My body tried hard to fight Monday’s wake up call. The sun won its battle to stay tucked under its soft, grey blanket. With tired, heavy eyes, I found the strength to touch the floor with my cold feet. The wood creaked as I slowly made my way to the kitchen. I watched a bird through the kitchen window as it effortlessly balanced on the bistro lights while I tried to balance the events throughout the weekend in my mind -- summer supper, meaningful conversation, a new friend, a small heartbreak, a father’s funeral, and a little beer by the pond.
As I poured the hot water from the kettle over the fresh coffee grinds, I began to debrief alone. Sunday had been a stark contrast to Saturday’s supper with him. The day of rest proved not to be a day of rest as he and his family, with shock and reluctance, bid farewell to their dad. My heart was heavy for him and his siblings. And telling by the sky’s grey clouds, I knew the earth was grieving with them as well.
Sipping my hot, black coffee, the heartbreak that had taken up residence in my life started to creep in like the pesky mosquitoes do when I leave the back door cracked for a few minutes. Nope. I couldn’t do it -- not in that moment. So to starve the blood sucker, I picked up my phone and sent him a text. My discomfort failed in comparison to the new, gaping wound in his heart, and the only thing I knew to do was encourage him. We were just friends, and that’s what friends do.
The telecommunications waves successfully delivered my message. How would he receive it? Would he think the text was weird -- too much? There was nothing I could do at that point. He would read it. Maybe he would respond. Maybe he wouldn’t. Regardless, I didn’t have time to dwell. Work called, and I needed to shelf the thoughts of him.
Hours later, he responded. His words read exactly how I thought they would -- kind, grateful and humble. After expressing his gratitude for my care, he asked if he could see me again that night. He remembered my complaints about the atrocious monkey grass in my front yard and offered to dig the monsters up. He actually wanted to see me again? I was almost certain that Sunday was our last day together before he moved to Georgia. But I obliged on one condition, “Will you help me make rice krispie treats for the beach and drink a beer with me?” Of course he said yes, especially to the beer.
The day rolled slowly on and my anxiety about the past year began to sneak in again. I was short of breath because that’s what anxiety does. Breathing deep, I channeled the nerves into an upcoming deadline and cranked out Monday’s to-do list. When 5:30 rolled around, I shut everything down and headed to a client’s house for happy hour. He was supposed to meet me at my house around 7:00 p.m., so I had some time to calm my nerves with a little laughter.
Happy hour came and went. I made a pit stop at the grocery store for beer and rice krispie treat ingredients. As soon as I pulled into a parking spot, the skies opened and the rain began to fall. At the same moment, the wall holding back my anxiety opened. The tears fell. I hadn’t thought about myself all weekend, and though it felt relieving, I knew a few moments of stillness would force me to think about the pain I’d shoved down to be present for him.
After squeezing out all the tears humanly possible, I casually checked the time. It was 7:00 p.m.! I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath, and ran into the grocery store. It was like I was in supermarket sweeps. I slipped as I ran through the doors but caught myself after screaming an expletive under my breath. Of course I couldn’t find red, white and blue sprinkles. It was July 3! How could they not have solid red, white and blue sprinkles and who puts clear sprinkles on a cake?
Slinging my grocery store finds in the car, I texted him before I drove off. “I am so so sorry!” I said. “I couldn’t find what I needed. I’ve never made rice krispies, much less rice krispies with special sprinkles.” Lie. I was late because I was in my car creating a new lake for Raleigh with my tears. He replied, “It’s ok. I am just in your backyard looking at the trees that are back here.” I could hear his sweet, Eastern North Carolina accent. Who was this guy?
Hitting the curb, I pulled into my driveway like a bat out of hell. His truck was parked on the side of the road. He didn’t leave! I clumsily walked to the fence. He walked up with a huge smile on his face, wearing his khaki shorts, cutoff tee, boots and a wide-brimmed hat. Within an instant, I felt a calm wash over my heart and mind. It was wild how the anxiety disappeared with the rain.
I ran inside, basically threw the beer in the fridge, and slipped on my garden chucks. I met him out back. My heart was racing. I kept saying over and over in my mind, “We’re just friends. We’re just friends. He’s moving to Georgia. We’re just friends.” He gave me a tour of my own backyard, showing me the different trees and identifying the birds that sweetly sang on the branches. His voice was as melodic, and I melted under the warmth of his accent. I was transfixed.
“You ready to take care of some monkey grass,” he said, interrupting my swirling thoughts. Did he know that I was trying to stop myself from falling for him? Was he aware that I was lost in the sound of his voice? In that moment, I felt my face burning red, so I quickly ran to grab my shovel to hide my apparent attraction to him -- the attraction that wasn’t supposed to be there. “Meet you out front,” I hollered.
I walked around the corner, shovel in hand, to find him waiting with his pickaxe. I chuckled. He was cute standing there with his big grin and oversized hat. Together we started to dig. He effortlessly swung the pickaxe over his shoulder and slammed the pick into the ground with force. With all my strength, I shoved the cutting edge of the shovel as deep as I could into the monkey grass roots. I had to hop on the step of the shovel to really dig in. He watched and laughed. “How about I just get them all?” he asked. I agreed as long as he would let me haul them to the back to dispose of them into the woods. “Deal” he agreed.
One by one he pulled each ball of monkey grass from the ground. I watched in awe as this selfless man, with sweat dripping from his brow, sacrificed his time to help me. “Am I falling for him?” I caught myself asking. No, I wasn’t. I couldn’t. He was too good for me and he was moving.
When the yard was clear, we were both drenched in sweat. I grabbed our beers from the fridge. He sat on the sidewalk facing me, and I sat on the porch step. We slowly sipped our IPAs and picked up where we left off the previous evening. From relationships to jobs to faith, we discussed everything as the sun set somewhere behind the grey clouds. My guard was starting to come down. He was the perfect human, and I wasn’t quite sure that he knew how special he was.
Our conversation came to a good transition, leading us to the kitchen. I had to make the rice krispie treats. He wanted to stick around. To be honest, I wanted him to stay, too. His presence was calming and reassuring. I felt safe, yet I hardly knew him. But then again, it was as though I’d known him for years. It was the most magical and odd feeling, but I liked it.
The rice krispie treats almost didn’t happen. I popped the heaping bowl of marshmallows into the microwave as I listened to him talk. He stopped mid-sentence, looked me in my eyes, and said, “Taylor, you didn’t turn the microwave on.” I was so tangled in his words that I didn’t notice the microwave’s silence. We both laughed. My laugh was bashful, and his was bashfully empathetic.
Finally licking the rice krispie bowl as they cooled in the pan, we realized our stomachs were growling. I didn’t plan to cook supper, but I had leftover salad from Saturday. I grabbed forks and he snagged the salad bowl. We settled in the corners of opposite couches and ate the salad together from the same bowl. I could feel my face starting to burn again. But, we were just friends.
It was clear we were tired, seeing that we had talked for hours without a break and he did the work of three men in my yard, so I suggested we watch Friday Night Lights. He told me he hadn’t seen the show. I gasped, and immediately pressed play on the first episode. He stretched his long body across the couch, and I curled into a little ball on the couch bench. He felt safe and comfortable. That’s all I could ask for.
Four episodes in, I checked the time. It was 2:45 a.m. I was shocked. He was tired. I could see it in his eyes. The weekend had been a whirlwind and he chose to spend it with me in between tears, funerals, work and family. The credits began to scroll and the FNL anthem played. We looked at each other. I saw the spark. He saw the spark. It was clear the walls guarding our hearts were struck down, and we knew that we were no longer just friends.