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L.A. Affairs:  A love derailed by staying on track

(Dan Zalkus / For Los Angeles Times)

We’re gripping a standing pole on the Metro Red Line that carries us from Hollywood to Union Station. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve been home since leaving Los Angeles for New York, and living there has conditioned me to remain still and compressed on public transit, as if every square foot around me were crowded with people.

But she lets her body hang loose from the pole, swinging freely, enjoying the space around us. The train suddenly rocks and she lets the force push her against me. We kiss. Immediately the train rattles and pulls her away. She keeps swinging when the train stays smooth and ends up next to me. We kiss briefly before the train throws her balance again. She smiles, blushes.

I stand rigid and watch the dim, dirty lights of the car become a spotlight for her dance. It continues, our lips locking by the grace of the train’s rhythm. Only when the train pulls to a stop are we both still.

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A month ago we ran into each other for the first time since graduating from high school. We knew each other peripherally there, as we did many of the other students. Most friend groups, however, seemed to coalesce around the segment of L.A. they were from, bonds formed through carpools and neighborhood functions rather than schoolyard commingling.

I lived in Santa Monica and she in East Hollywood. By senior year she and I had spoken a few times and doubtless felt the draw of mutual attraction. But nothing came of it. In any event, I was leaving for New York soon, and she planned to stay in L.A. I didn’t see much point in cultivating new bonds.

About three years later my mom rented a place in downtown L.A. to be closer to her work, and I joined her for the summer. I was passing time in a bookstore there, eager to get back to New York, when we had our accidental reunion.

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It was awkward at first. We both felt the same draw as if we were still in high school. I told her I didn’t know the area, or anywhere besides the Westside very well, and thought maybe she could show me around.

We met for an outing at an art fair in San Gabriel, near her college. The whole time we were like adolescents on a first date, both heartened by each other’s company but unsure how to act on it. I wondered how she handled staying in L.A. all this time when so many of her cohorts took college as a chance to explore somewhere new. She said she liked the city and didn’t want to force change. I began to suspect it had something to do with her innate joy at small details.

At one point we were at the top of a stairway overlooking a crowded art gallery. Antsy, I asked if she was ready to go. She nodded, half hearing me, and smiled, saying that she liked to watch the tops of people’s heads.

When we sat on the train back home, I told her that I had felt like kissing her that whole day but resisted because I had to go back soon. I didn’t want her to resent me.

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She leaned forward and kissed me. “No resentment,” she said.

So we spent our time in the most pleasant ways, two careless 20-year-olds, walking through downtown, making out against the sunset view from the roof of Disney Hall. She infuses each occasion with genuine warmth, telling me she misses me after just a few days apart. I’m uncomfortable with this because I’ve resolved not to let our affair go anywhere beyond the summer.

But perhaps I’m uncomfortable with the idea of our time together coming to an end. Whenever she tells me the small details that make her smile — the way I let my shoelaces flop around, this guy in Union Station who carries a cat on his head like a hat — I feel my heart turn over.

On our last outing before I go back, we walk to the Metro station after an afternoon spent at the Hollywood Bowl park. I tell her how much I loved this month together, that I’m sorry, truly sorry, that it couldn’t last any longer, that I wish I lived in L.A. full time so that we could shape ourselves into something real.

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She says nothing and nods quietly, understanding but unmistakably disappointed. We walk to the train in silence. But once there, she seems to let the music of the train wash her disappointment away and surprises me with her kisses.

As time has passed I have thought of our month and realized how determined I was to stick to predetermined circumstances. How, perhaps, if I had let go and put faith in that connection, our happiness could have extended far beyond a fraction of a summer.

Harwood is a recent graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. He works as a writer’s assistant in Los Angeles.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at home@latimes.com. We pay $300 a column.

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