Margaret looked at herself in the mirror. Her frizzy hair was sticking up at weird angles a la Ace Ventura. She didn’t wear makeup very often and the little bit she had on today made her feel like a clown. But, she was already running late and didn’t have time to wash it off. Finn would be getting to her apartment any minute now, and if there was anything worse than looking like a clown on a date, it was looking like half a clown.
Thud. Thud. Thud. The old brass knocker on her apartment wasn’t what had sealed the deal for her when she’d been apartment shopping in the city, but it had been an exciting bonus. She’d been lucky, in a way, because she’d moved up to Montgomery only a few after a major storm. As such, the re-purposed historic warehouse on North Court Street that she now called home, had just suffered major water damage the same week that she was shown it. The once warehouse was had been adapted into luxury apartments that would’ve normally been light years out of her price range; but, the water damage devalued the real estate considerably -- making her landlord unbearably crabby, but Margaret happy as a lark. She’d signed a lease on the spot.
Luckily, the damage hadn’t been so great that it couldn’t be fixed: a few bucked up floorboards, some water spots on the ceiling, and some very persistent mold in her bedroom closet. After a few weeks of work and a lot of help from her mom, she’d finally moved in. Her mom had surprised her with the old knocker -- which she’d found in the bathroom cabinet and polished up -- as a housewarming gift the day she’d moved in.
The old knocker banged again. Back when she’d moved here, she’d been bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She’d just secured a job with one of the best independent newspapers in the region. She’d just moved into an amazing apartment. She’d been dating a man that she’d she would marry. She finally felt like she was coming into her own and was on her way.
But then, the paper had closed. Her relationship had turned toxic. And her career had quickly started to go down the drain. At least in her opinion. All around her it’d seemed like her carefully crafted little world had been crashing down. The one constant throughout the last few years had been her apartment with the little brass knocker.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
She quickly crossed the room. Knowing Finn was standing there on the other side of her door made her stomach fill with butterflies and flip flop with excitement. But, she paused with her hand on the doorknob. Sure, she was buzzing, but what was she really doing? What was she thinking? Going on a date with the subject of her story? Going on a date with a guy like Finn?
Talk about a conflict of interests. Many, many interests.
But, it was too late to be thinking about that now. He was here. She went ahead and twisted the knob, throwing the door open. Without much preamble, and not being able to help the smile that was beginning to spread across her face at the sight of him, she told him, “You look nice.”.
“Thanks,” Finn grinned confidently. He was sporting khakis and a mint green and white checkered shirt rolled up to the sleeves, giving his professional look a more casual, afternoon feel. He looked handsome and springy, sexy and classy, all at once and Margaret could barely keep the smile off her face. Especially when she looked at the left sleeve, still rolled up to the elbow to mirror the other, but hanging limp and empty for a few inches past where his arm ended.
“Perfect look for happy hour drinks.” Margaret moved aside to let him in.
Finn seemed apologetic. “I just came from school. This is the post work look.”
“That’s post work?” He looked fantastic.
“Oh definitely.” He laughed and his eyes twinkled. “Note: I’ve rolled my sleeves up.”
A small smile tugged at the corner of her lips. She knew she’d be feasting on this date for weeks to come, and the rolled up, but empty sleeve, was only the beginning of that. Their eyes met and he matched her smile and she had an uncanny feeling that he knew sort of along the lines of where her brain was. Damnit. She quickly tried to change the subject. “Should we head out?”
Finn nodded earnestly. Suddenly, Margaret got the feeling that he was just as excited as she was. And possibly a little nervous too. He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “After you.”
“Such a gentleman,” Margaret quipped as she locked the door.
“Between the military and my mother, I hope I’d amass a least a few manners.”
He chuckled, as if enjoying a private joke, either at the military or at his mother’s expense. Whatever the joke was though, he didn’t share. Margaret was nosy to a fault, but, she restrained herself. He's giving you another chance. Don't screw it up.
“Have you ever been to Railyard?” Finn asked as they strolled through downtown Montgomery. The sidewalk had widened and Margaret was finally walking beside him, not behind him like when they’d first left her apartment. He wasn’t nervous or worried about this date; rather, he was excited. Margaret was like a firecracker: pretty, intriguing, unforgettable.
Most people avoided his left side. Whether it was because people thought his stub of an arm was scary, disgusting, or contagious, he wasn’t sure. Whatever it was though, people usually stayed far away.
But not Margaret Shields. She’d positioned herself daringly close to his left side, so close that their shoulders were almost touching. She seemed completely unphased by that fact. It amazed him; it also made him wonder if she was still in this for her story or if maybe her prerogatives had changed.
But, it also infuriated him.
He looked down at the short stump that was his left arm and sighed.
Court Street was one of the main thoroughfares of the city. In the middle of the street was a large, elaborate fountain that finally sported flowing water again after years of a severe drought. It was a beautifully landscaped area with expensive storefronts, wide sidewalks, and a lot of cars. Usually, the traffic was nothing but a pedestrian hazard and a source of noise pollution. But, as the rush hour traffic whizzed by them on the street, Finn suddenly had an idea.
He waited until they were at the intersection of Court Street and Dexter Avenue. As they waited for the traffic light to change colors and signal for them to walk, he quickly hop-stepped around her back, switching sides so that his good arm would be on the inside. Immediately, he reached down and grabbed her hand. Then, he wished he’d wiped his hand on his pants first; it felt a bit sweaty.
Good grief. He felt like one of his school students. Christ.
To her credit, Margaret didn’t break stride. But she did look down at their intertwined fingers. Finn couldn’t see what her expression was, but when she looked up she was smiling widely. “Yeah, I love a good beer.”
Margaret took a long pull on her beer. “Your turn, Finn.”
Finn grinned at her from across the table. They were sitting on the brewery’s front patio, nursing their second round. “Middle name?”
“Ha!” Margaret guffawed. Then she felt embarrassed. “That is definitely not first date material.”
“Technically speaking, this is our second. On the first you sneaked into my house and broke my favorite salad bowl. This one is already getting a better rating.”
Margaret narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re never going to let that go are you?”
“I could be persuaded. How about a trade?” he jested. He would not give up. If it weren’t such a serious matter, Margaret might have appreciated his tenacity. As it was, she abhorred it. “Forgiveness for a middle name?”
His eyes twinkled. She narrowed her own. “I’ve already bought you a new bowl,” she pointed out.
Finn grinned wickedly, but didn’t say anything. Finally, she gave in. Looking down into her almost empty glass she muttered, “Prudence.”
“Prudence?” He didn’t try to mask his surprise. His head was thrown back and his entire body was shaking with laughter. People sitting at the table next to them had turned to stare, probably at his outburst. “Prudence?”
“Prudence,” she echoed sorrowfully.
“A memorable name,” Finn said after he had composed himself. He smiled coyly and clinked his bottle against hers. “For a memorable woman.”
“You’re being kind.”
“I was going for coquettish..”
Across the table, he wore a teasing expression and raised his eyebrows suggestively. Margaret felt her face flush. “Your go, Finn.”
“Patrick,” he told her unceremoniously.
She wrinkled her nose. “Pft. That’s nothing. I definitely win.”
“Oh definitely,” he acquiesced and smiled at her, all teasing gone. When he smiled his entire face lit up. Undeniably, Finn was a handsome guy. If she’d seen him in a bar or a store, she knew she’d have eye fucked him without hesitation. Even Jake had admitted he was attractive. Add that he was an amputee and suddenly, he was irresistible. She hoped her eyes didn’t reflect the hungry, intense look that she was feeling in her gut all at once.
“I bet all of your students have crushes on you, don’t they?” She found herself blurting out.
Finn chuckled. “I doubt it.”
“No, I bet they do,” They were on their third round of drinks and suddenly, she realized her body wasn’t the only thing that was buzzing. She felt bolder than usual -- and she was bold by nature. “I mean, look at you!”
“Yeah, look at me.”
The words came out in a sneer of sorts. He waved his short stump at her, as if he had to remind her it was there. He gestured to his leg. The motions seemed like a challenge; like he was daring her to disagree with society’s accepted social constructs.
Margaret swallowed hard. Her head felt slightly fuzzy. She felt energized by their banter and encouraged by the serious turn it had taken. What was the old saying? Right, alcohol talks. She took a long pull on her beer and accepted the challenge.
Finn couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He knew that they were both a bit buzzed, but he didn’t think Margaret had had enough to drink to make hurtful jokes like that. He hoped his expression didn’t betray his feelings. “Excuse me?”
Margaret looked nervous. She suddenly looked quite sober. “Please don’t make me repeat it.”
“You like it? Did you say you like it?”
She looked at him with wide, fearful eyes. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she muttered more to herself than to him. She grabbed her purse from the back of the chair and dug around for a moment. Then she placed some cash on the table. “I’m sorry. This was a mistake.”
Finn watched as she stood and walked out of the bar. He was unsure of how to feel -- hell, he was unsure of what she meant -- but, this wasn’t how he’d wanted the night to go. But as he watched her scurry off, he was certain of one thing: it hadn’t been a mistake.