It had been a long time since Michelle had been in need of a dress. The only dresses she wore were for work functions, or on days where she went out with friends and jeans didn’t cut it. Still, as she pulled at the sleeve of her navy pencil dress, she couldn’t help but feel overdressed. The restaurant was small, cosy, and keeping in the spirit of trying something new, was totally unlike her usual choice.
She stepped inside, the rush of warm air a grateful transition from the bitter cold outside. With Christmas so close and winter well and truly here, maybe she should have just worn jeans.
A waiter led her to a secluded table at the back, and that’s when she saw him. He was just as handsome in real life – more so – with his beaming smile and wavy, greying hair styled almost professionally. He had the beginnings of a beard, which had been non-existent in his photographs, but suited his rounded features just perfectly.
“Shaun?” Michelle asked hesitantly.
“That would be me,” he replied with a grin, “please, sit down. I’ve been looking forward to this all week.”
She sat, perching on the seat across from him. So far from the entrance, in a private booth, it truly felt like it was just the two of them. Once again Michelle’s chest fluttered, a feeling once unfamiliar rapidly becoming the norm. “I’ve got to admit,” Michelle admitted with a laugh, “I’m a little nervous. This isn’t exactly common for me.”
“Me neither,” Shaun assured, and looking into his warm grey eyes she felt assured. His voice was soft, honey-like, and soothing. “I haven’t been on a date in almost twenty years,” he continued with a nervous laugh, “so let us not pressure ourselves.”
Fine by her. They ordered their drinks, laughing upon discovery they had almost the exact same taste in wine. Michelle ordered hers first, smiling when Shaun followed up by ordering a glass of the same.
“So you’re a wine connoisseur then, Michelle?” Shaun asked with a deep, rich laugh.
“Hardly,” she replied with a shrug, but a smile tugged at her lips, “I just have expensive taste. It runs in the family.”
Shaun nodded in agreement, and she saw a faded tattoo peeking out from under his crisp shirt. That struck her as unusual – he truly didn’t seem the type – and disappointment settled heavily in her gut. It wasn’t that she disliked tattoos, per se, but it didn’t quite fit with the vision of him she had in her mind.
“…travelled all over, but true Italian wine is still the best, I think.”
Michelle blinked, eyes widening as she realised she hadn’t listened to a single word Shaun had said. “You travel?” she asked – and then took a sip of wine just to avoid saying anything more. The wine, sweet and a little fruity, managed to mellow out her nerves. A little, anyway.
Shaun’s eyes lit up, beaming brightly, and it made his strong features ever more handsome. “I travel every chance I get. Rome is my favourite, but I do enjoy Istanbul, too. Have you ever been to Turkey?”
Michelle’s eyes flickered down to her glass. Yes, she enjoyed a holiday as much as anyone else, but travelling had never hooked her in the way as it did some. She had a home, and a perfectly nice one, and the thought of leaving behind her friends and family for weeks – or even months – at a time made her squirm. “Can’t say I have,” she replied with a shrug, “Sightseeing isn’t really something I’m interested in.”
“Oh.” His disappointment was palpable – and Michelle was sure her own pinched brows reflected his own. “Well, it isn’t for everyone. What about sports? You mentioned that you enjoy swimming.”
“I do,” Michelle replied. It was her turn to light up, a smile spreading across her full lips. “I’ll admit I get a bit lax in winter, but as soon as summer rolls around I’m outside as much as possible. Swimming, running, cycling. You name it.”
Shaun nodded enthusiastically, and his bright smile told her perhaps they were back on track. “Personally, I love skiing. Tried snowboarding once, but it was a disaster.” He laughed, rolling his eyes at the memory.
It was cute, but Michelle couldn’t fight back that creeping disappointment again. Winter sports. Really? Perhaps she was being too picky, allowing preferences to cloud her judgement – but despite being an incredibly handsome man, Michelle was still waiting on that spark of… something.
She was being quick to judge, but maybe dating wasn’t for her after all – and that was fine.
Shaun paused mid sentence, and Michelle only noticed because his dark eyes fixed on hers. His gaze, although soft, was steady. “Michelle, are you all right?”
A blink, eyes darting down to find her drink. “Yes, sorry,” she apologised with a smile, “I’m just… preoccupied.” It wasn’t technically a lie, nor something uncommon for her. Except usually, her mind was on spreadsheets and numbers. Not this time.
Shaun’s expression softened, and he reached out a large hand to cover hers. When she didn’t move away, he squeezed gently. “If you’re not feeling this, it’s all right to say so. We don’t have to continue-“
“No,” Michelle interrupted – and then immediately apologised with a tense laugh. “I like you, and I’m enjoying your company, I really am.”
“But,” Michelle agreed. She held his gaze, and this time her smile was a little more genuine. “I don’t think this – we – will work romantically. This was a fun experiment, but maybe not one I want to continue.”
She expected disappointment – disappointment like her own – but Shaun simply smiled. “Honestly, I feel the same,” he admitted with a chuckle. It was sweet and warm, just like him. “Some people aren’t built for relationships, and I think that’s fine.”
“Yeah,” Michelle agreed. Relief flooded her, a sigh escaping her lips. It was like all of the tension and nerves just fled. “I’ve never really been interested, but I thought it was worth a try.”
“And now you have tried it.”
“It’s not for me,” she replied with a nod, laughter building, “but if you don’t mind, I think I’d like for us to stay friends.”
Shaun agreed, and Michelle found herself grinning. Sure, she hadn’t got what she wanted out of this date – but perhaps she had found something better. Something more suited for her; friendship. Andrew would be disappointed, but she wasn’t. Michelle was happy to be single, and happy being single, so what did it matter?
“So,” Shaun spoke, bringing her from her reverie. He beamed at her across the booth table as he asked, “should we order?”
She simply nodded, eager to experience the night ahead.