He invited Anika out for bowling that afternoon, and was twenty minutes late.
It didn’t matter to her. It just felt good to be back in the dating game again. Ten months after her last and worst breakup, Anika had trouble developing even a simple crush in East Hastings. And then she met Bruce Epstein.
As the Computer Science department’s newest hire, he was the youngest professor there. Anika met him only when the older Dr. Sunderlund dragged him along for antique shopping and co-worker bonding. Anika, working as the main clerk of East Hastings’ Old Things, gave him a shy wink. All he needed to do was ask for the price of a dining set, but he gave her a wink back too.
He came back, and that time, Anika got a phone number. Three calls later, and it was time for a date of ten-pin bowling.
“Strike, strike! First one since I left the bowling team.”
His bowling game was fantastic, and Bruce led Anika by a tremendous twenty points. She had no choice but to clap anyways. Maybe give herself ten more years of experience, and she could bowl that well too. The man was quite a bit older than her, youngest professor or not! Enough for dating him to be an odd choice. Anika and her ex were only a few months apart, but it separated them by a year in school. So she often felt old compared to him just by being a senior in college and not a junior. Now Bruce had a decade on her. He even had a stray grey in his beard.
“I’ve never gotten ten on the first ball,” said Anika. “Not even with candlepin bowling. And that’s…like…easy-mode bowling.”
“It’s not really a thing where I’m from, but maybe you can show me a lane and whoop me.”
“I know of some places. It’s like antique bowling…I know those antiques now.”
“I’m getting more use out of that dining set than I thought. But why antiques?”
Anika pouted before she could reset the same for some fresh pins. “It was a breakup. It sucked…I have to move back to East Hastings with my uncle and do menial clerk work to pay the rent. And yeah, it’s boring!” She stamped her hard-soled bowling shoes against the hardwood floor. “I’m 25 and going nowhere!”
“All I can do is aim to help,” Bruce said. “Though you can beat me at something else.”
“You know what’d be fun? Whooping your butt in foosball.”
What was more fun was the kiss good-bye. It was a fast move for a first date, but Bruce insisted. During foosball, an alarm rang on his phone. The meeting! He was gonna be late for that too. So he opted for a quick peck outside of the bowling alley’s door.
Anika loved it…most of it. He kept his lips soft and his beard clean, so not to make it a chapped and gross kiss. The only downside was the smell of sandalwood cologne on his shirt collar. Nothing against sandalwood, but her uncle Malik wore it for special events too.
He invited Malik out for coffee late in the afternoon, and was almost twenty minutes late.
It didn’t matter to him. He was angry over the awful argument in a paper that a student turned in and having to grade it. But in terms of the date, he was excited when he least expected to be. Almost a year after being widowed, Malik didn’t want to have a crush again. And then he met Bruce Epstein.
As the Computer Science department’s newest hire, Bruce should have been a fleeting figure. The English department’s offices were on the other side of the quad. But Malik’s route to class in Hull Hall passed right by the Computer Science offices. One glimpse of Bruce set off his internal “gaydar”. They exchanged hellos. He received a hushed call from Bruce soon afterwards. Everyone referred to Malik as “the professor with the dead husband”, and he was glad to find some solidarity on campus. So it was their second date, actually, but that went good enough to call for a second one of coffee.
“What’s the recommended brew here? I’m a big sucker for floral notes.”
Oh man, he knew his coffee too? How respectable! Malik, in his age and wisdom, still divided coffee into “good” or “sour dreck”. Maybe it was what the young ones were being raised with. And the man was quite a bit younger than him. Enough for dating him to be an odd choice. Malik the wide-eyed youngster of his previous relationship, even as he and his decade-older husband aged. Now, he had fifteen years on Bruce. He had only one grey hair in his beard.
Pour-overs took a good five minutes, but Bruce was soon back at the table with a steaming mug.
“Is that the Washed Ethiopian? I tried it once here, and…” Malik bit down on his tongue. “But I respect your tastes.”
“Eh, it’s balanced out by knowing your books,” Bruce said. “And the written language. Published in both English and Urdu?”
“You searched in Urdu and found that stuff under my pen-name?” His cheeks grew warm as he thought about it. “What a commitment.”
“And I didn’t read the Urdu, but Lonely Boy made me cry. Any reason to hide?”
Malik pouted as soon as he thought back to home. “It’s not like they’ll let me back there. I had to leave for America…and that’s where I met him. Well, my husband. This place was home for so long, and without him…it isn’t.”
“Do you think I can let you back in?” Bruce asked, with a sly grin.
“We’ll see how it goes.” And Malik returned his smile.
What was more fun was the kiss good-bye. It was a fast move for a first date, but Bruce insisted. If there was one thing that could beat his first “date” with Peter 35 years back, it was how open Malik could be. Young Malik would have never made out with a man while in full view of the campus. But East Hastings changed as much as he did.
He offered to take Bruce back to his place, but he refused. He was going to run late for feeding and delivering insulin to his diabetic cat back home. So they had to finish the kiss and plan better for the next time.
Malik loved it…most of it. Bruce kept his lips soft and his beard clean, so not to make it a chapped and gross kiss. The only downside was the taste of cherry chapstick on his lips. Fake cherry flavors were always a source of contention between Malik and his niece. Anika loved that stuff.
“You look so sloppy for a morning date,” Anika said, with a hand on her hip. They both wore pajamas, but he was only one with a commitment that morning. “At least I can be in my PJs all day until dinner.”
“This guy is always late,” said Malik. “It’s fine.”
“You haven’t told me much about him.”
He chuckled. “You haven’t said much about your date either.”
“He’s just an over-scheduled new uni hire. I’m shocked he was free for dinner tonight.”
“So I take it he’s chronically late too?”
“Comp. sci! And I told myself ‘no more nerds’.”
Malik’s eyes went wide. “Is it Bruce?”
“That’s the one,” she said. “Does he have a reputation already?”
“He’s been my date too.”
They both exchanged the same look or horror. Their faces sunk, their eyes widened as far as they would go. The whole flat fell silent for almost a full minute.
“I had no idea,” said Malik, in a near-whisper.
“I didn’t either.”
Anika buried her face in her palm. “Auurrrrgggh, I doubt he even has a cat!”
“Oh god…did he use that excuse on you too?”
“His clothes look way too clean for that…I feel like a moron.”
“Oh, you don’t even know,” said Malik, as he looked away.
Anika started to storm off to her room. “I have a lot to say to his secretary today…doubt we’re even the only ones.”
And now that Malik thought of it, he swore he overheard Marlene from his department talk about a “cute new hire”.
He was left alone in the open room, and couldn’t even bring himself to read a few morning chapters. Malik wanted to flop into one of the living chairs and sob. It sure beat seeing a man who ratted him out back in Pakistan, but was that a metric to live by?
A picture of him and Peter at nearby Marion Beach looked back at him. It was taken just a few years prior. Malik held onto his husband’s arm and they both smiled at Anika’s camera.
“Things were better with you,” he said.
A/N: Word Count:
Y I K E S
Oh man, a new Anika & Malik story. What we (weren’t) asking for!
I actually have been sitting on this idea since February, just waiting for the right prompt. The idea of both of them dating the same man, and the first two thirds of the story following a really obvious template (because Bruce has this down to a tee) just really felt fun to do.
I don’t like Ethiopian coffee either. Washed or unwashed. It’s just too floral and sour. But somehow, I keep giving it a chance!