I always felt at peace whenever I was at the local park. The rustling of the leaves and the gentle breeze were one of the most relaxing moments of my life. This was especially true when the park was devoid of other people's voices, drowning out those peaceful sounds. Of course, this was when I was still in middle school, and I was still living in the sleepy little town I was forced to call home. Now, here I am, Morgan Baxter, 26 years old, sitting here on a creaky bench in the middle of a huge city park, watching the people pass me by. The gentle noises of the leaves are now drowned out by the useless chatter of the masses. It's like that noise that only dogs here, but only my brown mouse ears can here it.
Now, what was I doing here again? Oh, right, waiting. Waiting for some random guy to show up to get this blind date started. Honestly, I can think up better things to do on a Saturday night, but no. I had to agree to do this because this guy happens to be Jessica's friend from high school. Jessica: if there was a bigger hag in the world, she would probably rank second. That blond-haired, blue-eyed bunny has been the bane of my existence when I first moved here. Just because we work at the same chain bookstore doesn't make us friends, just co-workers. If only that fact would sink in.
It was about closing time at Books and More, when all the customers who pretend to be literate have gone home and all there is left to do is sweep the floors and put all the books back on their shelves whenever the customers misplace them. I was just finishing up reorganizing the popular fiction section, wondering how this pre-packaged crap is so popular, when I heard that all too familiar high-pitched voiced reached my ears.
"Hi, Morgan," she shouted as she bounded towards me. How nobody else heard that is beyond me.
"Hello, Jessica," I replied, still focused on the task at hand.
"Oh, you know you can call me Jess, right?"
"I know, but we're still on the clock, and I want to get this done. Have you finished up sweeping the entryway?"
"Oh, I got Calvin to do that for me."
I turned to her with a puzzled look on my face. "How did you manage to do that? Calvin's on bathroom duty."
"I have my ways," she said, flashing her famous smile, with her two perfectly white buck teeth showing. The many men that have fallen for that smile have my pity. I just shook my head, and got back to stocking the shelves. Hopefully, she would lose interest and move on to the next hapless male employee, but for some reason, Jessica kept watching me.
"Was there something else," I asked, finishing up stocking the selves.
"Well, I was wondering if you were doing anything on Saturday," she asked with that famous blonde inquisitive look on her face.
"Nothing really. Just staying home."
"That sounds boring. Why would anyone want to do that?"
"To relax," I replied, making sure she doesn't noticed my eyes rolling.
There was a odd silence after I said that. Jessica had that blank look on her face; the look you get whenever you use a three-syllable word on a dim blonde. I'm pretty sure relax has two syllables, so it couldn't be that. She then flashed another smile and started giggling.
"You sound like a old man, Morgan," she replied, still giggling.
I turned to her, trying my hardest not to let that "old man " get to me. "Was there a point to this conversation?"
"Right, so I was wondering if you wanted to go on a double date with me and my huggle-bunny Nick."
"That's nice, Jessica, but I don't have a date."
"I know, but I promise that you'll have a fun. I'll make sure of it."
I raised an eyebrow. "So, I'm basically a third wheel on this date."
"No, silly mouse," Jessica laughed. "You're going to have a date, too."
"How is that going to happen? I don't know anyone." That was true. I really don't know anyone here in Franklin. It's not because I don't go out at night, trying to be social. It's because I really don't care about knowing other people. The fact that I have to work alongside a dumb bunny blonde like Jessica annoys the hell out of me.
"That's why I set you up with one of my old friends," the bunny blonde replied.
"I'm pretty sure the last date you tried to set me up with figured out I was batting for the other team. My cheek gets sore just thinking about it," I said, unconsciously rubbing my right cheek.
"Erica said she was sorry," Jessica said in her vulpine friend's defense. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure you'll like Dean. He's been my best friend since middle school, and he's super nice."
"Doubtful," I replied, shaking my head.
"Oh, please, Morgan," she pleaded with sad bunny eyes. " You look so lonely whenever I see you, and I want help you find someone you can be with. That's what best friends do."
I don't remember being friends with Jessica. All she does is drag me to every club, bar, and diner in town with her boyfriend Nick in the hopes that I'll make new friends every time. Honestly, she's done this since I first moved here, and we barely knew each other then. I wanted to tell her no, but she still has those sad eyes out at me, practically begging me to agree with her. I let out a frustrated sigh and rubbed the inner corners of my eyes.
So, here I am, sitting in crowded park at eight o'clock at night, still wondering why I'm still here. The park lights came on, covering the sidewalk with a dim glow. The few remaining people started to clear out, giving me some much needed privacy. Now, I can finally relax before this Dean guy to show up. To be honest, I'm quite surprised that I'm actually waiting for someone. I mean, this is just another of Jessica's attempts to force me into being sociable. I could be in my apartment right now, trying to forget about the outside world for at least a few hours until the next day, but for some reason, I'm waiting in an empty park for some guy I don't know. I look up at the empty night and let out a deep sigh.
Now, Jessica said this Dean is a five foot ten lion with light tan fur with a dark brown mane. He's going to wear a white dress shirt with a deep blue sweater vest, black dress pants, and leather loafers. I look down at myself, see my brown hiking shoes, loose-fitting jeans, and black hoodie, and I suddenly feel under-dressed. Wait, why do I care about how I dress all of a sudden? I shake my head in an attempt to get rid of that thought, but that feeling still persists. Frustrated, I reach into my right jean pocket, and pull out my only remedy to these thoughts.
Music; one of the few escapes I can afford in this world. This little silver MP3 player got me through high school and community college with some of my sanity intact. Whenever the stresses of the world would rear their ugly heads, I would just pull this out, put in my earbuds, and let the music take me away for a few hours. My parents and various therapists would call it "cheap escapism", but I could care less about what they thought. I proved them wrong years ago, and I'm perfectly content with that.
I go through the various playlists I made over the years and stop on one of my favorites: J-Pop Hits. Say what you will about the Japanese, but they know their music from the inside out. I scroll thought the list and stop on "Sunrise City", one of my all-time favorites. I understand some Japanese, so I can follow along with the lyrics. The song's basically about having a fresh start after a lousy day, something that I don't believe in personally, but the beat is catchy. The keyboard compliments the piano chords, the bass and drum beats make your heart thump out of your chest, the wind makes for an odd...wait. Did one of my ear-buds fall off?
"I'm not familiar with this song."
I was startled by the unfamiliar voice on my left side. I turned my head to see a rather imposing, brown-maned lion sitting beside me with my ear-bud in his right ear.
"It sounds like Asian techno," he said with his right hand stroking his chin mane. "It's not my kind of music, but it sounds lively."
I can't believe this. This random lion just snatched my ear-bud without permission, and he's criticizing my taste in music without looking at me. Who the hell does he think he is?
He finally turns his head towards me and asks, "Can you translate the lyrics for me? My Japanese a bit rusty."
I can only gasp in disgust. "I think the question is why you have my ear-bud without asking me first."
"Oh sorry," he responded sincerely. "You looked liked you were really into that song, and I thought I could sneak in without bothering you."
"So that gives you permission to butt in on someone's personal business, huh?"
"I said I was sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"Well, you did." I stretched my left hand. "My ear-bud, please?"
He took out the ear-bud from his right ear, and placed it in my hand. I quickly put it back in my ear, hoping to catch the rest of the song. Unfortunately, it was on it's final chorus.
"Great," I said with annoyance. "Now, I have to start the song over again."
"Sorry," the lion responded, scratching the back of his head.
"It's fine. I was just killing time, anyway."
"Oh, what for?"
I let out a short sigh. "Why do you care, and why should I tell you?"
"Well," he responded. "You were sitting here all by yourself, and I thought you could use some company."
"Well, I don't," I said, trying to cut this conversation short. "Now please leave me alone, and bother someone else."
The lion just blinked, and tilted his head to the side. He then smiled, and let out a chuckle. "Jessica did say you would act like this."
I sat up straight when I heard Jessica's name from his lips. I gave the lion a closer look. White shirt with a blue sweater vest. Black dress pants. Brown loafers. My eyes widened when I finally realized who this was. "Are you.."
The lion stretched out his hand. "Dean Napoli," he said with a grin. "You must be Morgan."
I was dumbfounded. I can't believe I was about to ask my blind date to leave me alone, right when we just met. I stretched out my hand, and started to shake his. "Y-yeah," I responded, with my cheeks turning red.
Dean chuckled. "I knew I could find you here."
"Jessica said to go to the park, and look for a brown mouse with a sour look on his face."
Sour-looking face? That's the only thing Jessica told this guy about me? God, my face was red. This is the only time I actually felt embarrassed about meeting someone. I wanted to disappear right there, and just run back home. I think Dean noticed this, and gave my hand a few pats.
"Calm down," he said with a reassuring smile on his face. "I think she meant that in a good way."
I could only look away from him. "How could having a sour look be any good," I asked with my face still beet-red.
"I think she considers that your normal face. It was the only thing she could think of when she described you."
"I see. Are you sure there wasn't anything else?"
"Mmm, nope. Just the face."
I wanted to disappear even more when he said that. Jessica couldn't think of anything else to say about me? My face was the only thing she used to describe me to him? My mind was racing at this point, trying to figure out whether to run back home, or try to salvage this situation. I just shook my head, hoping to straighten out these thoughts, but to no avail.
I looked back at Dean, hoping he hasn't walked away yet, but he was still sitting there with that smile still on his face. "I guessing this wasn't what you expected to happen, right," he asked.
I nodded. Dean reached out his hand, and placed it on my head. He gave a few pats, and ruffed my hair, like trying to calm down a scared pet. I didn't know what to do, so I just sat there with my eyes still fixed on Dean's smiling face. He then lifted his hand off my head, and stood up from the bench.
"Well, the night's still young," he said "We still have to meet up with Jessica and Nick. Are you coming?"
My mind quickly snapped back to reality. "Oh, right," I replied. I stood up from the bench, and straightened myself out. I put my MP3 player back into my pants pocket, and looked toward Dean. "I'm ready whenever you are."
Dean chucked a bit. "Alright then." He then pointed towards the park entrance. "Jessica said to meet on the corner of West and 5th. She's probably wondering where we are, so let's get going."
With that said, we started walking out of the park. You know, maybe this could be a good night. I'm walking with this hot lion by me, and I can't help but smile. Besides from that awkward introduction, I think this might be the start of something great.
...Wait a minute. What the hell am I thinking? This is just another one of Jessica's attempts at making me social, when I really don't care about being social. Granted, this Dean guy has a charming, relaxed attitude, but for all I know, this could be just an act. He could be a complete asshole for all I know. It's too late to back off now, so all I can do now is just play along, hoping to end this night sooner then later. I just hope that Jessica's taking us somewhere I could easily sneak out without anyone noticing. It's not like they'll notice anyway. They'll just keep living their lives without me, just like everyone else I know.
As far as I'm concerned, I'm just another gay mouse in a city where everyone passes you by without caring for your very existence. It's the nature of every species to use someone weaker then you to further their own goals, then throwing you away when your usefulness is done. I've experienced that firsthand, and I expect that to happen again and again. I could only look down to the ground, waiting for my meaningless life to end without anybody caring about it. As far as I'm concerned, this "date" is just a pointless distraction for everyone involved. I let out a deep-down sigh, and continued to follow the lion towards the crowded street.