Paul and I chat for an hour or so in the bookstore/coffeeshop until they dim the lights, signaling for us to leave. Everything is surreal as we get to know each other among the books and smells of roasted coffee and spices. There’s glitter in my brain. Confetti in my stomach. I feel like Cinderella, with my shoe on the floor and the clock about to strike midnight. Ending it all.
Lila left earlier with the understanding that Paul will drive me home, but she’s got her phone nearby in case I need her. His electric car makes no noise as he pulls out of the parking lot, then the light jazz on the radio kicks in. It makes me feel even more like I’m in a movie. What young people don’t know is that as you age, the outside changes, but the inside really doesn’t. In a flash you are 25 again– an emotional time warp.
When we pull into my driveway he asks me if I’d like to go to dinner sometime. I manage to say yes without sounding too eager or too bored. He watches me walk up to the door and waits until I get inside before driving away.
I want to jump up and down twenty times, but my son is there in the kitchen, eating cereal and glaring at me.
“Hey buddy,” I say.
He nods, swallows. “Were you on a date?” he asks, not mincing words.
“Umm, no,” I say. I’m not sure if it’s a lie or not.
“Who was that guy who dropped you off?”
“I met him tonight when I was out with a friend,” I say. That’s the honest truth. I put my purse down, drop my keys into the bowl. Why do I feel so defensive? I’m a grown woman. I don’t owe a teenager any explanations.
“You picked up a guy?” Alex accuses me.
“I didn’t pick him up. I’ve seen him around. We finally got a chance to meet.”
“You were stalking him?”
“Oh please.” Now I’m peeved. “Your father is marrying somebody and you’re giving me a hard time for riding in a car with a man?”
Alex doesn’t say anything.
Then he does.
“Are you going to see him again?”
“As a matter of fact I am,” I say.
Alex shoves three more bites of cereal in his mouth in rapid succession. It reminds me of a chipmunk stuffing its cheeks with nuts.
“Do you have something else to say?” I ask.
He stares at me for a moment, but it’s no longer a glare. It’s like he’s sizing me up. “You’re different lately,” he says finally. Then he dumps his bowl into the sink and disappears into his room.
Dinner with Paul is even better than I imagine. Lila, who seems to be even more excited about my dating life than I am, takes me out for a haircut and color and a new outfit. My hair is shorter and sassier and all the gray is now covered with chocolate brown dye. The sleeves of my navy top are sheer and tight, but my makeup is subdued– soft brown eyeshadow and lipstick just a shade pinker than my own lips. I feel good.
When we talked at the bookshop, it was all basic stuff. Where we grew up. What we did for a living. Our marriages. Our kids. He is a widower, wife died five years ago from cancer. They had two sons. One was in the Army, serving in the Middle East. The other was a professor, like him, living close by with his wife and three children.
Tonight, though, we talk deeper. Our dreams, ones we’ve achieved, ones we’d abandoned long ago, ones we were still chasing. He’d always wanted to go to Iceland but never had. He’d published six books. I had ridden the Eurorail with my best friend right out of high school. We’d seen three of the seven wonders of the ancient world. I had always wanted to learn to scuba dive. We talked about our sorrows. For him it was the sister he’d lost when he was 10 years old. Suicide. And his wife, of course– that was a painful journey. For me it was Steve, although I didn’t go too deep into that– who talks about exes on a first date?
Talking about all that ancient history might have dragged me down, but instead it fired me up. Remembering all those things I had done– the adventures I’d had. I did still want to try scuba diving.
I find I like Paul more and more. He’s quiet and reserved most of the time, but when he gets onto a subject he’s passionate about, his eyes light up and he wriggles around in his seat like an excited kid. He doesn’t seem to hide anything, or to want to.
We clink our wine glasses every time the waiter refills them, toasting to different things, silly things.
**You can follow the entire series on our blog.