My last first date was almost doomed before it ever got to the starting gate. â€œAlmostâ€ is such a stressful little word, isnâ€™t it? I got engaged on May 4thâ€¦weâ€™re getting married on July 2nd. And it ALMOST didnâ€™t happen. It all began in this cheesy little bar in Newport Beach called Woodyâ€™s Wharfâ€¦
It was three years ago when I was 35 years old and fresh from a string of less-than-desirable boyfriends. Iâ€™d gotten rid of the latest one the previous June and, after a few months of post-breakup depression, thrown myself into speed dating with great zeal. Iâ€™d had first dates in every place imaginable â€“ Starbuckâ€™s, Duffy boats, a Barenaked Ladies concert â€“ but none of these guys were getting anywhere near The Zone.
You know The Zone, right? Itâ€™s that really special place that surrounds your heart, without actually being inside it. The Zone is the place you giggled about with your girlfriends in junior high: â€I think he likes me! Youâ€™ve likely grown up a bit since then, and you probably donâ€™t laugh like a hyena anymore when you start liking someone. Still, when a new man gets into The Zone, your heart still shimmies in your chest and the world around you shimmers with an extra layer of beauty.
On a great first date, Mr. Hubba zings his arrow (pardon the metaphor) somewhere into The Zone. It might be the way he smiles or the touch of his hand on the small of your back as he guides you through a crowded room. It might be the sound of his laugh, or his ability to tell a great story. Iâ€™ll bet you $1000 that every single one of the authors in this contest knows the exact moment when her future husband breached The Zone.
The night I met my husband-to-be was a like a maze of bricks, laid down by a higher power, where every pathway led to a single destination. My mother died in January 2004 and my life was submerged in a syrupy river of grief. By April, my vision was clearing and I was starting to actually see the world around me again.
I attended OCCâ€™s April meeting and an author reception before running home to get gussied up to meet two couples I knew at a place in Newport Beach called The Quiet Woman. Their plan was to eat dinner and then bar-hop. It was my first time out since my mom had died and I changed my mind at least five times about whether or not I was going to go. I got to the restaurant at about 9:30 pm, right as the band was setting up. We danced through the first set before moving on to the next place.
If smoking were allowed indoors in California, all the smokers in Newport Beach would hang out at Woodyâ€™s Wharf. I saw several drunken boat pilots careen up to the docks out back to tie up and wander inside. The air was thick with the promise of a Saturday night singles scene. Though I was too old to believe the promise, I could still scent it in the air.
My girlfriend, Mary, and I â€“ two blondes â€“ were out on the dance floor together, shaking our groove thing, when this dark haired man with stunning blue eyes glided up to us.
â€œCan I join you ladies?â€ he said while he bopped in time with the music.
Mary gave me a smile soaked around the edges with vodka and said, â€œSure. Why not?â€
I admired the cohones on this guy â€“ he couldnâ€™t dance, but he had style. When the song ended, Mary bopped off to the bathroom and he and I went back to sit down at the bar where we began whole getting to know you Dance of Singles. This was helped along by Mary who sidled up a while later and joined the conversation.
â€œHey! Dance floor guy! Iâ€™m Mary, by the way.â€ She shook his hand. â€œWhatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œSteve? Uh-huh. What do you do? Oh, a Computer Guy! Uh-huh. Great! Jen works in computers! Where do you live? Oh, Newport Beachâ€¦close byâ€¦Great! How old are you? Forty-four? (She gave him a suspicious stare.) Have you ever been married? Reallyâ€¦did you have any kids? No? Well do you want to have kids?â€
(I tried to slink off right about this time but Mary trains dogs for a living and sheâ€™s got a grip like a pit bull.)
â€œHow do you feel about pets? Oh, youâ€™re afraid of dogs? Well, cause she has a dog, but Hoshiâ€™s a really nice dog. She really likes men â€“ Hoshi, not Jenâ€¦well, I mean Jen likes men too. Anyway, you guys will do great! What kind of dog? Oh, Hoshi is an Akita.â€
At the end of this conversation, she gave me a thumbs up (right in front of him) and zoomed off. Iâ€™m sure she went back to her husband Mike, who loves good gossip, to share the news that â€œJen-Pooh was talking to Dance-Floor Guy who stood up to the Inquisition.â€
I gave Steve a pained smile and we continued talking. I was thrilled when he asked if we could exchange information. He joined us when Woodyâ€™s closed and we all piled into a car and headed over to Villa Nova, a late-night place in Newport Beach. The six of us slid into a booth where I was squished between Steve on my left and Mike on my right.
After we ordered and everyone began talking, Steve leaned in toward me and said, â€œIâ€™m extremely attracted to you. Are you attracted to me?â€ I swear, he practically sniffed at me. I blessed the dim lighting that hid my instantaneous blush and stammered a response. Meanwhile, I felt Mike pressing closer to catch every word being said and gave him a swift elbow to the ribs.
Is there anybody more annoying than nosy married friends when youâ€™re single?
We drove Steve home â€“ I was again sandwiched between him and Mike â€“ and he directed us up to the gates of a glitzy Newport apartment complex. My heart sank. Iâ€™d been to several parties here and had seen nothing but pretentious men at every single gathering.
â€œWhy do you live here?,â€ I blurted out, then moaned silently. Did I actually say that out loud?
Steve didnâ€™t even pause. â€œMy parents are getting older and I like to live close to them.â€
â€œOhhhhh!â€ Mary and our other girlfriend sighed in unison in the front seat.
Steve got out of the car and shut the door. I turned back from watching him walk away and found Mike staring at me like something heâ€™d stepped in at the dog park. â€œWhy do you live HERE? You had it in the bag, and you say â€˜why do you live here?â€™â€ He threw up his hands. â€œHe is never going to call you!â€
Well, it took him almost a week, but he did call and we did arrange our first date. I opened my door to him and saw him go pale when he caught sight of my 90 pound Akita. When he walked through the door to meet my dog and I took his sweaty hand, I felt my heart wobble.
I started to give my usual spiel about how my dog is shy and if he just ignored her, sheâ€™d be his best friend in about 10 minutes. Then I gave him a quick hug and turned around to find Hoshi splayed out on her back with love-at-first-sight in her eye.
Steve kneeled down to pet her belly. Just like that, he breached The Zone.
Jenny Hansen (aka Jen Crooks) is a longtime OCC member who writes the Writer’s Word column for A Slice of Orange. By day, Jen manages the sales and marketing for a national training firm. After 12 years as a corporate software trainer, it’s nice for her to be able to sit down while she works. By night, she writes women’s fiction, chick lit and short stories.