We met in a bookshop.
He was tall, boyish, a bit peckish as he seemed to subsist on ramen packages and black coffee when he wasn't working on his novel.
The checkout counter was just to your right when you walked in, so he was the first to greet me and the first smiling face I'd seen all day. That tends to happen in New York City.
He was polite, tentative, and warm. Emerging from behind the counter, he navigated the maze of shelves into the back room of the bookstore where'd I'd chosen a corner to browse. "Can I help you find anything specific?" He caught my eye. I smiled.
About an hour passed. I headed for the door, unhurried in my search for dinner just as dusk was dimming. "Do you have plans tonight?" I turned to him, surprised. "We have a book signing tonight, you should come."
So, I did. I forwent dinner for a granola bar that'd been crushed by the day's adventures and sat through a strange, slightly boring, but very New Yorkread-aloud attended by twelve beatniks and a couple aging columnists, who applauded politely after a deadpan recital of a scene involving a teenage suicide. I sat alone, he stood at the back of the room, overseeing the event should anything get out of hand. Turns out, the story was a commedy.
"What'd you think?" he asked. I could tell he knew exactly what I was thinking. We both laughed. "Would you take a walk with me tonight?"
Brooklyn in all its glory opened up to me with him as my guide. We emerged from the stone streets of Cobble Hill into the night, passing the still-lit windows of dress shops, Thai restaurants, and lounges. Brownstones lined our path and we dangerously sneaked up to the front door of one vacant-looking home and peered through the window. I'm certain the pop-art portrait of Mao was a genuine Warhol.
A couple blocks into the Brooklyn Promenade, we stopped. What few stars you can see over the city were twinkling above. It was nearing midnight. He slipped his hand into mine without saying a word. His hand was warm, despite the bitter March chill. I leaned my head on his shoulder, though he was far taller than I. Without a word, we continued to walk.
I find the small talk of a tour guide comforting in unfamiliar surroundings. To give my journey over to another, to trust their path with my feet gives me a sense of ease and relaxation. This meditation went on for hours.
We walked under the Brooklyn Bridge, making our way to another park whose name I do not recall. It was nearing two in the morning. A subway station stood nearby, with a few unnerving stragglers about its entrance. A stark finish line. I turned back to him, unwilling yet to let go of this night.
He gave me a final soft, sad smile. A goodbye smile. The kind that says, we won't keep in touch, but I will always remember. With his warm hands and his thin arms and his shoulders still bearing the weight of my bag he'd carried all night, we embraced. My face pressed against his chest, enveloped by the smell of black coffee and book pages.
Back then, I knew his name. I knew about his father and his mother. I knew the plot of his novel, his age, where he'd grown up. I knew all the things you tell a stranger visiting your town over a seemingly endless stroll by moonlight. And at last, before I was to board the noisy, jolting train, I knew his lips. When I looked up from his embrace, he gave me one final, sweet parting gift. A kiss.