by Erin L. Nappe
(published at No-Nounsense.com, September 2000. original document no longer available.)
Dan Cotter broke my heart.
I was 19 when I met him; 22 when he said, “I’m sorry Katie, I just can’t be with anyone right now.” I forgot to eat that day. I had never understood that before, people saying they forgot to eat.
He tried to dump me on the phone, but I forced him to meet me, thinking that maybe seeing me might change his mind. At the very least, I was going to make him face me. I thought it would make me feel better. But instead, it brought me face to face with the reality that the sweet, wonderful man I’d fallen in love with was gone. All I know is that when I got home at 11 o’clock that night, I was hungry. Starving. Sharp pangs tearing through my stomach. It hurt so badly I was afraid to eat, afraid it would just make the pain worse.
After that, it took me a very long time to let another man get close to me. I rejected a seemingly endless stream of them, for an endless number of reasons. Brandon, who was too tall; David, the Born-Again Catholic; Jamie, who’d allowed his friends to watch Howard Stern while I was at his apartment for the first time; Dr. Rick, the dentist who looked just a little too much like Dan. I’d started to wonder if there was something wrong with me, if I was looking for something that didn’t exist.
But it does, I told myself. I’ve had it, held it in my hands. I know it exists.
And so I waited, and wished, and hoped. I nearly gave up.
My mom gave me a hard time. “Katie, you know there’s no Prince Charming, don’t you?” she said.
“Oh mother,” I sighed, rolling my eyes. “You just don’t get it.”
What she didn’t get was that I wasn’t looking for the perfect guy; I was looking for the guy who would be perfect for me.
It wasn’t like I brushed the others off at first glance. I gave them all second chances. Some even third and fourth chances. But none of them turned my bones to jelly when we kissed. None of them made me feel like I must have met him in a previous life. None of them made me feel like I was standing on the edge of something wild and wonderful, unafraid to fall.
Not one. Not until I met Alex.
I’d been perched on top of a dryer, cross-legged, reading A Wrinkle in Time, of all things.
I couldn’t sleep, so I’d headed down to my building’s laundry room with my book in hand. The weathered paperback, given to me for my 12th birthday by my godmother, had seen better days. The book, and its characters, were like family.
The hum of the dryer made pleasant background music, and I breathed in the comforting aroma of fabric softener. I wiped a stray tear before it dropped onto the already tear-stained page–the one where Meg saves Charles-Wallace from the clutches of It with her love. It always tugged at my heart, no matter how many times I read it.
“That one always got me, too.”
I jumped when I heard the voice. It had to be at least 3 a.m., and I hadn’t heard anyone else come into the room. A good book will do that to me. Really, sometimes the newspaper will do that to me. My mom used to say the house could burn down around me and I’d never look up from my book.
I looked up and there he was, grinning at me.
The first thing I noticed was his eyes, clear, bright and blue. The wire-rimmed glasses he wore, the kind my best friend Emily and I dubbed “preppy glasses,” only magnified them. They were warm, inviting, with just a tiny glimmer of mischief. They crinkled a bit at the edges with his smile.
The second thing I noticed was his dimples, deep enough to hide a quarter in. I’ve never met a pair of dimples I could resist.
Oh God, I’m such a mess, I thought in a panic. My unwashed hair was stuffed under a baseball cap. I was wearing my “laundry pants;” sweatpants with the cuffs cut off, covered with spilled paint and bleach marks, a sweatshirt that didn’t match, and fuzzy slippers.
I wanted to crawl inside the dryer.
“Mind if I join you?” he said, hopping onto the machine next to mine. “Didn’t you always wish you could travel through time?” he said, gesturing toward my book. “Or kythe like Charles-Wallace? I know I did.”
I relaxed a little. He didn’t seem to notice how ridiculous I looked. Maybe that was because he looked almost as ridiculous; backwards cap, faded Bon Jovi t-shirt, and plaid shorts, with a pair of rubber thongs on his feet.
I smiled at the t-shirt; I had the same one.
“Sure,” I said. “I still do.”
We talked for an hour before I knew his name.
“Oh, how stupid of me,” he’d said when I asked. He held out his hand. “Alex Harding.”
“Nice to meet you Alex, I’m Kate Miceli.” The feel of his hand, warm, firm, and just a little rough, sent a shiver up my arm. I wanted to have his hands on me, touching me, cupping my face just before he kissed me.
I didn’t believe in love at first sight, but this was the closest I’ve ever gotten to it. Sure, I was attracted to him, but it was more than physical. I felt connected to him. I pulled my hand away, blushing, afraid he’d be able to see what I was thinking.
We talked until dawn, folding towels, t-shirts, and socks. Then he asked me to have breakfast with him.
“I need to know how you take your coffee,” he said.
“I don’t drink coffee,” I told him, knowing how strange that sounds, in this coffee-driven world. “I actually prefer tea.”
“I have so much to learn,” he grinned, his dimples creasing lines across his face.
We parted only long enough to take hasty showers and brush the fuzz from our teeth. We left the scent of Downy behind, trading it for the strong, black smell of coffee.
“Miss me?” he’d asked when he greeted me at my door.
The funny thing was, I had.
We ate, and laughed, and as the morning passed, we began to act like old friends instead of perfect strangers. And just twelve hours after that chance meeting in the laundry room, I was already mentally trying combinations of our names.
Kathleen Harding. Kate Harding. Kathleen Miceli Harding. Mrs. Kate Harding. I liked the sound of it.
“I don’t know your middle name,” I blurted through a mouthful of ice cream, as we strolled through Delaware Park.
“It’s James,” he said. As if it were a perfectly normal thing to ask.
Alexander James Harding. Mrs. Alexander James Harding. I liked the sound of that, too.
Afternoon slipped effortlessly into evening, and I stared at Alex. We were sitting on one of the benches down by the lake at the park. It was starting to get cold, and I shivered. Alex slid his arm around me, and I let my head rest on his shoulder.
“Comfy?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I grinned, turning my face toward his. He kissed the tip of my nose.
It amazed me, to be sitting with this person I knew so well, this person I hadn’t known at all 24 hours earlier.
We had talked about everything. We both loved baseball; I was a Pirates fan, and he liked the A’s. I impressed him by quoting Airplane!, and he admitted that Disney movies made him cry.
“I swear I’ll kill you if you tell anyone,” he said.
“Don’t worry, your secret’s safe,” I said. I thought it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard.
There had been no hesitation. No thoughts of, “My God, what will we talk about?” or “How long until this is over, and I can pretend to be tired?” or “I’m missing must-see TV.”
And at that moment, if someone had mentioned Dan, I would have said, “Dan who?”
Nothing mattered. Nothing but being next to Alex. I was completely oblivious to the fact that I hadn’t slept.
He walked me to my door and hesitated there, looking more like an awkward, shy 15-year-old boy than a 29-year-old man. I have to admit I felt like a teenager myself.
“So, do you mind if I call you?”
“You’d better call me,” I said.
“Careful what you wish for,” he joked. “You’ll get sick of me.”
He reached out, lightly brushed his fingers through my hair. He lifted my chin, and I closed my eyes, breathless.
When his lips finally met mine, it was like someone had pushed pause. I slid my arms around his neck, let my body melt into his.
“Do you want to come in?” I heard myself say.
“Are you sure you want me to?” he asked. He kissed my forehead, stroked my hair. ”I might not ever leave.”
I nodded. I had never been so sure of anything in my life. “I think that would be okay.”
I definitely thought that would be okay. I took his hand, led him into my apartment, and shut the door behind us.