The doorbell rings at 12:45. Having been ready and wandering aimlessly around our apartment for nearly an hour, I come flying down the stairs with such energy that I nearly slip on the tile near the entry.
“You expecting someone?” Charlie asks from the living room.
“Yeah, kind of,” I respond, before wiping my hands on my jeans, blowing out a breath and opening the door.
He stands there smiling in Chucks, jeans, and a faded Ramones t-shirt holding a… dead flower?
“Uhm… hi,” I say, unsure how to proceed.
“Hey. This is for you,” he says handing the shriveled up flower to me.
A choked laugh escapes me as I start to reach out to take it from him.
“I’m not sure what to say. You shouldn’t have?”
He laughs and chucks the dead flower into the bushes next to our door.
“It was a joke, RJ. You said you’re awkward at dates, so I thought I would start it off awkward to alleviate the stress.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“And a dead flower is…”
“Hey, if I can’t wow you with some glamorously expensive meal, I at least have to try and make you laugh. Don’t tell me I totally ruined everything already.” His facial expression is twisted into mock seriousness, and I can’t help the smile that blooms on my face. He leans forward, his forearm resting on the doorjamb, his face just inches from me. “There it is.”
“That smile,” he responds, his eyes focusing on my mouth. He’s so close to me that I swear we’re breathing in each other’s air.
I bite my lip to keep from giggling like a mental patient, and glance down at my bare feet before summoning the courage to look him directly in the face again.
“Wanna come in? I still have to put my shoes on.”
He nods and follows me into the living room, where Charlie is currently curled up in her pajamas watching reality TV, nursing the remains of her hangover.
She flicks her eyes to me for only a second when we walk into the room, but then double-takes when she realizes I’m not alone.
“Charlie this is Mack. Mack, my roommate, Charlie.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mack says, nodding at her.
Charlie gives Mack her megawatt smile.
“You too. So, where are you two going?” she asks, flipping onto her knees and facing us from over the back of the sofa.
“Not sure,” I reply as I tuck my feet into socks and slip on one of my Chucks. “Somewhere casual, right Mack?” I look up at him for confirmation as I lace my shoes.
He just nods.
After finishing with my shoes, I stand and say bye to Charlie. With Mack’s back turned towards us as he walks to the door, Charlie’s eyes grow wide and she gives me a quick thumbs up before mouthing Oh. My. God. I giggle and wave at her before walking out the front door.
When we get out to the curb, I see a truck with two bikes in the bed. Without a word, he drops the bed of the truck and begins to unload.
“We’re riding bikes?” I ask.
“Well, if I remember correctly, your exact words were ‘I’m like a kid. I like it simple.’ So, we’re going old-school, pre-drivers license days.” He pushes a Schwinn towards me, complete with basket and bell.
“Wow, Mack. Pulling out all the stops,” I throw my leg over the bike and get comfortable on the seat. “What would you have done if I was wearing a dress and heels?”
He looks at me with a smirk.
“After your glamazon comment last night, I figured you in jeans was a safe bet.”
“I have to be honest. I’ve never been on a bike date before. Two points for creativity.” I ring the bell twice for emphasis.
“Two points? That’s it?” He opens the passenger door to the truck and pulls out a blue helmet. “I deserve at least five.”
“You’ve gotta do a lot more than throw me on a bike to get big points with me.”
His face shows the hint of a smile as he walks towards me and plops the helmet on my head, then clips the straps under my chin. He takes a step back and just looks at me, causing my face to flush.
He steps back towards his bike, straddles the seat, and calls a ‘let’s go’ as we take off down the road.
It has been a really long time since I’ve ridden a bike. At least since before I started driving, if not longer. I forgot how fun it is. We pedal next to each other down the road, and at this slower pace, I’m able to soak in details about the day that would normally race past me.
Like what an absolutely gorgeous day it is, and how the sun is high but not too hot. Or the leaves on the ground, when the abscission of leaves doesn’t happen on most trees in my neighborhood. Or something less beautiful, like the fact the people down the road decided it would be okay to leave their stained mattress at the curb. Bleh.
It’s a short ride, maybe twenty minutes total, and we don’t really talk. We just alternate between racing and riding at a leisurely pace. When we finally pull into the Atwater Village Fun Center, I ring my bell over and over as I race past Mack towards the bike racks.
“I beat you,” I say with feigned innocence as I lock my bike into the rack and pull off my helmet.
Mack just smiles.
“Congratulations. Now, have you been here before?”
I shake my head.
“Good. Because today we are going to have awesome kid fun.”
“Mini-golf?” I ask.
“And bumper boats.”
“You know if we ride the go-karts, I’m going to completely kick your ass.”
He just looks at me and smiles.
“I don’t doubt that in the slightest.”
After locking our bikes to the rack, Mack grabs my hand and loosely links his fingers in mine. It’s easy. Natural. Like we’ve always done this. He squeezes my hand lightly and gives me a sweet smile before leading me inside.
He doesn’t let go, not even when one of the employees asks us to hold onto golf clubs to help measure which ones we should use. He doesn’t let go until we get outside and pick up a scorecard and golf pencil.
“Alright, so what are the stakes of this game?” I ask, crossing my arms as we look over the first hole.
“Ahhhhh, so you’re a betting girl, huh?”
“Absolutely. I am very competitive.”
“Oh that has become glaringly obvious,” he replies, chuckling to himself. He puts his hand to his chin and looks me over, then makes a humming sound. “The winner plans the next date. Whatever they want.”
“You’re assuming there will be another date,” I retort.
“Are you assuming there won’t be?”
“I never said that. I just think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself.” I swing my golf club over my shoulders and rest my arms on each end. “What if this date is a miserable experience for you and then you’re stuck planning some lame trip to Applebee’s for next weekend. I mean, for all you know, I’m a totally insane, crazy person who sifts through Justin Bieber’s trash looking for hair clippings.”
“Do you sort through his trash looking for hair clippings?”
“Are you a Belieber with Bieber Fever?”
The giggle that falls from me is relentless and I nearly drop the golf club.
“How do you even know those words?”
“My sister has a daughter, which is where she places the blame for her ludicrous knowledge of his song lyrics, even though I know it’s really her with the cardboard cutout.” I laugh again. “And suggesting this bet doesn’t mean I’m thinking there might be another date.” He steps in close to me and lightly rests the palm of his hand on the back of my neck, his thumb tracing the edge of my jaw. “I’m guaranteeing there will be another date.” His eyes flicker to my lips, then back up to my eyes.
I’m not sure how to respond. The laughter from just a moment before has been sucked out of the space around us and replaced with a weird tension that makes the hairs on my body stand to attention. I feel jittery and unsure what to do with my hands.
When he rests his forehead against mine and I can feel his breath on my face, I want him to kiss me. I don’t really know him and I know it would be way too fast for a girl like me, but at the same time, I can’t explain the way I feel right now.
The closest descriptor I can think of is that it feels like I’ve been shaken up inside, like the nuts and bolts that normally hold me together have fallen loose and I might collapse at any moment and melt into the ground.
After another beat, Mack steps back, releasing his hold on me, and it takes every effort I have to not show in my facial expression everything he just made me feel.
I let out a controlled breath even though I feel like gasping for air.
“Sounds like a good bet to me.”