Gently

August 9, 2016

I show up at the Frenchman’s apartment. It’s our second date. He lives in Palms, where there’s never any parking. I have made my way here in rush hour traffic, the streets a pale grey in the dusk which makes the city blend together, a silvery blur. I love the variable nature of LA. Driving here is an experience in the wide expanse of potential human behaviors.

We greet and go out to the curb, from which he calls an Uber. It’s evening, and the warm, soft summer air of the westside is smooth over us. Palm trees sway. They line the avenue he lives on, heads tossing in the light breeze. We engage in some pleasantries. I know he’s having a rough time at work. He’s the head of a small startup, and they’re having some issues that will delay their release. He hasn’t directly told me so, but I can tell that he’s worried.

What’s also stressful, it seems, is that our Uber is not showing up. A phone call. He realizes that he’s accidentally transposed the pick-up and drop-off locations. So, the Uber driver has just arrived at our destination. Frustration, not *quite* yelling, but gritted teeth and white knuckles. This is particularly impressive because he’s of South Sudanese heritage. Standing together on the sidewalk, we express two extremes in the wide palette of human skin tones.

He calls another Uber, but only after being very upset that he’s being charged for the first. A whopping $4.40. I know, I know, sometimes it’s the principal of the thing. . . .

Well, isn’t it exactly?

We wait.

I’ve been careful to be sweet and smiling. Gently. My body language is casual, relaxed. Over the course of my life, one thing I’ve learned is that the people who most *seem* to need to be ‘taken down a peg’ are often the most in need of kindness.

He says, “It’s your fault, you know.”

He’s smiling.

“You distracted me.”

I agree, gently, with a hint of a flirtatious smile, because that’s my role to play here. I loop my arm through his, sighing, and snuggle up to him. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a fetish, but I enjoy our contrast. His dark hand on my pale arm. As he touches my wrist, stroking the sensitive skin with the pad of his thumb, I can feel the ridges of his fingerprint. Unique, those whirls, belonging to no other person in the world. I wonder, what it will be like to have those large, strong hands on other delicate parts of my body?

Our Uber arrives.

The thing is though, despite his smile and shrugs, he’s not joking. The smile doesn’t reach his eyes. Noticing this, my interest cools.

At the restaurant, there’s a wait-list. His mouth makes a flat line. It’s tautness expressing volumes.

I put my name down, which, coincidentally, is also his name. It’s a bit of a sticking point, actually. He’s uncomfortable calling me James. And, I’ve been unfalteringly clear (gently) that it’s my name.

We go across the street to a karaoke bar. It’s horrid, flooded with blue neon and overly bright sound. The karaoke is loud, and being sung by some truly exuberant, yet also quite awful, singers. I can’t fault them. This is precisely the place to conduct themselves as they are. I just wish *I* wasn’t here. We order drinks, and try to talk. Our conversation falters, the karaoke is simply too loud and distracting.

We head back to the restaurant. Our spot on the wait-list has come and gone. I watch his hands ball into fists. He’s a slender man, lithe and supple, sleekly muscled, with the rippling thighs of a runner. Flexed in tension, he is impressively menacing. I silently calculate that he has maybe 3 or 4 inches on me, and probably about 40 pounds of lean sinew. I view his large, strong hands with different eyes. He steps away, his broad shoulders hunched.

I call over a host. Explain. Gently.

The host shows us to two seats at the sushi bar.

No sake or beer on the menu. He calls over a waiter. They don’t serve alcohol.

He expresses no less than three times his surprise at their not having alcohol. His surprise is forceful. Baiting. I do not point out that he selected the restaurant. I smile, gently.

I muse silently to myself during a momentary conversational lull. Our first date was drinks. I had one, he had two, and only didn’t order a third because I had to leave in a short while to go back to work. I don’t usually count other people’s drinks. In fact, I make a point of not doing so.

Later that same evening, he lets me out of his garage. I’m seeing him for the last time, I think. I’m disappointed, because he’s beautiful and smart, well-traveled and well-studied, and I can see in his eyes desire and admiration for me. However, I cannot ignore the hints of a volatile temper he’s inadvertently shown me. Perhaps this is just a particularly stressful time. Perhaps he would never bubble over into full-blown rage. Perhaps his anger would simply burble beneath the surface like it did tonight, always murmuring to me to be careful. Gently.

The street is an inky black with pools of yellow light as I pull away. The palm trees that line his street toss their heads in the wind, gossamer grey tendrils against the night sky.

I busy myself with LA traffic, paying attention out of necessity. Yet, it’s soothing as well, the sweetly aggressive pace of the city. I only have space in my life for one entity so potentially savage, and that honor belongs to a metropolis, not a person.

I smile. Gently.

And drive on, into the night.