My breathing becomes erratic as I make a left turn, following Darren's car. We are getting closer and closer to his suggested location - the name of the restaurant sounding faintly familiar. Anxiousness continues to grow within me and worry sets up camp in a region of my brain. As my hands grip the steering wheel, I feel my hands growing damp. "What was I thinking?" I internally berate myself as I slow behind Darren, who's just been paused by a red light. Is this really "just dinner?" What's his agenda?
Could he be scouting me for money perhaps, or maybe I'll be drugged and I'll wake up tomorrow a sex slave? My imagination runs wild and part of me just wants to make a run for it! I mean he only knows my name, so it's not like this guy has any way of finding me again. Though, what if I ran into him in the future? I mean, Allentown isn't that big of a place, and if I did see him, how could I explain my disappearance? Or what if I try to veer off into some unknown street and he engages in a high pursuit chase with me that ends up with us driving off a bridge?
The light turns green and we continue on our trek. My fists are suffocating the wheel. The small, weak, but rational part of my psyche tries to reassure me, but her comfort is not working all that well. I look around, trying to find some familiar street to duck into but then I picture Jora rubbing her belly, joyous. I want to feel that joy someday. "You will not ruin this for yourself." I say out loud, my voice stern. There's no way I'm chickening out. I've spent enough of my life chickening out and gosh darn it, I'm not continuing - at least not for today. I figure, if Darren does have something up his sleeve, does that mean I can't at least enjoy a free meal? Life's all about thinking positive.
Finally managing to calm down, I take the time to look at my surroundings. I see that we're now downtown. People are walking along the lighted boulevard, coming in and out of the variety of bistros, bars, and clubs. It has been quite a long time since I've last been apart of the night-life. We weave through the streets and eventually, Darren makes a turn into a large parking lot. I follow, uneasy, not understanding why we left the tree lined streets behind. Darren parks his car, and I slide up besides him. I sit in the car a moment, eyes closed, taking a couple of deep breaths, trying to muster up some courage. I'm distracted by an light rapping on my driver side window. Turning to look, I see Darren standing there, with a small smile on his face. I release the buckle, grab my purse and step out of the car. Darren slams the door close.
"You made it. I was worried that you were going to run off." He says, hands in pockets.
"I'm not gonna lie, the thought did cross my mind a couple of times." I reply.
I'm glad you didn't give in. So, how about we get going? I chose to park us here, since there's no available parking along the roadside."
"That's fine. So, we'll be walking?"
"Yep. Hope that's not a problem." He states.
"None at all. Besides, it's a lovely night."
And indeed it is. The evening is cool but just warm enough to enjoy a stroll. Darren begins walking and I keep step besides him.
"The restaurant I have in mind is just a few minutes from here. Are you in the mood for Italian?"
"Sure! I'm starving. I could have a five course meal right about now."
"Hmm...well I wasn't planning on staying that long but we can make it work."
"No! No. I was totally joking. Please. wouldn't want to inconvenience you anymore than I already have."
"Inconveniencing me? Wasn't this my idea? Plus, if enjoying a meal with a beautiful lady is an inconvenience, then I need quite a few more inconveniences in my life."
"Oh. You have a way with words." I comment, feeling my face grow heated. I'm glad for my brown cheeks which hides my blush. We talk some more as we weave through the throng.
"My mother was a writer." He says, peering at me from the corner of his eyes."Maybe I inherited her skills, but I don't say anything unless I mean it."
"A writer, you say? Did she publish anything?" I ask, ignoring the implications of his statement.
"No. Mother writes for herself, mostly. She did read me and my siblings her fiction as youngsters."
"Yes. What of your mother?" He inquires.
"My mother works in a local bank as a financial adviser. She's more of the mathematical mind."
We continue on in a comfortable silence. Soon, Darren slows his steps and we stop in front of the restaurant.
"Here we are." Darren states, reaching for the door, holding it open for me.
"Thanks." I say, stepping before him into the warm restaurant foyer. I can tell, instantaneously, that this is a pretty well to do establishment. Darren approaches the matire d' with a warm greeting, giving the suited gentlemen a quick embrace. The two exchanged words briefly as I watch on, timidly.
"Dinner for two?" The man questions, his eye flicking from Darren, to me and back again. I can see that he is summing me up and I doubt he comes to any nice conclusions. I pull at the hem of my blouse, hoping to smooth out any wrinkles.
"Yes, Aldo. Are there any open spots?"
"Always for you. Come."
"Thank you." Darren answers, looking back and me, gesturing forward. "Shall we?"
I nod. Darren places his hand lightly on the small of my back and we walk behind Aldo, passing through a brief hallway that opens up into the central restaurant. The restaurant is packed on this Friday night, the walls are reverberating the chatter and laughter of the diners. I take in the well dressed attire of the females and males seated, and begin to feel that much more insecure. Aldo leads us to the far back of the restaurant, where the din of the restaurant dies down, and here, the tables are sparsely occupied. We approach a corner table in front of two large windows. Darren pulls out a seat and I thank him before sitting down. Darren takes his seat opposite of me. Aldo hands us our menus and assures us that a waiter will be with us shortly. Darren thanks him with a handshake (and from what I can see, a generous tip). Now that Aldo's left we're alone again.
"So, how are you feeling?" He questions.
"Under-dressed."I respond, while touching the rose petals on the table's centerpiece.
"You look dazzling."
"You're the dazzling one. " I think.
And he is, looking polished and put together.
"I just got out of work and decided to stop by the store. Probably one of the better decisions of my life. How do you like the restaurant?"
"This a very lovely restaurant. I've never been here before."
"Well at least you're here with a lovely dinner partner, yes?"
Perhaps." I smirk, not wanting his ego to get the best of him.
"Ouch." He holds his hand up to his heart and rubs. "I on the other hand could not think of a better person to be sitting across from at the moment."
At that, I fling my head back in laughter.
"Was it something I said?" He asks, puzzled.
"No. It's just that, if I were your teacher, I'd give you and A for flattery."
"If you were my teacher, I'd find ways to get detention so I could stay after school with you - alone." He says with a sly look on his face.
"You see? That right there. No offense, Darren, you speak very boldly to someone you've just met. You hardly know me."
"I know all I need to know. Remember, Elsa, I mean what I say."
I shake my head, smiling all the while. I can't help it. Usually I would be put off by such a brazen attitude, but there's something about this Darren character that I find quite mesmerizing.
"You think I'm being insincere right? Well, I'll just have to prove you wrong. But , I promised you dinner, and it's dinner you shall get. Let's look at the menu."
"Okay. Whatever you say."
I chuckle. I begin to skim the menu, my mouth nearly drooling at all the appetizing delights written on the page. I didn't know there were so many different ways to make tortellini, ravioli, and linguine. Though, the descriptions of the dishes make my mouth water, the prices are enough to me to reconsider. I glance over the top of the menu and catch Darren eyeing me.
"What?" I ask, quizzically.
"Nothing. It's just that I can sense your indecisiveness."
"Can you blame me? I mean I was waging war over Lean Cuisine. This is more than overwhelming."
"Yes, there is plenty to choose from." He says with a pout.
"What about you? Aren't you eating?" I wonder, for it didn't seem like he was considering the menu at all.
"Oh, I'm well aware of what I want." There is a predatory gleam in his eye, and I'm not quite certain what he's referring to. Before I can respond, a waitress approaches the table, with a notepad at the ready.
"Hello. I'm Kelly. I'll be your server for today. How can I help you tonight?"
"Kelly, could we have a Sicilian antipasto for starters."
"Certainly." Kelly responds, jotting down the order.
"What would you like to drink?"
"I'll have a ginger ale. You, Elsa?"
My mind blanks for a moment and blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.
"A water will be fine, thanks. With lemon and mint."
"Okay. I'll be back with your appetizers shortly. Anything else?"
With a negative from us, Kelly leaves us to our devices.
"I hope you don't mind me ordering an appetizer for us to share."
"No, I don't mind at all. I'm not familiar with anything here, so..."
"You won't be disappointed."
"We'll see what happens."
Darren let out a hearty chuckle. "My aching heart. I think I'm going to end up in the hospital room after tonight."
"I think it's against my ethics to inflict such harm."
"Oh, are you really? I'm in safe hands then. Are you in the medical field?"
"No. Not really. I work at a state owned residential home. I take care of mentally and physically challenged elderly."
"Oh, so is it like a nursing home."
"Sort of. We do most of the same things when it comes to care and recreation, but I work in an actually residential home, so it's much more comforting than a nursing home."
"Do you enjoy what you do?"
"Yes. I do. I've always had a penchant for helping others. It's the right place for me to be. I love my staff and I love my residents. I'd like to go back to school and maybe further my career to include counseling or social work."
"Oh what did you major in?"
"In that case, you can hurt me as much as you want. I wouldn't mind being under your care."
"I think you're counting your chickens again."
"I like to take chances. Do you work nearby?"
"Sort of. Why...are you planning on stalking my work at night and waiting to abduct me?"
"That's the easy way out." He laughed. " I commend you, though. One needs a lot of heart and patience to do that kind of work."
"It seems that I'm well endowed with both traits then."
"It would seem so."
Another server came through then, placing a platter onto the table top.
"This looks delish." I comment, taking in the large plate of meats, & cheeses.. "I don't know how I'm going to eat all of this.
To tell you the truth, I'm starving, but stuffing myself silly isn't going to help me look any better in this fancy establishment.
"Don't worry, I'll handle what you can't."
We begin eating, though Darren is more like engulfing. A couple of minutes into our feasting, conversation picks up.
"So, Darren, what is it that you do? Are you a student...a worker...a criminal?"
"Depends who you ask." He says with wink. "My studying days are long behind. I work for the state too, so you can can me a saint or a crook I guess."
"For the government?" I echo.
"Yes. The local government. I handle paperwork and accounting and other trivial matters."
"That sounds pretty important. I shouldn't piss you off then."
"No. No pissing me off, please. I mean if you do, hopefully we can make up afterwards.
"I roll my eyes at his blatant innuendo."
"Jeez. Do you charm all the girls you bring here?" I ask before biting into a cheese loaded bread slice.
"What do you mean?" His brows furrow.
"Come on. I mean, this whole routine; it's a class act."
"I don't know where you got the idea, but I'm not going by some script. This is a usual spot for me, true. I come here with friends, family, business partners, because it makes me happy. I thought bringing here would make you happy." He shoots my comment down.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend. It's just that, this all seems too good to be true. I can't imagine that anyone would do all this with only good intentions.""
"My only intentions are to have a dinner with a pretty lady with an equally pretty heart."
I smile around my glass and he gives me a grin in return. While having some delightful banter, Kelly comes around again and Darren orders a filetto gorgonzola and recommends the the pasta al forno.
"Are you sure you're alright with that order? If it's terrible don't blame me."
"I highly doubt it'll be bad. I'm not one to make a fuss."
"Then what one are you, Elsa? Who do you say you are?" He asks, leaning forward.
"That's a very, um, interesting question. I've never thought about it. I, guess, I'm just a decent human being. I'm just trying to live my life just like any other. I'm not a rabble rouser but no push over either. I'm a stickler for policies, especially if they're in the best interest of others. I fight for truth, justice, freedom. " I say, assuming a superhero pose.
"Impressive. Decent human being...are you sure about the human part?" He says softly.
"Well, from what I can understand. Then again, my mother always hinted at the fact that I came from aliens. She swears that a UFO landed in her yard and the martians just handed me over to them. Not the pretty stork story everyone else gets. That's my mom for you." I shrug. "I was adopted." I say openly, a past I'm not ashamed of.
"Oh, you're adopted?" His eyebrows nearly left his head.
"Yeah. When I was like three or something."
"Interesting. Do you remember anything from your past life?"
"No. Nothing at all. I mean when I was younger I used to have strange dreams about people and things I don't have a good idea of every really coming into contact with."
"Indeed. Have you ever wanted to reunite with your biological parents."
I shake my head, no.
"Nope. I'm not going to break my back. My mother is my mother and that's that. Those people, whoever they are, are just genetic donors in my opinion. My mother lives on the opposite side of the state, in Pittsburgh. I came to Philly to start up my own life I guess. I never really had a need to seek anyone. They gave me away..for a reason.
"Maybe they wanted you to have a better life."
"Maybe. Maybe my biological mother died...There are a lot of maybes I can say but I love my mom and she's given me enough love to make up for anything I could've possible missed. My mom never really discussed that and I never had a need to ask."
I've gotten more personal that I usually do on first dates so I feel the need to redirect.
"Enough about me, though. Tell me about yourself"
Darren groans and sticks out his lower lip. I am temporarily distracted. If I'm to keep my wits about me, he needs to not do things like that.
"I've got to tell you, I'm not that interesting."
"I doubt that. Are you a Pennsylvania native?"
"No, New York. I was born there, went to school and college. After that, I left to bounce around the globe for a bit, before deciding to settle in Pennsylvania."
"Around the globe? Where did you travel to?"
"I've been to plenty of places in Europe - England, France, Italy, Austria- along with China, Japan, Egypt, and Australia."
"Wow! You get around. I can't imagine how many stamps you have in your passport. Where was one favorite place to go to?"
"That's a good question...South Africa."
"Wow. I envy you. I can only dream."
"Dreams can become reality, if you want it enough."
"That's a really optimistic view. It's not that I'm too strapped for cash but I don't really have the opportunity now. Plus, my best friend is pregnant now so I doubt she'll want to be beaching it in Costa Rica at seven months pregnant."
"Maybe you can be beaching it with me."
I laugh and shake my head. This guy never quits!
"Maybe." I say, throwing my hands up in the air.
"I'm offering my services."
"I'll consider the offer. Why Pennsylvania of all places? I mean I've lived here all my life but if I left I don't know if I'd necessarily come back.
"Hmm, a hunch drew me here."
"Has it guided you to the right place?"
"Definitely to the right people." He says with a smirk and I see a gleam in his eye, but I'm not sure why.
We continue to talk and I'm surprised to see how easily conversation came to us. Time passes as we talk about life, goals, ambitions, likes, and dislikes. We talk continuously, only taking a break to eat. Darren's choice is superb and the meal I have is scrumptious and filling. The discourse doesn't stop there there though and we find ourselves chatting it up, laughing long after our plates are cleared. We decide to bypass dessert, not wanting to take another pause. In the back of my mind, I wonder if I should pinch myself, for I can't believe that all this sprung forth from a random gent who picking me up in a grocery store aisle.
"I literally had to change my cell number after that." Darren says, finishing a conversation he had about a little, overzealous lady friend of his.
"Seems like the best idea. Watch out though. You never know where she might be lurking."
"Oh trust me, I'm watchful."
I eye him for a moment, taking in his chiseled face and shapely lips. I divert my eyes, not wanting be caught staring.
"My, oh, my. The time has flown." He mentions, breaking the lull in the conversation.
"Time flies when you're having fun they say."
"Oh, so, are you saying I'm fun?"
"You're good for a few laughs."
"There you go bruising my ego again. You don't think I've been pummeled enough?"
"I guess I can give you a break."
He looks at me, an ever present gleam in his chocolate eye.
The heat surges to my cheeks and I gaze shyly down at the creme colored table cover.
"You're not so bad yourself." I say, raising my eyes. He makes to say something, but Kelly appears. Kelly places the bill on the table and heads off. Darren takes the bill booklet, and saying nothing he begins to reach in his pocket. My hand shoots out to alert him.
"Oh, I can pay for my share."
"Nonsense. I invited you here, it is only right for me to treat you."
"No, it's quite alright." I begin to slide my hand towards the bill in attempts to take it.
"Really, Darren, I appreciate it, but -" Darren stills my hand by covering it with his one.
"But nothing. It's not at all an inconvenience. If it makes you feel better, consider this a nice gesture from a fellow human, to another. Capiche?"
I open my mouth to dispute him, but he then lifts my hand and places a kiss on my inner wrist. That's my undoing. I'm too dazed to say anything.
"Uh, I suppose it's alright. Just this time."
"Are you alluding that I'll get other opportunities?" Darren let go of hand in order to pay the waitress.
I cock my head, realizing that I put my foot in my mouth.
"Can I plead the fifth?"
"Just this time." Darren signals Kelly over and she speedily returns Darren his credit card. We compliment the restaurant on dinner and move to stand up.
"So, I guess we'll get going then?" I say, pushing back my chair."
"I guess so." He replies, but even I can hear the reluctance in his voice.I feel heavy and awkward from sitting so long but it was worth it.
Oh so generous Darren leaves a Kelly a tip and we start heading out the way we came. We wave farewell to Aldo as we pass him on our way outside. The night has grown a little cooler and the night's festivities have wound down. Less people are out and about, and those who are out seem to be staggering, the effects of having too good a time. I hug myself and shiver slightly, for my thin shirt isn't much of a barrier.
"Here." Darren shrugs off his jacket and places it over my shoulders. It provides instant warmth and a spicy, sweet scent tickles my nose and makes me weak at the knees. I I groan inwardly because I truly don't need any more reason to like this guy. I thank him, snuggling up into the material.
"It's no problem. I always wanted to do that."
We begin walking towards the parking, in silence. I don't mind the break, for with all that talking we did, I think my jaw will be hungover tomorrow morning. I go over dinner in my mind, and I don't think it could've gone any better. I wonder if he could say the same. As if he could read minds, Darren turns his head towards me. Approaching the vehicles now, I stop and look up at him.
"Nothing. I'm just thinking that I've had a pretty good night. You're one heck of a lady.""
"Psh. You still don't know much about me, Darren." I say, brushing him off. I lean against the car door, smirking.
"Maybe you should give me a chance to figure more things out then." He suggest, closing in on me. His proximity sends a jolt of excitement down my spine and the heat unfurls in my stomach.
"Sounds tempting. How do we go about doing that?"
"Seven little numbers. That could be a start." He reaches up, and strokes my hair out of my face. If it were any other person, I would scold them, but Darren's gotten away with many a thing tonight, so why start punishing him now?
( pretend to mull over the idea but I already know the answer.
"I mean, I guess it wouldn't hurt if we got together over coffee or somethin'" I say, stroking my chin.
"Coffee is just the tip of the iceberg."
"If you should be so lucky...but I guess I could exchange my personal digits."
He gives a little "yippie", and whips out his phone to the new contact screen. I take his cell from him and punch in my numbers.
"There. We'll see if you make good use of it."
"You shall be sorry for doubting me, my lady." I unlock my car and Darren grips the handle, holding the door open for me. Bowing slightly, he says,
"Until we meet again."
I slip into my seat and he shuts it before going to the drivers side of his vehicle. I peek at myself in the rear view mirror and realize that I still have his jacket on. Just before he gets in his car, I roll down my window and shout out at him,"Wait, your jacket!" Darren simply waves my comment off with a flick of his hand.
"Keep it. I'll pick it up the next time I see you. Now you won't have any excuse. Go on a date with me or I'll accuse you of theft." He threatens.
"I might pick the jail sentence." I retaliate, before rolling up the car window and starting up the engine. I take a deep breath before pulling out of the driveway.
There's no doubt in my mind.
I'm going to take that second date. ~~~
Another chapter down. Far too long but hey, at least it's here! The semester is winding down but not by very much. After a stressful week I wanted to take my mind off of it and give you some more Darren and Elsa! What do you thing of there little tete-a-tete? I think it's an interesting dialogue. I hope you enjoyed this. I really want this story to take off because you don't want to miss this great caramel-chocolate duo!