Leonard didn’t like poetry. Hated reading in general. But he knew better than to say so since responses fell into one of two categories: pity or disgust. He would fare better if he didn’t own a television or was gluten free. So, he kept his mouth shut. It was this lack of sharing that had led him to this moment.
“You’re going to love her,” his sister insisted. “She’s smart and funny. Cute. And she’s a poet.”
She rolled poet off her tongue like it was bubbles or candy or unicorns. But Leonard felt the sharp edges of the word striking through every nerve in his body. The instant dread sent his mind grasping too quickly at excuses, mushing them together and leaving him unable to form a single, cohesive argument against it.
Now, as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his blind date tried in earnest to dust away some of the awkwardness between them.
“So, Kelly tells me you work in corporate sales?”
Leonard flipped his fork over a couple times and nodded. He knew social norms required him to respond with: And she tells me you’re a poet. But the thought made his fingers curl around the fork handle and he had to will himself not to it jam in his eye.
There was an underlying plea in Juliet’s tone. For him to respond with actual words or to even send a glance her way. The problem was that his sister was right. Juliet was cute.
But the future he imagined with her was bleak. A never ending carousel of feigning interest in words she slapped together in the name of art. Why couldn’t she have chosen a life as a dentist? Or a barista?
Thankfully, the waiter arrived to take their orders. Juliet lit up at the opportunity to really talk to someone. The comfortable Juliet was light and funny and the waiter genuinely laughed at her clever banter.
Leonard knew he should appreciate this. The real her. But he also knew he couldn’t. For as long as he could remember, he fixated on things. Too many times it led to him being alone. Snorts when she laughs? No thanks. Inserts ums between every word? Nope. Yammers on and on about whatever book she’s reading? Uh-uh.
And it wasn’t like he was such a catch. Leonard wasn’t foolish enough to think that. Clearly his social skills needed a complete overhaul. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. He was ruthless at his job and grew more isolated every day in his personal life. Evenings consisted of getting food delivered and watching television. It was no wonder he didn’t know how to talk to people. How to make them comfortable. How to give them a chance.
The waiter took their menus and a tortuous silence fell over the table again. Leonard swore he could feel the heat generated from Juliet’s mind working overtime on what to say next. With her gaze focused absently out the window, he found himself staring at her. She gnawed at her lower lip and her furrowed brow twitched every once in a while. No doubt the manifestation of an idea of what to say being shot down. The passing headlights lit up her eyes and despite the intensity in her face, Leonard couldn’t overlook her softness.
It triggered something in him. A lightness. An understanding. His sister was one of the only people in the world he trusted. And one of the smartest. She had to have known what she was doing when she arranged this date. She didn’t need him to tell her about his aversion to poetry. That was the kind of thing she just knew. Just like how she probably knew the path his life was heading down was a lonely one.
Juliet’s poetry wasn’t what was ruining the date. Or what made him believe her to be undateable. Reality socked Leonard right in the jaw. Shocking and painful and difficult to accept, but ultimately undeniable. So, he cleared his throat, drawing her attention. The hope in her eyes scared him, but there was no turning back. Instead, Leonard took a moment to toe the edge before taking a giant leap into what he hoped to be a new life. A new Leonard.
“So, Kelly tells me you’re a poet.”