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Via: Daily Prompt – Clean

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Antonia Santos had taken great care to dress for this date. After all, it had been ages since she allowed herself such luxury – allowed a man to take her out. But Lorenzo had been persistent. If he wasn’t so kind to Isabella, Antonia may not have relented. Even if he was the most handsome man she met in a while. The most handsome man she met since her ex-husband had walked out on their young family.

She bit the bottom of her Rubina lips, her pearly teeth smearing with berry red lipstick that a pink tongue quickly darted out to lick clean. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Lorenzo’s good looks made her uncomfortable. Not only had her ex-husband made her wary of attractive men but Antonia also felt indubitably dowdy next to them. Living on an art teacher’s salary, constantly worrying about footing the bills and managing the expenses of rearing a two-year-old child could suck the glamor out of any person. What if he decided after their date that they did not suit? She would hate for things to get awkward between them and for her to lose such a great pediatrician. 

Dr. Lorenzo González had been such a lucky find when she took Isabella to the free clinic last month to treat that ear infection. He handled Isabella beautifully, grinning and crooning until her daughter became putty in his hands. But then Antonia supposed it was part of his occupational prerequisite to be able to make children comfortable. Her ex-husband had no patience for children. A few sleepless nights with a newborn under their roof had sent him packing. Antonia waited half a year for him to return before she filed for divorce on grounds of desertion. He did not contest it and had been consistently late on his alimonies since.

As if to push back the dreary memories, Antonia shoved a lock of rich black hair off her forehead and it fell in place with rest of the glossy waves haloed about her heart shaped face. She stared at her reflection. The lightest raisin blush dusted her high cheekbones and dainty chin. She had even contoured her pert button nose to make it appear narrower. Her almond eyes were mostly left free of makeup except for the thin application of black eyeliner. With their cognac depth and thick curly lashes, Antonia hardly needed to further emphasize them.

While bathing, she had scrubbed her skin until it glowed like caramel. It complemented the off-white sheath dress she was wearing brilliantly where exposed above her square neckline and over her bare arms and shins. She looked down to the dark cherry polish of her toenails peeking out of her dove-gray platform shoes. The only problems were her hands.

Her hands were still stained from the day’s art lessons. All the lotion and all the soap couldn’t get out the last of the dye off her fingernails. To hide the discoloration, she had painted them with the same dark cherry polish but the edges of her skin around the nails remained a sickly reddish purple. Served her right for testing out that new batik dye on the same day as her first date in nearly two years. They looked unclean, hardly fit for a romantic dinner.

That’s what Lorenzo had proposed – dinner out in town at the new French restaurant everyone was raving about. It was reputed to be the kind of restaurant that had downy linen and lace tablecloths, polished silver and bone china; one which kept a maître d’ and where you had to wait to be seated and could not get in without a reservation. She doubted even her fake pearl ear studs would pass off as real in such an authentic place much less how well her dyed hands would fare. But there was no help for it now so Antonia threw on the gray pashmina shawl, picked up her purse and headed out to the living room to wait for her date to arrive with her daughter and babysitter.

Isabella’s giggles reached Antonia’s ears before she saw her daughter and she immediately felt more relaxed. Amanda Cole was really a godsend. The Coles were their neighbors and the two families had become very close over time. Amanda often stepped in for the role of the babysitter when Antonia had to run out on errands or had a late meeting at the school. Knowing Amanda’s parents were just down the hall would ensure at least one security as she went out on her date.

“Mama,” Isabella gurgled, spotting her. She stretched out her hands to be picked up and Antonia promptly complied.

“Wow, Antonia,” Amanda gasped. “You look stunning!”

Antonia blushed and tried to hide her embarrassment by burying her nose in her daughter’s neck as though to sniff her powdery scent. “Thank you, Amanda.”

Isabella tucked at a pearl with her grubby hands and Amanda rushed forward to take her. “Maybe you shouldn’t hold her right now. She’ll just mess up your clothes and makeup.”

Antonia stepped back. “Don’t be silly. I’m a mother. It’s perfectly natural for me to be a little messed up. Any man who doesn’t understand that isn’t worth it.”

Amanda narrowed her eyes. “I’ll bet you’re just looking for excuses to get out of this date.”

“And I’ll bet not all seventh graders are as smart aleck as you,” Antonia scrutinized, her eyes equally narrowed.

“Hey, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck -”

“Are you calling me a duck?”

“Actually, tonight you’re a swan but that hasn’t stopped the quacking,” Amanda finished just as the doorbell rang.

“Saved by the bell,” Antonia retorted, making her way to the door with Isabella firmly settled on her hip. As she swung the door open, Isabella positively bounced with joy on her perch at the sight of Lorenzo. Antonia could not blame her daughter.

He looked divine. A well-tailored charcoal gray suit encased his strong toned body. His trim jet black hair gleamed under the fluorescent light of the hallway. A healthy golden tan ran over his high forehead, roman nose, and smoothly shaven jawline. But best of all, his chocolate fudge eyes and full lips were relaxed with mirth as he gazed at Antonia and Isabella.

“How’s my favorite patient?” Lorenzo held out his arms and Isabella jumped right into them.

“Traitor,” Antonia grumbled, straightening her shawl and dress.

Lorenzo laughed and looked over Antonia from head to toe with blatant admiration. “You look beautiful.”

Antonia blushed and stepped back to let him pass. “Thank you. Won’t you come in?” As Lorenzo walked in and took his first look at the inside of her apartment, Antonia felt even more self-conscious. She tried to keep the place organized and clean but with a baby, it was a challenging feat to accomplish. Baby clothes were piled inside the playpen while toys strewed over nearly every surface. Who would have guessed she had straightened the place just a few hours ago? To distract him from the disarray, she introduced him to Amanda. “Lorenzo, please meet Amanda Cole. She’s our neighbor and Izzy’s regular babysitter. Amanda, this is Dr. Lorenzo Cole.”

Lorenzo shifted Isabella to his left arm and held out his right hand to shake Amanda’s. “Pleased to meet you, Amanda,” he said with all the respect due to an adult. “Thank you for keeping an eye on Izzy for us tonight.”

Amanda blushed and made a polite reply. Lorenzo had charmed her, too. Antonia herself had felt her heart skip a beat when Lorenzo mentioned the word “us” and desperately tried to school her features into a casual demeanor as she asked Amanda if she needed anything else before they headed out. When Amanda confirmed she was all set for the night and took Isabella from Lorenzo, there was nothing holding Antonia back from the date. With one parting kiss to her daughter, stepped out of the security of her apartment.

In the darkness of the car, Antonia fidgeted, once again remembering the state of her hands. They were proof that she did not belong in the world from which Lorenzo obviously hailed. They were proof that he should not be dating her.

“Is something the matter,” Lorenzo’s deep voice rolled across the space between them.

Antonia hesitated. It would be so rude of her to suggest that he take her to some other restaurant after he had gone to the trouble of placing the reservation. Yet she did not want to embarrass him by making him eat at a place as grand as that with a woman whose hands were covered in dye stains.

“Look, you can tell me anything,” he implored.

She took courage at the sincerity in his voice. “I was just thinking you don’t have to take me to the French restaurant. It will be just as nice to go someplace less extravagant.”

Lorenzo laughed. “You don’t think I can pay for a couple of meals at Le Cinq?” he joked.

Antonia blushed, happy to be in the safety of the car’s dark interior. “Not at all. I just thought you might want to take more suitable dates to a place like that.”

“More suitable dates?” Antonia heard the frown in his voice. “I can’t imagine who’d be a more suitable date for me than you. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re the most gorgeous woman dining there tonight.”

She felt her face getting hotter. At this rate, it would match the shade of her hands by the time they reached the restaurant. “Thank you for saying that,” she mumbled, falling back into silence as she resigned herself to their imminent and combined humiliation when he properly saw her mulberry colored hands over the cutlery.

After driving in the silence for a while longer, he spoke up again. “Antonia, please tell me what is bothering you. It can’t be the idea that you won’t fit in because you look every bit the part in that attire. Is it something I said or did?”

Antonia shook her head, mortification stinging her eyelashes. “It’s my hands. We were dying the batik cloths my eighth-grade class has been working on and a student got the dye on me while I wasn’t wearing gloves. Now they look like a pair of lobster claws.”

“Oh,” Lorenzo replied cautiously.

“I’m sorry to ruin our date,” she added miserably. “It’s an occupational hazard of being an art teacher.”

Lorenzo risked a quick glance at her. “Is it that bad?”

She nodded though he could not see. “Yes, and I don’t know how comfortable you’ll feel having dinner sitting across from Sebastian. I thought it only fair to give you ample warning.”

“Sebastian?”

“The crab who looks after the little mermaid in The Little Mermaid.”

“C’mon. It can’t be that bad. I’d have noticed when we were in your apartment.”

Antonia reached up and flicked the light on. She held up her hand for his inspection.

“It really isn’t that bad,” he said with visible relief after giving her hands as long a glance as feasible while driving.

“They’re worse near the cuticles,” Antonia expounded, staring at the back of her hands again with agony.

“They’re nothing to be ashamed of,” he admonished. “They are a testament to how dedicated you are to your profession.”

Antonia flicked the light off again and crossed her arms over her chest. “Suit yourself. I thought I’d just warn you.”

She sat quietly rest of the way, adding to the palpable silence inside the car. She looked out the window but, wallowing in her misery, did not see where they were going until they pulled into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant.

Startled, she turned to Lorenzo as he pulled into a space near the front entrance of the single-story building. “What are we doing here?”

Lorenzo unhooked his seatbelt and got out of the car without answering. He came around and opened the door for her, helping her out. “We’ll have dinner here tonight. And another night, when you’re feeling more comfortable, we can go to Le Cinq. Is that alright?”

She looked up into his eyes and suddenly felt guilty about pushing the point. Even more so because it was their first date and he was in a suit. “You still want to go out with me again despite how silly I just behaved?”

Lorenzo sighed and tucked both of her hands into his chest. “Antonia, you need to understand that I really, really like you. And your crab colored hands or how insecure you’re feeling over them is not big enough a reason to drive me away. I hoped you came to know me as a less shallow man after I spent the month wooing you into dating me.”

She shook her head. “It’s not that. I just -”

“You just thought that if I saw your dye-stained hands under the glow of a chandelier I might realize you’re just an ordinary working mom completely out of place in the inner sanctum of the rich and famous and regret having asked you out?” Antonia dropped her gaze in shame, having been caught. “How can I ever think you are ordinary, Antonia? How can I ever think any working mom ordinary? My mother was a single working mom who took care of me and my two siblings, making sure we were given the proper nutrition and conducive environment to make something of ourselves.”

Antonia looked back at him. “I’d forgotten you mentioned that.”

“Antonia, the fact that you care so deeply for your child and work so hard to ensure she is well-provided for is one of the things I most respect about you. Isabella is the happy precocious child she is because of your sacrifices. How can that be worth anything less than my full admiration? And these hands? I love that your hands are stained because you create with them. I love that you are an artist and can still apply yourself to such beauty despite being so hard done by. But if you’re uncomfortable going to a fancy restaurant while your hands are stained, we’ll enjoy fast food. But no way will I stop dating you for it.”

Antonia breathed in deep, letting his emotional abandon fill her lungs. “I think we should go to Le Cinq.”

Lorenzo looked into her eyes with concern. “Are you sure? I didn’t mean to pressure you.”

Antonia smiled wide. “You’re not pressuring me at all. I want to. I just realized what a waste it would be to dress up so nicely and eat at a fast food joint.”

“That sounds reasonable.”

“And,” she added shyly. “I would also like to start this date over.”

Lorenzo stepped back and gave her a suggestive once over. “Antonia, you look breathtakingly beautiful tonight,” he responded, falling right into pace.

Antonia laughed. It was time to wipe the slate clean for a new future.

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