She tried to look busy. It was hard enough convincing herself to get out and try something knew. This place wasn’t so bad. It was quiet. Nice colors. The table was very clean. She could smell some sort of bread baking. It wasn’t so bad. But this wasn’t what Amanda had in mind, wasn’t what she wanted. Sitting in a restaurant she’d never been to, waiting for a man she didn’t know.
“You need to get out,” her sister told her. “Just try. Try to get out. Try to see people. It’ll be good for you.”
Amanda nodded. She always nodded when her sister spoke to her in that tone. Just as she had always nodded when her mother spoke to her in that same tone. Amanda was three years older than her sister, Beth. But it was Beth who took the alpha position when their mother died. Not Amanda. Beth was married. Beth had children. Beth had a life. Beth always spoke up, always knew what to say.
Amanda was mostly quiet. Words were hard for her. They always had been. Forming the right ones in the right order to say the right thing. She didn’t have a gift for it. Never had. Never would. She didn’t really have a gift for anything. Except her job. She worked at the same place since high school. Wheels in the Sky Auto Repair and Detailing. Because she was good with numbers, she totaled the receipts every day. She also cleaned the shop and did the detailing, a job she loved and was good at. So good that for the last ten years, the owner, Tom Cavanaugh, let her do it all herself. She did such a good job, most customers tipped her and Tom Cavanaugh let her keep the tips. Every penny. Tom Cavanaugh was the only other person in the shop and he liked that Amanda didn’t talk. The two of them would sometimes go days without speaking to each other. It was wonderful. Almost as wonderful as the music that played eight hours, Monday through Friday, and four hours on Saturday. Tom Cavanaugh always played his favorite music loud enough to fill the shop. Both he and Amanda would mouth the words and even sing quietly. Every Monday through Friday, seven to five, and Saturdays, eight to noon. For the last seventeen years. Always the same music by the same groups. Tom Cavanaugh would always say they didn’t make music like that anymore. Amanda would always agree.
“You’ll never meet anyone if you don’t get out,” Beth kept telling her.
Amanda doubted she would meet anyone even if she did get out. She never dated in high school. Beth had her first kiss when she was in junior high and proudly described every part of it to Amanda in the room they shared. The wet lips. The warm breath. The tongue that was both gross and “magical.”
At 35, Amanda was still waiting her first kiss.
“There’s someone for everyone,” Beth smiled. “Even for you.”
Amanda nodded, but didn’t really believe it.
Beth found something she said would help. A dating site she researched. She even helped Amanda set up the account and offered useful advice for filling out the information.
“You need to tell people what you really like,” Beth instructed as they sat together at the laptop.
“Okay, here’s a good question. What kind of food do you like?”
“You like pizza, right?”
She did. Pizza was Amanda’s favorite. “And Rhodes Warm N Serv Soft Dinner Rolls,” she added
Beth nodded and typed.
“Remember there’s only one ‘e’ in Serv,” Amanda reminded her sister. It was a consistently interested aspect of the packaging. Why that choice? Why the ‘e’? Did it make the product more appealing? More accessible?
“Okay, any places you really like to visit.”
“Wheels in the Sky Auto Repair and Detailing,” Amanda answered. It was where she spent most of her time.
“I think they mean for fun.”
“Work is fun.”
“Okay.” Her sister’s fingers tapped. “Any place else?”
Beth smiled. “The park is nice.”
“What is your favorite type of music?”
Amanda’s eyes lit up. She reached for the laptop and started typing as Beth watched and nodded. Amanda tilted her head at the next question. “Age? From 21 to 107?”
Beth leaned over. “That’s the age of the man.”
“Well, that’s not a good question. I don’t know what age he’ll be. If I did, I wouldn’t need their service.”
Her little sister nodded sympathetically. “Yeah, seems silly, doesn’t it? But I think they’re asking if you would date someone who is a different age than you.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
Beth blinked and took the laptop back. “Let’s do this. We’ll put it a couple years younger than you and a couple years older than you.”
“Three,” Amanda said firmly, grabbing the laptop away from her sister. “Three years younger or three years older. That means there’s a seven year spread. Seven is the right number.”
It took a month for the right person to answer. After some emails and a phone call, it was decided that they meet at his favorite restaurant.
“You’re good with new places,” Beth told her after plans were made.
Amanda wasn’t so sure, but Beth always seemed to know what she could and couldn’t handle. If Beth said she was good, Amanda would be good.
And now she waited. In the new place where Beth promised Amanda would be good. She waited for him to show up. Amanda checked her watch. It was three minutes past one. They were going to meet at one. For lunch. Beth said lunch was better than dinner. Amanda reached for her phone to call her sister, tell her things didn’t work out. When Amanda turned back she saw a tall man with neatly combed hair and a very nicely pressed blue polo shirt and khakis with a sharp pleat down each leg.
“Amanda?” he said, clearing his throat before and after.
She nodded. He pulled out a chair and sat down, tried not to fidget like Amanda was trying not to fidget.
“Hi,” he said.
They sat in silence until a waitress came with water and menus. The perky older woman smiled like she had a secret to share, but couldn’t. “So, Kerry. What would you and your… friend… like?”
“I’ll have my usual, Stacy,” he said.
The woman nodded, looking a little disappointed. “Would you like a menu, sweetie?” she asked.
Amanda paused. She and Beth looked at the menu together before she came. The restaurant had three things Amanda liked. Cheese pizza, mostaccioli and garlic bread. “I hear you make very good pizza.”
The woman grinned. “Best in town.”
“Ricky’s has kick-ass pizza. Their cheese is real cheese and their crust is nice and chewy, but not doughy,” Amanda said. Those were Tom Cavanaugh’s words. He ordered pizza for them every Friday as a weekly treat. Always from Ricky’s.
Stacy looked at Amanda for a moment. “Our cheese is real, too.”
“Cheese pizza, then” Amanda said. “And garlic bread.”
“You sure you want garlic, honey.” The woman winked. She gave Kerry a sly grin.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Amanda answered.
After the waitress left, the two of them sat in silence. Which was fine with Amanda. It was like working with Tom Cavanaugh. After a moment, Kerry took out his phone and started playing a game. Amanda did the same. By the time she finished three levels of Cookie Jam, their food arrived. A small cheese pizza with garlic bread for her and a plate of plain pasta with a yellow pat of butter and three meatballs with no sauce. Why would anyone eat meatballs without sauce? Amanda had a sinking feeling that maybe this whole meeting new people thing was not a good idea.
The man opposite her rearranged the food on his plate, then cut the meatballs into small perfect pieces and stirred them into the pasta. He ate without looking up. Amanda let out a very small sigh and took a slice of pizza. It was good. Not as good as Ricky’s, but good. As they ate, more people came into the restaurant and the waitress sat them on the opposite side, away from Amanda and Kerry. Amanda’s phone buzzed. It was a text from her sister.
How is it going?
Amanda thought for a moment as she watched the man across from her eat his lunch. He likes meatballs without sauce and spaghetti without sauce. She paused. I don’t think this was a good idea.
What are you talking about?
We’re not talking.
It was a long time before Beth texted back. Talk about something you know. Something you like.
“I…” she paused and thought about the parts of Kerry’s profile she liked. She took a breath and nodded. “Just a small town girl.”
Mid-chew, the man looked up.
“Livin’ in a lonely world,” she added.
Kerry swallowed. “Just a city boy.”
“Strangers waiting,” she added.
“Up and down the boulevard,” he nodded.
“Don’t stop believing.”
Amanda waited for a response. Kerry simply went back to his sauce-less pasta and meatballs, so Amanda chewed some garlic bread and stared at the table while the minutes ticked by.
“Turned on some music to start my day.”
She looked up and saw Kerry looking at her. “I hide in my music, forget the day,” she said.
He nodded. “It’s more than a feeling.”
“More than a feeling.”
Kerry took a drink of water, looked at Amanda and blushed. “And dream of a girl…”
This time both of them smiled.
“I feel like today’s the day. I’m lookin’ for the words to say,” he said.
She thought of her favorite songs she’d listened to for the past seventeen years. “Do you want to be free? Are you ready for me?”
He looked in her eyes and she looked in his. His large blue eyes that reminder Amanda of a crystal she’d seen in a jewelry store she went to with Beth. Large, blue, clear… beautiful. And she thought about Beth’s first kiss. The wetness, the warmth… the magic. Amanda leaned forward, closed her eyes slightly. The move startled Kerry who pulled back slightly. Amanda’s shoulders slumped and she went back to staring at the table. After a minute, she took a bite of pizza and thought about calling Beth.
“I’m going to take you by surprise and make you realize,” he said softly. “Amanda.”
She was too nervous to look up.
“Masquerading as a man with a reason,” Kerry said, pushing his plate aside. “My charade is the event of the season.”
Amanda finally looked up and saw his beautiful crystal blue eyes locked on hers.
“And if I claim to be a wise man,” he said reaching for her hand, “it surely means that I don’t know.”
She paused, and looked at their fingers intertwined together on the table. His hand was sweaty, like hers. And a little shaky. Amanda realized her sister might just be right. There was someone out there for her.
“Carry on,” she smiled.
Prompt courtesy of Dawn Plestina: “And if I claim to be a wiseman… it surely means I do not know.” – written by Kerry Livgren of Kansas