Fish in the Sea.

I was in the stockroom at work one Saturday, trying to reorganize clothes, when Austin came in complaining about a recent date he went on. The girl he went with worked at A&F with us, just like all of the girls Austin took on dates. His general complaint was a blanket fear of never finding someone.

Then he asked me to dinner.

I had been invited to a pity party. But I was nearly five months out from my breakup with Adam, and I knew it was time for me to get out there. It had been awhile since I’d been on a real first date—one where I didn’t know the person well. I hadn’t been jaded enough yet to hate dates {like I do now}, so I agreed. He seemed thrilled I didn’t reject him, and assured me we would have lots to talk about, but I didn’t know how true that was.

The next weekend, I was getting ready for the date in the sorority house, and my roommate warned me of two things. She said, “Holly, don’t get too drunk, and two, don’t go to The Caterie.”

The Caterie wasn’t the problem—it was the band playing at The Caterie. I had an innocent crush on the lead singer, but it turned gruesome once I mentioned it in a column, and gave his girlfriend a nickname. Since then, I wasn’t the most welcomed among fans.

But I was ready to head out, and Austin arrived at the house to pick me up. Once I got in the car, he said he knew where he wanted to take me—Bonefish Grill. On the drive there, we were messing around with his CD player. He had a few different CDs in the dash, and we randomly selected three songs to see how they might describe our approaching night out—an electronic 8-ball, if you will.

The first song was the remix of “What’s Love” by Fat Joe and Ashanti. The second was an Enya song. And I can’t remember the third—probably because the first song was the one most likely to describe the next few years I had with Austin.

We made it to Bonefish Grill, where there was a wait. We talked some while we sat outside. I remember being nervous we would have nothing to say to each other. He told me I looked nice, sort of.

“Thank you for dressing appropriately,” he said.

Once we got our table, I was completely impressed. He was officially wining and dining me—we ordered glasses of wine, so many that it should’ve been a bottle. And we each got decadent seafood meals, it was very delicious. To my delight, we did have a lot to talk about. Of course, we covered the bases: hobbies, school, family, etc. But Austin was daring and cut to the chase, asking me about politics and religion, too.

After we closed down the restaurant, Austin said he wanted to go someplace else. We drove by Duvic’s, a martini bar {that would be the next stop in a romance years later}, but ended up going to The Caterie.

There I was, a little too drunk for a first date, and in the very spot I was warned not to be. But I didn’t mention this to Austin, and we went to the bar. I lead him upstairs, hoping to avoid any run-ins with a very pissed off girlfriend. Once upstairs, we took shots of red snapper—premixed. It was disgusting. But we got beers and sat at a ledge near the stairs.

During our conversation, I carved our initials into the ledge: HP + AF. Shortly after, he drove me back to the sorority house, asked me for a second date, and kissed me goodnight. I stored the date away as one of the best yet, and went to sleep.

When I woke up the next morning, Austin had sent me a text:

“Thanks for having dinner with me…and taking my breath away.”

I didn’t know it then, but I was hooked.

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