She thought he was going to go in for a kiss and prepared to duck and offer him her cheek, but instead of kissing her on the mouth he took her by the arm and kissed her gently on the forehead, as though she were something precious. “I will see you soon.”On the walk back to her dorm, she was filled with a sparkly lightness that she recognized as the sign of an incipient crush.While she was home over break, they texted nearly non-stop, not only jokes but little updates about their days. “His name is Robert, and I met him at the movie theatre.

But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a little too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he were protecting something. Or, if he did, he showed it only by stepping back, as though to make her lean toward him, try a little harder. Soon she noticed that when she texted him he usually texted her back right away, but if she took more than a few hours to respond his next message would always be short and wouldn’t include a question, so it was up to her to re-initiate the conversation, which she always did.

A few times, she got distracted for a day or so and wondered if the exchange would die out altogether, but then she’d think of something funny to tell him or she’d see a picture on the Internet that was relevant to their conversation, and they’d start up again.

When Margot returned to campus, she was eager to see Robert again, but he turned out to be surprisingly hard to pin down. “I promise I will c u soon.” Margot didn’t like this; it felt as if the dynamic had shifted out of her favor, and when eventually he did ask her to go to a movie she agreed right away.

The movie he wanted to see was playing at the theatre where she worked, but she suggested that they see it at the big multiplex just outside town instead; students didn’t go there very often, because you needed to drive.

Robert came to pick her up in a muddy white Civic with candy wrappers spilling out of the cup holders.

On the drive, he was quieter than she’d expected, and he didn’t look at her very much.At first, she deflected this with another joke, because she really did have to study, but he said, “No, I’m serious, stop fooling around and come now,” so she put a jacket over her pajamas and met him at the 7-Eleven. He greeted her without ceremony, as though he saw her every day, and took her inside to choose some snacks.The store didn’t have Red Vines, so he bought her a Cherry Coke Slurpee and a bag of Doritos and a novelty lighter shaped like a frog with a cigarette in its mouth.“Thank you for my presents,” she said, when they were back outside.They went to a bar she’d never been to, an underground speakeasy type of place, with no sign announcing its presence. The bouncer hardly even looked at it; he just smirked and said, “Yeah, no,” and waved her to the side, as he gestured toward the next group of people in line. Finally, someone in line who’d been paying attention tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to her, marooned on the sidewalk. “I’m twenty.” And then, absurdly, she started to feel tears stinging her eyes, because somehow everything had been ruined and she couldn’t understand why this was all so hard. Please don’t feel bad.” She let herself be folded against him, and she was flooded with the same feeling she’d had outside the 7-Eleven—that she was a delicate, precious thing he was afraid he might break.There was a line to get inside, and, as they waited, she grew fidgety trying to figure out how to tell him what she needed to tell him, but she couldn’t, so when the bouncer asked to see her I. Robert had gone ahead of her, not noticing what was playing out behind him. But, when Robert saw her face crumpling, a kind of magic happened. He kissed the top of her head, and she laughed and wiped her tears away.“I can’t believe I’m crying because I didn’t get into a bar,” she said.Robert was wearing a rabbit-fur hat that came down over his ears and a thick, old-fashioned down jacket.