He’s a handsome thing, with a glowing smile that softens his sharper, more intimidating edges.
The restaurant is Italian. You meet there, beneath a pair of fluorescent lightbulbs buzzing like mosquitoes; the only two people in sight apart from the waiter and the bartender. You smile at him, your date, and he smiles back. You know the basics: what he does for a living, where he’s from, how many years he’s been studying. It becomes difficult to remember what else people normally talk about. Your stomach gurgles, the only sound in the entire venue. You say you feel like you haven’t eaten for three days. He laughs, something awkward. When the menus are up, neither of you murmurs a word, breathing heavy behind the barricade of the specials board. You peer your eyes around the sides of the laminated paper. Have you always been this bad at socialising? Polite conversation ensues, no thanks to you, the pair of you pottering along, your tongues knotted in your gullets. He’s a handsome thing, with a glowing smile that softens his sharper, more intimidating edges, making him something to savour in the shallow lenses of your own eyes. And even with the overwhelming basil and oregano wafting from the kitchen, you can still smell the smoky fragrance of his cologne, a pleasant but stark aroma. A large capricciosa pizza and a fettuccine Alfredo arrive at the table. Maybe Italian wasn’t the right call, you consider, your mouth filling with the hardy stench of garlic. It burns your tongue, so you grab it, making a strained noise not unlike a grunting pig. Your date snorts. He laughs in a way neither of you have the whole evening, and it is intoxicating. The smile grows on you as if pulled by an external force, and suddenly you’re laughing too. It is the loud, ugly laugh you reserve for close friends and family, but you can’t rein it in. It feels like the cotton of the napkins and the stiff, white tablecloth has finally been pulled from the back of your throats. You can both breathe at last. He suggests the two of you get out of there. The waiter boxes up the rest of your pizza, and you take it back to your date’s car. He has an idea. He takes you by a drive-thru, where you pick up a soft serve and an order of fries to share. The pair of you park on the topmost floor of a shopping centre parking lot, so you can see out across the suburbs and the sky slipping slowly away into the horizon; the colours run like watercolour paints. On the bonnet you share the pizza, the fries and the ice cream, testing different combinations of toppings dipped in the soft serve. You talk about anything that comes to your mind, not restricted by the expectations of a dinner date. Leaning back, you both stare into the night, learning, sharing, remembering stories once not deemed worth the telling but that both have you in stitches somehow. After a while, you tumble around in the car for a bit. Nothing crazy, just pashing, a few love bites scattered across your neck. Knocking teeth, limbs bumping into headrests and each other’s half-bent joints—it’s fun, nothing serious, and it feels good to be wanted. You’ll tell your parents that the mosquitoes made a meal of you to explain the hickeys on your neck, even though none of you will actually buy it. When he drops you back to your car, it starts to rain. Driving home in the wet, you smile out at the glistening road. Running a hand down your neck, you admire your mosquito bites, the little splotches of red making proof of a night to remember, buzzing like static in the deep cavern of your eardrums.