I'm surprised when he texts on Monday. I haven't been expecting to hear from him again. But text he does, to see whether I am free any night that week. I tell him I am, as it so happens, and that any day after Wednesday will work. With a bare bones exchange in which he repeatedly fails to punctuate his questions with question marks, we agree to Friday. We don't talk again until Thursday night, when we confirm plans in another minimalist conversation, also short on question marks.

Then on Friday afternoon, as I'm walking Chaucer, this: Should I bring a turtle. 

I laugh out loud, and stop on the sidewalk to reply. If you wouldn't mind. ...By the way, if you need some question marks, I've got extra. Here: ???????????

Will it get along w ur dog. ....I don't use punctuation.

Maverick, I say, and then: Chaucer vouchsafes the safety of all visiting amphibians.

Even mine??????????


He arrives downtown a little after seven, and follows someone into my building. We stay in my apartment only long enough to briefly greet with a quick, one-armed hug, and for me to gather my things. He looks at my Hipstamatic wall while I steal glances at him from behind, noticing how tightly his plaid shirt fits across his back and shoulders, which are broad and well-muscled.

"Racy," he says, nodding toward a black and white semi-nude of my body. It's one of five such shots, in a wall of nearly two hundred.

I join him to see which one he means, then point out another. "How about that one?"

"How do you even do that by yourself? How do you get the right angle?"

I laugh. "Too much practice. Ready?" I grab my keys and bag, and we start to head out. "Actually, let me just get a sweater," I murmur, stepping back towards my closet.

"You don't need it," he says. "It's amazing out."

I pull a dark grey cardigan from my sweater drawer. "Never know. Restaurants get cold."

For dinner, we decide on a newish French place a block away, with an outdoor patio situated on the busy intersection. The night air is warmer and more lush on my bare arms than any in recent memory. When the hostess seats us, Aaron asks whether we can move to another table, closer to the street.

"Of course," she says, smiling brightly and picking the menus back up. "Anywhere you'd like."

We order cocktails and chat. I watch him spread butter thickly over a slice of sourdough. "You go, Crossfit," I tease. He smiles, but doesn't respond. He leans back in his chair and looks at me across the table. "So, did I make the blog?" he asks.

I sip my water and nod. "Oh yes."

"Do I get to read it?" I glance at him quickly, trying to determine how serious he is. He wears the same intent expression that made such an impression on me the week before.

I speak slowly, thinking back on what I've written. "Well...yes. Of course. I mean, it would hardly be fair of me to not let you, if you want."

He nods. "Good." I take this in, and start filing away the words that will float up to me over the course of the night, slowly fleshing out the unknown qualities of this still-strange man. Direct. Masculine. Confident. Brusque. 

Cocktails arrive, and we toast, slowly slipping into a comfortable conversational rapport.  We talk and joke, occasionally revealing slightly more personal information as the liquor enters our bloodstreams. We agree some and disagree some. My impression, on balance, holds to what it had been at the end of our first meeting. Conservative. Opinionated. 

When our entrees come, he cuts a small portion of his and places it wordlessly on my plate. I haven't asked, nor had I planned to, but the gesture touches me. Gentlemanly. Considerate. As dinner winds down, he leans back in his chair again. "So, what next?"

I make a few suggestions, all centering around additional drinking. When I float the option of karaoke in Little Tokyo, expecting him to wrinkle his nose and say no, his enthusiastic response takes me by surprise.

"Really?" I frown. "Just the two of us? You want to?" I've never done karaoke with less than four people, to dilute the schadenfreude, and I'm not sure how comfortable I feel at the prospect of making an utter fool out of myself in front of someone I barely know - particularly someone whom I want to remain attracted to me.

"Absolutely," he enthuses, and nods in a way that makes it clear the matter is settled. "Ok, done. Karaoke." The gears in my brain jiggle a little bit, adding, adjusting. Self-assured. Fun loving.

We stop off for another round at one of my favorite bars, a tiny, candlelit speakeasy about the size of my apartment. The tables all full, the doorman seats us in a pair of chairs beside a covered piano, separated by a tiny metal wire table. I drop my purse behind my seat and take my sweater off, slowly pulling my arms from the sleeves, and keeping my eyes on Aaron as I do so. I sit down and angle my chair toward him. When the hem of my dress inches slightly above my knee as I cross my legs, I don't pull it back down.  "It's just like 'Between Two Ferns', with Zach Galifianakis," I say, and he laughs. We have to lean in slightly, to hear one another above the hum of the crowd.

We pass an hour in conversation which, thanks to the bar's notoriously strong cocktails, ranges to topics neither of us, we'll later confess, had planned on broaching anytime soon. But broach we do, and the subsequent exchange makes things lively and interesting, and forces the papers in my mental file to shuffle yet again. Grounded. Disciplined. Serious. At one point, he lets his fingertips graze my knee, and I find myself wondering how long it will be before we're back at my apartment. I finish my drink quickly.

On the walk to Little Tokyo, I press him with questions that are springing up on the tail of his recent revelations. After each, he says, "What else? What else do you want to know?"

I laugh. "You can't say that," I scorn, tipsy. "You can't ask someone what else they want to know about you, it's..." But I don't want to say the word that comes to mind, which doesn't feel quite right or fair, though it's close: arrogant. It's close, but it's not quite right.

The karaoke bar fills up fast, and the night starts to spin faster around us, a blur of music and lights and laughter and drinks. We make friends quickly, and Aaron is fearless with the microphone. Impressed, I kick off my shoes and give myself over to the unexpectedly fun moment. We do solos and duets, we sing with strangers and with one another. We dance and horse around with our karaoke companions, and have an undeniably great time. When I take to the stage alone, he uses my phone to snap a few photos.

A couple of hours later, we begin to lose steam, and sit to catch our breath and watch the others. After a minute, I move from sitting directly in front of him to perching in his lap. He holds my hips lightly, and I notice not for the first time how massive and strong his thighs are.

Fast forward.

Fast forward to being back at my place. I read him the blog post I've written about him, pausing nervously at the parts I fear may offend. But he receives it with enthusiasm, humor, and good grace. He nods and laughs, asking me to repeat the parts he misses, correcting me on small details I've gotten wrong. He agrees that I'm not far off in my assessment of our first meeting. He compliments my writing, and admits to being pleasantly surprised by it. He asks how many readers I have and I smile, suspecting that he's enjoying this tiny taste of notoriety. "Not many," I say honestly. "But the few I do have love to read my dating adventures. They'll be excited to see you make another appearance." He asks whether he can have an alias, but I shake my head at his first suggestion of "Todd."

"You can't be Todd," I say. "I know a Todd. How about Aaron? That's an easy change. Same first letter as your real name." He agrees.

Fast forward.

Fast forward to the last shared moment. He wraps his arm around my waist, moving me with ease to precisely where he wants me. He teases, his voice low in my ear, "Can't wait to read this post." I grin to myself in the dark, thinking of the parts I've already written in my mind, and wondering whether he'll enjoy reading his encore as much as hearing his debut.