when we arrive at the restaurant, we take two chairs at the bar and order. soon after the bartender set our drinks down, i feel someone look at me. cautiously, i peer over my shoulder. a guy, alone, sits towards my right down at the other end. he gazes towards my direction. our eyes accidentally meet. my body must have shifted or my presence must have changed, because he (the person i came to the bar with) noticed a difference. he glances at me, then slowly around. despite the crowd, he knows exactly who it is. when he focuses back at me, i subconsciously concentrate on the contents of my drink. memories flood my mind. ones that begin just like this one and almost always end in a stranger’s bed with a “baby, i’ll call you tomorrow.” i never cared if they didn’t actually, but when they did, my shame paralyzed me and the text would never be answered. maybe a glimpse of what i remembered reflects in my eyes because he says, “are you okay?” i breathe in deeply and somehow gravitate to his warm chestnut eyes. i am taken by surprise. i am familiar with anger and pride, all to used to pity and blame. i wait for a “you looked back at him so that why he’s walking over here.” (out of the corner of my eye, i see he actually is) i never expect to see compassion and gentleness.

“can i take your hand?” he then requests.

my defenses spring up. “so he thinks we’re dating and respects that instead of me as an individual?” i was not so gentle.

he pauses. “absolutely not.” his response is still compassionate. “i want you to feel safe. it doesn’t seem like you feel safe. is it alright with you if i hold your hand?”