Washington, D.C.: You were a regular at the Georgetown Barnes & Noble, where I worked.  You favored the second-floor café, past the political science section frequented by the grumpy and bow-tied George Will.  You must have noticed my staring, my rushing downstairs to take your special order, my clearing of magazines around your table.  So when you brought your girlfriend in, I knew that was for me too.  I saw you in the Metro, standing like a foraging crane, as the train pulled in with a pneumatic sigh, and you got on.

Washington, D.C.: I met you at JR’s running the ‘bachelor auction’ for the Whitman-Walker clinic.  I was covering the event for the Washington Blade.  I swear you winked even before I  interviewed you.  During the auction, I caught you shill bidding, trying (and failing) to raise porn star Ty Fox’s price above $20.  We met afterwards and made out.  In Brief Encounter, Laura Jesson imagines herself in Paris, in Venice, on tropical shores with her newfound beau.  I asked my editor if there’d be a conflict of interest dating you, but the answer was moot when I learned, later, that you were moving to L.A.

Chicago:  I was helping my friend June move into her apartment on the outskirts of Boys Town.  I was walking down Halstead, or to Halstead, or back from Halstead, I can’t remember, and the L rattled overhead like an angry prayer.  As I passed, we made eye contact.  I counted my steps — two, three – and, in the time-honored tradition, turned my head to see you looking back as well.  I continued walking.  I looked back again, and you looked back too.  Watching you, I nearly ran into lamp posts, off the curb, into traffic.  But we kept walking forward into our respective futures, all the while looking back.  At the end of Brief Encounter, Laura’s near-abandoned husband says, “Whatever your dream was, it wasn’t a very happy one, was it?”

Denver:  Barnes & Noble again.  You came in slightly frazzled, and I radioed for my co-worker to check you out.  She signaled her approval, and I went up and asked, Can I help you find anything, and you said, No, I can find what I’m looking for myself, and, though rebuffed, I offered future help, should you need it.  But I kept an eye on you from around corners, over rows of bookcases.  I ran into you again standing in the main aisle.  What do you know about this? you asked, holding a book on comparative genocide.  I faked an answer, even though I’d looked through that book at a different Barnes & Noble, in a different city.  You gave me the upper left corner of a check, where your name and number were printed, as a down payment on the future.  We still see each other occasionally — as you wake me in the morning, as we drive to work, a nighttime nudge — and each meeting stitches our worlds closer together, like the individual threads holding a button in place.

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