Geoff and Randal are polar opposites on a bad first date.
|“So. . . .” Geoff says desperately when the awkward silence has spun out between them for several painful minutes. His dinner date—blind date—looks up from his linguine and clams politely, but without real interest. “Did you, uh, get out to vote, today?”
The dinner date, one Randall McMillan, almost smiles. It sits unfamiliarly on his austerely regular features.
“Of course, I did. My place of employ gives us time off to do so. They’re very progressive,” Randal adds with a touch of pride that animates his wintry grey eyes and stoic demeanor for a few moments. Geoff realizes, with a small shock, that his dinner date is quite handsome. Also, that touch of animation is the first sign Geoff’s seen that Randal isn’t actually an urbane, cultured automaton since they sat down.
“Did you, also, get a chance to, er, rock the vote, as it were?” Randal asks, taking up a piece of garlic bread for a genteel bite.
“What? Me? Oh, no,” Geoff demurs with a small chuckle and Randal pauses in the act of setting down his garlic bread half-way to the basket that’s full of the same. “I don’t vote. Never have. Politics, like, isn’t really my thing.”
Dark, perfectly-shaped eyebrows inch up toward a pronounced widow’s peak and Randal looks utterly aghast. “Not really you—you do realize, Geoff, that if one doesn’t vote, then one cannot, in good conscience, complain about the state of our union?”
Geoff shrugs stolidly, digging into his pasta primavera and doing his best to ignore the way this date is spiraling down the drain, and has been since the word one. “I know, but then, I’m pretty lucky. I can’t really complain, personally.”
Randal huffs. “Then obviously you’re not trying very hard, are you?”
Chuckling again, to cover a small, but growing resentment at Randal’s condescension, Geoff swallows his forkful and takes a breadstick, snapping it in two just to have something to keep his fidgety hands busy. “Seriously, though, I live in the greatest, freest nation in the world. I have a nice place to live, food in my belly whenever I want it, a job that I love, and my health. What have I, a first-world success-story, got to be upset over?”
Randal sighs, putting down his garlic bread at last, as well as his fork. He looks vaguely disgusted and rueful. “Well, let us see . . . for starters, how about all the folks in this country who don’t have it as good as you do? What about the children who don’t have three hots and a cot, even, to call their own on a daily basis, never mind things like education and healthcare? Hmm? Do you suppose they could find something to complain or be upset about?”
Now, Randal seems really animated, his intense grey eyes lit up, his pale face flushed, his long, nimble fingers drumming the table. Geoff smiles bemusedly, feeling that small shock again, that his blind date is quite attractive. He’s rather easy on the eyes, if not on the psyche.
“Well, Randal, I suppose they might,” Geoff says softly, crunching down on half of the snapped breadstick. “But believe it or not, they rarely do.”
“And how would you know?” Randal asks disdainfully, and Geoff sighs, thinking: This date is getting so off track. Why on Earth did Cynthia and Braden think the two of us were a match? He’s such a self-righteous, pompous, pretentious ass . . . even if he is hot.
“I know,” Geoff begins hesitantly, because he only rarely talks about his community service. And certainly never to a guy like Randal McMillan. Not because it’s a secret, per se, but because he’s a strong believer in not talking up one’s own good works. “Because I volunteer at Saint Catherine’s three nights a week. In the soup kitchen. I meet a lot of those folks you mentioned, who have so much they could complain about. But, like I said, they don’t. They soldier on, hoping and working towards a better future. They hold their families together as best they can and try to be happy no matter what horrible shit life throws at them.” Geoff pauses, uncomfortable with the left-field direction this disaster-date has gone in and reluctant to say anymore, or make himself in any way vulnerable to Randal. But this last part has to be said, even if a guy like Randal will never understand the sentiment behind it. “I actually admire them. For not only surviving, but for living.”
Another silence spins out between Geoff and Randal. For several more painful minutes they sit in a quiet unbroken by anything, save the background noise of a busy restaurant on a Thursday night: silverware clattering and people chattering.
Geoff can barely taste his food, and he’s both flushed and sweating slightly . . . he officially can’t wait for this date to be over. He hasn’t been on one in nearly a year, but he doesn’t remember them being this . . . hard. Or this stubbornly quiet (though not for Geoff’s lack of trying) except for when he and his date are butting heads.
This is what I get, he supposes bitterly, for letting Cyn and Bray talk me into a date I didn’t want to go on in the first place, when I could’ve been home playing Destiny. . . .
“Saint John the Divine.” Randal is the one to break the silence, this time and, surprised, Geoff looks up politely, but without real interest.
“I beg pardon?”
Randal’s mouth purses ruefully again, before he repeats himself, looking into Geoff’s eyes. “Saint John the Divine. It’s where I volunteer. Three nights a week, in the soup kitchen.”
Geoff’s mouth drops open and Randal smiles a little. The first genuine one of the night.
“You . . . volunteer?”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Randal admonishes, taking up his glass of white and examining the contents before sipping. Then he’s meeting Geoff’s gaze again. “Voting isn’t the only way to change the world for the better. The human-element can be even more important than the political one. So many times, even people with the best intentions forget that there are people—families out there who are more than statistics. And those people need more than caring for. They need to know that someone actually cares enough to give more than money, but time and attention, as well.”
That’s the first thing he’s said all night that I can actually agree with, Geoff thinks, bemused once more and shaking his head slightly. “That’s why I do it. That’s why I volunteer. It’s all about compassion for fellow human beings and forging human connections. Those are things you can’t necessarily do with a checkbook.”
“Hmm,” Randal murmurs thoughtfully, taking another sip of his wine. The gaze he casts upon Geoff now is considering and unabashedly interested. “It would appear that,” he begins slowly, dryly, “we have something in common, after all.”
Geoff’s own eyebrows inch up in question. “And you think that’s why Cynthia and Braden decided to throw us together? Because we both volunteer?”
“Perhaps. Much has been made of less than two civic-minded polar opposites forced on a bad date by well-meaning, but ultimately clueless friends.” Randal’s smile changes, becomes absent and challenging, all at once. “So . . . Saint Catherine’s, eh? You’re Catholic, I take it.”
Geoff nods once, taking a sip of his own fancy, imported beer. “Yep. Irish Catholic. And you?” he asks, thinking he knows, with a name like McMillan, what answer he’ll receive.
The challenge in Randal’s smile turns predatory, gains teeth and becomes a grin. He sardonically toasts Geoff with his white wine. “Oh . . . Irish, too . . . but Protestant.”
Geoff blinks, then buries his face in his hands with a groan as Randal chuckles delightedly and takes another sip of his wine. When Geoff peers out from between his fingers, Randal’s leaning back in his chair and watching him with that considering, interested look again, as warm and bright as sunlight.
“You’re not ever gonna be easy, Randal McMillan, are you?” slips out of Geoff, mostly unbidden, and Randal’s grin turns playful, almost puckish.
“No, Geoff Dunne, I’m not,” he agrees, chuckling smugly. His gaze is frank and appreciative—downright flirty. “But I can promise you: I’m very much worth the effort.”
And despite himself, Geoff can’t deny the other man is probably right. . . .
At least about this.