Caci threw outfit after outfit on the floor nervously. She paced in front of the mirror and then shrugged off her tights helplessly. Blind dates always made her anxious! How was she supposed to know what to wear, how to act?
She pulled on the knit dress she had discarded an hour ago and the boots that went with outfit number three. They were a good fit together; dressy, but still warm and comfortable. She bit her lip and glanced at the clock. She was running out of time, and late was not her ideal first impression. She slipped on her wool overcoat with gloves and a scarf and was decidedly happy she had done her makeup first. She pulled her hair out from under her coat and fruitlessly tried to make it lay nicely.
She glanced at the clock again and was shocked at how much time had passed. She grabbed her cellphone and wallet and ran out the door, locking it behind her before shoving her keys in her pocket. The restaurant they had chosen as a meeting place was only a few blocks away, not nearly far enough to make her take a cab, although after ten minutes in the cold with a bright red nose and flushed cheeks, Caci wished she had.
She paused outside the brightly lit display of the warm restaurant and wrung her hands. What if she messed everything up? She'd begun talking with this woman, Natalie, two weeks ago, through an online dating service that Caci had initially been skeptical of. Now, Caci found herself looking forward to the emails, the exchanges, the smiles and deep conversations. What if this meeting changed everything and she lost her new friend and companion? What if Natalie wasn't anything like she seemed through fiber-optic wires and a brightly light screen?
Words. Words were Caci's undoing, and Natalie had an abundance of them. Words poured from the woman's fingers like a freshly tapped spring. They bubbled through Caci and left her feeling giddy, light-headed, dizzy from all those beautiful words flowing over her.
Caci took a deep breath and unclenched her fingers, pulling the heavy door forward and basking in the warmth emanating from the restaurant's lobby.
"Hello," she greeted the headwaiter nervously. "I'm meeting someone, under Venois, party of-"
"She's with me," a woman cut in smoothly. She was tall, efficient, beautiful in a non-traditional way. Her mouth was wide, her eyes angled in a way Caci had never seen before.
Natalie smiled and offered her hand, "Caci? It's nice to meet you." Caci shook herself out of her stupor and smiled back, shaking her hand. She certainly hadn't expected Natalie to take her breath away.
"Right this way," a waiter beckoned, and Caci gestured for Natalie to go first. Natalie's stride was undoubtedly longer, and Caci wanted to take a moment to organize her thoughts, and also because Natalie was wearing jeans that accentuated her ass below her lovely pea coat and just maybe Caci found herself staring.
Caci removed her overcoat as the waiter handed her a menu and tried her best to sit down gracefully. Natalie ordered a glass of wine but Caci asked for water, sure that drinking was the best way to ruin the night quickly.
"I like your dress," Natalie smiled, a glimmer in her eyes. Caci flushed and took a sip of her water. Don't act like a school girl! She reminded herself.
"Thank you," she smiled. "I'm sorry if I kept you waiting."
"Just a minute or two," Natalie shrugged. "I'm always early. Do you always bite your lip when you're nervous?" Caci's hand flew to her mouth but she realized she wasn't biting her lip at the moment. She blushed further, realized Natalie must have seen Caci's indecision outside the restaurant.
"Bad habit," she admitted, lowering her hand to her lap.
"Beautiful habit," Natalie corrected, and Caci's eyes shot to hers. Natalie had never been so forward before. Flirty, yes, with plenty of innuendo, but here in person, it felt different. Here, all of her words were spoken with a voice smooth as honey and all those words dripped, sweet, low, and slow in Caci's ears. They warmed Caci from her hair to her toes, and she was having trouble breathing. She didn't have the words in return.
"I-" she swallowed, but her eyes were stuck on Natalie's. "I go through a lot of lip balm."
Natalie smiled at Caci's stutter and picked up her menu. "It's so cold outside, I'm not sure if I want soup or pasta, but definitely something warm," she said, looking over the entrees.
Caci couldn't make the switch in conversation, too stuck on Natalie's beauty, her words, her velvet voice in the din of the restaurant. She picked up her menu in a daze. "Warm sounds good," she agreed, still staring.
Natalie's mouth twitched.
Caci blinked a few times and tried to focus on her menu. Some of the words were foreign, but she could make out the meaning of everything. "I think I want the risotto, but all I keep eying is the tiramisu," she confessed.
Natalie laughed and set her menu down. "So get the tiramisu," she suggested.
"No," Caci shook her head. "I have to get dinner first. Plus, you're right, it's cold outside, so I should get something that would warm me up."
"You were paying attention," Natalie teased and Caci bit her lip, embarrassed.
"Yes, I- I was just distracted. You don't post pictures of yourself on your profile but you're-" Caci swallowed on the word, "well, you're beautiful," she confessed.
This time Natalie's smile was warm and gentle. "Thank you," her words melted over Caci and she felt cocooned in them. "How was work?" Natalie prompted.
"Oh, wonderful!" Caci smiled. "One of my students did her paper on the lives of sea otters and it was actually quite good. She put in little boxes for drawings and everything."
"Cute," Natalie leaned in. "Did you always want to be a teacher?"
"Not at all," Caci admitted. "I mean, I like kids, but my real passion is language. How it can be used, abused, painted with, given completely new life and meaning with each generation." It's what attracted me to you, she wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come out. "Teaching came later, because there are few jobs I can do with my degree. I spent a year listening to high school kids mutilate the English language and then decided I'd rather help shape how children use language than try to correct horrible mistakes later."
"So you're not just beautiful and talented, you're smart and have common sense. Isn't that too many gifts for one person?"
"You're much more beautiful and talented and smart, and funny. You make me laugh so often and sometimes I open a message from you and start giggling and everyone looks at me like I'm crazy."
"You do?" Natalie asked in surprise and Caci blushed.
"Yes," Caci reached for her water, "I love reading everything you write to me." Afraid of how that sounded, she quickly tacked on, "I do have a thing for words, you know."
"Mmm," Natalie hummed and took a sip of her wine, but the corners of her mouth were tilted. "I enjoy messaging you. You have a very unique perspective of the world and your descriptors are so contrary to anything I've ever read or anyone I've ever met."
"Are you two ready to order, or would you like more time?" the waiter interrupted, and Caci was glad for the distraction.
"We're ready, thank you," Natalie decided. "What would you like, Caci?"
"I'll have the risotto, please. House specialty."
"Very good, excellent choice," the waiter commented, taking her menu.
"I'll take the bucatini, please, and can we order a tiramisu for dessert?"
"Oh, no!" Caci jumped in. "We don't need to - it's fine."
Natalie merely smiled at the waiter. "Tiramisu after the main course?"
"Of course," he grinned back. He winked at Caci as he tucked his notepad in his pocket and walked away.
"Thank you, that's very sweet. But really, I don't even know if I'll be hungry enough for dessert after," Caci bit her lip.
"You can take it home," Natalie shrugged, smiling. "So, where were we? I think it was something about you giggling at my emails?"
Caci shook her head, laughing. "Please, anything but that. How was your day?"
"Busy. People get so picky about their advertisements. Sometimes I get frustrated because they are paying me to create something beautiful and extraordinary for them, and then they tell me how they want it laid out and I know it's going to look awful. But, they're in charge, so what can I do but take it?" Natalie shrugged with a half smile.
"That has to be difficult. Especially all the art school and training, and then to have someone with no knowledge or experience tell you how to do your job? Sounds stressful. How do you relax?"
Natalie grinned wickedly and Caci wished she hadn't asked. "There's quite a few options to choose from," she leaned in across the table as she reached for her wine, and Caci felt a blush creep along her skin. "I enjoy running, massages, photography. I like things that get me out of my head. I seem to spend a lot of time there. As do you."
Caci wrung her hands under the tablecloth. She couldn't meet Natalie's eyes. She could just picture Natalie all those ways: jogging through the cold morning fog, warm and soft and oiled under Caci's hands, with a camera shutter clicking between them as Caci sat up in bed in the morning light. All of Natalie's words had come to life on the screen between them, but her voice broad casted them as crystal clear videos that played continuously on a loop for Caci. She couldn't take a proper breath.
"I'm a very cerebral person," Caci admitted, but the images wouldn't go away. She looked up, and Natalie's eyes strengthened the connection. The images blurred, shifted. Natalie laughing over her at the windowsill with the camera in her hand, "Don't be embarrassed, you'll still have a sheet on." Natalie coming in the door from her run, sweaty, exhilarated. Natalie sipping coffee and leaning against the breakfast counter in a camisole as Caci stumbles forward groggily before school.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?" Caci asked, embarrassed. She shook herself into the present.
"I said that if you keep looking at me like that I'd have to skip the dinner formality and just kiss you. But knowing you were so lost you couldn't even comprehend-" Natalie paused, licked her lips. Her eyes were dark, pupils wide. "You are something else," Natalie decided.
Caci was caught staring at Natalie's glistening mouth. "Is that good or bad?" she asked quietly, and Natalie reached for her.
"Good," she assured, squeezing Caci's hand. "Definitely good." Caci tried to calm her breathing, but Natalie's skin covering hers was making her heart pound furiously. The pads of her fingers were scratchy and Caci idly wondered why, even as the sensory perception compounded to the images already floating through her.
She could almost feel Natalie's fingers on the back of her neck, could imagine them gripping a pencil or a whisk. She could see Natalie everywhere, like a shadow in all corners of Caci's life, having always been there, but unnoticed until now - so right, so normal.
"The first course, madams," the waiter interrupted with two plates. He smiled at them at Natalie released Caci's hand. Caci tucked her fingers in her lap and wrung them together, cheeks blooming. Stop acting like an idiot! she told herself, but she still couldn't bring her heart rate down. She kept her eyes cast on her plate as the waiter refilled her water and made sure they were settled comfortably. He left and Caci picked up her fork.
"Do you say grace?" she remembered to ask before she took a bite, and Natalie threw her head back to laugh.
"No," there was a smile in her eyes. "I don't say grace. Do you?"
"No," Caci responded, feeling chastised by Natalie's booming laugh. She wished she understood the joke. "I'm spiritual but not religious."
"That's a good way of saying you don't know what you believe," Natalie prodded her with a grin.
"What I believe doesn't seem to fit with any religion. They are my own paradigms and just because I haven't written them down and made up a name for them like Snofagolopagism doesn't make them any less real to me," Caci countered firmly.
"Fair point," Natalie grinned saucily and took a bite. "I just wanted to see you argue."
Caci's mouth dropped open before she closed it with a smile and a shake of the head. She could understand that. She and Natalie had such an interesting back and forth online that it was interesting to see how different it would play out in person. They would both be testing the waters all night.
"You are so frustrating sometimes," Caci confessed with a laugh.
"Better than if I were boring," Natalie took a sip of her wine. "You need to be challenged, Caci. You need to think, to argue, to form thoughts and opinions and have deep conversations. It's how you were built."
Caci felt as if she were being stroked by all of Natalie's words. She could feel herself calming, being caressed by the silky touch of her reasoning. I do need all of that. I need the deep conversations and the arguments, I need the thought-provoking discussions and the topics no one else will broach, she wanted to cry out. Caci held her tongue.
"Boring is not so bad occasionally. A night in, Chinese food," Caci shrugged instead.
"Occasionally," Natalie smirked. "You know, there's a great Chinese place one block from my apartment," she winked and Caci blushed and picked at her plate.
"I can never tell when you're flirting to joke," Caci admitted. Natalie's smile dropped and she was silent for a minute. Caci's hand trembled. She wanted to cry. She never should have said anything. Better to not know where she stood than to have this - this awkward silence, this loss of the person with the words, so many words that could soothe, arouse, bewilder, bemuse.
"I'm sorry, Caci," Natalie started, setting down her fork. "It's a tactic. Flirting and then pulling back. I am not sure where we stand and-" she stopped, tapped her index finger on the handle of her fork.
"I'm not either," Caci confessed. "Look, we didn't, either of us, come into tonight expecting anything or with a plan in mind. I just didn't expect all the forward - I mean, it's fine - I just - "
Natalie smiled, "Oh, Caci, can we have this conversation after dinner? I'll try to be less outrageously flirty. Keep it to one level. I enjoy talking with you and I would like to share this meal with you."
Caci breathed again. "Sure," she smiled. "I'd love that."
"So," Natalie took a breath and closed her eyes. She licked her lips, speared a piece from her plate. "You have one brother?"
"Yes," Caci smiled, feeling surefooted. "He's older by two years. He is a baseball coach at a private high school a few hours from here."
"So you both work with kids?" Natalie noted with a smile. "Do you want any?" Caci almost choked on her risotto.
"Not at the moment, no," she managed to recover. "We'll see how life's road goes. For Jeff, he loves teaching high school kids because he still feels like one of them," Caci smiled. "Only perk is now he can legally drink. You have a brother and sister, don't you?"
"Mmm," Natalie murmured her agreement. "Two very temperamental people." Caci giggled.
"Are you close?"
"We call and text. Fairly short conversations because we seem to communicate without needing too many words, but it's comforting to know they are there when I need them, I suppose."
"Jeff tries to text me, but I refuse to communicate with him that way. He spells like a seven year old. It's just easier on me if I call him," Caci admitted with a laugh.
"That must be difficult in your relationships," Natalie's eyebrows furrowed. "Not many text with proper spelling or grammar."
"I can get over it," Caci shrugged with a sigh, "unless it's truly atrocious. Remember that I'm around kids who have trouble spelling all day."
"So if I were to text message you and spell every third word wrong..."
"I would know you were doing it on purpose," Caci teased, but her face flushed. It wasn't the same. All those beautifully spelled, perfectly punctuated words made Caci's mind run ragged, made her breath catch. A well placed phrase, a graphic sentence, could send her reeling until her muscles throbbed with want and a thick ache pulsed through her. A voice mail could be ecstasy, a text message, heaven.
She bit her lip and remembered Natalie's earlier words "A beautiful habit," she'd corrected, so languidly, such a matter of fact statement, and Caci could hear them being whispered in her ear. Caci squirmed as her breath caught and her gaze slid out of focus. She could feel Natalie's breath on her neck, Natalie's thumb at the corner of her mouth, tugging at her lower lip to release it from its prison.
"I don't know where you go but I don't really care," Caci heard Natalie groan and made herself come back to the present. The heat was still there, in the back of her mind and in the pit of her stomach, but she tried to focus on the woman next to her. Natalie was staring, eyes wide, at Caci, her knuckles white as she gripped the table's edge.
Caci reached forward to calm her, but Natalie flinched back, drawing her hands into her lap. "I can't keep my promise unless you-" she swallowed with difficulty. "Unless you stop doing that."
Her promise? What promise? Caci tried to remember, but her brain felt overheated. She could still feel Natalie panting against her neck and tried not to close her eyes and lean into the illusion. Caci couldn't take a deep breath, couldn't cool down her oversensitive skin. She needed to plunge into the icy air outside and refocus, but all she wanted was for Natalie to lean in close and wrap more of those gorgeous words in her deep, velvet voice to push Caci over the edge.