When we got inside it turned out that the restaurant was a nice, sit-down steak house. Okay, so I’m a fast-food girl myself, and I wasn’t really familiar with the place. But it seemed nice, anyway. The lighting was a little dim, and there was a lot of dark wood in the furnishings and a vaguely western vibe to the décor. I could hear the sizzle of grills in the kitchen over the good-natured babble of other people’s conversations. The whole place smelled heavenly.
There were actually a few people already waiting on benches in front of the hostess’ podium. Hans walked up to the hostess, and since I was still on his arm I went with him. It occurred to me just then that walking around like that made things seem more like a date than work, but I had no idea what to do about it.
Hans greeted the hostess with one of his broad, charming smiles. “Hello,” he said. “I have a reservation for two.” She took his name, consulted a list that she had on a clipboard at the podium, and then ushered us to a relatively private booth toward the back. It had already been set for two, with two menus and a pitcher of ice water.
I slid in on one side and Hans sat across from me. “Your waitress will be with you shortly,” our hostess said.
“That will be fine,” Hans replied. “Thank you.”
Our hostess departed, and Hans turned to smile at me. I had no idea how to reply to that and I knew I needed to make my next six words count, so I just stared back. Fortunately, we weren’t left to ourselves for long.
When our waitress arrived she turned out to be a tall, svelte, buxom woman who looked like she was about the right age to be working her way through college. She had bright red hair that was tied up in a messy bun and a smattering of pale brown freckles across her nose. She also had a bubbly energy and four undone buttons that probably got her excellent tips.
“Hi!” she said as soon as she reached our table. “My name is Sarah, and I’ll be your server tonight. Can we start with any drinks for you…” I think there was probably normally more to her spiel, but right about then she really noticed Hans and trailed off. I think she might’ve forgotten I was there, too. I totally sympathized. Even working a steak house it was probably rare that she saw so much beefcake at one table.
“A cola,” I ordered. Sarah gave a start and pulled a notepad and pen out of her apron pockets. I really felt for the girl. If she was already flustered enough to feel the need to write down two drinks she was going to be floored when Hans broke out his accent. But she did make the effort to look at me as she jotted down my cola, so I tried to give her a reassuring smile. One that said: “It’s okay. I completely understand. And I’m only here with him on a work date, so feel free to drool all you want and maybe leave your phone number on a napkin so this doesn’t end up being a waste of time for everyone. I certainly won’t take offense.”
“And a coffee, please,” Hans added. “Thank you.” I glanced at him, but he was still looking at me. I tried not to squirm.
“Okay,” Sarah said. “I’ll have those right up, and then take your orders.” She scurried off. Hans didn’t seem to notice.
I scrambled to make some conversation. “This place seems nice,” I said. It was banal and uninteresting, but it was sane so I gave myself points anyway.
Hans grinned. “I’m glad you approve. I haven’t been here before, of course, but they had excellent reviews online.”
Then Sarah swept back up to our table. She put down a cup with a saucer for Hans, and filled it from a pot she was carrying in her other hand. “I’ll be right back with your soda,” she told me.
“Okay,” I said.
Sarah disappeared again, and when I turned back to Hans he was watching me over the rim of his cup while he took a sip. I don’t think he’d looked away from me since sitting down. It was becoming disconcerting. I’d also, by my mental count, exhausted my supply of not-crazy conversation. So I really needed something to keep myself from saying anything stupid.
Sarah reappeared and placed a glass of cola in front of me. Then she fished a straw out of her apron and put that down next to the glass. She was not helping.
“Are you ready to order,” Sarah asked, “or would you like a few more minutes?” Okay, so that was a little better.
Hans nodded to me. “When you’re ready,” he said.
I looked from Sarah to Hans and back. “I’m ready,” I said. Have I ever mentioned that I hate making people wait on me?
Sarah turned to me, notepad and pen at the ready. “What can I get for you?”
“Uh… do you have filet mignon?” I asked. She nodded. “That, then.”
“And would you like fries or a baked potato with that?”
“Fries,” I said. I glanced at Hans. Put me on the spot, would he? Take that! No menu needed. Because you can’t really go wrong with steak fries and meat wrapped in bacon.
Hans smiled back at me. “And I’ll have your largest cut of steak, medium rare,” he said without looking away. “With the potato,” he added. He collected my menu, added it to his, and passed them both to Sarah without breaking his gaze from mine.
“Great,” Sarah said. “I’ll put that order in, and be right back with your appetizers.”
“Thank you,” Hans and I said almost together. I continued to try and stare him down, but I lost when I turned to Sarah.
“Wait…what? Appetizers?” I asked, but Sarah was already gone. I was a little jealous. She had the kind of figure a person could enjoy watching walk away. I doubted she was ever mistaken for a boy from behind.
“When I made the reservation I put in an order for something to tide us over,” Hans explained. “I didn’t know what you might want, so it’s their sampler platter. I figured that anything in excess could just be boxed up for your refrigerator, and anything you found unappetizing could wind up in mine.”
“Oh,” I said. I turned back toward him and almost jumped out of my skin. He was still staring at me. “Alright, what?” I demanded. I leaned forward. “What is it? Is there something in my teeth?” I bared them at him, and when he didn’t answer immediately I ran my tongue over them to see if I could tell.
“No,” Hans protested with a chuckle when he saw I was serious.
I glared. “Then what? Is my makeup smudged?”
Hans shook his head. “You’re lovely,” he tried to assure me.
I blew out an exasperated sigh, sat up and folded my arms crossly. “Then why do you keep staring?” I snapped. Maybe it was a little rude, but I was feeling pretty frazzled and I didn’t care.
Hans leaned forward. He put his elbows on the table and propped up his chin on his folded hands. “You’re lovely,” he reiterated.
Oh. Oh. I could feel the flush creeping up my cheeks. My mouth was inexplicably dry. I fumbled with unwrapping my straw, then realized what I was doing and put it aside. I took a long drink straight from my glass.
Megan was the pretty one. And I liked it that way, because it saved me from shit like this. I needed a distraction fast, but she wasn’t here and Hans seemed pretty focused.
“You know, Sarah is prettier,” I said.
Hans arched an eyebrow. “Is she?” He inquired.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Haven’t you looked at her?”
Hans leaned forward further. “Nope,” he said cheerfully. “I’m here with you,” he pointed out. As though that was a perfectly reasonable excuse.
I scoffed. “When she comes back you take a good look and re-evaluate your sense of aesthetics,” I told him. That would put an end to that.
Hans tilted his head and considered me. “I really doubt that will be necessary,” he said. I glared, and he sat back, holding his hands up in surrender. “But if you insist,” he acquiesced.
I would have been more mollified but he didn’t actually look away until Sarah got back.
Sarah arrived with a massive round tray of plates balanced in one hand, and a folding stand carried in the other. She setup the stand one handed and put down the tray. True to his word, Hans was paying attention to her. I was paying attention to him. I wanted him to take a look at a pretty girl and get some perspective, but if he was creepy or rude about it… that would be my fault for throwing her to the wolves. So I was completely ready to kick the shit out of Hans’ shins if it became necessary.
It didn’t. Hans gave Sarah a relaxed smile and helped her unload her tray, accepting dishes and arranging them on our table as she passed them to him. It looked like the “sampler platter” was intended for larger parties. There were mozzarella sticks, baked potato wedges, chicken strips, quesadilla triangles… even one plate that looked suspiciously like it only had veggies and dip. We were probably going to have leftovers.
When her tray was emptied, Sarah picked it and the stand back up. She beamed with energetic cheerfulness. “Can I get you anything else?” She asked. “Would you like a refill?” she asked me specifically.
I glanced at my glass. Apparently I’d almost drained it trying to drown my blushes. “Uh, sure,” I said.
Sarah departed again and Hans offered me one of the empty plates she’d left at our table. I loaded it up with a couple potato wedges, quesadilla triangles, and a chicken strip. Hans loaded up another plate with a similar selection. Neither of us went for the veggie plate.
I was in the middle of contemplating how likely it was that finger foods would duplicate the straw problem when Sarah came back with a second glass of soda. I spared a glance at Hans, but he was back to watching me.
I can’t begin to describe how unnerving it is to have the complete and undivided attention of a man like that. Especially since all I wanted to do was eat a potato wedge in peace. But noooo, Hans had to keep looking at me like he wanted to start with dessert and I was on the menu. I swallowed without taking a bite. The number three with extra bacon was a pretty good indicator – and he’d ordered two for lunch! – but there was only one way to tell for sure if someone was really a cannibal.
I put down my potato wedge. Sarah had departed again, so at least this bout of crazy was only going to embarrass me in front of one person.
That wasn’t much comfort.
I leaned forward, putting my elbow on the table and holding out my hand, palm up. Hans glanced down at my hand, and then back at me. I wriggled my fingers in front of his face.
“Look,” I said, “You’re looking at me like you think I’m more appetizing than anything Sarah’s brought over.” Including her, I managed not to add – but it was a near thing. “It’s distracting. So why don’t you just get it over with, take a bite, and find out.”
I don’t know what I expected him to do. If anyone had confronted me with something like that, I would have been mortified. I would probably have blushed a lot, looked away and never looked back; maybe said something crazy and stupid. Perhaps the part of me that takes over in times like these wanted to push Hans into making a denial. To get him to reconsider his behavior and stop it.
But Hans decided to go the “say something crazy” route.
“If you insist,” Hans murmured. And then he one-upped “say something crazy” by following through.
Hans caught my hand easily and pulled it to his lips. He was a tall enough man that he had to lean forward and bend his head down over it. His bangs tickled my wrist – but he was kissing my fingertips and I was too stunned to giggle. His lips brushed down my fingers until they reached the fleshy part at the top of my palm. And then he bit. Not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to make me gasp. His teeth scraped over my skin and his lips closed, planting a kiss in my palm just below my fingers.
This was not a work date. This was so not a work date.
I felt like all my limbs had frozen, like I was a wire pulled too taut to move. My mind scrambled, but shock had completely kicked the legs out from under rational thought – and I’ve never had that on good footing to begin with.
Hans looked at me over the heel of my palm, through his messy golden bangs. Trying to judge my reaction? Good luck to him. I couldn’t even begin to figure it out myself.
But I was staring back at him, wide eyed. And my lips were parted because I’d gasped in but had yet to breathe out. I wasn’t blushing, though. I felt like there couldn’t be a drop of blood in my face. I felt more than a little light headed. Breathe, I told myself – and that was as much as rational thought could manage.
I exhaled. “I am not dessert,” I said, and I was surprised at how level my voice was. I felt like I should probably be gibbering or something, but I was just too tense to come apart.
Hans kissed the heel of my palm. “No,” he agreed, and his breath was hot on my skin. His accent plucked the wire I had become, and I felt like I was quivering at my core. He kissed my hand again, and I could see just the very corner of his mouth rising in a smile. “But I have always preferred savory over sweets,” he confessed.
And, oh my God: Goose. Bumps. Everywhere.
It was too much. It was way too much. I felt like I was so tense I was about to break: the wire would snap if it were wound any tighter. I tried to breathe, and the effort made me tremble. I pulled my hand away before Hans could notice. I hoped. He let me have it. My cheeks were flushed and my mind was reeling and my breathing was ragged.
“I have to…” I tried to remember Megan’s advice. “…be right back,” I finished lamely. I was past starting to panic and well into an attack – but years of being an anxiety-ridden wreck came to the fore and kept me in cover-up mode. I felt like I was moving with the gracelessness of a spastic marionette, and I managed to pull myself out of the booth and walk away despite wanting desperately to run. Running would be bad. When prey runs, a predator will chase.
The babble of conversations around me roared in my ears – or maybe that was the rush of blood. I couldn’t tell if I was queasy or just hungry, but I felt sick.
I saw Sarah and flagged her down. “Where are your restrooms?” I asked like I was a normal person with a normal question.
Sarah pointed. “Right over there,” she said. “Down the little hallway. It’ll be on your left.”
I nodded. “Thank you,” I said. I started to follow her directions, but then I stopped – and I held up a hand to stop Sarah, too. “Be careful,” I warned her. “He bites.”
Then I proceeded to the restroom with all the stately dignity a panicked, broken doll can manage. Which isn’t much… but at least I didn’t run.