Of course he turned out to be a sex addict. Of course he did. And it was only natural that she should find this out by eating dinner with him, that her favorite restaurant and her favorite corner table within that restaurant should also be his. Of course, he should talk to her there about sex addiction, about his group, about seducing his young cousin’s ex-girlfriend, all while attempting footsie under the table. She couldn’t make this stuff up. How perfect it was that they should live within walking distance of one another.
But really, she admired him. He was putting all kinds of things on the table as a matter of course, in the same way their waiters set down glasses of water, silverware, plates of Thai noodles. She was surprised to learn that he was sixteen years her senior—closer to her mother’s age than to hers. And that he’d been sticking it to the ladies for over twenty-five years: her entire lifetime. That was what killed it for her, finally: the idea of his diseases, all the seeping stuff that must have squirted out of him. But he was a lovely man, really. Lovely.
And he didn’t want to be a sex addict—she felt herself hesitating a moment here, as he told her—he didn’t think that it had to be, necessarily, part of the lifestyle of the average neurotic and balding singer-songwriter. It made him, or so he claimed while squeezing lemon onto his Pad Thai, very unhappy. And that’s why he’d spent so much time, fifteen years, in therapy, because he couldn’t stop doing it, and never with the same person. It didn’t matter how much he loved a current girlfriend, a new girlfriend, a long-time girlfriend, even a partner of many years—he simply couldn’t stop himself from looking, and that was what he was doing now, looking at her, with his blue eyes and squirmy feet.
What amazed her, as she sat smiling at him, saying things about her family, about growing up Catholic and lonely, was that she had wanted him to look at her. She had been the one to seek him out. She was responsible for sitting in the near-dark with this man who was so casually admitting to his participation in a twelve-step program that allowed him to feel good about himself because at least he’d never had to pay for sex.
He had been clever, had written well-crafted e-mails, had also been, at one time, a gymnast. When she first saw him, he was standing on a low stage, playing the guitar, singing songs about Edith Wharton, about people rubbing off each other’s angles. It had been real to her; she watched herself become duller and rounder each day, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. His voice, though, had made it seem less awful.
Was this how it must be? That she could meet someone so handsome—with tufts of chest-hair poking out through his collar—who liked Thai food, who liked her, who could talk about recovering from pneumonia as though he were returning from a spiritual desert. Was it possible that she could meet such a person, beautiful and vulnerable with too much honesty, and leave him alone? She slipped off her right shoe and trailed her toes along his calf.
Nina Clements works as a librarian in Southern California. She earned an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.