“Hey, it’s okay, we can go another night,” she says, as self-conscious shame overwhelms me and my wallet seems to cower. We were supposed to go to dinner on Valentine’s Day, as is the custom. And, seeing as she’s been in the habit of paying for our outings lately, it seemed sensible and fair for me to insist on covering the cost of the meal. And I thought then that my check would come in and I would be flush – well, less broke anyway, enough to pay for a reasonable dinner.
Then my car crapped out on me (again). And buying my books for the term turned out to be far, far more expensive than I expected (again). And so my interim’s worth of work is reduced to a much more paltry chunk of change than I hoped. Such is life, I guess.
I reply: “No, it’s okay, I can still cover us! Maybe someplace else though?” My face is red, even though I know she doesn’t care, because 1) she’s awesome and understanding, and 2) she gets a kick out of paying them bills; challenging social norms is a reward all its own. Even so, that apeish voice in the back of my brain rattles around like a beast in a far-off cage. Perhaps detecting my inner strife, she assents to my suggestion to find another restaurant.
We reluctantly drive out of the TGIFriday’s parking lot, for our blood is not rich enough tonight to step into that den of luxury and refinement. We head off to a new destination. The road is long, and full of dining. But which to choose? Applebee’s! No, the Bee is for another time, and sports paraphernalia tends to kill the mood for us anyway. Culver’s? Nope. While delicious, the seemingly ever-present pair of grandparents with their sixty-odd progeny make that place characteristically non-romantic.
And then we drive past those dreaded arches of gold. My mind returns to that diminishing spot of currency in my back pocket – “Dollar menu, man! C’mon! Frugal is the new sexy!” I shake my head, and we drive on without a word. I may be virtually broke, but I am no savage. Not this Valentine’s.
Five Guys! Alas, that beautiful place is beyond us as well; the grease and classic rock music does nothing for the spirit of love, I’m afraid. Someday, perhaps.
Someplace local? Chapati is always nice, what with the excellent naan and the surprisingly high pri- nope, moving on.
Hogan Brothers then. Who doesn’t love a good sandwich? Right, my girlfriend, that’s who.
Tokyo Grill is a solid choice, but despite its affordability, we basically live there already (#gyozafordayz).
We need someplace decent, familiar – but not too familiar – and above all, affordable. Somewhere casual, but not trashy. Somewhere… like Noodles and Co.? Yes! That’s the one. It’s not too far, and it’s not eye-gougingly expensive! What’s more, we both love the place because carbs and cheese. Oh yes, it’s a win-win. Off we go to the palace of macaroni and pesto.
My car, rickety in its later years, chugs along the highway, northbound. My stereo, long ago defunct, is replaced by her phone, her data plan and Spotify’s collection of Hall and Oates’ greatest hits. Sidenote: if you want to love life and feel feelings, listen to “Goodnight and Goodmorning.” It will melt the ice around all of your cold, dead, wintry hearts. Our soundtrack chosen, we drive on.
We talk about this or that. We laugh. We guffaw at those awful billboards, share our feelings about recent events and how much they bother us. After the H&O has run its course, we switch music and inevitably gush about the insane talents of Beyoncé and/or Lady Gaga. We mention our plans for the summer, about a hoped-for road trip to the west coast. We quiet down, and when she rests her head on my shoulder, because we’re just that gross and disgusting and repellant, I kiss her on the forehead. Every. Time.
“Oh hey! I still have that thing for the free appetizers! We can get potstickers!” She says, digging a piece of paper out of her purse. I do sincerely believe that love has no truer expression than that.
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