Michael had planned it that way. What he hadn’t planned on was that his dinner date would be arriving home late. He’d traded his usual grey t-shirt and jeans for a black button down and grey slacks. His unruly hair he had tamed with a brush, something he reserved only for very special occasions. He had showered and shaved, he had even used aftershave, something he rarely did because it stings and why bother. He’d pulled out all the stops, hoping she’d think it was romantic, and here he stood. Stood up by his pretend—although he really hoped to change that—girlfriend.
This was why he never bothered. He’d learned the hard way that making an effort never got you any glory, instead it brought on a whole new level of trouble. But he’d wanted to make the effort for Liz. Because he thought she was really worth it. The sad thing was, he thought to himself, that even if she never showed up, he’d try something like this again.
He was about to turn on the lights, it was already nine thirty, and the candles were about to run out of their wicks, when a key turned in the lock. It was Liz.
Liz walked in to the apartment after a long and exhausting day at the lab. She was tired and cranky. She’d been looking at slides for an error one of the other technicians had made; it had been causing major discrepancies on one of the medical trials. It felt like she’d wasted a day cleaning up after someone else’s screw-ups. All she wanted to do was take a shower and curl up in bed with a good book.
For some reason there weren’t any lights on although a glow seemed to be coming from the living room. She stuck her head in to see if Kyle was there, but it was only Michael. She stepped out and started walking towards her room before turning around and stepping back into the living room.
“Hey. Is that…is that dinner for us?”
“Yeah. Um…I thought it might be nice. A surprise sort of, but if...um, you’re too tired it’s okay.”
“No. I just can’t believe you did this. I really…wow, Michael this is so nice of you. Do you mind if I take a quick shower?”
“Not at all. Go ahead. Do you want a glass of champagne?”
“That sounds lovely. Please, I won’t be but a moment.”
Michael set to work opening the bottle of champagne. He hadn’t known what to think or do when she’d looked in and kept on walking towards her room. He thought he had the worst luck in the world. To fall in love with the one woman in the world who wouldn’t notice a candlelit dinner for two. He poured out two glasses and took a long sip, feeling the chilled liquid tickle his throat slightly with its bubbles.
He walked over to the CD player and paused to consider what sort of music to play. They had quite a diverse collection and he wanted to get the mood just right. Johnny Cash’s “Love” was a good choice only maybe a bit too country, U2 “All that you can’t leave behind”,was too happy, Dave Matthew’s Band’s “Crash” was just a bit too funky, finally he chose David Gray’s “White Ladder”. It was mellow and set the perfect mood for dinner, and maybe if he got his nerve up a little slow dancing.
He just hoped he could swing this dinner; he didn’t want to talk about Kyle and their plan. He wanted them to get to know each other better. He’d admired Liz from afar long enough. It was about time he got to know her for real.
“Hey, is this for me?” she asked as she pointed to the flute of champagne.
She’d dressed up. And she looked amazing. Her silky brown hair cascaded down her back in loose waves and she wore a simple black dress that showed off her curves to an advantage. A little lip-gloss and mascara the only makeup she wore on her face. Hers was an understated beauty. But a beauty that shook Michael to the core just the same.
“Yeah. Um, you look great.”
“Thanks. I thought I should dress up, since I saw you did. I must say you clean up nicely. Michael, all of this is so nice. But why?”
“I thought maybe we could get to know each other a little. I don’t know maybe think of this as a practice date.”
“Oh. Sure. So will it hurt to say I’m starving?”
“Not at all. I made chicken and tortellini. Um I hope you like that.”
“Yeah. Michael it sounds great.” She sat in the chair Michael pulled out for her. He smiled and told her to wait there.
“I’m just going to the kitchen to get the food.”
Liz nodded. She still couldn’t believe everything Michael had done. She felt almost guilty for wishing it had been Kyle. Besides it was a good idea for Michael and her to practice this whole going out thing. She’d known him for eight years, but they’d never been close.
He looked so sexy in the black shirt. She hadn’t thought he could clean up that well. And whatever cologne or aftershave he was wearing was driving her crazy. He smelled so good she almost wanted to give into the instinct to cuddle with him instead of her good book. Liz took a long sip of champagne, maybe the bubbles were going to her head, because she couldn’t explain where these sudden thoughts were coming from.
She looked at the dinner he set in front of her. It not only looked but also smelled amazing.
“Thanks Michael. Did you cook?”
“Yeah. I used to work at a restaurant. And I moved out on my own pretty young so I had to learn in order to survive.” Michael smiled wryly.
“Mmm. Well, this is amazing.”
“Yeah, well. So um you had a long day?”
Michael shifted uncomfortably in his seat, he felt a little self-conscious about all the preparations he had undertaken.
“Oh God. An idiot technician mislabeled a slide, so I had to spend the entire day just looking through our database of slides on this one project. It was hell. I found the one I was looking for at around nine this evening. I was lucky, I could have been there all night.”
“Wow. That sucks. I know you work in a lab, but what is it that you do?”
“I work in the epidemiology lab at the university hospital. Basically we run tests on how certain medicines react or inhibit symptoms to diseases. I’m a project leader and we work in conjunction with several large pharmaceuticals.”
Liz laughed at the expression on Michael’s face, “I’m a science dork, I know. But I like knowing that I can help people get better.”
“No, I mean I think it’s really cool. I would have never been able to study that you know, but yeah.”
“Michael, your designs are amazing. I’d love to be that artistic. I saw the theater plans. It was no wonder they picked you.”
“Thanks. I just really love what I do too." Michael didn't really want to talk about himself. He wanted to know Liz for real. "So Liz tell me a deep dark secret no one else knows about you?”
“Deep dark secret…cutting through bullshit are we? Um. Ok. Remember freshman year?”
“Well you remember that crazy party we met at? The one at Phi Delta Mu?”
Michael nodded he remembered that party perfectly. It had been a very interesting evening. Especially since…
“Well I somehow got locked in this closet with some guy, I never saw his face or got his name. I don’t know if we were both really wasted or what, but we hooked up in the closet.”
“And?” Michael asked rather hoarsely, thinking it couldn’t be. Thoughts of that girl tortured him ever since then; it couldn’t be that both his temptresses were one and the same.
“I don’t know. I never saw him again. Or if I did I never knew who he was. I guess I still wonder about him, wonder who he was. And I can’t believe I just told you that.” Liz laughed.
“So tell me what is your big deep dark secret?”
“Um. I took dance lessons.” Michael scrambled to tell Liz something anything but the fact that he was that guy.
He wondered what her reaction would be if she did know. Why did everything suddenly feel so complicated?
“’What? Hey you made me think they had to be deep and dark.” Liz complained smilingly.
“Yeah. I took lessons with Madame Juanita at the Jewish American Society Meetinghouse. I know how to tango, rumba, and cha-cha. I think that’s a huge secret about me right there Parker.”
Liz laughed. She couldn’t imagine Michael Guerin dancing the tango.
“You have to take me dancing sometime.”
“Maybe I will. Do you mind practicing a bit first? I may be a little rusty.”
She took the hand Michael held out and settled in his arms, placing her head on his shoulder and they swayed to the music playing softly in the background.