Inevitably, the thought of going on a date, my first "first date" in five years, brought my ex-boyfriend to the front of my mind. Matt and I had met during my sophomore year of college, when I was 20 years old. Adrienne had dragged me to a party at a frat house because she wanted to score with one of the brothers. I was leaning against a wall in what was supposed to be a dining room, but had been converted into a beer pong room, when Matt stumbled over to me.
"You are way too pretty to be here alone," he slurred.
I smirked at his weak attempt at a pickup line. "I'm here with my friend," I replied, motioning to Adrienne, who was hanging all over the reason why she was so adamant about coming to the party.
He looked at Adrienne, then smiled and shook his head. "She looks busy. Why don't you come outside with me and have a cigarette?"
I didn't smoke, but I didn't want to turn down an invitation to be alone with him. He wasn't exceptionally gorgeous, but he was tall and had strong features. It was his personality that made him so attractive—he was cocky, confident, and used to getting his own way. Unfortunately, the personality traits that originally attracted me to him were the same ones that forced the end of our five-year relationship.
It wasn't long after the party that we were considered a couple. And it wasn't long before the problems started. We always did what he wanted to do. Went out with his friends. Spent our weekends at his fraternity, even though I detested the filthy house that permanently reeked of cigarettes and beer, the huge crowds of drunk freshmen, and the sleazy guys who were on constant missions to get laid by anything that moved.
He had to be with me 24/7. If we spent a night apart, he would call me at four in the morning, accusing me of being with another man. I never cheated on him, never even thought of it, but he couldn't trust me. Every time I tried to break up with him, he would break down and beg me not to and promise that things would get better. They never did.
A year after we met, Matt graduated with a degree in finance. He was always talking about plans for pursuing his MBA, but never acted on it. He convinced me to move in with him, and while I was attending class full-time and working evenings and weekends at a neighborhood bar, he sat at the apartment and did God knows what. He finally got a job over a year later, working part-time at GameStop. Adrienne would tell me that I wasn't dating a 23-year-old, but a high school kid with an attitude problem.
Finally, after spending New Years at his parents' home in Erie, I realized that five years of fighting, distrust, and accusations had taken a toll on me. I wasn't myself anymore. I wasn't happy. I moved out of the apartment and in with Adrienne, and never looked back.
Although I felt free and happy without Matt, our tumultuous relationship made me uneasy around men. I wasn't interested in starting another relationship, because I was convinced they were a waste of time. I spent an unhappy five years with an immature man who was nothing more than a comfort object. That, coupled with the fact that my parents had divorced when I was ten, formed my cynical opinion regarding marriage and relationships.
Despite my jaded perspective, I was excited to go out with Max. Mainly, it was because I didn't see him as a threat to my happy single life. He had asked me out because he thought I was pretty, not because he thought I was interesting or we were compatible. He was a player—all I had to do was Google his name to find that out. He definitely wasn't going to be interested in me. I was a 25-year-old librarian with no interest in sports whatsoever…not exactly puck bunny material. We would go to dinner, maybe even drinks afterward, but after he brought me home at the end of the night I would never hear from him again. I was fully prepared for this outcome, and I welcomed it. Dates are fun…even more fun when there isn't a threat of something long-term attached.
Max picked me up at exactly seven Sunday evening. We went to a restaurant Downtown called Seviche, which is a kind of Latin American sushi. The restaurant itself was really cool…it looked like it belonged in Cuba, not dreary Pittsburgh, but I wasn't crazy about anything on the menu. I'd never had sushi or any other kind of seafood because honestly, fish freaked me out. The thought of eating a slimy water-dwelling creature was not very appetizing.
"I don't know…" I said hesitantly as I scanned the menu. "I don't think I'd like any of this."
"It's all really good," Max urged. "As long as you don't think about what you're eating, you'll be fine."
I wrinkled my nose. "Maybe I'll just get something to drink."
"Oh, come on. Live a little." I was still reading the menu with uncertainty when the waiter came to take our orders. Max ordered for himself, and for me. "She'll have the Traditional Seviche with shrimp, and a banana mojito."
My head snapped up and I narrowed my eyes at him. "Did you seriously just order for me?"
"If I wouldn't have, you would have spent the entire night staring at the menu, talking yourself out of trying anything."
"I'm fully capable of ordering for myself." I crossed my arms defiantly and stared him down. "I'm not going to eat it."
He laughed incredulously. "You are so stubborn."
"I just don't enjoy being treated like a child."
He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Come on, don't ruin the night. I'm sorry."
I pursed my lips into a thin, annoyed line and didn't respond. I detested being treated like a child. I had always been an independent person, and as a child very mature for my age. I suppose that had a lot to do with being the oldest child, and after my parents' divorce I took on a lot of responsibility. Needless to say, I was more than slightly offended when Max took it upon himself to order for me.
Max rested his arms on the table and stared back at me. "Forget about all of that, okay? I want to get to know you. So, Jessica Dawson, tell me your life story."
I couldn't help but smile and I felt myself loosening up. Max's charming personality made me want to talk to him. "There isn't much to tell."
"Sure there is. Where are you from? What do you do?"
"I'm originally from Conneticut. I moved to Pittsburgh for college…I went to Pitt for undergrad and for my master's program. I'm a librarian at the Oakland branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh."
He smirked. "You don't look like a librarian."
I rolled my eyes. "We aren't all old cat sweater-wearing spinsters."
"So you do more than check books out, right? You wouldn't need a master's degree for that."
"Right. There are different kind of librarians…some are archivists, they restore old books and maintain records and stuff like that, but I'm a research librarian. I'm into 19th century literature, so if someone came in and was trying to write a book on Jane Austen or Emily Brontë I would help them with research. We also book speakers and plan classes and stuff like that. It probably sounds boring to you, but I love my job. I'm constantly learning."
"Books were never my thing," he admitted. "I'd known since I was little that I was going to be a professional hockey player. If it came between reading a book for English class or doing drills at the rink…well, I'd choose the rink."
"To each his own," I replied. For being polar opposites, we seemed to be getting along very well. Max was an easy person to talk to. He seemed like the kind of guy who never felt awkward or out of place, and that made me feel comfortable, too.
By the time our food arrived, I had felt like I had told Max my life story. I told him about my younger siblings—Andrea, who was 23 and was attending Pharmacy school at the University of Connecticut, and Chris, who was 20 and a sophomore at NYU. I told him about my parents' divorce, and how a lot of responsibility had been thrown on me at a young age because of it. I told him about how trapped and suffocated I felt in Connecticut, and how although I missed my family I never regretted coming to Pittsburgh for college.
"I'm sorry," I said as the waiter placed our food in front of us. "I've been talking about myself the entire time."
Max shrugged and took a bite of his seviche. "I don't mind. You're an interesting person."
I blushed and poked around the odd shrimp concoction that was in front of me. If I wanted to be mean, I could have refused to eat the food that I hadn't ordered, but Max's little gaffe seemed so insignificant now. I was finding myself drawn to him, and I didn't want to burn any bridges. So I took a bite and to my surprise, it was delicious.
"What do you think?"
"It's good…as long as I don't think about the fact that I'm eating raw shrimp."
"See? All you had to do was trust me. Would I ever steer you wrong?"
I laughed. "I'm not sure."
We were about halfway through our dinner when my entire body started to itch. It started with my neck, and then my arms, and then my torso.
"Are you okay?" Max asked, looking at me with concern in his eyes.
"Yeah, I think it's just this shirt…the lace must be irritating my skin." I took a sip of my mojito and realized the drink was stronger than I thought. I was beginning to feel a little lightheaded and my mouth was tingling, even though I had only drunk half of it.
"Hey, are you sure you're okay?" Max asked again. His eyes were wide and he was looking at me strangely.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I just feel a little off…maybe you should take me home."
"Umm…I think maybe I should take you to a hospital."
"Are you allergic to shellfish?"
"No, I don't think so. Why?"
"Because it looks like you're having an allergic reaction…your face is kind of, um, swollen."
"What?!" I screeched. My hands flew up to my face. I could feel that my lips were puffy, as well as my cheeks. My breathing was shallow and my heart began to race.
"Are you having trouble breathing?"
I nodded and continued to touch my puffy face. Tears began to sting my eyes. I was embarrassed, but even more afraid.
Max started speaking in rapid French, and practically lifted me off the chair. He helped me out to the car and then sped through Downtown into Oakland, where the hospitals were. He made it to the emergency room in fifteen minutes, but by then my symptoms were even more severe. I was having serious problems breathing and it felt like my tongue was beginning to swell, too.
I saw a nurse immediately and got a shot of epinephrine. They put me in a bed so they could make sure it was working, and let Max in to see me.
"I'm so sorry," I said over and over.
"Jessica, stop apologizing," he said with a little laugh. "It's my fault. I ordered the shrimp. I could have killed you." His eyes were full of guilt and concern.
"No…I'm sorry. I ruined our date."
"No you didn't. Do you realize what an awesome first date story this is?"
"Oh, yeah, I bet you can't wait to tell everyone about the girl who turned into a hideous freak halfway through dinner."
"No...I can't wait to tell them about the girl who was beautiful, even when her face was swollen to twice its normal size." He hesitated a moment before resting his hand on mine. I flushed slightly and smiled up at him.
"You don't have to stay here," I said after a few moment's silence. "Call Adrienne. She'll come."
"I'm staying here as long as you are," he replied. "It isn't a date unless I get to take you home and walk you to your door."
They didn't keep me in the hospital much longer. A doctor came in and gave me strict orders to avoid shellfish and a referral to an allergy specialist, just to test if I had any other severe food allergies.
Max drove me home and walked me to the door like a perfect gentlemen.
"I had a good time tonight."
"Really?" I replied doubtfully.
He laughed. "Well, ideally there wouldn't have been a medical emergency, but yeah...I had a great time. I'd like to see you again."
"Really?" I repeated, this time with even more doubt.
"Don't look so shocked," he replied with a laugh. "The thing is, the playoffs start on Wednesday so I'm not going to have much free time...but I promise, the minute I have a day or evening off I'm going to call you."
I tried very hard not to roll my eyes. I wouldn't be hearing from Max again. His excuse about his busy schedule was just a way for him to write me off without seeming like a jerk.
"Yeah, okay," I replied, trying not to sound bitter. I turned to put my key in the lock, but Max grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around to face him, and then pressed his lips against mine. Butterflies rose in my stomach and I finally pulled away.
"Sorry," he said, looking a little flustered.
I smiled and gave him a last peck on the cheek. "Goodnight, Max."
I hurried up to the apartment and found Adrienne on the couch, watching television.
"How was the date?" she asked excitedly.
"Good," I replied.
"You look confused."
"I am." I told her about the shellfish disaster, but didn't go into details about the actual date. She pressed for more information, but I shook my head and went into my bedroom to think. I couldn't decide if Max was just a player, or if he was really interested in me. It wasn't that he was throwing me mixed signals...he definitely acted interested, but why would he want anything to do with me?
4 years ago