“Ouch! Stubborn hair!”
Gage Briody stood in the restroom of the Victoria’s Tea House, rubbing his face to make certain his jaw was smooth. He had shaved last night in anticipation for his date with Constance. Well, it’s not exactly a date. Gage reminded himself.
Constance Shelley, the lovely librarian at the Wright Reading Room, had agreed to “afternoon tea” with him today. She mentioned she wasn’t interested in dating, but Gage hoped to persuade her to change her mind.
He glanced at his teeth to make certain they were clean, and popped a mint in his mouth for fresher breath. He could meditate on her lips all day long. If only she’d let him near them.
Gage straightened his bow tie. This was the first time he had worn his tuxedo since his foster mom’s funeral. It was a sad occasion. He hoped that by wearing the tux today he could improve the luck of the suit. Man, it’s too over the top! Gage chided himself, looking at his watch. How early is too early to be waiting downstairs?
With twenty minutes to spare, Gage decided to pop into Queen Anne’s Flower Shoppe next door. He hummed a happy tune as he wandered through looking for a gift for his quasi-date.
“OOO… fancy!” the florist whistled.
He grinned. He didn’t mind.
“Hi…” he said, his tone a little too friendly. “What’s your name?”
She giggled. “I’m Solèi… but you can call me Lè…”
“Well, hello,Lè…” he flirted shamelessly. “What a nice name!”
“Oh,” she blushed. “It’s Nativian.”
“Oh really?” he hadn’t met many SimNatives though he didn’t really care what her name was, just that the perky florist was eyeing him up and down. “So Lè have you worked here long?”
“Since Simpril… anything you want to know, just ask.”
“Well, what’s a good gift for a first date that isn’t a date?”
She frowned. “A first date?”
“No, it’s not really a date… I mean… she doesn’t want it to be a date… uh…” Gage stammered. Idiot!
“Mighty overdressed for a first date,” she remarked. “If you have to dress like that, you’re overcompensating, do you not agree?”
“Oh?” he leaned over the counter, intrigued.
“Oh…” she flushed. “I mean, in my mind…” she paused as if trying to think of the word. “You should be comfortable and you should wear what you normally do. In my culture, it is very important to dress to oneself and one’s style. I would wear flowers because I am a florist.”
“Sounds like a nice idea,” Gage tried to picture the woman covered in nothing but roses.
“So you said you have a first date?” Lè changed the subject.
“Um… we’re hanging out as friends and I want this to be a friendly gift.”
She seemed to pause and ponder his statement for a moment. He wondered if he upset her, but he figured plenty of guys came in here and flirted with the native florist. She was pretty. She was probably used to it. What was the harm?
“Lè is here to serve,” she gave him a little bow, surprising him.
The employee helped him pick out an appropriate gift and he paid with his credit card. He spotted his “sort-of-not-really” date through the window.
“Constance…” he ran up to her, hating himself for sounding out of breath. “I am so glad you’re here. I’ve been waiting.”
The woman stared at him without saying anything. He frowned.
“I didn’t know what you wear to high tea so I decided overdressed was better than under,” he chuckled, trying to put himself and his female companion at ease.
“Oh…” she bubbled with laughter. “Well… this is a first… No, you do not normally need to look like James Bond to attend tea.”
“Okay… yeah… well… it’s my first time…” he shrugged off his embarrassment. “I thought you’d teach me. I am a willing pupil for such a lovely teacher.”
“Okay, I can work with that,” she said, still smirking.
They ordered their cups of tea – Constance picked out a greenleaf, her favorite, she said, and Gage decided to try the licorice tea. They took their seats and Gage pointed out his gift.
“I got you a fern,” he remarked. “I couldn’t find a red one… for the Where the Red Fern Grows reference since you said it was one of your faves, but I figured you might still like it for the circulation desk.”
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Um…” she began nervously. “Do you mind if we move the table?”
“Move the table?” he repeated.
“Yes, I like to sit facing the east if you don’t mind,” Constance explained.
“Okay… sure…” he shrugged.
“So how’s that?” Gage asked after the few seconds it took to rearrange their seating arrangement. “Better?”
“Yes,” she nodded, placing her hands in her lap and looking down at the floor.
She didn’t elaborate, and he decided not to pry. Perhaps it was a neuroses or something. He had his moods and preferences too so he couldn’t blame her.
“Do you like the fern?” he inquired after a moment of silence.
“Oh yes,” she spoke up quickly. “It’s lovely.”
Silence stretched between them again. Gage puzzled. Constance did not seem to be like her usual self, not that he knew her well enough to make a judgment call. That was what today was for – to get to know each other better. He wondered if he should ask about her day or work or if he should ask about her family or hobbies. She continued to stare at the table, a faraway look in her eyes. Maybe something’s wrong, he guessed.
“If you keep doing that, your face will freeze that way,” he teased in mock-pout.
She looked up at him, startled, as if he drew her away from her thoughts.
“Sorry,” she murmured. “I’m a little tired today.”
They enjoyed their cups of hot tea and chatted politely about the weather, the library, what they each did that day, and what kind of music they liked. Gage asked if she was hungry, and she shook her head. His stomach growled, but he didn’t want to make her feel more awkward. He glanced out the window. Wow! This is going great!
“I’ve been thinking. You should probably read a book that I like since I’ve read several that you like. Then you can get to know me better… maybe feel more comfortable around me.”
Oh boy! Why did I say that?
“Um… I mean… you’d probably like to get to know me better. I’m assuming.”
She blinked a few times, but still no smile or verbal response.
“I’ve been rereading the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Have you read them?” He asked, and then quickly added, “You’re a librarian… of course, you’ve read them.”
“I can reread them,” she remarked.
“Oh okay good… I was wondering if you’d answer me. I mean… I didn’t know if you’re having an off day or something because you haven’t been saying much, and I want to make sure you’re okay. Unless that cat’s got your tongue,” he smirked.
“I’m fine,” she replied.
“Do you have cats?”
“No, I’m allergic.”
“Then my cat joke was bad, I guess, since you don’t have cats. I assumed all librarians have cats. Oh!” he waved his hands around. “Not that you’re a cat lady or anything.”
“Look, Gage,” Constance interrupted, holding her hands up.
He closed his eyes and dropped his head. “Yeah I know. I’m not good with small talk.”
“No, it’s not that. I’m just going to stop this right now before it gets anymore awkward…”
“Is there some weird rule I’m missing? No talking at tea time? I probably should’ve brushed up on my etiquette before now.”
“No, we can talk during tea time… I just think you should know I don’t want to date you.”
He sat there, stunned. For the second time, she was rebuffing him. He was surprised. He thought he did everything right. He dressed up and groomed. He agreed to a time and place she selected. He brought her a gift. He was trying to make polite chit-chat. Wow! I must really suck.
“You’re a nice guy…”
Oh the brush-off! I’m getting the brush-off! Gage sat in disbelief.
“I am not ready to date anyone now, and you are… well, we’re here and you are dressed like that, and brought me a present, and I thought this was a casual get-to-know-you tea, but now I know I was way off or we got our signals crossed or something,” Constance explained.
“I am not ready to date anyone now. I…” she pursed her lips. “Just got out of a bad relationship earlier this year, and I know that sounds like a line, but it’s the truth. I need time and space to get my head and my life together. And I can’t be anyone’s girlfriend right now.”
“Wow!” was all Gage could say. He sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair. “That does sound like a line.”
“I’m serious though, you’re a really nice guy…” Constance inserted.
“Yeah, sure, I’ve heard that one before,” Gage grunted, and then tried to redeem himself. “Look… we don’t have to do anything quickly. We can take things slow and keep things really casual. I promise not to attach strings.”
Constance frowned. “I’m not even ready for slow, and I don’t do casual.”
“That explains a lot.”
“Nothing… just call me when you change your mind.”
“It won’t be soon, Gage, and you don’t want to date me anyway. I’m not your type.”
“Okay, that is a line.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Sure… okay…it’s obvious you don’t like me so we part ways. No skin off my back. I’m sure there are plenty of other women in Riverview or elsewhere who’d want to be with me.”
Constance narrowed her eyes. “You don’t have to be a jerk about it.”
“Why? You are.”
“I’m not. I’m politely telling you where we stand.”
“Yeah, well politely stand somewhere else. I’m over it.”
Constance stood up and walked out of Victoria’s Tea House. She didn’t even slam the door. Kass would’ve slammed the door, Gage thought. Constance did leave the plant.
Gage rearranged the table and sat back down, after ordering a triple espresso macchiato. The coffee tasted much better going down, helping him swallow the bitterness of rejection. He told Kass he loved her. She dated someone else. He told her he loved her again. She turned him away. He slept with Natalya. She wanted nothing to do with him. Or she would’ve called. He slept with Lakshmi. She went back to Simcago and told him it was a one-night stand. He had hoped to get something real with Constance. Something more than a one-time sexual encounter, but no, Constance wasn’t interested in him. Even after he invested in her and her books. Gage stared at the lid on his portable coffee cup feeling like a jerk… but the smallest jerk in the world.
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