He calls the next morning while I'm walking Jez. "Hi, girls," his message says. "I wondered if you wanted to go to the dog run."
There's nothing I want to do more, but I know that I can't.
Bonnie actually gives me a hug.
"I want to see you," Robert says when he calls later.
My whole body hears these words.
He asks when we can get together, and though I think, Right now is too long to wait, I say, "Friday?"
"Next Friday?" he says, crestfallen.
"High five," Bonnie says, and slaps hands with Faith.
Robert says, "Do you like me at all?"
"Yes, I like you."
"A lot?" he asks.
"Pause before answering," Faith says.
"Yes," I say.
"Good," he says. "Don't stop."
Bonnie sings the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, "Who Can Turn the World On with Her Smile?"
Robert calls me at the office and calls me at home. He calls just to say good morning and good night.
One night, he calls to tell me he thinks he's found an apartment only a few blocks from mine and wants me to see it.
I tell Robert I wish I could. I want to so badly it hurts. I wonder when I can be normal again.
"You're normal now," Faith says.
"You were screwed up before!" Bonnie says.
Faith says, "If you were being your normal self, he wouldn't even be calling you now."
"All right," Robert says. "I guess I'm going to sign the lease." Then: "You don't feel like I'm stalking you, do you?"
I meet Donna for a drink and admit that I read the book she told me about--the fishing manual.
"Isn't it the worst?" she says.
"I know," I say.
"All those exclamation points," she says. "It can't apply to New York."
"The thing is," I say, "it's working."
"You're actually doing it?" Then she says, "I don't know why I say it like that--I tried it myself." She tells me that she kept pretending to be aloof, but men didn't seem to notice. "Maybe it was the men I was meeting," she says. "Cabdrivers," and she imitates herself nonchalantly giving an address.
I tell her about my date with Robert and that now he's calling me all the time and he's actually moved into my neighborhood.
"No!" she says, mocking my distress.
"But it's like I'm tricking him into it," I say.
She says, "Well, what about all those guys who act like they're in love with you to get you into bed? Like Fuckface."
"But," I say--I'm having trouble saying what I mean, "I want this to be real."
She says, "Was it more real when he wasn't calling you?"
I'm getting ready for my date with Robert when Faith says, "Try not to make so many jokes this time."
"Listen," I say, "funny is the best thing I am."
Faith says, "Making jokes is your way of saying Do you love me? and when someone laughs you think they've said yes."
This gives me pause.
Faith says, "Let him court you."
Bonnie hands me my deodorant. "You can be as funny as you want after he proposes!"
Robert arrives early, saying he wants to take me to a play. He has brought a stick for Jezebel to chew, and she gives him the loving look I wish I could.
I pour a glass of wine for him and go back to the bathroom to finish drying my hair. "Now this is a real date!" Bonnie says.
I say, "Your idea of a real date probably ends in a carriage ride through Central Park."
"Her point is that it started with asking to meet for coffee," Faith says. "Now he's trying to win you."
Through the motor of my blow-dryer I hear the phone ring, and when I come into the living room Robert's staring down at the machine, frowning. Gus is asking if I'd like to go out for dinner next week.
Robert looks over at me. "She can't," he says to the machine. "Sorry."
We go to Mere Mortals, a collection of one acts by David Ives, the best of which is about two mayflies on a date; they watch a nature documentary about themselves and discover their life span is only one day long--after mating, they'll die.
Leaving the theater, Robert and I are both dazzled and exuberant, talking at once and laughing, and we spontaneously kiss.
He says, "I want to mate with you and die."
We have a drink at one of those old-fashioned restaurants in the theater district. Robert says the mayflies play is what every cartoon he draws aspires to be--beautiful and funny and sad and true.
"I want to see them," I say.
"Okay," he says, and takes out a piece of paper.
It's a pen-and-ink drawing of Jezebel, and I think, You are the man I didn't know I could hope for.
"Relax," Faith says. "It's a sketch."
Back at my apartment, we begin to mate with our clothes on, lying on the sofa on top of shards of chewed-up stick.
At first Faith's voice is no more than a distant car alarm. But it gets louder and I hear her say, "No."
"Yes," I say to her.
"You don't want to lose him," she says, in the voice you'd use to talk someone on acid out of jumping out a window. "The way you've lost every man you've really wanted."
I sigh inwardly and pull back.
"What?" he says.
I tell him that I'm not ready to sleep with him yet.
"Okay," he says, and pulls me back to him. We go on kissing and touching and moving against each other for another few minutes, and then he says, "Are you ready now?"
Here is a man who can make my body sing and make me laugh at the same time. "Which is why you don't want to lose him," Faith says.
Over the phone, he tells me that his ex-girlfriend called him today. I picture Apollinaire.
I want to ask who she is and how he feels about her, but Faith practically takes the phone from me. Instead, I ask how long ago he went out with her.
Almost a year ago and she's why he left New York. "She sort of decimated me." He asks if I'd mind signing a nondecimation pact.
I'm choosing which of my decimation experiences to relate, but Bonnie says, "He doesn't need to know about that!"
We meet for a drink at the café between our apartments. He asks what I wish I could do instead of advertising.
I think, I'd like to make pasta necklaces and press leaves; I didn't really appreciate kindergarten at the time. But I just shake my head.
He says, "Let's make a list of what you think would be fun to do."
"No," Faith says. "Don't let him think you need help."
"I do need help," I say.
"He'll think you're a loser!" Bonnie says. With her thumb and index finger she makes an L, pinches it closed and opens it fast: the flashing Loser sign.
He doesn't call the next morning, afternoon, or night, and, needless to say, I can't call him.
Friday night, we go to the movies as planned, but he doesn't hold my hand in the dark theater, doesn't kiss me on the cab ride home. I want to ask him what's wrong, but Faith says not to. "It shows how much you care."
When the cab pulls up to the Dragonia, he tells me he's tired. He doesn't ask if I have plans for Saturday night.
Saturday night, I read until midnight. When I take Jezebel out for her last walk I go all the way to his street, down the dark side. He and Apollinaire are sitting on his stoop.
I am shaking when I get home.
Sunday, when the phone rings I run for it. But it's a crush from college, Bill McGuire--nicknamed "Mac." He lives in Japan and says he'll be coming to New York next weekend and wants to take me out for dinner Saturday.
Bonnie says, "Get out there!"
"I've been out there," I say. "Now I want to stay in with Robert."
"He's not staying in!" Bonnie says.
"I don't know that," I say.
"You saw them!" Bonnie says.
"They could just be friends," I say.
"Friends?" Bonnie says.
"He went to Oberlin!" I say.
"Regardless," Faith interrupts, "hunters like competition. It tells them that what they want is worth having."
"But I would feel terrible if he went on a date with someone else," I say.
"And you're trying to set an example?" Faith says.
"It doesn't work like that!" Bonnie says.
I agree to dinner, but as soon as I hang up, I say, "This feels wrong."
"It's right," Faith says, unzipping her dress. "It's just unfamiliar."
"No," I say. "It feels wrong."
She's wearing a slinky, champagne silk slip with spaghetti straps. "Aren't you being pursued the way you always wanted to be?" Faith says.
"I was," I say.
"This'll help," Faith says decisively.
"I hope you're right," I say. "That's a pretty slip."
"You should get one!" Bonnie says.
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