He was handsome. Not in the modern sense, but more in the way of my grandparent's era. I remember looking at my grandmother's yearbook and thinking, "Oh! These men are weirdly mature and very scrumptious." I told myself that's just how young men were made in the '50s. Not so much in my mother's yearbook, now that I think back to it. All of those guys looked ragged and poodle-esque. Maybe I just like old-fashioned.
Seeing him walk towards our meeting place, my mind filters the picture with black and white. He could've walked out of East of Eden, and no one would be the wiser. But, of course, his clothes are of this decade. As he walked, his navy Chino pants gripped in all the right places. It'd be a surprise if they weren't tailored as they stayed perfectly snug against his waist. Because of this, the belt that was well matched to the leather dress shoes wasn't needed but was a clear indication that this man liked aesthetics. His shoulders pressed into the white, button-up shirt that had the sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow. This easily showed the silver watch that held tight to his left wrist. His hands gently swung by his side as he gracefully but confidently walked towards the giant doors that led into the restaurant. Holding his head high, he took a glance around before gripping the handle and entering the building.
We had spoken on the phone, sent texts and Snapchats to make sure we were who we said we were, but this was our first meeting. Our first date. I hate to admit this, but I swiped right as soon as I saw his picture. Typically, I read the small bio, if they have one, swiped through the photos, and saw if they've linked their Spotify account, but this guy caught my attention right off the bat. The picture was of him leaning against what looked like a small bar table in a dimly lit room. His face was caressed by one of the lights behind the bar. It favored his jawline, lips, the curve of his nose, and his blue eyes. He wasn't looking at the camera, he was smiling at something unknown, but it was radiant, care-free, and drew you in. He had the same smile in the first Snapchat he'd ever sent me. I was too afraid to give my number out yet, so I gave him my username. Within 30 seconds, a notification popped up saying he had found me, effectively turning my stomach into butterflies.
Those same butterflies are with me now as I sit outside contemplating whether or not I should leave. I know he is who he says he is. I know that this would be fun. I've even been here a handful of times and know exactly what I'm going to order. He's not the reason I want to turn around, walk straight back to my car, and drive the 30 minutes back home to the apartment that holds my loving cat and a large, grey blanket that would take these shivers away. Even with the small jacket that I fished out of my backseat, I can't seem to lose the chill. My feet make my decision for me as they walk themselves towards the same doors that he walked through not five minutes ago.
The last time I was here, mom decided to take herself, grandma, and me to see The Nutcracker during Christmas. The sidewalks were bright with the lights hung on street lamps and signs. It was cold enough that we knew it would snow, which made the night even more magical. Right across the street from the Atlanta Fox Theatre was The Livingston. A beautiful, modern restaurant that offered an array of items that anyone could choose from. It was the first time my grandmother went with us, and when we walked up the staircase to the white doors that were decorated with small windows, her eyes were as bright as the bulbs that warmed the street lamps. We walked inside to low lit, comfortable atmosphere and welcoming service. We ate, laughed, and watched as the Atlanta nightlife swarmed around us until it was time to watch the nostalgic Christmas ballet.
I stood staring at the same doors, remembering her face, and felt a strong tug on my heart. Looking at the large, semi-circled door handle, I turned to watch the sun fall over the buildings across the way. Beautiful pinks and oranges were just starting to take over the sky. Forty-five minutes until sunset. It was early spring, but the south always has a way of tricking you into wearing something and making you regret it within 3 hours. This is why I'll always keep a change of clothes with me and the light jacket that I have with me now. It doesn't quite match the off-the-shoulder maxi that I chose, but removal would be easy enough once we're at the table. My phone buzzed, pulling me out of the moment. A text message appeared with an attachment.
Be careful tonight, baby. I've been reading too much on the news lately. Have you seen the latest girl? It's another co-ed. I can't believe it's been four already. Attachment: FOURTH GIRL FOUND: POLICE URGE CO-EDS TO STAY VIGILANT.
Mom tends to send me news excerpts of Atlanta's latest crimes to make me more aware since moving here for college.
The door's a bit heavier than I remember, but it's easy enough to open. Air rushes towards me, and the inside carries a fond familiarity. The foyer was round with a waterfall chandelier dripping warm light down from the ceiling. Looking further in, white pillars are accented with white lights, and tables can be seen scattered throughout. I let my hand slip from the door and walk towards where I knew I couldn't turn back.
"Abigail?" His voice was sweeter than expected. Deeper than over the phone. I will never understand how a simple phone call can make someone sound so much different. I turn toward the voice, and there he was, standing near a table with his hand lifted to alert me.
"Sam?" I answered back, knowing already that the answer was yes. He smiled, and the butterflies decided it was time to say hello again, but this time it felt as though they may escape. I walked or floated, I'm not sure which just yet, towards him.
"I wasn't expecting you so soon. I came a bit early." He said while gesturing to my jacket. I obliged as he took it.
"That's alright. I was early too. Nerves, maybe?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm feeling something. Are you not?" I smiled, and with that question, he pulled my chair out for me and let me sit. Once I was comfortable, he slid my seat into position. Far enough to be comfortable but close enough to grab what I needed. This was most definitely not his first date.
"I wouldn't say I'm nervous. I would say that I'm excited." He replied while walking and taking the seat opposite of me. He was as graceful sitting down as he was walking.
"What's the difference between excited and nervous?" I leaned my elbows onto the table and placed my head into my hands to lessen the amount of distance between us. As he looked at his menu that was already sitting in front of us, his eyebrows creased. I'm guessing the waiter already introduced himself.
He waited a few moments before answering. "There's no difference in the emotion. Just a difference in the action. One makes you stay, and one makes you run." His eyes looked up as he said the last sentence. His eyebrow raised slightly, and then it was back to the menu.
"I'd never thought of it that way."
"Well, how would you explain the difference?" He said as he set his menu back into its place and mirrored my arms.
"Nervousness is the effect of adrenaline or the possibility of it. Excitement can stem from happiness. Nervousness might stem from fear."
"Are you afraid?" His eyebrow raised again, and the air froze in my throat.
"I'm not afraid." My answer was calm and softly spoken.
"Good. You haven't looked at your menu." His hand came forward and touched the menu sitting in front of me.
"I already know what I'm getting."
"Well, that's great to hear," said a high-pitched voice unannounced. The look on Sam's face was just as surprised as mine from interruption, "That means I won't have to explain the menu!" To my left was a sweet-looking, twenty-something, blonde hair, blue-eyed bombshell holding a black notebook. "I'm sorry, did I startle you guys?" She's most definitely a Peach with that accent.
"Just a bit, but that's alright," Sam replied with a smile. "You won't be able to do it twice."
"What would you like to drink, darlin'?" She said while holding up her pen.
"What do you think, Abby?" I went from looking at our waitress to him in less than .5 seconds. He's never said a nickname before.
I hesitated a second before replying, "You choose. I'm up for anything."
Sam glanced at the drink side of the menu and studied for a moment. "We'll take a bottle of the Murphy-Goode Merlot. That's California, correct?"
"Yes, sir. It is."
She took our order as we were already ready, and I excused myself to the ladies' room. As I walked, I felt my hands shake as I passed the other patrons. Looking at all of the faces who had no idea that I just found exactly who I was looking for. He was it.
The bathroom was just as beautiful as the rest of the establishment, but I didn't need to use the facilities. I took my phone out of the small handbag and typed a message.
I think this might be the one.
I pressed send before opening the attachment from the previous message.
Girl found dead in Midtown apartment. Police say victims' body revealed the same "S" branding as previous victims.
I glanced at the mirror, taking in my appearance. From the outside, you couldn't see that my heart was racing or my palms were sweaty. All someone could see was a fair-skinned girl, maybe twenty-two, with long brown hair and above-average height. She was nothing special, but she was brave. I took a long breath in, placed my phone back in the handbag, and made my feet move again. Walking towards the door, I calmed my mind and grabbed the handle.
Once outside the restroom, I glanced around again and saw the waitress coming to the table. Her strut was one that you couldn't find anywhere but a stage, and it made me smile.
"Would you like me to pour?" The waitress asked.
"No, thank you. I'm good with my hands." Sam replied as I came around the side of her. I glanced at her name tag. Natasha.
"Really now?" I spoke out of turn.
"Yes." He said smugly.
"Thank you, Natasha," I said as she placed the glasses in front of us.
She looked at me, and her eyes had a glimpse of confusion. "Of course." She turned to walk away and hesitated for what looked like a second but then kept going. She knows too. I thought to myself. Anyone would, or at least should.
The wine was a companion that I didn't know I needed. I picked up the glass and motioned to make a toast. Once it was in the air, one calculated move is all it took for the white shirt to turn red. Sam jerked backward and pulled the wet shirt in one swift movement making whatever was hidden come to light. A small gold necklace adorned with the initial "S" lay bare on his chest, and when our eyes met, he knew that I knew his secret..