“I need to stop letting myself be screwed-up by you. I need to stop ...”

The words exited his mouth, vehemently articulated, causing the surrounding silence within the spacious apartment to draw away shyly for only a moment.

This was, he knew, stirring impatiently from the couch and entering the kitchen for a cigarette, not new knowledge but, rather, an awakening to both a reality and a necessity.

He entered the dim kitchen, not bothering to turn on the light since, outside and flowing brightly through broad front windows, was the light of an overly warm, azure skied, late spring day. It should have, he was aware, brought him happiness and comfort because there was nothing at all deplorable about it but, tired of the light and sound, his mind longed only for the silence, darkness and security that came with the night, still so many hours away.

He sighed despondently leaning against the kitchen counter and pawed aimlessly on the counter behind him for a near empty pack. Instead, his crawling fingers found a pack of gum and he remembered that, for some unknown reason – quite possibly for his own health – he had quit smoking two weeks previously. With little sense of gratification, he popped a stick in his mouth and his teeth clamped down on it viciously.

“It's been months now and nothing is going anywhere,” he commented, the spiteful words from his mouth interspersed with bright clouds of menthol vapour that exited with his breath.

“I must have imagined the whole thing. It's just my own stupidity.” He shook his head sadly and stared at the floor. The strong spice of the gum drifted upward from his mouth and stung his eyes, causing them to water but, he was not crying - not in the least, he chided himself. His memory, however, wandered, drawn to an instant in time almost eight months previous.

The fact of their meeting had been improbable from the outset – he, on holidays with friends in San Diego and, she, alone, on a lightening fast trip in the interest of business relations. They had, quite literally, collided and, in that second of time, he had seen – imagined, he corrected himself – a scenario of new and possible outcomes come into focus.

A little dazed by his own carefree happiness and a welcomed late sleep, he had stepped out of the elevator, cutting sharply to the right and oblivious of other activity around him, anxious only to join his friends for a delicious brunch and then some leisurely afternoon activities. The problem had immediately arisen in her presence, one arm bent and enfolding a stack of files and her free hand clasping at a paper cup of coffee, just to the right of the elevator.

The result had unfolded with slapstick predictability; both coffee and files had flown into the air and, practically bowled over by his weight while the pages had fluttered down about them, he had caught her waist to prevent her from falling. There they had remained, motionless in the shock of the situation when, from some unknown font of wit with which he was completely unfamiliar, he had said, 'Do you dance?'

They had simultaneously collapsed in laughter and joined together on the floor to collect the scattered pages. He had picked them up while, simultaneously, apologising profusely.

'I should have danced a little faster, I think,' she quipped, slipping some pages into a folder and, he, stopping short, transfixed for the first time by the sound of her voice.

“I shouldn't have pursued her – not shown the slightest interest,” he stated emphatically. “It would have made it so much easier.” He spat out the gum with contempt into the trash.

Instead, he had introduced himself.

“Hi, I'm Paul,” he had said and then, as though driven by some inner Muse, the words had continued to tumble out. “I hope I can make this accident up to you by taking you for dinner.”

She had stopped and, in the passage of people around them, the papers in her hand fluttered, suspended, while the words hung wistfully between them.

“Natasha,” she said finally, her gaze locking with his and then drawing away, preoccupied.

“Can I take you to dinner, Natasha?” he said and offered up some more collected pages. He looked at the floor, not wanting her clear blue eyes upon him and, yet, missing the sensation as soon as he looked away.

“I... no... sorry. I have a meeting... late.” Again, her eyes flashed toward him and she added, “I'm flying out early tomorrow.”

“It's just dinner,” he suggested earnestly, “and I won't keep you past your bedtime. Promise.” He smiled. She smiled back.

They went to dinner. Just dinner. When he awoke in his room the next morning from pleasant dreams that had involved her, he knew that she was already on a plane speeding far away.

What came later was far less explicable by his estimation and had left him worried, over-wrought and confused.

They had, over dinner, exchanged contact information and, once returned to his own comfortable home in the city, they had reconnected almost immediately and often spent exorbitant amounts of time between the phone and other forms of electronic communication. The fact of her being there to speak to him, apparently enjoying his company and, so he interpreted – 'mistakenly', he interjected on his own thought stream - showing her interest in the process, made him feel that there might be more than a casual connection. He even dared propose to himself the idea – some vague possibility – of a 'something more'. It was an idea that he longed to explore with her; however tenuously or slowly it developed.

In the longer term, that eventuality had not materialised. Continually having her on his mind, he commenced to berate himself for his behaviour; finding and naming a steady stream of personal faults that only grew longer as he withdrew from contacting her, his self-esteem deflated, and the frequency of their contacts steadily diminished.

“I'm a fool for ever thinking ... anything,” he pronounced on himself dismally.

“I know I need to stop but,” he shook his head again, despondently and continued with the thought that had been there all along, “I can't stop loving you.”

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