The Therapist Emeritus had warned the Geeky Guy. When you’re dating someone, she said, you may think you know what to expect, but you don’t.
Nothing was as he expected; not the date and not the Lisping Barista. He proposed they talk over coffee for a half hour, get to know one another. It seemed to be a safe and proper thing to do with a young lady. The next thing he knew, they were on the highway.
He preferred driving. He felt better driving. He was anxious when he didn’t drive. She had pointed to her car, made room for him in the passenger seat, and told him he was paying expenses.
“Tho, are you ready to have a good time?” she said.
“I guess,” said the Geeky Guy.
“Then, leth do thith.” Whatever that was.
And so the Geeky Guy went on his first date, ever.
When you’re dating someone, said the Therapist Emeritus, there’s a lot of people involved. There’s the person as she actually is, there’s the person as she exists in your head, and then there’s the person she is trying to be. Additionally, all the women in your life show up and teach you what to expect. Finally, to top it off, there’s a parallel set of people on your side, confounding her. Dating is the process whereby all these people, imaginary or not, meet each other and, with any luck, get along.
The Lisping Barista’s car was just the type that all young baristas drive: a beater, broken down in all the ways that don’t matter too much and in some of the ways that do. She had a Life is Good sticker on her window: a grinning maniac, freewheeling on his bicycle. She had the same kind of grin on her face; freewheeling, also.
“You’re gunna love thith conthert. Ith all juth like thingth ought to be, everyone juth thitting back and enjoying life.”
She had some hypnotic, jam bandy, folky, blue grassy music playing. She shut her eyes and let the melody carry her. He liked music as much as anyone, but he’d already been in one car accident. He didn’t want to be in another.
He cleared his voice. He opened his mouth a few times before he spoke. Finally, he said, “Excuse me.”
‘I mean,” he said, gripping the seat. “Just one thing…I know you love this music and believe in its power to create a better world. But I wonder… if you could, just… you know…”
“Yeth? Could I what?”
“Could you please drive with your eyes open? At least most of the time?”
“What? You don’t think I can drive with my eyth clothed?”
She kept her eyes closed. There was an eighteen-wheeler to the right and a balding businessman in a Beemer to the left. Up ahead was a minivan with kids in the back watching their umpteenth showing of Beauty and the Beast. Then there was a curve.
“No, you can’t.” he said tensely.
“You don’t believe in me?”
They were still closed. The Beemer had passed and was replaced by a Honda with a mattress strapped to the top. The mattress was beginning to sail. Both the driver and passenger had their windows open and hands out, holding it down as best they could. To the right was the clear underbelly of the eighteen-wheeler, brakes hoses dangling, but not enough room to fit underneath.
“I believe in you, I just don’t believe your car can drive itself.”
“You don’t know my car. Ith very talented.”
They entered the curve. “Look out!” he shouted.
She made the curve, though her eyes were still closed.
“Thee, I can do it.”
The traffic slowed ahead. Even though he was in the passenger seat, he stomped on the brake, an imaginary brake, the brake he wished he had.
She braked in time, but they got close enough to see that Belle was entering the Beast’s castle.
At last, the Lisping Barista turned her head so that he could see that, though the eye on his side was closed, her left eye was open and had always been open.
“You’re right, I can’t,” she laughed. “Tho, I don’t try.”
He was a fool to try dating, a fool to ask her out, a fool to get in the car, and a fool to fall for her trick.
“Ith there anything elth you would like?” she asked. “I’m at your thervith.”
The dating phase was when the implicit terms of the relationship are set, unspoken provisions are negotiated, and unwritten contracts signed. Let’s just hope that the real person shows up before too many promises are made, the Therapist Emeritus had said.
“Where’s this concert we’re going to?”
“I told you, Mathachuthetth.”
“Massachusetts? We’re going all the way to Massachusetts?”
“I’th not that far. I’ve driven hundredth of milth to hear thith band.”
“Yes, there is something you can do,” said the Geeky Guy. “Could you, could you please take out that tongue stud so that you can speak clearly? It’s like I’m talking to Sylvester the Cat.”
She let go of the wheel for an interminable time and extracted the stud with both hands. He reached to steer the car himself. She dropped the stud and dove to the floor to retrieve it. He wavered into the left lane that had just, fortunately, been vacated by the Honda. To their right, the trucker looked with alarm and put down his coffee cup. Finally, the Lisping Barista came up from the floor with the stud and placed it in the Geeky Guy’s hands as she took the wheel again.
“Thank you,” he said, feeling as though she had given him a jewel of inestimable worth, instead of a tongue stud, covered in spit and floor debris.
“Ith that any better, do I thtill thoud like Thylvethter?”
“You’re hilarious,” he said.
“I’m not being hilarioth; I alwaths talk like thith.”
“It’s not the piercing?”
“No, I have a lithp.”
When you are dating someone, it’s amazing that it ever works out at all, considering all the confusions, complications, and gaffes. You do your best to hide the real you from your date, but, despite your best efforts, if she is looking at all, she will find it.
“I’m despicable,” he said.
“No, ith pronounthed dithpicable. Thath one word I can thay right. You’re dithpicable.” She laughed.