S&C 16_e“EXCUSE ME. MAY I JOIN YOU?”

VC’s jogging partner stood over her. The same thrill of familiarity that Florencia had experienced the first time she met him shot up her spine. Since that day a month or two ago, she had wondered when she would meet him again, but not if. His being here now seemed exactly right. She slid over on the bench, the one where she often came to watch the sunset, and made room for him. He was dressed for the office rather than for a jog: dark gray slacks with the faintest of pinstripes and a light pink dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck and rolled at the sleeves. Florencia hadn’t met many men who could pull off light pink. This man didn’t just pull it off.; he wore it like a birthright. With those cheekbones and those arms and that burnished dark skin, he was more stunning than anyone had a right to be.

“Magic hour,” he said.

“I’m sorry?”

He grinned at her. His lips were so dark they were almost purple. “It’s what photographers call this time of day, when the sun turns that golden color. The camera loves magic hour. It makes everyone beautiful.”

Magic hour. Florencia rolled it around on her tongue. Since moving to LA, this had become her favorite time of day, the time shortly before sunset when shadows were long and lean and and the air took on a reddish hue that caressed the corners of the world. “That’s a good name for it,” she said. “Are you a photographer?”

“Me?” The man laughed. “Not a chance. No eye at all.”

Florencia chose not to be offended.

“I’m Youssef. I don’t know if you remember me…”

“I remember you. I’m Florencia.”

“Florencia. Nice name. Look, I really don’t mean this as a line…but have we met before? Other than with VC, that day?”

“I don’t think so,” said Florencia, who had given it some thought since then.

The man took in her eyes, her hair, her stomach. Three months in, she was just starting to show. “Do you know Trixie Franklin?”

Florencia shook her head.

“Damn. I thought maybe that was it. She’s my sister, and she’s expecting too. I thought maybe you were a friend of hers.”

“Do I really seem like a friend of your sister’s?” Florencia wasn’t sure why she said it. She was just fairly sure she and this man’s sister had nothing in common.

Youssef laughed, a soft guffaw. “Guess not,” he said. “Her friends are way less…thoughtful.”

“How do you know I’m thoughtful?”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Florencia. “But that doesn’t explain how you know.”

Youssef got up and moved a respectful distance away from her, holding his hands in front of him as if to show he meant no harm. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that…I really do feel as though I know you. As though I’ve known you for a long time. I shouldn’t have bothered you. I’m really not a creep.”

“I don’t think you’re a creep.” Florencia couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t a word she used very often. “Please, sit down.”

“You sure?”

Florencia nodded.

Youssef sat down.

They watched a row of pelicans swoop low over the ocean. It was astonishing how easy it was to sit quietly next to this almost-stranger. Florencia wiggled her toes, which were painted a deep pink. It had become her one indulgence, a pedicure every week or two, a small present to herself.

“Is it just me?” Youssef said.

Florencia felt a stab of realization. She had meant to say it, but she hadn’t. This whole time, she had let him think he was the only one. “No. You seem familiar to me, too. But I don’t know where we would have met. I really don’t think we have.”

Youssef released a breath. “Where did you go to school? UCLA?”

Going to UCLA was as real to Florencia as going to the moon. “No. I just moved here from Nebraska.”

“I have no idea where that state even is,” he said, deadpan.

“It’s there anyway,” said Florencia.

Youssef gave his soft guffaw again. “Touché. What kind of work you do?”

Florencia held up the newspaper in her lap, where she had been circling possible jobs. “No kind, yet. How about you?”

He pulled a thin silver case from his pocket, extracted a business card, and held it between two fingers as he handed it to her.

“Youssef Edward Franklin, Attorney-at-Law,” she read. “What kind of law?”

“Contracts. Music, mostly.”

She tucked the card in her purse. “I don’t have a business card.”

“Probably because you don’t have a business,” said Youssef, standing. “See? Don’t tell me I don’t listen to you.”

“Are you leaving?” asked Florencia. The bench seemed empty without him.

“Yeah. I have some work I have to finish up tonight. Uh…would it be weird if I asked to meet you at this bench again?”

Florencia studied the sky. Magic hour was waning, and the horizon was awash with an intense yellow glow. “I’d like that,” she said. “I’m here most evenings.”

“Friday, then?” said Youssef.

Florencia found herself nodding, over and over, yes and yes and yes. “Friday,” she agreed.

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