This date was bad. Worse than bad. This date was the worst date Arthur had been on in his entire life, and that’s including the time he took someone to an amusement park and got puked on. Twice.
This date sucked. And the guy – Scott Something – was completely oblivious to how boring he was.
Arthur was sure he had to be wearing a look of unwavering discomfort. He was giving the barest of polite responses, and his poker face was really only any good when playing poker (and even then it wasn’t great). He was not equipped to handle shit dates.
It wasn’t that Scott was a bad guy. Arthur was sure he had friends or family somewhere who loved him. Arthur just wasn’t into the clean living granola type men. He’d much rather be the victim of another vomit attack than this ceaseless boredom.
Their waitress - a chipper young woman named Ariadne - returned to take their order and Arthur caught her eye as Scott looked over the menu one last time. She quirked an eyebrow and he mouthed ‘help me’ with as much silent desperation as he could manage.
Ariadne looked between them, assessing, before nodding once with all the solemnity this situation deserved. Arthur relaxed a little and hoped she could come up with something believable.
Scott finally placed his order – a Cobb salad and bottled water, which made Arthur wince – and Arthur requested a cheeseburger with all the fixings. Ariadne took their menus and walked away without another word, patting Arthur on the shoulder as she passed.
Arthur suffered through ten more minutes of unbearable conversation before his wandering attention caught on a broad-shouldered man that had just entered the restaurant. He watched as the guy brushed snowflakes out of his hair and unwound the scarf from his neck, folding it neatly and holding it casually at his side.
Fuck, but he was cute.
Ariadne looked up from the hostess stand and a Cheshire grin grew over her face. She was pulling double duty tonight, manning the hostess stand with another waitress in between waiting tables, and she was stretched a bit thin.
And then that poor guy at table twelve had all but gotten on his knees and begged her to spirit him away from his misery and her night suddenly got that much more interesting. He had flinched – actually flinched – when his date had ordered a salad, as though by doing so he had confirmed every horrifying assumption he had made about the man. It took all she had not to laugh aloud.
She had been considering faking a phone call for him, but she didn’t know his name. So she slouched against the hostess stand and pondered until a gust of cold air preceded the arrival of another guest and all of her prayers were answered in the form of a broad-shouldered man with a polite smile on his face. He opened his mouth, but she interrupted before he could speak.
“Are you a homophobe?”
He looked startled, mouth popping open slightly in surprise. “Excuse me?”
Oh, and an accent too. Excellent. Ariadne leaned forward over the podium. “Are you a homophobe? Because if you are, I’ll let you continue your evening in peace. And if you aren’t, I need you to do something for me. You’ll get a free meal out of it, if that makes a difference.”
He shook his head slowly, obviously confused. “No, I’m not a homophobe. But I just came here to pick up some food I ordered – what the hell is going on?”
Her grin only got bigger. “Look over my left shoulder. Do you see the table near the back with the dimpled cutie who looks like he would rather eat raw squid than keep talking to his date?”
The guy’s eyes flicked over her shoulder and back to her face. “Yes.”
“Great. I need you to act like you know him and fake an emergency or something,” she continued.
“Uhm.” He got that startled deer look in his eyes again. Oh yeah. This was gonna be good.
“Please? He begged me to find a way to get him out of here and I can’t think of anything else. He’s miserable. It will take you, like, two minutes, and you’ll get your food for free. What do you say?”
He looked back at their table and smiled, lifting his hand a bit in a tentative wave. Ariadne turned in time to see Dimples duck his head in embarrassment. His date brightened considerably at that, obviously having thought he brought out that reaction. She almost felt sorry for him.
Turning back around to her man’s savior, Ariadne arched an eyebrow. His face grew very determined and he nodded.
“Alright, sure. Why not?” He cocked his head to the side, considering. “You said you don’t know his name?”
Ariadne shook her head. “I’m sorry, no.”
“I can work with that.”
And with that he stepped away, maneuvering through the narrow spaces between tables with the ease of long familiarity. Ariadne leaned back against the podium and settled in to observe.
Tonight had taken a turn for the interesting. Eames had planned on picking up his food and barricading himself in his house with Netflix and some whisky, but this could be fun too.
The poor bloke did look utterly miserable, after all. He took one steadying breath before stepping up to the table.
The two men looked up in tandem. The dimpled one he was supposed to be saving got a hopeful gleam in his eye and the boring one looked irritated at the interruption.
“Can we help you?” asked Boring. Eames noted with pleasure that the other man crinkled his nose in distaste at the ‘we’.
Eames turned to face him, angling his body away from Boring in a clear dismissal. “Hello, darling.”
His eyes widened and he jumped out of his seat, throwing himself at Eames. “Frederick!” he exclaimed.
Well. This wasn’t what he was planning on, but he certainly wasn’t going to complain. Then the guy turned his head and whispered in his ear, “My name is Arthur. Thank you.”
“Arthur, I can’t believe you still come here. How are you?” Eames turned and grabbed an empty chair from a neighboring table and plopped it down adjacent to Arthur’s, ignoring the spluttering from his date.
Arthur’s face grew fond, and he reached out and clasped Eames’ hand in his. “I’m great,” he said softly. “It’s so good to see you.”
“You too, darling,” Eames said. “And who is this lovely fellow?” he asked amiably, gesturing towards Boring.
“Frederick, this is Scott. Scott, this is Frederick, my ex fiancé.”
Scott’s face, already flushed with irritation, turned positively puce. “Ex fiancé?!”
Arthur nodded, brushing his thumb over the back of Eames’ hand. “Yeah. He moved back home to take care of his mom and we couldn’t make the long distance thing work. Some couples just aren’t built for it, I guess. How long are you in town for, Frederick?”
Eames smiled sheepishly. “As long as you’ll have me.”
That was the clincher. He could feel the air around them thicken as Scott tensed.
Arthur turned his gaze towards Scott, a mask of apology resting on his features. “Scott, I’m sorry. I swear, I didn’t know he would be here and I – “
“Forget it.” Scott’s jaw tensed angrily and he made an aborted movement that might have been a twitch or maybe he’d been going to flip the table but thought better of it. He stood and stalked out of the restaurant without a backward glance.
Arthur dropped his hand immediately and Eames tried not to feel disappointed at the loss. “Thank you,” he said again. “That was the most boring man I’ve ever set eyes on, and I don’t think I would have lived out the night without your interference.”
“You’re most welcome,” Eames replied as he stood and returned the chair to its rightful table. “I hope your evening improves, Arthur.”
He turned and made his way towards the front of the restaurant, turning back once to find Arthur watching him leave.
Arthur stared at the white tablecloth for a moment, gathering his wits.
Those were the most ridiculous few minutes of his life, and he’d never had more fun. And it wasn’t just the contrast between Scott’s boresome persona and ‘Frederick’s’, he knew. Looking up, he caught the man’s eye when he turned and looked back at him. Arthur grinned, feeling his face flush.
Making a split decision, he rose from the table and wound his way through the restaurant and settled in beside ‘Frederick’ at the podium, standing just inside his personal space.
“I was wondering…” he trailed off, losing his nerve.
“What’s your real name?”
The man smiled easily. “Eames. But that wasn’t what you were going to ask me, is it?”
Arthur felt his cheeks darken. “No.”
Ariadne returned to the front then with a brown bag, passing the handles over to Eames with a bright smile. “Like I promised, on the house.” She turned towards Arthur, gesturing towards the bag. “And I took the liberty of adding your meal as well. Figured it was the least I could do for the happy couple.” She winked and walked away.
Eames looked at the bag in his hands and then back at Arthur, waggling his eyebrows. “Well, I don’t suppose you would care to join me for supper, would you darling?”
Arthur beamed. “Lead the way, ‘Frederick’.”
Ariadne saw the couple every Friday night from then on. Dimples never looked bored, and Shoulders never got carry-out. They sat at the same table every week and played footsie while they chatted quietly to each other over a bottle of wine.
She finally learned their names a year and a half later when Dimples showed up midafternoon with bright eyes, an expensive-looking envelope, and an ominous “We have you to thank, after all”.
He slipped out the door and Ariadne eagerly tore into the envelope, pulling out a piece of cardstock that read:
Eat, Drink, and Be Married!