A few hours later, she comes into my office with a smile on her face and more coffee in her hand. “Can you do Saturday night?”
“This Saturday night?” I thought this was some far-off idea. I did not think we were talking Saturday night.
“Um . . .” I say. “Sure. Yeah. I guess I can do Saturday.”
“I’ll give him your number,” Mila says, and then she comes over to my desk and takes over my computer. “Do you want to see a picture of him?”
“Oh, yeah, totally,” I say, remembering that I’m supposed to be attracted to this person.
She pulls up a photo.
He’s handsome. Light brown hair, square jaw, glasses. In the photo, he’s planting a tree with some kids. He has on a T-shirt and jeans, with gardening gloves and a huge shovel in his hand.
I look at the picture. I really consider it. I could kiss him, I think. You know, maybe. Maybe he is a person I could kiss.
I spend my Saturday morning cuddled in bed with Thumper. We watch a lot of reality television, and then I read magazines until noon.
I start to call Rachel to tell her that I’ve agreed to a blind date tonight, but as I dial her, my phone starts ringing at the same time. The dialing and ringing all at once knock me for a loop, and I manage to hang up on everyone after somehow leaving a voice mail of myself going, “Uh, what? Wait, Ah!” for Rachel.
Just as I go to check my missed calls to see who called, it rings again, and I answer. “Hello?”
“Hi, it’s David.”
I’m nervous. The good kind. I remember this kind. It doesn’t feel exactly like butterflies in your stomach. It’s more like hummingbirds in your chest. Either image, though, taken literally, is entirely frightening. “Oh, hey, David,” I say, “How are you?”
His voice is friendly and calming. It’s a nice voice. “I’m good, you?”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
It’s quiet for a moment, and my mind races through options of things to say, but ultimately, I come up empty. Someone say something.
“I was thinking maybe seven o’clock? There’s a great Greek place on Larchmont if you like Greek. I mean . . .” He starts to stumble. He sounds kind of nervous. “I mean, some people don’t like Greek. Which is fine.”
This might be easier than I thought.
“Greek sounds great. Were you thinking of Le Petit Greek?” When it comes to Greek food, I know what’s where.
“Yes!” he says, excited. “Have you been there?”
I used to make Ryan take me there when I wanted moussaka. I should have noticed he only ever ordered the steak. He doesn’t even really like steak.
“I have, yeah,” I say. “I love it. Great choice.”
“OK, so seven o’clock,” David says. “You’ll know it’s me because I’ll be wearing a red rose on my lapel.”
“Nice,” I say. I’m not sure if he’s joking, so I don’t want to laugh at him.
“That was a joke,” he says. His tone is eager to clarify. “Maybe I should do something like that, though. I’ll wear a black shirt. Or . . . yeah, a black shirt.” He might be more nervous about it than I am.
“Cool,” I say. “You have yourself a date.” I immediately find myself embarrassed for hitting the nail too closely on the head. It’s embarrassing, right? To call a date a date?
“OK,” David says. “Looking forward to it.”
I hang up and put the phone on the table. I look at Thumper, who is now sitting under the table at my feet. I have to duck underneath the table to see him, to really look him in the eye.
“It’s not weird that he didn’t offer to pick me up, is it?” I ask Thumper. He cocks his head slightly. “It’s just, like, the way people do things, right?”
I take his yawn as a yes.
My phone rings again and startles me. Rachel.
“What the hell did you leave on my voice mail?” she asks me, laughing.
“I got confused.”
“I have a date tonight,” I tell her.
“A date?” she says. “Like, with a man?”
“No, it’s with a panda bear. I’m really excited.”
“You think you’re ready for that? With a man, I mean? I understand you’re not actually dating a panda bear.”
I sigh. “I don’t know. I mean, Ryan’s dating someone.”
“If Ryan jumped off a cliff, would you?”
Is it bad that there was a time in my life when I might have considered saying yes to that? I’m inclined to think it’s beautiful that I once believed in someone that much, that completely, and without reservation.
David has parsley in his teeth, and I’m not sure how to tell him.
“Anyway, so I took a job teaching social studies to eighth-graders in East L.A., and I thought it would be for a year or two, but I just really like it,” he says. He laughs at himself a bit, and it’s really charming. It is. But he has parsley on his front tooth. And it’s a big piece. It’s not so much that I mind. I mean, parsley is not the measure of a person. It’s just that I know he’s going to go to the bathroom at some point, and he’s going to look in the mirror, and he’s going to see it. And he’s going to come back out and say, “Why didn’t you tell me there was a huge piece of parsley in my teeth?” And I’m going to have to sit here and shrug like an idiot.
“You have a—” I start, but he accidentally speaks over me.
“I mean, in college, I was convinced I would graduate with my political science degree and next stop, the Senate! But, you know, life had other plans,” he says. “What about you?”
“Kind of the same thing,” I say. “I work in the alumni department at Occidental.”
“That sounds like it could be fun.”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s a good job. Same as what you’re talking about. It’s not what I set out to do. I was a psych major. I just assumed I’d be a psychologist, but I found this, and I don’t know, I really like it. I find myself getting really excited when we are putting together the newsletters, planning reunions, that sort of thing.”
David takes a sip of his white wine, and when he does, the parsley manages to wash away.
“Isn’t it nice,” he says, “once you’ve outgrown the ideas of what life should be and you just enjoy what it is?”
Of all the things people have said to me about my marriage, none has resonated like this does. And he’s not even talking about my marriage.
I lift my glass to toast.
“Here’s to that,” I say. David clinks his wineglass to mine and smiles at me. You know what? Without the parsley there to distract you, it’s quite a smile. It’s bright white and streamlined. His face is handsome in a conventional way, all cheekbones and angles. He’s not so attractive that you’d stop traffic to look at him. But neither am I. He’s just a humbly good-looking guy. Like, if he were the new doctor in a small town in the Midwest, all the local women would schedule an appointment. He’s that kind of attractive. His glasses sit comfortably on his nose, as if they have earned the right to be there.
“So what kind of stuff are you into?” David asks me. “I mean, when you’re not at work, what are you doing?”
“Uh . . .” I say, unsure of how to answer the question. I read books. I watch television. I play with my dog. Is that the stuff he means? It doesn’t seem very interesting. “Well, I just recently started hiking and running. I like taking my dog out in the sun. I always feel good about myself when he gets tired before I do. It’s rare, but it does happen. I guess, other than that, I hang out with my family, and I read a lot.”
“What do you read?” He takes a bite of his salmon as he listens to me.
“Fiction, mostly. I’m getting into thrillers lately. Detective stories,” I say. The truth is, I’ve stopped reading anything with a love story in it. It’s much less depressing to read about murder. “What about you?”