Our story begins with Professor Kevin Cozner, sitting in his office in the Classics Department of Vassar College. He is on the phone with an interesting man.
"Well, of course I am a proponent of the Oxford comma," he says, earnestly, frowning. "Do you know an academic who isn't? … I see. I see." A pause. Kevin laughs, heartily. "You are too much, Officer Holt! Do you know, when I was assigned this article, I never imagined that -- "
He's quiet for a moment, listening. "Aha. No, unfortunately I don't live in the city," he says. "Although I will be there tonight. I'm attending a performance of the New York City Ballet."
They agree to meet for a late drink. Kevin fusses unduly over his appearance before leaving the house that night. Foolish, really. There's nothing at all to suggest that this will be that sort of evening.
Officer Raymond Holt is a sea of contradictions. He claims to be "occasionally rash," but he could not appear more controlled. He must see such horrors in his work every day, and yet he has the most delightful sense of humor Kevin's ever encountered. He tells Kevin right away that he's got an early morning, but then they remain at the bar chatting well into the night.
Finally, regretfully, Kevin explains that he's got to get back to Vassar before the train stops running.
"I must admit," says Raymond, "I am disappointed to learn that you live so far afield. I was hoping to...Poughkeepsie you a bit longer."
It's such a shame, Kevin thinks. How often does one meet a man so handsome and funny?
"Well," he says, thoughtfully, "I suppose I could stay a few more minutes."
(A few more minutes turns into a few more hours, turns into calling in sick the next day when he wakes up in Officer Holt's Brooklyn apartment at already half past nine. Goodness, this was not what he had in mind at all. This is simply not like him.
...Or is it?)
They begin to talk. Twice a week, at first, then three times, or maybe it's four. Before Kevin knows it, they're on the phone every evening for an hour, two hours -- one time the whole night! Like a pair of teenagers.
"Raymond," he murmurs into the mouthpiece the next evening, for lack of a less insipid verb. "I worry we're making a habit of this. I could hardly keep my eyes open in my Chaucer seminar this afternoon. And I'm the professor!"
Raymond chuckles appreciatively. "That's terrible," he says, sounding very serious. "Proper rest is very important. But then again" -- suddenly mischievous -- "so is a serious discussion of the merits and deficiencies of SPF in sunscreen!"
Kevin is sunk, and he knows it. Particularly on nights like these, when Kevin is already feeling a bit pensive and restless, it's Raymond's more rebellious qualities that really invigorate him.
"Don't you run out of things to talk about?" his friends ask sometimes, fascinated by this long-distance dalliance. To which Kevin only laughs and shakes his head, pitying them. They've obviously never been with a man like Raymond Holt. His Raymond -- secretly he's begun to think of him this way, though his acutely logical mind reiterates frequently that it's premature at best -- is a truly stunning conversationalist.
The first time Raymond comes to Poughkeepsie to visit, Kevin is very nervous. In the half-hour between finishing dusting and Raymond's projected arrival, he hovers in front of his bookshelf, checking for mis-alphabetized works; he darts from picture to picture, straightening frames; and finally he stands in front of the full-length mirror, flicking invisible dust from his collar. Raymond, despite his protestations to the contrary, is so precise in everything he does that Kevin, an ordinarily extremely picky person, occasionally fears that he will be found wanting.
When Raymond arrives, exactly on time with a bottle of wine in hand, he gives the apartment a cursory glance, says decisively, "You have a lovely home," and then turns all his attention to a warm and uncritical kiss.
This is the moment that Kevin, if he hadn't known it before, knows it for sure:
Raymond Holt is no ordinary man.
And then, they talk. They talk on the couch, they talk in the kitchen, they talk resting side-by-side in Kevin's bed, their hands entwined, Kevin hardly able to believe how lucky he is. There's hardly a moment of silence, but when there is, it's perfect silence.
(Lord, how plebeian a phrase.)
At the end of the weekend, when Raymond must return home, it is clear that they both feel a void encroaching. Kevin says, he's busy next weekend but what about the weekend after -- no, that's not good for Raymond -- and the weekend after that is a holiday, of course --
"Well," says Raymond at last. "I'm sure we will come to a suitable time for both of us. I'll call you," he says, and then he disappears into the train compartment and is gone.
In the dealership lot, surrounded by shining, freshly hosed-down cars, Kevin feels as out of place as at a motorcycle rally or a square-dancing convention. He fiddles with the hem of his sweater, one of his less seemly habits, while the salesman prattles on.
"I'm just looking for something affordable," says Kevin, eventually, interrupting the man's monologue. "But not an eyesore. My...brother has very specific tastes."
"Well, we do have a few older vehicles over here," says the salesman. "Fixed them up pretty good. Vintage, you know. Definitely coming back into style."
"I see," says Kevin, dubious. The assortment of cars before him in this particular corner of the lot is -- well -- an assortment.
"What do you think of this one?" The salesman rattles off some stats, while Kevin stares at what can only be described as an enormous blue monstrosity.
"No," says Kevin, struggling to sound polite. "What about that one, back there? Is that a convertible?" Privately, Kevin's always had a bit of a fantasy about convertibles.
"Ah, Gertie!" says the salesman. "That's what I call her. I'm a big fan of this one, myself. Real unique. She reminds me of the car my granddad used to have. Kind of a clunker, but a beaut, too. She'll get you where you need to go."
The first time Kevin arrives in the city with Gertie, it takes him nearly two hours to get down to Raymond's neighborhood and another hour after that to find a legal, reasonably-located, reasonably-priced place to park.
But it is so, so worth it.