She could be anyone—a ballet dancer, a short-order cook, a car thief. Or all of the above. He imagined her, afterwards, pirouetting to the kitchen, whipping up a vegetarian omelet with whatever she found in the fridge, and later, while he was distracted by the meal’s deliciousness, snatching up his car keys and making a run for it. Patrick knew only 1) what she looked like, 2) how she liked to pose in pictures, and 3) which number she preferred to give as her age. They had exchanged a total of four direct messages, in the third of which she had described herself as “down to.” Patrick hoped he was guessing correctly what that meant.
In the last 15 years, Patrick had had sex with exactly one person, the one he married. But that life was over. It was time to move on and escape his comfort zone. Why anyone would abandon a perfectly good comfort zone was initially beyond his comprehension, but as soon as he fired up the app, he began to understand its appeal. Every one of the app’s users was eager to meet another stranger. Many of them were beautiful. All of them were smiling (in at least one of their profile photos). To expose his most intimate parts and predilections to a stranger was just about the most terrifying thing Patrick could imagine, but to earn that level of trust from someone new was potentially glorious, perhaps more so than anything he’d done in, well, 15 years. He was nervous, hopeful, and ready.
But as the appointed time approached, he began to foresee potential humiliations. What if sexual customs had changed in the last 15 years? In his twenties he’d had his routine—his wind-up, his first move, his specialty, his back-ups. What if those moves were now seen as old-fashioned, corny, ineffective, even offensive?
And what if she were the demanding and shaming type? He had chosen her because her close-up photo had exposed little lines in her cheeks and the corners of her mouth. He hoped that meant she liked to laugh. If she could find humor in the situation, he was pretty sure he could handle any embarrassment.
Actually, he’d had help choosing her. What was truly surprising was that she had chosen him back.
The doorbell rang. He skimmed his collar with his fingers and rubbed some warmth into his hands. He’d been surprised that she suggested his home for their first meeting, but she was clearly highly confident and presumably armed with mace. He opened the door.
“Patrick, right?” she said. “I’m Caylee.” A Lyft was already zooming out of the driveway behind her.
The stranger shimmied a little on the doorstep, fluttering the wedding-cake ruffles on her top, as if the introduction required a dance number. Her smile came and went in quick flashes.
She was not who Patrick was expecting.
He stepped back, bewildered. She charged past him into his kitchen, hopped up onto a barstool, and slapped her purse on the counter. “Can I get a drink? Whiskey’s my favorite. I also like Stoli. Gets me into the mood.” She elongated the last word, sounding like a cow, and smiled to encourage Patrick to laugh, but he was still too surprised to react. She dropped the smile and fanned herself with her hand. She had the energy of someone who paces while brushing her teeth.
“Ice?” he managed to say.
“Just one cube. What’s that smell? I like it.”
The smell was fresh slice-and-bake cookies, which were just now cooling on the counter. Patrick also had on hand brie and crackers, wine, a rotisserie chicken (in the fridge, in case she needed something more substantial), trial subscriptions to every streaming video service known to man, and (in case it was her thing) a vape pen. He was the kind of guy who brought out the whole toolbox to fix a jammed drawer. He knew that about himself and also knew to hide it from people he had just met.
Luckily, he also had a bottle of Dewar’s.
As he slid over the drink, he took the opportunity to examine Caylee’s face. Yes, she was definitely not the woman in the profile pictures (who also called herself Caylee). She had pulled a bait-and-switch, which he’d heard was a common hazard of online dating. However, this version of Caylee, contrary to everyone’s warnings, was both younger and prettier than the one he’d been expecting, though not extraordinarily so. She looked perhaps 5 years younger than the 39 years she’d claimed, which Patrick had assumed to mean, by the usual rules of these sites, that she was around his age, 45.