Our eyes met across the coffeeshop instantly, my heart instantly racing.

I felt that gossamer thread fasten between us again, my momentum succumbing to the tether’s pull. As I approached, Kai lunged forward to unceremoniously remove my backpack and sweep me into a bear hug, burying his face into my neck and fiercely gripping my back. His beard wafted of that familiar spiced essentials oil blend, sending my olfactory senses into a tailspin. I turned to kiss his neck, and instantly our lips were locked. We broke what felt like hours later and he whispered into my lips, “Welcome back.” I lightheadedly giggled at his devious nature and we stood on line to purchase tea. Once again, he looked down at me with amused and studying eyes.

“You’re nervous,” Kai evenly observed. “You’re not feeling totally confident because you don’t have all your makeup on and you’re in more casual clothes.” Jesus, what the fuck?? Was this guy some sort of clairvoyant? And is he always this blunt with his observations?

“Uh…ok yes. I do wish I looked…prettier for you right now. I feel caught off guard looking a bit like a scrub at the moment.” Hell, why not meet brutal honesty with brutal honesty?

“You should know that I actually think you’re more beautiful like this. Natural, nervous, a bit tired. You’re perfect.” He delivered this sweet sentiment while swiftly paying for my golden milk tea. God, he made it look so easy to string a few words together to cut right to what my heart was asking for. It was unnerving.

Upon returning to our table, Kai lunged to pull out my chair for me. This chivalry was not getting old anytime soon. He performed his requisite gazing when we sat down, prompting me to nervously search my brown Bendel backpack for my eyedrops since I had suddenly developed very dry lids. Taking my hands, Kai grinned widely and asked, “How was your day, honey?”

Oh lord, he’s delightfully presumptuous.”It was wonderful…darling,” I replied with a shy giggle. Why can’t I calm down around this person??

“Seriously though, I want to hear all about the mind-blowing breakthroughs you experienced with your group today. What’s one of the big takeaways?” My heart swelled at the genuinely interested questions he always asked. Such a stark contrast from my past relationships…aside from Adam. Those questions were asked for ill intent, and Kai’s intentions were so clearly pure. Well…mostly pure, my inner vixen smirked while licking her lips.

I proceeded to relay my day’s journey through concepts like the six needs framework, masculine and feminine polarity, and self-love exercises. “…the most beautiful moment came when my friend talked about how overcomplicated she is, and that she’s simply too much for a guy to want to handle. Jennifer took her hand and said, ‘You are not too much. And, you are also enough.’ It was a really special moment for the group.” I took a sip of my tea, neglecting to share with Kai that upon saying that to my friend, Jennifer shifted her gaze directly at me. It was as though she could hear me questioning that truth for myself, and I didn’t want to reveal that vulnerability.

“You know you are enough, right Ella?” I almost choked on my tea. Did he have some invisible viewport into my mind? I cleared my throat to answer.

“Thank you, and, to be honest,” I carefully replied, “your love style has made me question whether anyone is enough. And whether asking if we’re enough is entirely missing the point. Isn’t the purpose of polyamory to creatively get your needs met by different people so that no one person shoulders the burden of meeting all of your needs?”

“Yes, that is a benefit of poly,” he replied. “In my past experiences, I’ve been able to enjoy different facets of people and grow in different ways having multiple partners. But more importantly, our lovers are like mirrors; if we have just one mirror, we are only seeing one view of ourselves reflected back. But with multiple mirrors, we are seeing all different sides of our character. I’ve had encounters and relationships with over thirty beautiful and conscious women in the last three years, and my growth curve has been exponential. Do you see the possibility in that?” he asked so earnestly.

I nodded my head in deep appreciation. All of this was gelling in my mind, and at the same time scaring the living daylights out of me. How far was I willing to push myself to gain access to the magic of these multiple mirrors? Kai’s gaze moved past me and he went deep in thought.

“What is it?” I queried.

“That worker has been schlepping these huge boxes back and forth for almost an hour. He’s the hardest working man in here, and no one even acknowledges him.”

I turned around to see.  The worker in question was a tall, lean and muscular man of African descent with beads of sweat dotting his forehead. Kai was right, not even I would have noticed him, being so swept up in our conversation. Another facet to Kai’s diamond revealed itself, and I stared at him with growing appreciation.

“That is amazing that you recognized him,” I stated in admiration. “He’d be invisible to most people, but not to you. That is a very special quality, Kai.”

He smiled at me. “Thank you for seeing me see him, Ella. You have many special qualities as well, and I see you.” He leaned forward, gently taking my head in his hand and pulling me into a lush kiss.

Before getting too enveloped in our alchemical haze, I broke the kiss to broach a bothersome question. “You said something that concerned me yesterday.”

“Oh? Do tell,” he probed, his head cocked in concerned curiosity.

“You said your instinct was to contain me. Of course, a tiny part of me wants to find that cute and endearing, and my instinct is to contain you and possess this…combustible feeling that our combined energy creates. But that isn’t even a remote possibility, and I understand the reasons why that’s a good thing. But I want to know that in return for the freedom to love other women so deeply, and I believe you should have that freedom, that you’ll give me the freedom to experience other men the way I was never able to in my monogamous relationships. This doesn’t work for me if I don’t believe we’re both committed to each other’s freedom.” I breathed a sigh a relief at voicing my ultimate concern over entering into a relationship without a concealed power dynamic.

Kai nodded in understanding. “I hear everything you’re saying. You want to know that you are free as well since you’ll be doing a lot of personal growth work to accommodate my lovestyle.” I relaxed around hearing my concern mirrored back so compassionately, a truly remarkable gift. He continued, “You might find this hard to believe, Ella, but I’m a feminist. I’m not trying to build a harem, like a lot of people think. I want women to rule the world. I believe this world is failing because of the patriarchal construct we’re all born into.

“Now, I don’t want to be emasculated by women, I’m a very masculine man. I want to serve women, to protect them, and also be free to love them. To take care of the little girl inside. That’s what I ask in return for my devotion. And, I have a phrase I strongly believe in: ‘tu alegria es mi alegria’. It means ‘your joy is my joy’. If your joy was receiving love from another conscious man who accepts and embraces me as a brother, then that gives me joy. To me, this is the definition of unconditional love. Not ‘I love you unconditionally, except if you love someone else.’ That is a condition. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, that is beautiful,” I replied in awe. I was looking at a man who would actually derive joy from me receiving pleasure from another man. I was playing in a entirely alien sandbox now. Inspired to throw down in that sandbox, I asked a question that would push my own comfort levels.

“Tell me what you love about Olivia.” I braced myself.

“Olivia? Hmm…I love her heart. She has so much sweetness. She’s so grounded and non-materialistic. She loves nature and the environment, horses, the list goes on.”  I fought a twinge of jealousy as he described her so affectionately, and also smiled at the beauty of his share. And yet as he finished, his expression changed. I sensed that there was something missing from his words. He continued,”And, she’s different from you. I want you to really understand that. She is unique from you, and the connection I have with her is uniquely beautiful from my amazing connection with you. There’s no competition here, understand?”

I didn’t understand. “How can there be no competition? You must be developing preferences, we aren’t equal or going to match you in the same ways. I’d hate knowing if I was with someone who preferred being with someone else.”

Kai thoughtfully replied, “That is the exact illusion of the collective consciousness that we need to climb out of. That developing preferences means we’re competing for a finite resource. I didn’t have a second child thinking, ‘How am I going to save up enough love for my first child now?’ I see my lovers as I see my children; they allowed my universe of love to expand, not to be divvied up like food rations.”

I sighed. Everything he said made sense on paper, but I simply had no idea how to integrate it into my model of the world.

“You do realize that as a possessive, competitive, fiery Scorpio, only child, daughter of an only child, and mother of an only child, that I am genetically AND astrologically the WORST possible choice for you to take on in this path, yes?”

A smile slowly spread across his beautiful face. “I’m willing to take a chance that I can reform you of your sinister ways.” He stopped to gently stroke my forearms and interlace his elegant fingers with mine, creating a ripple of gooseflesh. He continued, placing his hand on my sternum, “I’m willing to take that chance because of this heart. And because…I love you.”

My gut clenched in alarm. Why does he have to keep saying that?? I would buy into all of this so much more easily if he would just check in with what that’s actually supposed to mean!

He peered at me curiously and asked, “How did that land for you?” I stared for a moment. What an…interesting thing to ask. I can’t remember anyone I’ve dated ever asking me how something they said “landed” with me. Despite feeling completely thrown off-kilter, I also felt incredibly seen.

“I…don’t know. It’s…making me question if we define love the same way. Or give it the same…importance?” I gulped, praying this answer didn’t cause a rift during this beautiful moment. Could I communicate to him how scary those words were for me to hear when spoken even a moment too soon? No, I resolved. You can never tell him why.   

He cocked his head to the side, studying me for a moment. I knew he could tell I was holding something back. “Love is one of those words I’ve never quite understood. Love can grow over time with many interactions, and it can be felt in those first electrifying moments. How I feel love isn’t something for anyone to assess or criticize, and I want to be free to express it when I feel it.” I detected a whiff of resentment building in his words, and I immediately grabbed his hands.

“Please, I’m no one to judge how you feel and give love. I’m sorry if I offended you, please forgive me!” I implored. “It’s just that- I have reasons to be on my guard.”

Kai’s hardened gaze softened in understanding. Cupping my chin, he replied, “One day I would like to know those reasons, and heal them for you.” My walls continued to crumble in the presence of this terrifying spectre of love. I held on to the resolution I’d arrived at during the live event and took a deep breath to speak.

“I journaled about you today. About you and…someone from my past.”

“Oh? And what did you learn in your journaling process?”

I paused for a moment. “That you are not…him.” I stared at him, my courage wavering. “You are not him, and, I won’t be afraid of you any longer. I’m going to give this a real shot and do my best not to succumb to my fears.”

“I’m so glad to hear you say that,” he said enthusiastically, and to my relief, didn’t press on. Kai’s face spread in an epic ear-to-ear grin and then silently locked my eyes in a gaze once again while stroking my hands. This time, I held his gaze with emboldened confidence. I felt a tether begin to tie between us as I watched his stark black pupils expand and contract in his endless hazel irises. I quashed the sudden urge to break free and run from the intensity. Not this time, young lady. Show him what Aya showed you’re made of. Surprisingly, Kai smiled and broke the gaze first. I gathered a sense that he was caught off guard by my newfound bravery.

Suddenly, Kai checked his watch. “Oh shit! I’m so late. Olivia is watching the kids and I’d promised I’d be home in thirty minutes. ”

Surprised, I responded, “Wow, that’s amazing that she’s willing to babysit while you’re on a date?” That was a level of generosity that defied even my own instincts.

“She…doesn’t know I’m here,” he reluctantly confessed.

Confused, I asked, “But, I thought you’re supposed to disclose everything. Are we doing something wrong?” The last thing I wanted to do was enter into this without full integrity.

As Kai gathered his things, he explained, “It’s a bit less cut-and-dry than that. Timing is everything. A new relationship coming in is an extremely delicate process, and I really want to set us all up for success. I’m going to tell her tonight. And I love that you care so much.” He stood up to face me, closing the gap between us with fast precision.

Standing over me, he whispered, “I want this to work so badly, Ella. That means taking very careful baby steps. I’m so grateful for your patience in understanding and adapting to this situation. You don’t know what that means to me,” he finished with a deep, sensuous kiss. My body lit up like a Douglas fir on a snowy Christmas evening. The fact that he was taking such careful measures to integrate me for her comfort spoke volumes about his character and commitment.

But a piece of me wondered why this was so challenging for Olivia. Hadn’t she experienced his new relationships before, and wasn’t she also poly? Didn’t that mean she was cool with this? I pushed those thoughts aside and explored his mouth more urgently with my tongue, prompting a soft moan from his lips.

“Mmm…”, he murmured dreamily. “I’m feeling more come through from your kiss today.”

“Like I said, I’m not afraid of you anymore,” I whispered breathlessly. He took my face in his hands, looked me dead in the eye and asked, “Do you believe I’m real now?”

I searched his eyes and replied, “Mmm…the jury’s still out. I’m not convinced you aren’t a serial killer.” He chuckled and gently placed a kiss on my forehead.

We walked hand-in-hand to my car in the gentle evening drizzle, the antique Princeton streetlights glowing and dancing in the puddles. The moist air felt fresh and dense, with the promise of summer suspended in the dew. Settling into my car, I let the realization wash over me that I wasn’t going to see this new force of nature in my life for almost three weeks. Kai sensed my wavering and pulled me into a sweeping kiss. After what seemed like an eternity, he pulled back from my face and whispered, “I love you, Ella.”

My inner skeptic winced. In response, I did the only thing I could think of to not hurt his feelings in case he was actually being genuine.

“I…love you too.” I said tenuously. At first I was wracked with guilt about responding this way and not feeling what I thought it was supposed to. And who knows? When do you actually love someone? What does that even mean? Is there a universal love timer that goes Bing! when some arbitrary length of time passes? Or is it when they’ve already seen through your outer shell and gained access to the delicate nectar inside, drinking from you in worship as from the holy cup of Communion?

Almost in answer to my internal debate, Kai leaned forward into the car and whispered softly in my ear, “I will call you so often, it will be like I haven’t left. Sweet dreams, my love.”

I shivered in response to his nuzzling. “Unlikely,” I chuckled back, knowing full well my dreams would be anything but sweet. “The plants are still having their way with me.”

“Lucky them,” he replied with an impish grin. He darted forward for one last passionate liplock.

And with that, he gracefully leapt into the street and crossed to the other side. I stared to take in one final view of how his lean, powerful limbs moved with such self-assured elegance. His athleticism was hypnotic and continued to creep under my skin. Why is it that when men display such mastery of their body, it was like a bell ringing in my sacral chakra, the energetic wheel of sensuality? The answer to this question wouldn’t elude me for much longer.

As I made my way home in the pouring rain, poisonous whispers seeped into my consciousness. How is this possibly going to work? Are you in your driver’s seat right now? You barely know this man!! I acknowledged these sinister thoughts and realized many of them were voiced in my head by well-meaning yet overbearing friends and family. It occurred to me that much of the fear-based code in my decision-making software was programmed by outsiders, and Aya had exposed the Trojan horses.

This time apart will be good for us, Helga reasoned. If he can go on a romantic three-week getaway with his love, be surrounded by alluring, successful women, and still come home to me with this level of passion, we just might have a shot at this thing. I resolved to make our time apart high-quality and depthful, giving me opportunity to better understand his role in my life and allowing our connection to unfurl in the absence of hedonic indulgence.

I hustled into my weathered split-level home and upstairs to kiss my angelic toddler goodnight, waving a protective bubble of motherly love over his huddled body. A wave of guilt washed through my body; for the first time since his birth, I felt alive. I felt like an abandoned mound of clay now being lovingly sculpted into a masterpiece, with tender lips breathing new life into my body. And the guilt of allowing something so exhilarating to enter my life felt self-centered and overindulgent. I would need to work hard to accept the idea that even a lonely divorced mother deserves an existential love affair.

As I nestled in my plush gray pintucked comforter and allowed my eyes to droop in exhaustion, I worked to reassure myself: it all unfolds as it should. There are no wrong decisions here. I’m not doing anything wrong. It’s just love. And with that, I reluctantly surrendered to the fates and furies of my dreamscape, from which a dark form materialized from the black ether.

A form whose influence had inflicted over a decade of guilt, rejection, and self-loathing…


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