27-28 Feb. 2011

The Date

By J.R. Walker

"Hey man, you gonna be home tonight? Thought we could play some Halo and get fucked up!"

Gage had to grin at his roommate's colorful vocabulary. Chet was what most of society labeled as a "bro," or even more commonly, a "douche bag." And while Gage would be the first to agree with society on that call, he and Chet had been friends since they were four. Gage and his family had moved into the house next to Chet and his father, long before the raised pickup truck plastered with Tapout stickers and naked lady mudflaps. He'd known Chet when he was still just Chester, the slightly scrawny boy with dirty-blond hair and the enviable Power Rangers lunchbox. Of course that was before he'd started hitting the gym. And before girls.

"Naw, dude. I've got a date tonight," Gage said.

Chet spun around on the ugly orange threadbare sofa that was the only real piece of furniture in their crappy apartment. They'd spent most of their money on the massive 60-inch plasma screen and nearly every game console on the market. Also the weed.

"No shit?" he asked, coughing on the first toke of the evening.

Gage shook his head. "I shit you not," he said. "I met her last night at Hokey's. We were makin' fun of the lame-ass karaoke singers and sorta just clicked."

Chet had a mischievous grin on his face. "How's the tits?"

"You are a vulgarian," Gage said with a laugh.

"What?" Chet adopted an expression of complete confusion. "No I'm not, dude. I'm from Ohio. You know that."

These conversations weren't rare. Gage had always been the more bookish of the pair. For a while, it had seemed as if Chet would be, too. But then he saw his first nipple in a discarded Playboy at the age of twelve and that was all she wrote. It was funny to think that something as small and insignificant as a tit in a mildewy skin rag could so thoroughly influence someone's life for years to come. Maybe forever. Gage didn't see Chet applying to college any time soon and they'd graduated high school over a year ago.

"Chet, man, you have to stop smoking so much. It's turning your brain to mush and you didn't have much to spare in the first place."

Chet's forehead crinkled as he tried to work out whether he'd just been insulted or not. You could almost see the cogs spinning behind those red watery eyes. Finally, he decided he had been insulted and fired back with the only retort available to his pot-addled brain.

"Fuck you, dude. It was just a question." He turned back around to face the television and his paused video game.

Gage sighed. "Fine. I'm sorry," he said. "She has very nice tits. Better?"

"How nice?" Chet asked without turning around, his tone that of a stubborn child unable to fully commit to his own hardheadedness.

"Remember Patty Helms?"

Chet did turn around this time. "No way they're as nice as Patty Cakes' were."

Gage nodded. Patty "Patty Cakes" Helms had easily one of the best racks at Miskatonic High. Many a boy had gotten the chance to play the bongos on those beauts. They were pretty much the barometer against which all other chests were measured.

"Wow," Chey said, that stupid grin back on his face. "In that case, you're forgiven, dude."

Gage cocked an eyebrow. "Thanks. So, rain check on the Halo? I see you're already well on your way to fucked up, though."

The other man let out a loud, stupid laugh. "Yeah, this is the good shit from Johnny. Couldn't let it sit there all sad and unsmoked. Just wouldn't be fair, you know?"

"Oh, totally," Gage said straight-faced and trying not to laugh. "Anyway, I'm on my way to meet her now, so I gotta go, man. You gonna be alright here?"

Chet nodded through a thickening haze of smoke. "Totally, dude. I got my weed, I got my games, and I got more porn than you can shake a dick at. I'm set."

Gage grabbed his keys from the little dish they kept by the door, unsure exactly how to respond. He decided on a smile and a nod. Then he plucked his coat off its peg and stepped out into the crisp autumn air.

The drive to the girl's house (her name was Eve) was spent nervously drumming his fingers on the steering wheel entirely out of time with the beat of the music on the radio. First dates were always like that for Gage. He'd been on his fair share but nevertheless was a nervous wreck before each and every one. He'd always been an anxious person; some of his earliest memories weren't even memories, just impressions of feeling nervous and worried about everything. First days of school, job interviews, meeting new people, didn't much matter what it was; everything seemed outside his comfort zone. He pushed himself to do these things and usually succeeded, but he could never shake himself of the nerves beforehand. He'd considered seeing a shrink or hypnotist or something sometime. Of course he never got around to it. Eventually, he told himself.

He was relieved to see that Eve was already outside waiting for him when he pulled up. The walk to the front door was one of the most terrifying experiences he could imagine. More than once, he'd chickened out on that walk. He was always so thankful when his dates met him at the curb.

Eve was a very pretty girl, with deep red, almost cherry wood hair and porcelain-smooth alabaster skin. She wore dark lipstick the color of dried blood, which stood in stark contrast to her pale complexion. Her eyes were pools of black so deep that he feared he might just drown in them if he wasn't careful. Though she was nineteen, those eyes gave her a mysterious, almost ancient appearance, as though she were experienced beyond her physical years. He found them enthralling.

"Hi," she said in a sweet melodious voice. That one syllable had been spoken with such perfect pitch that Gage could imagine operas being composed in its honor.

He gave her a dopey grin. "Hi," he said stupidly back. He cleared his throat. "So, uh, I hope you like fondue. There's this great new place that just opened up by the multiplex."

She gave him a smile that could shatter diamond. "That sounds great," she said in her bird-song voice. "I don't think I've ever had fondue before."

Gage pulled away from the curb and said, "It was huge like thirty years ago and just started coming back. It's a little cheesy, forgive the pun, but I thought it would be fun. Sort of neutral first-date territory."

Eve laughed so sweetly that Gage wished he could have bottled it. Her fragrance had begun to fill the car and he tried to take it in as inconspicuously as he could. She smelled of roses and…vanilla.

"You look gorgeous by the way," he said, trying to be smooth. He hoped he didn't sound as dumb as he thought he did.

"Thank you," Eve said, blushing some slight color into those porcelain cheeks. "You, too. Handsome, I mean," she said somewhat awkwardly.

So she was nervous, too. Interesting.

"Well, you know, I just threw on whatever," he replied. Stupid! Stop talking!

"Well it's nice all the same," she said. Then after a pause, she asked, "So what do you do?"

Gage smiled. She was still interested. "I'm a student at the moment. Pre-med at Miskatonic University Medical School."

"Really?" she asked surprised. "That's so cool. Do you get to dissect bodies and stuff like that?"

Gage burst out laughing. "No, not yet. Eventually, though. I'm still not sure if I'm gonna stick with it or not. It's pretty intense, lots of stuff to remember. You'd be surprised how many bits are in the human body."

"Not really," she said, then quickly followed up with, "I just mean I watch a lot of those shows. You know, those forensics shows? I've seen a body or two in my day. On TV anyway." She shrugged. "I think it's all pretty neat."

"Yeah?" Gage was genuinely surprised. Most girls weren't into that sort of blood-and-guts thing. At least not the ones he'd ever known. "Maybe I'll show you some of the stuff we're learning then. I bet you'd like it, if you enjoy those shows, I mean."

"Totally," she said with a nod. "I'd love it."

"Well okay then." Gage pulled into a parking lot. He snapped off the radio as some news report about a string of murders was being broadcast by the deejay. Scary shit these days. "This is it," he told her as they got out of the car. "The Melting Pot. Like I said, cheesy. But pretty good, too."

The inside of the restaurant was abuzz with people; even over the loud conversations you could hear the sizzle of meat cooking in little pots of hot oil. It was furnished in nice dark wood and old-fashioned lamps, those kind that look like those Asian rice paddy hats, hung from the ceiling low over the tables, giving the place a sort of intimate feel despite the crowd.

Gage and Eve were seated at a booth near the back of the restaurant by a pimple-faced teenager with a nametag identifying him as Ronald. He definitely looked like a Ronald.

"I'll be your server tonight," Ronald said with forced enthusiasm. "Can I start you off with something to drink?"

"I think I'll have a Coke," Eve said. "Light on the ice, please."

"Same for me, thanks," Gage said. "And actually, we're ready to order."

Eve shot him a puzzled look. They hadn't even looked over the menus yet.

Gage winked. "Trust me."

Eve smiled and gave a sweet little giggle and said alright.

"We'll have the sampler," Gage said. "Full spread."

"Very good, sir. Will that be all?" Ronald asked as he scribbled the order down on his pad.

Eve just shrugged and looked to Gage. "No," he said, "I think we're good."

Ronald pushed up his glasses and tried to sound as friendly as he could. "Alrighty. I'll be back in a tick with those drinks."

"Tick," Gage said as soon as the waiter left.

Eve shot him a queer look. "Huh?"

Gage nodded over his shoulder. "Kid said he'd be back in a tick. Tick."

Eve giggled again. "You're cute. I bet you always turn on the adorable charm for the ladies."

Gage shrugged noncommittally. "And the gentlemen. I'm equal-opportunity adorable."

Whatever Eve was going to say back was cut off by Ronald returning with their drinks. She chewed anxiously on her straw as she stared across the table at Gage. He smiled back and she blushed a little.

"So what is it that you do, Eve?" Gage asked as he casually stirred his drink with the straw. He noticed it wasn't even remotely light on the ice like he'd asked. There was already a clear sheen of melt water sitting atop the dark brown of the cola. He could see the two mixing at the terminator line, diluting the soda. Typical.

"I'm going to school to get my veterinary license," she told him after she swallowed a sip of Coke. Her lips glistened tantalizingly in the lamplight.

"Oh," said Gage. "So those medical shows are more than just macabre fascination. You're gonna be a cutter like me."

She shrugged, crinkling her nose in the cutest little way. "That's the idea. I mean, I know being a doctor is a lot more glamorous. And it pays better. But I figure someone has to take care of Fido, too, right?" Eve looked like someone desperately seeking approval.

"Hey," Gage reassured her, "There's nothing glamorous about impacted bowels or bed sores, either. But like you said, someone has to do it. I say if it makes you happy, do it. No matter what it is," he added with a smirk.

Eve smiled broadly, those full dark lips parting to reveal dazzlingly perfect teeth. Gage mirrored her grin with one of his own and they shared one of those awkward silences borne not of boredom or disinterest but by so much contentment that you just don't know what else to say. Luckily their food arrived just as Gage was opening his mouth to say something goofy he probably would have regretted.

Ronald had brought the food on a little rolling cart and distributed it around the table; there was a pot of hot oil for the various meats (it looked like beef and perhaps pork and lamb) as well as three pots of different cheese sauces. There were several plates of different breads, all cubed and ready to be skewered and dunked into molten cheese. The waiter handed them their skewers and left them to their meal.

Eve widened her beetle-black eyes. "Holy crap!" She prodded at a few things with the skewer. "I have no idea where to start."

"Try the beef first," Gage offered. "Just stick it in the oil for a few seconds or else you get a nice cube of leather."

For the next hour, things continued much the same. The two young people did what most young people do on dates; they talked, they laughed at each other's jokes, they fibbed about some of the less attractive parts of their lives. It was a first date just like any of the millions of other first dates being had at that exact moment.

When their meal was finished, Gage paid, leaving a generous tip for Ronald inspired more by his good mood than the waiter's good service. The two then walked out to Gage's car, hand-in-hand.

The moon was high and full in the sky, shining down with its pale blue light to bathe everything in a milky glow. Eve's skin looked absolutely translucent in the moonlight as she stood on her tip-toes and kissed Gage very sweetly on the lips. Then she got into the car without a word.

Gage felt an electric current when their lips met, a feeling that surged through his whole body. He rushed around to the driver's side and got in.

"So, uh," he began, trying to will his tongue to form words.

Eve interrupted him. "Would you like to come back to my place for a cup of coffee?"

Gage smiled. "I'd like that very much," he said, a second surge of exhilaration pulsing through him.

The drive to Eve's apartment complex was quiet, but not awkwardly so. Both of them appreciated the chance to think about things, to mull over certain decisions and weigh the outcomes. They each seemed equally pleased with their decisions because both wore genuine smiles as they walked up the three flights of stairs to Eve's door, Number 32. The door shut and locked behind them and the light in the front window winked out a moment later.

Gage glanced at the bedside clock as he quietly gathered his clothes from the bedroom floor. It was past midnight. He'd catch all kinds of hell from Chet now, teasing him relentlessly. Gage was a modest man, private about his affairs. He wasn't one to kiss and tell. But coming home this late would say everything there was to say. Oh well. It was worth it.

He glanced back and could just make out the still form of Eve lying in the bed. He smiled and made his way into the front room where he got dressed in the dark, not even bothering with his socks. With his luck, he'd trip and break his neck trying to pull them on blind. He just stuck them in his pocket and slid his shoes on barefoot. Then he tip-toed to the door and quietly let himself out. It had been a good night.

As expected, Chet was still up when Gage got home. There was a big shit-eating grin plastered on his face.

"So," he began. "Give it up. You got some, yeah?"

Trying to be coy, Gage just shrugged. But the smirk on his face said it all.

"You did!" Chet threw a crumpled Cheesy Puffs bag at him. "You dog! Hey, so how was she?"

Gage thought a moment, savoring the memories of the evening. Finally he settled on a word.

"Killer," he said and stalked off to his bedroom, leaving his friend laughing in the TV-lit living room.

Evelyn Marie Salinger, Eve to her friends, would be found dead in her bed three days later, her dress, bought for a highly anticipated date according to her friends, was still tightly twisted around her throat. Her eyes, those perfect pools of black nirvana, stared up at the ceiling, unseeing. Her milky white skin, discolored in death, was still perfect as ever and smooth as porcelain.

Her killer was never positively identified. Eve's file was placed with seven others in the case involving what the media had dubbed the "Casanova Killer." The deaths, all of them of girls eighteen to twenty years of age, had begun in the summer months before; all of them had been on dates the night of their deaths. None of the friends or family of the victims could identify their dates and searches of the deceased's belongings never yielded any leads. It was as if the killer were a ghost, a nobody, an otherwise upstanding citizen who never made waves or called attention to himself. Eve, that perfect gorgeous creature, would never see justice.

But she really had been the perfect date.