multiple copies

I'm gearing up to mop when he calls. "Listen, I gotta meet a guy in a little while, but you do want to get coffee?" I ask if he means right now, glancing at my sink, stopped up and full of steaming water. He does. "Meet you downstairs in five," I say.

I throw on my favorite scarf and hoodie, slip into my cleanest pair of Converse, swipe on some lipgloss, and head down. When I get to the lobby, he's waiting just outside the front door, in the crisp night air. The wool of his winter coat feels smooth against my cheek as he gives me a one-armed hug. We grin at one another and start walking.

It's the tail end of rush hour, our bodies and faces illuminated by headlights as we cross the street. I wonder what we look like to those drivers, what descriptors, if any, come to their minds as they watch us walk by them. A thought flashes through my mind, a recognition that how I must look in this moment would have appealed greatly to my younger self. Casually dressed, but stylish. Stepping lightly across a busy city street, in the company of a dark and handsome young man, smiles on both of our faces. My twenty-seven-year old self would have looked wistfully at me, wondering at my life, at who I was and what made up my days.

It's been about a week since we've seen each other, and we've got catching up to do. As we wait in line at Starbucks, he tells me he has good news. "I'm not leaving downtown. I'm staying here." At first I don't realize what he's talking about, but he quickly fills in the gaps. He's found a new apartment, a few blocks away. He's signed a lease and given notice. He's moving out of our building in a few weeks. He looks at me carefully as he says all of this. I smile, genuinely happy to hear he's found a place he likes. I ask questions about it, and congratulate him. "I wanted to tell you first," he says in a gentle voice. "I know I'd be a little hurt if you left." I say it would be silly for me to be hurt; his move isn't something I should or do take personally. I don't even know if I'm staying, after all. Neither of us can really afford our lofts.

"Still," he says. "even though we're not together, I feel like we have a responsibility to protect one another. You know what I mean, right?" He's looking directly at me. I know exactly what he means, and my heart squeezes with gratitude and joy. I add what he's just said to something else he said recently, when I had an exceptionally bad few days and reached out to him for support - which he gave: "I will always be there for you." Lucky. I am so lucky. He's a good man. He's a good friend.

I feel like I could quickly become overcome with emotion, so I glance away. There's a massive clear plastic tube filled with caramel on the espresso machine in front of us, and I point at it. I tell him I'd like to cut the end of it and just suck on it. "Do you think they'd mind?"

"Excuse me," he says to the barrista preparing our drinks. "How much for this caramel right here?" We're informed, unsurprisingly, that it's not for sale. "Well, can we at least touch it?" He reaches over the glass and pokes the tube, which squishes in response. "Ew, stop," I say, trying not to laugh.

We sit outside for a little while, and he brings me up to speed on his work, which is going great. I bring him up to speed on some nice developments in my personal life, and he's sincere and warm in telling me how happy he is to hear it. "You bounce back to vibrant," he says. It's not the first time he's said this to me, but I carefully file the compliment away in my mind. It's one I'm happy to have multiple copies of.

It's gotten chilly, so we finish our drinks and walk back. He links his arm through mine as we cross the street and again I wonder at the figure we must cut together, silhouetted in headlights. I briefly rest my head on his shoulder. As we wait on the corner for the light to change, we reaffirm our affection for one another. "I think this is going to be good for us," he says. I agree, because he's right. He won't be far. We can still meet for coffee on a moment's notice, but we won't have the stress of running into one another unexpectedly. We'll be able to bring dates home without fear of surprising the other into painful feelings.

He walks me back to my apartment, coming in to play with Chaucer for a minute, and to fix a few things for me, including my yet-again on-the-fritz printer. Then: another hug, kisses on one another's cheeks, and he's gone.

I walk to my kitchen sink and tentatively stick a finger into the water. It's still warm enough to mop.