Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Longest Date

The ticket to the speed dating event was a birthday present, one that Mason had been reluctant to use. Yet, against his expectations, he was enjoying himself. Mason had rehearsed his patter prior to the event until he could make it sound spontaneous. It consisted of a somewhat embellished compendium of the facts about his life, and included enough questions to make it seem that he cared about more than the looks of the other person. Mason had stumbled a little on the first two sittings but thereafter he was satisfied with his performance. The whistle blew on his fifth sitting. Mason, smiled, nodded, and stood up. He put a “yes” checkmark by Natalia’s name on his scorecard. He missed Natalia’s eye roll as he turned away.

He noticed passersby on the sidewalk peering in the front window and pointing. The event was held in a small downtown restaurant which was closed for regular business this night, as on every Monday.

As he approached the next table he again rehearsed his lines in his head. The amber-haired girl at the next table looked promising even from the back. She somehow had drawn his attention from the moment the night began. He sat down to face her. The imperfectly balanced square table rocked slightly when he touched it with his hand.

“Hi, I’m Mason,” he said.

“Yes, I know.”


“Don’t strain your memory. I’m Ellie.”

“Yes, of course you are. I’m just… uh… taken aback.”

All of his rehearsed patter left his head and he went silent.

“Is it three minutes yet?” she asked.

“I guess not. How have you been?”

“I’m attending this thing tonight. How good can I be?” she said.

“I certainly wouldn’t expect you to attend something like this.”

“I’m helping out Sheila who runs these happenings. She never has enough women.”

“I see... Look, I’ve always wanted to say that I’m sorry about the way I acted back then,” he said. “I wasn’t exactly Prince Charming, but I was pretty young. We both were. You know, you kind of have to be a jerk to learn not to be one.”

“I’ll take your word for it. And where on the learning curve are you now?” Ellie asked.

“I’m at point where I know the difference between the ones that get away and the ones to get away from.”

“I’m not a tuna…or a shark.”

“I just mean I’ve learned a few things since we last saw each other.”

“Just a few? Maybe you should go back and learn some more before showing up again.”

“Maybe. But, as a reminder, you are the one who left me,” he said. “It’s not like I just went away one day.”

“It’s exactly like that.”

“How do you figure? The last time we spoke, you told me not to call you again. ‘Ever.’ And then you hung up.”

“And you took that literally,” she said.

“How was I supposed to take it?”

“You are leaving out the little fact that you had ignored me for a whole month before that call.”

“I tried to explain. You wouldn’t let me.”

“You should have tried harder, with a note or something. Not that it would have made a difference. I blocked your texts.”

“I was having a lot of problems right then. Personal problems I had to work out alone,” he said.

“‘Had to?’”


“Why alone? Isn’t that what relationships are for?”

“Some of them. It takes a lot for me not to be private about some things, and we weren’t really that close. Besides I had financial issues too. I was broke. I lost my car. I couldn’t date if I wanted to – I couldn’t have split the bill for a pizza.”

“Well you at least could have mentioned that part. And what do you mean we weren’t close?” Ellie asked.

“Oh come on. We were not a couple couple.”

“Come again?”

“We never acted like we had a future or anything. We were never exclusive. You ran hot and cold, and there were always those other guys. Remember when you asked me to go out on the balcony when one of your boyfriends showed up unannounced? You said you would give him some excuse and send him away. The excuse took a while. Exactly what did you do to send him away happy?”

“That’s something you have no right to ask at this point. You didn’t ask then, so you can’t ask now. And I’ll tell you why you didn’t ask then. You were worried that if you raised a fuss I’d kick you out before you had your own playtime with me. That’s all our ‘relationship’ ever meant to you. Is this damn three minutes up yet?”

“Whatever happened to whats-his-name… Ray?”

“Rod. He’s dead.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Yeah, he O.D.’d. He had personal problems too. I would have preferred he left like you did,” said Ellie.

Breaking several moments of awkward silence, Mason said, “I kept our pictures.”

“How sweet. I didn’t.”

“… and a hair clip you left at my place.”

“Now that’s just weird and creepy. Why on earth did you keep that?”

“It’s more real than pictures.”

“That doesn’t reduce the creepiness factor at all.”

“You were more special to me than I realized at the time, you see. My exes look like you,” he said.

“Are you trying to freak me out?”


“And how many times have you been married?”

“Zero. By ‘exes’ I just meant…

“Yeah, I got it.”

“Look… I don’t mean to be creepy. Really. All I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t all bad,” he said.

“You really know how to sweet talk.”

“Have you been married?” he asked, surprised at himself for not having asked earlier.

“Just the once.”


“If you’re going to ask why, I don’t want to talk about it. And, no, I don’t go out much these days. Let’s just say the notion of getting involved with a man hasn’t been high on my priority list lately.”


“Mason, how about we don’t talk about ‘us’ anymore. Tell me something mundane about you. What do you do?”

“I’m a sales rep. Medical equipment. Nowadays that means computers more than anything.”

“Gave up playing bass? Sold out?”


“Do you at least make a good living at it?” she asked.

“I won’t be buying a penthouse on Park Avenue if that’s what you mean, but I do OK. I have this two-family house in the Burbs. Nothing big. I rent out one side to help pay the bills. I can buy pizza. How about you?”

“I manage a spa – facials and such. I don’t own it or work with customers. I just…” she faltered.

“‘Manage’ it. Right. When did you give up bartending?”

The whistle blew.

“Oh thank goodness,” she said.

“You might not believe this, but it was good to see you again,” said Mason.

“Yeah, well, do me a favor: Throw out that hair clip.”


As Mason walked away, he teetered between respecting her apparent wishes and checking the “yes” box on his scorecard. Contact information would be provided by the speed dating service only if both parties checked “yes.”  He decided there was no use fooling himself. He checked “no,” missing Ellie’s smile as she made a different mark on her form.

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