“Just tell me where we’re going,” Mia says, bouncing in her seat.
I glance over at her briefly, before returning my eyes to road. “Patience, little one.” I pat the top of her head.
I’d pulled my Jeep out of the garage tonight—a vehicle I hadn’t driven in months. The top is down and the salty ocean air is blowing through Mia’s chestnut hair as we cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway. She’s dressed in cutoff jean shorts, sandals and a peach-colored T-shirt. She looks cute and at least ten years younger than her thirty years. I have a ball-cap pulled over my eyes and am similarly dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. It feels damn nice to be out of the suit and tie I wear every day.
“Almost there,” I say, as I slow and pull off into a parking area. Mia’s eyes light up as she realizes where we’re going. “Have you been to the Santa Monica Pier before?” I ask.
“No,” she says, her eyes growing wide as she takes in the view.
“Come on, you’re going to love it.”
We exit the car, and I take her hand, guiding her toward the sights and sounds that await. The giddy stride to her step and the smile that’s yet to fade tells me that this date is much more her type of fun.
As we walk along the beach, the pier looms in the distance, and her eyes are drawn to the huge Ferris wheel at the end of the pier that overlooks the blue water below. I’d seen an old photograph of the ride cut from a magazine and glued onto a page in her scrapbook.
“Are we going up there?” she points to the top.
“If you like,” I say, my tone neutral. I can’t have her knowing how stupidly excited this gets me. “But first, I thought we’d have a picnic dinner on the beach.” I motion to the backpack slung over my arm.
“It’s perfect, Coll.” She lifts up on her toes and plants a kiss on my cheek.
We find a quiet spot, away from the tourists and visitors. From the backpack, I pull out a blanket and bottle of wine. Mia sinks down and digs through the bag, pulling out the rest of the items while I open the wine—she finds two plastic cups, a package of crackers, a block of cheese, fresh berries, sliced lunchmeat and cookies.
“This is amazing. You’re the world’s best boyfriend.” As soon as she’s said it, she slaps a hand over her mouth. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. Is that what I am to you?”
She nods, slowly. “I—I think so.”
“Good. You’re all I want.” I lean in close and kiss her lips. She tastes like wine and strawberries. It’s an intoxicating combination, and I want to feast on her—forget this spread we have laid out before us.
I feel her hand pat my cheek and she pulls away after several minutes. “We better behave.” Her eyes stray to a small family with young children who are down the beach a little ways.
“Fine,” I grumble.
She laughs at me and pops another berry into her mouth.
“Do you like this date better than going to a designer opening?” I ask.
She removes her sandals and digs her toes into the warm sand and shoots me a daring look. “What do you think?”
I smile. “I’ll admit, I want to wow you. I guess I may have been over thinking things.”
“You’ve gotta stop thinking with your head so much.” Placing her palm over my heart, she leans close. “Everything you need to know is right in here.” She pats my chest gently.
“I’m starting to get that,” I say. Listening to my heart is making more and more sense.
After we finish our meal and the bottle of wine, we head to the pier, feeling happy and slightly tipsy. The flashing lights and cheerful sounds of the carnival games draw us in.
We watch a group of kids play a dancing game for several minutes before Mia announces that she wants me to win her a giant stuffed animal. Rising to the challenge, I strut over to the strong man challenge, pay the operator the five bucks and pick up the heavy mallet. Tossing a flirty grin over my shoulder at Mia, I raise the mallet overhead and slam it down against the target. The game erupts into a fit of lights and sounds, sirens whistle and bells ding. I pull Mia into my arms as the operator hands me my ticket for the prize I’ve won. “Let’s go get you that stuffed animal.”
“My hero.” She takes my hand and pulls me to the counter where we discover that my big win was not enough to get her the giant teddy bear she wants. The clerk hands her a miniature pig and we both burst into laughter.
“The size is a little disappointing,” she says, turning the tiny stuffed animal over in her hand.
“There’s a phrase I’ve never heard before.” I smirk.
Realization dawns on her and she swats my shoulder. “You’re awfully cocky.”
I shrug and fix a smile on my mouth. “It’s not cocky if it’s true.”
“Come on, naughty boy, you promised me a ride on that.” She points straight up to where the Ferris wheel rises overhead.
“Yes, ma’am. Come on.” I lace my fingers in hers and tug her toward the ride.
Seated together in the bucket seat, Mia squeals and tucks herself in against my body as we begin to rise. Once we’re at the top, the ride stops, and we enjoy the spectacular view of the sun sinking into the ocean. The moment is perfect and it feels like time has stopped. I love how Mia can turn every day into an adventure and how she’s totally down with eating sugary fair foods and cheered on the little ones playing that dancing game. She makes me happy. Her outlook on life is simple and straightforward. She’s not at all pretentious or phony. I love how warm and sweet she is.
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