Rhoda raised her mug to her lips with both hands and took a long sip. "I'm so bored," she said.
"Gee, thanks, Rhoda," Mary said.
"Aw, Mary, I didn't mean that as a personal remark. I just meant, it's been ages since I've had a date! Here's the weekend coming up tomorrow, and once again I have absolutely nothing planned."
"That's not necessarily a bad thing," Mary said. "It can be great to have time to catch up at home. Paperwork... cleaning... whatever you haven't had a chance to get to."
Rhoda raised her eyebrows and fixed Mary with a disbelieving stare.
"Not, of course, that it wouldn't be nice to get out, too," Mary added.
"Do you have a date tomorrow?"
"Well, as it happens, no. I don't have anything on for this weekend."
Rhoda got a gleam in her eye. "You know what we should do? Get out your address book, Mary, and I'll go upstairs and get mine. Then we'll each find someone to call."
"Oh, no," Mary said. "No, Rhoda, absolutely not. I did that on your suggestion once before, and you saw how it turned out."
"Ok, nothing lasting came of it," Rhoda said. "But we had a fun evening with Howard and Armand and Nancy, didn't we?" Now it was Mary's turn to give her a skeptical look. "Or, well, at least we weren't sitting home alone that night. Right?"
"That's not enough to make me want to repeat the experience," Mary said. "No, I am putting my foot down, Rhoda. I'm not doing it."
"Come on, Mary, for me?"
"Even if I wanted to, there's no one I could possibly call! All the men I've met in the last couple of years are either with someone else now or they've left town."
"Yeah, me too," Rhoda said, deflating. "Even the men I see when I'm driving all leave the intersection before I can hit them."
Mary laughed. "Now look, Rhoda, just because we don't have dates doesn't mean we have to sit home all weekend. Why don't I run out and get a paper and we can look up what movies are playing?"
"That's awfully nice of you, but it's just not the same. We go to the movies all the time. I wanted a date because I want something that's, you know—special."
"Well then, we won't just go to the movies," Mary said. "We'll go out, and... I'll be your date."
"How is that different?" Rhoda said after a beat.
"We'll do it up big. We'll get dressed up, I'll pick you up at your place, and we'll—oh, I know! I'll take you to that new French restaurant that just opened downtown."
"I do like French food," Rhoda said. She paused, lifting her mug again and looked at Mary over the top of it. "That's a little unconventional, though, don't you think?"
"You've already dated a couple," Mary pointed out. "Dating just one person is practically traditional compared to that."
"You have a point," Rhoda allowed. She took a few more sips of her coffee, still studying Mary closely. "All right," she said finally. "I accept. It's a date."
"Great," Mary said. "I'll pick you up at eight."
Mary's desk phone rang, and she turned away from the filing cabinets and tucked several folders under her elbow to free a hand to pick it up. "Newsroom. Oh, hi, Rhoda! Oh—oh, I see. All right. Well, when do you think you'll be done? Listen, Chez Pierre isn't that far from Bloomfield's. I think we can still make our reservation if we go there directly, without going home first. All right? Great. I'll pick you up at the store then. Sure. Bye, Rhoda."
"You and Rhoda have reservations at Chez Pierre?" Murray said. "I heard that place is expensive."
"I heard that too," Mary said, "but Rhoda was so blue yesterday about not having any weekend plans, I just wanted to take her someplace really special for our date."
"Your date?" Murray said.
"Oh, well! You see, Rhoda was saying how she really wanted to go out this weekend, but she didn't have anyone to take her out. And so I told her that I—" Mary waved a hand— "you know, would be her date."
"That's so thoughtful of you, Mary," Murray told her. "I don't know many people who would do that for a friend."
Mary gave him a slightly tight grin. "Anyway, I've got to wrap these up so I can get going." She started to wave her other hand and then tucked her elbow back in against her side just in time to avoid dropping the folders. "Oh! I don't know why I'm so nervous."
"Many people are, before a big date."
Mary paused for a moment. "Have a good night," she told Murray. "Don't stay too late."
"No fear of that," Murray said. "You girls have fun tonight."
"We'll do our best," Mary said.
"Thanks again for picking me up," Rhoda said as they walked up to the restaurant. "It's too bad you won't get to see my new dress though. I've been saving it for a special occasion, and I was looking forward to wearing it tonight."
"You'll have to show it to me some other time—I really would like to see it. I'm glad we didn't try to run home, though. We're almost late as it is. Oh, after you!" Mary reached past Rhoda to open the door and held it for her. Rhoda tossed Mary a small, smiling glance as she went in.
The host at the podium eyed Mary's turtleneck and Rhoda's trousers somewhat skeptically. "Good evening," he said. "How can I help you?"
"We have a reservation for a table for two at 8:30," Mary said. "For Richards? Mary Richards."
He ran his finger down the page in front of him. "We don't seem to have anything for Richards," he said. "Could it be under some other name?"
"No, I don't see how it could be," Mary said. "I called myself, just yesterday. I asked for the first table available on Friday, and I was given the reservation for 8:30."
"You only called yesterday?" The host began flipping pages in the engagement book. "Let me see... yes, here we are. Miss Richards, I'm sorry it wasn't made clear to you, but we've had very high demand, and we're currently booking reservations several months out. Your table will be ready on Friday in eight weeks."
"Eight weeks!" Mary said. She looked at Rhoda in dismay.
"Could we sit at the bar while we wait?" Rhoda said.
Mary sighed and turned back to the host. "Isn't there any chance of a cancellation, or something like that, tonight?" she asked.
The host shook his head implacably. "I'm afraid we have no openings tonight at all."
"It's all right, Mary, we'll just go somewhere else," Rhoda said. She put an arm around Mary's shoulders and guided her back toward the door.
"But where?" Mary said. "It's Friday night, everywhere will be full up by now."
"How about that place where we go for lunch by your studio? There's probably not as many people there in the evening."
"But we go there all the time. There's nothing special about that."
"Special might be overrated," Rhoda said. "At this point I'd settle for edible."
"Right," Mary said. "Of course."
"Two for dinner?" the waitress said.
"Yes, please," Mary said gratefully.
"Right this way."
Mary glanced back at Rhoda, who gave her an encouraging smile. "See? Now we're getting somewhere," Rhoda said.
"Are you ladies having a girls' night out?"
"No, not exactly," Mary said as they took their seats. "You see, the thing was, neither of us had plans, but we really didn't feel like staying home, and so—" She noticed the waitress's pen tapping against her pad. "Well, the long and the short of it is, tonight I am her date."
That got them a longer look and a warmer smile. "Good for you," the waitress said. "Listen, I don't mean to rush you, but the kitchen's going to be closing soon. So if you want to order, you should try to make up your minds pretty quick. The usual for you?" she asked Mary.
"Actually, I thought I'd—" But Mary cut herself off, sighing, and put down her menu. "Oh, I suppose I might as well. Yes, the usual salad, please."
"And I'll have the steak," Rhoda said.
"Oh honey, I'm sorry, we just ran out."
Rhoda's face fell, and so did Mary's. "What have you got left?"
"We can do you a nice pork chop." Rhoda pressed her lips together and shook her head. "Or a club sandwich?"
Rhoda shook her head again. "That's no good for me. I guess you better give me the salad, too."
"Two chef's salads, coming up."
"Well!" Mary said brightly when the waitress had left. "Here we are! Out on the town on a Friday night!"
"It's just a pity I left my red paint at home."
"Rhoda, I'm so sorry about all this," Mary said, dropping her forced cheer. "I wanted to make tonight special for you, and nothing has worked out like I wanted it to."
"Look at it this way, kid," Rhoda said. "If nothing else, neither of us is alone and bored tonight."
"That's true." Mary picked up her glass and took a long drink of water. "Well, now that we're here, tell me how things went at the store today. What was it that kept you so busy?"
"Oh, wait till you hear," Rhoda said.
Her voice grew more energetic as she told the story, and she moved her hands in wider and wider gestures. Mary couldn't hold back a startled laugh at a few points. Rhoda flung her hand out once more to demonstrate a mannequin's pose and nearly clipped the waitress returning with their food.
"For the lady... and for the lady," the waitress said, dodging neatly and setting the bowls down in front of them. "You girls let me know if you need anything else, all right?"
"Thank you, we will," Mary said.
They were both laughing so much that they almost didn't notice when the waitress set the bill down on their table.
"Oh! I'll take that," Mary said.
"You sure you don't just want to split it?" Rhoda said.
"Well, thank you for dinner, then."
Mary smiled and got up to go to the cash register. When she came back, she said, "Shall we head home?"
"I suppose we should," Rhoda said. "They say too much excitement isn't good for the nerves."
Mary rolled her eyes, grinning.
"Mary," Rhoda said as they passed the landing for Mary's apartment, "I'm not sure if you noticed, but this is your stop."
"Oh, I know," Mary said. "But I'm not saying good night to you here. After everything else tonight, I think the least I can do is see you safely to your own door."
Rhoda raised her eyebrows, but didn't protest any further.
"Well," she said when they had climbed the last flight and reached her landing. "This is me."
"Right," Mary said. "Well, thanks for joining me tonight. I'm sorry—again—that you didn't get to dress up. And that we didn't get to try the French place. And that you didn't even get to have any steak."
"You know what," Rhoda said, "in spite of all that, I really had a very nice time."
"You did?" Mary said.
"Yeah. You're good company, Mary." Rhoda dipped her eyes before looking up again and giving Mary a warm smile.
Mary smiled back. Then she leaned forward and pecked Rhoda on the lips.
They stared at each other with wide eyes. Mary leaned in more slowly and pressed her lips to Rhoda's again. Rhoda's hand drifted up to rest against Mary's cheek.
Mary drew back, and they both took a few more unsteady breaths.
"Mary," Rhoda said in a slightly choked voice, "I don't mean to be too forward, since this was just our first date and all, but—would you like to come in for some coffee?"
Mary gulped and swallowed. "I—" she said. Then she nodded her head once, firmly. "Yes," she said, "I'd like that."
Rhoda turned and fitted her key into the lock. She cast another quick glance back at Mary over her shoulder and opened the door, holding out her hand. Mary took it, and they went inside.