"A Bucket of Rocks"
by Tony Noland
"Ah, hang on just a sec."
Her glass of pinot gris is almost to her lips when he says it. She almost spills a drop when she stops it without taking her first sip.
"I, uh... I just wanted to ask, I mean, before you drink that, I wanted to ask..."
She lowers the glass, sets it back on the table next to her menu. Off to a poor start, the date is shaping up to be one of those where you drink too much. Now, when the drinks had arrived and they had something to do that would give a perfect excuse for not talking, he wants to talk. His beer sits untouched in front of him.
"Do you want this?"
Unaware and unintentionally comic looking, her eyebrows are up and her mouth is open in surprise. Does she want this? This? Another first date? Another evening wasted, spent dancing the same old stupid dance, circling, posturing? Another night of bad theater, playing the starring role of Single Woman against a fill-in-the-blank guy playing Single Man? Why would she want this?
"Because it looked like you really would have rather had the beer."
Oh. He was asking her if she wanted his beer. Good Lord.
"The only reason I ask is... well, look." He takes a deep breath, then rushes on. "The fact is, I don't really like beer. I ordered it because that's what guys are supposed to drink. Every time I go out on a date I drink beer when I'd really rather be drinking wine. It's stupid that there's a gender thing tied up in it, and maybe it's just me being too concerned with how I'm presenting myself here, and..."
She says nothing, lets him have his say.
"OK, and now I'm talking too much, even before drinking anything. It's just that I thought I saw you hesitate when ordering wine, and then when she brought the drinks, it looked like you would really rather have had the beer. The long and the short of it is, I think I could really get to like you, and I want to get off to a good start." His mouth twisted into a half-smile. "I'd like to get off to any kind of a start on a date without a bunch of b.s., to be perfectly honest. So, what I'm trying to say is, do you want to trade drinks?"
Her answer is not that long in coming, but long enough that it's obvious she is considering carefully how to respond.
"Actually," she says, "I don't really care for beer. I ordered the wine because I like wine."
"Oh. Ah, right. Well... right, sorry." For three seconds, a complicated swirl of emotions plays across his face, ultimately settling on a mixture of disappointment and grim resolution. Another one of those dates where you drink too much.
His bottle of Heineken is almost to his lips when she laughs out loud. He spills a bit onto his lap when he stops it without taking his first sip.
"I'm just kidding," she says. "I would really rather have the beer. I'm just... well, it's hard to admit that someone has you pegged so well."
He grins. She does the same.
The waitress, working up another check over at the cash register, hears the laughter and she smiles. First date. Thank God it seems to be going well. They always tip big when they laugh.
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