The Stranger is a musician and a writer, it was refreshing to go out with someone who is actually my match creatively, for once. I wasn’t sure how it would go, if it would feel more like a war room or a meeting of two minds in harmony. It was somewhere in between. We both laughed a lot. He’s English and polyamorous and his love language is words of affirmation. The man knows how to weave a compliment.
We escaped the heat, hiding in an air-conditioned café with arabesque cut-out windows. The windows begged to be a backdrop in a film noir. The sunlight striped across his face. I let him read the first draft of my book. I watched him smile and nod. I told him the whole story: the ending, the whodunnit, who would be left standing. I told him which side wins. Which is to say, I told him which side I take in the fight.
We talked about murder and misadventure. He had recently returned from participating in an international art heist. This is the sort of date I am supposed to be going on, honestly. We’re both writing novels. I drank three mélanges, and fearing I would turn electric, I cut myself off. We left the cafe and decided to brave the heat. We headed to one of Vienna’s few English book stores: Shakespeare & Co. On the way a rainstorm followed behind us, nibbling at our ankles and kissing our foreheads.
“To the library!” he cried and we walked a bit faster.
It was dramatic, right as we reached the bookshop entrance the storm fell, chiming against the cobblestones like a pocketful of spilled change. But, no luck for us, the used book cart had to be rushed inside first. This is the kind of date I should be going on. So we didn’t quite escape the rain, but we made it inside relatively unscathed. I bought three books, all new, but we spent a good half-hour perusing the used section in the back of the shop. It’s dimly lit and scented with the petrichor of old paper and aged leather. I climbed the sliding ladder, braving the height to paw at a book with a dramatic red cover. I leaned back and looked at him. He should have kissed me then, but he didn’t.
“The library of lost opportunities,” he called it later.
I arrived for the date in full mystery author mode. A few weeks ago I leaned into the cliché and ordered myself a “poison ring” with a secret compartment that opens up. I usually keep medication for my stomach inside, for a laugh. I attempted to use the ring in a dating ploy the other week, and I wrote a secret note, rolled it up into a scroll, and put it inside the ring. The ploy did not work at the time, the date never asked me what was inside, but the Stranger did. I had forgotten the note by then. But I showed him the ring in the store and he asked what it said, and I told him he could see it later.
We spent 5 hours together breaking apart each other’s sentences, and curing our mutual writer’s block, or at least applying a balm to the wound. I left with three new books and he walked me back to my apartment. On the way, he asked my opinion about asking for consent before a kiss and I said I like it. When we reached my door I told him he could read the note hidden inside the ring. He unrolled it slowly and smiled,
The note read:
“Are you ever going to kiss me?”
And he did.