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a little drop of fate

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       Alex rubbed his eyes sleepily as he turned the key into his apartment. He checked the time - 6 pm. He should have been home an hour ago. Now he wouldn’t have time to start the laundry.

He opened up the curtains, letting the dying light filter through the windows and into his house. Six months of living there and he still couldn’t call it home. The counters were too unfamiliar, the appliances too new, everything a little too perfect to be home.

But tonight, perfect is exactly what he was looking for.

He hung up his coat instead of flinging it on a chair, tucking his briefcase into his closet, and quickly changed into a new suit. He searched through dozens of cologne bottles, eventually settling on a new one his father gifted him when he moved out.

As he tied his tie, he allowed himself a moment to ponder on the nights’ possibilities. This was his first date since he moved to New York. He’d never realized how much work actually went into running a household. He made a mental note to call up his mother and thank her, and potentially try to convince her to move in with him to do his chores. He had absolutely no time for a social life anymore. He wasn’t all that sure why he was going on this date, if he was being completely honest. She wasn’t really his type, they only knew each other a little bit from work, and something felt...off about her. Maybe he was just nervous? He sighed, rubbing his forehead. Mallory would know. He smiled a little at the memory of Mallory pestering him before and after every date he went on, trying to squeeze every last detail from him. A small, sarcastic chuckle escaped him at the irony of the situation. For years, Mallory’s incessant questioning had been little more than an annoyance, something to get rid of. Now, he would give just about anything to talk to her again. 

Maybe he could give her a call?

But before he made it to the phone, he checked the time - 6 20 - and cursed. There was no time to call if he wanted to be on time to meet his date. He would just have to wait.

He quickly switched to the shoes he had polished earlier, then did a quick run through of the entire apartment.

Cleaned? Check

Candles? Check

His favourite romantic records? Check

He took a deep, steadying breath, and left the apartment, hoping his efforts in tidying up would not be in vain. It was about time he had a good date again.

~~

As Alex knocked on the door of the small apartment for the third time in ten minutes, he was starting to feel annoyed. She had specifically told him, 6 30. She even added that he shouldn’t be late. And here she was, not answering the door at all. 

After a couple more minutes, Alex promised himself that if she didn’t open the door within thirty seconds, he was leaving. No sooner had he thought that, when she finally came out.

“Hello, Holly,” he said, flashing a smile.

“Hi Alex,” she said, her expression bored. “Are you ready?”

“Mhmm,” he said, offering her his hand. She glanced at his hand and walked forward, leaving him staring after her in confusion.

~~

“Alex , I don’t like this restaurant,” Holly complained for the fourth time that evening. The first time, Alex was confused but sympathized anyways - the restaurant wasn’t as good as Holly thought it would be. The second, slightly irritated. The third, he was vexed. By the time they’d reached dessert, Alex was praying that a fire would start and they would have to evacuate the building. 

“Holly, didn’t you choose the restaurant?” he asked through gritted teeth. She pushed her blonde bangs out of her eyes.

“Well, you could’ve tried to stop me,”

Alex gaped at her. “So the four other restaurants I suggested weren’t good enough?”

“I didn’t like them,”

“And what about the fifty other activities I suggested before you settled on dinner?”

Holly pursed her lips. “Dinner and ballet ,” she reminded him. Alex rubbed his forehead. As if this date wasn’t going badly enough, he had to go see a ballet.

“Yes, of course. Dinner and ballet. How could I forget?” he said dryly. He checked his watch - 7 30. “Come on, the ballet starts in half an hour, we can grab a snack on the way. Hello, sir,” he waved down the waiter walking past. “We’re ready for our bill,” he explained. The waiter nodded and walked over to the front.

“How long is this ballet?” he asked.

“Well, the performance itself is about two hours, but I got tickets to meet the performers after the ballet, so make that three,”

Beautiful. Three straight hours of something only Ellen could have enjoyed. Alex closed his eyes in a silent prayer for strength. Ellen wouldn’t have forced him to do this. In fact, if Ellen wanted to go, he would have gladly gone with her.

Just goes to show , he realized. how differently you react to something depending on the people around you ,

He was spared from further comment by the waiter returning with their bill. Alex held out his hand to take it, but before the waiter could give it to him, Holly snatched it.

“Let me see that,” she said. She quickly scanned the paper, face contorted in disgust. “Holy shit ,” she said. “ This is what we’re paying? And for what? Terrible service, inedible food, practically no atmosphere?”

Alex stood between her and the waiter. “I’m so sorry sir, let me handle this. Holly? Holly,” he said, turning back to his date. “Holly. Calm down,” he held his hands up. “You’re not paying. I’m paying. I decide if the bill is unreasonable. Now if you would let me see the bill?” 

She handed it to him, and he read over the final figures. $100. She was causing a ruckus over a hundred bucks. He rubbed his forehead as he turned back to the waiter.

“I’m sorry, sir, please ignore her, where should I pay?”

“No!” Holly yelled before Alex could leave. “This is ridiculous. I want to speak to the manager. I want our meals on the house!”

“Holly,” Alex spun around. “Either you stop talking and let me pay, or I’m going to drop you home right now,” he threatened. 

Holly pursed her lips but said nothing.

“I’m really sorry about all that,” Alex said as he paid. “First dates, you know how it is,” he joked around, hoping that the staff would understand that none of this was his fault.

The waiter said nothing, and Alex and Holly left for the ballet.

~~

The first act had come to a close, the lights turned on, and Alex found himself being rudely shaken awake by a very angry girl.

“How could you sleep through that? It was so moving,” she said, and true to her word, a small tear stain made itself home on her cheek.

Alex stood up and stretched. “I don’t know, Holly. Ballet’s not really my thing,” he said, stifling a yawn. Holly seemed displeased with his answer, but then again, he thought, she was displeased with everything. Maybe she was just born with a haughty face , he thought. For some reason, he found himself trying to hold back a laugh as he did.

“If you don’t enjoy ballet, why didn’t you say so?”

“I did,” Alex nodded. “About four times. You refused to listen, told me it was a “cultural experience” that I didn’t want to miss,” he folded his arms.

“Whatever,” she stood up, pulling her coat around her shoulders. “I’m going to get popcorn,”

“Uh, grab me a soda,”

She raised her eyebrows so high it was a wonder they didn’t disappear into her hair. “If you want a soda, you can get it yourself. In fact, give me your card. The woman never pays for the date,”

Alex smiled thinly. This is where he drew the line. “Oh no, my dear?” he said, a note of danger working its way into his voice. “Every single thing we’re doing today is something you chose to do. I paid for dinner, you paid for the ballet tickets, and I was obviously going to give you money for popcorn,” he said, showing her his wallet. “But, uh, I gotta say,” he said, tilting his head. “You keep that attitude, and you’ll see how much I’ll pay for,”

Holly looked as though she wanted to say something, but one look at the growing line for snacks, accompanied with the announcement that the ballet would begin in ten minutes, and she shook her head and headed over to the line.

Alex heaved a sigh of relief. “I gotta get out of here,” he muttered to himself.

“That bad, huh?” the guy next to him asked.

“You said it,” he said, massaging his temple. “Terrible date, and then the ballet? I mean, just my luck, right?”

The guy smiled sympathetically. “I hear you. But hey, try to stay awake for the next half. It really picks up from here, and you might like it,”

“Like ballet?” he scoffed. 

“I was the same way,” the guy said. “Then I met my girlfriend,” he pointed to a girl at the front of the snack line. “She loves ballet, so I gave it a shot. Truth be told, it’s not half bad,” he shrugged.

Alex gave a half-smile. “I had a girl like that once. She moved away to Paris and broke up with me the same night,” 

The guy’s face fell. “Sorry to hear that, bud. But hey,” he moved in conspiratorially. “If you’re looking, the lead girl isn’t all that bad to look at,”

Alex looked at the guy, then shrugged. “This girl, Holly, she got us a pass to meet the cast after the show. Maybe I’ll try my luck,”

“That’s the spirit!” he said. “Besides, what do you have to lose?”

Alex looked over at the line, where Holly had gotten into an argument with the woman running the soda bar.

“Yeah, not much,” he said. “Oh, by the way, I didn’t get your name?”

“Oh, Ryan Willis,” he said

“Alex Keaton, nice to meet you,” the two of them shook hands. Alex checked the time. In about two hours, he would be home, in his pajamas, eating ice cream on the phone with Mallory. 

I can’t believe it. I’m missing Mallory, he thought, leaning back in his seat. What’s the world coming to?

Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to contemplate this discovery, because right then, Holly came back.

“Can you believe it?” she cried. “They threatened to call security on me!”

Alex glanced at Ryan, who was attempting to hide a smile. He forced a shocked look onto his face and turned back to Holly.

“Really? What happened?”

She tossed her head. “Nothing! All because I asked them for kale salad,”

“What?” Alex furrowed his brow. “Why didn’t they give it to you?”

“Because they didn’t have any! I mean, what kind of respectable establishment only has two types of salad?”

“The one you chose,” Alex muttered. He gritted his teeth and stole a glance at Ryan, who wasn’t even trying to stifle his smile anymore. I’m going to kill someone , he mouthed, raking his hands through his hair in a feeble attempt to quell his fury.

“You still shouldn’t have caused a scene,” he said. Holly looked at him as though she wanted to slash his throat open with her nails. Thankfully, before any more damage could be done, the lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing again.

During the first act, Alex hadn’t paid even a moment’s attention to the people on stage. They all sort of blurred and became part of the background, while he closed his eyes and pretended he was in bed. This time, he paid close attention to every person on stage, and when Ryan nudged him to tell him the leading ballerina was about to come on, he felt a short thrill of anticipation, wondering what she might look like.

He was not prepared to see Ellen Reed.