I laughed. “It’s a deal.”

I hung up the phone and said good-bye to ana.

“Call me tomorrow morning, please,” she said. “and I’m saying tomorrow morning because I’m trying to be understanding, but if you get a moment to run to the bathroom and call me, I’ll be waiting by the phone.”

“You are my favorite person of all time,” I said as I kissed her cheek.

“Not for long, I’m not,” she said, and because she is a wonderful friend, there wasn’t a trace of resentment. she just saw the writing on the wall.

When I got home, I ran into the bathroom. I wanted to at least get makeup on before he came in the door. I have always lived by the rule that your clothes can be a mess but if your face looks good, no one will notice. I probably believe this because I’d like to lose ten pounds but I think my face is cute. Girls that work out all day and have huge boobs but boring faces probably think the face doesn’t matter if your boobs are taken care of.

Just as I had taken off my work clothes and put on a pair of black tights, the doorbell rang. I threw on a long shirt and opened the door.

“Wow,” he said when he came in. He smelled great and he looked great. He was wearing dark jeans and a black button-up shirt. It was nothing special, but it somehow made him look exceptional. He leaned in to kiss me and did so gently, so as not to ruin my lipstick.

“Give me seven more minutes,” I said, rushing into my room. “you got it. I’ll be on the couch here waiting patiently.” I shut my bedroom door and took off my shirt. I put on a short black sleeveless dress and black pumps, and then I added a gauzy gray cardigan to make it seem a bit less fancy. I looked in the mirror and felt that I looked a little too . . . matronly. so I pulled off the tights, put the heels back on, and walked out there.

“I think I’m under seven minutes,” I said as he stood up eagerly.

“Wow.”

I held out my arms in display. “Good enough for this mystery dinner?”

“You look perfect. What happened to the tights?” “oh.” I suddenly felt whorish. “should I put them back on?” He shook his head. “no, not at all.your . . . your legs look great, is all. I haven’t seen you in high heels before.” He came over and kissed me on the temple. It felt familiar and loving. “Well, you’ve only known me since saturday,” I said as I grabbed my purse. I took special care to make certain my keys were in there. I wasn’t sure what state we would be in when we got back here, but I didn’t want to create any kinks in the plan. “Wow. you’re right. It does not feel like that though. anyway, it’s not important. What is important is that you look f**king hot. are you going to be warm enough? Fuck it. I don’t care. don’t put anything else on over this.”

“Wait!” I said, turning back in to the apartment as he was heading toward the door.

“Should I grab something? I hate being cold.”

“If you get cold, I’ll give you my jacket.”

“But what if my legs are cold?”

“I’ll put the jacket around your legs. now get that beautiful ass in my car! let’s go!”

I ran right down the stairs into his front seat.

It was a warm night and we drove across town with the windows down. once we got on the freeway, the wind from the windows made it too loud to talk so I put my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes. Before I knew it, we were parking on the pacific Coast Highway. the dark, cool beach was to our left and high mountains to our right.

“Where are we going?” I finally asked. I could have asked earlier and he probably would have told me, but where was the fun in that?

“We are going to the Beachcomber because we can order our food sitting right over the water and I promise you won’t get cold because I’ll make them seat us by the fire pit.” “There’s a fire pit?”

Ben smiled. “Would I lie to you?”

I shrugged. “How should I know?”

“Touché,” he said. “are you ready? the one caveat is that we have to run across this two-lane highway with superhuman speed.”

I opened my car door and took off my heels. “okay. I’m ready.” Ben grabbed my hand and we waited until the timing was right. there were a few times we almost went, and one time I thought for sure I was going to die just standing on the edge of the freeway, but eventually, with much fanfare and me screaming, we made our way across.

When we got to the restaurant, it was somewhat empty. From the look on Ben’s face, I could tell this was what he was hoping for. He asked to be seated near the fire pit, and within minutes, my legs were warmed by the fire and my shoulders were cool from the sea breeze.

As I sat there, looking out onto the ocean below us and this new person in front of me, it didn’t feel like my life. It felt like I was living someone else’s life for a night. I didn’t usually spend my Monday nights by a fire overlooking the water, being served chilled white wine and pellegrino. I usually spent my Monday nights eating a Hot pockets while reading a book and drinking from the tap.

“This is gorgeous,” I said. I put my hands toward the flames. “thank you for bringing me here.”

“Thank you for letting me,” he said, as he pulled his chair closer to me.

Ben and I discussed our days and our jobs. We talked about past relationships and our families. We talked about pretty much anything other than sex, and yet, more and more, it was becoming the only thing on my mind.

His black shirt clung to his shoulders. the way he had the sleeves rolled up halfway to his elbows exposed his hands and wrists. they were thin but sturdy. angular but delicate. as I looked at them I wanted them to touch me. I wanted them to lift me.

“You look great tonight,” I said to him as I buttered my bread. I tried to sound casual. I wasn’t used to complimenting a man like that and I wasn’t sure how to do it without sounding creepy. “that shirt is very flattering on you.”

“Why, thank you very much!” he said as his smile widened. “thanks.”

He looked down at his plate and smiled further. He looked embarrassed.

“Are you blushing?” I teased him.

Ben shook his head. “Well, ah.” He looked up at me. “I’m embarrassed to say that I went to the Gap after work and bought this shirt for our date.”

I started laughing. “Before you even called me?”

“Yeah. I know. It sounds very stupid. But I just . . . I wanted to look good for you. I wanted to make it a special night and . . . to be blunt, none of my shirts looked good enough for that.” “you’re not real,” I said.

“Pardon me?”

“You’re just . . . you’re not a real person. What kind of guy is that sincere about things? and that honest? no man has ever gone out to buy a new shirt just to take me somewhere.” “you don’t know that!” Ben said.

The waiter came to take our order. I ordered pasta. Ben ordered steak. that’s how I could tell we both knew he would insist on paying for dinner. I wasn’t going to order anything extravagant on his dime, and if he’d really thought I might succeed in paying for this, he wouldn’t have ordered anything extravagant on mine.

After the waiter left, I kept at it.

“Well, sure. okay. I don’t know that, but no man has ever told me he did.”

“Obviously. only an idiot would admit it. It’s too obvious that I like you. I need to reel it in.”

“No, no. please don’t. It feels great.”

“Being liked?” he asked, as he picked up a piece of bread and ripped it in half. He popped one whole half into his mouth. I liked that he would buy a new shirt for me but he wasn’t going to eat delicately in front of me. It showed that even if he wanted to put forward the best version of himself, he was still always going to be himself.

“Being liked, yeah. and liking someone so much. Being liked by the person you like so much, is maybe more accurate.” “do you feel like things are moving too quickly?” he asked. It jarred me. obviously, I had been thinking about that and discussing it with ana, but if he felt like things were going too fast, well . . . I wasn’t sure what I was afraid of. I just knew that even if they were going too fast, I did not want things to slow down. “oh. uh. do you? Were you thinking that?” I looked up at him from my wineglass, trying to sound carefree and blithe. I think it worked.

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