Amber always wanted that kind of love that you see in fairytales. You know the type: that sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of love nested in the magic of nuance and intwined by inevitability. There would be challenges, of course — maybe an argument or two between star-crossed lovers — but in the end, destiny would win the day.
Of course, she had to find her Prince Charming first, and the Valentine mixer had seemed like a great place to start. It didn’t actually happen on Valentine’s Day. The idea was to meet a week prior, find someone to match with, and set up plans so that everyone could use the lover’s holiday to make a fresh foray into the dating world.
She’d known that Michael was her first pick the moment she looked into his deep brown eyes. They caught her by the heartstrings and swallowed her whole. She was having a hard time listening when he spoke to her.
It was exactly the kind of magic she was looking for.
“I think he might be The One,” Amber told Jeff over the phone later that night.
“Good on you,” Jeff said. “Definitely let me know how it goes. I’m rooting for you.”
Jeff was the best. He’d been there for her from the start, since she moved to this stupid town and her love life had fallen into the shark tank. Everywhere she turned, all she found was another guy wanting her to be someone she just couldn’t be.
In the days leading up to the Big Date, Amber did her best to remain calm. She found the perfect red dress. The neckline fell a little lower than she would’ve liked, but Amber decided that she liked it anyway. Maybe it would tempt Michael with the promise of things to come. That thought hit her as she swiped her card, and she smiled.
They didn’t talk about that in fairy tales.
She was ready at 5:30, even though Michael wasn’t due to arrive until 6:00. He knocked on her door at the exact moment, a nervous rap against the wood. Amber, not wanting to seem overexcited, waited a few seconds before she answered it.
“Good evening!” she said.
Michael, dressed in khaki pants and a dark purple button-down, stood speechless on the opposite side of the door. He carried a bundle of roses, which Amber took from his clutched hands and set on the counter.
“Wow,” he said. “Just wow.”
Amber smiled. That was exactly the kind of reaction that she’d been looking for.
“You ready?” she asked.
“Just let me get my bag.”
It started to go sideways at dinner. Michael drove them to Villaggio Costiero, a little Italian restaurant just off the water. The place was already packed when they walked in, but the dinner reservations in Michael’s name got them a corner table with a nice view of the ocean.
“So,” Amber said. “Tell me a little bit about yourself. We don’t know much about each other, but maybe tonight can change that.”
“Pretty much what I said at the mixer,” Michael told her. “I do a lot with finances for work. It’s all . . . very boring.”
“Are you boring?” she asked, a sly smile painted on her face.
Michael shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably, sometimes.”
And the rest of the evening followed suit. Amber asked a question. Michael gave a frank, if honest, answer. She’d make a joke. He wouldn’t get it. Or didn’t understand it. Or didn’t find it funny.
It was hard to tell with him.
By the end of the date, Amber found herself distracted and distant. Their conversation, what little of it they’d shared, fell silent as the street lights drifted by on their homebound drive.
He left her at the door of her building. She didn’t invite him up. There was no goodnight kiss and so little romance that it pained Amber to even think of the word. She sighed as she walked back through her door.
The phone rang when she was halfway out of her dress.
“Well?” Jeff asked “How’d it go?”
“Terrible,” she sighed. “He wouldn’t talk to me. It felt like an interrogation.”
“New date jitters. Happens sometimes. You should give him a second chance. Maybe see if he wants to do something a little more casual.”
Amber scoffed. “No, thanks. Maybe I’m just done with guys, you know? Maybe I should just take a break for a while.”
“Wel-l-l-l-l-l-l,” Jeff said, “I guess I won’t invite you down to the pier. I’ve only been here for a few minutes, and I could wait for you. But if you’re done with guys, I completely—”
“See you in twenty.”
It felt nice to be out of that dress. It had begun to ride up a little bit, and the arms were itchy. And she didn’t like the low cut along the neckline. Maybe she could stomach it for a special occasion. Certainly not for a night at the pier.
Jeff was sitting at the edge of the pier, his legs dangling over the side. He wore a black hoodie, the hood down, hands shoved into his pockets. He was looking out over the darkening sky when she showed up with the roses in her hand.
“Whatcha got there?” he asked.
“Roses,” she said. “Michael brought them over.”
Jeff studied them. “Well, he can’t be all bad.”
“Oh, it was bad.”
“He got you home in one piece. Didn’t try anything fishy. I call it a win.”
She grinned. “Yeah, he met the minimum standard for a date. He didn’t kill me, and he fed me.”
“Hey, the last one is a lady-bonus. Guys don’t get that.”
Amber removed the roses from the from the plastic tethered around them and tossed them one at a time into the water.
“Why can’t I ever find a good guy?” she muttered.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jeff watching her.
He didn’t say anything.