Tim was well and truly stuck.
He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, like they did in the movies. It did nothing to help.
“I just can’t do it,” he said. “It’s impossible! How do you sum up love in a five minute speech?”
“Look, all grooms go through this,” said Gary. “You’re just overthinking it.”
“Well, how do I underthink it then?”
“I guess… how about we start at the beginning?”
“OK, I’ve got ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen…’”
“No no no, not the beginning of the speech. The beginning of your relationship. What was your first date like?”
Tim was pretty nervous.
He’d met a girl. Lizzie. She seemed just amazing.
And now he was meeting the girl. Properly. For a date. That meant smalltalk. Big risks.
OK, deep breath. He reminded himself that this girl was different. Special. The brief conversation they’d had when they first met had been easy.
He’d just need to cut down on the weird references. It’d be fine. He could do this. He would be like Luke, he’d have to trust the For- NO, STOP IT!
Then he saw her.
“Hey you,” she said, a smile breaking across her face.
“Hey!” said Tim, returning the smile. He couldn’t help himself.
“How’s it going?” asked Lizzie.
“Good thanks. But the big question is ‘how are we going?’. Specifically ‘to get to our first date’?”
What was that? Tim thought to himself.
“Er, good point…” said a slightly-confused Lizzie.
“Well, at first I considered hiring a private limousine. Of course,” said Tim with a grand flourish (that looked anything but).
“Oh, of course.”
“But then I couldn’t spell ‘limousine’. Like, at all. Not even close enough for the spell-checker to pick it up and correct it. So I thought, sod it, bus it is.”
“Bus is fine”.
Is it fine though? Tim thought. Is it?
“Now, I’m sure a fancy girl like you has never had to take the bus before,” he said. “But if you go out with me, I like to set the right expectations. So we’re getting around like common people. If you want to live like common people, you’ve got to do whatever common people do.”
Shit. That was definitely the kind of dated reference I should avoid, thought Tim. At least, until Lizzie smiled and replied.
“I’ve ridden the bus before. And trying to suggest otherwise would really just be a work of Pulp Fiction.”
Tim paused, jaw open.
“God you’re good…” he said.
“Ah, so it was her wit that you liked?” said Gary, nodding sagely.
“Oh god yes. You have to work to keep up with her,” said Tim, smiling at the memory. “But… I guess there’s more to it than that. See, the real thing was… OK, let me tell you what happened next. We got the bus, and we went bowling.“
“Wait, you’re left-handed? I’m on a date with a woman who’s left-handed?”
Tim let the faux-indignation wash over him. But it was really tough not to chuckle at the matching look of faux-indignation on Lizzie’s face.
“Yes. Is that a problem?”
“Very much so. I’m not even sure this date can continue.”
“Me neither. We’ve been bowling for twenty minutes and you’ve only just noticed the hand I was using? Not a great start for you.”
“What can I say, the view of you walking away each time left me kind of distracted…”.
“How rude! Do you talk like this to all the girls you take on dates?”
“Only the ones I like”.
“So you like me then?”
“Far too early to tell”.
“Oh I was a big fan, but now I learn you’re a lefty? I’m not so sure. You know that’s where the term sinister come from, right? As a dexterous right-hander with a winning smile and a heart of gold, it remains to be seen whether a left-hander can win my affections.”
“So what you’re saying,” interrupted Gary, “was that you were as much of a cocky bastard at 19 as you are now?”
“Well you’d think so but… no. See, that’s not how I normally was. It’s how I’d always wanted to be. How I dreamed of being. But normally I was too shy. Too anxious. Too worried that someone might actually take offence. There was something different in the way I was talking.”
“But it certainly sounds like you. Snarky. Confident. Sarcastic to the point of infuriating. I’m surprised she didn’t kick you in the crotch and be done with it. Would have saved herself a lifetime of putting up with you.”
“That might be who I am. But it’s not who I was. Not before her. You’ve only ever known me since I met her. And she makes me better. She makes me more, well… me.”
“Write that down.”
“Yeah, OK. But there’s more. So we finished bowling and I’d planned a romantic stroll through the castle grounds, just a couple of minutes away…”
To her credit, Lizzie kept her voice very non-judgemental as she said “We’ve been walking for 15 minutes. Do you normally take girls to dark, secluded areas on first dates?”
“Only the ones I-“
“Only the ones you like. Right. But… where are we going?”
“Well, OK, we’ve hit a slight problem. You see this gate? We need to be the other side of it”.
“But the gate’s locked…”
“That’s the slight problem,” sighed Tim. “This is the first time I’ve tried going through the park after dark and I didn’t realise it was closed at night. Apparently a castle can repel invading hordes, but needs to be safely tucked up for bed by eight o’clock on a Tuesday.”
“Well I’ve got to hand it to you. This is definitely the first date I’ve been on where we’ve tried invading a castle.”
“You’ve just never been with a man who treats you like a Queen. You wait until later when we oppress some serfs, conquer a fiefdom and eventually develop Consumption.”
“Definitely. And there’s only about a 40% chance of me finding a younger woman more likely to bear me a male heir, meaning a visit to the headsman for you.”
“Oh shush you,” said Lizzie, smiling.
“OK, 45% chance. You’d better be careful what you say.”
“Alright. So what are we going to do then?”
“There’s nothing for it. We’ll just have to wander around until we find a point of entry.”
“I hope you’re still talking about the park.”
“OK, but I’m not sure you should say that one in front of her dad,” said Gary.
“Fair point. I’m just setting the scene for you though. The important thing is we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. It was dark. We were lost. And it was all my fault.
“I could have been embarrassed, I could have been annoyed, kicking myself. But I wasn’t. I was… happy.”
Tim paused. Thought about it.
“No, happiness isn’t right. Of course I was happy, I was on a date with a gorgeous girl. It’s more I was… comfortable. It was like,” Tim paused again, trying to think up the right word “I felt like I was exactly where I should be. And I’d never felt like that before.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’d always felt like an outsider. I was different from most people I knew. I was the kind of guy who could be in a crowded room and still feel kinda lonely. Separate somehow. But I didn’t feel that way then. Not with her.”
“What made it different?”
“I didn’t know. I still don’t know. But that was it. The moment I knew she was the one.”
“Really?” said Gary. “You knew you’d marry her way back on your first date?”
“Well, I didn’t know… said Tim, with another thoughtful pause. “But I hoped.”
“Wow,” said Gary. “That’s… pretty huge. And incredibly sweet, I guess. That sounds like your speech, if you asked me.”
“But,” he said, “there’s more. See, on that dark street with no idea where I was, I did something that would normally have taken a huge amount of courage for a dweeby guy like me. But there, in that moment, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.”
“What was it?” asked Gary.
“I held her hand.”
Tim sat quietly for a moment. He looked thoughtful, and Gary didn’t want to interrupt him.
“And do you know what?” continued Tim. “That’s it. That’s the perfect metaphor for what I want my life to be. I know that it doesn’t matter how dark things get, or how lost I am. If Lizzie is there with me then I’m exactly where I should be. And none of it will matter, as long as she’s there, holding my hand.”
“That’s it,” said Gary, slapping Tim on the shoulder.
“That’s the speech. You’ve got it!”
Tim looked slightly confused. Almost like he’d forgotten why they were there. Then a let out a long, contented sigh as the weight he’d been carrying for months lifted from his mind.
“So, I guess all that’s left is to deliver it,” said Gary. “Nervous?”
“Honestly? No,” said Tim.
“Really?” said Gary.
“Why would I be?” said Tim, with a smile, “I’ll be exactly where I’m meant to be. After all, whether left or right, I’ll be holding her hand.”