3.14.12

When I wake up, I read a text from Upstairs. It's a copy of the picture he took at the lake on the previous Friday, the one of me feeding ducks into which he'd photoshopped an eagle. I love this, he's sent with it. I reply: That picture is awful. He writes back: I like it. It proves that you're not a vampire.

It proves that I'm not pretty, is what it proves, I answer. I tell him that I did well at work the night before, and am going to go pay off my bike. Want a lift? he asks. I explain that the bike shop is just a few blocks away on Broadway. Want a cohort? he amends.

I accept the offer, and a few minutes later, he knocks on my door. On the walk over, we rehash where things stand with us. I am strongly leaning towards not wanting to get further involved with him. In fact, I am nearly sure of it. I've agonized over the decision to tell him as much, because I can't seem to get my ass off the fence. And he knows it. He acknowledges my reticence, all the while gently reaffirming his own undiminished interest.

I tell him that I've grown to adore him so much, to treasure his company and companionship and all of our fun times so dearly, that I'm terrified of what dating would do to our already great relationship. I know he's substantially younger (9 years), and that pretty much guarantees us an expiration date. I know at some point, he'll want someone closer to his age. Someone younger. And I have a feeling if (when!) it ends after getting truly romantically involved, it will end terribly. There'll just be too much pain. We'll have gotten too close, and our friendship won't survive. At this point, I tell him, I value our friendship way, way too much to risk losing it.

I don't tell him that I am also distracted by thoughts of someone else - the person he'd met, and who had sent him into a 12 hour tailspin the week before. I keep that variable out of the equation. And I don't say that this person, during the two dates I'd had with him, has drawn a strong reaction from me, physically. One that's been on my mind, and interfering with my ability to see things clearly.

He argues that we're nearly perfect for one another. That he doesn't care about my age, or that I dance. That everything lines up for us, that we get along like peas in a pod, that we're attracted to one another, get one another's senses of humor, that we have mutual interests. That he thinks we can retain a friendship if it doesn't work out. He wants to try, anyway.

When we get to the bike shop, I realize I don't have quite enough to pay the layaway balance, unless I want to nearly clean out my checking account. I tell the guy helping me that I'll be back with the final $90 tomorrow. Upstairs steps forward. "If she pays the balance now, can she take it home today?" The shopkeeper and I speak at the same time, him saying "yes" and me saying "no." I know where Upstairs is going with this, and shake my head firmly. Ignoring me, he takes out his debit card and hands it to the cashier. "Don't accept that," I say sharply. "Seriously."

Upstairs smiles at me. "Come on, you were so excited to get your bike. Just pay me back tomorrow." We go a few rounds of me refusing and him insisting before I acquiesce, on the condition that he lets me pay him back (he doesn't, justifying the gift by explaining that he's made an unexpected repeat sale of one of his paintings).

Upstairs asks whether I have a helmet, and I laugh. "No way," I say. "I can ride a bike just fine." I look to the shopkeeper for support. "If you're over eighteen, you don't legally have to. But if you're going to be riding at night or in heavy traffic, I definitely recommend it." Upstairs looks at me pointedly. He knows I'd be doing both. "Uh uh." I shake my head. "I'll be fine."

While we wait for them to customize my bike (I've had them add brakes to the front handlebars), we goof around in the shop. He takes a video, making me pose on a tiny kid's bike while he mock-interviews me about my big purchase. He teases me about how excited I am, but he's obviously getting a good deal of vicarious joy out of the experience. He's playful and affectionate, and pulls me to him to kiss my forehead and dance with me. His attention feels good. It always does: like wrapping myself up in a warm, familiar sweater.

At one point, he brings me into his arms and playfully sways with me. It's the middle of the day, and we're standing in the middle of a bike shop, in the middle of downtown LA. He tells me if I don't let him take me on a date, a real date, that he's going to have to move away to escape me. "Don't you dare," I whisper up at him. He leans close to my ear and sings: "I'm leaving, on a jet plane...don't know when I'll be back again..."

"Stop it," I say, punching his arm. He doesn't let go of me.

We've been waiting for some time, and Upstairs has a dinner date with his mom in a couple of hours. I tell him to go ahead, that I'll wait alone. He refuses. Another half hour passes. At this point, he's almost certainly going to be late to pick up his mother, but he won't leave. He tells me to wait at the front of the shop, and he'll go check on things in back, to see if he can't speed up the process. "You're going to have to come back for repairs and stuff, so I'll be the bad guy," he says. As he steps away, he turns and says conspiratorially, "I'll get you something free. Like a helmet." He walks back to the service area, and I watch him conferring with the mechanic and shop manager. A few moments later, he waves me over.

The shop manager gestures to a table nearby, piled with various helmets. "Let's get you a helmet," he says. "What's your favorite color?" I look at Upstairs, who's smiling, clearly pleased with himself. I won't find out until a couple days later that he's actually had to pay for the helmet.

The bike is ready a few minutes later, and we walk it home together. When we stop at Pershing Square to let the dog pee, he takes photos of me wheeling around on the pavement. My favorite part of the bike is the contrasting white tape I've had them put on the handlebars. I've mentioned it repeatedly to him, and now he teases me by making a point to comment on how cool it looks. I feel twelve and giddy, and he tells me how nice it is that I'm so excited and grateful.

Later, he texts me a picture of himself just before he leaves for dinner. He's standing in the mirror, wearing a crisp white dress shirt and looking absurdly handsome - with his middle finger raised to the camera. What's with you and putting birds in all your pictures? I ask. 2 pts for you, he says, In the game of Ellie v. Upstairs.

At work that night, I receive a text asking me if I want to come cuddle after I'm off. Something about it makes me feel panicky. I start to feel extremely anxious about where things are with him. I'm afraid they're spiraling out of my control, and I'm going to end up losing his friendship, if we don't set some boundaries once and for all. I text back, saying as much. I'm offering you my friendship, I say. I hope more than anything you'll accept it.

He doesn't give up. We smile, laugh, and generally adore each other to bits. We're excessively attracted to one another and somewhat mutually in love. The second I stop being all over you, you're gonna come and tell me you've been thinking about me and you might've been wrong again, he wrote. Tragically flawed we are.

What would dating change? I ask, not sure what point I'm trying to make.

I'd wear your jacket, he says.

I need to think, I tell him. I need to drink, he says back.