I worked until the last moment. I pulled on some shorts, stepped into sandals and put a bottle of Cabernet into a bag. The bottle clinked against plastic cups and a corkscrew as I walked down the sidewalk.
The sun was lowering in a clear sky. The setting would be a little romantic for a first date, but I wasn’t overly concerned with that. Some clichés are pleasant enough.
I stopped at the terrace to scan the people around Bethesda Fountain. Tourists snapped photographs. Women in shorts and visors talked as their dogs sniffed one another. A family clustered near the hot dog stand.
She was the only person sitting alone.
I walked down the western stairs, my eyes on her. She was sitting in the shade, her posture erect as she looked out over the Lake.
She wore a gingham dress.
She turned to look up. “Hello.”
“I’m Jefferson,” I smiled, extending a hand. “Pleasure to finally meet you.”
“Yes, I know—I mean, I know it’s you.” She took my hand. “So . . .”
I sat beside her. “So!” I patted my hands on my knees. “Let’s have an awkward round of conversation, shall we?”
I had brought wine with the thought that we might sit in the grass near the Lake, sipping as we got to know one another in the late summer evening. Now that I was sitting with her, I had second thoughts. I decided to hold off on opening the bottle, allowing her the opportunity to gracefully bow out of an extended date.
I mean, women like Leah can afford to be selective.
From our first exchange of photographs, I had anticipated a polite rejection. She was, to put it plainly, beautiful: shoulder length red hair, full lips, and a slender figure that accentuated her large, firm breasts.
I have no complaints about my physical appearance, but I knew that a woman such as Leah could have the attention of men more handsome than I.
Still, she was interested in meeting.
As we sat, I noted that she was not merely pretty, but self-possessed and poised. She was, as ladies used to say in complimenting one another, “well put together.”
Talking with Leah, I could feel my voice modulating to her register. I talked slowly, smiled frequently, and generally felt that I must indeed be a pretty cool fellow to keep her interest.
Despite myself, I was scouting for tripwires, wondering if she would discover the limits of her interest in me.
In the meantime, I would put my best face forward.
She talked about her childhood in the city, as the daughter of well-educated parents in an upscale neighborhood. I countered with some things I know about the history of that neighborhood. I didn’t talk about my childhood; I get bored just thinking about it.
She referred to moments in college. I listened, mindful of the fact that her education surpasses most, and her college days came nearly two decades after my own.
She spoke about her career. In most introductory conversations, I’m accustomed to being the person in the more interesting field. This was not necessarily the case with Leah.
She spoke about the war. She spoke about the war without using such words as “idiot,” “imperialism” or “stupid.” She spoke about post-traumatic stress disorder, improvised explosive devices, vehicular armor and limb replacement. She said things I hadn’t already heard or thought.
By the time she mentioned that her days begin at a gym, I decided I could safely open the bottle of wine.
Leah had evidently sized me up and decided that my first impressions suited her. She was beautiful, young, educated, successful and, I began to suspect, possibly smarter than me. If we had met in a bar or at a party, perhaps she would consider other men before me.
But we did not meet in a bar or at a party. We had met online, and in meeting, we had established a mutual attraction.
She was submissive. I was dominant.
In the back of her mind, as we talked, she pondered the possibility that this reasonably attractive, reasonably intelligent older man could beat her and fuck her senseless.
What’s more, she hoped she could have these needs met without undue interference in her life. My life was no less full that her own. I would not chase her down for dates, or stare at her with mooning eyes, or pressure her to move in with me or to meet my parents.
She wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. She liked it that I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend.
That’s how we found one another.
The sun had set, but we continued to talk. We never spoke of sex or submission; there was no need to do so, really, and besides, we never ran out of other topics.
Eventually, we did run out of wine.
She looked up at the moon over the fountain. It was balanced on the angel’s extended hand.
“It’s getting late,” she observed.
“Yes, it is,” I said, standing. “We should head out of the park.”
We continued to talk as we walked a path under streetlamps. We exited the park and walked a few blocks more. We stopped outside a subway station, never pausing in our conversation.
She reached the end of a sentence and realized we were no longer walking. “Jefferson, did you just walk me to the subway?”
“Yes.” I leaned to kiss her cheek. “I really had a great time meeting you.”
“Likewise. It’s been really . . . nice.” She looked around. “Don’t you live near here?”
I nodded. “Sure, pretty close.”
She looked at me. “I could come over for a drink.”
“I could invite you over for a drink.”
We resumed our conversation as we walked toward my place.