Sandra got out of the car and went to the Quentins’ front door. She rang the doorbell and waited on the doorstep, her heart pulsing excitedly at a little over resting rate. Mrs Quentin opened the door and smiled - a quiet, knowing smile.
“Hello,” Sandra said. It confused her slightly that she wasn’t calling her son. “Is... Rhyley there?” she asked, in case she didn’t know that they were going out together.
“Oh, yes, I’ll call him in a moment. I just wanted to say ...” She paused, sighing slightly, looking ... amazed? “You’re family now, okay?”
“Family?” Sandra asked, mystified. Was there some strange wedding pact going on that she didn’t know about?
Mrs Quentin’s smile grew.
“I know - Rhyley told me you’re his soulmate. So I now consider you my daughter. It’s like that - for wolves.”
“Oh... Er, wow. Thank you, Mrs Quentin.”
“You’re most welcome.” Mrs Quentin couldn’t seem to stop smiling. “I’ll go call Rhyley.” She retreated into the house to call “Rhyley! Sandra’s here!”
“Coming,” came the responding shout.
“Have a lovely date,” Mrs Quentin said to Sandra.
Mrs Quentin walked into her house. A few seconds later, Rhyley appeared, slightly breathless.
“Hi,” Sandra said, still feeling a little weird-ed out after the conversation with his mother.
“You okay?” Rhyley asked, noticing her expression.
“Yeah... your mum just called me family.”
Rhyley’s eyes widened in shock and his expression became one of mortification.
“Oh, dammit, I’m so sorry! That must have been so awkward for you.” He slid his feet into a pair of laced-up trainers and came outside, closing the door behind him. He winced. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay.” Sandra led him to the car. “I mean, she said it was something normal for wolves...”
“To adopt the future child-in-law, yeah. But that’s usually not until they’re engaged.”
Sandra blushed. She climbed into the middle row and slid into the centre seat. Rhyley sat to her left and they buckled up.
“She’s excited, you know,” he told her quietly, as Sandra’s mum started up the car and pulled out. “Because she knows that soulmates generally get married and ... have kids.” Now his cheeks were red as well. “But she shouldn’t have said that to you. Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sandra said dismissively. She put her hand on his. “So this movie should be good, shouldn’t it?” she said, more loudly, so her mum wouldn’t get suspicious.
“If it does the comics justice, yes,” said Rhyley, cottoning on.
“Though, a movie’s rarely as good as a book, is it?”
“I’ve not read many of the books I’ve seen the film adaptations of.”
“Oh yeah - you said you didn’t like reading very much.”
“So, will this be the first adaptation of the comic?”
“Nah, the first was in the 80’s. But this one will benefit from all the new technology. CGI instead of men in costumes.”
“Maybe they should have just used one of you,” she said quietly.
“I don’t think so. It would’ve looked too realistic.”
At the cinema, Mrs Longmorrow handed Sandra a £20 note.
“Thanks, Mum,” Sandra said, sliding out of the car once she’d pushed the note deep into her pocket.
“Call me when you want picking up.”
“Thanks, Mrs Longmorrow,” said Rhyley, who was standing on the pavement outside the cinema.
“You’re welcome. Have a good time.”
Sandra watched as her mum drove away. She turned to Rhyley and all of a sudden felt irrationally shy.
“So... our first date.”
Rhyley smiled easily.
“Yeah. Some good old back-row making out during the adverts, a hopefully decent film and then lunch. Should be good.”
“What d’you mean ‘back-row making out’?” Sandra asked, embarrassed.
Rhyley grinned wickedly.
“Oh, you’ll see.” He started to head for the doors and Sandra followed.
“Is that a ... compulsory part of the date?” Sandra asked, not really sure if she wanted to be one of those couples who sat and kissed in the actual auditorium.
“Completely,” Rhyley said, with mock seriousness.
Sandra swallowed nervously.
At the tickets counter they bought two adult tickets and then proceeded to the food counter where they bought a regular-sized bag of sweet popcorn and a regular-sized Coke. They picked up two straws from one of the round containers inside the counter. They walked over to the ticket-checker, were told the auditorium number and made their way through the dimly lit corridor until they found the doors above which there was a large, glowing 7. The auditorium was about half-full and there were free seats in the right-hand corner of the back row. Rhyley led the way to these and sat down in the penultimate one. Sandra moved past him to sit in the last. If she angled herself in her seat, the view of the screen was fine. Admittedly she preferred seats nearer the centre but if Rhyley was going to kiss her, she’d rather be sitting in a corner where less people would notice. Rhyley bent down and put the popcorn by her feet on the floor. She herself had put the Coke she’d been carrying in the holder to her right. Her heart beat hard and fast, and it occurred to her to just say no to him.
“Rhyley, I ... I don’t want to make out,” she whispered.
Rhyley looked at her in a measuring sort of way.
She shook her head.
He settled back in his seat.
“Okay. Pass the popcorn?”
Sandra picked the bag up, both startled and embarrassed at how easy that had been. She gave him the popcorn and put the Coke between them. Rhyley ate some popcorn and offered the bag to her. She took some. She got the bizarre idea that she was making him miss out on one of his favourite aspects of a cinema date and that she should be kissing him. Without any real volition on her part her fingers crept out to touch his leg underneath the seat arm and he nearly jolted the popcorn in shock.
“Sandra, if you don’t want to make out, you should stop,” he warned her, looking at her through the dimness.
Sandra felt confused, and ashamed of herself. She withdrew her hand, feeling like it had betrayed her.
“Sorry.” She sat back in her seat, blushing in the darkness, wanting to crawl into a hole.
Rhyley leant towards her and kissed her cheek, seeming to sense her unease.
“There are loads of places to do that,” he told her quietly. It made her even more embarrassed because she saw that she had given him the wrong impression. “Not least our houses. Relax - for me?”
Sandra shrugged the tension out of her shoulders.
“Okay. For you.”
As they left the auditorium Sandra smiled slightly, saying, “You know, I really thought you’d try harder to encourage me to do the back-row making out.”
Rhyley smiled at her.
“Well, we’re going to do it another time instead, aren’t we?” he said, as if they’d agreed this beforehand.
“Um... maybe. Look, Rhyley, when I touched your leg, I ... I didn’t mean... I think you got the wrong idea.”
Rhyley frowned slightly.
“What d’you mean?”
Sandra looked at the floor.
“Um, well... I didn’t want to ... touch you.” Her blush deepened.
Rhyley’s brow furrowed.
Sandra shook her head.
“I kind of wanted to kiss you... but not ...” Her voice dropped in volume. “Touch you there.”
“Oh...” Rhyley said, sounding as if he was trying to cover up his disappointment and failing. “Well... that’s all right,” he said weakly.
“Sorry,” Sandra mumbled.
“So, where d’you want to go for lunch?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Um, is Pizza Hut okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” Rhyley walked ahead as they left the cinema and didn’t mention the touch again. Sandra hoped that he wasn’t too unhappy. She told herself that she needed to be careful, not send out signals that could be confused. Rhyley still wanted to be physical, even if she thought she felt safe with him. She wondered how she could make up her mistake to him. And unless you counted her idea of kissing him strongly in the restaurant - which she didn’t really fancy doing - she couldn’t think of anything. She sat opposite him at a table, watching him, though trying to be subtle about it, and hoped that she hadn’t completely ruined things between them.