ater he said, "It was too soon to ask you that. Too soon for me." Then he disappeared. He had told me about all the women he'd left. I'd joked, "Is this a threat or a promise?" "This isn't about you and me," he said. "You're just a sweet talking con man," I scolded. "No, Gail, I don't work that way," he said. "Con man, yes, but you're just the kind of woman I like."

When Harlan reappeared, my husband was in Hungary on a business trip. I had told Harlan many times that I would seek a divorce, that I was mad for him, that only his voice made me dance. He was a poor man by choice.

When Harlan came back it had been three years. He strode into the cafe as if he'd never left. I was there for the fourth day in a row after not visiting in over a year. My face flushed, I wanted to leave or go through the floor. I felt naked.

His eyes never left me. He watched my discomfort like an animal watching a meal it's about to devour. I told myself to read, read what's in front of you. Like men are taught to think of mathematical problems to keep from coming.

Did I say that every time I talked to Harlan it was like having intercourse, but that he never even kissed me? He sat not at my table but across the room. He sat there drinking his coffee and watching me.

I rose to leave and he followed. "Gail," he said. "Yes." "Do you want to go for a ride with me into the desert?" "Okay," I said. I was curious how, or if, he'd explain his absence or if he'd just ellipse it.

I'd decided if I ever saw him again, I wouldn't ask where he'd been. Like Billie Holliday sang, "Don't explain, skip it...." "I'm secure now," he said. "I have a small place in Vegas and an adequate income from consulting for a mine. And how about you, Gail, are you free now?"

Work by Christy Sheffield Sanford, Copyright © 1996.