A serial about a woman, her men, and a crankiness that may, or may not, be justified

★ ★ ★ ★

The Stranger in the Mirror

By Nan DePlume

Installment Nine: In which our hero reignites an old flame.

I’m still in my bathrobe at 3 p.m., putting the finishing touches on a brochure I’d promised my client this morning, when a “ping” tells me I have a Facebook message. It’s from Mitchell, one of my better ex-boyfriends.

“Hey, Nan. I hope you don’t think I’m a stalker for getting back in touch with you after—what’s it been, ten years? But once your mom friended me on FB and posted that picture of us as callow semi-youths, it seemed weird to be in touch with her and not you. And you know, I think about you sometimes. How are you doing these days?”

How am I doing these days? Well, for starters, I’m a bit of a disheveled shut-in, at least on days like this, when making up for previous procrastination keeps me chained to my iMac and I barely have time to brush my teeth, much less indulge in luxuries like feeling daylight on my skin and talking to other human beings. I have a lot of days like this, so I guess you might say I’m low-level depressed. And yeah, lonely.

“No worries, Mitchell,” I write back. “It’s my mom who’s the weird stalker. I’m happy to be reminded of your presence in the world. What’s up with you and yours?”

See what I did there? I pretended to breezily assume that Mitchell has a partner and maybe some kids—oh so casually probing into the burning question I hadn’t been able to answer by scouring the scant information and skimpy photo record in his Facebook account when I’d accepted his friend request last week. All I could glean is that Mitchell lives in L.A. these days and seems to spend a lot of time hiking and hanging out with a black Labrador. There were also two shots that featured a kid, a boy who kind of looks like Mitchell.

No picture of a girlfriend/wife, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I’ve always left my relationship status blank, and I avoid posting pictures that include men I’m seeing, even Blake when we were living together. Not that I was ashamed of him—he was pretty rugged and hot. But if you share photos and stipulate “In a relationship” on Facebook, you’ll have to deal with the public shame of altering your info when things go south.

Did I just say “when things go south”? I should have said “if,” since I don’t want to be defeatist. Sometimes I scare myself with how cynical I am, especially about men and relationships; other times I scare myself with how sappy I can be. And Mitchell always brought out the sap in me.

* * * *

“So…I have a date tonight,” I inform my brother Ned. “And you’ll never guess who it’s with!”

“Mitchell!” Ned shouts. We’re talking on the phone so I can’t see his expression, but I hear the glee in his voice.

“What? How did you know we were back in touch? I didn’t want anyone to know until there was something to know.”

“I’m the one who showed Mom how to get on Facebook, remember? Do you think she figured out how to search for friends, post photos, and tag people on her own?”

“So it was your idea to contact Mitchell—and hope that led to him contacting me?”

“No, that was all Mama,” Ned says. “I know better than to meddle in your love life. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t think it was going to work. I figured Mitchell was still mad at you for moving to New York.”

“Hey, it would have been crazy to turn down that job. And if we were meant to be—”

“You know, Nan, you say you want to be in a relationship, but you don’t do the things you have to do to have one.”

“Like what? Like giving up a career opportunity to hold on to a man?”

“Don’t worry honey, I haven’t turned into Phyllis Schlafly—may she rot in hell. I’m saying you should have seen what happened if you told Mitchell that you not only wanted that job; you wanted him, too. Maybe he would have gone to New York with you, or you guys could have tried a long-distance thing.”

“I don’t really know what happened—or should have happened—between us back then. It seemed like our relationship was cooling down, which is one of the reasons I left. But now I’m seeing him tonight. And he’s divorced and has a Lab and a nephew, but no kids of his own. That’s the good news. The bad news is he’s shaved his beard. I loved that beard.”

“Beards can grow. Have fun tonight, and call me tomorrow to fill me in.”

* * * *

I’m the first to arrive in the restaurant, which is good. I need to calm the hell down, since I feel hot, clammy, and fluttery. Assessing myself in the mirror behind the bar, I think I look OK in the dim lighting, which I’m grateful for.

I feel a hand on my shoulder and see someone else in the mirror, too. He’s tall, a little stooped, with a lot of grey in his hair.

I turn away from the reflection and towards the man standing beside me. Our eyes lock, and his crinkle with recognition and what looks like delight. In that instant, all that has happened in the past ten years—including those ten years—dissolves.

“Mitch,” I say.

“Nan,” he says.

There’s some awkwardness as we leave the bar area and wait to get the hostesses’ attention so she’ll seat us at our table. I’m having a little trouble with eye contact, but whenever I manage to look over at Mitchell, his gaze is familiar yet intense, making me break out in a light sweat I hope he can’t detect. Realizing I left my purse hanging from a hook on the bar, I go back and retrieve it. I pause to study my face in the mirror again, and it seems like something, I can’t quite figure out what, is different.

Nan DePlume is a writer who has lived in various spots in America and Europe. She enjoys Internet videos of cats tackling toddlers.