It was a long hike. We took our time on the way down with Derek pointing things out along the way and me stopping to note power spots. We almost stopped our downward trek short of the end. The last bit was just a little trickier than the rest, and I suspected that Derek thought it might be more than I could handle. Actually, nothing on the hike was more than I could handle, though it had been a while since I’d been on a hike, and we were hiking at an elevation that was fifteen hundred feet higher than my home turf. I’d climbed fourteeners and hiked at higher and more difficult elevation than this. It was not a big challenge. So I expressed my desire to press on to the end, and we did. The view down to the creek and along a small ravine was breathtaking. It was easy to understand why Derek built that trail, but I was still in awe that he had managed it with his own two hands.
On the way back up, we took a different path, past some powerful grandfather trees and alongside a shooting range he had set up. Harley romped along with us, behind us, and sometimes ahead of us. Rubicund went off on his own little adventures but managed to stay relatively close to us.
Once back at the house, we cleaned up a bit and Derek set about preparing dinner, which was to consist of prepared salads he’d purchased somewhere and beer brats he would cook on the grill. He actually gave me a choice between frozen pizza (his standby party/company food) and the brats. Fresh brats trumped frozen pizza in my mind. I knew that Derek had few cooking skills, and while cooking was important to me and I had long fantasized cooking with a man, the lack of culinary expertise just did not matter in that moment. I was with him, at his house, and he was preparing dinner, for me, to the extent of his skills.
But the dinner was a somewhat sullen affair. We sat at the kitchen table across from one another with little of the usual conversation between us. Derek, whose habit was to talk about everything, all at once, all of the time, was strangely quiet. I was so taken aback by this that while I have seldom been accused of having noting to say, I found myself struggling to keep a conversation going.
After dinner, Derek showed me his RVs, both the one he had yet to sell and the new one he had purchased. A week or two earlier, he had asked if I would be willing to accompany him on a kayaking outing, a yearly trip he made to assist in teaching new kayakers. He planned to take his new RV and park it at a campground instead of roughing it with a sleeping bag and a tent. There would be others at the campground for me to interact with while he was working, and the evenings would be fun gatherings. I had never stayed in an RV anywhere, but I had no hesitation in saying I would love to go. His asking the question had been a gesture suggesting he was willing to at least consider inviting me into his life a little. And I wanted to be invited into his life as much as I wanted to invite him into mine. Now I was getting a look at the RV.
Back inside, we retired to the living room. He put on some rowdy music and we got into snuggling mode. But there was something a little discomfited about it, as if he was going through the motions but not quite fully into it. He eventually jumped up from the couch and began dancing by himself. I’d heard stories about him dancing in his living room, by himself and with his daughter, but this was my first experience of it. I was known to dance to Diana Krall in my office and dance to Coldplay while getting myself together in the morning, so the idea of dancing in the living room seemed perfectly natural to me.
Except that it didn’t quite look that way. The look on Derek’s face was intense. He didn’t seem to be dancing freely, without inhibition. He seemed to be dancing for his life, or more accurately, dancing to avoid his life.
Derek had represented himself as a man of action in the action-packed part of his life. After several years of being with a woman who had cancer, a remission, and then a recurrence of cancer that led to her death, getting fully back into action made perfect sense to me. It was getting back into life, demonstrating relief at being among the living . . . wasn’t it? Now what I was seeing made me wonder if at least some of that activity was a means to avoid his life, not live it.
Compassion for him welled up in me. And I wanted to be a part of his reclamation.
I had been up since 3:30 a.m. When I asked for some music that was a bit less rowdy, Derek assumed I wanted something slow enough to dance to with him. We had done that in my kitchen the first night he came to dinner, so it was a viable guess on his part. But I admitted that after a long day, the rowdy music was wearing me out, just a little.
He led the way to the bedroom, but something was lacking. There was none of the absorption with one another that had marked our previous trysts. He seemed uncomfortable, and because of that, I felt awkward. I stepped out of the bedroom and onto the adjacent deck for a few gulps of fresh air and a look at the stars. He followed me and put his arms around me. I was struggling with something I wanted to say. I knew that I was at risk of blurting out my budding love for him when we were in a clinch, and I didn’t want it expressed in that way at that time. Yet I knew that vocalizing my feelings in this moment carried its own risks. Things felt a little out of resonance between us.
Ultimately, I reaffirmed my commitment to myself to be open-hearted and transparent in this relationship. And hadn’t that been the case thus far? Mostly? I turned towards him, looked up into his eyes, and told him I was falling in love with him. I had no expectation that he would follow suit, I just needed to express my own feelings.
“Aren’t you just feeling infatuation,” he asked. ” We’ve only had . . . what . . . six dates? Aren’t we still in the infatuation phase?”
Actually, it had been more than six dates when we included his lunchtime visits to my house, which I considered to be dates.
“Call it anything you want. I call it love,” I replied, smiling like the woman in love I was.
We went back inside and into his bed. The lovemaking was a bit less romantic and a bit more results oriented than before. And he fell asleep before me, though he routinely stayed up late.
The next morning, he had a charity ride, so our time together was limited. He made coffee and was attentive, but I felt more like a houseguest than a lover.
When I got into my car to leave, he set off on a walk with Harley. As I passed them, he grinned and waved, but what settled into my bones was the suspicion that he was glad to have me gone.
Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved. Likewise, the names Harley and Rubicund are fictitious, and once again, I sincerely hope that the dog and cat given those pseudonyms will forgive me for taking that liberty.
Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall