"I'm still stuck in the office." Harris' voice crooned through the phone. "Forgive me. I'm going to leave in 10 and be there in 20."
"But that's what you said 20 minutes ago, Harris," I said, sounding more desperate than annoyed. I'd rushed home from work to be sure I looked lovely for our outing tonight, and now he'd called three times to apologize for being behind schedule.
"I know, I know. The office was crazy the first day back from my trip. I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you."
"You don't need to make it up to me, just get here already. Or maybe I should meet you there?"
We were almost late for Friday night services, a part of the Federation Shabbat we were going to.
"No, don't do that. I'll be there in 20. I promise."
I had just finished watched the news when... Hooray! Harris's car!
I scampered into the back bedroom and listened for the doorbell, kicking myself for playing games and pretending I wasn't waiting by the door. "You are completely pathetic," I told my reflection as I strolled to the door .
My heart lurched when I opened the door and Harris stepped in, greeting me with a warm smile.
-- "Focus, Jess. Focus!" I screeched in my head. " Play it cool. Play it detached."
That was the goal I'd decided earlier in the week: If I was serious about having a meaningful relationship, I had to figure out -- before things got serious -- if there was any possibility of it going somewhere.
I had to figure out -- before things got serious -- if there was any possibility of it going somewhere.
"You look great," he said, sheepishly handing me a small, neatly wrapped package.
--Stay strong. Emotions in check. Do not melt. Do not melt.
I opened the package to find myself holding a refrigerator magnet of the Space Needle.
"I told them not to make it look like a jewelry box," he said, abashedly. "I know it's tacky. Don't feel obligated to put it up. I just wanted to show that I was thinking of you, even though I didn't have time to shop except at the airport."
"I'll have it framed, Harris," I said, with sweet sarcasm, as we hurried off to his car.
After services, I found myself sitting at the dining room table of Rina and Steve Cooper, a youngish couple with three adorable kids who hosted Harris, me and four other people from Harris' Federation group.
The lovely Shabbat dinner -- songs, stories, meaningful discussion -- filled me with homesick pangs, even though Rina and Steve were somewhat more traditional than my parents.
I watched how Harris skillfully worked the conversation so he spoke to each adult at the table, drew them out. I saw how two other guests, apparently shy, brightened under his attentions. I liked that.
He kept refilling my water glass and making sure I was comfortable enough, warm enough, had enough food. I had to laugh at his overwhelming thoughtfulness.
"Harris, you're out of the doghouse for being late," I whispered. "I'm okay!"
I was actually more than okay. I was in love -- with Rina and Steve's oldest kid, a five-year-old named Ari. He had big blue eyes and a precocious mouth. His three-year-old sister Sarah had taken a shine to me and vexed her mother by deciding my lap was the best chair around. I assured Rina that I was perfectly content.
"So, Ari, what would you do in this situation?" Steve asked his young son about a playground scenario he'd concocted -- complete with plot and moral dilemma.
Wow. I was fascinated at the chance to watch a kid learning to make ethical choices right in front of my eyes.
I was watching a kid learning to make ethical choices right in front of my eyes.
I turned excitedly to Harris. He was staring blankly at his watch. He smiled when he saw me looking at him.
"It's probably their bedtime soon," he whispered drolly. "Then we can have an adult conversation."
"I like this better!" I said over Sarah's now-dozing head. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged amiably.
Later, while Harris and Steve were putting chairs away in the dining room, Rina forthrightedly asked, "So what's the deal with you and Harris? Are you together-together? Or just friends who everyone thinks are together?"
"I'm honestly not sure," I laughed. "My only clue is that he brought me a refrigerator magnet from his business trip."
"Then you're practically engaged!" she joked.
Rina drew cups of hot water from a big urn and made us some tea, which we sipped while Harris went with Steve to check on the kids, who by now were warm and cozy and drifting off to sleep.
I wanted to ask her a whole slew of personal questions.
I looked around at the surroundings ... a bright, lovely house decorated in American Contemporary Mommy. Rina and Steve had an easy compatibility, and what seemed to be a genuine warmth and respect for each other. I wanted to -- rudely -- ask her a whole slew of personal questions. How Did They Meet? What was their dating stage like -- fast or slow? Does she like being a married mom -- or is all carpools and diapers, marking time by the number of electric bills paid.
Harris came in, smiling and holding a sleepy toddler. My heart pitched into a futuristic time warp. Do I want this man to be my kids' daddy?
Jessica Shaeffer (not her real name, sorry) lives in Phoenix and is the producer of a TV fashion program.