* * *
John’s phone rings while the waiter is pouring the wine. Unlike the last man in my life, he snuffs out his phone and buries it in his pocket. How about that? His eyes are on me, only me. Kayla. I raise my wine glass and listen to the clink of glass on glass. “A votre santé,” he says. I am sitting across from this handsome man with big brown eyes that draw me in, capture my imagination. A comfortable smile plays across his lips and as the wine warms my throat I wonder if this is the beginning of yet another relationship that will end in failure, in the disappointment of discovering each other’s flaws. I don’t question why the toast is in French. I am not lucky in love in any language.
Burned too often, I no longer have patience with the rituals of courtship. I do not trust myself to make good choices. This is our first date since John and I met on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. On that flight, I was not worried about the potential of developing a relationship. After all, John was in L.A. for business. I assumed his stay would be short. We just fell headlong into a conversation that began on one coast and had to end on another. There were no expectations, but I loved the light-headed feeling of making what felt like a true connection. We disembarked and paused to say our goodbyes, like two strangers passing in the night, before he headed off to rent a car and my roommate picked me up in front of baggage claim. That was when he slipped me his business card and said I should call him. Me call him? I’m sure I looked a little startled.
“I know nothing about Los Angeles,” he said. “I was hoping you might provide a little orientation over dinner.”
I shrugged. “How long will you be in L.A.?”
It was his turn to shrug and smile sheepishly. “Long enough to need to know something about this city.”
“I avoid this crazy city,” I replied. “I probably won’t be able to help much with your orientation.”
His steady gaze was mesmerizing. “I would like to see you again.”
“Oh.” Now what, I thought. How do I wiggle out of this gracefully? I wanted no dead-end entanglements. I didn’t have the energy for this. He looked so good that I wanted to grab his hand and take him off to dinner right that minute, but I was so wary. I knew I needed to protect my fragile soul. Who would want to deal with crazy me? And most of all, I feared another romantic mismatch that would leave an even bigger hole in my heart.
“I’m staying at the Sofitel on Beverly Boulevard.”
“Oh,” I say again as I stare at his business card.
“What are you afraid of?”
His directness surprised me. “I’m at a point in my life where I’ve run out of patience with the dating game.” I tried to think where I would go with my answer, how I would explain myself.
He put his hand lightly on my shoulder. “I guess we could go straight to the engagement, but we’ll need to talk that over first.” He looked at the card in my hand. “You’ll definitely need to call me, if that’s the case.”
And so that is how I found myself sitting across a table from this man. He’s got me wondering about his game.
“Let’s lay it out straight,” he says. “Our complications, shortcomings, ambitions and hopes.”
I stare back at him. “Really? We’re going to be that honest from the get-go?”
“For someone who doesn’t have patience, you are demonstrating way too much hesitation.”
“Okay,” I reply. “What the hell. You might as well know I’m a nut case and every one of my relationships has ended in failure. I’m not a good candidate for a long-term relationship and I am not interested in a short-term relationship.”
“How do you feel about children?”
That was a curve ball right in my face. “I don’t know.”
“Well, I’ve got one, a son. My wife died a year ago of cancer.”
I’m stunned into silence. I should offer the usual sympathetic statements, but I’m tongue-tied.
“What kind of nut case are you? I need to know because I have a complication, a son.”
I’m a little annoyed with him now. “I have anxiety attacks. I have to take medication. I’m emotional--you know, the kind of thing that drives men crazy.” I’m tempted to stick out my tongue, toss down my napkin, and stomp off.
“My son is emotional too. He has temper tantrums. You should get along fine.” He laughs and grasps my hand. “Take it easy.”
“I’m trying to warn you.” The words sputter in my mouth.
“I’m trying to warn you,” he says. “I know relationships aren’t easy and they don’t endure if there is not love.”
“We don’t know each other well enough to love. Everyone starts out with what they think is love, but as soon as it gets tested, it starts to die.”
He cocks his head and stares into my eyes. “Let’s start out with the facts and see what happens. You don’t need to waste any energy on the illusions of love. No games.”
And that is how our never-ending conversation begins. Bluntly. No courting dance trying to impress one another. I begin to perceive that calm sureness he has about me—that passion he has for me. I begin to think that I may learn to love myself, trust my own instincts. I may fall in love for the first time with a real man who is not afraid to love.