Chapter Six – Definitely Not Date Night
"This night is going to be so awkward." I sighed.
Carla promptly smacked me on the arm, "Hey, a lot of gals would be happy to go on a date with a handsome, intelligent, well-off man. Don't look a gift-horse in the mouth."
"I told you it's not a date. And the fact that neither of us is interested in each other, that we're only there to discuss what to do about his family ring which is stuck on my finger kind of subtracts from the romance of it all."
After Jon and I had watched the highly humiliating YouTube video of us and hung up nothing, not even yoga practice had been able to make me relax. Then the next day Jon had called me at work again to arrange a meeting between us, since he didn't trust me not to keep avoiding him. Neither of us had been able to do lunch and so we were having dinner together at a restaurant he'd assured me I'd like.
I might like the restaurant but the company was a little more questionable. Jon might be an all-round terrific guy but he hadn't seemed too impressed with me so far. And considering the things he got up to when he was drunk I wasn't too impressed with him either.
But the fact remained that I wanted to put my best foot forward on this as we tried to figure out what to do. And…well, I was still female. If there was a hot guy around I did want to look good. But I also didn't want to look like a blonde bimbo. That was why I'd called Carla and Kira around to my place to help me pick what to wear.
"Yeah but he's taking you to an Italian place." Carla insisted. "Do you know how much I'd love to have someone take me on a date to a place like that?"
"It doesn't matter because it's not a date."
Kira was hunkered down on the couch beside me dealing with my outfit. (Oh how it pays to have aspiring fashion designers for friends). She had been quiet previously but now she commented, "And you're meeting at his place?"
"Yeah." I said. "We're meeting there and then he's going to take me to this Italian-" I ignored Carla who had flopped back onto the couch in depression "-restaurant and then he'll drop me off home."
Carla pulled herself back up and with a dubious expression asked, "Are you sure you trust him?"
I sent her a scathing look. "This coming from the girl who went on a blind date with a biker named Fist to some place called 'The Hairy Snake' and had to have her friends rescue her?"
"Touché." Carla admitted, and went back to being flopped out on the couch.
"There." Kira said, re-joining the conversation. She gestured to the outfit she'd laid out for me. "Feminine, sophisticated but not too flirty."
I eyed the outfit and smiled. There was the slightly sexy black top Kira had made for me a few years ago; black in the front with a back made of black lace. Then plain black jeans and some heels.
"You'll have your hair down of course." Kira continued on. "It may look a little more romantic but it would be weird you having it up when you wear it down almost every day."
I nodded. Combined with my clutch purse and my wits it seemed to have every intention of getting me through a Jon-filled evening. Then I frowned.
"What about a jacket?"
Kira and Clara eyed each other with small smiles. "Not necessary."
I narrowed my eyes at the two of them but decided I really didn't want to know…
Jon's Point of View
I paced back in front of my door trying to calm my nerves. Claire and I were only meeting to brainstorm ideas on how to get out of this ridiculous situation, but nevertheless, it had been a very long time since I had been out to dinner with a woman. And top of that I'd just had to invite to her to my favourite restaurant. If she didn't like it…well. After I got my ring back we'd never meet again. But until then I would value her opinion. But just a little. And if I had to admit it to myself I wanted to impress her a little.
Hence the reason why I was actually trying harder than usual with my appearance. Something I hadn't done since Laura had…
Ding Dong. The two clear notes sent me reaching for the door handle. I prepared my best welcome-smile, expecting it to be Claire. But when I opened the door it revealed a grinning Harvey leaning against the doorframe. Without waiting for my say-so he moved past me into my apartment. I sighed and closed the door behind him.
"Well, well," Harvey commented, looking around the room. "Someone really has got to get some new furniture."
"Laura took most of it when she left." I shrugged. "I haven't gotten around to getting more."
Harvey fixed me with a look. "Six months and you 'haven't gotten around to it'. I think not." His eyes narrowed at me as he took in my appearance. "Ooh, but looky here." He said as he circled me. "Someone's trying to impress."
"I am not, Harvey." I said through gritted teeth. "This is practically a business meeting."
"The fact that you shaved, something you usually only do once a week now, and that you're wearing nice clothes. Well that proves otherwise." He finally came to a stop in front of me. "Face it dude you've got it bad for her."
"I do not-"
We both raced for the door but Harvey was closer. He pulled it open and in his best British accent announced:
"This is the Buckingham household, how may I be of service?"
"Oh, sorry, I must have the wrong door." Claire said in confusion. She started to walk away.
Pushing Harvey out of the way I called, "Claire!" she turned back and saw me, her confusion ebbing a little. "Sorry about that. This is Harvey. He's just being an idiot."
Claire held a hand out to shake and Harvey bent low and kissed it. "Charmed I'm sure."
"An idiot who was just leaving." I said, all but pushing Harvey away. I opened the door and grabbing a fistful of Harvey's collar, chucked him out into the hallway.
"Nice to meet you dude!" Harvey called back to Claire, losing the fake-butler impersonation.
Claire gave him a funny look. "Uh…I don't know if you've noticed Harvey. But there are a few differences in our anatomies. I'm hardly a dude."
"You're right. Nice to meet you dudette!" he called and waved furiously. I went to close the door and he whispered to me, "I like this one."
"You liked the last one." I muttered darkly and closed the door.
"So…" I said. I was leaned back against the door. "Again, I'm sorry about that. My friend Harvey is under the delusion that he's a comedian."
"I know the feeling." Claire said. "Is he really British?"
"Too bad he's not Italian." She muttered.
"Pardon?" I opened the door and ushered her out.
"Oh nothing." She said quickly. "So what's the name of this place?"
"It's called Cibo Italiano." I said, grabbing my keys and locking my apartment. "Little place on Trafalgar Street." We headed down the hallway to the elevator. "You can wait out front while I bring my car around and then we can go."
During the elevator ride down we made small talk so polite that by the time we reached the lobby I was glad to escape to fetch the car. Fighting with Claire I could handle. Drama with Claire I could handle. But asking about her workplace and friends? Not so much. It just reminded me of how rather un-gentlemanly I had been to her the last time we'd met when it seemed she didn't actually warrant it. Besides, the last time we'd been face to face she'd been in full on office mode and this time she was dressed as sophisticatedly as any of his female co-workers…but in a much more attractive fashion. And as Harvey was always reminding me, I did have a weakness for stubborn women. It was what had attracted me to Laura in the first place…
Giving myself a firm mental shake I pushed all thoughts of Laure out of mind. I was out to have a business dinner with Claire Jackson and I didn't need complicated thoughts about my ex getting in the way. And so I brought my silver Mercedes Benz (a particular treasure of mine) around to the front of my apartment complex where Claire was waiting for me. She was looking, dare I say it, a tad nervous. But when I pulled up she formed a more dignified expression almost instantaneously. I got out of my car just in time to hear her say sardonically,
I smiled slightly. "I try."
Mentally I was thinking to myself, well Thank God the fake pleasantries are over with. I'd much rather have a round of good witty banter rather than the pretend civility bull. I opened the passenger door for her and was rewarded with a look of surprise.
"Well aren't you just a gentleman." she smiled, hopping inside.
I joined her and said dryly, "Must be Harvey's British tendencies rubbing off on me."
She rolled her eyes, "He's British and yet he says 'dude'. Somehow that only seems Californian to me."
I hide my smile and pulled out into the light evening traffic. "I've tried to cure him of it but I think he enjoys irritating me too much to stop."
"Well who wouldn't enjoy irritating you?" She quipped. There was a pause and then she bit her lip realising she'd been rude. Quickly continuing she added, "You two seem close."
"Yeah, we're great mates." I ignored her earlier jab. "How about you and those two friends of yours? You all seem pretty tight."
"We are, we all went to uni together, flatted together and now we work together. Tight as tight can be."
"So what are they like?" I glanced at her while I waited for the lights to change. She was smiling, a very striking smile lit up by car headlights. The lights changed and I pulled onto Trafalgar Street.
"What are they like? Well…Carla's crazy and male-orientated. Kira's shy and sweet and I'm the sensible optimistic one."
I chuckled. "Sounds very clichéd."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw her shake her head slightly. "The thing about clichés is that they never work in real life. Sooner or later someone does something unexpected and they break out of the little cliché box you put them in."
I was still digesting that little nugget of wisdom as I pulled into the car park closest to Cibo Italiano. Claire did seem to have more than air in her head. Something I had doubted ever since she'd said to me 'There a last name with that um-Jon?' Although it had been meant sarcastically. But it had been a tad hard to take her seriously with her standing there in her gold sequin dress, her face still flushed from being caught hiding at the foot of my bed. It still was a little.
We unbuckled ourselves and I moved to get out of the car when she stopped me.
"Don't worry, I may be a blonde but I have been known to open my own door from time to time." She said and stepped out.
I was spared responding due to the fact that I had just swallowed my tongue. Not because of her witty response but because I only just noticed that the entire back of her shirt seemed to be made out of some black lace material.
"Are you going to stay in there all evening?" she asked from the footpath.
"I'm coming." I choked out, my voice much deeper than usual.
Thankfully the cold air seemed to snap me out of it quickly enough. By the time we had walked the short distance to the restaurant and were seated at a quiet table by the window I was myself again. Harvey was right; I really did need to get out more. But before I could think too much into it, Joe, my usual server came over and once again I was in familiar territory.
"A very good evening to you Jon," he smiled at me and Claire in turn, "And to you too miss. I must say it's been a while since I've seen you in here Jon."
"I've been busy." I shrugged, not wanting to open that particular can of worms.
Joe nodded in agreement and handed us menus, "Here you go. I'll give you two a minute to decide."
"No need. I'll have the Pollo e Funghi with the Caprese Salad, but hold the olive oil like usual." I recited, not even looking at the menu. "And why don't you bring a side plate of wedges while Claire decides."
Joe nodded and jotted down my order quickly. "Any drinks?"
I looked questionly at Claire. She looked a touch surprised at my rapid reply but collected herself quickly and shook her head. "Just water for me please."
"Make that water for both of us thanks."
Joe nodded at me before flashing Claire a smile and heading off to the kitchen. Claire shot me an enquiring look.
"I come here a lot." I shrugged.
She glanced at the menu and then back up at me. "Anything you could recommend?"
I looked down at my menu, "For you…hmm, either the Pollo e Avocado or the Alla Matriciana. They're both good choices."
I'd never ordered them for myself but they were Laura's favourite dishes because they were slightly healthier, and on occasion we'd flirted over the dinner table and she'd fed me bits. From what I remembered they were delicious. But the sudden thought of Laure was like a cut to the gut. I winced. Luckily Claire was absorbed in her menu and didn't notice.
I wished I had suggested something else.
Scratch that. I wish I had suggested someplace else…
"Well, chicken pieces in cream sauce with avocado and parmesan…or bacon, capsicum, onion and chilli in tomato and basil sauce…decisions, decisions…"
I took a moment to collect myself and banish all thoughts of Laure from my mind for the second time that night. This wasn't good. So far I'd been training myself to never think of her, and here I was sitting with another woman and I couldn't stop. But it wasn't like Claire and I were on a date. It was definitely not a date. And once I got my ring back I'd never have to see her again.
"I think I'll go for the Alla Matriciana." she said, struggling with the Italian pronunciation. I hid my smile and gestured to Joe. Once we had her order sorted and Joe had brought us our wedges and drinks it was time to get down to business.
"Okay Claire." I leaned forward and clasped my hands together on the table. "You know why I've asked you here."
Claire covered her mouth to try and smother a grin and failed miserably. "Sorry," she said when I looked at her, puzzled. "It's just that you sound like you're about to sack me or something."
I raised my eyebrows and smiled. "Not quite."
"Where do you work anyway?" she asked.
"Uh…" I managed to get out, very taken aback.
"Hey, it's only fair. You know where I work afterall." she insisted.
I rubbed the back of my neck. "Well I work at the Nelson Press."
She nodded in appreciation. "The bigwig newspaper of our fair city. Makes the News in Nelson look completely small-fry. What department do you work in?"
"Actually I'm one of three senior executives working for the CEO. We kind of run the company under him."
I watched in amusement as her eyebrows rose.
"Well jeez, now I just feel insignificant." she smiled.
We both took a second to chuckle over that before I decided it was time to get down to business again. Which was too bad really. Once you got past the ring business and her crazy friends she was actually quite a riveting woman…but nonetheless, she had something that belonged to me. And there it was, shining on her finger.
"Anyway, back to business." I became serious again. "We need to figure out what to do."
She sighed, "I don't see what we can do. Everybody is shut until January or halfway through. And then they all have waiting lists a mile long."
I thought for a moment, "Well…maybe if I could get a hold of my family jeweller he could squeeze us in. He's always doing us favours…but we'd still have to wait until after the Christmas holidays. And I'd have to try and get a hold of my parents to get his details."
"Will that be so hard?" she asked.
I snorted. "There're on a cruise around New Zealand. No cell phones, no ship phones, only an emergency phone for the captain if there are problems with the ship. It's supposed to be a 'natural' cruise. I'm not even sure when they'll get back."
She bit her lip. "That does sound rather difficult."
Just then Joe arrived back laden with steaming plates.
"La ringrazio molto il cibo profumo delizioso." I told Joe.
I dug into my meal wholeheartedly. It was only around now that I had been so busy I had forgotten to eat lunch. I was starving. In fact I was intent on simply eating my meal that it was a moment before I noticed Claire was staring.
"Sorry, am I grossing you out?" I asked, wiping my face.
"No, not at all…it's just…you speak Italian…"
"Not that much." I said. "I only know a few little phrases. I just said thanks for the meal and that it smelled delicious."
"Still." She had a strange expression on her face. "I have a friend who would just love you."
I decided not to reply to that and instead I focused on my meal. Soon enough she dug in too and throughout the meal we only exchanged a few pleasantries and comments about the food. But then partway through the meal I heard Claire mutter, 'Oh God' so quietly that I almost didn't hear her. Frowning, I looked up at her and say she was staring out the window in dismay. I looked behind me but I couldn't see anything.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
She looked back at me in surprise. "Oh nothing."
"Are you sure?" I asked. She'd seemed pretty irritated there for a moment. Surely that wouldn't be over 'nothing'.
"Mmm-hmm." She nodded and quickly took a large bit of her meal. Part of me suspected this was to avoid further questions. But after one last look out the empty window I let the subject drop and went back to eating my meal.
Afterword's Claire went to use the lady's toilets and I took that time to pay the bill. And just as quickly we were out on the pavement and heading for the car. It had been chilly earlier but now with the evening blowing the sea breeze through the city it was downright cold. I was fine but I noticed Claire shivering. Before I could say anything though Claire began to speak.
"By the way…thanks." Claire said. "I mean, I know we're not dating, or even friends. We're just stuck in this insane situation…but thank you for dinner. It was…nice. Very nice."
I smiled down at her, "I can be a nice guy when I want to be."
She smiled back at me. "I'm starting to see that now."
She shivered again and I rolled my eyes at her and shrugged out of my jacket. "Here. You're going to freeze."
She raised an eyebrow at me and made no move to accept my jacket. Shaking my head at her I gently guided her arms into the sleeves and helped her into it. She shivered again and hugged it tighter to herself. Avoiding my eyes she murmured a thank you and I nodded graciously.
The ride to her flat was a quiet one, filled only by her giving me directions on how to get there. I didn't mind. I needed some time to process this all anyway. It was a rather confusing situation. We weren't friends out for an evening and we weren't a couple going out on a date. We were barely even acquaintances. Just two strangers brought together by chance and excess of liquor. And yet we'd already been intimately shoved into each other's lives. She'd slept in my bed and I'd been introduced to her co-workers as her fiancé. It was surreal.
But before I knew it I was pulling into a car park outside the building Claire indicated. I couldn't tell very well in the dark but it seemed to be some kind of soft blue or green. It wasn't as high-end as mine, or as tall. But I noticed Claire smiling softly at it as we pulled in. And that decided me on the subject. We got out, and though she protested I insisted on walking her to her door. She seemed so flustered at the thought that I wondered how many men had offered to do that before. Maybe she'd only dated lowlifes before.
Or maybe she just thought I was trying to figure out her flat number so that I knew exactly where to find her lease our ring situation sour.
Nevertheless, I did see her to her door, up on the fourth floor, and we paused outside it for a moment. Neither of us knew what to say.
Finally Claire giggled. "Well this is awkward."
I smiled down at her, "Indeed it is."
"I don't know whether to kiss you on the cheek or shake your hand." she admitted.
I chuckled in amusement. "How about we just say goodnight then."
"Goodnight." She smiled. "Actually, no wait…ciao!"
"I see you know some Italian too."
She grinned, and shook her head at me before unlocked her door and stepping inside.
"Ciao." she repeated.
"Ciao." I said softly and the door closed with a gentle click. There was the sound of Claire locking and I presumed, dead bolting, the door and then silence. I leaned my back against her door and let out a sigh. This was getting much too confusing for my taste. Much too confusing indeed…
Claire's Point of View
Well…my life just got a whole lot more complicated, I thought to myself. I finished locking the door and slumped back against it. The problem with Jon was that he wasn't just this snobbish rich man being rude to her and putting her in uncomfortable situations. He'd shown her tonight that he was, usually I was guessing, a proper gentleman. And he'd actually made quite good conversation. Not to mention he'd made me laugh. He'd just seemed so human. Not at all like the character I'd thought he must be.
He'd ordered a meal that sounded like fungi and he'd spoken in Italian which would have made Carla swoon. The only black spot in the evening was when I'd seen a small flash out the window and when I looked I'd seen a dark head and a fair head ducking away. I'd been sure that it was Carla and Kira. But luckily Jon had had his back to the window so he hadn't noticed. It would have been too mortifying to have your date see your crazy friends following you. Not that it had been a date…but still. I was going to have serious words with Carla and Kira when next I saw them. That was for sure.
And then there had been the moment when he'd slipped me into his jacket. I'd been dubious. It seemed like a move that guys only pulled in the movies. But he'd seemed serious enough and after a moment I could only appreciate how attractive the gesture was. And then his skin had brushed against mine, sending goose bumps up and down my spine. Hopefully he'd thought I was shivering. I pulled his jacket a little closer around me as I smiled at the memory.
"Oh jeez," I realised I was still wearing his jacket. I unbolted and unlocked the door but when I looked up and down the hallway he was long gone. Obviously. I must have spent like ten minutes just thinking about him. "Oh well." I muttered to myself. I locked up and left Jon's jacket draped over the couch. I'd have to give it back to him the next time I saw him. And considering the mess they were in, that was likely to be quite soon.
But for the first time all week, that didn't seem like such a bad thing…
First off, just wanted to say I'm WAY sorry for the amount of weeks it's taken to get this out, but my laptop broke and it's taken this long to fix it. Now I should be back to updating once a week. That's Wednesday for everyone on my side of the hemisphere. Okay, apology over. ;D
And so we get to hear more of what goes on inside Jon's head. I'm pretty happy with what we're hearing. Please give me some feedback on what you think having the different POVs. They will happen now and then throughout the story. Please review and tell me what you think. Thanks