“I guess.” She shrugged. “Maybe that’s why I like you already. We’re both only children.”

He tried to stay with her, but all he heard was she liked him already.

Later, much later, she said the same, that it was love pre first sight, that she’d walked around that whole morning and afternoon somehow knowing that this would be the last first date of her life. Whereas this had made him nervous as hell, it had made her calm. Whereas he’d felt impatient with the small talk, she knew they had all the time in the world. To the extent that time was guaranteed in the world. Which it was not.

Later, less later, Penn lay in his own bed, grinning at the ceiling in the dark. He tried to stop himself, he did, and he made fun of himself for doing it, but he couldn’t help it. He could not keep down, keep away, keep at bay what felt like a tiny seed of secret, certain knowledge, stable as a noble gas, glowing as gold: Poppy. My daughter will be named Poppy. Not a decision. A realization. Something that had long been true—since Rosie was twelve, half his lifetime ago—except he hadn’t known it yet.


Penn could never remember the name of the friend of the friend who knew a doctor who was interested in dating a poet. Maybe he never knew it. He could never remember the friend either, though he clearly owed her. Rosie was only just barely a doctor, as it turned out. She was in year one of an emergency medicine residency. She did not have the time to have a boyfriend. She did not have the brain space to have a boyfriend. Penn had not been aware that having a boyfriend took up brain space, but he could see how there were a great many facts, terms, drugs, treatments, protocols, and patient scenarios to memorize, none of them remotely familiar, all of them life-and-death important, and it was clear that this would be stressful.

“Then why did you want to date a poet?” he asked her when she explained that it wasn’t personal, she just didn’t have time for any boyfriend. If she were going to have a boyfriend, it would be him. But she wasn’t.

“I didn’t say I wanted to date a poet. I said one should date a poet. A theoretical one. A theoretical poet. Everyone in my program is hooking up with everyone else in my program, and then you’re dating some overcaffeinated, overextended, exhausted egomaniac who finally gets a day off and uses it to study. My point was date someone who sleeps instead, someone who thinks slowly and deeply and talks in words that don’t need to be memorized from flash cards. A poet. But I didn’t mean it. I don’t have the energy or the time. That’s why residents are always sleeping with each other. They’re the only ones who fit into each other’s schedules.”

“Then why did you say yes?” Penn asked.

“You sounded nice when you called.” Rosie shrugged. “And I was bored of doing patient charts.”

Penn was going to be irritated by this except that he recalled he only went out with her for writing material. Besides, this meant she was going to need wooing after all. He was delighted. Penn was a student of narrative and knew that lovers should be wooed, relationships fought for, that anything too easily won was soon lost or else not worth winning. He suspected she was worth winning. He was up for the challenge. It would—he’d been right all along—make for good writing fodder. She may have been studying the human heart. But so was he.

It seemed like getting a degree in creative writing would mostly involve writing, but it didn’t. It mostly involved reading and not reading what he wanted to read and not reading what he wanted to write. It was mostly literary theory—incomprehensible, jargon-filled, irrelevant to his own projects. It wasn’t as hard as chemistry and anatomy and human physiology, but it was a bigger waste of time. And it took a lot of it. Fortunately, it could be done anywhere. Where Penn did his was in Rosie’s ER waiting room.

The summer after his sophomore year of high school, when everyone else he knew had a summer job or an internship or was attending some kind of enrichment program disguised as camp, Penn had gotten up every morning to take the commuter train out to Newark International Airport. This was back in the days when anyone could go through the metal detectors and hang out at the gates, and you didn’t need a boarding pass, and the fact that you were there every day by yourself with no luggage and no ticket and no intention of going anywhere, dressed in a black hoodie and scribbling ceaselessly in a notebook, bothered no one. He’d pick a departure gate and sit watching and listening for a while and make up stories about the passengers, the businessmen with their briefcases and paunches and nose bridges that needed constant squeezing, the old people with their hideous shoes and piles of presents, and especially the people traveling alone, always, in his stories, headed off to some kind of illicit, romantic rendezvous. When he got tired of departures, he’d head off to baggage claim and watch tearful reunions, the hugging that looked like people trying to stuff themselves inside each other. Or he sat on a bench just inside the front doors and watched the other kind of crying, the departures and letting-gos, the loved ones torn from each other only to find themselves sniffling in a long line to get their boarding passes, check their bags. The transition seemed profound to fifteen-year-old Penn, that someone could be weeping in her boyfriend’s arms one moment, desperate to squeeze out every last second with him, and the next could be waiting on line, impatiently checking her watch, and shifting from foot to foot, scowling at the elderly couple at the front who was holding up everyone else.