Page 8 of Eight Dates

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Ben shook his head again. “Trust me, I’m not. But throwing you out like that was cruel, and you deserve to be treated like a human being.” He finally tore his hand away and hugged his middle as he took a few steps back. “Is there anything else I can do?”

The guy lifted Ben’s coat to his chest and held it tight. “You’ve done more than enough. Thank you.” Then he was gone, darting around the corner almost like he’d never been there at all.

Ben headed toward his office, and it was only when he was rubbing at his frigid arms while attempting to reach for his office keys that he realized he’d left his tea back at the café.

His heart was thudding against his chest, and eventually, he made it to the warmth of his little space heater and collapsed in his chair with dark brown eyes and wild curls dancing around his head.


Ben stareddown at the glowing light sitting on top of the chanukiah that reflected a little too brightly against his office window. It was probably from all the tinting the university had done so they could use it as an excuse to not run the A/C as much during the summer, but he didn’t like the look of it.

He missed Chanukah at home as a kid. He missed the smell of latkes and sour cream and the cinnamon in his bubbe’s homemade applesauce she’d cooked and preserved with all the leftover apples from Rosh Hashanah. He missed all the little touches of festive décor in blues and silvers and the chalky taste of awful gelt, which he and his brother theorized was some sort of low-sugar, faux chocolate that his mom found in one of her hippie, health-food stores.

He missed his parents. The rumble of his dad’s voice as he sang the blessing and Aaron pulling faces behind his back to mimic how seriously his dad took everything. He even missed being smacked by his mom upside his head when they got caught.

Everyone always fixated on how much he had missed out growing up with no presents, and no tree, and no Santa. It just went to show that those people never understood that they could be so full and so happy just having small, simple things that felt like home.

And Ben wasn’t a fool. He’d known life was going to change when he grew up and moved away. He knew that one day, he’d probably be relegated to lighting an electric chanukiah in his office all by himself, but he couldn’t help but wonder now if that feeling wouldn’t be so profound if he had someone to share it with.

That was the sole reason he was going on this date.

It was the sole reason he hadn’t shown up at his brother’s house in the middle of the night and dragged him to the creek and thrown him into the icy water so his balls got frostbite. Though that was still on the table, depending on how badly everything went.

Grabbing his scarf and keys, Ben checked the chanukiah timer, then locked the door behind him and made a break for his car. The coat he was wearing wasn’t his warmest—he’d given that to the random guy living in his car and hadn’t even considered getting it back.

His breath left his lungs in soft white puffs as he fumbled to get his car door unlocked, and then he sat behind the wheel, rubbing his hands together while he waited for the heater to kick on. He told himself he just wanted to get warm, and it had absolutely nothing to do with procrastinating this whole…event. Which was the kindest word he could come up with for it.

Eventually though, he ran out of excuses and time, so he pulled out onto the main road and made his way down the street to the little gastropub he and Selina had scoped out the week before. The parking lot was fuller than he wanted to deal with, but he supposed it would be harder for some serial killer to get away with murder if there were a ton of witnesses.

He felt anxiety in his gut, popping like soda bubbles, and he took several breaths before looking at himself in his visor mirror. He didn’t look the best he ever had, but he also didn’t look the worst, so that was something.

After another few breaths, he finally turned off the car and headed inside.

The place was warm, which was a shock to his system from the cold, and the music was just loud enough and Christmassy enough to be annoying. But that was everywhere during this season, so he promptly ignored it and tried for a smile at the server with his stiff, wintery-cold cheeks.

“Hi. I’m supposed to be meeting someone, and I’m not sure if he’s here yet. Reservation for Ben or Chaz?”

The hostess looked very young and very bored, but she checked her computer before sighing. “No one’s checked in yet. You can wait at the bar if you want.”

“Can I just get my table?” Ben asked.

“Not until all parties have arrived,” she said flatly.

Ben pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right. But if he doesn’t show, I’m still going to eat. So…could I please have my table?”

For a moment, he thought he might have a fight on his hands, but after a long silence, she shrugged and grabbed two menus, muttering, “I don’t even know why I give a fuck,” under her breath.

Ben held back a laugh. He remembered perfectly well working public service during the shopping season, and in spite of his own job making him want to throw himself into the Atlantic during every midterm and final, he wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.

At least not to go back to this. He much preferred his current financial security—as small as it was—and his little apartment and his teaching contract. Retail and customer service was for the damn birds.

Following the hostess across the room, his heart sank a little when he saw their table was near the bar and the bathroom. It was already loud enough, and the flow of people wouldn’t be conducive to a nice, calm get-to-know-you chat. But he wasn’t even sure he wanted that, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

The hostess tossed the menus on the table and turned without a word, so Ben grabbed the seat that faced the bar and pulled a menu close to him. He’d never been big on eating out—likely trained from growing up kosher in a neighborhood that didn’t have restaurants that were certified.

When he was at school and no longer practicing, he couldn’t afford it. When he and Taylor started dating, his ex had only been interested in going to clubs and getting wasted—something Ben had never been able to enjoy.

He could have gone out more then, but it was pathetic being in a relationship and sitting at a table for one, so he just…didn’t.