halfway in love

Friday morning, Dimples and I wake up together. We've had a really nice night. I'm extremely attracted to him, and this is huge for me, personally, considering the damage my sense of sexuality suffered last year. And I also just really enjoy his company. His energy is positive, calming, confident. There is something very sure - and reassuring - about this man, and I like it a lot.

I've nothing breakfast-worthy in my fridge, so we walk across the street for a coffee. We briefly discuss the drama of the night before. I'm still surprised by Upstairs's behavior, and still unsure how to address it. We're sitting there talking amicably, still getting to know one another, when I glance toward my building.

Upstairs is walking out the front door, his notebook in hand. It's obvious where he's headed: the very cafe where we're sitting. Holy fucking shit, I think. Are you kidding me?? I'm about to have my third unexpected encounter with him in twelve hours; Dimples, his second. I don't know whether to warn Dimples, to brace him for impact or not. But I don't have to, because it's mere seconds before Upstairs is upon us. The awkwardness is palpable in the hot morning air. Nobody knows what to say, or how to act. Upstairs gives a perfunctory nod, then disappears inside. I cannot believe the bad luck.

Dimples and I laugh nervously and sip our drinks. I'm trying to seem neutral, unaffected, but the truth is, I'm feeling for Upstairs. I know he's probably seething at the fact that my date stayed the night, a privilege he was never allowed, and a sore spot between us. A minute later, he reemerges from Starbucks, and walks straight to our table. He puts his hand out to Dimples. He looks him squarely in the eye, and apologizes. "Hey man," he says. "I just want to apologize for my behavior last night. I know I was a little rough. No excuses, I wasn't a gentleman, and I'm sorry."

There's a brief exchange of testosterone and ego, the depths of which I can only guess at. It's expressed in the nuances of handshake, of eye contact - the man-to-man communique I can witness but will never fully understand. Upstairs directs his energy to my date, barely acknowledging me. Then he's gone as quickly as he's come. I have no idea what to think about any of this.

Dimples leaves soon after. I walk him to his car a street away. Back on my block, I come upon Upstairs, who's loading his car in front of our building. At this point, it's comical how many times we've run into another in the past half day.

But he doesn't laugh. He slams his car door, walking up to me quickly, and then immediately stepping back, agitated and incredulous. He runs his hands through his hair and shakes his head. He looks at me wildly. "Why is it that I never run into you except the one day you're the last person I want to see?" I'm quiet, standing helplessly on the sidewalk. I know we need to talk, but I'm not sure where to start. What's to be said? And why is he this upset?

"You let him stay the night?" He looks at me, wounded. "We've been hanging out for months, and you never let me sleep over."

I say his name, pleadingly. "We didn't want anything serious, remember? We talked about it. You didn't want anything. Neither did I. Where is this coming from?"

"Will you go for a drive with me?" he asks. "Please? I really want to talk to you." He's pacing. I've never seen him wound up like this. "I haven't slept all night." I take stock of myself: I have no makeup on. I haven't brushed my hair. I'm not even wearing a bra. "Of course," I say.

We get in the car and head west on Wilshire. He's driving fast, glancing over at me every few seconds. "I didn't sleep," he says. "I woke up every hour to check my phone, to see if you'd texted back. Did you get my email?" I tell him I haven't looked at my phone yet today.

He looks directly at me. Again, I ask him to explain where this is coming from. A little bit of jealousy, ok, sure, that I can understand, but... "Look, Ellie," he says. "I'm halfway in love with you..." He's still talking, but my brain has tripped on these words. He's completely sober. He's had the night to cool off, to gain some perspective on all of this. He can't be serious, but he is.

He goes on to say that seeing me with another man was intolerable to him. That it made him realize what I mean to him. That all along he's known it, but maybe it's about time he showed me. That the thought of losing me kept him up all night. He tells me to read his email, which I do. It's an apology for "attempting to chase off" my "beau", but only because he "sometimes thinks I'm the Ellie for him". It ends with him begging me to call ASAP. It's signed, XO, Valentine.

I'm stunned. I did not expect this. At all.

The next few hours are a blur. We stop at a camera supply store. He takes me to lunch, a delicatessen where we split a corned beef sandwich. When the food arrives, he moves to sit beside me in the booth. He spreads mustard on my half without my asking. We talk and talk and talk. He's intensely, insistently affectionate, putting his arm around me, kissing my cheek and forehead, gazing deeply at me. I allow all of this to happen, in spite of the fact that I've just sent my date home mere hours ago. I am too bewildered and busy processing to protest. My brain is on overtime; I've pulled out the file marked Upstairs, the one I'd handily filed away, knowing exactly what was in it and where it went - and now I've got it spread open before me. I have to reexamine its contents completely. I have no idea where it goes anymore.

I have no idea where I want it to go.

After we eat, we pay at the cashier stand. I make an offhand comment about wishing we'd saved some bread, to feed the ducks we'd been watching through the window, at the lake across the street.

"Could I maybe get a couple pieces of bread, to go?" he asks the cashier. I object, telling him not to be silly. He ignores me. The cashier tells him it will be two dollars for the bread. He asks her whether he can't just add a little extra to the tip line, to call it a day, rather than run his debit card again. She says something about that money going to the server. Unfazed, he says, "Ok, no problem. Just charge it then." He hands his card back to her.

"We have a five dollar minimum on debit cards, sir."

He doesn't even blink. "Wonderful. Can I please get five dollars worth of bread?" He smiles brightly at her, while I'm dying behind him. We leave with a small bag containing five slices of bread and a cookie.

We feed ducks, ducking and dodging the sea gulls who swarm us from above. He takes a picture of me, into which he'll later photoshop an eagle, mixed in with the various other birds hovering around us. As we're walking out of the park, he puts out his hand, silently gesturing for me to pass back to him the wrapped cookie he'd given me moments earlier. He trots a few yards over to a homeless person laying on the grass. I can't hear the words exchanged, but she lights up and happily accepts the cookie he hands to her.

Back at our building, he asks me to come up and listen to records (actual records) while he works. I oblige, though he doesn't do any work. He just plays music, and sits close to me on an overstuffed chair. At some point, he takes his guitar off the wall, and plays for me. He kisses me, and I allow it, hating myself for playing the lava game at warp fucking speed, but feeling powerless to stop. I know that I need to get some air, some time alone to digest all of this. That I'm going to have to cut ALL of this off - Dimples and Upstairs - until I figure out what the fuck I want. That this is borderline disgusting behavior on my part, and it needs to stop, immediately.

In my defense, I'm reeling with mixed, confusing emotions. I'm flattered. I'm intrigued. I'm excited. I'm unsure. I'm scared. I question what's going on, both silently and aloud: he's honest and vulnerable, in response. He doesn't have all the answers. He isn't sure about where he wants it to go, or how far. He just knows he wants to give it a shot, a real shot. My mind is split into two warring factions, one side urging me to go for it, because he truly is an amazing person. The other half is holding back, hung up on two major concerns: 1) Dimples - whom I really like. Really. And 2) the question of, how much could I really want this, anyway, if how casual it's been has never bothered me before?

Eventually, I tear myself away from this confusing, overwhelming space. It's Friday night, and I have to get ready for work.