While Derek had been to my house a number of times, I had yet to spend time at his. That fact was commented on during the dinner party with friends, but whether that inspired an invitation or he was just ready to have me over, I was not sure. The plan was for me to come the following Friday afternoon, around 3:00 p.m. He would work from home that day and break off when I arrived.
I didn’t really know what he had in mind. I had told him I wanted to hike the trail he’d cut. Would we do that? Did he mean for me to stay for dinner? The evening? The night? Because I had no real idea, I planned for any eventuality but kept what I brought with me to a minimum.
I was looking forward to seeing his home. When he had arrived at my house for that first dinner together, he’d said, “I don’t believe you live here.” I was a bit taken aback and asked why. He said that my house was covered with south-facing windows like his. He later sent a photo, and I could see that there was a certain similarity between our two houses. Natural light was as important to him as it was to me.
But the visit was more important than the house itself. I wanted to see how he lived. I wanted to meet his dog, Harley, and his three cats, especially Rubicund, the cat who had assumed my position on Derek’s lap in the photo he’d texted me. I wanted to hike Derek’s trail with him. I wanted to experience him on his home turf.
It was not a short drive to Derek’s house, but it was a beautiful one. He lived in the foothills, a ways up a canyon followed by a steep ascent to his perch at the top of a hill. The stream adjacent to the road was high and running fast. It looked like good kayaking for him.
When I arrived at the agreed upon hour, I rang the doorbell and got no response. I rang it again. Still no response. Based on the vehicles in the driveway, it appeared that he was home. I had a fleeting thought that he might have changed his mind about my coming to his house, might not have wanted me there. I knew him well enough to know that he would not simply avoid answering the door if that was the case, so the thought seemed just a little paranoid and irrational. Still, I knew that I was able to pick up on Derek’s feelings empathically, so I put my feelings aside without dismissing them.
I finally tried the doorknob, found the door unlocked, and stepped in to the sound of barking dog, quickly followed by the man himself. “Harley lets me know when someone is at the door,” he explained when I told him I had only walked right in after getting no response to the doorbell.
He was not quite finished with work, so I entertained myself by checking out the books in his bookcases. As a writer, what people read is always of interest to me. Books that had clearly been his late wife’s choices were among the titles. I called out author names and asked who had been a fan of that particular author, and I was mildly surprised by some of his choices. I knew he was a fan of one particular mystery writer, but he also read some pretty potent literary fiction. I reminded myself that the man interested me for reasons beyond chemistry.
When he put the work aside and we went upstairs, I presented him with a small gift I’d brought: soap I had made and infused with love, packed in a tin of French origin. He said he had a gift for me too, left for a moment to get it, and hid it behind his back, making me reach around him–a wholly appealing requirement–to feel the package and guess at what it was. Long and thin, I had no idea and made a joking guess. What he pulled out from behind his back and handed me was a surprise: trekking poles. I didn’t tell him I already had an expensive pair of Leki trekking poles. I hadn’t brought them because it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need them to hike his trail. But even switchbacked, the trail was steep and rugged in places. Trekking poles were a good idea. I found it the most thoughtful gift I’d been given in a long time and told him so.
Fortunately, I had brought my hiking boots. I like being surefooted when hiking, and they were definitely an advantage. After a quick tour of the house, I changed into them, adjusted the poles to my height with his help, and took off with him, Harley, and Rubicund on the trail. People take their dogs on hikes all the time, but a cat? This was the first trail-hiking cat in my experience. The cat lover in me liked the idea of it, and I liked the cat. As for Harley, he was irresistible. It was pretty much love at first sight with Harley, just as it had been with his master.
The trail was more extensive and more impressive than I could have imagined. I was stunned by the raw work and love that had gone into it, stopped on the trail at one point, and put my arms around him when he turned to me. “You’re my hero,” I said, and meant it. He lit up with the praise.
He had seemed a bit nervous and edgy up to that point, as if he didn’t quite know what to do with a woman on the turf that had been occupied solely by men–human, canine, and feline–since his wife’s death. Perhaps this little shift in response to my heartfelt praise would settle into a sense of relaxation and comfort in my being at his home with him.
Unfortunately, that was not to be the case.
Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of request for the man involved. Likewise, the names Harley and Rubicund are fictitious, and I sincerely hope that the dog and cat given these pseudonyms will forgive me for taking that liberty.
Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall