The overhead lights were definitely not my best friends. Under their garish luminosity, I could point out more than a handful of flaws that I could see on my face. I reapplied my gloss and set about doing some damage-control. Noticing the clumped up mascara-goop under my eyes, I splashed a tissue with some water and set about wiping it. I touched up my mascara and lightly swatted my face with the wet tissue, feeling a little better after I felt the coolness permeating my skin. Satisfied with my efforts, I glanced at my watch. It had not been more than a couple of minutes since I had excused myself from Neil's company to head for the Ladies' Room. I peered into the mirror again, reassuring myself that I was good to go. But something held me back. Maybe it was the nerves that I was feeling, or maybe it was just a reaction to this uncharted territory that I found myself in. As I washed my hands under the faucet, one thought kept repeating itself in my head, this isn't something I do. This is so not me.
Wiping my hands, I headed into the dining room. My steps faltered slightly, and I fortified myself by leaning on to the banister for support. My gaze sought out my lunch companion in the now-crowded bistro. I could see him fidgeting with his cell phone while our main courses were waiting for us at the table. He glanced towards his watch and then went back to his cell. A lock of hair fell over his forehead and he impatiently brushed it aside, a slight frown marring his perfect features.
I unattached myself from the banister and sauntered towards our table, hoping that I wasn't quivering or shaking. As I neared the table, Neil looked up and saw me approaching. Smiling, he stood up from his seat and waited until I had settled in mine before he sat himself down. I smiled at him and took in a whiff of the pasta that had been served in my absence.
"Well, I hope I didn't take too long", I said as I put my bag near my feet.
"No, absolutely not. The pasta just arrived", came his slightly distracted reply.
Looking at his face, I noticed his frown, as he set his cell down and returned my gaze with his own deeply intense one. He smiled, but I got the feeling that it was only for my benefit and not reflective of his mood.
"What happened? Is something the matter?", I asked him worriedly.
"No, it's nothing. Something just came up with a friend of mine."
"Oh! alright. I hope he is okay."
"She...It's Maya. She lives in my building. Her kitchen sink was giving her some trouble this morning and I promised her that I'd take care of it. Guess I forgot all about that when I came over to your place", he said with half a smile.
"She just texted me, whining about how her kitchen now resembles the community duck pond, and that she wants me to report for duty as soon as I can."
"Oh! Is that so? Then I guess we better get started on our pasta before her entire apartment floods up", I grinned and passed him the condiments.
We ate our meal in relative silence, punctuated only by random talk about common friends from work and dissing the boss. Our server cleared our plates and asked us if we'd like to have some dessert. Neil glanced towards me with a raised brow and I refused the server's offer. When the check arrived, Neil flipped open the leather jacket and glanced at the amount.
"So how much is it?", I asked while fumbling in my bag for my wallet.
"This one's on me." His reply took me by surprise and I glanced at him with a quizzical expression.
"Oh! Come now. Please don't tell me that you are a staunch feminist or something", he said with a chuckle while placing some bills inside the jacket.
"No, it's not about feminism or anything of the sort. It's just that..."
He stopped me mid-sentence and said, "It's nothing. You can take the next one. Okay?"
My heart fluttered at the thought of a next time happening for us and my smile grew a little more radiant. "You've got yourself a deal Mr. O'Connor."
"Excellent. So where are we headed next?", he asked me after the server had left our table with the check.
"I am headed back home, and you have to fulfill the promise you made to a certain sink, if I remember correctly", I said with a smile that didn't quite reach my eyes. I just hoped that my disappointment wouldn't show.
"Yes yes, I totally forgot about that. But let's get some coffee first."
"I really don't think I could handle any more caffeine just yet. I was on my second mug when you came over."
We had exited the bistro by then and were heading towards my apartment. I glanced at him walking beside me, his hands tucked into his trouser's pockets and his hair in a messy tangle. I was sure that my own tresses didn't look half as glamorous as his did when they were all tousled up. The rough wind also didn't help my cause and I had to hold my hair against the side of my neck just to stop them from getting further entangled.
Not a word was spoken on our way back to my place, but the silence was not awkward at all. It was like the easy silence that friends share.
When I stood below my apartment complex, I turned to him, one hand still holding my hair in place. "Thanks for the wonderful brunch. And for my jacket. It was really nice of you to come all this way to return it."
His amusement at my awkward gratefulness was evident in his crooked grin, and with a naughty glint in his eye he said,"Yes, it definitely was an ordeal. The jacket. The meal. All of it." And then he burst out laughing.
"You sure do crack me up Rosalyn. What's with all the thanks and all. It was my pleasure. Entirely."
I smiled at him and feeling a traitorous blush creeping up my neck, I began fumbling in my bag for my keys with both hands. Suddenly I felt his hand sweep across my cheek, tucking an errant lock of hair behind my ear. I looked up at him, and found myself locked in his gaze. His hand still rested near my cheek and I could feel a strange sensation where it touched my skin. He caressed my cheek with his fingers and trailed them down to my chin.
A sudden loud noise shook us out of our reverie, and we looked at the cab driver who was shaking his fists at a dog walker and honking at him to get out of his way. This unexpected interruption brought a wry smile to his face and another blush to mine. "I guess I should get going", I said to him, not quite meeting his gaze.
His fingers brushed mine for a moment and then he said, in his velvety voice, "Yeah, I guess."
A little uncertain about how I should bid him goodbye, I moved my hand towards his, for a handshake. He smiled at my awkward attempt and closed the distance between us with a hug. The warmth of his body seeped into my numb brain, leaving me slightly scrambled and disoriented. He disengaged himself from my embrace and moved back.
"Guess I'll see you Monday then."
"Yeah, Monday." I waved vaguely in his general direction and began to trudge towards my building.
"Oh! And another thing", I heard him call back after me. "This qualifies as a first date."