She wasn’t quite sure how it happened, exactly.
It all started off so innocent. A chance meeting at a gallery followed by a casual dinner in the west village. He insisted she have the lentil salad. She asked for a bold glass of wine. They pretended to exchange business ideas when really they just enjoyed the company. What followed was fun: texts, calls and emails that led to friendly dinners which always included plenty of wine and conversations about dates with others.
Then, one night, everything changed.
His eyes–the ones she never noticed– had a sparkle. His laugh–the one she had heard 100 times before– suddenly had an infectious vibration. The lips that gave such good advice suddenly beckoned for a kiss. He mentioned the name of another and there was a sting in her chest.
“I’m being silly,” she thought. “Not him.”
He wasn’t her type at all. For starters, he had a reputation. He was quiet and stoic and not at all interested in staring at the stars or enjoying picnics in the park. He had a rather dumb sense of humor, and boy, was he full of himself. Besides, he was interested in flings, not heartfelt exchanges, which were the only ones she ever found worthy of engaging in.
She wasn’t for him, either. She was in her third decade and far too romantic to accept a meaningless spin around the dance floor.
Not that he had offered that.
But if he offered anything, it would be that and that was not an offer she’d accept.
Still, his hand would have been nice to hold. His arms seemed perfect to sleep in…
“Stop it,” she thought to herself. “It’s ridiculous.”
She left their dinner as she always did, in a cab hailed by her beloved non-boyfriend. They texted all the way home and she went to bed, certain she had simply had too much wine and one bad date too many.
She spent the following day as she always did, flirting and daydreaming her way through the afternoon. He texted, she giggled. She shared a link, he laughed.
He mentioned a date and she felt that stupid sting again.
One night, she interrupted his mixed messages to send a clear one. “I like you a lot,” she said with a hopeful, frightened smile. A rush came over him. Her revelation left him both flattered and terrified. He was intrigued by the thought of kissing her. Still, he held back any show of emotion.
“We can’t go there,” he said while grabbing her hand. “We are friends and it will ruin everything.”
Her heart sank. Though he swore the stories of his playboy ways were spun by commentators who didn’t know him, she knew that, if it were true, it was a risk not worth taking. She lied and promised to put it to bed.
The talks became deeper and texts more frequent. He flirted a little more and each time his name lit up her phone, her heart opened a little wider. He greeted her with drinks in hand and met her late arrivals, slip of tongues and frequent spills with a compassionate smile. He told her she was perfect. She didn’t believe him. But he was perfect for saying so.
Three dates later, she insisted on a kiss. “No, we can’t. I want to, but no,” he said. Ah, he wanted to. Like Google, she missed everything but the keywords. SEO dating at its best.
“I. Want. To. (but I should not) Kiss. You.”
“We need to kiss and tonight,” she said.
“No. We are friends,” he said in an emphatic tone.
“If you don’t make out with me, I won’t be friends with you anymore,” she replied, rather seriously. He laughed nervously. He wanted to kiss her as well, but he knew his limitations. He wasn’t settling down with anyone. Not even her. He knew where this would lead. But that didn’t stop him.
They left the bar and he hailed a cab. When their lips met, she realized she was mistaken. She didn’t want to kiss him at all. She had to. She felt like she was born to kiss him. He seemed to feel that way, too. But then again, he was an expert, something she seemed to forget as her heart started to melt.
And so they saw one another regularly and kissed on occasion, quickly blurring the lines between friendship and more. She confessed her secrets and he locked them away in his mind. He held her hand and brushed her hair from her face. She knew there were others waiting for his texts but somehow believed him that she was the only one he could see standing in front of him, three steps ahead.
They exchanged compliments and feelings, hers always heavier, fuller and more colorful than his. He promised her tomorrow. She ached for him today.
Just when she was sure they had started on a lovely journey, he stopped the car and turned to her with a gentle but firm look in his eye.
“We can’t,” he said.
“No?” she replied, feeling a crack in her chest. Didn’t he know that this was special?
“But I love you, doesn’t that matter?” she asked.
“It does,” he said.
She heard what he didn’t say. Just not enough.