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You can’t always have a dramatic climax.  This was one of those times.

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I pass Marian a fresh cup of coffee.  “Here, I’ll let you doctor this one to your liking.”

“So considerate,” she says, with a touch more sarcasm than one might like.  I watch her pour half a gallon of creamer and a pound of sugar into the cup.  Stir and taste, frown, add another half a pound of sugar.

“I’ll be amazed if you don’t fall into a diabetic coma right here,” I say offhand.  Marian shoots me a half-hearted glare over her cup.

We resume our slow meander along the sidewalk.  Marian has grown quiet, taking more frequent sips of her coffee, leaving me to carry most of the conversation.  I tell her about my work, why I do what I do, stories of student entitlement and mishaps in the field, of being chased on a bum ankle by an angry bull elk, of coming face to tentacle with a jelly fish, of being treed by a mama pig.  She chimes in occasionally, prompting me for more detail or asking questions about various aspects of the story, but for the most part, she just listens.  I talk enough that I drink my coffee more to soothe my throat than for the flavor, even after it grows as cold as the night air around us.  But finally I run out of stories to tell (no small feat, I assure you), and we adjourn to my car.

Marian offers concise turn-by-turn directions to her home.  It’s a small house just off one of the less heavily trafficked city roads, with a gravel driveway leading through a wooden fence to a circular parking area that simplifies exiting the drive.  Flower beds and potted plants adorn the porch and front facade with cheery splashes of red, pink, and yellow.  There are even white window shutters.  It has a distinct Little Stepford House on the Prairie feel to it.  I park and quickly exit the vehicle, moving to the passenger side and opening the door for her.

“Precisely the sort of place I’d imagined,” I remark.  “Cute, comfortable, and inviting.”

“Thanks,” she answers as she takes my hand, exiting the car.  “I put a lot of effort into my flowers.”

I walk alongside her toward her porch, escorting her to her door.  As we approach, she suddenly says, “You know you’re not coming in, right?”

I blink at the back of her head as she mounts the step.  “I thought I’d already established that I held no presumptions about how the evening would end.  I’m merely escorting you to your door.”  She turns and looks at me, and I smile.  “It’s the gentlemanly thing to do, especially after having so thoroughly disappointed you tonight.”

Marian stares at me, her face expressionless.  I merely continue to smile, my hands in my jacket pockets.  After a moment, she says, “Nothing really gets to you, does it?”

I furrow my brow.  “Depends on what you mean.”

“I mean, you’ve been calm, cool, and collected the entire night,” she elaborates.  “Even when you told me…”  She nods her head a little, and opens her hands as though to say, You know what I’m talking about.  “…even then, you were just so cool and confident.  You never lost your charm.”

“I would take that as a compliment if I didn’t suspect there were an underlying ‘but’ somewhere in there.”

She nods.  “It’s a little scary, actually.  Anyone who can keep piling on the charm under those circumstances, to me, must be a sociopath.”

“That’s a hell of a ‘but’.”

She squints slightly, as though assessing me.  “But you’re so honest, and polite, and so fucking charming.”  She punctuates that word with a small stomp of her foot.  She’s frowning intently now, and she looks down at her feet.  “It’s not fair.”

Marian folds her arms across her chest and continues to divert her eyes downward.  I purse my lips and sigh through my nose.  I step forward slightly and lightly touch her forearm while maintaining a bit of distance between us.  She glances up at me, and I offer a half smile as I retract my hand.

“I’m sorry for misleading you,” I tell her.  “Old habits die hard, I suppose.  But you should know it wasn’t my intention to hurt you, or to lie to you.  I asked you out because I was genuinely interested in getting to know you.  I still am.  If you’re not, though, I get it.”  I shove my hands back in my pockets.  “If you want to talk to me again, you’re welcome to text me.  But I’ll put the ball in your court.”

She sighs and nods.  “Don’t expect too much.  You’re a little too dangerous for my liking.”

I smile and return the nod.  “Fair enough.”  I offer my hand, and she grasps it lightly.  I hold hers in both of mine briefly.  “If we never speak again, it was truly a pleasure meeting you, Madam Librarian.”

I release her hands, turn on my heel, and walk to my car.  In a few short seconds, I’m slowly circling around her drive, heading back toward her street.  I glance into my mirror and see Marian still on her porch, watching me go.  I feel a slight pang of guilt, but I shake it off as I pull onto the street and drive away.

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