"Dip a toe, don't fall in," he warned me.
Stupidly, I dove in head first.
I noticed the change slowly, over time.
The first time we made loose plans, I had a contingency plan up my sleeve.
I don't care if he doesn't call. I have something else to do.
When he actually did, I was pleased and surprised. Little pings of excitement traveled up my spine.
I really thought, this time, it's casual. I'm not playing it cool. I am cool. I am the Cool Girl.
Yes, the Cool Girl. That rare creature that can drink a man under the table, that doesn't care if you don't call her back, the one that doesn't ever nag about having the "talk." She just wants to have fun. She's fun. She's the Cool Girl. She does exist, because I am her and she is me.
At first, I remained a safe distance away. Arm's length. Just close enough I could squint and size up this person making a slow steady entrance into my life.
Eventually I caved and moved a little closer, bridging the distance to a side-hug.
Then he surprised me with an intense desire for physical proximity. Same side of booth, one arm around my waist, mouth close to my ear, entire conversations held nose-to-nose kind of close. I tried to remain coy, be the cool girl.
I was also surprised to wake up to forehead kisses, delivered eyes-closed, paired with a huge grin. Unwavering eye contact, under which I blushed and would have to break with a shy, "What?"
To which he would always respond, "Oh nothing. Just you."
To which I would respond with a deeper blush, "Oh."
"I think we're quickly approaching 'The Talk.' I don't know what to do. The thought of having someone, anyone be my boyfriend is absolutely petrifying. I don't think I can do this."
"You'll be fine. It will be totally fine."
"I'm concerned. I'm not ready not ready not ready...but I like where it's going. I don't know what to do."
Side-hug quickly elevates into Bursting With Feelings. I can't hold the words back. But I bite my tongue when the State of the Union inevitably occurs.
"You go first," tears streaming down my face, dreading what is about to happen.
"I'm really falling for you," he says, almost inaudibly, voice cracking.
I burst into a full-on cry as I launch into my self-sabotage speech, "I really like you, but I don't know if we can reconcile all of these issues, I don't know if I can feel good about it."
I proceed to laundry list said issues, attacking every item from a con side of a pro/con list, still crying.
He interrupts me, pulls me in closer than a side hug. Wipes away the tears, reassures me, "We don't have to decide this right now."
Relieved, grateful, I hiccup and pull him in for a kiss.
The 13th time we make loose plans, I don't bother thinking about a back up plan.
He called earlier, "I just want to see you. I'm going to see you!" echoing through my mind.
I let him know I am out the door, on my way. He doesn't pick up, but I assume, so must he, so I'll see him there.
He isn't there. He doesn't show up all night. I spend the evening drinking too much bourbon and catching up with someone I had sworn to erase from my life. I swallow my disappointment. That's what the Cool Girl would do.
"Are we having a fight? Are you mad?"
"I mean, you essentially stood me up. It's common courtesy to let somebody know if you're not going to show up if you make plans. I'm not mad. I know to pick my battles."
We return to neutral. No longer nose-to-nose, but not quite back at arm's length. I wriggle a little further apart, not mad, but hurt, still stinging. A little more guarded, more scared than ever.
He is still all-in. Tunnels through my reservations to pull me in close again. I relent.
I simultaneously feel myself relaxing into him and feel my fight-or-flight instincts kick in. I'm ruffled, but hooked. Cool Girl be damned.
The 21st time we make loose plans, I am a domestic whirlwind. The house is spotless, snacks are stocked, my mood is high, and I'm prepared for a full evening of Eskimo kisses, blanket snuggles, and unreserved repeated proclamations of "I really like you."
I wait 7 hours. He doesn't show up.
"Where are you?"
"I'm too tired. I'm not coming."
I am slack jawed on the phone, reduced to The Girl Who Laid in Wait for a Man.
"Remember the time when I wasn't mad? I am mad. I want to talk about this. We will probably have a fight."
I say it calmly, evenly, trying not to hiss or spit.
Said fight doesn't happen over the phone, as body language, facial expression, and gestures we both agree are key in communication. I assume we will reconvene in person.
The next evening, I receive a curt text message. Though it's short in length, I can read between the lines.
I always cry at endings.