This Isn't A Date....Right?
College romance can be confusing sometimes....
Amanda: Hey, I just got into a cab, so I’ll be there in 10 minutes. See you there!
I checked my watch and saw that it was 11:30. ‘Wow, very punctual', I thought to myself with a smile as I shot a quick text back.
Zaden: Cool; I just arrived. I’ll see you in a bit!
I put my phone back in my pocket as I returned my gaze to the water in front of me. The beach had been one of the first places I thought of when I asked Amanda if she wanted to meet up for lunch – not only because I lived close to it, but because it was one of the few places in the city where we could actually hang out and relax. ‘Come to think of it, it’s a really nice place for a date….but of course, this isn’t really a date….right?’ I sighed and shook my head, thinking back to one month ago, when this all started.
(ONE MONTH EARLIER)
“That final exam was ridiculously hard! I hate this year – please tell me the next one will be easier.”
I chuckled as Neil shook his head ruefully and collapsed on the bed in my room. I said amusedly, “As your senior, I can definitely assure you that your next year will be much better, but don’t forget that you have one entire semester of this year left, and it will get pretty intense.” Neil sighed and I chuckled. We talked for a little longer before he had to go back to his room to prepare for the next exam.
As soon as he left, I glanced at the time and saw that I had about ten minutes before I had to start studying for my own test the next day. I sat down in my chair, leaned back, and opened Instagram. Most of what I saw was fairly standard – but there was one particular post that caught my eye. It was a video of someone crumpling up a question paper and chucking it in the trash can with the caption ‘Finally!’. I paused the video right before the paper got crumpled and saw that it was the same exam that Neil had just ranted to me about. I chuckled and checked who posted it. ‘Amanda, huh? I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to them before….’ I shrugged and sent a message to her,
“Yeah, I heard the paper was pretty rough…nice shot, btw :D”
I kept my phone down and started to get ready to study when it buzzed. I picked it up and to my surprise, it was Amanda. I raised my eyebrows in surprise and opened her chat to her raging about the paper. I grinned and started to type back a response…
Just like that, Amanda and I became friends. Since that was the penultimate day of the semester though, we didn’t hang out in person - she and I both wrote our respective exams and we went our separate ways. However, as fate would have it, Amanda would be interning in Chennai, the city where I lived, during the winter break. It was rare enough that someone would be interning in Chennai at all, as people usually passed over it in favor of bigger and more opportunistic cities like Mumbai and Delhi, but the fact that someone I just started talking to would be interning in the same city as me was a freak coincidence. We texted back and forth constantly throughout the month and quickly grew close to one another. Amanda became someone I would talk to almost daily, and the two of us shared many crazy and memorable moments. Of course, the idea of meeting up occurred to both of us more than once, but our rather hectic internship schedules made it rather difficult. Finally, after a lot of re-scheduling and shuffling of different things, we settled on meeting at a restaurant for lunch. Of course, the minute I mentioned to my friends in Chennai that I was meeting a girl from college for lunch…….
(EARLIER THAT DAY)
“It’s not a date.”
“DUDE! It’s definitely a date! You guys are meeting alone, at a beachside restaurant, and spending the entire afternoon together. Back me up here, Kevin.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Peter looking at Kevin expectantly. I turned my gaze back to my reflection as I continued to button up my shirt. I heard Kevin say, “I’m inclined to agree with Peter on this one, Zaden. It checks all the boxes for a date – besides, if it's not a date, then why are you putting so much effort into dressing up?”
I looked at him, affronted. “Because it’s nice to look presentable when you’re meeting someone for the first time! Do you not do that?” Kevin shrugged and said, “I wouldn’t know – I don’t go on too many dates.” He grinned and I rolled my eyes, returning my gaze to the mirror.
“I doubt we’re spending the entire afternoon together – all I did was ask her if she wanted to meet up for lunch. I’m sure she has better things to do than spend the entire day with a senior from college who randomly texted her on Instagram one day.”
I fixed up the buttons and turned to the pair, my eyebrows raised. Both of them looked me up and down once and Peter said, “I think it looks fine, but considering you’re going on a date….” I rolled my eyes as I adjusted my collar. “Please guys – she’s just a friend. I don’t even like her like that, all right?” The two of them continued to smirk at me, and I shook my head dismissively and left the room, resolving to tell them how well the non-date went later that evening.
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was close to 12 PM, and so I made my way over to the restaurant we agreed on. On the way, I suddenly wondered whether we’d vibe the same way we had over text and the phone. Sure, we were friends, but this would be the first time that we actually interacted with each other in person. A pit of worry began to blossom in my stomach as I contemplated the possibility that after this, we might stop talking and just drift apart. However, I didn’t get too much time to dwell on it, because no sooner had I arrived than I saw a car pull up in front of it, and out stepped Amanda. She was dressed in a dark blue sleeveless dress that went just up to her knees. Her hair was neatly let down, and it cascaded over her shoulders smoothly. Around her neck, she wore a tiny necklace. I felt my heart skip a beat as I took in her appearance, and suddenly, all the nervousness melted away. I smiled, and she waved enthusiastically as soon as she saw me. I smirked and said, “I would say right on time, but you’re actually 2 minutes late.” She rolled her eyes and said, “Oh come on – it’s not my city, after all – won’t you please cut me some slack?” She batted her eyes at me and I laughed, running a hand through my hair absent-mindedly. “Sure thing – but since you made me wait, can you pay for the appetizers?” I grinned and she rolled her eyes as she held the door open. “After you, mister.” I smiled and walked in, and she followed right behind me. As a waiter led us to a table and we sat down opposite to each other, I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t a date…..right?’
“Wait, what’s the offer?”
I stared at the waiter in disbelief, and Amanda wore a similarly shocked expression. The waiter smiled and said, “Sir, we have a special today – for all couples dining with us, each person gets one glass of wine after their meal, free of charge. You can choose which wine you want with this card, and of course, it's completely optional. Would you like a glass?” I gulped and said, “O-of course, we’ll take it! Right?” I looked at Amanda, who nodded emphatically. The waiter nodded and handed me the card. I glanced at the many types of wine on sale and wondered how I was ever going to narrow it down to one. No sooner had I started to go through the menu than I heard Amanda say in a teasing tone,
“I noticed how you didn’t deny us being a couple to the waiter, Zaden.”
My head snapped up to see Amanda smirking at me playfully. My heart did a somersault as I stammered, “O-oh! No no, it’s not like that or anything, I just….I really only focused on the part about the wine, that’s all! Of course, I didn’t mean to insinuate or assume –”
Amanda laughed, interrupting my nervous rambling. “Relax! I was only kidding. Besides….” I looked at her and to my surprise, she was looking at the table rather timidly. My heart started doing jumping jacks as I said in what I hoped wasn’t a shaky voice, “Yeah? What is it?” Amanda said in a small voice,
“I wouldn’t mind if this was actually a date – you’re a pretty nice guy, after all.”
I stared at her for a moment before grinning and saying, “You know what – I was thinking the exact same thing. The date part – not the nice guy thing….” I grinned sheepishly and Amanda laughed. A moment of silence passed as we stared at each other for a moment before we realized what we were doing and she suddenly said, “S-So, which wine are you going to get?” I wrenched my gaze away from her and turned back to the menu. After a quick glance at both sides, I eventually saw a name I recognized and said triumphantly, “Got it!” I called the waiter over and ordered our drinks. He nodded and said he would right back as Amanda stared at me curiously. I motioned for her to wait, and soon enough, the waiter came back with two empty glasses and a bottle of red wine. After promptly pouring us our drinks, he grinned warmly and told us to enjoy ourselves before leaving.
Amanda eyed her glass warily, looking at it from all angles. I raised my eyebrows and said, “It’s not poisonous, you know – it's perfectly safe to drink.” Without missing a beat, Amanda replied, “Hey, accepting a drink from a guy I met on Instagram barely a month ago? Isn’t this how a lot of horror stories start?” I rolled my eyes and said, “Puh-lease – you really think that low of me, eh?” Amanda grinned and shrugged innocently. I said, “This is a Merlot – I picked it because it was one of the few wines I’d had before. My dad only just started letting me drink and this was one of the first wines he let me try.” Amanda nodded in understanding as she picked up her glass. I raised my own in response, and we clinked our glasses together. I took a sip of the wine and found that it tasted exactly like how I remembered it. I glanced at Amanda to see her reaction, and to my surprise, she nodded appreciatively.
“I like it! It’s not too strong, kind of on the sweeter side – I was expecting something really strong for some reason.”
I laughed. “Yeah – I get it. That’s what I thought all wine was like when I first thought of trying it. But things aren’t always what they seem, right?” Amanda nodded, taking another sip of her drink. An awkward silence descended upon us as the hustle and bustle of the restaurant continued in the background. As I took another sip, I glanced at Amanda and found that she was looking absentmindedly at the beach, which visible through the window next to our table. The sunlight shone through it to bathe her in a golden yellow light, and at that moment, I felt a burst of courage and said somewhat awkwardly, “Hey, I have a question.”
Amanda looked back at me, and I suddenly felt very self-conscious. Hoping that I didn’t look like a complete idiot, I said,
“This….isn't a date…right?”
Amanda looked nonplussed at my question for a moment before chuckling and reaching for my hand on the table, and giving it a light squeeze while gazing at me knowingly.
That was all I needed to see.