Lizette was so nervous that she got to the restaurant uncharacteristically early, then walked around the block, smoked a menthol cigarette which made her gag and want to brush her teeth (why had she bought them?) and finally retraced her steps, smoothing her hair and clothes and walked in at what she hoped was a thoughtful, nonchalant pace into the restaurant. It was packed. She should have come in before, but, no, what if he hadn’t been there yet and she looked desperate, which she kind of was, no, not desperate just eager, not in that way –
“– Lizette?” She turned to see him, handsome, slender, prettier than in his picture, tall, a lock of his fine, chestnut hair falling temptingly over his forehead.
“Matthew?” She asked.
“I go by Matt,” he said but he didn’t look annoyed. He smiled. Simple mistake, although he had said as much on his profile.
He settled the tab for the beer he held and they both followed the waiter through the throng to a small table for two. Part of her wished they’d had a booth but with this crowd those were for bigger parties and anyways, she’d have to think of something to say. It was hard to hear here and she actually welcomed that.
He picked up a menu and read it.
“How did you know that was me?” She asked.
“Your picture,” he said from behind the paper.
Right, right. Golly gee, could anyone tell this was the first time she’d ever had an online date?
“You like fish, right?” She asked. “I mean, you don’t mind this place, right?” She babbled on.
Matt put down his menu and dazzled her. He held out his hand.
“I love this place.” He said.
She examined the lunch menu. What should a girl in this situation order, she wondered. A salad was so cliché. Soup less so, chowder, oyster. What she wanted though, was the sand dabs which were sauteed and came with fries but is that what girls ordered in this kind of situation, she wondered? First date with a very fetching man?
For a moment she lost her confidence. She felt that everyone in the restaurant could see that she was different, even if they couldn’t exactly say how. Could they know that she wasn’t born female in the ways that they and other women were? How could they know what it had required for her to be the woman she was today, the fights, the tears, the feeling that she had not only disappointed but also revolted everyone who had loved her when she was Zeke and not Lizette? The drugs, the surgeries and procedures, the humiliation and self-doubt, the fear, the shame. And then, finally, the courage, the daring. What it took to wear this dress, these shoes, this haircut?
Matt had his menu down and the waiter, an older man with a folded over apron, white shirt, black pants and very thick-soled shoes, approached. Matt ordered the Cioppino, looking over to say that he hoped she would share it with him or at least taste it, and she got the Sand Dabs and fries. She ordered a beer, an Anchor Steam, as a silent tribute to the ‘guy’ she had once, and for most of her life been, who pretended to like beer, then changed it to a Pinot Grigio. When it came, Matt raised his glass and eyes to her, and she looked straight into his beautiful hazel eyes with a not strictly feminine directness that made them both smile.