Paul motioned for Sarah to exit the cinema first. His generous act gave him the few precious seconds he needed to process his thoughts. It’s hard to hide disappointment from your face, particularly from the ladies who are gifted in reading such things. Foolish. Selfish. Careless. Stupid. His casual dress, jeans and tee-shirt, screamed amateur as he stood next to Sarah wearing a stunning red dress. Awkward silence brought that drama to a conclusion. Now he couldn’t comprehend his decision to take Sarah to this action movie for their first date. There was no way she enjoyed it, he could tell. The irony was his concern for Sarah meant he didn’t enjoy the movie either, such a waste. She turned to face him and boldly reacquired his hand. Navigating your way through a large crowd dispersing from a narrow door can easily take you in the wrong direction.
Once cleared of the mob, Sarah asked, “What’s wrong?”
Busted, he knew it. Lying would only make things worse now. “Just wishing I’d chosen differently.”
“The movie or your clothes?”
He knew it, she can read his mind. He bit his lower lip and nodded, “Both.”
Sarah stopped, “Hey, it’s fine. You asked me to the movies. I said yes to you, not your clothing or film choice.” Sarah leaned in slowly and gave Paul a loose, but warm hug.
“What do you want to do now?”
“We’re supposed to have dinner at…”
“But what do you want to do?” Paul frowned, unsure how to answer that one so Sarah stepped in.
“Want to get a takeaway burger?”
A wave of relief washed over him like a cool breeze taking away the disappointment, regret and negativity, “Yeah, I would.”
“There you are, welcome back. You need to be you, the real you.”
Her smile was so friendly, her eyes pierced his very soul but he welcomed it. Paul offered his left elbow, “This way my lady, dinner is being served momentarily.” Sarah locked her arm in his and they both chuckled.
It was a short walk in the pleasant evening air to Paul’s favourite burger place, Burgers Forever. He already knew what he was going to order, the menu was imprinted on his brain. Tonight it was going to be the Deluxe Burger for sure. His gaze went up to the stars hanging in the heavens.
Curious, Sarah looked up too. “Do you like to dream about visiting the stars?”
“Yes, but it’s more dreaming with them.”
“How do you mean?”
Paul stopped and came beside Sarah to match her eye level with his index finger. He focused on one spot, “See that one, flickering slightly, a bit dull compared to the others?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Well, out of all those stars up there, I chose that one when I was ten years old.”
“Really, for what?”
“It represents my distant future, my hopes and dreams.”
“You’re sure it’s the same one you chose ten years ago?”
“I’m shocked you would ask such a thing. Do you not know the relentless commitment of a boy’s ten-year-old mind?” Paul snickered, “Yes I am sure. It was my father’s idea to choose one. He said it will remind me that there is something important I’m on Earth to do. The closer I get to it, the brighter that star will shine.”
“That’s beautiful.” She seemed surprised, taken aback.
“What is it?”
“Well, I expected you to tell me about your love of science fiction and how you wanted to be an astronaut or something. Then you would tell me your favourite movies and I would tell you mine.”
Paul’s mouth opened wide, “Are you telling me you like sci-fi?”
“I looove sci-fi.”
“Woman, don’t toy with me.”
She placed a hand on his cheek, “Never about this.” She gently pecked his cheek with a warm kiss.
It seemed a long time that neither of them spoke, there was a lot to digest. Burgers Forever was close yet felt as far away as Paul’s star. He had to know more and motioned for Sarah to sit awhile on the park bench nearby. Turns out Sarah ticked a lot of boxes in shared interests. Even boxes Paul had never dared write on his mind, this was an amazing night. They laughed hard together, shared testimonies of the past, good and bad then dreamed a little together. Paul could feel the muscles in his cheeks beginning to ache. Smiling for so long hurts, but it was a good pain. He felt different tonight, more hopeful. Could Sarah be the one?
In silence, they held hands and watched the flickering stars. They played music but it required skills rooted in patience, hope and imagination to hear them. After a quick tutorial passing on what his father had taught it was obvious Sarah was a natural. She heard them too, they both listened to the cheerful, dramatic melody that was playing just for them. It was Sarah that broke the silence.
“You’ve been watching that same star since you were ten. What are your distant hopes and dreams?”
“There’s many but one of the first was a clear picture of my wedding day.”
“What? You planned your wedding day when you were ten?”
Paul nodded, “Is that unusual?” They both chuckled again. Paul shared his vision of a big white wedding. He’d chosen the songs, the church, the reception, the food and even his vows. That one shocked Sarah.
“You’ve already written your vows?”
“Years ago. I want my commitment to be from here,” he pointed at his heart, “so I need to know it up here,” Paul touched his forehead. Sarah just stared at him. “It’s how I’ll know when I find the one, my true star.” Paul closed his eyes and listened to the music, this time coming from his heart.
Thankfully, Burgers Forever was open quite late. The short distance they had to travel took some time to traverse. Sarah chose the same Deluxe Burger as Paul enjoying every last bite and when he asked if she’d like dessert, an immediate and enthusiastic yes followed. Walking back to the car licking ice creams Sarah looked up once more.
“I don’t think I can see your star anymore.”
Paul looked fleetingly, “No, it’s out of sight now.”
“Does that make you sad?”
“No, I know it’s there. I see it always, even during the day.” Sarah looked puzzled so Paul touched his chest again, “It’s in here, with me always.” Sarah looked like she would cry, “I’m sorry, I know it sounds cheesy…”
“No, it doesn’t. It’s you, the real you and I love that.”
“Tell me truthfully then about the real you. Are you a romantic?”
“No. At least not in the way I think you mean.”
“I’ve read enough romance novels and seen enough of the movies to know how it’s all glamourised. Because I’ve seen enough divorce and failed relationships to prove there’s a rather large disconnect. Something is very wrong with the world’s way of love.”
Paul swallowed the last of his cone and so did Sarah. They both giggled at the drips of melted ice cream over their faces and hands. They quickly cleaned themselves up before Paul sat back down on the bench and invited Sarah to join him.
“So what have you concluded then?”
“Well, it’s backwards.”
“People want the fuzzy feelings right away and to have them forever. The feelings don’t last and they expect it to be easy. They become disillusioned and give up.” Paul engaged Sarah’s eyes for more. “It’s a choice, a commitment to something bigger than the individual, a long journey.” Sarah pointed to a large tree gently lit by a street light nearby. “A tree starts as a small seed. It has to fight to survive and grow strong to withstand threats and storms. With the right nutrients, water and sunlight, look what it can become. The seed is real love to me. When it matures, the fuzzy feelings people crave will be there often.”
Paul smiled, “Wow, stars and trees. The answers are right in front of everyone. What role do you fill for the tree?
“I think both parties provide the food and drink that only their true selves can provide. The sunlight comes from above. That makes for a healthy tree.” Paul studied the huge tree, its muscular branches, its stature, its reach. He looked to the top and saw it reaching up to touch the stars above.
Sarah studied Paul’s thoughtful face. “What are you thinking now?”
“How one day I’d meet someone who thought differently like me. One who would choose.” He turned to Sarah and smiled.
Sarah smiled back, “I’ve made my choice.”
“So have I.”
This short story was inspired by a prompt provided by Reedsy.com. If you're interested in participating or would like to read other short stories, you can find the Reedsy Weekly Writing Prompts by clicking here.
Prompt Used: Write about a first date that surprises both people, but in different ways.