I stop myself before reaching the door. What the hell am I doing? I’ve never done anything like this before. This is stupid.
Reluctantly, I pull open the door to enter the restaurant. What if she doesn’t like me? What if I make an idiot out of myself? I hope she doesn’t mind Chili’s.
Oh God, there she is. I catch a glimpse of the dark-haired girl sitting alone in a booth, staring at her phone, trying not to draw attention to herself. Inching closer confirms that it’s her. She matches her Tinder profile. Her profile made her out to be a six. She’s more of four. Maybe five after a few drinks.
“Hi.” She extends her hand in greeting. “Elliot, I take it?”
“Yep,” I answer, shaking her hand. “Megan?”
She courteously bows her head as I get into the booth across from her. We both hide our faces in the menus in front of us.
Should I get a drink? I wanna look like a fun guy, and also make it look like I got the money to afford it. Though, I don’t wanna look like an alcoholic. Maybe her dad was an alcoholic. Too dark. Is she planning on getting a drink? We both order water.
The waiter catches me off guard for a moment, since he appears to be a little overdressed to be working at a Chili’s. Maybe he’s going to some fancy party after work. Or maybe casual Fridays just elude him.
I study Megan as she continues to browse her menu. She has straight, shoulder-length, black hair. Pale skin between slightly tanner freckles. She seems like the shy type. She hasn’t said more than a sentence and has yet to make eye contact.
I open and close my mouth a few times, pondering a good ice breaker. God, this is so awkward. Why do I feel so nervous? My palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There’s vomit on my sweater already.
Oh, thank God. The waiter’s back.
“And what can I get the two of you this evening?” inquires the needlessly sharp dressed man.
“Mom’s Spaghetti,” I blurt.
I bury my face in the menu, desperately flipping from page to page. Please have spaghetti. Please have spaghetti. Shit!
“I mean…” I try to recover. “I’ll have the steak fajitas.”
Phew. Close one.
The waiter leaves us after Megan orders, and the awkwardness ensues.
Out of the blue, with her eyes fixed on the corner of the table, she says, “So, I’m not too great with small talk. So, I’m just gonna say what’s on my mind, so we can move on with our lives.”
I open my mouth, but she continues without a breath. “This isn’t something I normally do. Online dating, I mean. But, you seemed worth the trouble. I mean, your goatee is gruesomely shaven, and you could be a bit taller. But, you’re attractive enough, and I don’t think our personalities would clash horrendously.”
I sit frozen, astonished by sudden waterfall of dialogue.
She presses, “Well? What about me? What can you say about me?” Her bright, green eyes suddenly pierce into my soul, magnified by the lenses of her glasses.
Don’t say what you’re thinking. Don’t say what you’re thinking.
“You’re a solid five.”
Again, she does something I did not expect: she lets out a hearty giggle. I assume it’s more out of politeness, but she could have fooled anyone into thinking it was genuine.
Moments later, the waiter returns with our food.
“How’s the pasta?” I ask her after the first couple bites.
“Chicken’s a bit undercooked,” she remarks. “but overall not too bad. How’s your mom’s spaghetti?”
“Tastes like home.”
This time, her laugh is unmistakably real.
The rest of dinner comprises of polite banter about siblings, where we grew up, what we do for a living, our favorite Muppets. Our food quickly vanishes, the checks come and go, and the conversation comes to its conclusion. It’s time to part ways.
We exit the restaurant together. I turn towards her, arms slightly arched to initiate a hug. I drop my arms to my side immediately, as I notice she’s already walking down the sidewalk without a word.
I shift the opposite direction and begin walking, taking out my phone to hail an Uber. I could have drove, but decided not to in case we started drinking, or if things happened to escalate with Megan.
My mind wanders back in the restaurant during the Uber drive home. Why did she leave without saying goodbye? Was I really that bad? It’s not like she was that great herself. Whatever, I went. Don’t have to do that again.
Her radiating eyes don’t leave my head.
Getting back home, I collapse into bed. My eyes refuse to close. I stare into the darkness towards my nightstand, where my phone sits. Don’t check Tinder. Don’t check Tinder. I pick up my phone and open Tinder.
I have a new message. It’s from Megan: “Tonight was a solid five.”
I crack a smile, potentially burning my retinas from staring at the message.
She’s a ten.
Brendon Arnold is an engineer in Arlington, VA with a passion for creating stories to leave a positive impact on people’s lives.