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How did we go from 'this works' to 'this is over'?

How did we go from 'this works' to 'this is over'?
(Sarah Wilkins / For The Times)

It wasn't a long thing, just a handful of weeks in November and December broken up by his trips back East and those big holidays that cropped up too soon to be spent together. And we never made it exclusive. But I could count on one hand the number of times I'd clicked with someone the way I did with the photographer and I'd still have three fingers left over.

We connected online, met for drinks and it was immediate sparks, with the first date followed by a spontaneous second one the next night. Meals were had, stories told, quirks revealed, nights spent.

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He grilled us salmon and veggies served poolside, whipped up pancakes too tasty to be the healthful kind. I brought over sandwiches and beer, provided Pop-Tarts we ate standing up in my kitchen. Hey, you play to your strengths.

We introduced the dogs to each other, and the two little old men got along. That's so cool, the photographer said: "This works."

He'd said that already, and would say it again. "This just works."

If there was anything to fear, it was that we seemed a little too comfortable too soon, that he spoke too easily about the months ahead. Gaffes that would spook most guys — I'm prone to those — were met with reassurance: "I don't freak out easy," he said.

So I dropped my guard and relaxed into his East Coast cadence and stealth sexiness, enjoyed the chemistry and the kidding. I decided to believe: He was as into me as I was into him. It works.

And it got better. Before his trip home for the holidays, he asked if I liked live music. Of course I did. "Good, wanna be my date for New Year's?" Yes, sir. Yes, I very much would.

While he was away, we bantered daily via text. The day I turned 50, he congratulated me on turning 43.

I sent him a picture of my mom and me at Christmas and he teased me about how pretty she was, and how I must be adopted, and how he was going to take her out instead.

"Hope ur planning ur new years outfit for me," he wrote. What does a girl wear to see a funk band on New Year's Eve, I asked, and as a New York guy would say and a Jersey girl would understand, he told me jeans would be fine, just make it "sexy, and a little trashy."

He was due back in L.A. on the eve of the eve, and an hour after landing he laid out plans: Come over early? Bring a bathing suit for the hot tub, clothes to take a hike the next day? "Tomorrow should be fun," he said.

"Tomorrow" was not fun.

I awoke at 4 a.m. with the stomach flu but swore to myself that I would rally somehow. He called me a few hours later — he was down with the other kind of flu and our plans were out the window. Maybe you could come up here and we could just be sick together, he suggested half-heartedly. I could have said yes, but I could not rally after all.

I sent him soup and a sandwich and juice via a delivery service, though, before I passed out, because his fridge was empty and because that's the kind of thing you do for people you like. And for the next few days we checked in on each other's misery and started to joke around again. The soup was a lifesaver, he said when he thanked me for it, so sweet. We would, I trusted, eventually be well again.

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Then he was a ghost.

He must be really sick, I thought. Texts went unanswered except for a "still not better to hang out" when I suggested swinging by his place after work. Then came a completely silent week. Then another.

When we finally talked, he sounded like an acquaintance, or maybe a stranger. You tell me, I asked, what's going on?

"I was married for a long time," he said seriously. He didn't think this, us, would be good for him. Plus, didn't I think it was weird that we'd both gotten sick at the same time like that, on the holiday? "I kind of took it as a bad omen that things wouldn't work out for us. So, yeah — I won't be moving forward with this."

I have been dumped many times, for many reasons, but never for getting sick during sick season. Of course it was all more complicated than that — when is it not — but I still can't fit it in my head how we went so abruptly from "this just works" to "this is over." For me, it had still been working. But when a person decides to walk, it's done.

A while later, I came across part of the "sexy, and a little trashy" outfit I'd planned out and sent him a picture. "My only regret?" I lied. "That I didn't get to wear this one for ya. This was for New Year's Eve."

"Yeah," he wrote, "who knows what if New Year's Eve went different …"

Maybe, just maybe, it would have worked.

Christie D'Zurilla — who in a pinch can make more than Pop-Tarts — writes about celebrities for the L.A. Times.

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

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