The guy before this one had proposed to me, twice, and I was weary of eager boys and their childish plans. But I’d agreed to this date as a favor to a friend. So, I put on my make-up, high heels, fake smile. This wouldn’t take long.
The doorbell rang at 7:00. Not 7:02, not 7:05. Clearly, he’d arrived early, maybe circled the block, maybe sat in the car strumming his fingers against the steering wheel to make the time go faster. Like an applicant on an important interview, he walked into the living room. He was dressed well, not flashy, sharp creases in his pants, a well-cut suit. He hadn’t had time to shave again and there was a shadow on his face. He spoke a few words to my mother, polite, and waited for me. From all the way upstairs, I could feel him waiting.
We left the house together and walked out into the wintry night. He reached for my door and opened it with steady, sure hands. I imagined they were warm. As he drove, we spoke about the usual things, traffic, the weather. I watched him from the corner of my eye. Long jaw and a square chin, the shadow of a cleft. His arms rested, relaxed on the steering wheel. He spoke carefully. Not nervous, just efficient. Why use a paragraph when you could use a sentence, why use a sentence when a word would do? I was amused by his concentration. How seriously he listened to me!
We arrived at the restaurant, expensive and busy. I marveled at the array of exotic delicacies. Sweetbreads, and roast duck, thin shavings of truffle, each choice more exciting than the next. I couldn’t decide. Waiters hovered, with pepper mills and bread baskets. I could see him scanning the menu, searching for the thing that most resembled a steak, a piece of chicken. Every time I looked up I found his eyes already on my face. Gray-blue eyes behind steel rimmed glasses, watching me. When I caught him he smiled, shyly. For a moment his face lightened and I saw there was humor there, underneath.
“You have beautiful hair,” he blurted out. And then, just as quickly, “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”
“Nice guy”, I told my friend later that night, “not for me, but a nice guy.”
Well, she said, if he’s so nice why not go out one more time? That sounded reasonable. So we did. Again and again we went out, like a habit. At first I did what I’d always done, flipped my hair, bantered prettily. He waited, patiently, for the end of the show. I did not know what else I had to offer.
One night there was a teddy bear with a card on my seat in the car. “To Yael,” it read “From Mark.” I wondered how long he had spent on the wording, careful, guarded, precise. I put the bear on a chair in my room to watch me as I slept. I’d never known how tight my shoulders were clenched until one day I released them. I discovered that I didn’t need to wear any makeup. His eyes never moved. And as he grew ever more intense, more focused, more wanting, I grew calmer, lighter.
“Nice guy.” I told my mother. “Not for me, but a really nice guy.”
I grew fond of the sound of his voice in the evenings. A quiet voice speaking words worth hearing. I became accustomed to his form at my side blocking me from the wind. I breathed better, deeper. Slowly, slowly, I cut out the chatter, the high, false giggle. I stopped the tap dance and the endless flashing of teeth. In the stillness, I liked myself better. Nice guy, I thought. Not for me, though.
The scenery rushed by out the window of his car. He drove so smoothly, it felt like standing still. Soft seats, soft music. I did not always know where we were going. At some point, I realized I didn’t care. I leaned my head against the seat as he spoke, seriously, persuasively. I stopped checking my watch, and listened. Where else did I have to be?
This was no game to him and he wasn’t pretending. He had nothing to prove, no song and dance. He was exactly who he claimed to be. A careful man, good in an old-fashioned way. He would not ask a question unless he already knew the answer. And I found myself looking forward to the hour of his arrival. It was nothing like the shallow excitement of others I had dated. More a contentedness, a happy knowledge. Outside, a biting wind blew but we sat in a pool of sunshine, palm trees swaying in warm breezes. It occurred to me that I could stay there if I wanted to.
And he was focused, so focused. Nothing rushed him, nothing distracted him. I saw that there was nothing I could do or say that would change his mind. He spoke so earnestly I could not help but believe him, the steady hand, the watchful eyes. His every word to me important, his silences concentrated. But even this urgency I found calming. His low voice the perfect counterpoint to my high one. His quiet calm the balance to my frantic energy.
“Nice guy,” I thought. “Why not for me?”
Yael Zoldan is a Brooklyn girl, who lives in Passaic, New Jersey, with her husband and children. Somewhere between carpool and laundry she finds the time to write.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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