While most people hated first dates—I loved them. Nothing was more thrilling. I got a rush. Pure euphoria. Every second until the moment we locked eyes was a surge of adrenaline waiting for the coaster to plummet over the tracks. The slow climb to the top before you were dropped into nothingness. Oblivion. Click, click, click. Higher and higher. The rush of the blood in my ears as my heart pumped, every thud reverberating through my chest, stomach and limbs—on the cusp of no limitations. Then the feeling of my stomach dropping, threatening to eat me alive. Heart pounding. Skin flushed. It was like mental sex.
And then it was over—this was where the first date often failed me. The rush evaporated, the high gone. I could see clearly once more and had to decide if I wanted to ride again. Often not. The anticipation was never as good the second time around. I never considered myself picky, I mean I had my type, who doesn’t, but I dated all different kinds of men. And I was sure I knew what I was looking for…maybe…or so I thought. Delia called it fickle. I liked to call it hopelessly romantic.
Why? Because the possibilities were endless. This could be the guy who swept me off my feet and flew me to Paris where we’d drink champagne and ride around on bikes wearing berets. Or the guy who owned a ranch in the southwest where we’d spend our afternoons horseback riding and rock climbing. Oh, or the guy with winter chalet where we’d drink wine by candlelight while soaking in hot springs. Maybe, just maybe this would be my forever. I know, I know, sickeningly optimistic, but I couldn’t help it. No matter how many times I got my heart stomped on and glued the pieces back together something inside me knew my perfect someone was out there.
Realistic? Definitely, not. But why couldn’t my love life be the next Rom-Com waiting to happen? She always got the guy in the end. Swoon.
So tonight was the night. First date night. I’d spoken to Ian earlier last week, he’d asked for my number at the newsstand the week before Valentine’s Day while we decided who got the last copy of Spider-Man. He won. And with a valid argument. If I took it there was a good chance he’d never see me again. But if he took it…
So here I was—me standing in Ambush, a quiet bar in the city that had a tasty menu of appetizers and light dinner options. I thought it was odd Ian would pick a bar named Ambush for a first date, that wasn’t what I’d like to think I was walking into. But his friend worked as the sous chef and he assured me the ambience and food would be amazing.
I showed up a little early so I could sneak to the restroom and check my appearance for the millionth time. I was probably trying too hard, but I took first dates seriously. There were few things in my life that justified spending hours on picking out the right outfit, careful application of makeup and putting a curling iron to my hair. Weddings and first dates were pretty much it. It’s not like I left my apartment looking like Homeless Harold—he was this homeless guy that sat around the corner from the newsstand who wore a dirty designer suit asking for change. I swore he just didn’t want to get a real job, and I was sure he made way more money panhandling than I did at my nine-to-five.
For work, weekends and the occasional ‘girl’ night—I said girl because meeting up with Delia for a drink and her leaving with some guy that hit on her didn’t really count as a girls’ night—I kept to a minimalist makeup and hair routine, which was exactly why my Ex, Peter caught me at the coffee shop two weeks ago au natural. Not that he hadn’t ever seen me first thing in the morning, but no matter if I had a new boyfriend or not, I wanted Peter to think his life would’ve been better with me. Completely selfish? Yes. Completely valid? Definitely.
My phone buzzed in my small purse I’d set on the restroom sink. I straightened my navy blouse, the one that if I leaned just far enough forward you could get a decent peek at my cleavage. Then reached for my clutch and took out my phone.
Delia: Plan B?
Me: 9:30 sharp.
Delia: If I don’t call by 9:45 I’ll need you to save me from Vic.
Me: Aren’t you at your parents? Who’s Vic?
Delia: My dad’s racquetball partner.
Me: Nevermind. I don’t want to know.
Delia: Have fun. Pls get laid tonight. ❤
I slipped my phone back into my purse. So much for Delia being of any use if this date went from the-comic-book-lover-of-my-dreams to Delia-I-hate-you-for-putting-wrinkly-man-balls-before-me. I shook my head. But I doubted I had anything to worry about.
My phone conversation with Ian the other weekend had me revved up to get on the first-date roller coaster tonight. We had quite a bit in common other than the love of Spider-Man graphic novels. We shared the philosophy that waffles with ice cream and whip cream were without argument a breakfast food. Social media was highly overrated. Professional sports weren’t worth watching unless you could see it live. And the Oxford comma would make a comeback.
I slipped out of the women’s restroom and looked back one more time before walking into the main bar, the sound of chill lounge music drifting over the low hum of conversation. It was quieter than any bar would be downtown, and the soft glow of the dim lighting made the room small and intimate against the burgundy and tan décor. I scanned the room and my eyes met Ian’s as he stood from his chair at the bar.
His dark hair was shaggy and longer than I preferred, but on him it looked nice against his light complexion. Ian smiled and stepped to the side revealing an empty chair next to his. Unlike the day we met where he’d been dressed in slacks and a button-up shirt, tonight he wore dark jeans and a slim gray sweater. By the looks of how it hugged his shoulders and chest I could guess he took care of himself. He was only a few inches taller than me and was by no means ripped with bulging muscles, but he carried his athletic build well.
“Hey,” I said when I reached him. This was always the awkward part. Did we hug or shake hands…fist bump?
“Hey to you, too.” Ian’s eyes drifted over me, it was subtle but I noticed. The way he stood there without moving was a bit more unnerving than when we were at the newsstand. Phone Ian was much different than First Date Ian and it was doing strange things to my insides. He was quiet but not stand-offish. I licked my lips, a nervous habit that only Peter had ever commented on. Yet Ian’s dark eyes picked up on it before I could stop myself—I’d gotten better at being aware of it. Except, right now.
“I guess I should sit?” I wasn’t completely uncomfortable under his stare, but the way he looked at me made every other first date coaster feel like the merry-go-round in comparison. This was unexpected. What happened to the somewhat shy, boyish statistical analyst I’d met? I wasn’t complaining, just thrown off. And turned on—we hadn’t even made it past hello.
Ian pulled out my chair so I could sit and waved the bartender over asking for a special tasting menu. After the bartender left he smiled and said, “I hope you’re hungry.” There was the smile I remembered from the newsstand. “Mikhail and I are old friends. He won’t disappoint.”
“Actually, I am. I had an early lunch.”
“Good,” he said. Those dark eyes were on me again and Newsstand Ian had taken a backseat. After another moment of silence between us he reached behind him and produced a thin book in a clear sealed bag. The graphic novel. “A deal is a deal.”
I forced a smile and took the plastic wrapped paperback from him. Although I hadn’t read the issue and it was what we’d agreed on, I didn’t want to take it. It was as if he was rejecting any possibility of a second date. I hardly knew him and yet I didn’t want it to end.
“Can I ask you something?” Ian asked with a tentative smile.
“Would it be rude if I changed my mind?”
I must’ve been frowning because Ian’s smile slipped from his face. I had no idea what he’d changed his mind about. Oh God, did he not want to continue the date? I’d had my share of bad dates, but was I one of them? I guess it was nice of him to return the graphic novel, but he could’ve kept it and saved me the embarrassment of a face-to-face rejection. It was like my heart had slid into my stomach and my body wouldn’t listen to my brain. MJ, get up. Leave. Then he placed his hand over my wrist.
“I changed my mind about the graphic novel,” Ian said, his gaze on the glossy plastic cover before returning to mine. “I want it back. Maybe I can convince you it’ll be yours on our next date.”
I felt a small smile tug at the corners of my lips. Now my body could ignore my brain all it wanted. “I don’t think that’s possible since I haven’t read it yet. And I’d like to finish it before the next one comes out.”
“That does appear to be a problem.” Ian grinned, playing along.
The bartender brought us the first course, a fresh cucumber salad paired with a light Pinot Grigio. But Ian’s eyes remained on mine as the bowl and two wine glasses were set in front of us. He hadn’t bothered to remove his hand from my wrist either. I could feel the hum between our skin where his thumb traced a slow line back and forth over the smallest part of my forearm.
“Lucky for you I’m good at coming up with solutions. I happen to know of a park that is an excellent place to read with an ice cream shop around the corner from it.”
“And lucky for you I happen to be free tomorrow. Oh, and I also love ice cream.”
Ian grinned again. “Looks like you better hand over my copy of Spider-Man.”
“Kind of presumptuous when I lent you my copy,” I said. Ian chuckled, the sound of his deep laughter tickling the insides of my ears. He had a nice laugh—the kind that made you want to join in and be closer to that person.
“Then I guess the ice cream is on me,” he said.
“You bet your ass it is,” I said. I think this second date might just be better than the first.