theme for a late winter fling

summer

Moving day, and two of my friends are helping me schlepp stuff two blocks over from my old place into the new one. We're in the lobby of my new building, waiting for the elevator, loaded down with boxes and bins. I'm exhausted but excited. Ding! The elevator doors open, and a dark-haired young man steps out. He's wearing a t-shirt and jeans, both of which look expensive and fit him well. He's tall and lean but well muscled, with broad shoulders and a model's features: symmetrical face, strong jaw, full lips. He's easily ten years younger than me. My girlfriend, who's older than I am, shoots me a look as he walks by: Yum. I crack a joke about already liking the new place and am gently chastised. For one thing, I'm already seeing someone. For another, I'm not supposed to be looking at, talking to, or otherwise engaging any boys. I am in the midst of a divorce.

---

At the park, and he's walking his dog near where I'm walking mine. I notice that he has excellent posture. He looks over and says hello in a cheerful tone. His smile is expansive and genuine. Good god, I think. He really is handsome. His dog is a breed I don't particularly like, but I call out anyway, "Cool dog." "Thanks," he replies. "He takes after me." I'm struck speechless by this unexpected bit of goofiness. It's LA, after all. Be cool or die. I can't think of what to say back, so I just smile and steer Chaucer past.

---

Late at night, in my building. I'm taking a load of laundry to the machines on the top floor, having lost all patience with the impossibly slow washer/dryer combo in my unit. I'm a hot mess: tank top, sweats, no bra or makeup, unbrushed hair. The elevator doors open to let me out, and he's standing there. "Oh!" I say, flustered. "Hi there." I silently curse my sloppiness. We step past one another. As I'm walking down the hall, he calls out from inside the elevator, in a slightly too-loud voice: "Where's your smile?" I turn and look back, unsure that I've heard him correctly. He's grinning, looking sheepish and silly and happily self-conscious. It occurs to me he's likely drunk or high or both. "It's so cute," he says more quietly, just before the doors shut. I stand there for a few seconds, blinking, utterly nonplussed. I vow to never leave my apartment without lip gloss again.

---

The sidewalk outside my building. I'm heading to dinner with the man I'm dating, who has his arm around my shoulders. He's walking towards us on the sidewalk, carrying grocery bags. As we pass, I meet his gaze. He glances at my date and back at me, then looks away.

fall

The park again, at the informally designated hour for dog socialization and play. He and his dog join the group. Chaucer, who's been chasing a Jack Russell, breaks off from playing to greet them. It's the first time our dogs have actually met, and after a moment's consideration, Chaucer decides he's none too impressed. The feeling, apparently, is mutual, and before either of us know what's happening, there's snapping and lunging and barking and mayhem. We get them apart. I'm mortified and apologetic. He's polite but seems kind of annoyed and pissed. I drag Chaucer off. "Thank you," I say to Chaucer as we walk home. "I really appreciate the cock blocking you did back there." He trots happily alongside of me, wagging his tail and panting. He glances up at me in response. No problem, his look seems to say.

---

The building lobby, in the late afternoon. We're both walking our dogs. They're returning home; we're leaving. I yank Chaucer out of the way, scared of another scuffle. "No, no," he says. "Let's let them try again." I hesitantly agree, and let out the slack on Chaucer's leash. There's a second or two of calm sniffing, and then it's tooth and nail and chaos again. After we break them up, we each try to put the blame for the fight on our own dog. He says something about his having rescue issues, while I explain that mine has a newfound intolerance for anything more threatening than a shih tzu. This is the first time we've exchanged more than a few words, and I detect a mild New York accent. Once Chaucer and I are alone outside, I remind him what an asshole he is. The characterization doesn't seem to bother him.

winter

Late night on a weekend, in the lobby of my building. I'm waiting for the elevator, which has been slow all day. He walks in the front door, says hello, and positions himself in front of the other elevator. He glances over at me, then up at the floor indicator above my elevator, then at the indicator above his own. "I'm going to win," he says. I'm tipsy from being out all night. I look over and narrow my eyes meaningfully: challenge accepted. A few moments of silence while we wait and watch. Ding! He spreads his hands and smiles. See? I laugh, and we step into his elevator together. He relaxes against the wall, and I mirror him on the opposite side. "How was your night?" I ask. "It was good," he says. "I had a show." We're both drunk and rather shamelessly staring at one another. "A show?" I inquire. "Yeah," he says. "A gallery exhibit. I paint." As I'm getting out on my floor, he tells me the name of his website and encourages me to check it out. "My email's on there," he adds. "In case you see anything you like." I'm not sure if I'm being hit on or sold something.

I bring up the site as soon as I get back to my apartment. I'm afraid I'll forget the address by morning if I don't. The site is a comprehensive portfolio of his various creative works. There are images of his paintings, which are large, mixed media stencils of Hollywood icons. There's a link to a blog with short stories, and several clips of short films he's written and directed. There's a photography gallery, with mostly portraits, cityscapes, and some architectural shots. I read his bio and glance at his Facebook page and Twitter feed.

I sit down and compose an email. Hey ---, it's Ellie, from the building (with the killer dog who's not really killer, except, apparently, where your pets are concerned). Thanks for sharing that link. Very cool stuff. Although, if you want my advice, you really need to expand your talents a bit. Film, photography, art, and writing only? I mean, no offense, but that's pretty weak... I save the draft and go to bed.

The next afternoon, I review what I've written, but make no edits. I click "send", and almost simultaneously, a realization hits me: unless he assumes the numbers in my email address stand for July 5th, he's going to infer that I'm thirty-six years old.

That night, I receive four long paragraphs in reply, the wittiness of which give the impression that there's a good deal of thought behind them. And possibly some alcohol. In the letter, I'm invited to come see his paintings in person, in his apartment, which is six storeys up from mine. I'm still not entirely sure whether he's trying to sell me something, so I reply with equal playfulness, while making a point to assure him of my destitution. The invitation is enthusiastically repeated, along with more witty repartee. I text the phone number that's part of his email signature, and he texts back. We message one another here and there over the next week, bantering and battling wits, and the following Sunday, he invites me up to his apartment for a drink.