Detective DiMarco would rather have been on a stakeout than to be sitting in this restaurant waiting on his blind date. “Why was that?” He wondered. All the elements were here for a nice, romantic dinner: dim, intimate lighting, soft piano music, and tables set up for only couples. He began to scan the room, wryly hoping that there could be a crime in progress to liven the mood.
DiMarco began to recall how he got into this situation. A couple of weeks ago, Rosie in the Records Department had tracked him down at the station. She had come to inform him that her best friend had a daughter who was single. As they were playing mahjong, the woman had been complaining that her daughter couldn’t find a decent man.
“I told her I knew an eligible bachelor who was more than decent!” Rosie chortled, poking at DiMarco’s chest. “A regular boy scout and handsome to boot!”
DiMarco didn't necessarily consider himself handsome. If he was in a lineup, he would be described as 6 feet tall, broad shoulders, his face wearing a world-worn expression.
“I took the liberty of getting her phone number for you,” Rosie continued, handing him a snap shot of the daughter, whose name was Jane. On the back of the picture was her phone number.
“Almost” was the best way to describe her – – her eyes were almost blue, she was almost petite, and she was almost attractive.
DiMarco was wary of starting a new relationship. It had been a couple of years since his divorce. After only 9 months of marriage, he had come home early one day to find the next door neighbor with his wife. Knowing that DiMarco carried a gun, this neighbor ran out of the house in only his underwear.
He envied his parents, who had been married for 39 years and still acted like love-struck teenagers. They had fallen in love at first sight. They constantly told DiMarco that someday, when he least expected it, the same thing would happen to him. He wanted to believe, but he had his doubts.
After a few days of holding onto the phone number, he decided to give dating another shot. Surely not all women were like his ex-wife. He called Jane and invited her to dinner. He noticed her voice was wispy and had a hard time concentrating on what she was saying. Her soft voice trailed off at times even when he had the volume turned up to the highest level on his phone. Towards the end of the conversation, he suggested this restaurant and she agreed to meet him at 7pm on Tuesday night the 7th. Typically, he would never have made a date during the week, but he had taken a few days off after wrapping up a jewelry heist case.
Now, here he was at the restaurant, the time on his watch was 7:05pm on the 7th. She was a few minutes late, but Dimarco attributed this tardiness to traffic.
As the piano music drifted off before picking up another song, he heard lyrical laughter. He detected this delightful sound was coming from the table in front of him. He saw a woman sitting by herself. In front of her was an elaborate dish of seafood salad. However this salad looked like nothing he had ever seen before in his life. He saw what could best be described as a coral reef in the bowl.
"Can you believe this?" The woman remarked to the waiter." I guess I should've read the menu more closely!"
“It is called the Grand Neptune salad," the waiter explained, putting emphasis on the word “grand”.
"I never thought that the whole sea floor would be delivered to me!" The woman chuckled.
She then proceeded to ask the couple sitting on her right if they had ever seen a dish like this. They agreed with her that it was pretty extravagant. Then they showed her a small plate of butter that was carved into rose petals.
"Are you sure that there are chefs back there or they all starving artists?" The woman joked to the waiter, who was bent over in hysterics.
DiMarco was amazed. A few minutes ago, this same waiter was at his table and he showed no hint of a smile, let alone humor. DiMarco had explained he was expecting someone else very soon. He asked if the waiter could come back in a few minutes when his date would be here to order. He could have sworn this waiter sniffed in distain.
Just as he suspected, the instance this waiter approached his table, his broad smile evaporated. "Would you care for another cola?" He blandly asked.
DiMarco looked at his glass, which was still full. “No, thanks. Still waiting on my other party,” he shrugged.
“Ah, yes sir," the waiter answered dryly. “Perhaps some more breadsticks while you wait?”
DiMarco eyed the basket, which was indeed empty. “I guess I’m hungrier than I thought,” he mumbled, as his stomach growled slightly. “Yes, please,” he agreed, handing over the basket.
The food server placed it on his tray. “I will be back with the breadsticks shortly. Then, I will check on you to see if you will be ready to order.” He said through pursed lips, turning on his heels to walk back to the kitchen.
DiMarco's eyes fell again to the woman sitting at the table in front of him. She was still in a conversation with the couple next to her, who had taken a couple of pictures of her exotic salad. DiMarco marveled at how easily this woman was striking up conversations with everyone around her. She gave the aura of being a friendly person with no agenda or scheme, something DiMarco found refreshing. After the last picture snapped, the woman set to decipher how to eat her salad. As she looked up, her eyes met DiMarco’s. Warmly, she smiled at him.
DiMarco found himself entranced. He was first drawn to her laughter and now he was able to get a good look at her. Her green eyes sparkled in the candlelight, her golden hair shimmered and her lips were red and full. He had never felt this way before, even with his ex-wife. Was this what his parents meant by being thunderstruck, falling in love at first sight?
He shook off this feeling, this was absurd! He was here waiting for his dinner date, who should be here at any moment. DiMarco reached to check his watch again. As he lifted his left arm up to draw back his jacket sleeve, his left hand knocked over the glass of cola. The cold, dark liquid splashed onto his white shirt and spilled all over the tablecloth. The empty glass tumbled noisily over the silverware and landed on the floor. The shock of the cold soda sent DiMarco off of his chair, which fell with a thud.
The music stopped, the couples turned around to the cacophony that had interrupted their conversations. Embarrassed, DiMarco waved his hand. “Sorry, folks! Just spilled my drink.” He stopped himself before automatically adding “Nothing to see here, please move along.”
The piano music resumed and the couples turned their gazes away from him. DiMarco pulled the chair back to its regular position and sat down again. He saw on the table a clean napkin that had avoided the avalanche of soda. He retrieved it and started to dry himself off with it. All the while, he didn’t raise his eyes. He couldn’t bear to look up at the woman.
At that moment, he felt a vibration in his jacket pocket. His cell phone had been turned to vibrate mode. He took out his phone and saw there was a voice mail. He flipped open his phone and retrieved the message, which was left at 7:25pm.
“Hi, it’s Jane. I’m calling to cancel our date for tomorrow night. There is so much happening at my work that I may have to move. I had told my mother this, but she insisted I meet other people. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you. You seem like a real nice guy. You deserve to date someone who will at least be in the same city as you. Take care.”
DiMarco was stunned—it wasn’t because Jane had cancelled their date. He couldn’t believe he had made the mistake on arriving a day early. He then remembered he relied on his watch for more than just telling time. He looked at his watch and compared the date to his cell phone display. His watch was indeed a day ahead--he wasn’t supposed to be here at the restaurant tonight.
The waiter hurried back to his table with fresh linens on his tray.
“I’m sorry,” DiMarco apologized sheepishly.
“Sir, I have a message from the lady at the table next to you,” the waiter announced, as he began to remove the plate and cutlery from the table. “If you would be more comfortable, she has offered for you to join her.”
DiMarco looked up, hoping the waiter was referring to the table in front of him. There sat the woman, smiling broadly and nodding her head to the empty chair in front of her. DiMarco gave her a crooked smile. He wasn’t supposed to be at the restaurant this evening. Or was he? His parents believed in kismet—they swore that a magical twist of fate had brought them together. DiMarco never believed in this sort of thing—until now.
He rose and walked over to her table, not breaking his eye contact with her. He sat down at the table, vaguely aware that the waiter was placing a fresh glass of soda in front of him.
“Thank you, Simon, you think of everything!” she said with a smile in her voice to the waiter.
“Not at all,” Simon answered. “Sir, whenever you’re ready to order, please let me know.” He left the table.
“This was very kind of you to let me sit here,” DiMarco said, trying not to stare too intently into her green eyes.
“I figured no one should sit at a wet table, when there is a perfectly dry one nearby!” she answered pleasantly. “My name is Melissa, by the way,” she offered her hand around the enormous salad.
The second he took her hand, he felt an electric current run through his body.
“Detective Vince DiMarco,” He automatically used his title. When he saw her eyes widen, he quickly added, “I can assure you, I’m here on unofficial business.”
“Oh good!” she breathed a sigh of relief. “For a split second, I was afraid there was some sort of sting operation and we’d have to duck for cover!”
“No, no, nothing like that,” DiMarco smiled reassuringly. “I was supposed to meet a blind date here, but she just called to cancel.” DiMarco left out the part that he had the wrong night. He figured he had embarrassed himself enough with his clumsiness. He didn’t have to add his inability to use a calendar.
“I am sorry about that,” Melissa sympathized. He noticed her expression was sincere. He had interrogated enough people to know when someone was genuine and when they were acting.
“No worries, things happen.” DiMarco shrugged. Then he observed, “That is one huge salad.”
“Isn’t it crazy? Usually I order very basic, very boring foods. Then, my stove decides to quit working, so I thought I should go to a nice restaurant and be adventurous and order something I wouldn’t normally order.Now, my dinner has turned into a deep sea expedition!”Melissa performed the symphony of laughter that he was enjoying to hear.
Another piece of machinery with a mind of its own, DiMarco mused to himself.
“Listen, it was so kind of you to let me join you. Please allow me to buy your dinner.” DiMarco smiled, hoping it looked inviting.
“Deal, but as long as you order something for yourself, something other than breadsticks,” Melissa counter offered. DiMarco noticed she quickly looked down after mentioning the word “breadsticks”. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one looking across the table. This observation quickened his pulse.
“Hey, I found some crab claws that are really good!” Melissa announced. “If you’re not allergic to them, would you like to try some?”
His heart was beating a mile a minute. There was nowhere he would rather be than sitting in this restaurant, enjoying her company. He was hoping the feeling was mutual. Maybe with her sharing her salad was a good sign?
“Sure, that sounds great.” DiMarco agreed, picking up a small bread plate and handing it to Melissa. She placed two large crab claws on it and passed it back to DiMarco.
“Now, that’s just an appetizer.” she insisted. “You need to order dinner for yourself!”
“Okay, do you like pasta? I’ll order the spaghetti and meatballs and we can share it,” He knew he was taking a chance, but something about her made him feel bold.
She looked at him over the coral decorations. He noticed her cheeks were flushed against her alabaster skin. “Spaghetti is my favorite.”
A jolt of excitement rushed through him, he was batting a thousand!
After placing his order, Melissa said, “Your poor shirt is all stained!” She sighed, looking at the large brown blotches covering the front of him.
“Do you know of any good dry cleaners?” DiMarco asked, wiping the last of the wet soda from his shirt.
“Well, have you heard of Murray’s on the Boulevard?” Melissa said, reaching into her purse for a pen and a piece of paper.
“I’ve driven by it, are they pretty good?”
“Well, Murray takes his clothes to this place. I’ll give you the number,” she handed the piece of paper to him, which he placed in his wallet.
He couldn’t believe how easy it was to talk with Melissa, who was intently listening to his stories about the police academy. Before they knew it, they were being told the restaurant was about to close. DiMarco hadn’t noticed that all the patrons had vacated the premises. Where had the time gone? He wondered, as he handed his credit card to the waiter.
“I want to thank you again for letting me sit here,” DiMarco said. “It was very kind of you.”
“No problem, I enjoyed the company.” Melissa smiled, and he noticed her cheeks heat up again. “Oh, my! I can’t believe the time!” Melissa breathed, looking at her watch which read 12am. She rose and draped her purse strap over her shoulder.
“Oh, no! Don’t let her leave without asking to see her again!” These words screamed in his brain.
“Would you mind if I called you sometime?” DiMarco blurted out, rising out of his seat.
“I wouldn’t mind at all, in fact that would be very nice.” Melissa agreed. Then she gave him a mischievous smile. “Remember that phone number I gave you for the dry cleaner? I fibbed, it’s mine!”
On that note, she turned and left the restaurant, her perfume lingering. Was there any part of her that didn’t fascinate him? He wondered with a smile, watching her leave.