Melinda got out of the shower dripping wet. She grabbed her towel from the shower door to clean off the water on her body. A phone rang in the background. She looked around the room to find her phone and spotted it on the bed. She picked it up. “Hello. Who am I speaking with?”
“It is Fred, your date for tonight,” the caller answered.
“Oh of course. Hello Fred”
“Anna gave me your number. I wanted to confirm that we are still on for tonight,” he said.
“Yes definitely, we are.”
“Got it. See you at 7 then.”
“See you..” she said. The phone went dead.
She looked up to the right at the wall clock. It is 5:45 PM. She still had enough time to prepare for the date. She had never met him before. This whole thing was arranged by Anna. Anna had sworn she and Fred were going to be a perfect match because she believed they had so much in common.
To Melinda, his voice had sounded so suave on the phone. She wondered for a split second if it belonged to an attractive man. “What does that matter? What is important is compatibility and for him to be a good man.” she thought. Melinda knew better than to raise her hopes up. This wasn’t her first rodeo. She had kissed too many frogs and had yet to meet her prince.
For every new date, she had to go on in the past, she used to be racked with nervousness, and anxiety for it to go well. She would have high expectations of her date, and placed them on a pedestal, only for it to come crashing down once she meets them. She remembered her ex, David. The one she nearly thought of as her prince. They had dated for a year until she got invited to a group chat by a stranger out of the blue. Alas, the group chat was made by a lady to discuss David. She claimed she was dating him long-distance. She shared screenshots of some of their conversations including their dirty talk and sex chats. To make matters worse, there were five other women invited to the group chat besides me, all dating David.
Melinda sat down at her dressing table just beside the bed. She opened the top drawer, searched for her makeup kit, then checked for it again in the second drawer before finding it. She had to make herself look beautiful tonight. That is a form of good manners after all.
She mixed and matched several layers of makeup on her skin and added a simple red lipstick for good measure. She got up and got into the little black dress she had laid out on the bed. She looked up at the clock, 6:25 pm. She has to leave the house in 5 minutes if she wants to get there on time. She slipped on her black short heels, grabbed her keys from the dressing table, and went out to the living room.
“Honey I’m leaving,” she called out to her daughter. Footsteps hit the floor one after the other behind her as Maggie appeared.
“Okay, mom. By the way, you look beautiful,” she said as she gave her mom a peck on the cheek.
“Thank you honey” she replied smiling. “See you later.” Melinda had her daughter as a teenager with her university sweetheart Mark. Mark died a year after she had the baby. Her child has always been a bone of contention in her relationships. She has had tough luck finding someone long-term as a single mother. She was never going to hide the fact that she has a daughter no matter what it cost her. Her daughter is her life and joy. She is proud to be Maggie’s Mother. Melinda got in her car to start the fifteen-minute journey to the date venue.
Mel arrived at the small restaurant Fred had suggested. She could feel the sweat in her palms and a fast beat in her chest. Taking a deep breath she proceeded to enter the restaurant. In the restaurant lobby, she reached for her phone in her bag to call Fred so she can identify him. The line was ringing, just then, through the glass separating the dining room, she saw a man in a black suit put up his phone to his ears. She immediately raised her arms to get his attention. Just then he stood up to walk to her and asked “Melinda?”
“Yes, you are Fred?” she asked.
“Yes I am,” he said smiling. “Nice to meet you.” He extended his arms outward. Melinda gave him a handshake in return.
He was a 6 feet tall man, slightly overweight with a potbelly. He looked to be in his early forties. Melinda thought he looked handsome. He directed her to their table and pulled out her seat before going to settle in his seat.
“You look beautiful.” He said.
“Thank you. Glad to finally meet you”
Fred nodded while smiling. “Nice to meet you too”. They settle in their seats, then he asks, “Would you like us to order now?”
“Let’s do that,” she said.
Fred called the waiter and they both ordered their meals. They exchanged the occasional glance as they ate quietly.
Then Melinda started “Can you tell me more about yourself?” she smiled. “Anna mentioned that you work as a doctor at Shalom hospital.”
He smiled back, “Yes I do. I have worked there now for 10 years as a general practitioner.”
“That’s nice. Being a doctor, you probably work a lot.”
“I don’t work late hours as much as my peers, especially the Surgeons. I get to choose my hours.”
“That’s great. What do you do for fun?”
“In my spare time, I like to play tennis at the local club, usually with my friends”
“Sounds interesting,” Melinda said as she swallowed. “Ever been married? Any kids?” she asked.
“Yes, I was once married. Unfortunately, she passed away during childbirth. The child did not survive either” he said.
“That’s terrible. I’m so sorry you went through that,”
“Thank you. It was a long time ago,” he said while waving his hand. Fred changed his disposition to a playful look. “Now, I want to hear all about you. Anna told me you are a hard-working businesswoman. Is there more to the beautiful Ms. Melinda I should know about?” He inquired.
Melinda caught herself smiling, “Yes I am a businesswoman. I sell curtains, bedsheets, and carpets. And most of the decorations you might find in a family bedroom. I have a thirteen-year-old daughter, Maggie who I had while I was in college.” She paused to see Fred’s reaction at the mention of her daughter, but his countenance did not change but expressed an urging as if he were expecting her to continue her story. Melinda breathed a sigh of relief as she continued, “She is currently in secondary school.”
“That’s interesting. Your daughter sounds lovely. I hope to meet her one day.” he said.
Internally, Melinda leaped for joy. She cautioned herself to take it slow and not get too excited. “She is”, Melinda said, smiling. She leaned back in her chair.
“So how do you unwind after work?”
“I like to swim and travel to new cities with my daughter when I can catch a break.”
“That’s awesome,” he said.
They ate quietly for a while. “Fred, what are your dating expectations at the moment? Is there anything you are looking for in particular?”
“Hmm. I am looking for an interesting woman to get through life with. I am not really one for all that playboy stuff. For a while, after the death of my wife and daughter, I wasn’t willing to date anyone. But now– I just feel it. I am ready.” he said, nodding.
Melinda nodded back at him in agreement. “That’s nice to hear.”
“How about you? What are you looking for?” he asked.
“Well…” her voice trailed off. She raised her eyes as she thought about it for a second. “I am looking for someone that has compatible values with mine.”
“Hmm. How long have you been single then?”
“I would say for almost three years now,” she said.
“Really? I can’t possibly believe that” he cried. “How come a beautiful lady like you has been single for that long?” he leaned and placed his chin in his palms.
“I don’t really know. Time flies really fast, especially when you have a full life. You know, I have my daughter, and my business to look after. And I guess I never really put much effort into dating in those years.”
“I see.” he glanced at his empty wine glass and called for the waiter. “Would you like another drink?” he asks Mel.
“Nah, I’m fine. One glass is good for me. This drink is quite strong.”
He nodded and made the waiter refill his glass and leave the bottle. He gulped down the whole glass and faced Melinda smiling.
Melinda felt slightly uneasy at the way he guzzled the drink. “Easy with that one. Did you drive here?”
“Yes, I did. Don’t worry about me, it’s fine. It’s not errm– a very strong drink, to me.”
“Oh” Melinda said sarcastically.
“So how’d you meet Anna?” he asked
“Oh, we met in college. She was my roommate in year four. “
“Oh. What university did you attend?”
“Beckingsale. Studied Computer Science.”
He nodded, “Not bad at all.”
“How’d you meet Anna?”
“I’m not sure if she’s told you, but we met in AA.” he said.
Belinda’s eyes widened, “AA? As in Alcoholics Anonymous?”
“One and only,” he replied.
Mel sat straight, “I didn’t know that. I mean, I know she abstains from drinking, but not that she had ever gone to AA.”
“Oh well, that’s how we met. We have been very good friends ever since. She was even at my wedding,” he said.
She nodded. Then it dawned on Melinda that he’s been drinking alcohol. “This evening, you’ve been drinking, does that mean AA was unsuccessful for you?” she asked.
“I think it was successful for me. I don’t measure my success by total abstinence, more by how often I don’t get drunk. And I haven’t gotten drunk in years. So I consider myself pretty successful.” He grinned.
“Ah, I see.” Melinda felt suspicion. There was a twinkle in his eyes that made her doubt his claim. She felt he was somehow still an addict, given the manner he had guzzled his wine, knowing he was going to be driving that night. This is not looking good for him. The last person she wants around her daughter is an alcoholic.
“You mentioned how hard you work at your business. Typically how many hours do you work in a week?” he asked.
“Err, well I work maybe 40 – 45 hours most weeks, but during the holiday season when we get more business I may work 50 hours.”
He looked displeased. “That’s worrying a little bit. As a mother, I would think that you would leave more time to look after your daughter.”
Melinda frowned. “I don’t understand what you mean. My daughter is a teenager and she does not need constant looking after. I don’t see how working 40/45 hours a week is a problem. There are mothers out there that work more hours and they make it work.”
“I don’t agree that they make it work in my opinion. Personally, if I were to be married, I would require that my wife not work. Once we have kids, she will stay home to take care of the kids. I can take care of all our financial needs easily.”
Melinda felt her heart leap in her chest. This is a disaster, she thought. “Require? And what if your wife refuses to stay at home?”
He sighed. “I think that might cause problems between us. I believe the wife should stay home to take care of the children.”
“How about a nanny? Surely, someone can be hired to do the job while the parents are away at work. Besides, it’s not like both parents are going to be away for months. They still get to see and care for the children daily after work.” she said.
“I think that is almost like half-assing the job of parenting. A nanny could never replace the biological mother’s love and attention.”
“I agree, but the nanny is not replacing the mother, just helping her. And I think childcare, as a responsibility, belongs to both parents. Since this is so dear to your heart, have you thought about being the one to stay at home?” she asked.
He let out a laugh and poured himself a new drink. “Melinda, you know I can’t do that. I spent 8 years studying to be a doctor. I can’t just abandon it to stay home with kids.”
Melinda nodded slowly as if she agreed. Her heart dropped because she knew right then and there and they both were not compatible. First the possible drinking red flag and now, the signs that he might be controlling. She did not think he was the type to compromise. Another one bites the dust. She raised her wrist and looked at her watch, it was 9:30 PM. “It’s getting late. I need to get home to be with my daughter now,” she said smiling.
“Of course, I’ll get the bill.” He drank his wine and called for the waiter to bring the bill, and then made the payment for their meal. “Shall we?” he asked as he stood up. He staggered dramatically backward.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Fred collected himself “I am fin– I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“I am sure,” he answered.
Melinda and Fred walked out of the restaurant together towards the parking lot where she parked her car. She could see that he was not walking in a straight line.
“Fred, hold on, Okay, you seem a little drunk but you had only a few glasses of wine tonight.”
“Oh come on, I’m not drunk, I am sober” he raised both arms sideways in protest.
Melinda frowned and just stared at him.
Fred gave a half-smile and raised his palms to his head. “Okay, you got me. I got here a lot earlier than you this evening. I was bored so I ordered a little drink. I don’t feel drunk. It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“Alright. At least, please call a cab to take you home,” she said.
“Okay. I can do that. For you. Because you asked.” he said pointing at her and smiling obliviously. “I hope to see you again.”
“Me too.” she gave a forced smile. All Mel could think about was how she was going to block his number once she got home.
“Nice, I’ll call you,” he said.
“Okay.” He walked her to her car and waved her good night.