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“Where did you hear about this place?” Eric asked in awe as he followed Alyssa through the double doors of the restaurant and into what looked like an ornate bank vault. His eyes traversed the marble and bronze expanse of the room as he silently calculated what this was going to cost him.
“Three forks on each table? This is gonna run me at least $250. Shit, the waiters don’t smile when they bring the food? Make that an even three bills. Why did I ever agree to let her choose the restaurant?”
Alyssa turns and smiled at him as she replied. “I actually don’t remember. I think a friend recommended it? Maybe it just popped up on my OpenTable app. What do you think? Looks niiiiiice!”
She drew out the last word as she put her arms around him and squeezed, and despite the mourning Eric was already doing for his wallet, he couldn’t help but smile. He leaned down to kiss her, but was interrupted by the maître d’, an unsmiling bald man with a vague European accent.
“Reservation?” He asked stoically, and wordlessly gestured for them to follow him when Eric gave his name. They played it cool as they walked through the hushed sea of conversations and found their seats. Alyssa reached for Eric’s hands across the table, and he happily obliged. He couldn’t believe he had only known this girl a few weeks and was already this infatuated.
A couple months ago, If someone had told him he would be a guy that held hands across a table, he would have laughed at them. And yet, here he was, blatantly affectionate, grinning like an idiot at the girl across from him. Alyssa matched his smile and leaned over the table to avoid raising her voice and ruining the vibe of the restaurant.
“What was up our host’s ass? Do fancy restaurant workers just act like dicks to shame you into buying more?”
Eric snorted loudly at her unexpected, but extremely accurate observation. She covered her mouth and looked at him with amused shock as nearby patrons turned around to pinpoint the source of the noise that had come out of his mouth. Eric shielded his face with his hands as he responded.
“Don’t make me laugh or they’ll realize we don’t belong here,” he whispered. “I’m pretty sure the staff’s job is to act so condescending that we feel the need to prove we belong by spending more money than we want to. It’s been working for jewelry salespeople for years.”
Alyssa giggled. “That makes sense. You’re on to them now. But don’t you worry about how much we’re spending. This dinner is on me.”
Eric tried to protest and was immediately rebutted. She planned the date, she told him, so she would be paying for it. Immediately his view of the restaurant brightened exponentially. It wasn’t that the bill would have broken the bank, but he hadn’t been fully excited by the idea of her planning an expensive date while assuming that he was paying. Now he understood that she had never had any intention of him paying, and had planned a fancy date for him.
“Damn, that’s hot,” he thought. “Is this what being a girl is like? Wined and dined? I could get used to this. I could count on one hand the amount of times Rachel planned and paid for a date for us, and that was in years of dating. Another point for Alyssa.”
They both perused the menu, squinting to read the scripted font in the dim light. After a few rounds of “what are you going to get?” Eric decided on duck breast with “Caramelized Belgian Endive,” whatever that was. Alyssa ordered a roasted pheasant, which Eric recognized as the cheapest thing on the menu.
“I know that move,” he said to himself. “I don’t care how much she protests, I’m at least splitting this with her. Can’t have her take the lead in the relationship game this early.” His eyes widened as he realized his thoughts had betrayed him. “Relationship game? Pump the brakes, Eric. You just started seeing her. There’s been no talk of even being exclusive. For once in your life, play it cool, and don’t scare her off. Be the guy who’s scared of commitment. Girls love that guy.”
As they waited for their food to arrive, they gleefully filled the time talking about their lives. Eric could not get enough of Alyssa’s nursing horror stories, and for some odd reason, she seemed to find Eric’s job very interesting. Suddenly, the conversation cut short, as Alyssa froze, her eyes looking past Eric’s head with an expression he couldn’t quite place.
“Wow, you’re that excited for our food? Eric teased, as he watched her eyes widen and stare off into the near distance.
She glanced at him and replied with an exasperated expression, “No, it’s-”
Suddenly a booming voice cut her off, booming from behind Eric’s right ear and raising the average noise level of the restaurant by a few decibels.
“Heyy, little lady! Didn’t think I’d see you here.”
Eric turned and was greeted with the sight of tall, heavy-set man. He seemed to be a few years older and was wearing a blazer over a striped V-neck T-shirt, all paired with expensive skinny jeans and beat up Chuck Taylors. The man glanced briefly at Eric before continuing to speak to Alyssa.
“So how have you been? You look great,” he continued.
“I’m doing great, thanks. This is Eric, by the way,” she said as she smiled at Eric. Taking this as his cue to introduce himself, he began to rise and extend his hand.
“Hey man, I’m-”
“Please, don’t get up,” the stranger said, not taking his eyes off Alyssa as he began to stroll away. “I’ll leave you two to your dinner. I’m glad you finally took my suggestion and tried this place, though. You should order the duck, you’d love it.”
And with a final wave over his shoulder, the guy continued through the restaurant to join a group of similarly blazer-ed men.
Eric realized he was still frozen, half-standing with his hand partly extended to shake, and slowly lowered himself back into his seat. He turned to Alyssa, who looked at him, and then back down to the table. Already knowing the answer to his question, he asked, “So that must be where you heard of this place. Is he a friend of yours?”
Alyssa breathed out slowly before lifting her head. Her eyes matched his as she answered. “That douchebag is my ex, and yes, it’s where I heard of this place. But it looked good, and I wanted to check it out, and you’re the person I wanted to go with.”
Eric stared at her, speechlessly. He had wanted to be mad, but her points were valid and he felt his frown, through no control of his own, begin reversing itself into a smile. He was going to say something, although he didn’t know what, when a delicious smell stopped him in his tracks. Again, a voice sounded behind him, but this one was much more welcomed.
“Your duck, sir?” .