A massage therapist and a public defender meet at Burning Man. They talk and talk, the conversation flowing from Chinese medicine to math. Finally, he makes a proposal: He will be her slave boy.

Her friends, you see, are getting married, and the bachelorette party is the next day. What does a slave boy do at a bachelorette party? “I guess whatever you want him to,” says Denise, our story’s heroine, who asked me not to use her last name.

I spoke to Denise on the phone Thursday morning as she was making kimchi in her kitchen before dashing off to give a massage. She lives in the Mission and has three other jobs, including one at a marijuana dispensary. I told you this is a San Francisco love story.

Back to Burning Man, where the bachelorette party was forced to proceed sans slave boy. He never found Denise’s camp at 4:40 and Dogma.

But she wasn’t crushed. She was 35, content to be single and not in the market for love. She’d just recently started accepting dates, but only after her friends staged an intervention and convinced her to do so.

Back in San Francisco, life went on and Denise didn’t think much about the slave boy until a friend of a friend forwarded a missed connection in an e-mail with the subject line, “Could this be Denise?”

Cole Valley masseuse I met at the Boom Box last Wed. at BM – m4w – 27

We met sitting down by the Boom Box as our friends danced. We talked for what seemed like forever. I was wearing some ridiculous furry thing and I think you had pink eyelashes. I was supposed to meet you the next day but could never find your camp – 4:40 and Dogma? You studied Math at Santa Barbara because it was easy, had five jobs, and were just so damned intriguing that I can’t give up yet.

Denise was excited. Not remembering her admirer’s name, she said to herself, “Wow! Slave boy!” She wrote back immediately.

No answer. She wrote back again and again, worried that her e-mail address — which starts with the word suggamama — was flagged as porn spam.

Slave boy had given up. He hadn’t heard from his pink-lashed love interest. He figured his post had been buried in the 500 Burning Man-related Missed Connections that flooded Craigslist in the days after the gathering.

He went to Seattle, where his sister was having a baby. It wasn’t until he returned home that he found Denise’s e-mails, one of which had her phone number. He called her.

Denise had her reservations — he was seven years younger, for starters. But she agreed to a date on the beach. “When destiny pushes you together, you’ve got to check it out,” she says.

Exactly five years after the day they met, they weren’t on the beach but on the Playa. She was in a corset and a homemade bustle, he in a vest and a tophat. Wearing sunglasses and dusty boots, they said, “I do.”

Bridget Huber

Bridget writes about community groups, non-profits and collectives for Mission Loc@l.

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