Henry frowned at the contents of his top bureau drawer. All of his bowties were accounted for, of course, but none of them seemed quite right. He wanted to choose one that was well-starched; one that complemented the hue of his button-down; one that conveyed a sense of calm strength, along with a hint of possibility.
After all, it wasn’t every day he went on a first date with Eliza. No ordinary bowtie would do.
“I never thought I’d be saying this,” he said down to the rows of fabric. “But today, you’ve all let me down.”
He shut the drawer with a sigh, then turned to face himself in the mirror. Was a button-down the right choice, anyway? He wasn’t sure the other men at the trendy restaurant-slash-club he’d gotten them reservations at would be sporting pressed collars.
In the end, he settled on a grey t-shirt and a brown leather jacket (an impulse buy that Eliza had once remarked looked “sick,” and then at his troubled expression, explained that it had been a compliment, not a commentary on his overall health and wellness). He was out the door before he could second-guess himself.
“Henry, looking sharp,” Eliza said when she opened the door to her apartment.
“Thanks, Eliza. You are also looking-- well, you look beautiful.” Her responding smile made something tighten in Henry’s chest, and he leaned in a bit stiltedly to kiss her on the cheek. “Shall we?”
With a nod, she grabbed her clutch from the table by the door and followed him into the hallway.
“So, where are we headed tonight?” she asked once they were on the sidewalk outside her building. “And can I say, I love that you kept it a secret? It’s like I’m on an episode of one of those murder mystery podcasts or something. Only, you know, without the whole actually getting murdered part.”
He chuckled, and let his hand hover gently at the small of her back to guide her in the direction of the restaurant as they began to walk. “I can assure you that there will be no murder taking place tonight.”
“I mean, it’s a big city, Henry; I’m sure someone’s being murdered right now.”
“Well, I can only speak to my own intentions, which are entirely good.”
“Bummer,” she said, and when he glimpsed her out of the corner of his eye, she was biting her lip with a smirk. He suddenly felt like this wasn’t just their first date-- he felt like it was his first date, ever.
“We’re going to Delirium, that new place on 7th. Do you know it?”
“The place where the waiters are all DJs and all the tables are speakers? That place is really hard to get into.”
Henry shrugged. “I made reservations. I know a guy.”
“You know a guy at Delirium?”
He just shrugged again. In truth, his CPA was also the CPA for the club’s primary investor, but that didn’t sound nearly as cool.
When they arrived at the restaurant, it was even louder than its Yelp reviews had indicated. Henry grimaced at the wall of sound that met them at the entryway, but put a smile on his face when Eliza turned back to look at him.
“It’s great, huh?” he shouted as the hostess led them to their table-- really just a pair of futuristic-looking stools pushed up against an enormous black speaker with a felted top.
“What?” she yelled back, gesturing at her ear.
“I said, isn’t this great?”
They sat, and he waved a hand dismissively. “Never mind.”
There was no point in trying to make small talk, so they studied their menus until a server appeared. Instead of telling her their drink order, they had to resort to pointing to their chosen cocktails on the list.
“This place is crazy!” Eliza shouted once the woman was gone. Henry less heard her and more read her lips, and nodded.
“I read that the ice cubes in the drinks are infused with phosphors to make them glow,” he responded. “And the tapas aren’t really tapas, more like actual single bites, so we’ll probably need to order a few of everything.” He’d never understood the appeal of teeny tiny servings of food, but the place was packed with twenty-somethings digging into one piece of sushi, or a lone raviolo. His stomach growled as he looked down at the menu--they really would need to order several of everything-- and when he looked back up, Eliza had disappeared. He frowned, but before he could look for her, he heard her voice in his ear, felt her warm breath on his neck as she spoke.
“How about we go someplace a little more private?”
He turned on his stool to face her as she awaited his answer. Her eyes were dark in the dim light, and he swallowed thickly. At the same time, he felt his heart sink. It wasn’t that he wasn’t attracted to Eliza-- of course he was. And it wasn’t that he didn’t want-- that he didn’t think about-- that he hadn’t hoped to someday-- but he’d wanted this to be a real date. The start of something. He didn’t want to have something like what Eliza had had with Freddy, something built on a foundation that was entirely physical, something that could never last. He wanted more, and he’d thought-- he’d hoped-- that she did, too.
He opened his mouth to object, but what could he really say? If she only wanted him in one way, he couldn’t force her to want him in all ways. He nodded.
She grinned and grabbed his hand, pulling him up off his stool and leading him through the throngs of trendsetters that filled the bar. When they stumbled out onto the street, his ears were ringing.
Eliza laughed, looking back over her shoulder into the club. “You know, I never really noticed before how terrible those types of places are.” She started to walk, and he followed her without thinking twice.
“Well, they must have their merits. The Yelp reviews were quite solid.”
She bumped him with her shoulder and scoffed. “Yeah, okay, Joan.”
“What? So Joan and I both value vetting an establishment before spending our hard-earned dollars there. Is that so wrong?”
Slowing her stride, she smiled at him warmly, fondly. “No. It’s not.”
He was taken by her smile, and it almost made him miss the fact that they weren’t walking in the direction of either of their places. He stopped mid-step on the sidewalk. “Eliza?”
She made it a few feet before realizing he was no longer beside her, and turned, looking amused. “Yes, Henry?”
“Where are we going?”
She rolled her eyes and reached forward to grasp his hand again, pulling him along. “It’s just another block. If I can make it in these ridic heels, you can make it in those sad loafers.”
Henry looked down at his shoes as they walked. “These are not sad loafers.”
“If they had tear ducts, they’d be ugly-crying right now. But don’t worry, I’ll take you shoe shopping this weekend.”
His mind was still on his shoes-- which might have been a little stuffy and fatherly, but were not that sad-- when she stopped walking, pulling him to a stop alongside her.
She’d paused in front of a quaint little café, the kind where the lighting was dim but warm, the walls lined with cozy booths and tables with wicker bistro chairs. Quiet music floated out into the night, and only a few patrons seemed to be inside.
“Um. Yes, this looks-- this looks nice.”
She led the way into the café and to a small booth at the back of the room.
“Wow, I think my eardrums are almost finally functional again,” she said, folding her arms on the table and leaning forward.
Henry shrugged out of his jacket, then paused. “I thought you liked places like that. I thought that was sort of your… ‘scene,’” he said, using finger quotes.
Eliza plucked the small cardstock menu from its holder and placed it on the table between them so they could both read it. “It is. Sometimes. But sometimes you want someplace a little bit more low-key. A little bit more-- I don’t know, romantic or something.” She said the last part in a rush, her eyes still trained on the menu, before she cautiously looked up to meet Henry’s gaze.
A slow smile grew on his face. “Well, Eliza. I think this is perfect.”
A server stopped by to take their drink orders-- blessedly, nothing with phosphorescent ice cubes was on the menu-- and left them with a pair of ice waters. Once she’d disappeared into the kitchen, Henry regarded Eliza.
“So when you said go somewhere a little more private-- you actually meant to go somewhere a little more private.”
She picked up a sugar packet and began to toy with it. “Yeah. We can actually talk here, get to know each other. That’s the whole point of the night, isn’t it?” He nodded, and she laughed. “Anyway, what did you think I was doing, Henry, propositioning you ten minutes into our first date?”
With a bashful smile, he shrugged. “Kind of, yeah.”
Eliza smirked. “Please. I’ll wait ‘til at least an hour or two in. And Henry?”
She leaned forward on her elbows and lowered her voice. “When I’m propositioning you, you’ll know it.”
Henry took a long sip of his ice water. It was going to be an interesting night.