How could he argue with that logic? Still. There was nothing to say in response to still. He shrugged. He had a policy at the time never to say no to new and potentially peculiar experiences in case he needed things to write about later. Dating a doctor who liked poets because someone he’d never met before thought they’d hit it off seemed like it fell into this category.

And that’s all it was. Writing fodder. Writing fodder and a change of pace and a new life philosophy that was not to say no. He wasn’t dreading it, but he wasn’t looking forward to it either. He felt entirely neutral toward the date, like a quick trip to the grocery store for milk. But then, about an hour before he was going to take a shower and get dressed, sitting in his studio apartment on his sofa reading Dante’s Inferno, his heart started racing. He felt his cheeks flush, and he felt his lips go dry and his palms go wet, and he felt this absurd need to try on a few shirts to see which one looked best, and he felt, all of a sudden, nervous, and for the life of him, he could not imagine why. He thought it might be the flu. He actually thought about calling her to cancel in case he was contagious, but the woman worked at a hospital so probably had a germ-avoidance strategy of some sort.

He pulled up in front of her apartment and sat in his car trying to slow his breathing, waiting for his knees to stop shaking, but when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, he gave up and rang her bell. When she opened the door and he saw her, Penn said, “Oh.”

It wasn’t that Rosie was so beautiful, though she was, that is, he thought she was, that is, he felt she was. He had to rely on this vague sense of what she looked like because he couldn’t see her. It was as if she were backlit, bright sun behind her preventing his eyes from adjusting so he could see her properly. Or it was as if he were fainting, the black bits at the sides folding his vision into smaller and smaller origami boxes. But it was none of those things. It was like when your car spins out on an icy road, and your senses turn up so high that time seems to slow because you notice everything, and you just sit in your spinning car waiting, waiting, to see if you’re going to die. He couldn’t look at her because every sense and every fraction of a moment and every atom of his body was being in love with her. It was weird.

Penn was getting an MFA, yes, but he was a fiction writer, not a poet, and he did not believe in love at first sight. He had also congratulated himself in the past for loving women for their minds and not their bodies. This woman had not yet spoken a word to him (though he assumed since she was a doctor that she was probably pretty smart), and he couldn’t get himself to concentrate on what she looked like, but he seemed to love her anyway. She was wearing—already—a hat, a scarf, and a four-inch-thick down parka that came all the way down to her boots. There was no way to fall in love with a woman just for her body in Wisconsin in January. He reminded himself though, still standing dumb in her doorway, that it wasn’t love at first sight. It seemed to have happened quite a bit before that. He seemed to have fallen in love about an hour and a half earlier on his sofa in the middle of “Canto V” before ever laying eyes on Rosie. How his body had known this, foreknown this, he never did figure out, but it was right—it was quite right—and very quickly, he stopped caring.

So at the restaurant, he was a little off his game. For one, he was distracted. For another, he knew. He had already decided. He was in—they could dispense with the small talk. So when Rosie, glowing, luminous, unpeeled from all her layers, lovely underneath, smiling shyly at him Rosie, said she was sorry he was an only child, that’s what he said first: it’s okay. Then a few seconds later, when his brain caught up, he added, “Wait. No. What? Why are you sorry I’m an only child?”

She blushed. He would have too, but his blood flow must already have been at capacity. “Sorry,” she said. “I always think … My sister, um … Weren’t you lonely?”

“Not really.”

“Because you were really close with your parents?”

“Not really that either.”

“Because you’re a writer? You like to be alone in the dark brooding by yourself deeply?”

“No!” He laughed. “Well, maybe. I don’t know. I don’t think I was brooding alone in the dark. But I don’t think I was lonely either. How about you? I take it you had brothers and sisters?”

Rosie’s glow clouded over, and Penn was immediately sorry all the way down to his toes. “I had one sister. She died when I was twelve and she was ten.”

“Oh Rosie, I’m sorry.” Penn knew he’d said the right thing that time.

She nodded at her roll. “Cancer. It sucks.”

He tried to think what to add, came up with nothing, reached for her hand instead. She grasped him like someone falling off something high. He gasped at the sudden sharp pain of it, but when she tried to ease off, embarrassed, he squeezed back harder. “What was her name?” he asked gently.

“Poppy.” Then she laughed, a little bit embarrassed. “Rosie. Poppy. Get it? My parents were into gardening. She’s lucky they didn’t name her Gladiola. Gladiola was totally on the table.”

“Is that why you think only-childhood is so sad?” He was glad to see her laughing again, but no one he’d ever met had treated the fact that he lacked siblings as a tragedy. “Because it was for you?”