I am meeting Suzi at the Palace of Fine Arts, beneath the giant dome on the edge of the pond. The crowd is much larger than I’d been expecting, a thick herd of people milling about, blocking my way, nearly tripping over one another as they walk the grounds. I’d forgotten it is Memorial Day weekend, which explains why I’d had to park in Timbuktu and walk a million miles to get here.
My phone buzzes, and I see that it’s Suzi calling me. “Hello,” I say, answering it.
“Hi,” she says. “I’m here. I have no idea where you are, but I’m here.”
“I’m here too. Under the dome.”
“Me too,” she says. “Raise your hand. I’ll find you.” I put my arm up into the air and start waving it. “I see you. Don’t move, I’ll be right over.”
“Stay on the line,” I say. “In case I get crushed by the throng. You can hear my last words. I’ll keep waving like an idiot though, because that’s a good look for me.”
There is a touch on my arm from behind, and I turn around, finding Suzi standing there. “Hang on a minute,” she says into the phone, which she then takes from her ear and presses against her chest. “I’m sorry,” she whispers to me. “I have to finish this call.” She lifts the phone again and says into it, “So look, I’ve got to go, because I found you in the crowd, and it’s kind of rude for me to be on the phone now, you know? Makes a bad first impression.”
“No, absolutely,” I say into my phone. “Do your thing. I’m sure I’ll talk to you soon.”
“I’m sure you will,” she says. She disconnects her phone and puts it into her back pocket. “So hi. I’m assuming you’re Sebastian, since you have his phone and all.”
“I assume I am too, since my picture is on his license.”
“Do I need to show you mine,” she asks, “or can you assume that I am who I say I am?”
“We’re in a crowd,” I say, “so odds are that if you’re a serial killer, you’re not going to try anything here in public.”
“Probably not,” she agrees. “And it really is insanely crowded, isn’t it?”
“Memorial Day,” I say.
“How about we walk in a non-touristy direction, and find someplace a little quieter for me to murder you in?”
“I think I saw some lovely alleys to the south of here. Full of dumpsters and hobo urine.”
“Sounds perfect,” she says. “Lead on.” We begin weaving through the crowd, heading back in the direction of where I had parked my car. “So Rivi told me there are two things I’m not supposed to ask you about.”
“Oh she did, did she?”
“Yep. I’m not supposed to ask you about Hannah, and I’m not supposed to ask you about your vestigial tail.”
“Uh-huh,” I say.
“So of course now I really want to know about the tail, but I was specifically told to pretend that I don’t know about it, so I’m not really sure how to go about asking to see it.”
“Rivi may have been full of shit on that one. Not saying for sure one way or the other, but the odds are not in her favor.”
“Too bad. That sounded kind of hot, actually.” We stop at an intersection and wait for the light to change. “I shouldn’t ask about Hannah either, obviously.”
“So who is she?”
“If I knew you better,” I say, “I’d tug on the sides of your face to make sure you aren’t Rivi wearing a Suzi mask.”
“Ridiculous. Rivi already knows who Hannah is.”
“Is this how all your first dates go?” I ask.
“I wasn’t really treating this as a date,” she says. “I don’t do blind dates, and this would be one, if we were actually doing it.”
The light changes from red to green, and we start across the street. “Okay, then it’s not a date. What should we call it?”
“An outing?” she suggests.
“Outing is good,” I say. “Sounds like we should be having lemonade and riding in a horse-drawn buggy.”
“You’re dodging the question, by the way.”
“Which question was that?”
“Who Hannah is.”
“This really isn’t a date?” I ask.
“Totally not,” she says. “Just an outing.”
“So I don’t have any pressure on me to be charming and full of wit?”
“No way,” she says. “Screw that. Why should you have to work that hard when it’s not a date?”
“And is this an outing where there is food or drink involved?”
She takes her phone out again. “Depends on what Google has to say about it.” She types a moment. “There’s something near here that claims to have rustic Italian fare and wood-fired pizza. I think those fall within the boundaries of an outing.”
“Brilliant. I’m a fan of both pizza and rust, so that should be just perfect.”
“Then we keep walking this way,” she says, “and then we turn that way, and then you can keep on trying to dodge my questions.”
“I’m not dodging anything. I’m just choosing not to answer.”
“See?” she says. “This is also why this isn’t a date. You’re already seeing someone.”
“I’m not really,” I say. “She’s just a friend.”
“Rivi said you’d say that. She also said I should say that you’re full of shit and you should just hop on that train already.”
“I’m sorry, why exactly did you agree to go out with me on this outing? I’m a little confused about your motivation here.”
“I am a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”
“Now who is dodging the question?”
“Fine,” she says. “Rivi is fun, and she likes you, so I thought that boded well for an afternoon’s distraction. How’s that?”
“Rivi’s also insane,” I say, “so there’s every possibility that I could be a nutjob.”
“So could I, so it probably just cancels out somehow. Besides, I have a bottle of bear pepper spray in my pocket, so I’m not really worried about you.”
“I should have armed myself ahead of time. I’m always severely underprepared for fake dates.”
“Guess we know which one of us is getting dismembered in an alley today then,” she says. “Also, I’m not going to ask you about Hannah again. I just wanted to hang her name out there as garlic.”
“You know, garlic against the vampire of expectation.”
“You’ve totally lost me.”
“We’re not a date,” she says, “so I’m sneakily reminding you that you shouldn’t think we’re on one.”
“Just telling me wouldn’t have worked?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Garlic always works though. For the record though, this outing so far? It’s going really very well.”
“Is it?” I ask. “I wasn’t really sure.”
“Trust me, it is. Just don’t get any ideas.”
“I never get ideas,” I say. “It’s one of my strong points.”
“Oh, I know,” she says. “Rivi already told me that.”
“I’ve seen you naked,” I say. “I just want you to keep that in mind while we’re eating wood-fired pizza. Just so you don’t think you hold all the cards here.”
“Silly boy. You think we’re playing cards, but really it’s a chess game we’re having.”
“A chess game of cards,” I say.
“That’s not a thing,” she says. “It’s totally not.”
“And also I really do have a tail. I play tambourine with it and busk on the wharf every Tuesday. Did Rivi tell you that too?”
Suzi stops short suddenly at the corner. “Last chance,” she says. She points to the east of us. “Google claims there is pizza three blocks that way. Come with me now and I won’t ask you about tails or pretend girlfriends anymore.” She then points back the way we have just walked, towards the Bay. “Go back that way, and you’re free and under no obligation to spend an afternoon with my weird ass.”
“First off,” I say, pointing further south down the street, “my car is parked that-a-way, so I’m not going back the way I came. Secondly, you can ask me about anything you want to, but only if you are fully aware that I’ll be asking you about as many awkward things as I can think of in return. Thirdly, if there is booze available with this pizza, I’m not going to be drinking it all by myself.”
“Fourthly,” she says, “I’m not sure if ‘fourthly’ is a word, but fourthly, if you continue to be as not charming and not witty as you have been so far, then I will have no choice but to ask you out for a second outing at a time and place yet to be decided. Also not a date.”
“I’ve already seen you naked,” I remind her. “Therefore an actual date would be unnecessary. The objective has already been achieved.”
“Then your decision is pizza?”
“My decision is always pizza,” I say. “Always.”
She regards me a moment, and when I start to speak, she holds up her index finger to shush me. “Quiet. I am making a decision. Don’t speak.” After a few seconds, she puts her finger down. “Right. Let’s go get pizza.” She turns and walks down the sidewalk, and I hurry to catch up.
“Was that your decision?” I ask. “Pizza?”
“Nope,” she says. “I was deciding you don’t look like you get seasick.”
“And that’s a thing because..?”
“Because for our second outing, I’m going to ask you to my houseboat.”
“As long as it’s not a date,” I say. “I haven’t got time for that nonsense.”
“No promises,” she says.