Renee sat across from him, frowning nervously.
With one hand, she slid her appetizer around and around her plate. Her other fidgeted and rubbed an earring. No genie appeared.
"What's wrong?", Joe asked.
Renee's frown immediately dissolved as she glanced up at Joe. She smiled slightly.
"Nothing's wrong. I'm just nervous. It's a big night."
"I wasn't nervous when I met your dad."
Renee chuckled. "You planned that one right! Had I brought you to meet him, you would have had every reason to be nervous."
Joe smiled. "I'm a planner."
Renee laughed again.
"But really", Joe said. "You don't have to be nervous about meeting Mom. She's great. Easy-going."
Joe stood and pulled out the table's only empty chair.
"Mom, this is Renee. Renee, this is my mom, Bee."
The waiter topped off drinks as initial pleasantries were exchanged. They ordered, then talked about Joe.
Joe hadn't quite seen this one coming. He thought he'd have to guide the conversation to make sure the ice was broken. Instead, they laughed like old friends. Renee listened to each of the stories Joe's mom told with enraptured interest, interjecting only with a question here and there. It turned out he wasn't really needed except to turn red and explain himself now and then.
He sputtered the embarrassing back story to the infamous giraffe escapade. After the laughter died down, Bee said to Renee, "Joe tells me you're a baseball nut, too."
Renee nodded enthusiastically. "Grew up on it. My dad didn't know how to relate to a little girl, so we bonded over baseball."
The conversation turned to the good old days.
Bee said, "What do you miss the most?"
Renee thought a moment. "Announcing."
Joe looked puzzled. "Announcing?!? You never told me you were an announcer."
Renee blushed. "I wasn't. But sometimes Dad would put on a big league game with the sound off and let me be the announcer. Seems silly now, but it was a lot of fun then. It made Dad enjoy the games no matter who won."
Joe turned to his Mom. "What do you miss?"
"Watching you. You loved it so much. You were never much of a pitcher, but I remember the first time you got put on the mound. Your team had a good lead, so the coach was kind enough to let some of you try out positions you wouldn't normally get to play. You pitched the last inning of the game."
Joe beamed. "I remember that! I was nervous, but settled in quickly. I struck out one of my friends on the other team. I couldn't believe I did so well!"
Joe's mom laughed. "No, you were terrible! You struck out your friend, but gave up 6 runs beforehand. You struck him out the second time you faced him that inning! But you didn't care; you were just excited to take the mound. You smiled ear to ear, from start to finish. I've always wondered what that felt like. I was so happy for you"
They stayed so long, they shut down the restaurant. They walked to their cars, the conversation hardly interrupted. Joe opened the door for Renee. The handle jammed. He sighed, embarrassed.
"Guess I'll have to finally replace this old thing."
"Why?", asked Renee.
"Runs fine", said Bee. "Don't toss something aside just because it's not fancy."