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Posted on July 2, 2015

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I met with GlowWorm, or "Marie", at this quiet little steakhouse soaked in dim light. Her protruding ears framed her elongated but pretty face. Her makeup looked like it was applied by a six year old girl. She wore a blazer over a cocktail dress -- an outfit I had once seen on a character in a nineties sitcom. But despite her contrived attempts at fashion, I found her attractive. There was a tenderness about her frail, petite body and long arching neck, and I imagined there was a natural beauty under all the gook and tacky clothes.

I chewed the final bite of my steak and looked over to her. She looked down at her plate, hardly having touched it at all.

"How's your food?"

Her gaze was blank, as if staring through me. She had not looked directly into my eyes all night, which comforted me in a way. Her nervousness made me feel like I was in control. "Yes?" she squeaked.

"How do you like it?" I looked at her plate.

"It''s fine," she poked at her fish with her fork. Marie was cuter in person than on her profile. GlowWorm seemed dull in her profile, nothing original, but Marie was very strange and fidgety.

"Would you like wine or anything?" I said.

"I can't. I'm on...on medication."

"Really?" My head perked up slightly.

"Generalized anxiety," she said.

"Oh no," I said. She nodded, grateful for my concern. "When did it start?"

"I was twenty one," she said. "Just a few... few years ago."

"What happened?" I said. Her eyes softened.

"Not really sure," she said, concentrating hard, as if responding to a therapist. "Could be anything, I guess. Maybe it was because I... I just graduated university and was thrown into a high pressure job. Maybe... maybe it was a chemical imbalance. I have a psychiatrist, but he doesn't know. I thought... the medicine was just going to cure me instantly. Make it go away. But they don't work that way."

The more she rambled, the more interested I grew. I breathed deeper, and a strange but pleasant tingling feeling simmered in my chest – something I've never felt before.

"Do... do you have experience with this sort of thing?" she said.

"With medication? No, never," I said with a straight face.

"You're lucky," Marie visibly relaxed.

"So what happened after?" I said.

"I had to resign from my job. That was... years ago. I went on workers comp for more than a year until I got this low stress job I have now. I can't even..."

A server interrupted her. "Do you want to take that home?" He motioned to her plate.

"What? Oh, no... no thank you," she said, looking at my eyes for the first time.

"Please. I'll take it," I said to the server.

"Would you like any coffee or dessert?" the server said.

I looked at Marie. "I'd like a piece of cake. What do you think, Marie? Want to share a piece of cake?"

Marie smiled.

Outside the restaurant, I cradled a Styrofoam box of leftover salmon in my arm, and studied Marie touching her hair.

"You're taking the Coxwell bus?" I said. She nodded. "Let's go, I'll walk you."

Strolling down the sidewalk, I cleared my throat, thinking of what to say, but as my lips parted, my mind drew a blank. Our hands accidentally touched and she flinched. We walked, neither of us talking, indulging in the personal company of one another.

Our hands touched again, and an instinct moved me to reach out and take hold of hers, but I stopped myself. I threw a sideways glance, and saw her looking down at her feet. I should hold her hand, I repeated to myself. But something was stopping me.

The attraction that stirred in my gut was real, but so was this something else – something equally as new and frightening – a nervousness that drove me to question all of my actions. I was afraid to kiss her, or flirt with her -- terrified of not knowing her reaction.

I knew that if she pulled her hand away from mine, or turned her head as I leaned in for a kiss, then I would lose everything I had gained. The new confidence I treasured in the restaurant would crash down, and once again I'd be refused entry into a real relationship.

We walked the next few blocks in silence. I hesitated to look at her, but when I did, I saw her arms crossed over her chest and I wondered if she felt awkward with me. She looked as if she preferred the silence. She was still a mystery. She wasn't a Facebook profile with status updates that translated her feelings into clear words. She was a person in front of me, awkward, her lowered eyes looking side to side, and I could not decipher her.

We arrived at her stop. "Thanks for...the dinner. Sorry I didn't finish it," she said.

"No problem. I'll be having a good breakfast tomorrow," I patted the box in my arm.

"Where are you heading after this?" she said.

"Castle Frank Station."

"Gosh, that's so close to where we came from. You... you didn't have to walk me."

"It's no problem," I peered down the street for her bus.

"You don't have to wait... really. I'll be fine here."

"You sure?" I said.

She nodded.

"Okay then," our eyes connected. A thought entered my mind like a moment in a movie -- that I should kiss her – and that I wanted to kiss her. But doubt nagged at me again. On Facebook, rejections were meaningless, because the girls were never really rejecting me -- they were accepting or rejecting the fictional identity I created.

I second guessed if she wanted to kiss me back, and the loss of control distressed me. I wasn't ready to make a move – to step into that moment of truth. I reached my arms around her for a hug. She hugged me lightly, barely touching me, as if I was a delicate formation of ash in danger of crumbling.

"Bye," I whispered. I thought I heard her say bye, too, but I wasn't certain.

I turned and walked back in the direction we came from, defeated, my palms moist and my hopes beaten down. Marie was someone I could be with, I thought, someone I could relate to, understand and touch. She could have been many things to me – could have been.

I focused on the emptiness ahead, and it welcomed me.

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