Reading and drinking coffee in the corner booth of a local dinner one Tuesday morning, I overheard a sweet, soulful southern accented man talking on the phone. He was saying he was not sure where to buy guitar strings. It seemed pretty obvious that this tall and tan older gentleman was not from around here. As soon as he hung up the phone, he and I made eye contact.

“Sorry for overhearing, but I do know of a place you could go. I could give you directions.” I apologetically spoke.

“That would be mighty fine ma’am, thank you. I’m Danny.” He said to me with a smile.

Writing down directional turns onto a napkin, I looked up and handed it to him, “I’m Emma.”

After that, I grabbed my book and left the restaurant to go to work. I wasn’t thinking much of my breakfast meeting Danny, hadn’t thought of it all actually until Friday morning when I saw Danny come into the diner again.

He was beaming with a big smile while holding a small bundle of flowers walking towards me and no doubt I looked terrified. Panicking and thinking to myself, “How did he know I was here? Why does he have flowers? Has he come every day looking for me?”

Danny approached the table, extended out his arms handing me the flowers, sat down in the seat across from me, proceeded to clear his throat and said, “Emma, I would like to take you out on a date, please ma’am.”

Still, in a slight state of shock, I looked at him and jokingly said: “Before I even consider it, you have to stop calling me ma’am, please.”

Danny chuckled, taking a napkin and writing down a time and address before sliding it across the table to me. “I will work on that, Emma. Meet me here tonight. I hope you have a great day until then.”

He left me thinking about how excited I was to find out where we were gonna go, and what I should wear! He was incredibly handsome, and he even brought me flowers.

After work, I got ready at my apartment and left to go meet Danny. The address he gave me was a street corner, but there he was looking up at me holding a single red rose. Danny leaned in kissed me on the cheek and whispered, “You look beautiful.”

Blushing, I said “Thank you. What are we doing here?”

Grinning, Danny said “Right this way, Emma.”

Turning me around the corner, I saw a white horse and carriage. The kind you see in New York City. I honestly melted, it was the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me. I didn’t even know Seattle had horse and buggies walking around. I had never noticed one before.

Climbing up into the seat, we shared a blanket and enjoyed an evening of strolling around downtown. Danny asked me to point out all of my favorite places and why they are so good. He told me about how the southern Georgia boy ended up on the other side of the country. Danny didn’t even hesitate to answer “31” when I asked him how old he was. 10 years in a big gap I thought but I also thought it was a wonderful night that I thought could be the start of many others.

Danny and I were going steady for months and then the curse of March Madness occurred. Unrelated to basketball, each week a crucial, foundation breaking incidents kept taking place. First, it was my mom’s birthday, then it was St Patrick's Day, Danny got so drunk off whiskey he ended up in the hospital from a gunshot wound. Danny stumbled into the wrong neighborhood late that night and could have died.

The hospital called his mother and not me, mind you we were living together, and she lived right next door. I would have at least expected her to come and tell me the news; instead, I just spent 12 hours worrying. He stumbled into the house the next morning on crutches, still saturated with the smell of alcohol on his breath.

Yelling contests took place after my father’s birthday dinner party between Danny and I. We stopped sleeping and we stopped talking. Danny started to confide in a hardball glass, with a large sphere ice cube filled halfway with bourbon. His voice hardened, he was no longer the sweet soulful southern man I remembered. I would have done anything to hear him call me “Ma’am” just one more time.

By March 31st, I was moving into a new apartment and saying goodbye to Danny. I remember feeling guilty that he wanted to make things better, but I just refused. He wanted a family and kids, he told me as if he thought I would change my mind. However, it made me realize how much more I needed to leave. It hurt, but I felt free.

My time with Danny was great, especially in the beginning, but I wasn’t ready to start our lives together in such a big way. Danny and I were on different pages in life, not even in the same chapter. I knew I had to leave, he needed to find someone to share with, and it wasn’t me.

So I packed up my belongings and the mixtape he made me. I kept with me the warm memories of diner breakfasts, southern accents, and left the hurt feelings behind.

Sometimes age is just a number, and sometimes age is the defining number. All I know is this time it mattered. Maybe it was me and my insufficient maturity in the relationship, but I also wasn’t the one going out getting plastered leaving my keys in my truck unlocked to get stolen, which it did.

Danny and I were not meant to be, but it happened, I can’t take it back, all I can do is learn from it. Just because a man is 31 doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of acting like a 13 year old. After him, I was ready for something new, something fun, and that’s when I found Steven.