Standing outside Dot And Line coffee on a late Sunday morning is an act of patience and balance. You have to make sure not to lean on the brick exterior—it’s dingy and gross. There’s almost always a line that snakes all the way out the door because the interior is tiny with only a handful of places to sit. It’s warm and sunny out, which means this neighborhood is bustling. Staying out of everyone’s way is key.
But I need to be visible. Damien is meeting me at 10 a.m. and it’s currently 10:02. I sigh and sip my plain drip coffee, wondering if agreeing to meet him after he texted and called me out of the blue is really a good idea.
He had a good explanation. His roommate fell down the stairs of their brownstone walk-up, broke his foot in half, and needed help to the hospital. So he spent all of Friday at the ER helping him fill out paperwork and endure x-rays, exams, all that. It’s a thoughtful thing he did. But he could have texted to let me know instead of blowing me off. And he could have apologized for leaving me hanging instead of diving into his explanation last night on the phone, then quickly asking me to meet up.
Another sip of my coffee and I spot Damien’s tall, lean form across the street. He looks both ways, waves at a car that slows for him, then darts across the road. He grins at me. I give him a polite smile. Clad in jeans and a t-shirt with some pub I’ve never heard of printed across it, he looks casual yet put-together—the perfect weekend wear. I’d expect nothing less from a financial planner who’s all about appearances.
He walks up and kisses me on the cheek. I hand him the Americano I ordered for him.
“You’re a life saver.” He frowns at the coffee, blows on it, then carefully sips. He turns around to peek inside the coffee shop. “There wasn’t any room inside to sit?”
I squint up at him. “It’s mid-morning on a Sunday and you wanted to meet at one of the most popular hipster coffee bars in all of Brooklyn. So no, there wasn’t any room to sit.”
My free hand lands on my hip as I take another sip. I’m not crazy about the fact that a complaint over the lack of seating is the first thing he says after four days of zero communication.
My terse response seems to have clued him in. He runs a hand through his short, light brown hair and touches my elbow gently. His hazel eyes shine sincere when he looks at me.
“I’m sorry, Ava. I didn’t mean to sound like that,” he says, his voice low and soft. “It’s been a rough few days. And I’m sorry I left you hanging all of Friday and Saturday. I know I should have texted you back, but I just got overwhelmed dealing with everything.”
The knit of his eyebrows combined with the sincerity in his stare chisels away at my annoyance.
“You have no idea how much I would have rather been with you this weekend. Truly. I’m sorry for how things ended up.” He takes a step closer to me, his hand sliding from my arm to my waist. The corners of his mouth lift into a gentle smile. “Let me make it up to you.”
With that apology, albeit a late one, Damien is forgiven.
I smile at him, adjusting the strap of my floral sundress as it slips off my shoulder. “What did you have in mind?”
“I was thinking a stroll at Prospect Park while we finish our coffee? We can hit up an ice cream place maybe, and then I’ll take you out to dinner some night this week after work?”
I reach up to brush a stray eyelash from his cheek. Damien’s six feet flat—not that much taller than my five-foot-eight frame, so I don’t have far to reach.
It sounds like a perfect afternoon combined with imperfect timing. I’ve got another call with Harker tonight. For a moment, I think about mentioning to Damien that his absence brought about an unexpected competitor. But I refrain. Technically this counts as date number three—and we’re miles away from exclusive. I have no idea what Damien’s dating preferences are, and I’m not planning to ask him—it’s none of my business and I have no right to pry this early on. But in my experience, I’m one of the few who practices self-imposed exclusivity in casual dating. Odds are Damien has got some other dates lined up, too.
And part of me wonders if the story about his roommate is a cover-up for a date or a hookup he doesn’t want to tell me about. Most people don’t want to hear that the person they’re casually dating is also playing the field, even if they are well within their right to.
Saying yes to dinner with Damien before an evening phone chat with Harker seems wholly appropriate.
I flash a smile at Damien. “That sounds perfect.”
“No way. I don’t believe you.” I nearly choke on a sip of herbal tea, I’m laughing so hard.
“Believe me,” Harker says. “I was sixteen and very, very foolish. And misguided.”
Harker’s low chuckle registers more like a faint rumble against my ear as we talk on the phone. The gentle vibrations leave me in tingles.
“So sixteen-year-old you thought it would be a good idea to mail a naked Polaroid of yourself to your high school girlfriend while she was studying abroad?” I have to stop twice while speaking to catch my breath between giggles.
“I’m not proud of it,” he says, the smile in his voice clear. “I, for some reason, thought it would be romantic. She was studying in Mexico City, so that meant we were going to be apart for Valentine’s Day. Her host family didn’t think it was very romantic when they saw the picture.”
He explains that his girlfriend was so shocked to receive the surprise nude, she screamed and dropped the envelope on the ground in full view of her host family, who then called her parents and ratted Harker out.
“At least I had the sense to not include my face in the photo. So it was just my scrawny torso and naughty bits,” he says. “What a lucky girl she was to get that.”
We pause to indulge in a hearty laugh. Tonight’s phone chat has quickly veered from the initial question I posed, “What were you like in high school?” to the most embarrassing things we did as teenagers.
“Believe me,” Harker says when he catches his breath. “I wish the most embarrassing thing I did as a teenager was dye my hair the wrong color.”
“You do not. My normally jet black hair did not take to the blonde grocery store hair dye. At all. It was orange for two solid weeks until I could earn the money to go to a salon and have it dyed properly. So I walked around school my freshman year looking like a troll doll. My mom was livid and refused to help me pay to go to the salon. She said it was the perfect opportunity for me to learn from my mistake.”
“Yikes. She’s hard core.”
“She is. Good thing my dad’s around to soften her.”
“They sound like quite a pair.”
“They are. He’s this tall, menacing-looking white dude, but he’s a huge softie on the inside. And there’s my mom, a tiny Filipino woman who looks so sweet, but will rip your throat out if you cross her.”
He chuckles, then clears his throat. “So we’ve exchanged embarrassing stories and shared a solid laugh over the phone. I think the only thing left is to meet.”
My heart races. Freaking finally. “I think you’re right.”
“Are you free for a drink this week?”
He asks about Tuesday and I bite back the groan I automatically want to make. “Actually I have dinner plans.” With Damien.
Inside there’s a tiny punch to my gut. Even though this isn’t cheating by any stretch of the imagination—because how in the world is it possible to cheat on someone you’re not even in a relationship with?—it still feels like some form of marginal dishonesty. I’m leaving out the fact that dinner is actually a date with another guy. It’s a lie of omission.
I shove away the nagging thought. “How about Wednesday night?”
“Sounds perfect,” Harker says.
We opt for meeting at a bar in Cobble Hill at seven-thirty before wishing the other goodnight.
I hang up, my stomach in knots, wondering if I’ve done the right thing.