The first rule I hear after moving to L.A. is, "Don't date actors." I heed this warning (which was delivered by an actor) until a friend mentions a new guy in her boxing class.
"He's a cute British runner who plays guitar," she gushes, knowing I'm a fan of words like "British" and "guitar." Then she adds that he moved here from London to act.
Before I can protest, my friend assures me he used to be an actor, but, after years of dead-end auditions and too much booze, he turned to teaching and sobriety. He told her he was ready to meet someone "nice and normal." He was over actresses, done with drama.
So I agree to meet him for coffee at Susina. The night is classic L.A.: crisp and breezy, but nice enough to sit outside. Under a heater.
When I arrive five minutes late, he's reading something literary that may or may not be a prop. He's sandy-haired and wiry with a cheeky grin like Greg Kinnear circa the "Talk Soup" days.
We make easy, coffee-line small talk and laugh awkwardly when our hands bump reaching for napkins. Cue the spark. The attraction is obvious. And not just because he promotes dessert.
"Order the coconut cake," he says pointing to a slice the size of a Prius.
This guy's a definite upgrade from the recent gym-rat-no-fat-vegan who went berserk when he found an El Pollo Loco menu in my kitchen.
Two days later, the Brit calls. The next weekend we meet for brunch downtown at Tiara Café. We peruse the menu, bonding over our mutual breakfast obsession and the gut-wrenching Sophie's Choice over savory versus sweet.
"How about I order pancakes and you get the omelet," he says. "Then we'll split?"
With that, I'm hooked.
When the food arrives we're deep in discussion about our lives (books, film, television). The omelet is hearty, but soon I crave syrupy carbs. I watch him aimlessly down final bites of both breakfasts, completely engrossed in his analysis of why the British version of "The Office" is superior to the American one. I agree with his review but am nonetheless miffed at my absentee pancakes. And myself for not protesting. I let it go, opting to savor our conversation rhythm instead.
I spy traces of neuroses (chain-smoking, bitten fingernails) and selfishness (pancake hoarding), but I'm pulled in anyway. He's insecure about his new teaching role; theater still tugs his heart. I wrestle with childhood dreams versus adult realities too. Hints of his crazy feel relatable and familiar. But maybe daftness with an English accent just sounds better.
When he calls to ask me out again, I swoon. The third date milestone in Los Angeles is akin to engagement in other cities. Plus, he invites me to the Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl with a group of his best mates and their girlfriends.
We park under Runyon Canyon and trek up Franklin. As we join throngs of pedestrians on Highland, he slips his arm around my waist and pulls me close.
"Don't wanna lose you," he whispers into my hair. My stomach flip-flops.
Inside the Bowl, music bellows, crowds cheer and we huddle together, arms entwined.
After the show, our group hikes down the hill. Just past the red ribbon church, he whisks me behind a hedge and kisses me deeply. It's sweet and soft with just enough heat.
Later at his place, he brews mint tea as we comb iTunes taking turns as DJ. After a quick visit to the "loo," I find him cross-legged on the couch, ukulele in hand. Before I can sit, he plucks the tiny cords while humming the chorus of "Hey Jude." Things sort of improve when he sings, but the mix of direct eye contact and theatrical eye-closing makes me squirm. This isn't an audition. Despite my discomfort, I clap, and within seconds of his final note we're horizontal.
In the middle of a deep kiss he hoists himself up on one elbow, "You're great, but I'm not ready for sex."
Wait. Isn't that my line?
"No hurry," I say rising from the couch, pulling him with me. "Walk me to my car?"
Leaning against my Jeep, we kiss again while my mind cuts to a montage of our next date: We laugh and canoodle in the kitchen as I prepare my three-cheese lasagna reserved exclusively for winter and potential long-term commitments.
Back at the car, his hands cup my face, our eyes locked. I expect a deep smooch, but instead he plants a quick peck on my forehead.
"You're such a nice girl," he says as air catches the damp residue from his kiss. "Text me when you get home?"
I nod as he walks backward up the duplex steps, fists deep in pockets.
I text, but no response.
The next morning he sends a Facebook message — a monologue full of clichés that basically says I'm a wonderful person who will make a great wife for someone else, but I'm not his match.
My guess? His inner thespian still seeks the drama I didn't deliver. Fine. He's cute, but the awkward eye-closing, humming and cigarettes suggest he doesn't fit the part for me either. So instead of mourning our meet-cute on the cutting room floor, I'm shifting my attention to a leading man who shares the pancakes.
Pengra is a recovering studio marketing executive turned freelance writer.