The date progressed like the countless others had since the divorce. She was nice, she was sweet, the conversation was harmless and there wouldn’t be a second one. This line of thinking drove Edgar crazy. Why couldn’t he appreciate the nice, sweet, talkative woman sitting across from him picking away at her crème brulee? Why was he so hung up on Wendy’s looks, or lack there of?
Okay, that wasn’t fair.
Wendy wasn’t ugly per se, she just didn’t stand out in a crowd, or a room, or an unoccupied elevator. Her brown hair was neatly split down the middle and dangled off her shoulders. Her brown eyes were fine, amplified by the thin brown frames that defined her face. Edgar liked glasses; this should have been a positive. The proper amount of blush lifted the cheekbones off of Wendy’s pale and slightly plump face. Edgar liked a little plump, rather preferred it to the heroin chic look some women adopted.
Shit she was talking again.
“Sorry didn’t catch that?”
“I said, how’s your baklava?”
“Oh. It’s okay. Nothing special.”
“I normally get a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.”
“Of course you would,” he thought to himself. “You’re the living embodiment of vanilla.” Edgar shunted those words to the side and instead remarked,
“I’ve never had it that way.”
“Really? It’s the best.”
“Sounds like it.”
The two thirty-something adults continued to let the scraping of fork on plate fill in the gap where conversation should reside. The waitress couldn’t come soon enough. The moment he locked eyes with her he would ask for the check and hopefully be home in bed in time to watch Fallon.
“Sooo, umm, when’s your birthday?” Despite hearing her clearly, the randomness and awkward delivery of her question caused him to say, “What was that?”
“I said, when’s your birthday?”
“Actually it’s next Thursday.”
“Awww. That’s cute.”
Edgar wasn’t sure what was cute about his birthday and craned his neck to find the waitress.
“I know what I’m going to get you.”
“Get me?” Edgar said out loud although he really wanted to say, “Why? We’re never going to see each other again.” The thought caused a laugh to bubble up from his stomach and he managed to chew back only half of the sound.
“What’s so funny?” Was that her defensive posture or just a sincere question?
“I don’t know. I guess maybe that you know what you’re getting me for my birthday.”
“Oh, one-hundred percent. And you’re going to love it.”
“Well, what is it?”
“I can’t tell you that, silly. It’s a surprise.” If Wendy was playing darts, her throw would have scored a double bullseye. A birthday present from a stranger was one thing. A surprise was something else. Edgar, for all his practicality, loved surprises. It seemed as if Wendy wasn’t as vanilla as she first appeared.
Until two minutes later, when the silence returned and the polite smiles were exchanged and a check was paid for and they stood outside the restaurant saying goodbye.
“I had a lovely time tonight. Thank you very much for paying.”
“Not a big deal.”
“Let’s make plans after your birthday so I can give you your surprise.”
“Umm, okay. Sure.”
“Good night, Edgar.”
“Good night, Wendy.”
The two adults shared a one-armed hug and made their way to their respective cars.
Edgar was a man of few friends and many acquaintances. Somehow, someway, he had befriended the receptionist at work and spent many a day outside smoking a cigarette with her. Until he started working at Preston & Young Advertising he had not smoked a cigarette since college. This job had come with good pay, great benefits and a pack a day habit.
If Edgar was going to be truly honest with himself he would admit that his friendship with Summer was more of a crush and his chances were slim and none. Summer was the perfect girl, beautiful and fun to be around. Bleach blonde hair, the perfect amount of makeup to pop both her face and her deep blue eyes and a body that she paid for in monthly installments. They were work best friends and Edgar hoped that someday that could evolve to something more.
“Oh my God, Eddie.” She was the only girl he ever allowed to call him that. “You still haven’t told me about your date last night!”
“Eh,” he said with a shrug. “Nothing really to say.”
“Stop! C’mon, tell me.”
“I don’t know. She was definitely a Plain Jane. Very blah.”
“No, although I’m sure if we did I would have fallen asleep midway.”
“Stop!” She said with a smack to his shoulder. Edgar loved when she hit him. Edgar loved when she touched him in general. “You would not. Unless you’re boring too!”
Summer’s constant energy was both awesome to be around and exhausting. Edgar laughed at her joke. “Trust me, no one is falling asleep with me.” He must have stared a little too much or punctuated his words too hard because he felt Summer’s laugh change from genuine to slightly uncomfortable. If he didn’t immediately say something else she was going to put her cigarette out and the conversation would be over for today. Shit, say something! Edgar implored his mind to pull out some combination of words and something is what he pulled out,
“She told me she’s getting me a surprise for my birthday too.”
“What? Really? On a first date? Who says that?”
“I know that’s what I thought too!” Okay good, she was laughing for real again and they were back on track. Although Edgar wished her reaction was more about his upcoming birthday than the surprise. “I mean we’re not having a second date or anything like that.”
“What? Edgar you have to! She’s getting you a surprise! It could be anything. A puppy, a new car—“
“You’re forgetting for a second I’m not you.” Summer laughed, in her world those would be perfectly acceptable surprises from strangers. Not for Edgar.
“You still have to see her though. I couldn’t live the rest of my life not knowing what she got me for my birthday.”
“Really? You would go out with someone again, someone you have no interest in, just to get a surprise birthday gift?
“Oh my God, yes. Yes! If you don’t go out with her I will!” The two laughed, Summer’s more genuine than his. She dropped her cigarette to the floor, gave it a little twist with her foot and went back inside with Edgar following at her heels like a well-trained puppy.
“Edgar? I didn’t think I was going to hear from you again.”
“Yup, it’s me! What made you say that?”
“We haven’t talked in a week. I thought for sure you didn’t like me.”
“No no, stop. Stop. I had a good time on our first date and was wondering if you wanted to do something Monday night?”
“Ahh, you have a weekend full of birthday fun?” Nope, not at all actually, Edgar thought to himself. He wanted to leave the weekend open just in case Summer wanted to help him celebrate.
“Yeah, you know how it is. Friends and family and you can’t say no, you know?”
“Oh believe me, I know. My aunts and I always have so much fun on my birthday.” I’m sure you do, he thought to himself.
“I can believe it. You want to meet at the Rusty Owl around eight-ish?”
“Ahh, would you mind if we go to the Green Gazelle instead?”
“Yeah sure, I think I know where that is.”
“Down by First and Austin.”
“Yeah, I know where that is. Still eigh- ish?”
“That works for me. I’ll see you then.”
“With my surprise?” Edgar couldn’t help himself.
“Of course with your surprise. And trust me, you’re going to love it.”
“Yes. You are going to love this. I can’t wait to see your face.”
“Wow, I can’t wait either. See you then.”
The date progressed exactly like the first one. Same plain face. Same innocuous conversation. Same lack of chemistry. Edgar felt frustrated. Why did he agree to go out with Wendy again? The night had been boring with a capital BORING and the only thing that kept him going was the promise of a birthday surprise. He endured their asparagus appetizer and their entrees in relative silence. Where was this surprise? Edgar dreaded having to go to her apartment to receive it. If she gave him the present at her place he wouldn’t be able to leave right away. He would have to stay and endure more empty conversation, for at least a half hour.
All of these thoughts circulated around his brain as the waiter came to clear their table.
“How was your chicken?”
What was with her and her meaningless questions? Who cared how his chicken was? He ate it didn’t he? Edgar pushed aside his annoyance. The night was almost over, all he had to do was maintain.
“Hmm? Oh it was good. How was your salmon?”
“Delightful, as always. I love coming to this place.”
“Really? You come here a lot?”
“My cousin owns it.”
“Oh wow, that’s nice.” Edgar took his napkin and wiped the corners of his mouth. Just a little bit longer. That’s all. He would be home soon enough.
“Would you excuse me for a second? I’m going to use the ladies room.”
“Sure. See you soon.”
“You are such a cutie,” she said as she walked away.
“Yup, such a cutie,” he mumbled to himself. Edgar took out his cell and played around until she came back.
“Did you miss me?”
“Are you ready?”
“Ready for what?”
“Your surprise?” At that he perked straight up in his chair. Finally! He could get his surprise and be done with the night.
“Close your eyes.” Edgar smiled and closed his eyes. He felt the anticipation in his stomach and just as he started to speculate what the surprise could be he felt a shadow come over him and people behind him. What the hell was….
“Okay, open them!” Edgar opened his eyes, saw Wendy’s happy face and was shocked by the multitude gathering around.
“Happy happy happy birthhhhhhhhhhday! Happy happy happy birthdayyyyy to you! It’s your birthday yeah, yeah, it’s your birthday and this is for you!”
Their waiter placed on his plate baklava with vanilla ice cream on top. Edgar stared, bewildered to the point of speechless as the assembly made their way back to whence they came.
“Happy birthday, Edgar!” His confusion overwhelming, he stared wide eyed at Wendy.
“Are you surprised?”
“You said you never had baklava with vanilla ice cream before. My cousin makes the best baklava outside of Greece! I hope you enjoy it!”
“This is the surprise?” The disappointment etched on his face like a Samoan tattoo.
“Of course! What else could it be? After all, this is only our second date.”
“Yeah…second date.” He mumbled his words and poked at the dessert with his fork.
“But trust me, you’re going to love Christmas!”