A double date, elsewhere
I'm aware that I'm punching over my weight here. She is brilliant and I am frozen.
She is Amelia, and I met her last month at the The Dancer by Seward Park. Amelia's the sort of smart that makes you feel wingless and has compassion that undoes it, somehow reversing gravity and you're floating, thinking why even try to compare? Amelia's the sort of person I'd give an arm for before knowing her. It took all of me to introduce myself at that bar. Turns out she's an editor, not a writer. The Atlantic, not The New Yorker. Apparently it was a cute fuckup on my part.
Now she sits across from me and to the left of Ethan's date, Eva. Ethan's messing with his sport coat buttons next to me and I'm sort of nudging or rubbing the leg of the table with my foot.
"Ethan, you told me pretty straight you'd take care of Jude last Saturday night. He ended up calling me twice man, twice is too much," Amelia said with a quick laugh. "Twice makes me think he might be interested in me."
Nobody'd called me Jude since dad. I couldn't breathe for a few seconds in the best way.
"I know I speak for Jules when I say he's not," Ethan said. "We're celibate people, you know."
"I can't even look at most girls, let alone you," I said, softly smiling. She shot toward me her tolerating goldeneyes and picked-up eyebrows that told me I didn't make a mistake.
I wanted to jump across the table and tell her how incredible she looked, how lucky I felt, all of it.
"Jules, Ethan told me this morning that you're on a team for the Uber ads with the pandas and all I can think about is how you might've been behind that stupid jingle," Eva said, twirling a pendant necklace.
"I mean it's no—
"JUST a second, let's let the record show that Eva woke up with ETHAN this morning," Amelia said before we laughed.
"Nope nope absolutely not, Ethan's not the type to have me at home, is he?" Eva said a little too seriously, even with that sideways smile.
We all blinked a few times, then an "Oh shit I interrupted, Jude hon, go-on-go-on" from Amelia.
She glossed over 'hon' so quickly but knew exactly what she was doing. I could be that one day, maybe, if I stopped thinking like I am now and acted naturally. That was cute though. Valid and charming. Hearing that felt like wine on an empty stomach after a hike, or a nice hug, or something like those two things I haven't had in years. Her eyes were holding mine.
I shook my head and kept smiling, let my eyelids dim a bit. She knew what I was thinking and I hoped to the sky it made sense.
It's time to let Ethan get comfortable with the table. He's the type to speak choppily about awkward topics until he lets himself loose and becomes a firework.
Ethan turned toward me to cut the silence.
"Well I'm mostly wondering how we went five minutes without asking you about those damn ads," he said.
"There's not a lot to it. All I did was point out we should make it old-timey because we're banking on older people deciding our app was worth figuring out," I said.
"Fuck em, why not leave them to it, huh?" Amelia said with a squint, and then a short laugh, she was joking.
"Ya know I've thought about that. We underestimate them, we do. They know more than we think they do, yeah? They just don't care about showing off as much as we do," I said.
"These little truths just flow from you, don't they?" Eva said. "I'm not saying the thought's crazy remarkable but I totally love it. They're way smarter than we think, like my grandma. She always loses things but she's literally so smart."
I'm amazed we're actually talking about this and luckily we moved on pretty quickly.
We talked about my boring ad job and Amelia's amazing fucking article on a new taco bar on 43rd, Ethan's cash-in at Ernst & Young, Eva's producing job on 93.1 FM. I found every moment I could to meet eyes with Amelia or make a stupid joke, and when she laughed it felt like opening a perfectly thought-out gift on a random, shitty, unsuspecting day. Or something.
"Jules why didn't I know you were this funny," Eva said. "I swear I would've talked to you so long ago if I'd knew that. I wouldn't have just looked at you."
"Now see I've been trying to get back to my middle school level, I'm trying," I said, deflecting.
"You know, he used to be funny to compensate," Ethan half chortled, eyes on me, trying to poke what he assumed was a hibernating bear with a balloon sword.
"Hah," I said and I'm nervous, kicking the table leg like tap-tap-tap. "He's right, really he is. Not even like for weight or awkwardness or anything like that. My house was just funny and I had to compete. One day I'll be good enough."
"You're plenty good now, man," Eva said, sipping Barefoot in a glass and rolling her eyes to the sky and smiling as she polished off the last of it.
My face went blank and dry. This was flirting now.
I'm in crisis mode, no thoughts, words aren't forming and I'm being an idiot and—
"He is a bit of a natural, I suppose" Ethan said. He never said supposed. Never. He was more bothered than me.
Time to analyze everything. I couldn't bare to look at Amelia but I made myself. She looked uncertain and the game we played with our eyes was paused or ended awhile ago. I'm pinching my sides again, trying hard to clutch fat but only finding loose skin. I'm running my foot over the table leg again, then back to tap-tap-tap.
"Ahm-uh, Amelia, Amelia's actually a bit of a Kansas City native if you two weren't aware," I said clearly to Ethan and Eva. "That's actually why we met."
"Well it was more off a hunch and your better intentions, Jude," Amelia said. "He saw my Hi Hat tote. It's a tiny coffee stand in a rich part of KC that I'd go to for escapism and old white-watching, that sort of thing."
We smiled at each other. The topic change was my way of throwing new kindling on the dampening fire.
"I'd say 'I still need to get down there sometime' but I honestly don't know if I'd care to," Ethan said, kind of peeved.
"Well let's keep an open mind about that," Eva said. "And with all the stuff you've said about coffee and thrifting and those restaurants, I'm gonna need a personal tour from you."
She was looking at me.
"All-inclusive with standup."
And as she said that last bit, she reached forward and put her pointer finger on my hand for a half-second. I reacted like I got slapped and my arm got stiff and my foot jolted forward against the table leg, tap-tap-tap.
Then the table leg inched forward.
Oh fuck. Fuuuuuuuuuck.
I stared down at the table and semi-smiled at how fucked this all was, the kind of smile you make after dropping a family dinner that took five hours to cook on a dirty floor with four empty stomachs in the dining room.
The table leg was Eva's fucking leg. She let me run my foot up and down and around and practically inside it for at least an hour. I want Amelia and I to disappear from this, but now it seems like there's no going back and no ignoring what's going on. The superfriends both like me.
I'm fucked, aren't I?
"Ha I'm not that funny, really, I just say chaotic stuff and I think we're all suckers for chaotic jokes, we all say things we don't mean sometimes and maybe do things we don't mean, I know I do, I know I have, maybe today even, yanno?" I said. "That's all memes are and that's all comedy is so I think I tried to mimic it."
Eva laughed hard, which I hated her but mostly myself for, and the rest of the table looked like they'd chugged old milk.
I couldn't ask Amelia for a word and couldn't just explain to them what'd happened. I just asked for the bathroom and walked there on coals.
I waddled in with wide eyes and two dragging feet. The mirror was to my left and I gripped the two sides of the sink hard. I pressed my forehead to the mirror and hoped for a plan.
Stop thinking about the post-dinner ice cream you planned for you and Amelia. Stop planning. Stop counting on her. Carve out your emotion. Remember Imani. Handle this. Don't let Ethan—
"You alright bud?" It was a tired old voice and when I whipped around a "fwoah!!"came from a wrinkled, caring, startled face.
"Yesssir, I apologize [I smile weird]. Rough date out there, I told my friend a double might be a bad plan."
He stood there and I swear the man exuded this potent comfort, like when Christmas Eve gives depression a nice temporary massage. He responded with a warm and unhurried look that told me I should talk more.
"I haven't been flirted with in months, and of course tonight was the night. There's this — this girl, Amelia, and. Well I won't bore you with the details, you have a table to get back to."
"No no, brief me real quick. I know that look, I've been there [how??], I think you should," he said.
"Okay, I'll be quick. Amelia is perfect and I adore her. She's the kind of girl where everything clicks, the kind that you know there's no turning back from. I can tell because I know, I just know, that if we gave it a real shot, there's no way we don't fall for each other. I've never been more sure," I said.
"Ah yeah, caught up in love. All kindsa desire, picturing the future. And the other girl likes you too?"
"Yep that's the issue, I was rubbing her leg with my foot all night and—"
"You were rubbing her foot? Well I'd say you probably led her o—"
DOOR OPENS and there's Ethan.
"Man I don't know what freaked you out but there are two beautiful people at that table alone and confused," Ethan said. "I thought you really liked Amelia, yeah? She doesn't seem sure, Jules."
I turned to the man who smelled like vanilla (and somehow the sun) and he nodded like go-take-care-of-it, so I smiled at him, bobbed down and up in thanks, and shoved the door forward with Ethan in tow.
Amelia's eyes were perfect under the library-looking lamp that loomed over the table. Golden and I sort of drew energy from them — enough to sit down without fully collapsing. I was shaking, still. This was the part where the two would choose their friendship over me.
"What the fuck was that, guy?" said Eva.
"So sorry about that guys," I said. "I got sort of overwhelmed and the room spun and figured it was the wine with my DayQuil."
Amelia paused to look at me, it felt warm. Then her face hardened and she inched it to her left, right at Eva.
"Eva, you're full of shit."
Fucking Ethan made a sound that can only be described as a cluck. Eva looked at me with disgust, then turned to Amelia and said she was sorry. Amelia turned back to me like you're on thin fucking ice, then a smile crept up her left lip.
I love this girl. My heart's as good as dead.