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Tales from the Front

Isaac Stroud, 39, Bronx optician
Tollie Letlow, 38, Bronx restaurant manager
Isaac: We met in 1997. One of my friends invited me to go to Jones Beach with him and his girlfriend. He said she was bringing a friend who was in a rocky relationship and was a little distraught.
Tollie: They told me the same thing about him!
Isaac: That night, we had to restrain ourselves. We didn't have to go to the drugstore — it didn't go that far. We stayed in our relationships and kept the friendship going over the years. When her relationship ended last February, they were living together. I had my own place, and she needed a place to stay.
Tollie: I was his roommate. We were just friends all the way up until the end of September.
Isaac: I saw there was something on her mind for three weeks, and she couldn't say it. I was having fun with the fact that she couldn't bring it out. Tollie: He's a challenge. He's not a "yes, baby" man — I can't deal with those guys. As soon as he starts agreeing with everything I say, it'll be over.

David Tornabene, 43, Manhattan insurance administrator
Kathleen Harrington, 35, Manhattan technical-sales rep
Kathleen: We met through a mutual friend who felt it was important to get people together after what happened at the World Trade Center.
David: I remember getting to this thing and thinking, Oh — I'm glad she's here. Kathleen: I felt guilty for thinking he was cute since he was in one of the buildings on September 11. I was moved by how he spoke. So I organized another get-together. David: I remember scrolling through the e-mail and seeing her name, so I decided to go.
Kathleen: Then there was another group outing, a brunch in Hoboken. And he still didn't ask me out! We ended up taking the train home together, with another guy. I said to David, "You should really get off at my stop." And the other guy said, "That's definitely longer!" I was so embarrassed.
David: I felt like I'd missed an opportunity, so I e-mailed her. Kathleen: He wrote, "Hope to see you in the near future." I wrote back: "I'm free Thursday and Friday . . . ".

Lisa Sama, 30, Westchester County middle-school teacher
Chris Ward, 38, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, sports-facility manager
Lisa: One afternoon, I bumped into one of my favorite high-school teachers, Betsy Groat, and I asked her if she knew any men for me.
Chris: I had helped out Betsy's son. She asked how she could thank me, so I said, "How about finding me a good girl?" Lisa and I met as a blind date.
Lisa: He was like, "I'm on my way back [to South Carolina], unless something happens that makes me stay." I wasn't ready for that intensity.
Chris: I called her again, and we went to see Don't Say a Word. Lisa: I left his apartment at about three in the morning that night, shaking my head: "I'm just not ready!"
Chris: So Sunday comes, and I said, "Let me give her a call." She was home playing the piano, and I said, "How about I come over and sing?"
Lisa: Suddenly he was singing to me. That's when I fell in love with him. He never went home — he just moved in. Right before Christmas, we went to Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and he says, "I've never seen the altar up close, let's go see it."
Chris: I got down on one knee and said, "Will you marry me?"

Dario DiBartolommeo, 32, Brooklyn musician
Shane Powers, 25, Weehawken, N.J., style editor
Dario: When everything was happening after September 11, I was alone and miserable about it.
Shane: I was tumbling out of a one-and-a-half-year relationship. I'd come into Auto in the West Village once in late August, and I recognized Dario when I came back two months later for a sample sale.
Dario: My head was shaved, and he thought it was hot.
Shane: This time I thought, "I'm gonna know him." And he offered me a CD of his music.
Dario: I had one copy of that CD that I wasn't going to give to anyone.
Shane: To do that for someone he didn't know was so brave and vulnerable, so I sent him a thank-you note. He asked me out to dinner at Cafe Gitane.
Dario: I wanted everything to be perfect. I know people who work there, so I knew I'd get better service.
Shane: I wasn't even sure if it was a date. I was breaking up with someone else, so I thought, "Am I cheating?" But he respected that. My gut feeling was that it was appropriate and genuine.

Anthony Massucci, 34, Manhattan TV reporter
Julia Sullivan, 28, Manhattan marketing director
Anthony: We met in '99 at Windows on the World — we were sitting near each other at a lunch-slash-seminar. We've been friends ever since, but just professionally. We'd go out to lunch and wind up talking only about personal stuff.
Julia: During the last five minutes, I'd say, "By the way, I have a new client, and here's the press kit."
Anthony: I asked her out once in the beginning, but she was taken. In October, I got a new job and moved from New Jersey into the city.
Julia: I was really excited about his moving.
Anthony: She asked me to dinner, and we found out we were both single. My sister was having a party two weeks later, and I was hoping that would trigger something. She was cool with my nieces, and when we were slow dancing, I started thinking.
Julia: We've been together ever since. September 11 definitely made me rethink my priorities. The fact that Anthony was already a good friend and that I trusted him was so important to me.

Daniel Vigil, 24, Brooklyn art director
Julien Lee, 26, Brooklyn law student
Daniel: I lived with Julien's best friend, who I met through a roommate service.
One night, Daniel and I invited all of our friends to a bar, but no one made it but us.
Daniel: Maybe our friends caught on to us and didn't show up on purpose. We had a few drinks and hung out. We were standing outside the bar, and we gave each other an awesome hug. It was the beginning of November.
Julien: We went dancing the next night at Exit with a lot of people. We danced all night long, till daylight.
Daniel: The two of us can dance anywhere, in the middle of the street.
Julien: We were in the same tribe. Our friends all knew each other.
Daniel: But Julien and I had never sat down together and talked.
Julien: His open-mindedness is really important to me. I've met artsy types who are egomaniacal and too wrapped up in what's cool.