“So do you think that is a good idea for a first date?” Gray asked as he pushed at the food on his plate with a fork. Though he was starving, his nerves wouldn’t let him eat.
“That is a great idea,” Ellie replied. “If she doesn’t have the time of her life, then she obviously needs her head checked. Why aren’t you eating your lunch?”
“Too nervous,” he answered, pushing his plate away.
“The Gray Smith I know is never nervous.”
“Then you don’t know Gray Smith very well.”
Ellie was surprised with his actions. She had been friends with Gray since college and he was always confident, charming, and together. He had gone out with other women, but none of them seemed to rack his nerves like Olivia did. “You can’t really like this girl this bad already. You just met her a few days ago.”
Sighing, Gray admitted, “I’ve seen her in the bar several times, but have never had the courage to speak to her. She just seemed out of reach.” Putting his fork down, he looked at his best friend. “I know I don’t know her that well, but the stuff I do know about her makes me want to know the rest of her even more. I don’t normally want to know anything about anyone. If I have your basic info, I’m pretty good. Me wanting to know every minuscule detail of Olivia scares the crap out of me.” Sighing with relief, he added, “Or it makes me look like a serious stalker. Whichever I am, both ideas scare me.”
Smiling Ellie, patted the back of his hand. “Maybe you have found your match.”
“Don’t start putting thoughts like that in my head. I’m already a complete mess and don’t need any more help.” Sitting back in his chair, Gray tossed his napkin onto his plate. “Damn, I sound like a girl. No offense to you.”
Ellie raised her hand to let him know no offense was taken.
“I guess I thought this whole dating slash relationship stuff got easier as you got older, but boy was I wrong. It’s just as hard if not harder.”
“All this from a first date worry. What’s going to happen when you guys decide to have sex for the first time?”
Gray just stared at Ellie. “Seriously, you could be the worse person to talk to right now. Even Chris wouldn’t go there.” Pausing, he thought a moment. “I take that back. Chris would have already gone there. I haven’t been a date in so long, I’ve forgotten how it is suppose to go.”
“There’s no grand plan to dating. Everyone just tries to be his or her true self and hopes not to be seen as a giant ass. You’ll be fine,” Ellie said, pulling her hand back. “Just be yourself and she’ll love you like we all love you.”
“And if I make a complete and utter fool out of myself, I’ll be on your doorstep with a bottle of tequila.”
“Chris and I will be patiently waiting for you with limes and salt just in case. We’ve planned B-rate cheesy movie and making fun of you behind your back night.”
“Wow, the support I get from you guys is sometimes mind-numbing.”
“Did he give you an idea of where you would be going?” Dean asked as he looked through Olivia’s closet.
“No,” she answered from her bathroom. “And no, I didn’t ask either.”
Dean sighed. He hoped Olivia’s date would go well. He in fact wanted it to go fantastic. She needed to get outside of their circle. Get outside of hanging out with them at their favorite bar, and though he knew she was happy with her life the way it was, he knew that she had so much more to give to the world. He didn’t want to see the love that she held in her heart go to waste. There was a reason they all held her accountable for holding their circle together and it was because they couldn’t live without the love and support she held for him. “Skirt?”
“Are you kidding?”
Looking over his shoulder, Dean saw her sitting on the toilet seat painting her toenails. “You’ve got great legs. You need to wear skirts more often.”
“When my thighs don’t touch each other, I will. Until then, on special occasions only.”
“This is a special occasion. You’re going on a date.”
“And if this date ends up hiking a mountain side, I’m screwed and I just screwed up his plans.”
Looking away from her, Dean sighed. She was right. “Let’s do worse case scenario then.”
“Worse case scenario is that he does take me hiking on the side of mountain because he’s a serial killer.”
“Worse case scenario is that you open your mouth and say something like that to him. Can you at least think about what you’re going to say before you say it tonight? Try not to scare the poor bastard off.”
“I haven’t scared him off yet,” Olivia replied, closing the nail polish bottle. Sighing, she picked up the hair dryer and turned the setting on low to dry her nails. She hadn’t scared Gray off yet and that scared her. She normally felt the abandonment almost immediately in her stomach. Maybe men just didn’t like that fact that she knew what she wanted and wasn’t going to settle for anything less. Then again, maybe everyone thought she was just a cold-hearted bitch like some in her circle of friends thought.
“What about this?” Dean asked, holding up a pair of dark denim jeans. He leaned against the door of the bathroom and stared at his best friend.
“I think I’ll give him the impression that I’m easy if I wear just the jeans,” Olivia answered with a smile.
“Trust me, you’re far from easy.” Dean put the jeans on the edge of the tub and walked out.
“What is that suppose to mean?” Olivia asked, staring after him.
“Nothing,” he answered, returning to the depths of her closet.
Taking a deep breath, Gray prayed that the large and twisted ball of nerves in his stomach would go away. He had never been so nervous before in his life. He flashed back to his first date at the age of fifteen and didn’t remember being as nervous as he was at this very moment. He slid out of the Jeep he had borrowed from Chris and exhaled. Checking his reflection in the window of the Jeep, he said a small pray to any higher being that was listening to him.
“You will be just fine,” he said to his reflection and then started his walk towards Olivia’s front door. When he reached the door, he took another deep breath to try and calm his nerves and then pressed the doorbell. The sound of footsteps on the other side made him quickly swallow his nerves. Be confident his mind whispered to him. When the door opened and Olivia was standing before him, he smiled at her.
“I’m a little early,” he said. “I hope that’s okay.”
“Completely,” she replied. She had been ready for thirty minutes. She didn’t want to make Gray wait because she herself hated waiting. “Come in.” Stepping aside to let him in, a draft from outside picked up the scent of his cologne and made her weak in the knees. “I didn’t ask what you had planned,” she said as she closed the door, “so I hope what I’m wearing is okay?”
“It’s perfect. You look great,” Gray answered, turning towards her. Her hair was down and fell softly to her shoulders. It was that type of hair that made him want to run his hands through it. She was wearing dark denim jeans, a form fitting charcoal gray short sleeve dress shirt with a pair of dark red Converse. “I like the shoes.”
“Just in case there was walking tonight.”
“Very good decision.”
“You look handsome yourself,” Olivia said. “I see we both got the wear dark jeans memo.”
“I think you look better in yours than I do mine.”
Olivia felt herself blush. Gray was wearing a simple black button up shirt that clung to him to reveal he obviously worked out and a pair of black shoes. “I just need to get my purse and I’ll be ready.”
“Are you going to tell me what you have planned?” Olivia asked as she walked across the living room.
“Of course not,” he answered. “I want to surprise you.”
Smiling, Olivia looked up at Gray. “Will I need a jacket?”
“Bring one just in case,” he answered, watching her as she nodded to him and then disappeared down the hallway to her room. She reappeared just as quickly as she disappeared.
“Anything else I might need?” she asked as she walked towards him.
“Not that I can think of,” Gray answered. He was still in a state of semi-disbelief that he was actually going out on a date with Olivia. After their night of drinking, the conversation had been surprisingly easy and he hoped the conversation tonight would be just as easy.
“I’m ready then,” Olivia said with a smile that melted Gray’s nervousness.
“You own a Jeep?” Olivia asked as Gray held the door open for her and helped her into the vehicle.
“No,” he answered as she buckled her seatbelt. “I had to borrow it from Chris.”
Once she had buckled herself in, Gray had closed the door for her. She watched him walk around the Jeep and to the other side. He placed her jacket in the backseat and the climbed in. “Are we going mud bogging?”
Laughing out loud, Gray started the vehicle. “No, I think Chris would kill me. This is his baby. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen him respect other than his sixty-five inch TV.”
“You’re not going to give me any clue to what you have planned are you?”
Shaking his head, Gray put the vehicle in gear and pulled into the street. “I want to surprise you.”
Olivia nodded. “Okay, I won’t pester you with more questions.”
“Something tells me that you will not give up that easy.”
“You’re right, but out of respect, I will be considerate and back down. I’d like your first impression of me to be a good one.”
“You have already left a great impression on me,” Gray said with a smile.
“You’re just lucky we did preemptive strikes. It could have been worse.”
“You saying I could have been laying in a pool of your vomit.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Olivia laughed. “You said it, not me.” She glanced out the window and saw they were leaving the city. Looking up at the sky, she sighed. “It’s clear night,” she said as she kept looking out the window. “You can even see the Big Dipper.”
Gray smiled at Olivia though she didn’t see him. “You’ll have to share your knowledge of the sky with me one night,” he said as they continued to drive.
“Only if you teach me to cook something more than nuking a frozen meal.”
“That sounds like a plan. Do you want me to turn on the radio?”
“No,” Olivia answered, turning her attention back towards Gray. “I don’t mind the quiet unless you want the music on. I do have my mix CD for you in my purse though.”
“I can do either. I don’t mind the silence either.”
The two of them rode in off and on again quiet, letting their nerves settle with every mile that passed underneath them. They talked mostly of work and what they exactly did for a living. They had found the conversation was easier than talking about each other.
“Where are we?” Olivia asked, looking out her window. She hadn’t been paying attention to the scenery, but she was suddenly aware that there were no city lights washing out the night sky.
“To be honest, I’m not exactly sure of the location,” Gray asked, as he turned the Jeep right. They crossed over unused railroad tracks and continued their trek.
“That doesn’t sound very reassuring,” Olivia said as she glanced at him.
“I know it doesn’t, but trust me I do know where we are going.”
“Isn’t that the start of every horror movie?” she asked, fixing her stare on Gray. There was no fear rising in her so she did trust him despite the fact she had no idea where they were. “Two people in a car in the middle of nowhere. The car breaks down and then suddenly they’re on the radar of a serial killer.”
Laughing quietly, Gray slightly shook his head. “You have a very creative imagination don’t you?”
“I do. I can pretty much scare myself silly.”
“We’re only about twenty or thirty minutes from the city. I do know that,” Gray said, slowing the Jeep down. He turned his turn signal on and turned onto an unpaved road.
“And you’re not helping my imagination with this unpaved road,” Olivia said as the Jeep rolled to a stop in front of gate.
Putting the Jeep in park, Gray turned to Olivia. “The only thing wild here is nature. I’m going to get out, open the gate, and nothing will happen.”
“Don’t pull a funny stunt. I enjoy sleeping without waking up from night terrors.”
“No funny stunts,” he said and patted her arm. “I promise.”
Olivia watched as Gray got out of the Jeep and walked to the gate. He fumbled around with a heavy looking chain and then walked the gate open. When he was satisfied it wouldn’t close shut, he walked back to the Jeep and drove them through it. When they were through the gate, he got back out and closed it behind them. “Thank you for no funny stunts,” Olivia said once Gray was back inside the Jeep.
“I promised you I wouldn’t pull anything. I keep my word.”
Smiling Olivia, added honesty to her list of pros for Gray. “Curiosity is getting the best of me,” she said. “I have a ton of pestering questions.”
“Give me a few more minutes. We’re almost there.”
“Okay,” Olivia said as she watched the headlights bounce on the unpaved road in front of them. The climbed up a small hill and when the reached the top, she saw a small campfire at the bottom of the hill. As the Jeep slowly made its way closer to campfire, she could make out a table and two chairs, a couch, and lights lining the ground. Her heart leapt into her throat.
“We’re here,” Gray said and watched Olivia for a reaction. She kept staring out of the window. He couldn’t tell if she was surprised or scared. She turned and smiled at him. “Let me help you out. The ground’s a little uneven here. If I return you with a broken arm, I’m sure Zane would kill me.”
Speechless, Olivia could only nod. As Gray opened her door, she unbuckled her seatbelt. Taking his hand, she let him help her out of the Jeep. She didn’t pull her hand away from Gray and hoped he wouldn’t pull away from her.
“I hope you like all of this,” Gray said with Olivia’s hand still in his. He hoped she couldn’t feel his hand shaking.
“This is amazing,” she said with a squeeze of her hand.
Feeling his heart finally start beating, Gray led Olivia to the table near the fire. “I have dinner and wine for us,” he said pointing towards the table set for two. “The couch is there to look at the stars and the low lights you see over there lead up to a telescope. I figured you could share your sky with me. Maybe point out Antares to me.”
Stepping closer to Gray, Olivia kissed him quickly on the cheek. Turning before she could see his reaction, she stared at their private patio to the sky.
Swallowing, Gray glanced at Olivia from the corner of his eye. He wasn’t expecting the quick kiss from her and it had left a tingling feeling on his cheek. “Are you hungry?” he asked, reeling himself back into the moment.
Nodding, Olivia turned to him. “Yes,” she said. She couldn’t believe she kissed him on the cheek, but she couldn’t have stopped herself. No one had ever done anything as thoughtful as what Gray had done.
“What can I help you with?”
“Nothing,” he answered. “This is your night.”
“This is our night,” she corrected and smiled.
“Our night,” Gray repeated with a smile. “Have a seat,” he said, leading her to a chair. He pulled the chair out for her and placed a napkin in her lap. “Do you prefer red or white?”
“You have both?” she asked in surprise.
“Let’s start with red then.”
“Red it is.”
Olivia watched as Gray moved to one of two coolers near the couch. She was utterly surprised and at a complete loss of words. If someone had to ask her to describe her perfect first date, she wouldn’t have been able to until the very moment she stood next to Gray at the Jeep. “Are you sure I can’t help with anything?” she asked.
“I am positive,” he answered, returning with an open bottle of wine. He filled Olivia’s glass and then his own. Placing the bottle on the table, he moved back to the coolers. “Now I wasn’t sure if you had any dietary restrictions, but I tried to plan as best as I could.”
“I should have told you I was a vegetarian,” Olivia said. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Gray replied returning to the table with a few containers. “I remembered what you ordered at the café and based tonight’s meal around that.”
“Did you make all this?”
“What’s on the menu tonight?” Olivia asked as Gray started to place food on their plates.
“Tonight we have a mixed green salad with strawberries and walnuts tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. We also have steamed vegetables and a portabella mushroom steak with goat cheese. For dessert we have crème brulee.”
Gray nodded. “I even brought the torch to brown the sugar.”
Olivia wanted to say she didn’t deserve a first date like this, but she couldn’t find the words. She was too impressed and too happy. “This is amazing,” she said staring around at everything again. “Utterly amazing.”
Relief poured through Gray’s veins. He was beyond thrilled that he would not be showing up at Ellie’s with a bottle of tequila. When Olivia’s eyes fell back on him, he smiled and raised his glass of wine. “A toast,” he said as she raised his. “To the night starting here.”
“The night starts here,” Olivia repeated and clinked her glass against Gray’s.
Standing, Olivia walked to the table to refill their wine glasses. They had already polished off the bottle of red and were on their second glass of white. Taking a deep breath, she spun slowly on her heel.
“Can I say something and pray that you won’t take me for a fool?” she asked, feeling the wine give her courage she would not normally have.
“Of course,” Gray replied, leaning forward.
“I’m not great at the dating game. In fact, I’m pretty damn bad. I’m surprised you even asked me out. I have an astonishing skill at either pushing people away or scaring them away.” Olivia couldn’t believe what she was hearing come out of her mouth. She wanted nothing more than to shut up, but her brain was full of wine and wanted to speak nothing but the truth. “This,” she said, sweeping her arms out in front of her and them lowering them to her sides. “All this is utterly amazing and breathtaking. To think that you did all this for me is humbling. I don’t deserve half the thought you put into this, but I’m very, very grateful for it. It will be something I always remember.” Olivia watched as Gray stood and walked towards her. Stepping back, she continued. “I don’t know how to do something half assed and I don’t know how to hide my feelings or tell lies. I’m just honest. It’s what my parents taught me. I’m not sure what it is you want, but I know I don’t want this to be some one-night stand or booty call. I like talking to you and when we’ve hung out I’ve enjoyed your company.”
Stepping closer to Olivia, Gray gently put one hand on her lower back and pulled her towards him. Cupping the back of her head with his free hand, he leaned closer and kissed her.
Olivia’s mind finally shut up, letting her heart take pleasure in Gray’s lips against hers. It was the kiss of all kisses. It had been described in every novel and shot in every movie. It was a kiss that made her weak in the knees. It was a kiss that made her heart cease to beat.
Pulling his mouth away from hers, Gray still held her close. “I don’t want this to be another one night stand either,” he said, staring into her eyes.
“Are all your first kisses like that?” Olivia asked breathlessly.
Feeling a smile cross his lips, Gray shook his head. “If they were, I don’t think I’d be standing underneath this sky with you.”
“Then I’m really glad you were a horrible kisser until tonight.”
“Grab the wine glasses. You still have to tell me what constellations are in the sky.”
Nodding, Olivia reluctantly pulled away from Gray. She felt woozy but didn’t know if it was from the wine, her making a fool out of herself, or from Gray’s kiss. She hoped it was the latter of the three. She picked up the wine glasses and returned to couch where Gray was waiting for her. Slowly sitting down, she was unsure of where she should sit. It was as if she were in junior high all over again. She was no longer the confident Olivia that just spilled the thoughts from her head without thinking.
“Come here,” Gray said, dropping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her closer. “Don’t freak out on me now.”
Hiding her face against Gray’s shirt, Olivia sighed. “Dean gave me one piece of advice tonight and I managed to completely ignore it.”
“What was his advice?”
“Think twice about what I would say so I wouldn’t scare you off.”
“I’m still sitting here with you aren’t I?”
“You are but we’re also a bottle and half of wine into the night.”
“I’d still be here regardless.” Gray felt Olivia smiling against his chest. “If you had taken Dean’s advice, I wouldn’t have been able to kiss you.”
This page copyright © 2009 Shelia Taylor
All rights reserved | This is a rough draft and not the final version
Categories: The Dumbing Down of Love