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leeay aikawa The Globe and Mail

This story needs a better ending.

It starts at one of the handful of repertory movie houses that survive in Toronto.

I could go on about how much I love rep theatres. The just-right scale of them - not colossus nor overgrown living room - the lack of video-arcade hype and outlandish pricing. But that's not why I'm writing.

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I went to the movies with a girlfriend in January. It was my birthday.

I'm single, a mother of three and widowed far too young and for far too long. At first I tried to change that story by dating men a computer found for me, and discovered, as you might expect, a good match on paper but no soul fit.

I believe in soul fit, and I believe it just finds you. Maybe that's why I was at this particular movie on this birthday. It was a love story. I think I wanted to keep believing.

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There was a man sitting across the aisle from me in the theatre. He was pleasant looking. He had a newspaper folded thin under one arm. He ate his big bag of popcorn with enthusiasm and he smiled easily.

The theatre grew dark and I was engrossed. I won't describe how susceptible I am to movies - it's embarrassing.

As the titles rolled, I thought again about the man across the aisle. Why couldn't I meet someone like him?

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Suddenly, I remembered the old story about the man at sea. Nearly drowning, he refuses three offers of help, saying that God will save him. And then he drowns. When he gets to heaven he asks St. Peter why God didn't save him and St. Peter tells him He sent you a rowboat, a life raft and a submarine - what more did you expect?

What more did I expect? He was sitting a few feet away. It was my birthday, and you're supposed to take chances on your birthday.

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So, for the first time in four decades, I decided to take that chance. I stood in the aisle behind him and tried to speak.

This is where my nine years of singleness interfered with a case of indescribable nerves. He looked up and smiled in such a way as to freeze me to near immobility. He stood up and left the theatre. I compelled my limbs to move.

A crowded movie lobby does nothing to ease the nerves. He was through the door. He stood outside in the pool of light spilling onto the sidewalk, pulling on his coat.

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I blurted out, "Excuse me." Somehow, I explained, "I don't usually do this. It's my birthday. So I'm just going to ask you if, um, by any chance you're single."

"As a matter of fact, I am." He said it sheepishly, looking down and then up with a smile, and I was, well, I was just thrilled.

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We chatted, he wished me a happy birthday and then offered to take me for a drink.

"You know, I can't. I came with a friend," I said in a fit of misguided loyalty. I gestured to the empty sidewalk and wondered what he must be thinking of me. The truth is that I had asked my friend to wait for me outside.

"I can't ditch her. It wouldn't be right. But I'd really like to do that some time. Can I give you my number?"

I scrawled the number on his newspaper. He walked with me to the corner where I saw my friend across the street and floated across to meet her.

Willing my feet to stay on the ground I beamed as I told my friend, "I did it!" As I explained what had happened I could see it vividly - the number I wrote on that paper. It was my number all right - when I was 12.

My old brain had lurched into action and I had written my childhood number on his newspaper.

I ran, no, I pelted back to find him. He was gone.

The worst part is not losing track of him. It's the thought that he might be as good a guy as he seemed. He might pick up the phone and get the operator's voice that's now at the end of that number, and he might think it was a cruel trick when it was just the opposite. It was a leap of faith.

I went back to the same theatre the exact same time the next week, and since then to see good movies. I put a note on the theatre's website and left a card at the ticket booth addressed to Nick. Nick, that's all I know. No numbers, no addresses, just a face, a name and faith.

I'd like to say it doesn't matter, but it matters to me. This story needs a better ending.

Jill Wilkins lives in Toronto.

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