Early in a romance there's a delicious interval -- before memory fades and habit takes its toll -- when two lovers have accumulated a significant history between them, yet can still remember every detail.
Liz and Paul, both endowed with excellent powers of recollection, had sustained the spell past all previously known endurance. In fact, they had made it into an ongoing game. Walking barefoot through the sandy surf of Half Moon Bay, arms looped around each other's waists, they played yet another round.
"Okay, date No. 11: 'The Shop Around the Corner,' Stanford Theater," Paul recalled. "Then, tacos at Andale. I talked like Jimmy Stewart for half an hour."
The rules allowed for a single cross-examination per turn. "Chicken, or pork?" Liz was playing to win.
Paul rolled his eyes skyward and feigned a moment's confusion, just for suspense. Then, "Chicken," he declared with absolute conviction. "Your turn."
"Twelve. Picnic at Pulgas water temple. Ha."
Paul touched his forehead. "Thirteen. We rented '101 Dalmatians' and watched it at my place."
"Yeah -- but I think it was the special, R-rated director's cut. The one with extra canoodling," Liz said, blushing. Then, realizing a potential advantage, "Cruella De Vil -- white hair on the right side, or left?"
"Uh, you'll forgive me if I wasn't paying much attention to the movie. I throw myself on the mercy of the court."
"The judge accepts your answer," Liz reported. "But only because she's a sucker for love. Fourteen: miniature golf. That place out by the harbor in Redwood City."
"What was your score?" Paul parried.
Liz, protested with flashing blue eyes. "Oh, you're kidding! Who keeps score at miniature golf?"
Paul gave her an imperious look. "Oh, certain results-oriented, numerically meticulous and, might I add, wicked-good miniature golfers who would prefer to remain unidentified at this particular time ..."
She pursed her lips. "Fifty-one."
"Oh, you wish. Try 63. I shot 55." Paul registered Liz's exasperation. "Wait ... wait ... the judges accept your answer, in reciprocation for your previous leniency. You may proceed."
Liz gave him a skeptical look, kicked up a volley of sea droplets, then continued. "Fifteen: We met for lunch at Tressider Union. Tuna sandwiches, strawberry smoothies. Two games of air-hockey. I won both."
"Only by violating some obscure air-hockey statutes put forth in the Geneva Convention. My protest is still on file. Sixteen: We went for a walk up on Windy Hill."
"Wrong!" Liz clanged, laughing. "You left out the time we rented one of those silly plastic paddle-boats at Shoreline. Game, set, and match!"
Paul slumped in a parody of defeat. "I yield to your superior power."
"Oh, but it was well played, my Lord. Your chivalry has been duly noted." She planted a kiss lightly on his chin. He smiled sheepishly, consoled.
Liz made the bittersweet observation that she and Paul wouldn't be able to play this game much longer. But she was beginning to be confident they'd find other games.
Paul's thoughts at that moment were leaning the other direction in time. He reflected back towards the unlikely combination of odd events -- the TeraMemory contract, a detour into technical writing, Barry Dominic's intemperate libido, an evening of robotic performance art -- that had led him and Liz to the present. Now they found themselves each in the most improbable of situations: Paul successfully juggling a high-tech career and significant other, and Liz was dating an engineer.
Not that Paul wasn't tempting fate. He had actually left work at five o'clock on a number of occasions over the past few weeks. The recent recalibrations of his personal life had not gone unnoticed by his colleagues in the lab. He could tell that his project managers were beginning to question his commitment.
And he had only to scan his weekly contracting invoices to reckon the cost of a relationship in digit-land. Paul figured it at about $1,600 a week. Only in a place like Silicon Valley were the tradeoffs between livelihood and real life so naked.
Paul didn't care; being with Liz had an odd way of putting it all into perspective. She made the prevailing fanatical devotions to technology seem positively two-dimensional.