A one-eyed man and a rainstorm interfere with a girl’s unwanted evening.
This story originally appeared in the author’s liberal arts capstone project in her study on character development. Although the story and its characters stand alone, this piece is the second in a three-part series with subtly obvious connections. You can check out Part I here, and keep an eye out for Part III coming next!
“Half-Blind Date” is copyrighted by Pillar House Press. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without written permission from the publisher.
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Emma dropped her mascara. Again. Frustrated, she scooped it off the floor. Black dabs dotted her eyelids. She licked her trembling finger and endeavored to clean them up.
She grabbed her phone and sent out a text:
I don’t think I can do it. Why don’t you and I just go? That would be more fun…
She waited for Jess to respond. Why did she do this to me? I can take care of myself. I’ll find a guy eventually. That would be so much simpler than a blind date.
At Emma’s 20th birthday party, her best friend Jess Thompson had given her a gift certificate for La Fondue Parfaite, a classy restaurant in downtown Indianapolis. At first, Emma was thrilled. However, Jess’s present was accompanied by a significant catch: Emma Lenwood had to redeem the certificate that Friday night at 5:30p.m., where she would be met by a young man who was a friend of a friend of Jess’s. It was a phony blind date wrapped in a gold envelope labeled La Fondue Parfaite.
Emma jumped when her phone buzzed. Jess’s reply made an attempt at being motivational:
Not as much fun as you’re going to have tonight! You’re funny, kind, and beautiful. Tell him about your photography business!
Emma sighed. She wasn’t getting out of it. At the moment, the last thing she wanted to do was eat gourmet fondue. Her stomach was stuffed with butterflies. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more they multiplied.
Her phone buzzed again.
Quit worrying! Go out and have a great time, ok? I have to leave—I’m visiting Kate. But tell me about it when you get home!!!
Emma was abandoned. How would she survive?
Steven James sat stiffly on the denim couch. He checked his watch. Five minutes. If he left now, he would be too early. If he left in five minutes, he would only be really early. The room was quiet, the only noise the rain flooding the gutters and sloshing around the window.
“Are you going to brush your hair at least, Steven?” His mother called from the kitchen.
Great. How did she know he hadn’t?
“Well, if you think I should…” His voice trailed off. It usually looked fine, so he never bothered, except on Sundays when Mrs. James would remind him. He had taken a shower, hadn’t he? That was a given. A day of construction work with James & Sons Construction was never a clean one, but he loved every minute. Besides, if he brushed his hair, then that would mean it was a serious occasion, and he was nervous already.
“I think you should,” Mrs. James said, coming to the doorway drying a bread pan. “You’re going on a date!” She beamed at him. “You never know! You could be meeting the one.”
Steven tried to smile at her. “I don’t know if you can force this sort of thing, Mom.”
“Well, you should take advantage of Rob arranging this for you. It’s thoughtful. Just look at it as a fun evening.”
Steven nodded, deep in thought. At the same time, he tried not to overthink. He did want to meet a nice girl, and well, you know, marry her. He wanted to have a family. As silly as it sounded, he wanted to have a little girl. He had ever since the death of his two-year-old sister when he was younger.
So anyway, he should jump at this chance for a blind date. But he was nervous, and his stomach wasn’t exactly clamoring for heavy food at the moment.
The clock read 5:09p.m. Close enough. Bracing himself for the evening ahead, Steven clumped out of the room, his boots echoing on the hardwood floor.
Almost immediately he was back. “Mom!”
“Yes?” She stuck her head out of the doorway.
“Where’s my truck?”
“Oh, sorry honey, your dad needed to borrow it. His is in the shop.”
“But the date—”
“It’s okay, your sister’s friend is staying over tonight, and she said it would be fine if you use her car.”
“The booger-colored Stupid car that’s polluting our driveway?”
“Yes, dear, the green Smart car. And it’s not polluting. It’s actually very good for the environment.”
“Mom. I can’t drive a—a girly car like that on a date. It’s like the poodle of the car world. It’s not even a car. It’s like a go-kart. Or a Moped.”
“I’m sorry, honey.” Mrs. James struggled not to smile. Steven knew it. “That’s the only vehicle we have right now. You should be glad she’s willing to loan it to you. At least it’s new.”
Steven cringed. “Mom,” he said smirking at her, “I don’t think my conscience will allow—”
“Oh, Steven!” Mrs. James laughed. “Just go already! Or you’ll be late!”
He stepped onto the porch and surveyed the downpour, keys in hand. He stared at the green go-kart—his coach of disgrace; his carriage of humiliation; his chariot of shame—and dashed through the drops, contorted himself, and squeezed in.
Emma forced herself to breathe. She sat rubbing the steering wheel, willing her hands to stop shaking. Rain pummeled her car, providing enough background noise to drown out her most panicked thoughts. She took a deep breath, grabbed her purse, and darted inside.
Oh, she thought as she stepped through the doors. How lovely. It was dark, but not a scary, tattoo-parlor dark. It was a warm, luxurious dark, with rich, mahogany tones and smooth, ebony polishes.
“May I help you, ma’am?”
Emma glanced up and tried to take in the elegant black reception desk and the tall, brown-eyed maître d’ all at once. He was wearing an eye-patch. “Um, yes, I—my name is Emma Lenwood, and I have a reservation for tonight.” She tried not to stare.
“Alright, Miss Lenwood, let me find it.” The young man searched his computer. “Ah, yes. Dinner for two? 5:30?”
“Yes, that’s it,” Emma replied. She was terrified. What if he was already seated? Waiting for her? Expecting her at any moment?
“Great,” the maître d’ said. “Let me check on your table. I’ll be back soon.”
“Good grief! Did you see ’im?” someone asked in a loud whisper.
Emma glanced over and saw a large woman comfortably installed on the bench across from her. She tried to speak surreptitiously to her companion, but her undertone carried easily.
“Who, the young man at the desk?” her friend replied just as loudly.
“Yeah! He was one of them guys—you know, skinnier ’an a bean pole, all nat’rally an’ everything.”
“Oh! I hadn’t noticed, I suppose.”
“Prob’ly ’cause you’re so slim yourself. Ya know, if it was a dark night an’ he was backlit by the moon, you could read a newspaper right through ’im!”
Emma stifled a giggle.
“An’ he was wearin’ a eye patch! Did ya see it?”
“I guess I didn’t notice that either,” the other mumbled.
“What on earth do you suppose it was for?!”
“I wouldn’t have any idea.”
Momentarily, the maître d’ returned. “Your table is ready, ma’am. Would you like to stay here until your friend arrives, or be seated?”
Emma debated. The ladies stared, surveying. He waited.
Emma’s heart was in her throat with the butterflies. Either meeting with the blind date would be frightening. But catching the two women’s gazes, Emma realized she would feel less self-conscious at the table. “I’ll be seated.”
“All right, follow me.” He led her through the dimly illumined hall and into a sedate dining room. Glass lamps hung low over thick, smooth tables, each of which had what looked like a stove burner in its center.
“Here you are, Miss Lenwood,” the maître d’ announced, halting at a booth. “My name is Michael, and I will be standing in as your waiter this evening. I apologize for the short number of staff. I also apologize for this,” he said smirking, pointing to the eye-patch. “I was playing with my mastiff, and he accidentally scratched me. It’s not bad, just tearing up and all.” He smiled sheepishly. “Please call if you need any assistance. Can I start you off with something to drink?”
Emma ordered sweet tea, and he departed, leaving her to wait and worry about when her date would appear. What would he look like? Emma wished he would just show up and end the suspense.
Steven couldn’t even sit up straight. This was ridiculous. He yanked his thoughts back to La Fondue Parfaite and the girl who might be waiting there. He checked the clock: 5:20. He still had plenty of time. If he were correct, he would be there around 5:25—early enough. Maybe she would even be late.
It was 5:45. It was late, but not so late that Emma had to assume she’d been stood up. Michael had already been by her table three times. She should probably order…
She jumped and glanced up. He was looking sympathetically at her. It was now 6:05.
“Could I interest you in an appetizer? I’m sure your companion wouldn’t mind if you ordered something. You must be getting hungry.”
She had already polished off three sweet teas, and her stomach, slowly emptying of butterflies, growled impatiently. Maybe it would make the guy show up. “What do you recommend?” she asked.
“Our signature cheese is delicious,” Michael replied, pointing to the menu. “The warm tartness of the beer is subtle enough that the fondue retains its sharp cheddar taste. A touch of black pepper adds a slight kick, and the salt wraps it all up in a punch that isn’t too strong, but is definitely noticeable.”
“Wow.” Emma stared at the words Signature Cheese. “That sounds really good. I’ll go with that.”
“Wonderful! I’ll bring it right out.”
Soon he was back. He flipped a switch on the side of the table, igniting the burner in the center. Over this, he placed a small silver saucepan. Deftly he poured in a splash of beer, which sizzled quietly. Little by little, he added the shredded cheese, stirring it with a wooden spoon.
“How long have you worked here?” Emma asked politely.
“Three years. I started as a waiter during college and loved it. Eventually I was promoted, but I still like this job best.” He grinned.
When he was satisfied the texture, he pronounced it complete. “I hope you enjoy. Please don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.”
Eagerly, Emma examined her options. There were tiny light brown wheat baguettes, small stubs of broccoli and cauliflower, little nibbles of carrots, and bites of white apple flesh coated with shiny green skin.
Emma stabbed an apple and dipped it in the cheese sauce. She tasted it and was surprised by its pleasant punch, just as Michael had described.
A short while later, he came around again. “What do you think?”
“It’s delicious!” There was still a little cheese left, but she had finished everything else.
“What did you like best?”
“The apples. They were a good combination,” she responded.
“Good! I’m glad you enjoyed them. If you give me a moment, I’ll clear these dishes away for you. Then maybe you would like to try one of our main courses? I have several I can recommend.” He moved quickly away.
Emma grew sad again at the sudden realization that her appetizer was gone and her date had still not arrived. It was 6:31. Perhaps he was not coming at all. She would go freshen up, and maybe when she came back, he would be there. He would come striding in, sincerely apologetic yet simultaneously stunned at her appearance. He would sit with her and they would talk and have a lovely time. Emma left.
He was not there when she returned. However, at her place there was a small white bowl containing five little pieces of apple—just enough for the remainder of the cheese. Emma smiled to herself. She finished it just as Michael strode up.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Of course,” he replied with a kind smile. His eye was sad, however. She was still alone. He cleared his throat. “Are you interested in a main course tonight?”
“Uh,” Emma faltered. She thought about it. She felt sweetly miserable, if such a thing were possible. Michael’s sympathy had lifted her crushed heart ever so gently. “I—um—”
“You know,” Michael began, “if I were to suggest one, it would be the Cajun peanut sauce.”
“That sounds good…” Emma’s voice caught ever so barely as an almost sob, but she covered it with a quick sniff. “What’s in it?”
“I’m glad you asked. Shall I start with its impeccable texture or its unique taste?”
Emma laughed a little. “Whatever you’d like.”
“Okay,” he began, launching into a delicious description. After a minute, he paused. “I’m sorry—I think that went on longer than it usually does.”
“I don’t mind,” Emma replied. “I can tell you love your job. Besides, I don’t have anyone else to talk to.” She looked down quickly, unsure of why that had just come out of her mouth. Her cheeks grew hot.
Michael laughed uncertainly, and then moved toward the kitchen. “Oh!” He hurried back. “I’m sorry, what sauce will you have?”
“Oh!” Emma laughed. “The Cajun.”
“Great. You’ll enjoy it, I’m sure.” He hurried away again. Then he hurried back. “I’m sorry, ma’am, what meat would you like cooked in your sauce?”
“What would you choose?”
“For this sauce, poultry.”
“I’ll take that.”
“Excellent. I’ll be out with it shortly.”
When Michael returned, he placed another saucepan over the burner, this time containing the Cajun peanut sauce. He also set down a plate of raw chicken. “Just take a piece with your fork like this,” he explained, “and hold it in the sauce. Each one should take about four to six minutes to cook through, but you can decide how thoroughly you want it done. Enjoy.”
“Michael?” Emma asked suddenly, before he could walk away. “Are you hungry? I mean, if you’d want to join me, I can’t eat all of this. I mean, if you’re busy, you know…”
He stared at her. “I—I’d have to check with—with Dennis,” he stuttered. “But I will, and I’ll let you know,” he added quickly.
Soon he was back. “Dennis was cool with it. He said I could take my break now…if you still want me to.”
“Sure,” Emma said. She smiled.
Michael sat across from her. They cooked their chicken and drank sweet tea and talked. Emma told him about studying photography at Butler and starting her own photography business. She also explained why she was there, about being stood up by her blind date. “We’ve never even met,” she said. “But I suppose you already figured it out.”
“Yeah, I kind of guessed that,” he said kindly. “I have no idea why a guy would pass up dinner with you, though.”
Soon the food was gone—every bite. But Michael and Emma didn’t notice because once they’d started talking, they had to talk about everything. It seemed to Emma that she could sit there in that booth on that rainy evening and stare into Michael’s eye and talk to him forever. Michael appeared to think the same thing—he was just as talkative as Emma felt.
Suddenly Michael looked up to see Dennis standing over them. He jumped up.
“You’re fine, Mike, don’t worry about it. I’m just tellin’ you the chefs are done cleanin’ up and everything, so if you just get here early tomorrow to take care of your dishes and stuff, we should be good to go. Everyone else left.”
“Really?” Michael was shocked. “What time is it?”
“9:40. I’m lockin’ up, if you’re ready to skedaddle. Sorry, miss,” he addressed Emma. “We have to be going.”
“Oh! No, I’m sorry! I didn’t realize it was so late!”
“Oh, it’s no problem, ma’am, we close at 9:00, so you’re fine.”
The three of them stepped outside and Dennis locked the door.
“Man, it’s still pouring!” Michael exclaimed. He, Emma, and Dennis remained under the awning, surveying the torrential rainstorm.
Dennis shook his head. “I’m makin’ a run for it. See ya tomorrow, Mike.”
“Okay, ’night, Dennis! He’s our head chef,” Michael explained to Emma. “Can I walk you to your car?”
Not having an umbrella, Michael removed his jacket and held it over both of their heads. “Ready?”
“Yes!” They both ran out.
“Wait, where’s your car?” He stopped uncertainly, trying to keep them both dry. Emma laughed and pointed.
“It was really nice meeting you, Michael,” she said gladly when they reached her vehicle.
“Same here,” he replied loudly over the deluge. “Hey, I work the lunch shift tomorrow. Would you want to get coffee or something when I’m off? We could go to the park, and you could meet Henry!”
“I’d love to!” Emma replied. “If you’re sure it’s safe, you know, with Henry and your eye and all.”
Michael laughed. And Emma giggled. She sort of regretted it, but kept talking. “Yes, that would be great.”
“Awesome. 4:00 at the park downtown? I’ll make sure Henry knows.”
“Sounds perfect, Michael,” Emma said. “Thank you for a lovely evening. You really—helped it be—well, quite grand.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Michael said. “Hey, you did the same for me. See you tomorrow!”
As Emma pulled into the street, she could see Michael standing in the rain, making sure she started home all right. She grinned to herself.
When Emma got home, she texted Jess right away, telling her she’d had a wonderful date.
A few minutes later, she received a response:
Emma, are you joking? I’m surprised at you! It’s not funny. Are you really that relieved to be let out of it?
Puzzled, Emma texted back.
What are you talking about?
Emma gasped at Jess’ reply:
Your blind date, Steven James, was in a car accident—some bank robbers or something—and is spending tonight in the hospital! He has a concussion, but he’s going to be fine. So I know you didn’t meet him.
Emma was surprised. She tried not to feel happy or relieved. But she couldn’t help feeling a little of both. She was relieved because Steven James hadn’t shown up. She was also relieved that he hadn’t intentionally stood her up. And of course, she was relieved that he was okay.
All of that plus Michael himself made her feel something she had never felt before. She couldn’t put her finger on it. Maybe Michael could. He certainly knew how to describe things.
She smiled at the thought of seeing him again tomorrow. The butterflies were back. But they weren’t stifling or nauseating her. This time, they were infecting her with happiness. And she didn’t mind a bit.
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