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Made For Each Other

An Awkward and Surprising First Date

By Susan Joy ClarkPublished 3 years ago 8 min read
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Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

I sat in my Honda in the parking lot outside the Luna y Stelle Ristorante and took a long, deep breath. The butterflies in my stomach must have been gymnasts and aerialists having a circus down there. Two weeks ago, I had met Joe online on Soulmates.com, but this was the first time we would meet in person.

I stepped out of the car and adjusted my skirt and then my shoulder strap, wondering if Joe would be disappointed in my appearance. I had posted my sister's photo instead of my own on my dating profile. She and I looked alike … kind of, only she was younger and thinner and blonder. When she and I were both younger, people often mistook us for twins, but nobody was likely to make that mistake today. A bottle of L'Oreal had fixed the blonde issue. If it worked for half the country's female newscasters, it should work for me. Other discrepancies between my sister's photo and my actual appearance were not as easy to fix. Ah well. Hopefully, the bond we'd created would overcome any disappointment in the looks department.

Looking down at my phone, I spotted Joe's latest text announcing he had found a table and was seated. I entered the restaurant and, explaining to the hostess that my date was already at a table, looked around. Joe had told me he'd be wearing a red tie, and I had told him that I'd be wearing a red dress. Soon, I spotted a man in a red tie. He was tall, dark-haired and good looking … check … but the face didn't match, and, while I stared at him across the crowded restaurant, a cute little brunette was making her way towards him. He looked at me oddly. Fantastic, Jess … making men uncomfortable since 1987. I turned my eyes away and pretended to be mesmerized by the art print on the wall, a Tuscan scene of sunflower and lavender fields.

Turning on my heels, I walked to the other side of the restaurant. Here, one man in a red tie sat alone, but this guy couldn't be my Joe. He was fuller in the face, his hair was more, uh, sparse, and, though he was seated, I couldn't believe he was six feet tall. He looked more like he'd be my five feet six inches exactly. I did not want to make the mistake of the goofy, awkward stare a second time, so I looked at the clock past and above his head and then back at him. Glancing a second time, there was something about the eyes and nose that were like Joe's photo. I walked to the table. “Joe?”

“Jessica?”

“Hi,” I breathed in a wavering voice.

“Have a seat,” he said.

I took a seat across from him. “I almost didn't recognize you. You look … different.” Smooth move, Jess.

“Well,” said Joe. “I confess, the photo I used on SoulMates is about seven years old. I gained a little weight, I lost a little hair ...” He shrugged a shoulder. “I thought that, after the connection we made, you might forgive me.”

“You shrunk a little too,” I said.

Joe chuckled. “You look different than I expected too,” he said, smiling, “but I like the red dress.”

“Thank you.” I tilted my head and smiled. “Yeah, I guess I'm guilty of a little fudging too, so I can't judge.”

A waiter approached our table. “Would you like to start off with a bottle of wine?”

Joe looked at me as if for approval. “How about a bottle of Merlot?”

“Sure,” I said.

The waiter poured us some water and left our table. Joe turned to me. “So, how are things at the university?”

“Oh, it's wonderful,” I said. The butterflies were back in full force, somersaulting and sailing like the Cirque de Soleil athletes that they were. Like a true nerd, I had written down some conversation pointers on an app in my phone, for just in case I got stuck, but how could I stare at my phone without seeming rude?

“You enjoy teaching?”

“It's wonderful,” I said, sounding like some sort of parrot with limited vocabulary. I took a sip of water. “Every day is … is … fulfilling, all those students looking up to you, drinking at the fount of knowledge.” The thought of “drinking” and “founts” made me thirsty again, and I picked up my water glass. “How about you? It must be so interesting to do what you do as an engineer, creating things, inventing … What are you working on right now?”

“Well … I can't say, that is, it's something to help out our military, and it's classified. I mean, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.”

We both laughed, and then a pause fell where all we heard was Dean Martin singing about the pizza pie that hit his eye, or was it the moon that hit his eye like a pizza pie? While I pondered this important question and searched my brain for something to keep the conversation going, the waiter returned with the Merlot and poured us both a glass, a fruity aroma filling the air. He then set a basket of bread on the table, handed us menus and left.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Joe lifted his glass. “To getting to know you better.”

The ruby liquid swished in our glasses, as I clinked my mine against his.

Later, as Joe reached for the menu, I noticed a red streak on the base of his thumb. I pointed it out on my own hand, asking, “What's this?”

“Oh, it's a little blood,” he said, smiling. “I cut myself with a kitchen knife.”

“Cooking.” I smiled. In our online conversations, he shared how much he loved to cook. “What were you cooking this time?”

“Oh … uh … boeuf Bourgignon.”

I sighed. “Sounds fantastic.” I could just imagine the bubbling, satisfying stew, something I was not usually ambitious enough to make.

“It was,” said Joe. “But I guess we should decide what we want to eat now, and boeuf Bourgignon is not an option. I'm thinking of the farfalle Bolognese.”

“My favorite,” I said.

“Really?” His voice lilted with a tone of surprise.

“I think I'll have the same.”

When the waiter came by again, Joe put in our order for two farfalle Bolognese. Nervously, I swept some hair behind my ear.

“What's on your hand?” Joe asked me. He had spotted some purple streaked along one side of my right hand.

“Oh, it's a bruise,” I said. “I fell.”

“In-line skating again?”

“Right,” I said. I took a sip of wine. It was soft and slightly sweet on my tongue, making me think of berries. “I fell on my own street, just a few blocks down from where I live. It was so embarrassing. I'm pretty sure the neighbors saw me.”

The waiter returned with our two bowls of pasta and set them in front of us. The fragrant steam of garlic, basil and Italian herbs tantalized me.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Well, you'll have to be more careful,” said Joe.

“Yeah, I have knee pads and a helmet but nothing for hands. I'll have to wrap myself in bubble wrap next time.”

Joe smiled, and I took a bite of my pasta. My spoonful felt warm, comforting and satisfying, with combined spicy, savory and tangy flavors. I reached then for the bread basket, selected a roll and put it on my bread plate.

“Wait,” said Joe. “Give me your hand.”

“What?” I said. Although taken aback, I gave it to him. I wasn't sure if he was going to read my fortune or try to be romantic. When I did, in spite of his full face and somewhat sparse hair, a little thrill went up my arm.

Joe turned my hand in his. “That's not a bruise,” he said. “That's a perfect Prussian blue … oil paint.”

“How did you know?” I said. “And here …” I pointed to one end of the streak. “Mixed with a little Alizarin crimson.” After a pause, I turned his hand, pointing to the red streak I had seen, “And you?”

“Alizarin crimson,” he said.

We looked into each other's eyes for a moment, amazed and filled with confused emotions. Suddenly, Joe burst out laughing, and I joined him for a full minute. He let go of my hand.

“Joe,” I said. “I'm not a professor. Well, I teach art classes once in a while. I have a bunch of odd jobs, but mostly, I paint.” I looked down, my focus on the centerpiece and the candle flame expanding and shrinking in its glass globe. “I thought I wanted a man who was established in his career, and I thought a man like that wouldn't want someone in my situation. A friend of mine encouraged me to fib on my profile, not that that's much of an excuse.” I rolled my eyes.

Photo by Andrian Valeanu on Unsplash

Joe laughed again, his shoulders bobbing up and down, then buried his face in his hand. “Jessica, I'm not an engineer. I have a brother who does all that impressive stuff with classified projects for the military. I don't understand half of what he is able to tell me. I thought like you did … about making an impression. I also do a variety of jobs, but I mostly paint. I have my struggles and my little successes too. I'm doing an art show a month from now in a little gallery not far from here.”

“The Hoffmann Art Gallery? I've always wanted to do an exhibit there.”

“Maybe, I could put in a good word for you.” He paused a moment. “What influences you artistically?”

“I like the impressionists,” I said. “And you?”

“I like the post-impressionists … and the impressionists. Your favorite impressionist?”

“Renoir. Your favorite post-impressionist?” I took a sip of wine.

“Van Gogh … and Matisse.”

“I love Van Gogh,” I said.

“Your favorite Van Gogh painting? We'll both say it on three. One, two, three ...”

In unison, we said, “Starry Night.”

By Vincent van Gogh - Transferred from the English Wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4603625

“Of course,” I said. “It's like Luna y Stelle, the name of the restaurant, moon and stars.”

“What were you painting with your Prussian blue?” Joe asked.

“Irises. What were you painting with your Alizarin crimson?”

“A landscape … from a photo I took at Garden of the Gods in Colorado.”

Almost at once, we asked to see each other's paintings in progress, and both produced the appropriate photos on our phones. Even if we had started out being terrible liars, there was very little doubt we were both telling the truth now. We both expressed mutual appreciation for each other's work.

“Joe,” I said. “I have one more thing to tell you. I never put on a pair of in-line skates in my life.”

Joe smiled at me. “And I rarely cook, but I do love to eat.”

“Me too,” I said.

Joe shook his head. “We are both ridiculous.”

“Worse than that,” I said. “We are dirty, rotten liars, but now that I'm beginning to know the real you and see that we have so much in common, I'll be honest with you from now on.”

“Was there anything true on your profile?” asked Joe. “Is your name even Jessica?”

“No, there wasn't much true, but my name is Jessica.” I pulled out my driver's license and showed him. “Yes, someone could fake a license, but I'm not that good of a liar.”

Joe shook his head again. “This has been the wildest experience. We have been rascals. People would say that we deserve each other.”

“Or that we are made for each other,” I said.

“In spite of that,” said Joe. “I like the real you.” He lifted his wine glass.

“I like the real you too, and I'll drink to that,” I said.

We clinked glasses.

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

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About the Creator

Susan Joy Clark

I am a former journalist with North Jersey Media Group and an indie author of several books including Action Men with Silly Putty, a mystery comedy, And the Violin Cried, a juvenile novel, and The Journey of Digory Mole, a picture book.

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