I dash up the steps from the subway, as I do every morning between 8:45 and 9:00, depending on which train I catch and how late it's running. This morning it's running late and the clock tower is already chiming 9:00 as I reach the street level. There are a handful of people standing there waiting for the bus. Some of my usual sidewalk compatriots (the Italian couple and their friend, the gray-haired man with a cigarette, and the old lady with the support-hose), as well as a couple of people I haven't seen before. Well, in a city of three million, one is bound to see new faces.

This is Dearborn Street in the heart of Chicago, directly across from the Daley Center Plaza and its world-famous (and, depending on your point of view, ugly) Picasso sculpture. Today, like every other morning, commuters are walking across the plaza and kids are sliding down the Picasso's sloped base. A typical autumn day in Chicago.

One of those new faces waiting for the bus is a middle-aged man. Tall, angular, brown hair starting to gray (and starting to recede), wire-rimmed glasses, tweed jacket. I don't make eye-contact (this is the city; one doesn't make eye-contact). But he approaches me and I'm forced to look up. And I do mean up. He must be a foot taller than me (not that that's so unusual), with crystal blue-green eyes. He looks a little lost; he probably wants to ask directions. Okay, I can handle this.

"Excuse me," he begins in a soft, rich voice, "but would you happen to know how to get to the Newberry Library?" The voice is British and I, being a long-time Anglophile, am instantly enchanted. Though I'm not surprised that this professorish-looking person is wanting the Newberry.

"Yeah," I say with a smile, "you just catch the number 22 Clark Street bus and get off at Walton. That lets you out right in front of the door."

"Oh. Good," he smiles. My heart does a thump. He's got a great smile.

"I'm going the same way," I say. "That's my stop. I can show you."

"Oh. Thank you very much." He smiles again and I smile in return.

We lapse into silence, as strangers do. I'd love to talk to him, but I'm terrible at making small-talk. I glance up at him, and he's looking at me, but glances away and smiles shyly.

"This is my first time visiting Chicago," he tells me. It's the kind of thing one says when one is trying to think of things to say.

"It's a great city," I answer. "Fairly friendly, pretty easy to get around. I think you'll like it. Are you doing research at the Newberry?"

"Yes," he nods. "They have some very unique historical texts I need for my, er, work."

"They couldn't send you copies?" I ask. "I mean, it's a long way to come from England to Chicago just to look at a couple of books."

"I didn't come from England, I came in from California," he says. "And I won't know specifically what I need until I see the books themselves. They're quite rare and very unique."

It sounds like the sort of thing the Newberry specializes in, and I say so. "Of course, I've only been in there once, when I was doing some geneology research," I explain. "Well, that and they have a great used book fair every summer."

He smiles. "Always a good reason to go anywhere," he agrees.

Just then our bus comes. "This one's ours," I say. "Fare's $1.50."

"Do they make change?" he asks, holding a $5 bill.

"I'm afraid not," I say with a frown. "Here, let me. My treat." I pull out my fare card.

"Oh, I can't--" he protests.

"No problem," I interrupt. "Consider it a welcome gift."

The bus stops in front of us and we get on, with me putting my fare card in twice to deduct the two fares. We make our way to the back of the bus where there are two open seats side by side. I slide in and he sits next to me.

"Thank you so much," he says softly, and I can tell he's sincere.

"You're welcome. Welcome to Chicago."

He smiles. "May I at least know who my benefactor is?"

"Oh, sorry, we haven't done that yet, have we?" I introduce myself and he gives me his name. Rupert Giles. Now that's an English name if I've ever heard one. We shake hands. He has nice hands, warm and strong.

"How long have you been in the States?" I ask.

"Two years," he answers. "I came over for, er, a job."

"In California?"

"Yes."

"You like it there?"

"I loathe it," he admits. "I like the work, but California is not my idea of a temperate clime. Too hot by far."

"Well, you'll be much more comfortable here in Chicago," I say. "October is cool and rainy."

"Sounds just like home," he agrees with a smile.

We chat companionably as we ride, and I point out some of the sights. Not that there's much to see along Dearborn Street. You can't see the lake from here, and these days it's mostly condo complexes and construction sites. But I do point out the Wrigley Building, Marina Towers and the Hancock Building.

The bus prepares to turn a corner and I tug on the bell. "This is us," I say and Rupert Giles stands up and lets me take the lead. The bus comes to a stop in the middle of the block and we disembark.

"See, right in front," I say, pointing to the large stone structure before us.

Giles gazes at the building, frowning. "They told me it was black."

"It used to be. They spent most of the summer cleaning it. In fact, I don't think they're done yet. I think it's still black around on the other side. But it looks great now." Under the black grime of almost 100 years, the natural stone is pinkish with a bit of sparkle to it. It really is an impressive building.

"Well, it was nice meeting you," I say. "Good luck in your researches."

"Thank you," he answers and takes my hand again. God, he has great hands. And great eyes, and a great smile, and, and.... And he's still talking. "And thank you so much for your...hospitality."

"You're welcome."

"Uhm... Do you work around here?" he asks.

"Around the corner," I point back toward Dearborn street and my office which lies a block up.

"I was wondering...that is...if you wouldn't mind...I thought...." He takes a deep breath and tries again. "Would you like to have lunch with me? I'd like to do something to repay your generosity."

"Oh, you don't have to pay me back," I protest. "It was my pleasure." He looks a little disappointed and I realize (in my usual 'slow on the uptake' fashion) that he's just trying to find a non-intrusive way to ask me out. My heart does a little dance. "But I would like to have lunch," I say, attempting to salvage the situation. "There's tons of places to eat in this neighborhood. I can kind of show you around."

He smiles, looking relieved. "That would be nice. What time do you...?"

"I usually go at 1:00, but that can sometimes vary depending on what comes up. Why don't I come over here when I'm free and then we can go? That way you don't have to wait for me."

"All right," he agrees. "I'll, uh, see you then."

"'Kay. See you later." I wave and head down the street. When I reach the corner I look back. Rupert Giles is still standing in the middle of the sidewalk, watching me. I smile, which he probably can't see at this distance, but he must have seen me turn and look, because he ducks his head and heads up the steps to the library.

As for me, I practically skip all the way to my office. How the hell am I going to be able to concentrate on my work today? Especially when I think about my lunch plans? Where do I want to take him? Someplace elegant? Someplace cozy? Someplace not too expensive, since he's picking up the tab? My mind is whirling.

One thing's for sure, though. It's going to be a looonng morning.