Umberto’s cooks the juiciest veal cutlet in the entire city. You know this because you’ve eaten veal cutlet at every Italian restaurant in the entire city. You’ve given second chances; with the sand-haired boy two weeks ago you revisited Butera’s and then Pomodorino with the freckled boy last week, but at both places the dish still tasted like copper. As you sipped your third glass of Merlot and feasted on cold garlic bread, you realized this is why you stick with what you know won’t disappoint.
At 7:50 you peer over your steering wheel as your date shuffles toward the restaurant. He had offered to pick you up, but you told him you live far so you’d meet him instead. It’s safer this way. Your date fiddles with his bomber jacket collar. His posture rivals the Hunchback and although you’re parked yards away, you can tell he’s not six feet tall like his profile claims. Maybe five ten, at most. Strike one.
What else is he lying about?
You unlock your phone, pausing to recall which dating app you two matched on. Ah, yes. Now you remember. You open his profile. You conduct your research in the days prior, but it’s useful to brush up that evening. Looking for a smart girl to make dumb decisions with. Not your first encounter with that tagline, but you prefer a cliched bio over an exhaustive info dump and the photos are what determine your swipe’s direction, anyway. In the first, he wears khakis and a Serengeti National Park shirt. Two monkeys perch atop his shoulders. After a quick Google search, you learned that last summer he worked as a safari guide in Tanzania. You hope he isn’t a vegan; you dated one of those once. The whole dinner the guy eyed your plate with a look one reserves for clogged toilets.
In his second photo he dons a tuxedo; he links arms with a girl in a wedding dress who’s a female version of him. According to his social media, he and his twin sister studied at the same university, and her husband was his fraternity brother. You stalked the sister’s page, too. She’s an equestrian and graduated from the top veterinary program in the country. She reminds you of the girls your foster mother urged you to emulate, but those girls pelted you with brown paper bags in the cafeteria.
Your phone buzzes. Just arrived. Let me know when you’re here 🙂 He can wait a couple minutes. You switch back to his profile. The third photo is a selfie. He’s handsome in an obvious way, chiseled jaw and eyes like a verdant countryside. He looks like a hybrid of seven other guys you dated, but what earned him your right swipe was his hair. You only date blonds.
You had a great love once. That man was your sun. The air you breathed. The blood in your veins. You still gaze at the photos under your mattress. He was perfect. You still sleep in his old football t-shirts and replay his voicemails like a lullaby; you imagine his velvet voice transcending your recordings and asking for you back. You conjure him so vividly — from his shaggy blond hair to the birthmark on his left cheek — it feels like he‘s there. As if he never left. Some mornings you think it was all a bad dream. But then you remember you’re forbidden to contact him and have no information how.
The moon hovers in your rear-view mirror. Crescent tonight. Awesome, be there in 5 you text back. Punctuation smiley faces aren’t your thing. Not that it matters what your thing is, because your thing can be whatever you want. You can be whatever you want, and men can’t perform the ubiquitous pre-date social media autopsy because you don’t exist on social media. You haven’t since The Breakup. The only truth your dates have is your first name, and that’s all you ever give.
Who will you be tonight?
Certainly not an orphan. Or a stalker. A threat. Sociopath. Whatever else the restraining order pegs you as. You usually curate your life based around that of your date’s, so perhaps tonight you will be a twin. You’ve always wanted an identical sister. You two could’ve pranked all the kids in your foster home. Maybe tonight you’ll have a pet snake. Last week you had two pet squirrels and a hedgehog.
You adjust the ruby heart dangling from your neck, the last Valentine’s Day gift from your love. Sometimes you incorporate it into your fictitious life. You’ve said you inherited the necklace from your baroness great grandmother; your father is a jeweler and he created it for your sixteenth birthday; it was a souvenir from vacation in Aruba; you found it in a Manhattan taxicab at 3AM. Tonight you’ll say you bought matching necklaces while you and your twin studied abroad in Greece.
You hop out of your car and saunter to the restaurant. Your date is probably waiting for your arrival at the bar, debating whether he should go for a handshake or a hug. People are predictable. The host will escort you two to the table and he’ll start with small talk, either a comment about the weather or he’ll inquire about your day. That’ll be the segue into asking if you worked and if so what do you do, to if you went to school and if so where and what did you study, to your long-term goals to your hobbies to if you’re watching any shows on Netflix.
When he speaks, you will listen. You will ask questions. He will feel seen. He will feel heard. Your charm will mesmerize him like a child at Fourth of July fireworks. He’ll be so enamored he won’t even have thought about sleeping with you, and when he walks you to your car, he’ll say it’s been a while since he felt this excited after a first date. You’ll blush, and when he asks to see you again, you’ll tell him you’d like that.
But that’s the last he will hear from you again.
Just walked in you text as you enter, spotting his blond hair at the dim bar. You chirp his name and he turns. His eyes light up like a fresh lamp bulb. He walks in your direction, smiling shyly when he approaches.
“Hi,” you say, beaming. “I’m thrilled to meet you.”
Melissa Kerman is a writer living in New York. You can follow her on Instagram @melissakerman