Shaky hands kept trying to button up the cardigan until finally they gave up and fell to my sides, leaving my dress underneath exposed. I hated it. I stood in front of the mirror, looking at my reflection with a hard stare. Noting the dark circles under my eyes, I cursed at my anxiety for keeping me up the night before. And yet no matter how sleep-deprived I felt, I didn’t feel too tired to continue criticizing what I saw staring back at me. I looked at my stomach. Was I bloated? Gosh, maybe I should have changed. I wasn’t sure how long I was there for before a knock at the door startled me into jumping a little. Before I could answer, the door opened, revealing my mother. I wanted to greet her, but upon seeing such an excited expression on her face, I instead felt the urge to vomit from the ever-present nerves.
“Are you ready?” she asked, smiling widely.
A frown made its way onto my face before I could stop it. Internally, I wanted to scold myself for such a display of emotion. Taking a deep breath, I schooled my expression back to neutral once more and nodded. She looked at my cardigan and took a step towards me to button it up. I backed away, avoiding her hands. She stilled for a second then stepped towards the door instead.
“Your date is waiting,” she said, leading the way. Sparing the mirror one last glance, I followed her out.
There were many reasons why I was getting a very bad feeling about this day. Firstly, it was cold. It figures the one day I decide to accept a date invitation, it would be cold. I hated the cold. It just was not comfortable. How could I possibly present my best self to a potential partner in these conditions? Secondly, the dress I was wearing did not fit me as well as I remembered.
True, it’s been a while since I last wore it. True, I was basically a different person then. True, that person would not be this bothered by a dress not fitting perfectly. But I, me, myself right then thought this was the worst thing that could happen to me. Thirdly, my mother was very invested in the outcome of this meeting. This could only mean whatever happened, she was going to be disappointed.
“Here she is!” my mother voiced loudly, making me almost wince.
I made an effort to smile at the man who stood from the living room couch, but my smile definitely could have been better. I shook my head at myself mentally. This should be a happy, exciting time. Smile. More, bigger, natural.
“Even more beautiful than the pictures you showed me,” he said kindly to my mother with his eyes on me.
The desire to go back to my room and hide suddenly surged as I felt the heat rush to my cheeks. I was no longer used to such attention or compliments.
“You flatterer, you, “ my mother responded, winking when I didn’t say anything. “Well, shall we?” he asked, offering me an arm.
I looked at his arm blankly. Sensing an upcoming pause, my mother gave me a little push. Without having the time to think, I took his arm, and we went on our merry way.
He seemed nice enough, at least. Also nice-looking. Of course, my mother would be better at picking dates than me. Gosh, was I a loser or what? I wanted to sigh, feeling the rise of self pity coming. Deep breaths. Relax. You’re on a date with a nice, cute guy. This is a good thing.
To my credit, once we were alone, I pushed down the prodding panic much better than I had believed myself able to. Maybe I was more ready than I thought I was. A short drive and fifteen minutes of small talk later, we found ourselves safely seated at a nice small restaurant.
“So how are you liking being back home?” he asked.
“I think it’s been as good as one would expect moving back in with your parents. I did really miss them when I was away, but now that I’m back…”
I didn’t think it would be appropriate to mention how much of a huge failure I thought I was for coming back home after my last breakup. Something told me the self-hate and shame I felt was not a good first date topic. I pulled the cardigan around me tighter.
“I hear you,” he replied, “I can only imagine how much nicer it is being with your family after so long. My family lives a bit far, so I really don’t visit as much as I should.”
I made a noncommittal sound of acknowledgment. I knew my response should have been better but his assumption that being back home was a really nice thing made me squirm. I hated contradicting people. Also, I had to focus on the menu before me. The waiter could be coming back at any second to ask what we wanted, and I needed to be prepared to say something… anything.
“What do you want to eat?” he asked.
“Um, I’m not sure,” I murmured, already overwhelmed by the options.
That was a lie. I actually would really love some chili cheese fries, but they tended to get a bit messy so a definite no-go for a first date.
“Hmm… I’m thinking of getting the fish and chips myself,” he supplied.
It’s been a while since I’ve been seated in an actual restaurant. I didn’t go out very often even when my last relationship was going well. That being said, my ex would never order the fish. He was picky, suspicious, skeptical. He had the habit of overthinking and questioning everything. I missed him. I grimaced at myself at the thought as it allowed more memories of the past love flood through my mind.
My date cleared his throat. I looked up with a start, realizing I hadn’t said anything in response, and now there was a waiter standing in front of us, staring at me. I hadn’t even heard them say anything. My date picked up on my bewildered expression.
“We’re going to need a little more time,” he said. The waiter nodded and walked away.
“Sorry, I was just in my head too much… I guess,” I murmured, blushing.
I realized I was frowning again. I balled my hand into a fist under the table. I could just hear my mother hissing in my ear to ask if it would kill me to smile.
“No worries! Really, take your time choosing. We’re not in a rush.”
I nodded, flashing him a small smile. My eyes went back to the menu. Okay, okay. Focus. “I think I’ll get a salad,” I finally said.
Totally a safe choice. That’d be fine, probably. I sighed and started fidgeting with a button on my cardigan.
“Are you alright?” he asked, shooting me a concerned look.
“Yeah, totally, I’m fine. Sorry, I didn’t mean to space out like that. Really, I was just distracted.” “What’s on your mind?”
Okay, I definitely shouldn’t mention the fact I was thinking about my ex-boyfriend. I opened my mouth to let out a deep breath to calm myself down and instead, I let out a large burp. My hand immediately shot up to cover my mouth. My date looked up, surprised.
“I am so sorry, really. Oh gosh, I’m so embarrassed. This is my first date in a long time and I guess I just feel kinda nervous, and sometimes when I get really anxious, I get a little gassy… ugh, TMI. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it, really,” he said, waving a hand as if to dismiss what just happened.
Gosh, was he paid by my mother to be extra nice to me or something? “Tell me what’s got you so nervous. Maybe that’ll help,” he said.
“Like I said, it’s been a while. I just… I’m worried. I don’t know…”
“How long has it been since your last date?” he asked, interested.
“To be honest, I haven’t been on a date since my last relationship… and that was two years ago.”
“Two years, huh? Well, personally I think it’s great you got some time to yourself to really move on from it. Often people just go to the next person without really processing it. So good on you for taking your time.”
Pop. The button I was messing around with popped off my cardigan. My fingers stopped. You would certainly think that at this point I would have processed everything. That sense of failure was creeping up on me again. I felt something bubbling up my throat. My anxiety was going through the roof on this topic. I hadn’t actually talked about my last relationship with anyone else outside of my family. My hand went to cover my mouth, but it was too late. To my increasing horror, it wasn’t a burp that came out. It was words.
“I still love him.”
“Oh…” he replied.
I saw a tint of red on his cheeks. Was he embarrassed? Flustered? Gosh, I should elaborate, right? Before I could stop myself, I explained my whole situation.
“I’d never get back together with him. I know he’s horrible for me. I already wasted two years of my life just crying about the end of our toxic relationship. It’s stupid, I know. My mother urged me back into the dating world, but I’m not so sure I’m ready for all this yet. Yes, there were definitely times where meeting a partner and falling in love again was all I could think about, but now that I’m here, it’s a little scary. Not that you’re scary! You’re great. I was seriously wondering if you were paid by my mother to be Mr. Perfect for me just a bit ago. Not that I think you’re totally fake or anything or saying you’re perfect! Okay what I’m trying to say, turns out, a return to romance was a bit different than I imagined it would be, totally on my side of things, not yours. I thought maybe I could get back out there, forget all about that time I wasted alone and sad, but I just can’t shake it off… apparently. I admit. I’m 100% not over it. I’m so sorry. Oh my God, I’m so bad at dates.”
Being quiet, burping, then blabbing about how I’m still in love with my ex! Seriously, how could I do this to myself? I wanted to disappear into this chair so no one could look at me ever again, not even to watch me walk away. Oh God, what would my mother say?
To my surprise, my date breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’m so glad you feel that way. To be honest, I just got dumped by my partner a few months ago. I wasn’t really sure if I was ready for this either, but your mom can be pretty pushy.”
“Oh my gosh, so pushy, right?” I replied.
He laughed. “Yeah.”
A small pause.
“Sorry, I should just leave,” I said. The realization of how much of a fool I’ve been acting was settling in the forefront of my mind.
“How about we just start over instead?”
“Let’s just forget all that stuff about dating, expectations, your mother, whatever. How about we just live in the moment? Frankly speaking, I think we could both just use a friend now.”
I looked at him in wonder. After another small pause, a smile finally worked its way onto my face.
“Yeah… I think I like the sound of that. But… I would really love to order some chili cheese fries then.”
He laughed again. I think I liked the sound of that too. █
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Soriano was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She got her B.S. in Mathematics and Economics from UC San Diego. A homebody through and through, she would rather spend her time binge-watching shows, playing video games, or searching the web for fan fiction. Sometimes, she will leave the comfort of her home to go to a concert, get another tattoo, or hang out with her extensive Filipino family. She has found an interest in many different creative outlets including hand knitting, diamond painting, acrylic pours, and nail art, but writing will always be her first love. She now lives with her boyfriend, dog, and cat in the 925 area.
You can follow her on Instagram @howveryoriginal
Photo credits: https://elements.envato.com/user/Pasanheco
[Editor note: Katherine’s story was our Short Story Contest second-place winner.]
Submit your stories HERE.
Click HERE to join–it’s FREE