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by Martin Green
Her first impression was that he was of average height, just a little taller than her, on the thin side, had receding hair, wore glasses and all in all looked a bit of a nerd. Maybe that was to be expected as the dating service had said he was a computer programmer. He’d recently come to Sacramento from San Francisco. He was 30 (meaning she was a little older than he was; she’d fibbed a little). His name was Steve and supposedly he liked to read, liked sports and played a little tennis.
“Hi,” he said. “I guess you’re Carly.”
“And you’re Steve. Come in. Would you like a drink?”
He followed her into a bright apartment that looked very neat (in contrast to his own). A large black and white cat jumped off an armchair and came over to check him out. The cat rubbed against his legs.
“That’s Shandy,” she said. “I hope you’re not allergic to cats.” .
“No, I, uh, I used to have a cat.” He’d been persuaded to take a kitten by a girl he’d liked in San Francisco. Nothing had come of it, but he’d kept the cat until moving to Sacramento. “Uh, I think we’d better get going. I made a reservation for 7:30.” He’d wanted to just go out for drinks on a first date but wasn’t sure of a place to go so thought it safer to ask her out to dinner.
She’d been surprised by his phone call. She’d registered with the dating service a month or so before, on a weekend when she felt down because she had no place to go. She considered herself self-sufficient and didn’t usually feel lonely, but on this weekend for some reason she did. She’d almost told him that she wasn’t really on the dating service register, that it had been a mistake. But he’d sounded so hesitant on the phone, so unlike the stupid cocksure guys who came on to her the few times she’s tried a singles bar, that she’d agreed to go out to dinner, assuring herself that after all she did have to eat.
It was one of those dark restaurants and, when he opened the menu, he saw that the prices were pretty high. She ordered the salmon, a moderately-priced entrée, and a salad. He ordered the lowest-priced steak. When the waiter, who affected a French accent, pressed him to order a wine, he looked at her and she said, “No, I’ll have an iced tea.” He ordered the same. The waiter left, looking disgruntled.
She immediately asked him why he’d left San Francisco, the big city, to come to a cow town like Sacramento.
“I don’t think Sacramento’s a cow town.”
“Hah! Okay, you didn’t answer my question.”
No doubt about it, he thought, she liked to be in control. In the car, when he’d told her what restaurant they were going to she’d given him directions and then told him where to park. “Well, the usual reasons, I guess. A better job. A little more pay and living’s much cheaper here.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, I guess so.” Another reason was a girl, not the one with the cat, but a more recent one. He’d never had much luck with girls. He didn’t see any reason for mentioning that. To forestall more questioning, he asked if she’d always lived in Sacramento.
“Pretty close, in Davis. My father used to teach at the college there.”
“Is he retired?”
“No. He died last year.”
He’d put his foot in it. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“He’d been ill for a long time. Anyway, you like sports?”
“Yes. I’ve become a Sacramento Kings fan. How about you?”
“I like doing more than watching. I like to go skiing, up at Tahoe, you know. I belong to a hiking club. We usually go somewhere every weekend. In the summer, I’m on a softball team.”
“Wow, you sound pretty busy.”
They continued to exchange information about each other for the rest of the meal. She had no hesitation about telling him her likes and dislikes. She found it hard to pry the same out of him. When they’d finished eating, he asked, “How was your salmon?” .
“It was all right.” She’d thought it was bland. “How was your steak?”
“All right. It was hard to tell; it’s so dark in here.
“It is dark. Maybe they think it’s romantic.”
“Or you can’t tell how good your food looks.” Their waiter had come and, just as with the wine, strongly suggested they have dessert. He again looked at her and she said, “No, thanks.”
“But it’s the house specialty,” the waiter insisted. “You shouldn’t miss it.”
“The lady said ‘No.’ Why don’t you bring the check?”
In the car going back, he said, “That restaurant wasn’t too great, was it?”
“I know of better ones.”
“Yes.” Well, he’d flubbed it again.
At her apartment house, he got out and held open the car door for her. He walked her up to her apartment. She found her key and said, “Thanks for the evening.”
“You’re welcome.” She opened her door. They both stood indecisively for a moment. He was thinking: Do I want to take a chance again? She’s pretty bossy, but when she talked about her father she had a sad look. And all that activity. Who goes hiking on weekends? And she has a cat. Maybe she was as lonely as he was.
“Look,” he said. “Can I take you to dinner again sometime? You can pick the restaurant.”
She laughed. She debated about asking him in, but then said, “Maybe. Give me a call.”
He moved forward, kind of a lunge, and kissed her, his mouth landing on her cheek. God, he thought, that was a dumb move. “Good night,” she said. Then she was gone. He returned to his car.
Inside her apartment, she thought, that wasn’t a dream date. But he’s not so bad. I liked the way he stood up to that bossy waiter. He’s shy, but he did try to kiss me. Maybe I should have kissed him back. And Shandy liked him. She picked up the cat and put him on her lap. “What do you think, Shandy, did I scare him away or will he call me?”
Six months later, Carly and Steve were married.
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