There are many things that he doesn't tell anybody up front. These sorts of things are not the kind that would come up in conversation if you talked to him in line for your breakfast at a cafe. No, they are the sort of things about him that you would assume upon talking. These assumptions you make- given that you talk to him again, miraculously catch his attention enough for him to give you a ride to work when you've missed the bus- are assumptions proved by and large grossly incorrect.
New York born and raised? No. Despite the easy way his lips enunciate the perfect Italian-New Yorker accent, if you listen- or perhaps buy him a drink- you will hear something else. A strange added delicacy to the way he speaks, perhaps something incongruous with the gravel of his voice. A dropped word or two out of the quick cadence you're used to on television.
He is British. You could possibly notice this if you got into his car and got over the overwhelming smell of cigarettes that hangs in the upholstery. He twitches on the road, deep brown eyes watching the other lane and hands occasionally freezing at the wheel. If you ask, he laughs and says that for some reason, yes, twelve years and sometimes he still forgets that you drive in the right lane.
But then he becomes annoyed that you noticed he is British. Your noticing is based off his driving habit of anxiety tics at the wheel, but he doesn't know that or even notice them himself, so he assumes that somewhere, his carefully tailored accent lapsed. Somewhere, he did it wrong. So he drives in silence.
He's very angry at himself, so angry that he can't handle it all the time. It flows out and falls on others. He is aware of that and how debilitating it is, so he smokes. He can't apologize or say things like thank you and how are you- something like small talk flies over his head, a social mechanism he never inherently learned- so instead he offers you a cigarette. You politely decline. (Your ex-boyfriend smoked and you only smoked with him and every memory is still distantly bitter. You don't tell this man that. Or how the way he taps the wheel and doesn't listen to music in his car is like your ex-boyfriend, too.)
At your refusal, he laughs and looks tempted to call you fussy, but holds that and instead tells you you'll live a long time.
He smokes at the wheel, unblinking as the tendrils of white lick his face where many would flinch. It's a coarse scent. He seems to take comfort in it.
The effects of a cigarette only take ten seconds to set in. You find yourself counting down in your head as buildings slide by in rhythm- One Mississippi is one second, and by seven Mississippis he is talking to you again, trying to put you back at ease with the quick little rhythm of his New York accent spiel.
He talks about housing in the area, about apartments and how nice it is to live above ground, where you can look at the city and feel above everything. He doesn't say that explicitly but you can tell he doesn't like living at ground level by the way he shrugs when you talk about the house you're looking at. It's not like he doesn't care. He converses with you about it. But he shuts off a little piece of him.
You begin to understand that somewhere in him is a switch room, where he carefully watches and pulls levers and buttons appropriately. He watches first, then he responds with that devil-may-care little act. And often his hands slip at the controls, and often he fails, and often that hatred surfaces. And that's when he takes another smoke.
He drops you off and smirks at your pocket, and you realize his number is there, written in a scrawl of loopy digits upon the back of what looks like a worn-down restaurant card. Not bad, you think. He tells you to enjoy your day, and you haven't even traded names. You suppose he's playing you like that.
Standing in front of your desolate, closed restaurant, you tell him you figured out the British thing because of his driving. He didn't look comfortable on the road. He laughs more and lights up a second cigarette while he's still parked and tells you, does it really bloody matter?- and there it is again, this time without even trying to pull the British accent lever. He dismisses you seeing through him but he's also shut off again.
Something possesses you, telling you he can't leave like this. Not with that card in your pocket and all the weight on you to run after him. Because you know you are interested, but you don't chase the goods. Your throat clenches a little, but you still do it.
You march up to the car and pull the card out of your pocket, hold it up and drop it and watch his reaction as it flicks in the air before a gust comes in and blows it, fluttering, into a sewer.
There are many things he doesn't tell anybody up front, but it all shows like a very interesting display, an infographic on the human mind- or maybe just his mind. He doesn't respond in any way at first, merely looking open and perhaps vaguely interested as you had the card pinched between your forefinger and thumb. His eyes follow the card down and his face still doesn't change.
It's only when the card's made it to the sewer that he barks a laugh and says, now why did you do that?
You tell him you don't do the chasing. You tell him your name. You laugh and tell him thank you for the ride. And then you leave. You can hear his car whirr into life and pull out, growing fainter until it's gone. Through the reflections on the doors of your restaurant you don't see anger, frustration, dejection.
He could be angry and hurt or just vaguely annoyed at being turned down. You wouldn't not put it past a stranger who needs a double shot espresso and two cigarettes just to go into the ritualistic, receptively social state most people are in. You took your gamble, even let him know where you work. Through the reflections, you could see someone hate you, but you don't.
You see someone choosing to accept a challenge. He has driven away and you find yourself working on clockwork tasks, the usual cleaning and setting-up ritual ingrained in you down to your muscles. That morning, you realize that something about that stranger just made you beg for him to prove you wrong. * He has read a majority of contemporary classics, you realize exactly three months later when you bring him to a bookstore just for the sake of walking somewhere with him and talking. He's read them but he's not a reader. You can tell this because he doesn't see them as anything more than stories to briefly follow, doesn't pick the words for any implicit meanings.
He can't stand classical music, which figures, but surprises you when you find him one day contentedly sprawled on your couch and listening to a fresh CD of some indie acoustic band.
He laughs at sour jokes. Despite his willingness to smile at anything, his actual sense of humor is biting. You're never sure why he is so angry with himself, but eventually you find yourself sitting down next to him when the restaurant is closing and most everyone is gone, and letting him reach out and light your cigarette for you. That is exactly a year later.
The fake accent is never explained. Why he is there in your city is not something that comes to light- he just slips into the scene as naturally as if he was born in it, and looks irritated whenever you imply he isn't.
While you two sit and fill the desolate black with smoke, he smiles at you and makes a harsh joke you can't remember, something automated, something straight from the lever room. He drinks the whiskey he brought to help you unwind from the night you've had orchestrating the dinner frenzy. He belches a little into his hand and grins at you carelessly, disgustingly so.
"Lemme ask you something, Lorraine."
"You love me, right?"
He asks you to marry him. He says you're the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. He even puts out his cigarette and lets you put out yours as he declares this. He says he sees you as the one and he wants to live the rest of his life with you.
And you? You see someone who doesn't need you. You see someone who makes you sometimes wonder if he even wants you when he leaves the bed before you and makes you feel cold and alone and painfully awake at six in the morning, then disappears for the entirety of a day, or even two. He comes back one night and laughs at the movies you cry at, laughs at how you cry. He clutches your face on the night he meets your parents (and gets along with them famously), has the audacity to kiss you on their front doorsteps when he leaves.
He is someone who smokes in your house no matter how many times you swat the damn stick out of his hands. He is someone who ignores you when he wishes but loves you so, so well.
And then, seeing that and seeing every expectation broken over and over again, you surprise yourself.