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History should always teach us something. Phil Coulson taught his students that very sentiment on their first day in his class. Whatever happened in the past had an impact on the future. But tonight he was going against those words as he found himself going on a blind date with a stranger.  

 

History had taught him that blind dates were always bad, always awkward. The last time Blake had set him up the woman had been twenty five years his junior and had gone home with the bartender. History had also taught him that it took time for a broken heart to heal. It seemed like only a fraction of time had passed since Audrey had packed up her apartment and moved back to Portland.

 

“I don’t think I’m ready for this.”

 

Beside him, Blake shot him a look. “You are ready for this. It’s been four months since Audrey left; you need to start dating again.”

 

Blake had been trying to set him up on dates for the last month and it was only now that Coulson had conceded. Garrett, an old college buddy of theirs, had flown in the day after the break up and got him a stripper. The thought had been there, Phil supposed, but it hadn’t helped him get over her.

 

“But you don’t know anything about her. I mean, what does she do? What does she like to do?”

 

“You know these are all questions you can ask her, right?” Blake rubbed his jaw, seemingly on the verge of either giving up or hitting him. “Her name’s Melinda, she’s divorced and her friend Maria – who is super-hot by the way - goes to my coffee shop. Just go in, sit down and have dinner. Please.

 

Phil sighed, realising that he needed to do this. Maybe if he had dinner with someone else he’d finally get over Audrey. Or, maybe, he’d realise he was still madly in love with her and quit his role as head of the department to move all the way across the country to be with her. He wouldn’t know till he did it. Sucking in a breath, Phil opened the car door. He could do this. He’d once been stuck in a cave-in in Peru after an archaeological dig he was visiting went south. He could go on a blind date.

 

But his hand was sweaty as it pushed open the door to the restaurant, his smile too wide and too false as he greeted the hostess. Nerves flooded through him. “I have a reservation under the name of Coulson.”

 

“Of course, follow me.”

 

Phil was led to a table in the back where he promptly sat down on the side that granted him the best view of the entrance. He was a few minutes early so his blind date would be arriving any time now. Blake had mentioned she was divorced. Maybe she would equally be as nervous. Although he wasn’t divorced, he and Audrey had been pretty serious. They’d been practically living together; he’d even started looking at engagement rings just before she’d been offered the position of second chair.

 

Movement caught his eye and Phil looked up just as a striking woman entered the restaurant. She was slim, with a blue dress cut low across the chest and thighs. Phil swallowed as she came in his direction. She was very beautiful; he’d have to give Blake points for that. Of course she wasn’t nearly as beautiful as Audrey was. Audrey was such a soft beauty, like early morning springtime. But this woman was still beautiful. Cursing himself, Phil began to stand up, stopping halfway when the woman shifted position and headed for a table in the corner.

 

Damn.

 

“I was the same on my first blind date. Stood up every time someone came near. It became a very tiring evening as the guy stood me up.” He’d been so concerned with the blonde walking past that he hadn’t noticed the brunette moving in from the bar. She offered her his hand. “You must be Phil. I’m Melinda.”

 

He nodded, smiling awkwardly as he took her hand. She had a firm handshake and a dry palm. He felt he was sweating right through his shirt. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

It was. If the woman before had been beautiful, then Melinda was stunning. Her brown hair curled gently around her shoulders; her little black dress showed them and a rather spectacular pair of legs off very nicely. Her dark eyes were bright, catching the light but not revealing much. She was captivating.

 

Phil felt his throat go dry and he reached for his glass of water. Sitting across from a beautiful woman usually made him nervous. Being on a date with one usually transformed him into one of the three stooges. “So, you’ve been on a lot of blind dates?”

 

Melinda groaned, rolling her eyes.  “More than my share. My friend Maria keeps setting me up with anyone she can. Including friends of men she sees at coffee shops.” She reached across and took a sip of her own water. She seemed exceptionally calm. “Maria didn’t tell me much about you; just your name and that you just went through a bad break up. How long’s it been?”

 

“Four months. She left town, had an amazing job offer. I wanted to go with her but she wouldn’t let me. I…” Phil took another gulp of his water, trying to calm his nerves. “I shouldn’t be talking about this on a date, I’m sorry. This is my first date since things ended and I’m a little nervous.”

 

“I could teach you some breathing exercises if you wanted. I own a martial arts studio downtown, I run an early morning Tai Chi class. A lot of people find it helpful after such a massive change.”

 

Phil felt he could probably use them. He was chattering on like a monkey. This was a mistake. Blake should have organised coffee or a walk in a park, nothing as intimate as dinner. He should make his excuses and leave. But that would hardly be fair to her, not when she’d turned up and looked so beautiful…“How did you get involved in that?” he stammered out, finally making conversation.

 

“My father taught me a lot of the practices when I was a child. I worked with my mother for a few years but things…didn’t go well. One afternoon I was teaching my nephews a few karate moves to impress the kids at school and I enjoyed it. Kept with it.”

 

“Wow!” Phil grinned, still finding words to keep the conversation going. “I’m actually a brown belt in jiu-jitsu. Took a few classes on campus.”

 

Melinda looked impressed. “Well maybe you can come to my studio one afternoon, we can go a few rounds.”

 

Phil was sure it was just a polite suggestion; there was no way she could be offering a second date based on his sparkling performance so far. But maybe he wasn’t doing as bad as he thought he was. She certainly hadn’t made any excuses to go to the bathroom; she hadn’t received an urgent call telling her that Uncle John had been in a car accident and she needed to go to the hospital right away. The next sip of water Phil took was a still one.

 

“So, what do you do?”

 

“I’m a history professor at Georgetown. Mostly specialise in the Second World War, been branching out into the Cold War recently. Boring, I know, but I love it.”

 

Melinda smiled, leaning forward across the table. She had a beautiful smile. Suddenly his throat was dry again. “I don’t think it’s boring at all. I always enjoyed my history classes. Think I would have enjoyed them more if you’d been my professor.”

 

Phil hadn’t expected that comment, such a blatant flirtation aimed at his direction. His hands had been getting sweatier and it hadn’t taken much for the jar of water he had been holding to jerk and spill the entire contents over his lap. The water was freezing; a few slivers of ice slipping down the back of his socks. His white shirt was soaked through, as were his trousers and boxers. Everything was suddenly very uncomfortable and certain things were more on show than he’d like them to be. He’d officially moved from adorably awkward to actual idiot.

 

“Could we get a towel please? Thank you.”

 

Melinda moved into his frame of view, dabbing the towel against his trousers whilst he tried to shake off the water clinging to his arms. “Are you okay? The glass didn’t break or anything?”

 

“No, I’m good.” Whilst he did appreciate Melinda helping him out, her hands were getting a little too close to his crotch for a first date. She seemed to notice it too as she handed him the towel. “Thank you. I’m sorry this has been such a terrible date.”

 

She smiled at him. She really did have such a beautiful smile. It was honest. “I was actually enjoying myself.”

 

“So was I.” It was the truth. For the first time since Audrey had left he’d been enjoying himself. Smiling, he stood up and dabbed himself with the towel. Melinda stayed nearby, making sure he was okay. She was even more captivating close up. “I am so sorry about this.”

 

“It’s fine. It took me a while after my divorce before I was ready to date. Even longer before I was serious with anyone. The heart is a strong muscle, but it takes a while to heal.”

 

Garrett hadn’t understood his pain, but then he’d never liked Audrey anyway. Blake had given him some leeway but no doubt his constant complaining over the end of their relationship had pushed him into taking urgent action. This was the first time that anyone had actually accepted that things would take time. That whatever came after Audrey he wanted to take slow. Phil suddenly found that he wanted to continue this.

 

“I need to go stick my crotch underneath the hand dryer in the men’s bathroom. After I’m all dry, do you maybe want to go somewhere else? Like, coffee or ice cream or something?”

 

Melinda nodded, beaming at him. He’d certainly made quite some impression on her. She seemed to like it. “I’d like that. There’s a great ice cream parlour close to my studio.”

 

“Then it’s a date.” His hand hovered awkwardly between them, wanting to do something but unable to follow through. So he pulled his arm straight back to his side. “Give me five minutes.”

 

“Take ten. I’ll still be here.”

 

Throwing another smile in her direction, Phil ran off to the men’s room. After checking the stalls to make sure there was no one else there, he positioned himself in front of the hand dryer and pushed his crotch in the direction of the warm air flow. A part of him wondered if she would still be there when he got out with a slightly dry shirt and a damp crotch. Phil believed she would. Although he’d been dreading this date for the past few days, he was looking forward to going back out there and taking Melinda out for ice cream.

 

Learning from history was important. But if you never took a risk you might miss something special.