I was tired from work and still not entirely comfortable with how this morning’s date ended, but I found myself waiting at Staker’s Staked Steak, a fairly classy restaurant downtown, wearing black slacks and a light blue, button down shirt. The shirt was a bit of a trial for me, since Regina always had commented on how it brought out my eyes. I wanted to look good, but I couldn’t help thinking about Regina with that particular shirt. In the end, I decided that remembering her wasn’t all bad, and felt she’d appreciate that I heeded her advice. Unfortunately, the waiting gave me time to think about how I tried so hard to avoid a girl who was just confused about how to get my company, somewhat like Alma. The strange, arrogant, and adorably tiny British girl spent months manipulating my life and somehow thought such scheming would end with us dating. If she had just given me her number when we first met, we could have tried dating without all the fuss. Unclenching my fist, I knew I was still upset with her, but I couldn’t deny that I was still attracted to her either. Hopefully, I would find the right girl to help get my mind off Alma without too much trouble.
“Good evening. You must be James.” came a somewhat husky voice. Niele Eaton was not what I was expecting. The slimming, hourglass of white bordered by black on her dress didn’t disguise that she appeared far sturdier than her pictures suggested. I recognized her face, but I couldn’t help feeling that flattering angles or a touch of image manipulation made her form more appealing in her profile than in life. Hopefully, she hadn’t pulled the wool over my eyes about not being from an outlying farm. I couldn’t handle a second sheep-filled date today. Recognizing the effort she made between her clothes and makeup, I complimented her, which earned me a smile. Then she said, “You look quite charming yourself.” I smiled in returned and thanked her. Before more could be said, the waiter, Ethan, came back around ― he had stopped by occasionally to refill my water while I waited ― and asked Niele what she wanted to drink. I nearly spit out the water I was sipping when she ordered “Cow’s Blood”, but I should have looked over the menu while I was waiting..
Without missing a beat, Ethan calmly explained that “Cow’s Blood” was a signature wine of Staker’s Staked Steak, and asked if I wanted to try it. Being underage, I quickly declined and said I was fine with more water. As he walked away, Niele smirked and asked “Is this your first time here?” I nodded affirmatively, so she continued, saying, “ I don’t come here often myself, but I do love a number of their selections. Their ‘Golden Lassos’ are a wonderful appetizer if you’re particularly hungry, but I could only eat a few myself.” An appetite was one of the few things I rarely lacked, so I indulged her suggestion. “A few” was a larger portion than I expected, but I wasn’t going to complain. Speaking too highly of food in most places was difficult when I continuously felt that Marco’s cooking was better. Though my friends and I still ordered pizza regularly, only the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce ever seemed to compare with what was made at home, especially considering that Ai, Mai, and Aaliyah’s cooking also counted toward what was made at home for me. Marco truly had competition with regard to those three. I was finally pleased when I took a bite of the signature steak, a tender delight with a unique, delicious blend of spices that I wished I could identify. Perhaps I should see how Marco was at cooking steaks.
As we ate, Niele and I discussed her schooling, which obviously brought her pride. She was the top of her year in law school and boasted that I wouldn’t find a better lawyer once she graduated and passed the bar. Unfortunately for her, I knew a tiny girl who seemed to create legal documents in her sleep, but I refrained from mentioning that outloud. Very few people would believe in Aaliyah by description, since a twelve-year-old who was a prodigy in every field seemed completely implausible without knowing her. Even with knowing her, such talent was mindboggling. I knew that she possessed some sort of cybernetic enhancement and still couldn’t explain the things she did. She was far too quick of mind and body for any technology I knew, including Mila, to explain, and Mila was an extremely sophisticated A.I., created of course by Aaliyah. “What are you thinking about, James?” asked Niele. Only I would get so caught up thinking about my secretary while on a date. “I’m terribly sorry. There’s a girl I babysit” ― who is my secretary ― “that seems to love scholastic achievement. I couldn’t help thinking over how excited she’d be hearing about all you’ve accomplished.” Aaliyah would likely be quite excited to show Niele up.
She took my lapse with a smile, so I excused myself to the restroom. To my chagrin, I somehow tripped coming back, and knocked her glass over. The dark, red wine covered the tablecloth and Niele’s dress before I could even right myself. Resisting the urge to save her dress with magic took great effort, but I knew of no mundane way to explain such a feat. Standing, I apologized profusely and offered to pay for the dress, which she accepted before hurrying to the restroom. I left a large tip with Ethan, thinking I probably caused him extra work in cleaning up. Then I waited with Niele’s purse till she came out. “Mind if I walk you to your car at least?” I asked. “Please do. If not for the wine, you’d win for the most comical fall I’ve seen. No one could pull that off on purpose.” she claimed. I felt awful and gave her a business card, telling her to send the bill there, but I paused a moment before letting go of the card. I gave out countless cards without a second’s thought before, but I only now realized these weren’t the cards my parents gave me months before, which was good considering my change of residence. How many little things did Aaliyah do without my noticing?
Looking at the card, Niele said, “Beautiful card, James. You have a very unique business logo. It’s very eye appealing and a bit playful.” I smiled and told her “Thank you. A dear friend of mine painted and scanned the picture for me.” She nodded and replied “I’d like to get your friend’s number if you don’t mind. I might want something like this one day.” Regina’s handiwork was truly remarkable, and I was lucky to have known her. “I’m sorry, but that won’t be possible. I do know another exceptional painter you can contact though. I’ll give you her business number if you’re interested,” I suggested, thinking mother wouldn’t appreciate the business far more than Alma’s. She accepted and took the number down in her phone. We talked a little more until we arrived at her car, and then I apologized again for her dress before she parted. Unlike Isis, she seemed fairly happy, despite the ruined dress, which left me feeling altogether better about my day. She told me “I can tell this isn’t going to work out, but thank you for being a gentleman. Every girl wants to be treated like a princess at times.”, stepped into her vehicle, and drove away.
Sure, the date wasn’t the greatest by any stretch. I couldn’t really see myself dating Niele, since I wasn’t attracted to her, but she wasn’t a bad person either. She was, thankfully, gracious over a mishap that would have had some girls, like Phèdre, in a fit. Plus, there wasn’t a single sheep in the field of our conversation, which was such a blessing even with the discourse on law school nearly had me counting sheep at times. Now if I could finally get the sheep out of my head, I would be able to prepare for the upcoming battles on Ancient Tribes of Earth. The idea of slaughtering some sheep on there had some appeal, but some of the game’s aspects were extremely realistic, meaning a sheep massacre could impoverish a shepherd, raise cloth prices in that area, and upset the players who needed the fabric for crafting. Maybe I should’ve suggested for Isis to become a shepherdess in the game, so we might have something more relatable between us. I was willing to bet that the challenges involved in raising sheep in the game close to real life, including monstrous threats that could them whole. I was half tempted to ask the twins if werewolves ever went after sheep in real life, but I wasn’t sure if we were back on speaking terms yet. Life was difficult, but I still had hope.