Guo: Variations on a Date
Reservation for Two, Take One:
My head hurts.
It’s been hurting for over an hour now, ever since Kevin and I arrived at Giacomo’s in the South End for our dinner reservation.
We’ve spent the past 40 minutes standing outside, hopping from foot to foot with our jackets fully zipped. The couple at our table has been sipping cappuccinos for nearly an hour.
The hostess comes outside.
“Do you want to wait inside by the bar?” she asks. “Your table just finished their drinks, so we should be setting up for you two soon.”
We nod. My head is pounding.
We’re each given a glass of water. I finish mine in record time. Kevin has barely touched his.
After another 10 minutes, we’re finally seated. Our waiter brings a bread basket, and we rip into its contents with our bare hands.
“Let’s order wine!” I say, excited that I am on a date (and no longer dry for figure skating).
“Are you sure that’s a good idea for your headache?” Kevin asks.
I pause. It probably isn’t.
“Yes,” I respond.
So Kevin orders a red for him and a white for me.
My pasta has shrimp and scallops in Giacomo sauce. The pasta swirls like double-stranded DNA. It has a fancy name. Something Italian.
Our waiter boxes up our leftovers and places the dessert menu on the table. We’re much too full for another course, so we split the check and walk home.
“How’s your headache?” Kevin asks.
We walk in silence.
“Thanks for taking care of me,” I say.
I love you, I want to say. It feels like the “right moment,” whatever that means.
We’re alone in Boston, walking between brownstones. There’s a small playground on our right and trees decorate the sidewalk. It feels romantic.
But I say nothing. I am terrified to say I love you because love is real, which means it — I — can be broken.
We walk up four flights of stairs to his apartment and lay on his bed. “The Magicians” runs on his projector overhead. I pop two ibuprofens for my headache and hope it disappears by the morning.
“Good night,” he says.
I love you.
Reservation for Two, Take Two:
We walk into Giacomo’s Restaurant. Kevin alerts the hostess of our 8 p.m. reservation, and we follow her to a small table by the window.
We order a bottle of wine.
The calamari arrives and Kevin feeds me a piece of octopus. The tentacles dangle off the fork and sauce drips onto the table.
We forget how many times our glasses have been refilled. I’m at the perfect level of happy-tipsy, the kind that hasn’t yet crossed over to drop-my-food-in-my-lap-drunk.
We order dessert. A fluffy tiramisu arrives with two miniature spoons.
We split the check, then walk home arm-in-arm. My jeans are uncomfortably tight against my stomach and my head has started to ache.
“I love you,” I whisper.
He pulls me close as I stumble over the cobblestone.
We lay on the couch in his apartment. His roommates are gone, so we turn on the second season of “The Magicians” and wrap ourselves in blankets.
“Good night,” he says.
Reservation for Two, Take Three:
Kevin reaches for the check.
“Damn it, it’s my turn,” I protest, pulling my credit card from my phone wallet.
“No, it’s not,” he quips.
He takes my credit card out of the check folder.
I lose the argument. I haven’t won in weeks.
When we reach Kevin’s apartment, I flop onto his bed, too full to move.
My head pounds, and all I can think about are cells immersed in hypotonic solutions. When the osmotic imbalance is too extreme, the cell bursts from the excess water that rushes in.
My head feels like a cell ready to lyse.
I lay on my side and start crying because of the pain. Kevin cocoons me in his blanket and crouches beside me.
“Do you want water?” he asks.
I shake my head no. I don’t want to move.
Kevin brings me water anyway — hot water. He lifts my head and holds the mug to my lips, gently tilting it until I finish drinking.
“Ibuprofen?” he offers.
I nod. “Two, please.”
My cough has returned — the same cough that plagued me for most of freshman fall.
I stand over the toilet. It hurts when I cough, so I tie my hair back and hold my chest, waiting for the inevitable.
Kevin knocks on the bathroom door.
I don’t know how long I spend vomiting up tonight’s pasta. When I finish, I stand to brush my teeth, Kevin hugging me from behind.
“Are you feeling better?” he asks.
I smile and nod.
“Do you want more ibuprofen? I think you vomited it all out.”
I laugh. “No, thank you. Let’s go to sleep.”
“Good night,” I say.
A few minutes later, Kevin turns to face me and whispers, “I think I love you.”