The first time I met him it was raining. I arrived fifteen minutes early, wearing suede boots and without an umbrella. I exited the metro and huddled under the shallow awning of a carousel with a handful of other bedraggled passers-by, and avoided the wing of the airplane every time it came around. He arrived and we took quick stock of each other; I hoped I didn't look too much like a drowned rat, although if I didn't already, by the time we made a break through the rain and reached the café across the street I would for sure. He was tall, good-looking, and bearded. My favorite type. And he was a photographer, which didn't hurt either. As he sipped his Coke and I stirred my tea, though, it quickly became clear that we didn't have that much to say to each other, and what we did have to say was lacking in intensity and any kind of real interest. He thinks I'm the most boring person in the world, I thought, and in thinking it I found myself suddenly bored, as well, by the conversation, the whole situation. He'll probably make some excuse after this and take off, I thought, and found myself not all that horribly disappointed at the prospect. You win some, you lose some, after all. So when he proposed a walk around the neighborhood afterward, I was somewhat surprised. I accepted, but figured he was probably offering out of some feeling of obligation, a thirty minute date being a bit shy of societal norms for this sort of thing. And so we took a brisk walk as he showed me the important sites in the Marais. The rain had changed to a bone-chilling drizzle, and we squinted and burrowed into the collars of our coats. "I'm not actually a big fan of walks in the cold and rain," he said after about ten minutes, "but if you want, my apartment's right around the corner. I could make some hot chocolate." Well now this is an interesting development, I thought, surprised. I wonder if this means he's going to try something... And ignoring my better judgement regarding everything I've learned about meeting strangers on the internet, and going to the homes of men/potential axe murderers I've known for less than an hour, I followed him to his apartment, lured by the thought of warm radiators and hot cocoa. I trailed him up the slanted wooden stairs of a gorgeous old building in the Bastille district, up to the sixth floor. His one-bedroom was cozy, filled with large-format photographs and naked mannequins, and was probably worth a fortune. He said he would never have been able to afford it if his parents didn't own it. True to his word he made hot chocolate for me, and pasta for himself, which he also shared with me. We chatted more as he cooked, took phone calls, and typed e-mails for work. It wasn't thrilling or even particularly interesting, but it felt comfortable, and though we sat side by side on the couch for over an hour, he didn't even try to kiss me. Eventually I mentioned that I should probably leave, and he told me that it was up to me; he had an appointment in an hour, but he didn't care if I hung out until then. But I thanked him for the cocoa and took my leave, becoming suddenly awkward in the doorway, my mind blanking on the protocol until he called me back for a kiss on each cheek, saying, "We are in France, you know." I then made my way down all six floors only to find myself trapped in the entryway, pressing the button that said porte to no avail, the door not budging. I finally called him on the phone and made him come down all six floors, and all because I was pushing on a pull door. He gave me a hard time about it and ran back upstairs to the warmth of his apartment without a backward glance.
I didn't particularly expect to hear from him again, but he had given me his Skype name, and so in the spirit of what-the-hell, the next day I added him to my contacts. Surprising me once again, he accepted my request and started chatting with me right away. And if he spent the bulk of the conversation making fun of my imperfect French and my inability to open doors, it didn't really bother me. We continued chatting occasionally over the next couple of weeks as my curiosity as to whether this was actually going to go anywhere slowly dwindled. And then one Saturday afternoon, he asked if I wanted to see a movie that night. And I said yes.
We met at the theater, which I made the mistake of calling a théâtre in French, rather than a cinéma, which he was quick to gleefully call me out on. Afterward, he asked if I wanted to get a drink. When I accepted, he said that if I wanted, we could get a drink back at his apartment. It was close, and it would be cheaper, after all. Back in his apartment once again, we finished off a mostly full bottle of muscat. The conversation was easier this time, particularly as we came to the end of the bottle, and he seemed a bit cheerier than before. Then his teasing, always just a shade away from taunting, took on a sharp edge; méchant, I told him. He agreed. "I am mean," he said, "everyone says that."
"What do you mean?" I said.
"When I was in L.A. last month everyone always said, You're so meeeaaan, you're such a mean boy."
"Well, that's weird," I said. "But you seem like you could be nice, sometimes."
"I am," he agreed.
"So which are you, then? Are you mean or are you nice?"
And then he leaned over, and he kissed me.
"Well, that's nice," I murmured.
He pulled back, looking startled, and then he gave a short laugh. "No, this is mean," he said, and he took my hand and led me to his bedroom.
The next morning I got dressed and then placed my hand on his shoulder, not wanting to wake him, but not wanting to leave without saying goodbye. Still mostly asleep, he dutifully turned his mouth upward for a kiss, and I had the eerie feeling that in the slumbering depths of his mind, he was expecting someone else. I let myself out, went down six flights of stairs, and pulled, this time.
I told myself that it was a one-night stand so that it wouldn't be true, to jinx it into being something else, something less sad. I told myself that I would never hear from him again because I desperately wanted to be proven wrong. After all, he had surprised me before. But his words echoed in my head, "No, this is mean," and I wasn't sure. A slow week went by, and I kept checking to see if he was online, if he would talk to me, but he never was. At first I thought he must be busy, and then I thought me must be avoiding me, as before he was always online, for most of his waking hours every day. And then, the sudden realization that the question mark icon next to his name meant not that he was offline, but that if he was, I would never know it. He had blocked me.
It rained again today. At least the ducks are happy.