Rochelle wanted to be sure Madeline understood that agreeing to this date would be a favor. No one liked going on blind dates. No one. Maddie said she understood, even agreed—then pushed anyway.
Why was she such a pushover?
Disgusted with herself, Rochelle folded down her visor to check her lipstick, relieved to see there wasn’t a smudge on her teeth. She fussed one last time with her hair in the inadequate little mirror and gave up. Her curls were going to do their own thing regardless of how hard she’d tried to tame them at home.
Walking into the restaurant, she looked around at all the people with no idea what Bruce looked like. Maddie hadn’t shown her a picture. Every man in the waiting area appeared to be attached to a group or a woman. No single men hovered watching the door. Was he late? Unsure, she approached the host’s podium and checked.
The young man looked her up and down and smiled. “Can I help you?”
She leaned in and timidly whispered, “I’m supposed to be meeting someone? I’m not sure if he’s here yet, Bruce—”
“You must be Rochelle.”
She laughed in surprise. “Yes.”
“I’ll take you to him.”
She followed the host into the dining room, scanning right and left as they went. She gulped when a man rose from a small table just ahead. Smoothing down his tie, he locked eyes with her and gave a tentative smile. The host stopped in the aisle and gestured her forward on her own, discreetly removing himself and allowing her date to do the honors of drawing out her chair himself.
Bruce got her settled and returned to his chair, facing her across the table. He had a nice face, open and honest. She wouldn’t call him handsome in the classical sense, but he was certainly appealing. It was in his eyes, in his smile, and it put her at ease.
“Rochelle, it’s nice to meet you. I hope you don’t mind, Maddie told me you love white wine so I took the liberty and ordered a bottle.”
“That’s sweet. I don’t mind at all. Thank you.” She reached for the glass in front of her but didn’t lift it. She simply needed to do something with her hands or she’d start to fidget. “Maddie said you’ve been in Germany for the last three years?”
“That’s where you want to be if you’re an engineer. It was a good experience. Beautiful country.”
His brows crept up and he smiled. “And you’re a nurse as well?”
She chuckled. “It has its moments.”
Their server stopped over for their dinner order, interrupting their small talk for a moment. Once she’d left however, they lapsed into silence, both unsure how to pick up the conversational thread again, or better yet, move away from it entirely.
He jolted with an idea and leaned in to ask, “Have you ever eaten here before?”
She took a quick look around before shaking her head. “No. This is my first time. You?”
“Oh.” Rochelle drooped in her chair. Needing to do something, she tried the wine. It was outstanding. “This is really good. What are we drinking?”
“A German Riesling. One of my favorites.”
“You’ll have to write down some recommendations for me.”
“I could do that.” He toyed with his glass while he studied her. “How was my sister able to rope you into a blind date? I would have thought your social calendar would be booked solid.”
She tried not to snort in amusement at the compliment. “I go out on a lot of first dates. I just happened to be free tonight.”
“Lucky me. Why only first dates?”
Rochelle shrugged. “Bad taste in men?”
He chuckled. “Now I’m afraid to ask what you think of me so far.”
She loved how he smiled when he teased her. “So far so good. You came highly recommended.”
“I’ll have to send my sister some flowers as a thank you.” He raised his glass and winked at her.
Rochelle joined him in a silent toast.
Conversation eased as they sipped and gazed, laughed and joked. They were both so focused on each other they were startled when a trio of musician’s began to play nearby. Neither had noticed the men taking the floor. There were three: one had a set of bongos in front of him, another a sitar across his lap, and the last was a guitarist. He remained on his feet.
The couple turned to give the performers a moment of their time. It didn’t last. Their heads swiveled back, their jaws lank as they stared at each other. It was the strangest, and quite possibly the worst rendition of a classic love song ever heard. The man singing his heart out while strumming his guitar had Rochelle close to tears as she struggled not to burst out laughing.
“Oh god, he’s ululating,” Bruce muttered under his breath, his shoulders shaking as he hid his grin behind his hand.
“My stomach muscles are cramping. I can’t hold this in.”
“I’m trying, I’m trying.” She had to dab a little tear in the corner of her eye.
“Here, have more wine. It might help.” Bruce topped off their glasses from the bottle on the table. “Oh Christ. He just made eye contact. Hang in there, he’s coming our way.”
Rochelle squeaked with the giggles, trying to keep it together as the man serenaded them on his way over. He stopped at their table and personalized the performance, no doubt assuming he was ratcheting up the romance. His singing was painful to the ears, his voice limp and frequently straying off-key.
Not even bothering to hide his grin anymore, Bruce raised his glass to Rochelle. “To the most beautiful woman in the room.”
Rochelle doubled over, trembling with laughter. She fanned her heated face as people seated around them clapped their hands. Her entire arm shook when she picked up her glass of wine. She could barely swallow a sip. A full swallow was much too risky. Her poor date could end up wearing it.
The singer gave her a glowing smile and Bruce a nod of congratulations before moving along to the next table of two.
Bruce’s eyes were twinkling. “You did good.”
“That was painful on so many levels.”
“But a good icebreaker.”
She had to agree with him there. “The best. I think I owe Maddie some flowers too.”
“Does that mean I get a second date?”
Rochelle nodded and giggled some more. “Just not here.”
He raised his hand and made a solemn pledge. “You have my word.”
“And you have my number.”