Hecate scoffs. "This is absurd. You should have known that I would never agree to something like this."
"Oh, I knew," Dimity says, grinning at the scowl she receives. "That's why I set up a blind date without your knowledge and waited until today to tell you. This isn’t day one with Hecate Hardbroom."
"And yet you still thought it was a good idea!"
Dimity sighs, exasperated, "You’re my best friend, Hec, and I just want you to be happy. Jennifer is one of Julie's best mates and a lovely woman. If you'd simply meet her, I know you'd feel the same. Now, put on the damn dress and go get ready. Your reservation is set for eight and it's already seven."
Hecate levels a glare at her. A look so scathing that it has been known to make grown men weep and at least one of her A-Level chemistry students faint, but Dimity is immune to it after so many years and firmly holds her ground. She refuses to let Hecate’s previous relationship hold sway over her any longer. Dimity knows how devastated Hecate was when she discovered Sarah had been cheating on her for months, but the woman was a manipulative bitch that had slowly drained all joy and self-confidence from Hecate over the two years they’d dated. Dimity had been careful not to let it show, but she’d been ecstatic when Hecate had broken it off. All she wants to do now is help her friend get back out there and meet someone one who would appreciate the mercurial, sensitive woman that she is.
"Don't call me Hec ," Hecate seethes after several long moments have passed, snatching the dress in question from Dimity's hand and practically stomping off to her bathroom in a huff.
Dimity rolls her eyes at her overly dramatic friend and makes her way out into the living room to wait. Hecate’s cat, Morgana, is quick to claim her lap as Dimity settles onto the couch. She’ll make sure Hecate actually leaves the apartment before heading over to Julie’s for dinner with her and her daughter, Mildred. She absentmindedly strokes the dark fur beneath her fingers and considers that it might be time to talk to her girlfriend about combining their resources.
Hecate snaps the bathroom door shut behind her nearly growling in frustration at Dimity’s stubbornness. Everything in her wants to argue her way out of this forced set up, but she knows that she owes Dimity to an extent. Dimity had been the one to pick up the pieces after Sarah’s betrayal, letting Hecate sleep on her couch until she could find a new flat, sitting up with her late into the night while she ranted and cried her way through the heartbreak, and making sure Hecate ate and slept properly as much as possible.
With a resigned sigh, Hecate releases her lingering irritation and focuses on preparing for her date. After a quick shower to freshen up, she plaits her long, dark hair into a French braid with practiced ease before slipping into the dress Dimity had chosen for her. The high neck, form-fitting burgundy dress with a black lace overlay leaves her feeling slightly exposed as she zips it up. Her long, pale arms are left bare and a high slit up the right side ensures a flash of leg will show with each step she takes. She’d bought it at Dimity’s insistence not long after leaving Sarah. Her friend had claimed every woman needed a sexy, new wardrobe after a breakup and had virtually forced Hecate to buy it. At the time, Hecate hadn’t believed she’d ever have an occasion to wear it and hoped that Dimity would forget about it entirely. Apparently not.
Finishing her makeup, Hecate deftly applies a coat of a deep red lipstick that matches her dress. With a final once over in the mirror, she heads back into her room and slips on the low-heeled ankle boots she’d bought that same shopping trip. Dimity had advocated for a strappy stiletto, but Hecate had refused to risk twisting an ankle wearing impractical footwear.
A low, wolf whistle pierces the air as Hecate makes her way into the living room. Heat suffuses her cheeks and Hecate ignores the smug smirk Dimity is sporting as she gathers up her purse and keys.
“You’ll lock up when you leave?” Hecate asks, sending a mock glare at her traitorous cat curled up on Dimity’s lap.
“Of course,” Dimity easily agrees, offering up a reassuring smile. “Go and have fun tonight. You deserve it.”
With a nod, Hecate makes her way out of the building and flags down a passing taxi. She arrives in short order to il tavolo , an upscale, Italian restaurant that has consistently received rave reviews since its opening. With a deep breath to settle her nerves, Hecate enters through the wooden doors.
“Good evening, Madame. Do you have a reservation with us?” The maître d’ inquires.
“It should be under Dimity Drill.”
“Ah, yes. The rest of your party has yet to arrive. Would you like to be seated immediately or would you prefer to wait at the bar?”
Glancing into the main dining area, Hecate takes in the warm lighting, the beautiful scenic paintings that cover the walls, and the numerous couples sitting at small, intimate tables lit by flickering candles. In contrast, the dimly lit bar with its dark wood paneling, private booths, and fewer patrons offers up a sense of anonymity and seclusion that appeals to her. She opts for the bar and he makes note of her choice, stating he will inform her dining companion upon their arrival before turning to greet the people entering behind her.
Hecate orders a glass of red wine from the bartender as she slips onto a padded stool. She sips her wine, enjoying the bitter taste it leaves on her tongue as she checks the silver watch on her wrist, noting that her date isn’t set to arrive for another ten minutes.
Checking her watch for the tenth time in forty-five minutes, Hecate sighs in irritation.
"It seems you've been stood up as well," a soft voice says from beside her.
Hecate bristles, turning to snap at the unwelcome stranger and their unwanted comment, but quickly bites back her retort when she takes in the woman sitting a few seats down from her. She is beautiful. Silver strands highlight the chestnut curls that are pinned back from the woman’s face and a knee length pink dress hints at enticing curves without being overly risqué. What truly holds Hecate’s tongue, however, is the sadness tinging watery, blue eyes that lie half-hidden behind wire-rimmed glasses and the frown pulling at the corners of the woman’s mouth.
Unwilling to unleash her frustration on the obviously upset woman, Hecate simply mutters out, “Blind date.”
The woman chuckles at her clear distaste and Hecate is so charmed by the sound that she momentarily forgets her own embarrassment.
“They are quite awkward,” the woman agrees as she turns to face Hecate.
“I’ve been lucky enough to avoid them until tonight,” Hecate confesses, oddly at ease speaking with this total stranger, “but my friend was rather insistent.”
“Mmm.. yes, I’ve found myself at the mercy of well-intentioned friends a time or two. None of them have worked out thus far, but my friends do keep trying. I’m Ada, by the way,” the woman, Ada, says, right hand reaching across the seats separating them.
“Hecate,” she introduces herself, enfolding Ada’s hand within her own. Her fingertips tingle at the feel of soft skin against hers and Hecate sits frozen at the sight of the bewitching smile now lighting the other woman’s face.
“‘Hecate’, what an enchanting name. Unique. It suits you,” Ada says and Hecate feels her face warm at the compliment, which only serves to deepen Ada’s smile.
Pulling her hand back abruptly, Hecate attempts to cover up her reaction by asking the first thing that comes to mind, “Were you here for a blind date as well then?”
“Ah,” the other woman winces slightly and Hecate mentally kicks herself as some of the light fades from Ada’s eyes. “Actually, my sister, Agatha, was supposed to meet me here an hour ago. It’s… Well, it’s our birthday.”
Hecate isn’t sure where her bravery comes from, but she can’t imagine leaving this captivating woman to celebrate her birthday alone and asks, “Would you care to join me for dinner then?”
Ada studies Hecate for several long moments, an unreadable expression on her face that has Hecate scrambling for a way to politely rescind the invitation, certain that she has overstepped the mark.
“That would be delightful,” Ada finally says, “but only if you’re certain. I’d hate to keep you from enjoying your evening.”
“I think I’d quite like to spend it with you,” Hecate replies honestly.
Opting to relocate to one of the small booths along the far wall, they inform the bartender who promptly sends over a server to take their order. Several times throughout their meal, Hecate has Ada in stitches, regaling the other woman with tales of her teenage students and their ridiculous antics. Ada, in return, shares some of her own amusing anecdotes that she’s amassed over the years as a florist. They flow easily from topic to topic as the evening wears on, as if they’d known each other for years as opposed to the hour and a half that has passed since they first met.
The only disagreement between them comes when the check arrives. Hecate is quick to grab it before Ada even has a chance to reach for it.
“Hecate, I should pay for my half,” Ada tries to argue.
“Of course you shouldn’t,” Hecate counters, pulling her credit card from her purse and slipping it into the leather holder without bothering to look at the total before handing it back to the server. “No one should have to pay for their own birthday dinner, Ada, especially you.”
Standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, Hecate finds she isn’t ready for her time with Ada to end.
“Thank you, Hecate. This was the best birthday I’ve had in years.”
“My pleasure, Ada, truly.”
The silence stretches between them and Hecate desperately searches for a way to extend their evening.
“Which way do you…”
“Well, I guess this is…”
They speak over one another. Ada giggles lightly, waving at Hecate to go first.
“I was wondering which direction you’re headed.”
“Oh, I only live a few blocks from here, near Shepfield Park.”
“My place isn’t far from there,” Hecate says. “Would you like to share a taxi?”
Ada hesitates for a moment before smiling hopefully, “It’s such a pleasant night out, maybe we could walk instead?”
Hecate readily agrees, pleased that the other woman apparently wants to prolong their time together as much as she does. Setting off down the sidewalk, they stroll through the sparse crowd, arms brushing occasionally as they continue learning more about each other. Hecate finds herself surprised at how quickly she has opened up to this relative stranger, but there’s something about Ada that Hecate intrinsically trusts. It’s not something she’s ever encountered before with another person and she is completely intrigued.
They reach Ada’s building first. Hecate stands nearby as Ada reaches into her purse for her keys. Once in hand, Ada turns to her, thoughtful, blue eyes searching hers. Ada bites at the side of her lip and Hecate’s stomach swoops at the sight. Seemingly coming to a decision, Ada raises up onto her tiptoes as she slowly leans in, giving Hecate plenty of time to pull away if she chooses, and places a chaste kiss to Hecate’s lips. Hecate barely has a moment to savor the feeling before it’s gone and she is left thoroughly tongue-tied.
An attractive blush covers Ada’s cheeks as she settles back onto her heels. With a shy smile, she passes Hecate a business card.
“Thank you once again, Hecate, for keeping me company tonight. I had a wonderful evening.”
Finally finding her voice just as Ada reaches the door, Hecate calls out, “Happy birthday, Ada. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Ada beams in response and disappears inside. Hecate is happy to note that the sadness that had once clung to the other woman is now gone, replaced by obvious joy. Hecate turns to head home, a small smile of her own pulling at her mouth.