“I knew I’d find you here.”
“Hey Tash, what’s up?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.” She pulled out a chair and sat down. “You and Chucky break up?”
“Only couples break up. And we are not a couple.” I had been avoiding Charles, which wasn’t easy since we had the same circle of friends. I used research as the excuse for my absence. “Besides, I’ve got to finish this paper.”
Natasha sucked her teeth in response.
“I keep telling y’all, Dr. Den—”
“Dennis is an academic genius, blah blah blah…” Natasha mimicked. “Yeah, we know. I’m not saying marry the man, but at least talk to him.”
I didn’t respond. A conversation isn’t unreasonable except I needed to have one with myself first. My boyfriend Trey and I agreed that whatever happens this summer happens since we’d already mapped out our future: graduation, engagement, grad school, then marriage. But developing feelings for the fling were not a part of the plan. I needed to get my priorities in order.
When Natasha said she’d let Charles know where to find me, I didn’t object. “Can you tell him to meet me at our spot at four, instead?”
Hours later I opened my eyes to Charles gently nudging me, breathless and drenched in rain. I sat up and checked my watch. It was a little after three. “What’s wrong?
He smiled, “Nothing. I just needed to see you.”
“Oh.” What else could I say when he was looking at me like I was the only person in the world. I smiled back. No matter what happened after today, this moment would forever endear Charles to me. My summer fling had just created a shelf in my heart where he would permanently reside.
“You don’t have anything to apologize for.” I said after our simultaneous outbursts. “I set all of these crazy expectations without even thinking about how you felt.”
I looked at him except this time I didn’t fight that familiar feeling: the rush of adrenaline, like I was free falling; that jumble of nerves in the pit of my stomach exploding into fireworks. Pop poppoppop pop goes my heart…sigh.
“Can you spare some time?” Charles asked, seeming nervous and a little unsure of himself.
“Of course.” I gathered my things and placed them in my bag. The rain was still falling and didn’t show any signs of slowing. “Where we going?”
Charles smiled, “You’ll see.”
He grabbed my bag before I could put it on my shoulder, placing it on his own and took my hand. I didn’t shy away from the PDA. I’ll just have to face this head on and pick up the pieces later.
He retrieved a giant umbrella from near the service desk. “Sorry, but we’ll have to walk.”
We continued in a comfortable silence. Charles held me close under the umbrella and I keep telling myself it’s to keep me from getting soaked.
“Where are we going?”
“We’re almost there. You’ll see.” Charles answered.
There was an excitement in his voice I hadn’t heard before. I could only see the ground in front of me, and after a while, he led us to a clearing. When he held the umbrella back a bit, I saw the cutest gazebo wrapped in ivy. The Southern girl in me squealed in delight.
“You haven’t seen the best part.” He led me up the tiny steps and my heart caught in my throat. Flowers were everywhere—in vases, in planters, some stuck in the climbing vines and in the middle was a table and two chairs—it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I turned to him with tears in my eyes.
“Hey whoa…I didn’t mean for you to cry.” Charles’s proud grin morphed into a look of horror. I couldn’t speak. It was perfect. I shook my head and hugged him like my life depended on it.
“No, it’s perfect.” I sniffed.
“I know we’ve been in a weird place, but I didn’t want to leave a bad taste in your mouth.” I broke our embrace and turned. He wrapped his arms around my waist as I leaned into him.
“I had to call in a favor, so I’m glad you like it.”
“I love it.” Then it hit me…I loved him. This wasn’t just a fling. I stood there rolling this revelation around in my mind.
“I’ve got one more thing to show you.” He kissed my neck and gave me a quick squeeze before letting go. He walked to the opposite side to reach under the bench that lined the gazebo and pulled out a picnic basket.
“Oh my gosh!” I giggled. “What’s in there?”
“You’ll just have to have a seat and find out.”
I sat before Charles could hold out my chair. I know he was doing the chivalry thing but I couldn’t contain my excitement. He sat opposite me and took out two saucers from the basket.
“I don’t know if you remember this because you were a bit wasted,” he began, “that one time we played the drinking game.” He looked up. “You lost.”
I rolled my eyes. Clearly. “I remember that stupid game.”
“Well,” he continued, “you started talking about your granddad and how he always had holiday baskets with the crackers and cheese and everything. Even when it wasn’t the holidays”
“I did?” That night was a bit of a blur. I think it was the first time I’ve gotten that drunk since my senior year in high school. “I did love those baskets. I don’t think they sell them anymore.”
“They don’t. I checked.” Charles continued setting the table. There were two glasses and sets of silverware. “But, you can find just about all of the items if you look.” He pulled out a jar of baby dill pickles, followed by soft cheese, crackers, and salami.
He smiled, “I did.”
I watched Charles as he went about the business of assembling the food on the small plates. I regret avoiding him, throwing away precious time, denying myself the opportunity for closure. Or maybe I was just trying to avoid the inevitable.
As he reached down one last time, Charles said, “Sorry but we’ll have to eat the fruit out the container. I’ve already washed it.” He sat up and looked at me, “What are you thinking about right now?”
“Just wishing I wasn’t so stubborn these last couple of weeks. Now we’ve only got two days, then…” I didn’t want to say it would be over.
“Then back to normal, huh?” I nodded
He reached for my hand and I watch our fingers intertwine. When I looked up to meet his eyes, my breath hitched and I knew. Everything I was feeling, he was feeling too. Snapshots of our summer together came to mind, flashing before my eyes. Folks say that happens before death. Turns out it’s true.
Sherri was jolted out of her daydream by the sound of the garage signaling her husband was home. She looked at her phone…that can’t be right. Sure enough, it was a few minutes after five. She had been sitting here for two hours. She slid the bin back into the shed and tucked the album under her arm.
“Hey Mommy.” Xavier, her youngest sat at the kitchen table coloring.
“Hey baby,” she kissed her son’s head. “Hungry?”
“Mn-mnh,” he shook his head, “Hannah gave me goldfish and juice for snack. She said Daddy’s bringing dinner.”
“Oh,” Speaking of, where was her husband? He still hadn’t walked through the door. Sherri continued on, walking into the den to see her middle child, John, sitting at the computer.
“Hey love,” she gave his shoulder a squeeze, “When did you get home?”
“Hey Ma, about fifteen minutes ago. I saw you sitting outside but Hannah told me not to bother you and wait until you came in.”
“Did she, now?” The album still in her hand, Sherri looked around, “Where is Hannah?”
John shrugged, “In her room, I think.”
Sherri crossed the den of their sprawling ranch style home to the side where the children’s rooms were. She looked in Hannah’s room to see it was empty. A flash of anger washed through her. If her teenage daughter had used her trip down memory lane to sneak off, there would be hell to pay. She sat on Hannah’s bed, took a deep breath and exhaled. The album now in her lap, she mindlessly ran one hand across the top.
“Hey Mama, what are you doing in here?”
“Looking for you.”
Her daughter plopped down on the bed next to her mother.
“I was in your room looking for something to go with my new denim jacket.”
Sherri had left the jacket outside. “Make sure you get it off the patio.” She stood to leave then turned, “I see you got your brothers settled. Thank you.”
“No prob. I saw that you were kinda engrossed in that book.” Hannah nodded to the album.
“What book?” Sherri’s husband entered kissing her on the cheek, “Hey baby.” He extended his arms to his daughter, “Hey baby girl.”
“Hey daddy.” Hannah hugged her father. “That book Mama’s clutching like it’s the Hope Diamond.”
Sherri loosened her hold so he can see.
“Ah, the album,” he smiled and looked down at his daughter, “Your mother ever tell you how we met?”
After that summer, Sherri was fully prepared to break things off with Trey. Turns out she didn’t have to. He had applied for an exchange program and stayed in Europe that Fall semester and they agreed to end things. When he returned in the Spring, she did tell him about meeting Charles. She and Trey had known each other so long that it was easier than she anticipated explaining her love for Charles to him. They were still friends and he’s Hannah’s godfather. After graduation, she did her graduated studies at Indiana University where she had spent that summer so many years before; and she and Charles had been inseparable ever since. She likens their love to summer rain: happening gradually, then all of a sudden. Sometimes intense, always cleansing, leaving something beautiful in its wake.