutely will not do that. And at seven-thirty we'll see just how bad or good an idea this really is. I've got to run, darlin'. Plans to make and things to do. Love as always. I'll talk with you later."
I dress in my best clothes, things they'd never seen me wear before. I am clean-shaven, smell good and look better than I have in years. For three weeks solid, since they last saw me, I have been doing sixty push-ups on a daily basis- thirty in the morning and thirty before bed- and some light jogging after breakfast. I haven't smoked a cigarette in two weeks and the smell of smoke has been expunged from my wardrobe. I do not look "buff", but definitely well-toned. My general appearance is more... presentable.
They both call me a few times throughout the day and I do not answer the calls. I hold firm to my prediction that at seven-thirty we will see precisely how hair-brained this scheme really is. I am nervous as hell that there will be a blow-out and harsh words hurled at me, but I steadfastly believe that this is exactly what the doctor ordered, as it were. Not just for me, but for her, too.
I have made reservations at a local French restaurant, a four-star establishment that will cost me a pretty penny, but I've heard nothing but good things about the place. Life has been good for me lately, the new job, and I can now afford it. Dad has loaned me the use of his car, which is much nicer than my own and much newer, too. I stop at a florist to buy three long-stemmed red roses and a very quaint box of high-quality imported chocolates.
I arrive at their house right on time, get out and swing the roses and candies behind my back. I walk up to the door and rap twice, not forcefully, but loud enough to announce myself. Then I close my eyes.
I hear silence for several long seconds and then I hear the door open. I slowly open my eyes and see her standing before me. She looks utterly beautiful, divinely so. The straight-lined black dress she is wearing fits her perfectly and her make-up is so understated that you'd never know she was wearing any, but her natural beauty definitely looks enhanced and glowing. She is staring at me with her jaw hanging open, shocked that I have cleaned up so nicely for her. Whatever words she might've chosen before my arrival are now gone from her mind.
I casually hold out the trio of roses and then follow them up with a supplication of chocolates. "Leave the chocolates for later," I tell her, "and put two roses in your room. But bring the third rose with you, to smell it every few minutes whenever you start to wonder if this is really happening." I flash a confident smile at her, show off my recently rebuilt teeth with pride.
She quietly takes the gifts and obeys as though she has been hypnotized, stunned beyond the capacity for argument. When she returns she is holding one of the roses and its petals are bunched up under her nose while she sniffs at them in a bewildered state.
She nods. I hold the door open for her, walk her to the car, open the car door and present the seat to her with a slight flourish.
She gets in silently and as she sits down, pauses to look at me as though she is about to ask what I've done with the real me. But she sagely remains mum. She doesn't know what to expect, but so far, just five minutes into the evening, I've been a perfect gentleman.
"You look beautiful," I tell her just before I close the door and deny her the opportunity to respond.
I casually step around to the driver's side of the car and get in without a word. I start up the vehicle and we're off. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that she is looking at me with that same mystefied expression on her face. When I glance past her to see if a car is coming as I am about to turn onto the road, I see that her eyes are twinkling madly with possibly a hundred or so questions.
I simply smile at her and say, "I mean it. Gorgeous. And in case you're wondering, I've had a really, really good month. I feel like a new man. Just roll with it and enjoy the evening."
"Uhm... okay. I think." She wants to poke and prod, but she respects my privacy enough not to. I will tell her in good time what's been going on. Before that, though, I am hungry as a bear and want to eat in the company of this beautiful woman next to me.
We arrive at the restaurant without incident or meaningful conversation. The extent of our interpersonal exchange during the whole trip there are occasional glances at one another and small, embarrassed smiles, but nothing of substance is really said. She makes a few half-hearted attempts at conversation, but I always say the same thing: "Later." Calmly and assuringly. We will talk later. Right now, it's time for dinner.
We are seated quickly, even though we are early. The table isn't the best in the house, but that is fine with me. As we take our seats, the waiter approaches. His accent is heavily French. Before I am completely seated, I look squarely at him.
"Deux vins, sil-vous plait. Toute suite." I produce a folded ten-dollar bill and hand it to him. "Et, garcon, merci."
The waiter looks at the folded bill and nods. "Merci, monsieur."
I finish seating myself. "De rien," I respond. "Il n'ya pas de quois." The waiter leaves quickly to fetch us two glasses of wine and some bread.
Linda looks at me like I am an alien. "Since when do you speak French?" she asks me.
"Since high-school. Two years of it."
"And when, exactly, did you graduate from high-school?"
"Class of ninety-two."
"So you've known how to speak French for twelve years?"
"Well, if you include my first year, it's thirteen years, but yeah."
"I had no idea....."
"Well... now you do. The question is: do you want to know more?"
"Me. And are you willing to let me learn more about you?"
She is silent for many long moments before she answers. The waiter reappears and presents the cork to me while Linda contemplatively sniffs at her rose some more. I accept the cork and sniff it idly. The bouquet is rich and full and the odor of alcohol is barely evident. I give him a nod and he pours two glasses halfway for us.
When we are alone again, she asks, "Why?"
I arch my eyebrows. "Why? Because you're an incredible woman. You're lovely, smart, kind, generous, strong, independent, sexy and alone. And that, my dear, is a terrible combination. Such a woman should never be alone if she doesn't want to be. And you haven't wanted to be alone for months now. Frankly, Linda, I'm tired of hearing you bitch about it. So. This is me, telling you, that you don't have to be alone anymore if you don't want to be." I hold up my glass of wine. "Tomorrow is an unwritten chapter. Tonight is the pen. Here's to writing well."
It's nice to dream, isn't it?