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Ryan McGraw[12:49 AM]: I do - Master of the universe, huh? 2




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  1. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 1
  2. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 10
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 11
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 12
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 13
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 14
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 15
  8. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 16
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 2
  10. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 3

I couldnt help blushing. In the summer afternoon light, I wasnt able to hide my color, which probably made me blush even more.

You have no idea, do you? He was grinning at me now, apparently amused by my reaction.

Me, disarming? I replied, dumbfounded. What about you and all of your honest proclamations today? Thats disarming. Like, right now.

Sorry if Im making you uncomfortable, he apologized, his eyes lingering on my bare

shoulders. No, dont be, I said quietly. Its refreshing to have conversations with someone like this. Im very flattered. Thank you. I dont want you to ever filter your words just because you think they might ever make me uncomfortable.

So, why arent you in a relationship?

I guess he wasnt going to let it drop. Stalling for a little time to get my thoughts together, I took a bite of the caprese salad. The summer heirloom tomatoes were delicious and juicy; a little drop of juice fell onto my chin. Before I could wipe it away, Ryan was already dabbing my chin clean with his napkin.

Thank you, I mumbled. Youre welcome.

I knew he was waiting for me to answer his question. I giggled nervously and rolled my eyes. You really want to hear about me and my ex-boyfriend?

Yes, I do, he said earnestly. I want to learn more about you. I find everything about you extremely intriguing. He took a bite of the salad, waiting patiently and showing off his white teeth and dimples. I was becoming powerless to resist his charms.

I gulped. There you go again with your honest, disarming proclamations. I smiled. Fine, I gave in and let out a big sigh. My last boyfriend broke up with me about four months ago. We had been together for a little over three years. I then continued to summarize the gist of my relationship with Andrew and the reasons for our breakup.

Ouch. After three years, you guys broke up over the phone? he asked incredulously.

Yup. I contemplated in my head why I thought that was acceptable behavior at the time. I couldnt bear the idea of a long, drawn out discussion and tears, which is where it wouldve inevitably led. Unlike my sister, Im not a drama queen. It was over. It had really been over for a while, I think. There was no point in discussing it further.



Youre just so matter of fact about it, so sure it was over, he said with a perplexed and questioning look in his eyes. Is this the way you were with all of your past boyfriends?

No. Well, maybe. I dont know, I guess I never thought about it. I shrugged. Come to think of it, maybe I had handled all of my relationships this way. I found his observation interesting, because there was some truth to it, but I had never explored or analyzed it before. That was something for me to ponder on for another day, though. Well, at least with Andrew and me, it wasnt complicated. He didnt want to be with me. He had found someone else. Nothing I could say was going to change that. Why draw it out longer than it needed to be? The faster I could work on getting over him, the better off I would be.

Are you always this black and white about relationships? Was it really that easy for you?

Well, it wasnt easy for me, I whispered, remembering some of the more painful and dark moments.

Dont think Im second guessing your decision, he said. It just sounded very sudden.



I just I guess I dont like being in any sort of gray areas. I think thats why Im a PM. I do whatever I can to manage and mitigate risk. Besides, by the time he brought it up that day on the phone, he had made his decision. Why delay the inevitable by waiting to break up when we saw each other in person? Why talk it out more? It just delays the heartache, I said dryly. And I didnt even tell you the grand finale, I continued, pausing for effect. A month ago, I learned that he was engaged. Theyd been dating for six months.

But you had only broken up a few months ago, he said slowly and then it dawned on him. He had been seeing her for several months while you guys were still together?

I nodded. So in this case, I guess I did the right thing by ending it quickly.

He blew his breath out in a big sigh. And you had no idea. Ryan looked sad for me.

None. I felt completely betrayed. I took a deep breath and continued. I mean, I knew our relationship wasnt perfect, but I never thought he would cheat on me. I honestly dont know how people do that; cheat on people they supposedly love. I think its really just cowardicebreak up with the person already and then start a new relationship! Dont sneak around and betray their much- earned confidence. When youre with someone for a long time, theres always someone you know personally that has been involved in some torrid affair. Andrew and I would sit together at dinner parties, or just with each other, and talk about how neither of us would ever do that to the other. It was too foreign of an idea to fathom. We used to proclaim to each other and to our friends that that would never happen to us. I used my fingers to quote the word us. But then things happen and before you know it, you realize youre not above the fray. Next thing you know, youre that couple people talk about at dinner parties. Its the worst thing anyone could ever do to me in the future. I looked pointedly at him and said with finality, Thats a deal breaker for me.



He looked at me with quiet intensity. He had one elbow on the table, his thumb on his chin and his forefinger rubbing his upper lip. He looked deep in thought about something. I think I may have said too much. I hadnt realized I felt so strongly about infidelity until it all came tumbling out of my mouth. Before either of us could say anything else, our server arrived with our entrees.

We ate our meals initially in silence. It was a welcome distraction from my thoughts. I could tell he was thinking about it, too, but I wasnt going to press him to share. We sampled each others entrees again, holding out a fork for the other to taste. He still hadnt said much since we received our food, so I decided to break the silence.

Please dont think Im this bitter person. Its been several months now. Im ready to move on. Im not a toxic person, really. I know when to let things go.

No, thats not it at all. He shook his head and gazed at me with complete seriousness. You deserve someone whos as sure about his relationship and feelings for you as you are about him. To do anything less or to be with anyone who isnt certain about their feelings for you would be a tragedy. You would be settling.

Oh, I muttered. Another completely disarming comment from him reduced me to speechlessness.

How does he do this to me? I attempted then to turn the tables.

What about you? Why dont you have a girlfriend? I asked tentatively.

There was a long pause. In those few seconds, my heart stopped and I braced myself for disappointment. The idea of him being with someone else caused me physical pain. Does a heart actually clench? My physical reaction took me by surprise. What was that?

But instead of saying he had a girlfriend; he said something else that totally surprised me. Were

taking a break.

He didnt offer up any further information. Raising one eyebrow, I wasnt going to let him off the hook. You twisted my arm to have me give you my whole sad story. Now I want to hear yours.

He chuckled. I guess thats only fair. He rubbed his chin again with his thumb and forefinger. I wondered if this was a habit of his. Did he always rub his chin when he was deep in thought?

We had been together for a long time, Ryan started slowly. How long?

Seven years.

I raised my eyebrows in surprise. That was intimidatingly long and more than twice as long as Andrew and I had been together.

I think we just fell into our relationship out of convenience. Before I knew it, a year became three, and then the relationship became like part of the scenery.

 

If I were your ex-girlfriend, I wouldve cringed at the thought of being referred to as part of the scenery.

He looked down and chuckled, like he was experiencing a private joke. Well, youre definitely not part of the scenery.

Whatever he implied by that sent butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I looked at him, perplexed, but he ignored me.

Its complicated, he said and paused, trying to come up with the right words. I never really questioned our relationship. I just kind of took it for granted that she was always there. I never really pursued her. He spoke like it was a revelation. I was really busy with my career. I worked some insane hours when I first started working at MS. I never really had much time for anything else. She works for MS as well. He eyed me carefully to gauge my reaction to this news. I wasnt surprised, though. She was building her career and in the same boat as me. It was just convenient, frankly.

I knew all about convenience. Im starting to think that Andrew was really just convenient.

I know that sounds sort of harsh, but it worked for us at the time. Im not sure if she ever thought of me as more than the scenery either, come to think of it.

Thats so sad, I said. Im amazed you guys stayed together for as long as you did. Didnt you realize that something was missing in your relationship?

Like what? You mean fireworks and chemistry and the idea of wanting someone so bad you can hardly breathe?

My heart skipped a beat. Yes, exactly like that, I said in almost a whisper.

Well, I honestly thought stuff like that really didnt exist, until... His voice trailed off and he looked out towards the bay. I had my doubts for a long time about her. I wanted to think that there was more, but it took me a while to figure it out.

He shrugged and looked directly at me. I want to explore who else is out there.

You want to see if a relationship with fireworks and chemistry actually exists. It was statement rather than a question.

He nodded and looked at me with a straight face. Yes.

I got a warm, tingly feeling inside me. Fireworkscheck. Chemistrycheck. Wanting someone so bad I could hardly breathedid my heart just skip a beat?

On our way out, we passed by a fortune teller. Ever since I could remember, even when I came here during my college years, the same palm reader sat in the corner near the entrance to the terrace. She charged ten dollars per reading. Id never had my palm read before.

As we walked past her, she beckoned us to come forward. Ryan and I looked at each other, smiled, and agreed to a reading. I giggled like a teenager. Maybe it was the midday glass of wine, or the appreciation of being in one anothers company, but we were both in a good mood and the idea of getting our fortunes read seemed like a hopeful thing to do.

I sat down first.

The woman in front of me wasnt dressed like I expected a fortune teller to be dressed. There was no gypsy scarf on her head or jewelry dangling from her wrists or neck. She looked more like a slightly overweight grandmother.

She took my hand in hers and started with her observations. You are not the creative type, are you? You have more of a good business head.

I looked up at Ryan, who was curiously observing and chuckled. Not necessarily a bad thing, he said.

See this line here? the fortune teller continued. It means you will be very rich someday. It is your good business sense.

Ryan smirked.

And here, this means you hold too much tension in your stomach area. You will give yourself an ulcer if youre not careful. You need to take care of your liver, too.

Time to cut down on the liquor, babe. Ryan lifted his hand in a drinking gesture with the thumb pretending to be the head of a bottle.

He said babe. I liked that endearment coming from him, even if his comment was only meant to tease me.

And this is your love line. Family and love is what keeps you grounded. This part of the reading was admittedly where I was most curious.

Youve searched for a long time and youve had much heartbreak. This is because you love too deeply. She looked up at Ryan. Is this your boyfriend?

No, I said too quickly and then blushed. I glanced quickly at Ryan from the corner of eye. He looked impassive, but I thought I saw his jaw twitch.

Well, that is too bad. She looked at Ryan. She is a beautiful woman, is she not? Yes, she is, he confirmed.

I looked back at the fortune teller and blushed.

But if he is not your boyfriend, then it is unlucky for him, because you will find a great love in your life.

Ryan exaggerated being wounded in the heart. When? I asked with piqued curiosity.

I do not know for certain, but perhaps soon, I noticed she looked at Ryan when she said it. Your hand shows that you have been searching and have suffered heartache. But, then, see here where the line grows smooth to the end? You will find a great, deep love for the rest of your life.


She smiled at me and returned my hand.

Thank you, I said happily. Now, that was worth ten dollars. I looked to Ryan. Your turn.

He backed away, laughing, shaking his hand in protest in front of him. Oh, no you dont, he warned. He quickly placed a twenty dollar bill in the womans hand, grabbed mine, and scooted us out of there as fast as he could. As he led me to the door, I turned back around to wave goodbye to the fortune teller. I swore I thought I saw her winking at Ryan. At the top of the stairs, we exited the restaurant and headed back out into Post Alley. It was almost three oclock by the time we left the Pink Door.

He let go of my hand, much to my disappointment. Do you have time to walk around? Sure. I have a couple hours before I need to head home.

It was crowded and people were elbow to elbow. We walked through the market vendor stands and by the famous fish-throwing stands. It was always popular with the tourists, but the seafood cost an arm and a leg. The salty smell of fish and ocean lingered in the air. We walked through the cobblestone paths, past the vegetable and fruit stands. Ryan took my hand again and led me through the crowd, down the stairs to the lower market shops. I was almost giddy feeling the warmth of my hand in his bigger one, perfectly content to follow him anywhere.

The next thing I knew, he pulled me into a used bookstore. He said he loved old book stores and could spend hours in one. Why did I find that so freakin attractive? It must be the nerd in me. We walked around the store, looking at the titles and displays. He kept hold of my hand while we roamed the bookshelves. There was a distinct musty odor, but not offending; it was that old college library smell I remembered from my days at the UW great library, books and must and mold and pencil shavings.

I noticed a used copy of Jane Eyre and picked it up. I love this book. I love Brontë and Austen. They wrote such timeless love stories, I said casually. If you think about it, the common person didnt have typewriters or editors; or at least, I dont think they did. The concept of marketing was probably only by word of mouth. The thing that made these stories persist over time was the quality of the writing and the stories themselves. Jane Eyre was so beautifully written.

Why do all women love these books so much?

I gave him a reprimanding look. He looked back at me, feigning innocence.

Their love stories were so simple, really, I explained. It only took a single meeting or a letter or a look across the room before they wanted to profess their love for one another. Their love consumed their whole existence.

Simple? I totally disagree. Ryan shook his head emphatically. One of the main reasons why these books are such popular stories is because their stories are so complicated. Theyre the total opposite of simple. Their social structure and etiquette makes it even more so. Each story is a misunderstanding, a long journey that the author takes the reader on, and telling the story is lengthy enough to be book worthy. It is definitely not simple.

Touché.

He continued to press his point. I mean, look at Rochester. He hid a wife from his governess, from the whole house for that matter. Thats not simple. Did he honestly think he could get away with hiding someone behind the wall?

Okay, you win! I held up my hands in defeat. Closet Brontë fan, I see. He smirked at my comment, but looked smug.

Youre right, I conceded. I guess love makes you desperate and people do irrational things. These stories are far from simple. It was an incorrect choice of words. I meant that their love was pure and all consumingJane and Rochester, Catherine and Heathcliff, Elizabeth and Darcy. Satisfied?

Yes, he said smugly.

I guess I wonder why people always have to make things so darn complicated. I think the best love stories, the real ones, at least, are those that arent complicated. No drama, no issues. People meet, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. They just know. Ive never had that. Maybe thats why Im still single.

Im seeing a pattern here with you. You dont like the color gray, he observed and then added with a mischievous look, The best love stories are complicated, because it wouldnt sell books otherwise.

I purposely tried to shove him playfully with my shoulder to protest his cavalier attitude. I stumbled in my attempt and fell into him. He lost his balance and grabbed both of my shoulders to prevent his fall. He ended up stumbling into the bookshelf behind him, taking me with him, but we somehow remained standing on our feet.

Whoa! he laughed.

We were in the back of the bookstore and he was smiling and holding me close. His face was so close to mine that I could feel his breath on my cheeks. I had the strongest urge to kiss him. He looked down at my lips and I knew he wanted to kiss me too. It was just one of those perfect kissing moments, like the kind you read about in books, no pun intended. There was electricity in the air and a pulling force bringing our heads closer together. Just when I thought he was going to touch his lips onto mine, an older gentleman walked into the aisle. Ryan suddenly released me so quickly that I stumbled backwards and had to brace myself by throwing my hand out onto another bookshelf. It felt a little like whiplash.

The gentleman coughed uncomfortably as he maneuvered himself past us, mumbling, Excuse me.

 

Come on. We should probably get you home, Ryan said and led me back out to the market aisles. We still have to pick up your car, remember?

Despite our interrupted moment, I smiled to myself, because he was still holding my hand. What are you doing this evening? I asked, trying to sound as casual as possible.

He shrugged. No plans.

Really? I must have sounded sympathetic.

Yeah, really. He grinned. Dont worry, Im a big boy, he assured me.

Before I could stop myself, it was out of my mouth. Well, would you like to join me and my friends for dinner? It would be with my sister Anna and her fiancé, Ethan. My friend, Dexter, is also visiting from London.

You dont have to do that. Im good. Its really nice of you to ask, though, he said politely.

No, I mean it. I would love it if you would join us, I implored with as much persuasion as I could muster. Anna will harass you, so Im warning you. But I just dont want to say goodbye to you yet. I smiled shyly up at him, knowing I had stolen his line from earlier.

He returned my smile with his boyish, ear to ear, dimpled grin, that smile that I was beginning to love so much. Okay, sounds like fun.


 

 

Ryan dropped me off at Rays right next to my car. We agreed that he should just come by my place in an hour and a half and we would walk the three blocks to the restaurant together.

As soon as I walked in my door, I texted Anna that Ryan would be joining us for dinner. I couldnt predict her reaction if I didnt give her a heads up, plus she needed to add another person to the reservation.

I was beyond excited to see Dexter. I hadnt told him that Andrew and I had broken up, so I wondered what he would think or say when he saw me with Ryan. Dexter always had great etiquette. He did his undergrad at Cornells School of Hotel Management and I knew even without giving him a heads up that he would be appropriately discrete.

As expected, my phone started ringing five seconds after I texted. I braced myself for Annas hysteria and deluge of questions.

What? When did this happen? Anna exclaimed excitedly. I cant believe you didnt say anything to me earlier!

I havent really had time, I said defensively. Everything just happened in the last twenty-four hours. Im catching up with you now.

So, how? What? Just give me the scoop! she blurted out in a frustrated rush.

Well, we bumped into each other yesterday at a work function. You know, one of those big, corporate meetings with hundreds of people.

Oh my God! See, I told youits totally fate! she exclaimed.

Yeah, well, maybe youre right this time. I couldnt believe I was actually agreeing with her on this one. Sorry, Anna, but I dont have a lot of time right now to tell you everything. I have to get ready. Hell be here in an hour. Can you call the restaurant and add another person to our reservation?

Okay, fine. Though its going to kill me all night not knowing the details, she complained. Youll live. And Anna, I said with warning in my voice. DO NOT harass him and give him the third degree. Please try to be normal.

 

Chill out. Okay, okay. Ill be on my best behavior, she swore with mocked annoyance.

We hung up and I jumped in the shower. I made sure I exfoliated well and shaved my legs and armpits extra thoroughly. Just in case.

I pilfered through my closet and chose a pale pink summer dress, one of my long weekend shopping spree purchases. It was casual, above the knee, with spaghetti straps, a cinched waste, and a skirt that swooshed. The A-line design accentuated my breasts and tiny waist. I put on my pink and orange espadrilles to match and draped a thin black cardigan over by shoulders. It was just enough to cover me in case it got chilly or to let it rest on my shoulders if it wasnt.

I gave myself a quick once-over in the mirror and decided to leave my long, straight, dark brown hair down. It fell just below my shoulders and my eyes matched, though depending on the light, they sometimes took on a warm topaz look. My skin was paler than I wanted it to be right now, but fortunately my olive undertones inherited from my Korean grandmother gave me some color. I once read that Keanu Reeves was a quarter Chinese, along with Ann Curry, who used to be on The Today Show. Despite our blue-eyed, European descended dad, Anna and I looked like we could both be in the same family with Keanu and Ann.

Satisfied with my appearance, I tidied up my apartment, making sure to remove my love life work back schedule from the refrigerator. I wasnt sure where this night would lead, but there was a small possibility that I might invite him in, if only for just drinks. My condo was small, only 850 square feet, and nothing compared to what a VP could afford, but I was proud of it. I was fortunate that it had two bedrooms, since I used the smaller one as an office, but the biggest selling point for me was the rather large balcony in the back. The deck was uniquely triangular and probably almost as big as the living room and dining room combined. I liked to call my style contemporary chic. The furniture was modern with sleek lines, but still cozy, not too artsy. I tended to like cool colors and dark wood. Since my living room was small, I had minimal furniture made up only of a gray loveseat, a coffee table, and one chair with a gray and white pattern on it. My place wasnt fancy, but it was mine and I had made it my sanctuary.

My door buzzer rang. It was nearly seven oclock and Ryan was right on time. Instead of inviting Ryan in, I decided to meet him outside of my building. Hopefully he would come in later. As I walked down the hall towards the glass door of the entry, I spotted him standing outside. He was facing the street, so he didnt see me. I held my breath and just watched him for a moment. He was wearing beige pants with a white linen shirt and matching brown belt and shoes. His sandy brown hair held the highlights of summer. He looked glorious and sexy, and as I watched him, I felt my chest tighten. Was this really going to happen with us? Was I prepared for this? We had both done our part to set the wheels in motion. Would he be kind and take caution with my heart or was I only opening myself for more heartache?

As if he could sense my presence, he turned around and saw me watching him through the door and gave me that broad, dimpled grin of his. Holy heaven, he was one beautiful man. I finally exhaled.

My dad always told Anna and me that you could tell a lot about a man from his eyes. I couldnt put into words what made a mans eyes kind, dishonest, deep or uncomplicated, but when you looked into them, you just knew. It was a gut feeling. Right now, Ryans blue eyes looked a thousand leagues deep and they were pulling me in. They were warm and calming and gazing at me with frank appreciation.

You look beautiful, Julia, he said admiringly.

I blushed again. Thank you. You clean up pretty well yourself.

Ryan reached out his hand and took mine, holding it warmly as we walked to the restaurant.

So, I need to warn you about Anna, I said, breaking the enjoyable silence of walking hand in hand.

God, do I need to sit down? he joked dramatically, making me laugh.

Shes well, she can just sometimes be over the top. I think this particular occasion might be one of those times.

Consider me warned. I think I can handle her, he said confidently. Well see about that, I mumbled.

We were going to a restaurant called Crowe, which Id heard was owned by the same people as Bettys. I always thought it was the oddest name for a restaurant, but that didnt seem to deter the patrons.

I saw Anna and Ethan walking down the street toward us from the opposite direction as we neared the restaurant. Anna was bouncing up and down in her heels as she rushed to greet us, not taking her eyes off of Ryan. Ethan trailed a few steps behind her, as usual. Ryan looked to me with an amused Im glad you warned me now grin.

I took a deep breath. Here we go.


 

 

We ordered a bottle of red wine as soon as we were seated. When the server returned in a few minutes to present us the bottle, I noticed Dexter coming in through the front door. His timing was always impeccable.

Dexter had dark brown hair that was almost black and matching dark eyes. He was average height, I guess, and thin, but where he lacked in size and stature, he more than made up for in charm and personality. He was that guy at a party that was always attracting people to him with his great exuberance and witty storytelling. He was always fashionably hip, like he was tonightfitted designer jeans, white button down shirt, blue and white striped summer blazer. He even had a blue and pink polka-dotted handkerchief sticking out just barely from his front pocket and white Converse shoes to finish the look. I loved it. It was so Dexter.

He saw us from the door and sauntered over to our table. Hi, beautiful! You are just glowing, Julia! he gushed. Something is agreeing with you these days. He kissed me on the cheek before moving on to greet Anna and Ethan, hugging and kissing each of them, too. I loved Europeans and Dexter was essentially one of them after having lived there for the last decade.

I introduced him to Ryan. When he thought Ryan wasnt looking, Dexter gave me the hmm curious, where is Andrew? I know better than to ask look. I just planted a smile on my face, knowing Dexter would eventually figure it out. He was seriously one of my most favorite people in the world. Dexters smile, warmth and exuberant spirit could always lift me out of my worst funk. And he had the best laugh, strong and memorable, and the honesty of it caressed you like a welcome breeze on a warm summer day, making you smile right along with him. I was tickled pink that he was able to join us tonight and meet Ryan.

Dexter, what brings you into town? Anna asked as soon as he sat.

Oh, just traveling for work again. And since I was in the country, I thought Id stop over and say hi to my folks for the weekend. Its a really short trip. I just got into town last night and Im heading back to London in the morning. He looked at his watch. In about eleven hours, actually This was pretty typical of Dexters visits home.


: 2015-09-15; : 3;







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