He meticulously composes a forkful of his salad, making sure each tooth stabbed a cranberry, a quartered cucumber, a chopped romaine lettuce. She frowns at this, finding it terribly un-sexy. He’s already portioning a precise last bite, she’s sure. He doesn’t notice her sizing him up, a result of her subtlety and acuity and perhaps his lack thereof. Both his hands are occupied with the knife and fork he is using to carefully curate each bite. He gently spritzes his lemon slice onto the pending bite and she can hear the crunch of lettuce between his rows of chiclet teeth.
“And how about you, what do you do?” he asks. He had just spent the last seven minutes enthusiastically describing his high school English students and the joy they bring to him. Their capacity for growth, their intuition; it amazes him. To be a catalyst of intellectual liberation, he finds this endlessly fulfilling.
She thinks his teeth must be a sign of good genes. That, and a consequent of braces. She imagines him in that era of his life, wire-mouthed and pimpled, while she tells him what she does. She can tell he’s scrawny underneath his sweater-over-button down, his third outfit choice for the date probably. She wants to shift her seat back to take a good look at his shoes, but continues her end of the conversation. He must have always been thin, and she adds this to her mental image of his school boy years.
“Did you always know you wanted to pursue that?” he asks, Bambi-eyed and nodding, offering excessive clues to demonstrate he’s a good listener and thus boyfriend-material and thus husband-material and thus a boring fuck.
Starting to lose interest in the date, she thinks back to Cain, her ex-boyfriend. A real ox of a man. Broad-shouldered presence, reeking of virility. Unlike Jean, this current date, whose shirt was buttoned up to the collar, Cain’s buttons would be open two from the top. Even so, the third button seemed always tense, struggling to hold together the two sides of his seersuckers. She remembered when she’d reach her hand toward his chest to undo the quivering button, and when she’d finally release the button from the shirt’s button slit, he’d let out a deep, short gruff. Ungh.
She crosses her legs now, feeling damp at recalling this memory. With this motion, she accidentally brushes her kitten-heel dressed foot against his leg, much to her regret. She has likely excited him with this accidental gesture of flirtation and intimacy. She composes her poker face, one that seldom falters, despite knowing that she has just inextricably given him tacit consent to invite her over after lunch. She feels his legs run down her calves now and she begrudgingly concedes to this so she can gauge his shoe material.
“Everything ok for y’all?” their french-braided server asks, their check already in hand.
“Yes, the food was great. We’re ready for the check whenever,” the date says in a quick breath. He’s tapping his feet now, his legs peeled away from hers. He’s eager to get back to his place, she thinks. The server lays the check down and the date sets a twenty atop. The check is more than twenty dollars. She offers him a polite smile, as women do, trained in the art of performance, and reaches into her bag to pull out her leather bound wallet. It’s thick, but mostly to the brim with receipts of one-off purchases from stores with 30-day return policies. She tells him that she’ll pay for herself and slips a twenty over his.
The cheery server comes back over and thanks the two, taking the rest of their dishes. She notices her date’s salad plate, still garnished with leafy greens.
He pulls the door open to the sidewalk and she steps in front of him, almost tripping over his foot, and thanks him for his chivalry, for opening the door. They are met with the city heat, heavy with moisture and the smells from the adjacent pizza parlor, and for her, tepid anticipation. She notices her date’s reserve and timidity when he says, barely able to meet her eyes, “Well, it’s been nice meeting you. I live just over this way, so I’ll see you la–”
To save him from his nerves, she’s used to men who’ve been too nervous to ask her out, she chimes in, “Perfect. You lead the way and I’ll follow.”
Britina Cheng is a Brooklyn baby and currently a Fact Checker at New York Magazine. She studied English Literature and Film Theory and Criticism at SUNY Geneseo. In her time there, she worked as an assistant to the gallery coordinator at the Lederer and Lockhart Galleries. Her experience in the arts and media has created a medium to understanding race and gender politics in particular facets of representation, performance and artifice. She is particularly invested in the power of storytelling, visual and textual, as a means to explore different truths, creating pathways to understanding and relating to other people. She has a dream log that spans 100+ pages, cataloging her night visions, dating back to 2010.
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