About half of the stools were occupied, but only one patron had the potential to be the individual he was seeking.
He took a deep breath, whispered a silent prayer (who exactly was the patron saint of blind dates?), and made his way over to the woman with the long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“Are you Katelynn?” he asked politely.
When she turned to face him and revealed how attractive she was, Justin said another silent prayer that she would answer in the affirmative.
“No. I’m Sam,” she replied as she gave him a quick once over and offered a half smile.
“Sorry,” he said with a hint of disappointment in his voice, and then turned to walk away and ponder his next move.
“Wait,” she called to him as she reached for her glass. “Did my name offend you? Because it’s not my fault. You’d have to blame my parents for that.”
A smile slowly crept across Justin’s face and he turned back to the stranger, who had managed to make him forget how anxious he was with one witty quip.
“Sam’s a lovely name,” he explained. “I’m assuming that’s short for Samantha, and not Samuel?”
That earned Justin the other half of her smile.
“You know what happens when you assume. You often get it right.”
She took a sip of her drink, but did not break eye contact. As if saying that the ball was in his court if he wanted to keep volleying witty banter.
Justin knew he should continue his search for his blind date, but he was too intrigued to turn away from this back and forth.
“I’m on a blind date,” he told her, but then quickly corrected himself. “Actually, I will be on a blind date as soon as I find her.”
“Katelynn.” She said the name as if he needed reminding.
“That’s right,” he returned. “You haven’t seen her, have you?”
“I wouldn’t know,” she answered. “I have no idea what she looks like. But shouldn’t you? She is your date after all.”
“That’s a funny story, but I don’t want to bore you…” He purposely trailed off hoping that she’d ask for details, even though he knew he really needed to get back to the manhunt for the elusive Katelynn.
“It’s Friday night, and I’m drinking alone in a bar. A restaurant bar,” she clarified and let loose a charming smile. “I assure you that your story couldn’t possibly bore me…”
She looked at him expectantly, clearly wanting to be able to finish her sentence with his name and then a period.
“Justin,” he offered as if he had picked up on her vibe. “I guess I can quickly tell you.”
He gave a cursory glance of the bar area, so as not to seem like he had totally given up hope of finding his date, and then sat down on the stool next to Sam’s.
“Don’t make me drink alone, Justin,” Sam demanded. “If Katelynn walks over and finds that you allowed a fellow single lady to drink alone, she will not be impressed. And these blind dates are all about first impressions. Or so I’ve been told.”
He chuckled. Something about her sense of humor just got to him.
“I don’t suppose they serve Snapple,” he wondered aloud as he perused the beer names on the nearby tap.
“No, they do not,” Sam concurred. “Because this is a bar, not a high school cafeteria.
“So you were about to tell me how you got snookered into a blind date without having any idea about how she looks,” Sam egged him on to tell his story.
Justin smiled. He loved her directness.
“And if I share my tale, will you tell me why you’re drinking alone in a restaurant bar on a Friday night?” he bargained.
“That’s easy,” she shot back without hesitation. “The game is on and the nuts are free.”
She slid the bowl of nuts over to him.
“The nuts aren’t free at your place?” Justin queried with a sly grin.
“That’s the thing,” she volleyed back. “My apartment is awesome. Everything is included. Except for the nuts. They’re five dollars a bowl. I’m not going to be extorted like that in the place I call home until my lease expires.”
She said it with a straight face and then took another sip of her drink.
Justin turned away for just a moment. He felt like he needed to act like he was looking for Katelynn, but in reality, he had to break eye contact. There was something about this woman. He felt so drawn to her and wondered if he should be trying to fight it.
After all, he was supposed to be meeting someone else. Not falling for the attractive stranger with a witty comeback for everything.
“My friend Gary was tired of hearing me whine about how there are no cool single women out there,” he began once he’d locked eyes with her again. “He offered to set me up with his coworker Katelynn.”
“He said she was an avid reader, enjoyed sports, and was a huge Star Wars fan,” he volunteered. “On paper, that sounds like a great match.”
“But everyone likes Star Wars,” Sam argued playfully.
“The thing is, Gary remembered Katelynn going on this wild rant about how much she hated The Last Jedi,” Justin told her and took a sip of his just arrived drink. “He said it matched, almost point for point, the rant I’d bored him with after I’d dragged him to see the very same movie.”
Sam nodded like this all made perfect sense. “Star Wars fans seem to be very passionate about those flicks. So I’ll admit she sounds like someone with whom a fellow Star Wars nerd might click. But why didn’t you ask to see a photo before you agreed to the date?”
Justin shrugged and let out a long sigh.
“This might sound stupid, but I’m a big fan of being set up by someone I trust,” he explained as he tapped nervously on the base of his glass with his finger. “Gary is my best friend and knows me better than anyone. If he thinks this woman is a match, I trust his judgment. Love is about so much more than looks. I wanted to get to know her, just like I’d hope she’d want to get to know me. It shouldn’t all be based on a photo.”
“And she agreed to this?” Sam asked skeptically as she reached for the bowl of nuts.
“She actually insisted on it,” Justin admitted with a shrug. “Once Gary told me that, I was all in. Even if we didn’t hit it off, she had intrigued me enough that I had to meet her. If only to get her take on The Last Jedi.”
“You are a brave and open-minded man, Justin,” Sam complimented. “I hope you find her and it turns out well.”
Justin was torn. While he did want to meet Katelynn and see if she was the real deal, the old saying “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” was dancing through his head for some reason.
“Thank you, Sam,” he told her with a smile as he put some money down on the bar. “Let me take care of this round. I really enjoyed interrupting your boring evening. I hope you have a good night.”
Sam smiled and sipped her drink.
Taking her silence as his dismissal, Justin got up from his seat.
“I think it was the cornball humor that pissed me off the most,” she called after him just as he took his first step away from the bar.
“Excuse me?” Justin turned back with a confused, but hopeful look on his face.
“The reason I hated The Last Jedi so much was the cornball humor,” Sam clarified. “This is Star Wars, not Spaceballs. The slapstick humor was unnecessary. And what was that nonsense about Rey’s parents being nobody special? Come on!”
Justin’s eyes lit up.
“You are Katelynn.”
She nodded. “I just wanted to meet the real you. Not the version of you that you thought I’d want to meet on a blind date.”
“That is so…awesome,” he had to admit. “A little twisted, but awesome.”
Justin nodded and realized that his nerves were gone. They had been replaced by butterflies fluttering in his stomach.
Gary really did know him well…