"Bob Levey speaking."

"Is this the Lonely Hearts Club, Northwest Washington branch?"

"Why, ladies and gentlemen, if my ears don't deceive me, it's yet another call from Marvelous Mike, world's greatest lawyer, world's most eligible bachelor, Levey's closest college buddy, yet a man who cannot find himself a lovely lass . . . . "

"Uh, Bob . . . . "

" . . . . a worthy woman, a comely companion, in a city full of them. A man who possesses charm by the bucketful, yet hasn't charmed a fair damsel off her feet in 38 years of ceaseless trying. A man who . . . . "

"Yoo hoo, Bo-o-o-o-b . . . . "

"You're not going to tell me you're finally in love, are you, Mikey?"

"Not yet. But I might be. I mean, I might be about to be."

"What is this, Mikey? Semantics class? Tell me from the top. In English."

"Her name's Vicki. Twenty-nine. Lobbyist. Lives near Dupont Circle. No ex-husbands or family hang-ups or any of that. Met her in a parking lot, of all places. Couldn't get her car started, so I offered to help. Sounds like a deodorant commercial, doesn't it? Anyway, super sense of humor. Nice dresser. And needless to say, extremely attractive."

"So have you ordered the rings and the flowers?"

"Lighten up, son. We're nowhere near that point. In fact, we almost didn't have a second date."

"Don't tell me you bored another woman to death by bragging about your college baseball career."

"Worse. We had an argument about the check."

"She wanted to split it and you wanted to pay all of it, right?"

"You guessed it. It was right out of Dear Abby. The waiter put the check on my side of the table, and she immediately said, 'How much is mine?' I told her, 'Vicki, let me pay for it. It's my honor and my pleasure.' But she said, 'Mike, this is 1983, I've got a good job, I can afford it, I insist.' "

"Mikey, this'll never happen to you once you get married. You'll look at your wife and she'll look at you and you'll know that neither of you can afford it."

"Probably so. But there I was, with half of Georgetown eavesdropping on us in this overpriced Italian restaurant. So I said, 'Vicki, there are no strings attached if I pay the check. I don't expect you to invite me up for coffee, and I don't expect anything after the coffee, either. I just like you, that's all, and this is one way of trying to show it.' "

"You're the last honest man, Mikey. Good for you. Never any reason not to tell the truth. And I bet she let you pay, right?"

"Right. And everything was super for a couple of weeks. But then we ran into trouble over my age."

"Your age? You're only 38, man. You be a good boy and you'll be old enough to shave next year. What was she talking about?

"She said she'd told her girl friend she was getting serious about a 38-year-old man, and the friend said, 'Anybody that age who's any good is married.' So Vicki asks me if I've been lying to her. Have I ever been married? Am I married now and just looking for a fling?"

"That's a little insulting."

"Exactly what I said. I told her, 'Listen, Vicki, telling the whole truth is something I believe in very deeply. I always have. And I have never told you only some of the truth. I'm as single as the day I was born.' "

"And that satisfied her?"

"Seemed to. But the question turned me off. Why bother if she won't assume the best about you?"

"Whoa right there, Doc. You sound like the old Mikey -- ready to toss a promising relationship in the trash can because of one bump in the road. Let me tell you something: If she's worth it, she'll prove it over the long run. But you've got to give her a chance. No one's perfect every minute of every day."

"Well, you'd be proud of me, my columnizing friend. I didn't call her for two days. But then I did. And she said, 'Oh, Mike, I was so worried I'd scared you away. I didn't mean anything by that. I just feel I have to protect myself by making sure.' "

"So it's back on the rails?"

"Back on the rails and doing about 115 miles an hour. I'll keep you posted."

"You do that, you old rogue. I'm rooting for you."