Chapter Description: A double-length update! Anna and Ryan go on a date together but no matter how much they wish to enjoy themselves they can't forget where they are. Regardless, it is as close to a "date night" the two are likely to get and they are determined to enjoy it.
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The restaurant was on campus. There were a number of places to get food at the college and they ranged from fast food and takeout to very posh places. The restaurant Ryan was taking Anna to was definitely on the more expensive end of the spectrum. The lighting was dim, there were chandeliers on the ceiling and everything looked very costly. Anna had no idea how such a place could exist on campus until she remembered that status meant everything here. Students and professors would all be willing to spend a lot of money just to be seen at a place like this. The food itself was of secondary concern.
“Table for two, please.” Ryan said as he walked up to a waiter who was standing at the door.
“Of course, sir.” The waiter looked down his nose at Anna, “Will you require a highchair?”
Anna’s fists clenched but Ryan thankfully informed the waiter that a regular seat was fine and he bid the couple to follow him inside. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was quiet, muttered conversation came from the tables that Anna was now led past. There seemed to be two types of diners. There were men eating with other men, in what mostly seemed like business scenarios, and then there were men eating with women. It was these women that were now staring at Anna as she walked past.
Anna kept her eyes down as she followed Ryan and the waiter to the far side of the restaurant. There were mutterings and whispers as Anna passed by. The sudden sound of hollow plastic balls banging together got Ann’s attention and she looked up to stare in wide-eyed horror to a part of the restaurant she hadn’t seen until now.
There was a fenced in area against the far wall which was very out of step with the design choices of the rest of the establishment. It was an indoor kid’s play area but there were no children inside, of course, it was meant for women. The whole floor seemed to be one big ball pit with a climbing frame coming out of it. Anna could see women in there playing.
A yank on the leash forced Anna to stumble forwards and she returned her attention to what was going on in front of her. Ryan was smiling a little awkwardly as he made his way to a table but Anna wasn’t too concerned with that, she was more worried about the whispers she could hear.
“He lets her wear that?”
“Ridiculous! It shouldn’t be allowed!”
“She better be kept on that leash. I bet she has no manners at all…”
Anna could hear all sorts of comments and it seemed like most people weren’t troubling themselves to keep their voices down. She ducked her head and tried to make her way past the tables. It felt so unfair that it made her blood boil. She was following all of the stupid misogynistic rules and it still wasn’t enough for these people. She could feel her pulse quicken as her anger grew.
“Your table, sir.” The waiter said as he indicated a table towards the back of the restaurant. Anna looked around and saw people staring. She ducked her head again and wished she was still at home.
“Thank you.” Ryan replied.
Ryan sat down and Anna sank into the seat opposite him. Her eyes went straight down to the tablecloth as a menu was haphazardly placed in front of her. She heard more whispers and although she couldn’t make out what people were saying she instinctively thought it must be about her. She was hyper-aware of her surroundings and it made her have second thoughts about every movement she made.
“Anna?” Ryan’s voice cut through the background noise, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Anna replied automatically. She glanced to either side and saw people looking at her disapprovingly.
“Come on.” Ryan sounded a little exasperated, “Don’t we know each other well enough for you to be honest with me at least?”
Anna sighed. Ryan was right, he deserved to hear what was bothering her. Anna looked around at the nearby tables and the women that were seated at them. It seemed like all the other girls in the restaurant were dressed in more embarrassing and “little” ways. Frilly dresses, knee-high socks and bulging diapers seemed to be the prevalent fashion. Some had fairy wings attached to their backs, or they had little tiaras and crowns, a couple were in full on ballerina tutus. In other words it seemed almost like that was what “dressing up” meant for these women, it didn’t mean looking nice like Anna had tried to do.
“Everyone is staring.” Anna said quietly to Ryan, “And whispering about me.”
Anna saw Ryan look around quickly. He seemed to catch the eye of a man at a nearby table and he nodded his head with a quick smile. When he looked back at Anna he seemed unsure what to do. Anna knew that he couldn’t stand up and demand everyone stop talking about his wife but that didn’t stop her wishing that SOMEONE could do such a thing.
“I… I didn’t think it would be such a problem.” Ryan finally said, “This is a pretty upmarket place. A lot of the men come here to show off their status as much as anything else. I should’ve thought about it more. I’m sorry… Do you want to go home?”
“We can’t.” Anna replied in a hiss, “We’ve already drawn so much attention to ourselves.”
Anna too wished she had thought more about this before suggesting the date. Everything at this college was about was about proving you were the dominant male. She should’ve realised that would even extend into places like restaurants. Just once she had wanted to look nice for herself and for Ryan but now it was drawing more attention than if she had worn a cartoonish infantile dress. The problem was that now they were being watched and talked about they couldn’t simply leave, they would be the source of gossip on campus, they just had to make sure what was said about them wasn’t too bad. Slinking away in such a situation would be suspicious enough to be a risk.
“Well, we’d better look at the menu then.” Ryan suggested, “I know this isn’t ideal but let’s try to forget about everyone else, eh?”
Anna nodded her head and picked up the menu. With something else to focus on she was actually able to calm down a little bit even if she still felt on edge. She still found it very hard to concentrate on anything she was looking at, every time she looked up it felt like there was someone looking at her disapprovingly.
“May I take your order, sir?” The waiter was back at the table a few minutes later.
By this point Anna was very annoyed. The whispers were like nails on a chalkboard to her and it was getting harder to ignore. The stares too felt like lasers that were trained right on to her. She wasn’t listening to what Ryan ordered.
“And for the girl?” The waiter asked.
“Huh?” Anna was brought out of her thoughts by the patronizing comments of the waiter, “Oh, I’ll have the same.”
The waiter frowned at Anna and then looked to Ryan as if seeking confirmation. Anna didn’t know what the problem was but as Ryan nodded his head and handed over the menu Anna was left hearing more people seemingly talking about her. The urge to scream was growing stronger and Anna’s temper, something she had always struggled with, was being sorely tested. Every little movement was being watched and analyzed by the other tables, she wouldn’t have been surprised to see some of them taking down notes.
“What’s the problem now?” Anna growled to Ryan as the waiter walked away.
“I think they were expecting you to order from the back of the menu.” Ryan replied as he leaned forwards.
Anna looked down at the menu that the waiter hadn’t taken and turned to the back. She pursed her lips as she saw the children’s menu. It was firmly less serious looking than the other pages and it very specifically made mention of being for both women and children. In Sallas the two groups were basically the same.
“Are they serious?” Anna teeth were clenched together so tightly she thought they might shatter.
This date seemed like an increasingly bad idea the longer it went on. Anna had hoped to have a night with her husband, perhaps something even considered romantic. She had hoped that she could get to know him better and have a good time. Instead she felt like an animal at the zoo getting gawked at by men for having the nerve to act like anything more than a child.
It was her own fault, Anna knew that. She had grown comfortable at home thinking she was equal. She had allowed herself to become cocooned in the safety of the apartment and forgot what the rest of the country was like. Anna could see that her hands were trembling though how much was fear and how much was anger was up for debate.
“So… a date, huh?” Ryan said to break the silence, “Pretty weird.”
“Is it?” Anna spat out with rather more venom than she intended.
“I just mean…” Ryan quickly retreated.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” Anna took a deep breath, “I’m just a little on edge.”
“I never thought we’d do things like this.” Ryan said before dropping his voice an octave, “Not as equals at least.”
“Me neither.” Anna replied, “To be honest, when I heard I was going to be married off I thought it was the end of my life. I still did for a while after the wedding. I thought you were going to be an asshole like all the rest of them.”
“Well… I hope I’m proving you wrong.” Ryan smiled.
“You’re doing decently so far.” Anna said as she returned Ryan’s smile.
Anna looked around again and saw more stares. She took a deep breath and the smile disappeared. It was a constant reminder that she had to have an act up the whole time. She took a drink of the water that was on the table.
“Let them stare.” Ryan said as he followed Anna’s gaze.
“That’s easy for you to say.” Anna shrugged. She shifted in her seat and felt the pull-up underneath her shift.
“Forget them. Tonight it’s me and you.” Ryan said, “Don’t worry what they think. Let me worry about that.”
“You’re not the one that will get sent to Finishing School.” Anna replied.
“But it would torpedo my whole career and life if I get labeled a “sympathizer” so don’t think I’m doing anything lightly!” Ryan reminded Anna.
“Fair enough.” Anna conceded, “So what do you want to talk about?”
For a few minutes the date was everything Anna had always wanted. They shared a little conversation about the restaurant and what was happening over in the play area. Every now and then the sound of balls in the ball pit interrupted but it was quiet enough to not cause a problem.
“Your food.” The waiter returned to the table taking the couple by surprise.
As Ryan’s food was placed in front of him Anna couldn’t help but stare directly into his eyes. If she had previously been on the fence regarding her feelings she was now certain that she was in love. It almost seemed like as long as she was talking to Ryan it didn’t matter how much she was stared at or talked about by the other guests.
“And for the girl.” The waiter smile turned to a thin-lipped look of disapproval as he placed the plate in front of Anna.
“Tha-…” Anna started.
Anna fell into silence as she watched the waiter place a cup next to her place. Instead of the wine glasses that all the men had it was a bright yellow sippy cup with a red top. It had two handles on the sides and pictures of fairies printed all around it. Before Anna could even collect her thoughts she felt the waiter move behind her, she jumped as some cloth dropped past her face and on to her chest. She felt it get tugged up and affixed by two long bits that went around the back of her neck. She looked down to see a bib.
“Little Messy Eater!” The bib read as Anna looked down.
“Get this shit off of me!” Anna yelled.
The red mist descended before Anna could control it. The waiter hadn’t even finished tying the bib to Anna before she had reached up and ripped it away from him. She could hear it tear as it came away and she threw it to the ground. The sippy cup became a victim as well, Anna batted it with her hand sending it flying off the table.
Yet again the indignity and lack of fairness had caused Anna to lash out regardless of the consequences. She was an adult and deserved respect, she wouldn’t let anyone treat her otherwise!
The restaurant had fallen deathly silent as Anna breathed heavily. As she looked around and felt that sudden anger abate she was struck with fear. Ryan was still sitting across from her and was staring with wide eyes. Everyone was looking their way and, just like that, the nice evening had become a nightmare. Anna felt herself start to tremble.
“Stupid girl!” The waiter growled as he roughly grabbed Anna’s arm.
“Get off me!” Anna screamed. She was having terrible flashbacks to the punishment meted out by her father-in-law.
“This is why we don’t let them think they are more than they are.” The waiter said accusingly towards Ryan.
“What are you doing with her?” Ryan stood up now. As if at a tennis match all eyes in the place now swiveled across to stare at him, “Let my wife go!”
“I was going to take her to the play area where her kind belongs.” The waiter said. His upper-class accent had disappeared.
“That is not your decision to make.” Ryan countered.
Anna looked around as she continued to struggle but the waiter had stopped trying to pull her away from the table. She looked at her husband with confusion. There were whispers again but now they were directed at Ryan, the whole situation had become some grotesque dinner theatre for the other diners. As her arm was yanked again her dress was pulled up slightly and she inadvertently flashed her pull-up.
“Sir?” The waiter finally asked.
“Let her go.” Ryan repeated, “Her punishment is mine to decide. We are going to eat our meal and I will do what needs to be done later.”
“Sir, this is very… unusual.” The waiter said even as he let Anna go.
Anna pulled away from the stuck up man and rubbed her arm where she had been roughly grabbed. She felt profound gratitude and relief towards her husband but at the same time she thought he was making a terrible mistake. They had wanted to make as few waves as possible and yet now they were sure to be the talk of the campus. It was her own fault, of course, but all the stares and whispers had been burning her wick until finally the waiter touched a nerve and made her react. She didn’t have time to think about what she was doing, the actions exploded out of her beyond her control.
“You will let my wife and I return to our meal.” Ryan said with more authority, “Or my father, Michael Manning, will hear about this. I don’t imagine the college would be too happy if he decided to withdraw his funding.”
The waiter looked shocked but as the cogs turned in his head he understood the threat being made. He nodded his head a little and opened his arms towards the chair to indicate Anna should sit back down. It was a total bluff and both Anna and Ryan knew that, there was no way either of them wanted Michael to find out about this.
“I apologize, sir.” The waiter said. The look he gave Ryan was absolutely piercing, “Please enjoy your meals.”
Anna was left in stunned silence as the waiter finally walked away. She was breathing heavily as she sat back down and Ryan sat down opposite her, the colour had drained from his face and it looked like he was about to pass out. She knew her husband usually had a lot of problems standing up for himself, to see him stand up for her was nearly enough to make her burst into tears. Gradually the people at the other tables went back to their own meals but there was no doubt that most of them were talking about the impromptu scene that had played out at their table.
“That was stupid.” Anna said as much to herself as to Ryan. She was tearing up as she looked down at her food. The indignity of everything was getting to her, “I’m sorry. This was a terrible idea.”
“Hey, look at me.” Ryan said as he leaned forwards slightly, “Forget about it. We’re here to enjoy a meal. To hell with these other people. We’ll act like I’m telling you off and have a nice date.”
Anna nodded her head. Her teary eyes and submissive demeanor did have one benefit. Everyone who looked their way would now see what appeared to be a wife being quietly scolded by her husband. She had to suppress a smile at the deception.
As Anna picked up her knife and fork to eat she looked up at Ryan. Their eyes met and he gave her a little wink, she had to quickly look back down at her food to hide the wide smile that threatened to give the game away.
The rest of the meal went by without interruption. The chastened waiter seemed to now be avoiding the half of the restaurant where Anna and Ryan were. Meanwhile the pretense of being a “normal” Sallasian couple became somewhat of a game. At first Anna was embarrassed but as she realised that both her and Ryan were essentially playing parts she took ownership of it. All of a sudden little comments didn’t shame her, they made her feel like she was getting one over on anyone who might see or overhear them.
“Such a naughty girl.” Ryan would say with a disappointed shake of the head.
It was all Anna could do not to breakdown with laughter. She was soon learning to play her role as well though. She would apologize profusely and when she saw nearby diners nodding their heads she would feel the most subversive thrill.
“I can’t believe all these people think you’re really going to punish me.” Anna said quietly. She kept her face down to make sure her expression was hidden, “And you’re calling ME the naughty one.”
“Don’t make me laugh, you’ll blow my cover!” Ryan snorted.
Maybe it was the wine which both Anna and Ryan were drinking liberally but the longer the meal went the more relaxed they both became. They had a normal conversation whilst keeping up the mannerisms of a chastised wife and her domineering husband all the way through, they even stayed for desert. This time Anna let Ryan order off the children’s menu for her. They couldn’t get too carried away after all.
By the time Ryan was putting his credit card into the machine to pay Anna could confidently say the night had been a success. It had certainly been memorable. If this had genuinely been a first date she was sure she would be asking for a second one soon afterwards, perhaps that was one of the benefits of a first date after already getting married.
“Thank you, sir.” The waiter that had come to take payment was not the same one from earlier in the evening. In fact that waiter appeared to have disappeared altogether, “And I apologize for the commotion earlier.”
“It’s no trouble.” Ryan replied, “I’ll make sure she doesn’t act out again once I get her home.”
“Of course, sir.” The waiter replied, “But as an additional apology allow us to deduct thirty per cent of your bill.”
Anna’s eyebrows raised as Ryan thanked the waiter and completed the payment. With the formalities done they gathered their things and headed towards the exit. As soon as they were out into the cool evening air Anna had trouble maintaining her composure. Ryan kept shushing her until they were a little way down the street.
“I can’t believe they bought it!” Anna exclaimed. The alcohol perhaps making her a little louder than was comfortable, “They even gave us a discount!”
“Maybe I should’ve gone into acting instead of business.” Ryan replied.
The couple practically fell into each other as they laughed. When Anna looked up she saw people looking their way again, just the odd person here and there, probably nothing to worry about. She still felt apprehension running through her though, she wasn’t used to drinking and perhaps she had indeed had a little too much wine.
Anna looked behind her back towards the restaurant. She felt her heart skip a beat as she saw the waiter that had caused such a scene leaning against the wall in front of the entrance and looking their way. She bit her lip and turned away quickly.
“We should get home.” Anna said. She was suddenly very keen to get back to a private setting.
“Oh my, madam, are you inviting me in after a first date?” Ryan joked.
“I’m serious.” Anna replied. All the gaiety of the evening had disappeared. There was nothing quite as sobering as thinking someone was on to them.
By the time they reached their apartment it was dark outside. Anna stretched as Ryan took off his jacket and shoes. Neither of them had expected quite such a dramatic evening but all was well that ends well. Anna went to the fridge and pulled out a small bottle of beer before walking across the living room and out on to the balcony.
There was a chill to the air now but after all the drama the relative quietness of the balcony was very pleasant indeed. Anna looked over the edge at the other blocks around them, a lot of them were illuminated by light. As she had done so many times before Anna looked from window to window and wondered if any of the other couples were living a double life. She surely couldn’t be lucky enough to be the only one. She sipped from the beer and sighed.
“What’s up?” Ryan asked as he stepped out on to the balcony.
“Just enjoying the peace and quiet.” Anna said.
“I’ll go back inside then.” Ryan said tongue-in-cheek.
“Oh no you don’t.” Anna laughed as she waved for him to join her against the wall.
Ryan came up to the wall and took the beer from Anna and drank some. Anna took off her shoes, the heels weren’t too high but her feet ached still. She looked at Ryan and smiled as he watched a pair of men walking past below them in the courtyard.
“Quite a night, huh?” Ryan eventually said.
“Yeah.” Anna answered, “It was nice though. Well, for the most part.”
“I thought so too.” Ryan nodded.
“Do you think anyone was on to us?” Anna asked, “Like, I think the waiter was watching us leaving.”
“We’re fine.” Ryan asserted confidently, “Don’t worry about it.”
Anna saw Ryan turn to face her and she turned to him as well. They looked into each other’s eyes for a few moments before Anna took a step forwards. Ryan leaned down a little and without another word being shared they shared a kiss. Anna felt Ryan’s lips on hers as she closed her eyes. After a couple of seconds they parted again.
“Wow.” Ryan said quietly, “That was… nice.”
Anna smiled and nodded. She could feel herself blushing slightly as she looked down at the wooden floor of the balcony. When she looked up and caught her husband’s eyes again they both giggled a little, like teenagers being amorous for the first time. Anna wrapped her arms around Ryan for a hug. One of Ryan’s hands went lower down her back until it was placed on her butt. He felt the pull-up and Anna froze up a little.
“Are you…” Ryan started to ask.
“We drank a lot.” Anna looked down at the floor.
“It’s alright.” Ryan replied.
Before Anna could say anything else Ryan leaned down and kissed Anna again. When they parted Anna headed back inside, and Ryan followed shortly afterwards closing the door behind him. Anna had wet her pull-up a little on the walk home, she had tried to hold on but failed, she assumed it was the alcohol so wasn’t too upset.
“I’m going to take a shower.” Anna said, “But thank you… for a lovely night.”