Every five years or so, all the stars line up properly, my hair behaves itself, my skin is perfect, I pick the right outfit, and I look… well, nice. Miraculously, tonight was one of those rare nights. After I applied some subtle pink lipstick, mascara, and silver eyeshadow and squeezed into a “sexy” red top, I looked in the mirror and actually felt pleased. Charlie might not go running. Maybe I’d even end up with a date for Shauna’s wedding.
I wish Alex could see me like this.
I blinked at my reflection, surprised at the thought that had just passed through my head. I didn’t know why I was thinking about Alex right now. It wasn’t like I felt any kind of attraction to him.
Okay, that wasn’t entirely true.
Yes, Alex was cute. Even after all these years, he was still my type, unfortunately. But he was clearly quite in love with his fiancée. And even if he weren’t, I was still angry at him for what happened all those years ago. Every time I looked at him, I could hear him calling me fat or ugly.
Maybe that was why I wanted him to see me looking dolled up. I’m sure he didn’t think much of the unattractive doctor handling his care, but if he could see me tonight, he’d realize I’d changed a lot since that awkward eleven year old girl. Even though, in reality, I guess I hadn’t really changed much at all.
I winced as I pictured Alex and Eva discussing me and what an ugly bitch I was. I was sure they’d noticed my bare ring finger and I imagined Alex telling Eva that I was bitter that I didn’t have a husband. “No surprise why she’s still single,” I imagined Alex would say.
I took a deep breath and forced myself not to think about him. By Monday, he’d probably be on the rehab service and I wouldn’t have to deal with him ever again. Thank god.
The original plan to arrive for my date with Charlie fashionably late. This plan dissolved when I found myself sitting on my couch thirty minutes prior to the meeting time, chewing on my thumbnail, and crossing and uncrossing my legs. When I couldn’t wait around another second, I grabbed my purse and headed downstairs to hunt for a taxi, arriving at the restaurant about five minutes early.
The restaurant was a small Italian place that had a dimly lit, romantic atmosphere. Since Charlie had chosen the place, I instantly wondered how many women he had taken here. Who was the last woman he had brought here on a date? Had she been taller than me? (Probably.) Thinner than me? (Likely.) Smarter than me? (Likely not.) Prettier than me? (Almost definitely.)
For a Friday night, the restaurant was fairly empty. There were two couples sitting at candlelit tables for two, holding hands across the tables as they gazed into each others eyes in a display that turned my stomach slightly. A third table was occupied by a lone overweight bald man. My stomach clenched. Was the bald man Charlie?
I walked up to the hostess. “Hi,” I said. “I’m meeting someone here. Charles Weinberg?”
The hostess nodded and sure enough, I was led right to the table where the single man was sitting. I tried my best to hide my distaste. Whether or not Alex was my type, I knew Charlie was definitely not my type. I don’t think Charlie was anyone’s type. He was more the kind of guy women got stuck with because they were 33 years old and still single. He was overweight and not hiding it well, his white shirt stretched over his gut. He was also balding in the most unattractive way I could imagine. The top of his skull was completely bare but there was thicker brown hair along the sides of his scalp. It seemed like sometime in my twenties, all available men suddenly went bald. His hair (or lack thereof) made him look older, but I guessed from the paucity of lines on his face that he actually was only in his thirties, like me.
Well, at least he was punctual.
“You must be Rachel,” he said, standing up as he offered me his hand. His hand was incredibly warm and sweaty. As I pulled mine away, I resisted the urge to wipe it off on my skirt.
“And you’re Charlie,” I said, stating the incredibly obvious. I was the master of first date conversation.
He nodded and gave me the old once-over. He seemed very pleased. I guess a guy who lets his mother set him up doesn’t have especially high standards.
As Charlie lifted his water glass to take a drink, I noticed his hand was shaking. I wondered if he was nervous or if I had just diagnosed him with a tremor. “Do you want to get a bottle of wine?” he asked me.
“No,” I answered quickly. Wine would make this date less painful and possibly improve Charlie’s tremor, but also might make me do something I would later regret. If I somehow ended up in bed with Charlie, I’d have to take a bath in bleach.
Charlie cleared his throat and tapped his fingers on the table. I noticed that he also had sweat stains under his armpits. “I hear you’re a neurologist,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Wow,” he said. “That sounds exciting.”
In general, if men weren’t turned off by my appearance, they were scared off by my career. Last year, my mother made me go to a holiday party thrown by my sister, and when I told the one man who approached me the whole night that I was a neurologist, he blinked and said, “Whoa.” Then he turned away from me to talk to a 25 year old blonde in a short skirt. It’s a double standard, of course. The male physicians I knew all had women throwing themselves at them, whereas my career was akin to being man repellent. Men don’t want to date a woman who’s smarter than they are. That’s a fact. And the truth is that I’m smarter than most men.
“What kind of patients do you see?” Charlie asked me.
“Mostly stroke patients,” I said. “Our hospital has a stroke unit.”
“My grandmother had a stroke,” Charlie said.
“I… I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay, it was a long time ago. She died years ago.”
I stared down at my lap. When the conversation on a date turns to dead grandmothers, you know things are going pretty badly.
I ordered a chicken Caesar salad and Charlie ordered something with far too much garlic. At least things were going so badly that I didn’t think he’d try to kiss me so I was safe in that respect. I mean, it wasn’t the worst date in history. I don’t know what my worst date was. I remember there was one where the guy said to me about fifteen minutes in: “I have to be honest with you, Rachel. You’re really not my type and I don’t want to waste your time, so I’m going to head out. It was nice meeting you though.” That date was pretty bad. Also, I heard on the news last night that this woman was killed by a man she was set up with on a date. So compared to all that, this was actually a pretty good date. I just had to put things in perspective.
When our food arrived, I felt a rush of relief. I had been praying for a break from our awkward attempts at conversation so it was wonderful to absorb myself in my salad. It turned out that I wasn’t the worst person the world at small talk—Charlie was giving me a serious run for my money. The only topic we hadn’t yet covered was the weather, which Charlie took care of while he was scooping up the last of his food and commented, “I’ve heard the summer is going to be extremely mild this year.”
I stared at him, not sure I could tolerate even another second of this date. I considered asking him if he’d mind if I took off now, but instead I replied, “I heard it will rain tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Charlie said. “I heard the same.”
When the check arrived, I made a reach for it, but Charlie waved me off. My plan had been to escape from him as soon as we left the restaurant, but it turned out my apartment was on the way to his so he hailed a cab and we rode uptown together. I noticed that in the cab, his knee was kind of touching mine. I wanted to move away, but I didn’t want to be rude either.
The cab skidded to a very abrupt halt in front of my building, throwing me forward in my seat. Usually I’m terrified of getting into a cab accident, but now it would have been a nice distraction from this awful date. I faced Charlie and plastered a smile on my face. “Well,” I began, preparing a goodbye speech in my head. I had a good time. Have a nice life. But before I could say anything else, Charlie was thrusting a handful of bills at the driver.
“I’ll walk you to your door,” he said.
“Oh,” I said.
I got out of the cab and Charlie placed a hand on the small of my back. I could still feel him shaking a bit as his tremor worsened. I was tempted to get out my prescription pad and write for some beta blockers. We walked the few steps to the front of my building and I stopped. This was the furthest Charlie was going.
Charlie smiled at me. “I had a good time, Rachel.”
“Me too,” I lied. I wondered if he actually had a good time. It didn’t seem possible that someone on the same date as I’d just been on could have really had a good time.
“Can I call you?”
I bit my lip. Another date with Charlie. The thought didn’t excite me much, but then again, who was I to be so picky? He was a man. He was younger than my father. He wasn’t grossly disfigured. He was taller than me. He was employed. Hell, Charlie was a catch. “Okay,” I said.
Charlie leaned in and there was a tense second between when I realized he was going to kiss me and when he actually kissed me during which time I considered making a run for it. But as far as kisses went, it wasn’t awful. His lips were softer than expected. Slightly garlicky, but at least Charlie kept his mouth closed.
When we parted, he was smiling and looking quite pleased with himself. “I’ll call you, Rachel,” he said.
I just nodded. I didn’t want to say anything that would prompt him to seek an invitation upstairs.
I hurried up to my apartment where I indulged in the best part of any date: stripping off my clothes. I sighed as I kicked off my heels, pulled off my pantyhose, stretched out my calves and wiggled my toes. Lovely.
Charlie wasn’t that bad. And he seemed to really like me. Maybe I was getting better looking as I got older. Anyway, it would be better to bring him to Shauna’s wedding than to come alone. With a guy like Charlie, that was how you had to think of things. I’d rather get married to Charlie than spend my life alone. I think. Probably.
Well, it’s not like Charlie was proposing any time soon. We had one date.
I lay down in bed, closed my eyes, and imagined what it would be like to have sex with Charlie. I imagined him stripping off his shirt and revealing his large hairy gut and I winced. I quickly opened my eyes to block out this particular fantasy.
I wondered if Alex and Eva had had sex in that hospital bed yet. When we caught them in bed this morning, I could tell he looked like he wanted to, although it didn’t seem like Eva was on the same page as him. But I could clearly see the desire in his eyes, and chances were, he wanted to do it just to prove to himself that he still could. From when I had listened to him with my stethoscope, I knew that Alex had a nice chest. It was a little pale, but very lean and hard and…
Oh god, was I starting to fantasize about Alex?
I shook my head to clear it. I rolled out of my bed and did the next best part of any date: took a long hot shower and then went to sleep.