Five minutes until six p.m. and I’m fixating extra hard on my lesson plans for the week. A middle school English teacher’s work is never done, not even on the weekend. But it’s next to impossible to concentrate when it’s t-minus five minutes to my call with Harker. I give up and shove my notebook aside.
Instead, I indulge my wandering mind and swipe through the handful of photos on Harker’s profile. He should teach a class to other dudes because his is a shining example. None of his photos are a confusing gaggle of bros, fish, or exposed genitals. In addition to the main photo of him laughing, there’s one of him with a cute golden retriever, one of him hiking in the mountains, and one where he’s winding up to kick a soccer ball.
Not only is his photo game on point, but he navigated our conversation last night with the perfect amount of charm, humor, and sincerity. If more guys did this when they logged onto their dating app accounts, there would be millions more satisfied women in this world.
I know better than to get my hopes up though—I’ve done that before, with hugely disappointing results. I’ve lost track of the number of times when I had an enjoyable conversation via the dating app, but then we meet in person or talk on the phone and it’s a dead end. The guy either offers one-word answers, or refuses to ask me any questions and it ends up sounding like I’m interviewing him, or we have nothing in common. It’s a no-go from there of course. I can’t forge a connection with a guy, no matter how attractive, if we can’t even hold a decent conversation.
A minute later, my phone rings with an unfamiliar NYC area code and my giddy meter flies off the charts. So much for my attempt to stay pragmatic.
“Hi, Ava?” says a husky voice.
“Depends. Who’s asking?” I know exactly who it is, but I’m feeling playful.
There’s a soft chuckle on the other line and I have to bite my lip to keep from moaning. Count that as the sexiest sound I’ve heard in a long damn while.
“I’m guessing that’s a yes. This is Harker. The ridiculously good-looking and charming guy you chatted up last night via that dating app.”
The nerves swirling inside of me dissipate. Suddenly every muscle is relaxed and I’m weirdly at ease. This has never happened so quickly on a phone call with a practical stranger.
“Hmm, well. I don’t know about ridiculously good-looking. I did chat with a halfway decent guy last night. Seemed nice enough, but a little egotistical for my taste.”
Another low chuckle. “You’re funny, Ava. You also have a lovely speaking voice.”
“Mmm hmm. I could listen to you talk all day.”
I let out a laugh. “You’re probably the only one who would say that. I sort of talk for a living, but I don’t think anyone really cares all that much for the sound of my voice.”
“I’m positive that’s not true,” he says. “What do you do for a living?”
When I tell him I’m a teacher, he replies with genuine interest, following up with questions that show he’s been paying attention to what I’m saying. It’s probably sad how much this flatters me, but I’ve endured dates and phone calls where guys list off questions like they’re completing a formal survey. If Harker is faking it, he’s doing a hell of a job because he’s got me fooled.
“So what do you do?” I ask, not just because it’s my turn to direct some questions his way after he so attentively learned about me, but also because I’m genuinely curious. I want to know everything about this hottie who’s currently ticking all my boxes.
“I’m a web developer. I work from home most days.”
“So jealous,” I groan.
He laughs again. “Don’t be. Most days I don’t leave my apartment. Some nights I go to lock my front door out of habit and realize it’s still locked from the night before.”
“Oh, wow. So you’re a workaholic then?” I try to make it sound as lighthearted as possible, but it’s a legitimate concern. As hot and charming as Harker is, I don’t really want to continue flirting with and possibly date someone who’s so tied to his work that getting him to leave his place is like pulling teeth.
“Not at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work and I’m thankful I can do it from my home office, but I love going out, too. Things just get busy when I take on extra projects.”
“Ah, so you’re ambitious.”
“Sort of. I take on extra work when I have a vacation I need to pay for. I’ve got a backpacking trip on the West Coast in couple of months and could use the extra money.”
“Work to live. I love it.”
I ask him more about his trip, and he asks me more about what my plans are for the summer when school gets out in the middle of June, which is in two weeks. I tell him I’m teaching a couple of community college online courses to supplement my income, but that it’s part-time so I’ll have plenty of time for relaxing.
“Oh, come on. You’re a teacher. You should enjoy the whole summer off. Get wild. Go to the beach, let your hair down, crazy stuff like that.”
I can’t help but smile at the teasing edge in his voice when he says, “Get wild.” He has no idea just how wild I’m ready to get at the sound of his voice.
“Maybe some day when rent in Brooklyn starts being reasonable.”
“I hear you there,” he says. “I’m in Cobble Hill and just recently decided to go the no-roommate route. It’s a stretch some months, but I manage.”
“No way, I’m in Boerum Hill. We’re practically neighbors.”
I stop myself before I say more. Nearly an hour of chatting on the phone and I’m ready to ask him out for coffee. But I don’t want to seem too eager. It’s a shame modern dating has come to this. Always struggling to play it cool, even though you’re interested in the person and want nothing more than to see them face to face, to check and see if that chemistry you’ve forged over screens and on the phone can translate to real life.
“Wow. So close already.” His voice takes on an even lower register, making me go weak in the knees. Good thing I’m sitting down.
I rub the back of my neck, words dancing on my tongue. Just ask him out! But the words refuse to budge. Playing it cool seems the way to go.
“Sounds like it,” I force myself to say.
He clears his throat. “I should probably call it a night, actually.”
There’s strain in his last word. Is he struggling to play it cool too? I bite the tip of my tongue, kicking myself for not saying anything sooner. I can’t ask him out now, not when he’s practically ended the conversation. Inside, I’m deflating, but then I take a moment to rally. Taking it slow is the sensible way to go.
“Have a good night, Harker,” I say, still smiling. Despite the disappointing end to our conversation, chatting with him really was a pleasure.
“Good night, Ava.” He lingers a half-second longer on my name, his rasp deepening.
It sends a jolt to my chest. All hope is not lost. Harker’s playing it cool—and I can play along, too.
I hang up, certain I’ll wake up to a text from him in the morning.
When I stand up from the couch to head to the kitchen, my phone beeps with a text message. I stare at the screen and promptly drop my empty glass onto the carpet.
No way in hell.