Authors: Ian Thomas Malone
It was two minutes after the suggested time of arrival. Nathan was generally pretty strict about punctuality, but he couldn’t berate Jackie the same way he could yell at Griffin. The only thing that surprised him was that he hadn’t been constantly checking his phone for the time while he was on his journey of self-reflection.
He opened the door and saw Jackie in all her magnificence. She was wearing an elegant purple dress with black tights and high heels that Nathan could only think of as “expensive.” Her hair and make-up displayed the kind of restrain that girls his age knew nothing about. Jackie was beautiful and she appeared to know it without feeling the need to overdo it.
Nathan said hello right off the bat before stumbling over what he was going to say next. Most of his brain cells were telling him to compliment her appearance, but he held back while he looked for the right word. Earlier than morning, Nathan had compiled a list of conversational taboos that he could only engage in if Jackie brought them up.
This list was just as important as his finals. Nathan decided to avoid bringing up any topics pertaining to age as well as anything that could be perceived as generational. He would certainly not be talking about his day at school or what he was going to do about college visits.
He also was not going to make any mention of Steve or her children. This was a very large and very obvious elephant in the room. So, they didn’t exist tonight. It was not preventing the dinner from happening, which was already one slap in the face from popular convention. He saw no reason to test his good luck.
The next one was not as obvious, but Nathan still considered it to be very important. He was going to tread lightly when it came to flirting. This went against some of his inclinations when it comes to wooing, but he needed to let Jackie take point on that one. There were too many landmines in that field to be too forward on that front.
Jackie responded before he had any more chance to stumble over his self-imposed rulebook. “Hi, Nathan, you look lovely,” she said. He appeared undressed compared to her.
“Thanks, you look simply stunning,” he said, giving himself a pass because he was returning a compliment. He overdid it just a little, but for the sake of talking naturally, it made some sense.
There was a bottle of white wine in her hand. He felt a little awkward mentioning it since he was underage, but Jackie beat him to it and said, “I brought some wine. You do drink, right?”
Nathan accepted the bottle. “Thank you, wine is great.” He smiled to himself as he guided the conversation away from age. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so difficult.
Alcohol had been a big point of uncertainty while he prepared for the night, but he thought he had his bases covered. He decided against asking someone for booze in favor of Jerome’s extensive alcohol supply which covered all the hard stuff save for the flavored sludge you’d find at a party hosted by a girl Nathan’s age. He also bought several juices and sodas, which could make most mixed drinks. He even downloaded an app on his cell phone that showed him how to mix them properly. Beer was the only real hold up, but there was enough wine to make up for it. Nathan knew that beer was more of a guy’s drink anyway.
He ushered Jackie in toward the living room. Jerome had a fairly typical set-up for a house owned by a wealthy man, though he rarely entertained guests. Nathan could not remember the last time he’d actually sat there, if ever.
He had never hosted anyone in a house before. The television show Downton Abbey was the extent of his knowledge of what it was like to host guests. He tried to find middle ground between Lord Grantham and Mr. Carson in order to please Jackie.
He started with, “Can I get you a drink?” while trying to make it sound like part of his normal vernacular. It appeared to have worked.
“Vodka soda, if you have it. Whatever you’ve got is fine,” she said. “I’m not picky. If you can get me that, you’d be the most well stocked high schooler I know.”
Nathan cringed at the high school reference, and also at the idea that she might have been around other high school aged kids with alcohol. He wanted to give his own retort, but he held back. He knew things like that were going to be said.
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” he said as he took the bottle of wine to put it in the freezer. He read that white wine was often enjoyed cold and there would not be enough time for it to chill in the fridge. “Make yourself comfortable,” he added, since that was something he thought hosts should say.
He considered whether a joint would improve the situation he was in, and he wondered if Jackie smoked pot. Nathan was trying not to sound immature while avoiding playing some sort of caricature of the kind of men he assumed Jackie was familiar with.
Keep it together. You’re doing fine
, was what he told himself as he mixed Jackie’s drink.
A vodka and soda was a simple enough drink, but he gave it its due diligence nonetheless with some help from his cell phone mixology application. Despite its simple ingredients, he’d never actually seen it served at a party. Girls his age usually either drank vodka in shots or mixed it with orange juice or crystal light. They preferred it to beer because of a misconception that it had less calories.
“Lemon or lime?” he called out, to let Jackie know his mind hadn’t wandered off her.
“Lime, thank you,” she replied.
He made himself a gin and tonic—a good choice since it looked identical to her drink. Nathan was not a fan of the way vodka affected his system and he would need his head in the right place for the night. He poured a little more vodka into Jackie’s drink than the recipe called for. From his two times babysitting for her, the most prevalent fact he knew about her was that she liked to get drunk.
Jackie was sitting on the couch admiring the house when Nathan returned to the living room.
“My, what a lovely home you have,” she said, as if she’d come up with that line while he was in the kitchen.
He ignored the canned compliment and replied with, “Why, thank you,” without mentioning that he didn’t currently live there. Home was never a word he’d use to describe the place either. He had not really been over the specifics of his living situation with Jackie.
He also wasn’t sure what to do for conversation given the amount of self-imposed restrictions. The simple, “How was your day?” would be problematic for the sake of the vibe of the room. For all the time he spent thinking about Jackie, there wasn’t much he really knew about her.
Seeking to learn more about her, he started off by asking, “So, Jackie, what are you interested in?” He bit his tongue, hoping the comment hadn’t been perceived incorrectly, but she didn’t seem share his reservations.
She looked happy that Nathan was interested in her and replied, “I don’t have much time for recreational activities, but I like to read and sit in the sun. I hear you’re quite the adventurer.”
He found himself once again in a conversation which could do little to benefit him. He didn’t like the idea that people were gossiping about him but he knew he shouldn’t make a big deal about it. He had an overwhelming urge to ask if it was Mrs. Kalford who’d been talking about him, but he held back.
Instead, he answered, “I am. Swimming used to be the only thing I was really interested in, so I started to branch out. I suppose that’s weird to some people.” The blatant sarcasm was intentional.
Jackie looked both intrigued by his statement as well as a bit embarrassed for mentioning that she’d talked about him to others. “I agree completely. What sorts of things are you interested in?”
This was where Nathan could really get the ball rolling on his discrete efforts to win her over. He started to talk about the different fitness classes he went to, museum visits, creative writing readings, self-improvement classes, and the other unusual hobbies of his. He was also speaking about his interests with a passion that could only come naturally.
“Wow,” was the first thing Jackie said. “That’s quite impressive.”
Nathan smiled. “Not really, when you think about it, especially in a town like this. People have so much free time, but they often waste it on stupid things and don’t use it to try new things. I don’t want to be that guy who sits on the couch and watches
re-runs because I don’t feel like putting even the slightest amount of effort into something that I might actually enjoy. Life’s too short, Jackie. You’ve gotta get out there and seize the moment.”
She appeared to be dispirited when she replied, “That sounds a lot like Steve, except without the desire to try anything new. Though, baseball players are not generally the most interesting group of people. He’s certainly no exception.”
The lack of the word
was noteworthy. Nathan felt like he was a character in a Woody Allen movie; he was not only analyzing every word she said, but also all the things she opted not to disclose.
As tempting as it was, he had promised himself that he wouldn’t go after Steve that night. He didn’t care about the man at all, but a more reserved strategy would serve him well since Steve wasn’t there to defend himself. Besides, between the derision efforts of Jackie, April, and Tiffany, there didn’t seem to be much more he could do to make Steve look like a bad guy.
Nathan paused for a moment to think of what to say next, but Jackie jumped right in. “Nathan, next time you go on an adventure, will you take me with you? I’m sure I can get Zhanna to watch the kids again.”
Her words stormed his heart. There was a prospect of a second date, not even half an hour into the first. On a typical date, this might have been a huge red flag of desperation, but in this case it was just what Nathan wanted to hear.
“Who is Zhanna?” This mildly violated his rule of inquiring about family, but he cut himself some slack. Such a name had certainly drawn his interest.
“Oh, silly me, Zhanna is a Russian nanny we used to employ when Steve was on the Mets. He got traded soon after, but I still have her phone number. She wasn’t available when I asked you, though, which has turned out for the best.” She smiled as she took a sip of her drink.
They went outside while Nathan prepared the swordfish. Jackie offered to make them another round of drinks, which forced him to consume vodka against his wishes, lest he arouse suspicion. She did appear to appreciate the salad he’d made earlier, which was waiting in the fridge next to his marinated swordfish.
“You should really open a restaurant,” Jackie said. “I can’t believe you know how to cook so much.”
He had to stop himself from bringing up the fact that her husband actually did have a restaurant despite apparently not knowing how to cook. Instead, he said, “Cooking isn’t that hard. All you need is an ability to follow directions, and to understand that a lot of trial and error is involved.”
Though he was a little bit tipsy, Nathan got the grill going without any trouble. Jackie watched him as he put the swordfish on and allowed five minutes for each side. He’d read a dozen recipes telling him varying methods and decided this was the best way to cook it.
The swordfish was almost as easy to cook as steak or a burger. He decided that eating outside would be more romantic, and so he rushed in to get the plates, salad, and wine which he was glad he’d remembered was in the freezer.
So far, so good
Nathan decided about halfway through his second bite that he was not a fan of swordfish. The taste was dense and different. He worried that there was something wrong with his preparation, but he could not think of what it could be. He cursed himself for not picking something he liked.
“Oh, Nathan, this is delicious,” Jackie intoned. “I am so impressed with you right now.”
This made him feel better. “Thank you. I’m sorry I didn’t make another side.” He was quite content with the salad, though it hardly required any effort at all.
Jackie decided to switch the subject. “I wish I lived in a place like this. It’s so quiet, you’d think nobody actually lived here.”
Nathan didn’t want to tell her the truth that he didn’t currently live there, but it was something he was going to have to admit sooner or later if he hoped to keep seeing her.
Honesty prevailed. “Uh, it’s funny that you say that. Because I don’t actually live here.”
Jackie, who still had swordfish in her mouth, paused.
Seeing how this could be misconstrued, Nathan added, “Don’t get me wrong. This is my father’s house. I live with my aunt and uncle while he’s away in London. I do live here, well…sort of.”
As Nathan wondered the value of his truthfulness, Jackie said, “That’s interesting. What does he do?” He’d forgotten she was used to moving around too.
He thought about giving himself a little pinch under the table just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. He wasn’t sure if there was anything he could say to faze Jackie, though he was cognizant that too much confidence could change things quickly. She either genuinely didn’t care about his age, or had one hell of a poker face. He underestimated the notion that she might not give a rat’s ass about his age.