the beginning
You meet him and you like him because when you look him in the eye, he doesn't shrink. He stands taller, he meets your gaze with an exacting sharpness. It isn't a challenge. He isn't challenging you. He is rising to you. He is taking up space. It thrills you -- you are so used to weakness, watching men turn to dust in your presence, watching them fall. This man is younger than you, devastatingly handsome, he has a silver tongue, he is strong. You spend the first hour talking to him, convinced that he does this all the time. Swindles women. Charms them, takes them, destroys them. That's what you do, isn't it? And this man reminds you of yourself, in some ways, and in others, he is so strangely different.

Up until two weeks ago you were seeing a director you had never worked with, a man with swagger who capitulated the second you snapped your fingers. You knew it was over when he talked to you about how every great artist needed a muse. Hitchcock and his blondes, Godard and Anna Karina. You left after dinner and claimed a headache and went home and never saw him again. You didn't answer his calls. You are no one's muse. You are no one's vehicle for success.

It's one in the morning and you're leaning against the bar outside, and he's leaning next to you. He doesn't try to crowd you in the way that men sometimes do, their arms bracing the brick, staring down at you like you're dinner. No. He simply stands next to you and the two of you share a contraband cigarette. He makes you laugh. He's handsome. You know he thinks you're beautiful, because that's what men think of you. But this one doesn't condescend. He thinks you're beautiful and he thinks you're powerful and that's what makes you ask him to walk you home. He does. You don't kiss him at the door, but you give him your number, the private one, the one that doesn't go directly to voicemail, and he pinches the paper between his fingers and tucks it in his jacket pocket. He says goodnight, and your name rolls off his tongue like honey.

You think of him in the shower the next morning.

You do dinner. You go to see his play. You walk around the city. Each time he's a gentleman, but almost a little mischievous, like a schoolboy too. He balances his adulthood with a strong sense of play. He takes you for a spin on his bike, and that's the day you let him in your house, let him take off your clothes, let him in your bed. He is brilliant and thorough, he asks what you like, you answer, he delivers. When it's over, you lie there panting like a dog. I haven't come that hard since I was twenty you say and it makes him burst into nervous laughter, his cheeks reddening, his hand over his face. Oh my God-- he says, his eyes wide at you, and you're laughing too.