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She looked up from her sushi, a look in her eyes that spoke of a woman on the verge of cracking, as though fighting off the urge to cry in public. In a slow, gentle gesture that caught me off guard, she touched a knuckle of my right hand with her chop sticks. I looked up at her. "Do you love me?" she asked.

It was a fair question; it deserved an equally fair answer. "Yes," I lied. "I love you very much. Why?"

She looked back down at her half-eaten California roll and began to stir the wasabi with a wooden stick, poking holes in it, like smiley faces- the way I did with oatmeal when I was a kid. It struck me as being very similar to tracing shapes in the sand on a seashore, only it was climate controlled, the sun had gone down hours earlier, there weren't any waves and the only fat person in sight was the guy who made our meals with delicate grace. She did this for a few seconds, gathering her thoughts and trying to gauge my reaction to them and her silence. "Just curious," she said finally.

"Hogwash," I told her. "People don't ask that kind of question out of curiousity. You doubt me, don't you?" I accused.

Her reaction was just as readily-said as mine, too fast and too rehearsed, which told me it was a lie, too. "No!" she said in a forced smile. "No, I don't. It's just that... well... sometimes I wonder what's going through your head. You don't let me in sometimes. There are moments when you act like you love me, but sometimes it's like... you couldn't give a damn who I am or what I do."

Wow. For a lie, that was a loo-loo! Very well-rehearsed indeed. I decided to one-up her, though, not wanting to be outdone. "Well," I said casually, "Try this on for size: If I really loved you, you'd never get so close." At first she smiled and then she began to take the sentence apart in her head, analyzing every word until her mind spit back that it was a null program: does not compute. "You asked me if I love you, to which I said I do. You did not ask me if I am in love with you, to which I would have to say that the jury is still out on that. I love you, but I don't know that I'm in love with you yet. As soon as I find out if I am in love with you, you can be rest assured that parts of me will close off abruptly. Parts of me that you've always had access to before, but suddenly will just evaporate."

"But why?"

I smiled sweetly at her. "If I truly loved you, I wouldn't want to hurt you if I can avoid it. And there are some parts of my character that are better left alone- particularly to the woman that I love. Believe me, I'm speaking from experience. It's unavoidable to hurt the ones we love, but there's nothing to say that we can't do a little damage control first. Call it preventative medicine of the heart."

She nodded slowly, consuming and digesting my words as she dipped another sushi piece into some soy sauce and tossed the food into her mouth. She chewed a long time before responding. "But didn't you once say that in order to love a person completely, you've got to know that person completely?"

Smart girl, that one. It's funny how she's always trying to catch me at something. "Yes," I answered, "but you're missing part of the equation. Simply knowing a person completely, and by cause and effect, knowing every aspect of them, is not the same as interacting with all those wonderously insidious pieces of a person's soul. A woman can rest assured that the dark side of me exists, since she's probably seen it long before I said those three magic words with some meaning behind them, but if I really love her, there's not a chance in hell I'd let her see that dark side of me ever again. It's a safety precaution."

"So what parts of you do you shut down, once you know you're in love with someone?"

I smiled again, this time in a way that I wish I could have seen in a mirror or on a TV somewhere. "That's for me to decide and if I ever truly love you, you won't know unless you trip over it."

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