“A blind date? Fuck no,” he laughs, incredulous, and takes a long drink of his beer. “You know better. I hate going on dates and I hate meeting new people.”
“Come on, Ben,” Poe replies, shoving at his shoulder. “Finn and Rose and me wanna go for dinner.”
“So, then...go. What’s the problem?” Ben looks at Poe sideways, drags a hand through his hair.
“Well… she’s Finn’s best friend. He hates that she's always getting left out of our date nights. He says she’s pretty and smart and single and you can’t stay single forever either. Meeting one new person won’t kill you.”
“By my count, that's 2 new people,” Ben groans, but throws his hands up in defeat. “Fine, fine. But when she decides I’m an asshole and never wants to see me again and Finn says I ruined your big weird date, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“All right, that’s what I’m talking about!” Poe cheers. “You won’t regret it, man, I promise. Friday, eight o’clock, at Opus downtown.”
Ben downs the last of his beer, then sits up suddenly. “Fucking -- Opus? Damnit, Poe. A fucking blind date at a fucking fancy restaurant? You’re lucky we’re friends.”
Poe raises an eyebrow, confusion evident. “What’s wrong with it? You know I love the au poivre.”
“Yeah, who doesn’t know that?”
“Then tell me what you’re so bent about.”
“Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not the fancy restaurant type,” Ben says, gesturing to his t-shirt -- one of his favorites, ‘sarcasm is my 2nd favorite -asm’ -- faded jeans, and flip-flops.
“Dude,” Poe grumbles, his head falling back against Ben’s couch. “Just go buy something to wear like the rest of us adults.”
Ben throws the shopping bag into the car, falling heavily into the driver’s seat and pulling the door shut. He drops his head onto the steering wheel and groans loudly.
“Damn you, Poe,” he says to no one.
Shopping is the worst, he thinks. At least the clothes look nice.
He’d beelined for the department store in the mall, desperately pretended not to be lost looking for the menswear, quickly grabbed three broadcloth shirts and a pair of pants in his size, circled back for a belt and shoes, paid and made a hasty exit. Somehow he’d avoided the well-meaning ‘how-can-I-help-you’s of the employees and only bumped shoulders with one woman who grudgingly accepted his mumbled apology. (If she called him a jackass as she walked away, well, he can pretend he didn’t hear that.)
It was probably the most harrowing half hour of his life.
Ben sighs, already half-dreading Friday’s dinner. She’ll think I’m an asshole with nice clothes. Because that’s what’s really important here.
He puts the car in reverse, glancing behind him briefly as his phone pings several times. He unlocks the screen, backing his car out of the parking space as he reads a series of short messages from Poe.
You better not back out on me, Solo
I finally met this girl yesterday and lemme just say
Her name is Rey and she’s incredible
You flake out and you’ll regret it forever
Shifting back to drive, he types his reply one-handed, heading for the parking lot exit.
Listen I said Id be there
Got sum stupid new clothes
Quit givin me shit abt it
He drifts down the lane on autopilot, eyes flicking up to make sure there’s no pedestrians, ready to be done with this whole blind date thing almost a week in advance.
This better be wagognraofffff
Metal and fiberglass crunch and screech. His phone slips out of his hand as he’s jolted forward by the impact and nearly hits his forehead on the steering wheel.
“Oh, fuck,” he says.
He backs his car up again, wincing at the grinding noises coming from his bashed bumper, then pulls into an adjacent spot and climbs out to inspect the damage.
This is Poe’s fault -- I should’ve stayed home.
His car, an older Dodge sedan, looks roughly as it did before; only a few missing flakes of black paint hint at a collision.
The damage to the other car, on the other hand, is immediately obvious. The lower rear panel of the blue Prius, from the tire to the bumper, has been crushed inward in a reflection of his own car.
“Fuck. Fuuuuuuck.” He looks around, panicking already.
There’s no one here. No one saw. What if I just…
He looks around the lot, cautiously stepping back toward his own car and falling into the driver’s seat again.
With one last glance at the little hybrid, he pulls forward through the open parking space and leaves the mall behind.
Tomorrow night, man
Tell me you'll be there
Ben tries again to focus on his book -- he's re-reading Dune, despite the new books in his Kindle, because something about a millennia-long tale intrigues him -- but after his eyes glaze over the same paragraph for the third time, he puts it aside and grabs his phone to reply to Poe’s messages.
Yes you utter asshole
Fancy new fkin shirt n evrything
Oh yeah what happened the other day
Your last text was really weird
Weirder than usual anyway
The reminder of his shopping trip brings a fresh wave of frustration. Poe better be right about this girl.
Wasnt that big a deal
Tell u about it tmrw
Don’t. Fucking. Bail.
Ben I swear
I’m *outside* fuck
I’m coming out there
“You don’t have to -- ugh.” Ben locks the screen on his phone and tucks it away in his pocket. He leans on the trash bin and knocks the toe of his shoe against it, the reverberations humming up his elbow and distracting him from the chatter spilling out of the restaurant as the door opens and shuts on a silent hydraulic hinge.
He knows Poe's footsteps. “You can't stand out here all evening,” his friend says.
“Hmm, I think I could,” Ben grumbles.
But Poe is unconvinced. “Everyone else is already here,” he explains.
Ben drags his hand through his hair, his eyes wandering over the gold-painted scrollwork text on the window.
“Fine,” he looks back to Poe as they pass through the doorway, “but you’re buying my first drink.”
Poe takes the lead heading to their table, steering Ben around group after group, before finally stopping at a larger round table draped in a deep red linen tablecloth. Poe gestures to an open chair and continues around to his own.
The man in the seat to his right -- Finn, an old coworker of Ben’s and Poe’s boyfriend -- looks up at him and smiles widely, his hand falling on Ben’s shoulder as he sits. “Ben! It’s been too long, man. What have you been up to?”
Finn interrupts: “Do not say working.”
He winces, lifting the water glass to hide behind taking a drink. “...Writing?”
Finn smacks his shoulder as Poe gestures to the woman seated beside him. “This is Rose, our girlfriend.”
She waves, smiling. “It’s nice to meet another of Finn’s friends. He’s very picky so it’s hard to find people he likes.”
“Ben and I knew each other years ago,” Finn explains. “We worked together at his dad’s security consulting firm before he left to rake in the big bucks.”
Ben nearly chokes on his water. “Sure, yeah -- big bucks. Because wringing every possible word out of my brain is where the money’s at.”
Something slams against the table to his left, and he whips his head around as another woman takes the open seat beside him. “Sorry,” she says, her British accent loaded with anger. “My goddamn car insurance company wants me to pay five hundred goddamn dollars to fix the damage to my car because that fucking asshole at the mall didn’t leave their info.”
She sighs. “Anyway, sorry,” she continues, offering her hand. “I’m Rey.”
He meets her eyes and loses himself in their depth for a second before her words register.
He hadn’t had time to catch up with Poe since Monday, but even if he had it’s not like he’d have known that the universe enjoyed irony quite this much.
“So?” She takes a bite of the brie crostini and groans quietly at the taste. “Poe says you’re a writer. Anything I know?”
“Ah, maybe,” he starts, meticulously spreading brie and caramel onto the bread to distract himself, “Science fiction adventure, mostly. I was always a fan of Dune so that’s the sort of thing I try to stick with.”
“Fear is the mind-killer and all that then?” she asks.
Poe was right -- smart and pretty. He grins. “Yeah, just like that. What about you, Rey? What do you do?”
She skewers an apple slice with the tasting fork as if it were prey she had caught. “Ad agency downtown. Editing broadcast copy.”
Ben frowns, dots connecting where he didn't expect them to even be on the same page. He turns toward her more. “Wait, do you--”
Their waiter interrupts, and he loses track of the thought.
The rest of the dinner goes wonderfully. Ben orders the steak au poivre at Poe’s suggestion, and Rey gets the citrus glazed salmon, and the five of them share an enormous tiramisu before wandering outside into the warm night.
“This was nice,” Rey says from beside him. Poe, Rose, and Finn are walking ahead of them on the sidewalk, loudly singing a song that Rose had mentioned earlier during their dinner. “Usually it’s just the three of them and I’m left sitting in my apartment watching Netflix.”
He hums agreement. “I don’t go out much myself. People are… too much, sometimes.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Rey replies, looking him over.
Her hazel eyes burn into him like she can see his deepest secrets, and in that moment he thinks he might tell her anything she ever wanted to know. He feels caught, willingly trapped, searching her face. He’s pulled in like a moth flying into the sun--
Poe yells at them from a few yards away. “Come on you guys, it’s late!”
They both look away, and the spell is broken.
“Well,” Ben laughs and resumes walking, “we should do this again, I think. On our own, next time?”
Rey smiles, and oh, he’s doomed . “I’d like that.”
They catch up to the others next to their car -- Rey’s car, he realizes with a chill -- and for the first time in the last few days someone or something is looking out for him, because his car is parked several spaces down and can’t be implicated by its missing paint.
Finn traces the shape of the dent through the air. “Can’t be an SUV or a truck, or this would be higher.”
“And bigger,” Rose agrees.
“What kind of asshole hits somebody’s car and doesn’t leave a note?” Rey groans. “I wish I knew who it was so I could kick their ass.”
He winces internally. No one to blame but myself. He drags a hand through his hair, looking at Rey. “Sounds like they deserve it.”
“Yup. They do. But I don’t want to end on such a depressing note.” She passes him a business card with a phone number scrawled on the back. “Text me. I’m free on Thursday.”
He shoves the card in his pocket without looking at it, waving as his friends all pile into the Prius and pull away, giving him a clear view of the concave panel as they leave.
I am so, so fucked.