The smell of fresh basil from the garden lingered on my hands. A pinkish-orange glow brushed across the farthest part of the sky and the evening’s deep blue began to settle in. I was nervous with butterflies flapping their wings inside my stomach. He was coming soon, and I wanted everything to be as perfect as it could be, seeing that it was the first time I was cooking for someone besides myself in my dollhouse.
Sweat beads started to form on my hands as I ran back and forth from the bathroom to the kitchen, trying to simultaneously cook supper and curl my hair. I didn’t want to look like I tried, but I also didn’t want to look like I normally do when I roll out of bed. Light makeup, no mascara, my favorite summer romper, soft curls, one ring, simple earrings, and no shoes screamed, “I’ve looked like this all day and didn’t even shower.” At least that was my thought process.
Two of my closest friends sat in the living room casually watching music videos, ignoring my frantic back-and-forth banter with myself, until I fired up my essential oil diffuser. “Taylor, you need to calm it down with the oils. You are going to smoke the dude out.” I made the quintessential “Taylor” face at them to which they replied, “And go ahead and get all your weird out now.” To which I shot back, “Guys, it’s a friend thing. He isn’t interested in me like that, nor am I interested in him like that.” They didn’t believe me, but I believed me. I had to. Protecting myself was the one option I had in the situation, especially after the previous year of heartache, and I was going to guard my heart at all cost. So in the friend corner he went after I threw back a giant gulp of prosecco.
The clock was ticking, supper was prepped and my heart was racing. My friends left 30 minutes before he arrived to give me enough time to sit with and steady my thoughts, which clearly didn’t happen. When they closed the door behind them, I almost panicked. This amazing guy was about to walk through the threshold of my 800-square-foot house. His dad had just passed away two days prior and he chose to have supper with me. For some odd reason he felt as though I would give him a moment of peace in his chaotic world. Damn. I had some big expectations to live up to. He had no idea that I had just stepped off a tilt-a-whirl and was still trying to find the equilibrium in my heart, but I couldn’t let him down. He clearly needed me, so I had to compartmentalize. And I did.
A heavy, yet gentle knock on the door interrupted my sporadic thoughts. It was him. Oh my god. He was here. I opened the door and there he stood -- a tall, handsome man with curly hair, a cut-off white t-shirt, and short khaki shorts. I was so captivated by his smile that I didn’t see the giant sunflowers he held. He bent over to hug me. He hugged me tight and with his deep, Southern accent, thanked me for having him for supper. He smelled like the woods on a warm summer day. You know the smell of fresh pine that the breeze catches as it whispers through the trees? That was his scent, and it enveloped me. “Just friends, Taylor,” I had to remind myself. “We’re just friends.”
I could feel my cheeks burning and my legs turning to jello as I took the sunflowers from his giant hands. “I stopped and cut them from the side of a country road,” he said with proud hesitation, wondering how I would receive them. Of course I loved them and of course my cutest vase was in use. The only vase available was nestled high on top of the kitchen cabinets, so I naturally asked the redwood tree standing behind me if he could fetch it. He obliged. I smelled the flowers. Again, I had to say to myself, “We’re just friends.”
After placing my beautiful, country sunflowers in an awkward vase, I offered him a beer -- an IPA to be exact. He helped me open the beers without a bottle opener because he could. Pouring the IPAs into mason jars, I just stared at him in awe. I didn’t learn that bottle opening trick at UNC. We took a few sips and chatted before I began to pretend that I was a James Beard Award-winning chef. I thought to myself, “Is he as nervous as I am because he seems extremely composed and I’m just trying to not make an awkward “Taylor” face that my friends like to meme.”
The vegetables had long been chopped, patiently waiting to be paired with Italian sausage and spinach gnocchi. I carefully cut the sausage into medallions while he leaned against the counter sipping his beer. I asked a lot of questions. He answered. His nervous energy matched mine. Our energies were merging together just like our paths. I could feel it coursing through my veins. I couldn’t focus. He was in my kitchen. The mystery man I spotted as he walked down the aisle at church to receive communion, while I sang from the stage, was actually watching me try my best to make the first supper.
With the sausage crackling in the iron skillet, I listened as he told me stories about his dad. It was all I wanted to hear. I wouldn’t have the privilege to meet his father, so I wanted to know as much as he was willing to share. He paused for a second to say something. I could tell he wasn’t sure how to say it, but he let out a slight chuckle and pointed to the stove, “Taylor, the skillet isn’t on the eye.” I guess the crackling I heard earlier was my heart skipping a million miles a minute down an old gravel road. I was mortified. The ice was officially broken. We laughed and decided to finish cooking together. It was smooth sailing until he let the water for the gnocchi boil over. We were even.
An hour and a half later it was finally time to break bread together. I poured rose. He said the blessing. Before he dove in, I had to take the first bite. If it didn’t taste right, then he wasn’t allowed to eat it. (It’s the one rule I’ve always had when cooking for others.) The gnocchi tasted like a fresh, summer garden with the slightest zing of lemon. It was safe.
The conversation was flowing like the rosé in our glasses. A lot had transpired in this wonderful human’s life over the past year, and I wanted him to feel comfortable sharing what lingered in his heart. Listening to him, I was inspired by his journey and perseverance. He reminisced about the time in Washington when he shot a buck on the last day of hunting season. Instead of dressing the animal in the field, he said he carried the buck on his back to his truck for what seemed like 10 miles. He had my undivided attention. His slow, Southern drawl pulled me in. This was my version of heaven. I had to remind myself that we were just friends.
I felt like the luckiest woman in Raleigh to be sharing a meal with such an extraordinary person. He was kind, gentle, authentic, and he liked that I dropped the “F” bomb a few times. My mother and grandfather would be appalled that I didn’t use ladylike language, but he didn’t care.
When I took a moment to take my eyes off of him to check the time, I was shocked to see that we had been engaged in conversation for four and a half hours. I felt a tinge of guilt, seeing that I had soaked up so much of his time. He was exhausted, but he didn’t complain. I was grateful. We started to clear the table, and he tried to help me clean. I wasn’t having it. He needed his rest. The next day was going to be one of the hardest days of his life, and he needed to sleep.
Before he left, we made plans to go to church the next morning. He would pick me up, and we would sit together and drink coffee from mugs. I asked if I could come to his dad’s service after church with our mutual friends to support him. He said yes. We hugged. I closed the door behind him. He was here and he was gone. I had a million texts from my friends asking how it went. I replied, “We are just friends. He isn’t interested in me like that.” I cleaned the kitchen, readied myself for bed and fell asleep with a huge smile on my face. Morning couldn’t come fast enough.