This is the story of how I began my last relationship.
I have to admit, when I moved to Canadian Lakes, this is not want I had in mind. I did not expect to find you, of all people, in this place, but I guess it makes sense. It’s home, and you’re the first person whose felt like home without me having to try to make myself fit in your rooms. So, no, I did not move there looking for love, but I found it all the same.
If we’re to understand what happened in those three and a half months, we have to start at the beginning. You see, I was running away. I could no longer deal with living in a place layered in old memories of him that don’t matter anymore. It was torturous, the non-consented flashbacks and movies playing in my head. I was done living in this past winter’s shadow, so I decided that this summer, I’d live in my parent’s second home in Canadian Lakes.
In mid-May, your aunt hired me to work at Hixson’s, the grocery store I’d been going to my entire life (which makes this meeting far too late in our lives for how often they must have intersected without us knowing). She gave me a borrowed handbook to memorize and paper work to fill out. I wanted to just fill it out later and hand it in when I started two weeks later, but my mother insisted that I finish it immediately and turn it in the next day. I rolled my eyes, but complied with her demands, as it would leave me freer to enjoy the budding summer greenery that exploded from all sides around my forest cottage.
The next morning, I packed to return to the Detroit area to get a few errands done before moving and celebrate my father’s birthday. I shoved my duffel in the back seat, and went inside to grab my paper work off the marble countertop. I sat in the passenger side, straightening the stack nervously as my mom pulled into the parking lot. You swear I was wearing an orange sweater that day, but I swear I don’t anything own like that. When I feel uncomfortable, I like to pretend I know what I’m doing, so I headed to your aunt’s office to set the papers on her desk. I stepped in expecting no one to be in there on a Sunday, but there you were.
You looked up from your aunt’s desk and saw me standing just inside the office. I’m sure you were wearing your usual polo and jeans, but I can’t remember what color your shirt was. I feel like it was the grey one. You looked up from your aunt’s desk and I noticed your glasses, your golden hair, and the surprised look on your face. Your stare pinned me to my spot. I stammered something about dropping off new hire papers. You said that your aunt had told you about me. You introduced yourself, but you know, your name is one of those that sounds like a lot of other things, and I was already anxious, so the exact pronunciation slipped my mind as soon as you said it. I replied with my own name, and said it was nice to meet you. God, was I right about that.
We worked together a lot, but as a manager, you were running all over the brightly lit store like a pinball stuck in overdrive on the machine. You seemed like a cool guy, and I felt a pang of jealousy when I’d see you laugh with Jordan or Chris. I wanted to be on a laughing basis with you, if that makes any sense. I had joked around with you a bit, mock yelling at you when you spilled coffee on a chair at the break table and I sat in it, but I wanted to make you laugh like they did. I needed and wanted to get closer to you.
It started off slow, with me asking you for help when I was encountered with something I didn’t know about. Then, I learned parts of selling lottery tickets and had to ask you for help with that. Soon after that, I started working at the post office station, that wonderful little section of the help desk that also held not only the lottery sales, but dry cleaning, the cellular machine, and the condoms. It was around that time that I stopped feeling nervous about calling you up to help me with something. I remember one time you helped me send a whole bunch of certified mail, and you showed me that I should write down all the costs on the receipt slip before moving on to the next screen on the computer. Of course, it didn’t stick, and it wasn’t until the end of the summer until I could send certified mail by myself. In fact, over Thanksgiving break, I had to ask for your help again, but maybe that was because I felt like I hadn’t seen you all day. Anyways, I started to love you helping me out at the post office, and I was a little sad when I could do everything by myself, because it meant less time with you.
Then, it was the week before the Fourth of July. I was scheduled max hours, and you were scheduled at least ten hours overtime. The days were never-ending streams of customers, scan, bag, smile, repeat. I threw myself into the chaos of the holiday season, doing my best to keep things moving. A couple hours before close on June 30th, you walked up to the registers to chat with us cashiers, and you explained that you were staying late to fill beer. I was headed on my break, and I caught you before I went back to the break room.
“I can help you get stuff done after close if you need,” I said. “I don’t have anywhere to be after work and I drove myself today.”
“That’d be great,” you said. I affirmed my staying late and walked off to get some food to eat. That night, after counting my drawer, I found you in aisle one, straightening out the chip bags. We had to face the shelves before you could go on to stock the Beer Cave, and I think you were glad for the disruption from hauling thirty-packs from one cold room to a slightly less cold room whose doorframe has those rubber hangings that make every entrance and exit an event.
You said we didn’t have to make things perfect, just straighten out some of the shelves so they looked nice. At first, you told me to hold onto misplaced items, but then we ended up leaving them where we found them and said it would be the stock ladies’ problem in the morning. After you said that, you became silent, and we moved through at least the first two aisles without a word. I don’t remember who spoke first, but I think it was you. I think you asked about school, and what I was studying, and where I went and whatnot. You shared your experiences at Ferris, the university twenty minutes away, and from there, things tangented.
I learned so much about you that night. You are easy to get along with, but you hate when people steal your food. You told me in the coffee aisle that you hate when people from the Midwest call it “soda,” when demographically, they’re supposed to say “pop.” We talked about running in the dairy aisle, and I gave you some pointers after talking about my time on my high school’s cross country team. Suddenly as we had started, we had finished the ninth aisle, all that we needed to get done. It felt like only fifteen minutes tops had passed, but it turned out to be an hour.
I should’ve known then you were different from everyone else. Looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t realize I liked you as more than a manager and more than a friend. It’s funny, I’ve always said I didn’t know about your feelings or mine back then, but I think, deep down I did, because that night in my kitchen, after our first real date, when you said I was amazing, it felt like something was blossoming in my chest, or like I was settling into a warm bath: exciting and comforting at the same time.
So maybe that wasn’t our first actual date, but in loose terms, it was. There was food, lights, and we learned facts about each other. There were laughs, and I offered to pay (for a gift down the road, but still) and you said I needn’t bother with that. You were a gentleman and walked me to the (back) door, insisting that you would be able to get the beer stocking done quickly all by yourself. So no, it wasn’t the same as Ruby Tuesday’s on a Thursday night, but it was time I got to spend alone with you, so it’s a date, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever had.
Of course, nothing really compares to our first date, that clusterfuck mess of absolute confusion and drinking too many liquids. While June 30th was sweet and wholesome, I was still completely oblivious to how I felt about you. You were just my cool manager then. As the weeks continued, you started flirting more, and I slowly rubbed the fog from my eyes. I think I started to notice you trying to chat me up at the seafood sale in July. I was happy I got to spend eight hours surrounded by frozen fish and leaking coolers, getting to go home smelling like I lived at a wharf, having to wear long sleeves when it was in the eighties outside because I was in the meat freezer so often restocking the lobster tails and breaded fish filets, but I was also melancholy that I had to miss the second day of the sale because of a baby shower in hell, or rather, Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’ve hated that useless city since May, when I realized that not only my ex-boyfriend, but my ex-best friend as well, lived there. The whole city was one big goddamned trigger. But I got to spend one more day in town, and I got to spend it with you in a way. You kept coming over to talk to me when things slowed down for me. You perused the shrimp selection.
“Can I sell you some fish?” I teased.
“I’d buy anything from you,” you said. “I’d buy the whole sale if I could.”
“I bet,” I said, laughing.
“I’m actually thinking about it,” you replied. “Maybe I’ll get some shrimp, I haven’t had any in so long.”
“Well, we have a few different kinds. We have cooked and uncooked, and then two different types of uncooked shrimp.”
“I don’t know,” you fussed. “I’m not sure if I want any yet.”
“I’ll set aside a bag for you, just in case you do want some.”
You gave your thanks and walked away, moving one to one of the million things you had to get done that day. I sat there, wondering if you were actually flirting or just being heavily sarcastic. I didn’t have time to dwell, and an older lady with a southern drawl came up to my counter with her cart and her grandson on her hip, and I had to refocus on the task at hand.
I don’t think I wanted to believe you liked me at first. The past five months were rife with romantic rejection for me, and my heart couldn’t take any more. It had started in January, when my high school sweetheart dumped me for his fellow RA friend. I normally would not accuse him of such treachery, but he waited a mere, disrespectful ten days to make their relationship Facebook official. Then, after foolishly sleeping with my best friend, I projected the residue feelings I had for my ex onto him, and ended up falling for him, which was a huge mistake because he was just using me as a palette cleanser between bouts of getting back together with his girlfriend.
The most mild rejection I felt is when I told my lab partner I liked him as more than a lab partner and he said, “Yeah, I could tell.” After that, I slept with my best friend once more, and when he got back together with his girlfriend only a few hours later, I gave up. I pushed away the old classmate that had a crush on me. I stopped talking to my lab partner. I decided I only wanted to have guys around if they were going to give me good sex and nothing else. I left St. Clair Shores, left the shitty memories of heart break and betrayal in the dust, left in order to avoid Garrett my ex and Noah my ex best friend, left all my fake friends, left my old life to die of starvation. I was tired of the pain of trying, so I stopped. So I told myself that you didn’t like me, that you just being nice, that you probably had a girlfriend, because how could a man so wonderful as you be single AND into me?
But I couldn’t help it. I’d search the store for you whenever I wasn’t busy. I would find your coffee mugs all over the store and return them to you. I talked to you every chance I got. I spend a half hour after every shift talking to you about nothing and everything and learning you, learning about your diet, your family, your likes, your dislikes. I even found excuses to come in on my off days so I could talk to you. Then it hit me. I was sitting at the small desk in the office, counting my drawer, and you sat at the large desk, making sale signs. We began discussing reality tv. You thought it was mind rotting, watching the Kardashians and Real Life, and while I agreed, I also admitted that I loved watching Teen Mom OG. You ranted about how that wasn’t any better and my heart did something. I twisted, squeezed, leapt, danced, tried its hardest to soar into the sky and I thought, Oh. Oh shit. I like him.
After that, I spent the night two weeks lying in bed at night, not able to fall asleep, because I kept thinking about all the safe ways I could be with you. Maybe I’d move to Canadian Lakes permanently after graduation and I’d still want you and I’d convince you to go out with me even though we’re six years apart and we’d run together every morning and you’d say fuck it and be with me and it was all I could think about. You were all I could think about. But I was leaving in two weeks and I thought I couldn’t do anything. After Garrett, I vowed I would never be in a long-distance relationship, and besides, you probably didn’t like me anyways. I just had to get through the next few weeks, denying that every cell in my body wanted to kiss you, because if I didn’t, I’d get you in trouble at work, which could ruin your career and your chances of owning the store one day, and I couldn’t do that to you, so I stayed quiet.
There was one Saturday where I knew I liked you, and you were away at your bridge partner’s fiftieth anniversary party. This woman named Cindy came in wanting to buy a gift card for the same woman as she was also attending the party. I told her that you would also be there.
“Well, I’ll have to pull him out onto the dance floor then!” she exclaimed as I typed in the price of the congratulations card she was also buying. I paused at her words, remembering how you complained about having to go because you didn’t have nice clothes that fit you at the time and you didn’t like dancing. I pondered those words for a second, and then I got a shit-eating grin on my face.
“You know, he’d love that,” I said as I finished up her transaction. She said something more about the subject but I didn’t hear her, as I was too busy laughing my ass off in my head. Boy, you were gonna be so mad when you found out what I did but I thought that was hilarious, you being mad at me, because you were never mad at me. The next day, however, I was in a mood. You had to stock wine, and the load looked massive, so I offered to help, hoping you’d say yes so I could spend more time with you. But you said no, and anxiety trickled through my veins cold and dreadful. It became real, the idea that you might not like me back, and I was terrified, because I felt so much for you that I couldn’t bear it if you actually didn’t feel the same way about me, no matter how much I tried to convince myself that was the truth. I stood at my register, so fearful that I was afraid I might pass out. You later told me that you said no to me helping because you were afraid I didn’t like you either and being near me hurt. After you finished wine, I went on break. On my way to the back room, we were walking towards each other. I said, “Oh by the way, I told Cindy to dance with you yesterday.”
You scoffed jokingly at me and pushed me slightly. I started laughing, and I realized I’d be okay with anything as long as I had you in my life. As the days got nearer and nearer to August 26th, I worried less about the future and began focusing more on the now. I joked with you as much as I could, talking about making a Keatyn puppet out of a brown bag, and dishing your teasing right back at you (one of my favorites is when I didn’t hear something you said and you pretended to be hurt, so when a customer came in and asked how I was, you said to me, “I don’t know how I’m feeling,” and I said I wouldn’t know either because I wasn’t listening.) Then came the last time I’d close with you for the summer. It was just as amazing as I’d hope, but in ways I never expected. I accidentally screamed, “What the fuck?” at you when you asked for eighty dollars cashback and we talked again that night for a while until I’m sure you were begging me in your mind to let you go home.
Two days later, something magical happened. I woke up to a text from you, asking me to be your bridge partner for a tournament in Grand Rapids. You joked about driving all the way back, picking me up, and speeding back to get to the tournament on time. I told you that you were going to be arrested, but that I’d bail you out with the money I’d made this summer. You said you’d repay me by taking me out to dinner.
“What if I just skipped the whole jail thing,” you texted, “because it’s not my thing, and bought you food anyway sometime?”
My heart rocketed around my chest cavity and I nearly passed out. You were actually asking me out like I’d always hoped. You told me later that you had been wanting to do that all summer long, and I got super close once, but chickened out. I remember that. I remember counting my drawer and you stood in the doorway. You had told me you wanted to ask my something earlier, so I asked, “Hey, what was it you were going to say earlier?” you stared at me for a minute, then shook your head and left. I thought you were crazy, but I didn’t think too much of this as you did this all the time when you wanted to ask me even the most mundane of questions.
I typed that I’d love that and sent it to you. You asked me to go to Ruby Tuesday’s with you and then we’d go play pickleball, an old man’s tennis and ping pong hybrid. I said yes, and we picked a time. I instantly began rushing around my house, packing my clothes, as I was leaving in less than a week, and cleaning every speck of dust off everything. I blasted music all day and told myself to calm down, as you could just think this was a hangout. But still, I hoped that it was a date. I told my neighbor Paula that I was going out to dinner with you, and she sung your praises. She really likes you.
The appointed time came around, and you passed my house. I watched you brake, and slowly back up and then move forward into my driveway. I was wearing a plaid shirt, black jeans, and combat boots that I had adorned with buttons. You were wearing a nice shirt, jeans, and Sperry’s. Since I had never seen you out of work, I told myself that was just how you dressed probably. I got into your black Ford Fusion myself. We drove in awkward silence for a few minutes. It made me super nervous.
Finally, “Feel It Still” by Portugal the Man came on and we began talking a bit, easing into the conversation like it was an ice bath. You drove too fast, but I learned that’s just how you drive. On the highway, we talked about your family, and eventually we pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant. We sat for a few minutes, discussing what we’d do after dinner. I didn’t have much of an opinion about it, as I’d never played pickleball before; therefore, I didn’t feel my thoughts would be the best choice for us. Finally, we left the car and walked into the Ruby Tuesday’s. I opened the door out of habit, and you were embarrassed because you wanted to open the door for me. We were promptly seated in a booth for two near the salad bar and you instantly ordered a coffee. I chuckled because you were addicted to that stuff, but you ordered it because you thought the date was going horribly and needed comfort.
We talked a bit in the green, brown, and maroon colored room, mentioning what we might order and after our orders were taken, we delved into a conversation about driving and car accidents. I never talked about the minor yet terrifying accident I had been in, but I told you, because I knew you’d care and understand. You told me of an accident you’d been in, where your car had slipped on the ice and turned into the other lane. You were hit by a truck.
Our food came then and I was relieved ever so slightly. I was afraid I’d run out of things to say, and was thankful for a pause in the conversation. After I scarfed down a burger and fries, and you finished your shrimp and veggies, you explained that you and your family always try to guess the bill. I was intrigued as I am competitive as hell. I racked my brain for what your meal had cost as well as how much they might charge for coffee. You confessed you hadn’t seen what mine had cost. When the bill came, you slapped your hand down on the black leather case and asked me to give my number. I hesitated and you accused me of cheating. I spat out a number and you said yours. You opened up the case and saw the total printed in large numbers on the ticket. You had won. I reached for my wallet, but you insisted heavily that you pay. I didn’t fight back much. I could tell this was important to you, even if I didn’t want you to feel like I was using you for free food.
I used the restroom quickly and we left the Ruby Tuesday’s, feeling a bit lighter. You were talking about your adolescence, the high school you went to, what sports you did, and how you worked two jobs. When you said you worked at the golf course as well as Hixson’s, I imagined a million times that we had run into each other over the years, not knowing we’d end up together, driving down the highway.
We stopped at your grandfather’s ranch to change into looser clothes to play in. I was glad for it, as I had to pee yet again. I drank too much water at the restaurant, as if keeping my mouth busy would prevent conversations that were awkward. We argued over which courts to play on. You wanted to play pickleball on the actual pickleball courts, but I said it would be dark soon, as it was seven o’clock, so we should go to the tennis courts you mentioned that had lights. We ended up at the courts I advocated for because you wanted to play for an hour or so. When we got there, some youths were using the basketball net. You complained that these nets were too high, but that it would probably be okay. You served first.
It turns out I’m actually terrible at pickleball. I could barely hit the ball with my racket, no matter how much you demonstrated how to swing. We didn’t really keep score, but you kicked my ass regardless. I’d drive and rush to hit the ball, but my swing was always just miss the little whiffle ball. I’d run after it as it rolled and bounced away. You tried to not laugh at me. We’d stop in between serves at times to just talk over the net to each other. I talked too much about my time as a good runner in high school, but you didn’t mind too much. Eventually, it was pitch black and the edges of the court were too hard to see, even with the flood lights on. We walked back to your car. You remarked that you didn’t know where your wallet was, which was probably bad because it had a large amount of money from selling your previous car in it. We got to your car and said that I could drive it if I wanted to, but I was too tired for a driver’s ed lesson from my crush.
As we entered the car, it slowly dawned on me how the night was wrapping up. I was running out of time to do something. Anything. Say I liked you. Kiss you. So you pulled out of the parking lot, and I told you the first turn to get back to my house. Then, as we neared the next turn, I stayed silent. I wanted more time with you. I needed more time to turn this night around. You started driving without aim, and we passed your childhood home and your grandparents’ home, where you currently lived. We drove the streets that my parents drove when I was a child, when we’d eat ice cream and try to find deer in the woods from the safety of our car. I decided to speak up and do something.
“Do you want to see my bathroom? We just finished remodeling it.”
“Sure,” you replied, and made your way towards the main road. You finally found your way back to my house, but only after you passed it again. You pulled into my driveway and parked. I led you into my house and showed you around the first floor. We then stood, arms crossed in my kitchen, continuing to talk about shit that I can’t even remember, except that I learned that you’re not super into Marvel and DC movies. You must have had three glasses of water, and kept having to use my new bathroom. I was leaning against the back of my couch while you stood five feet across from me, leaning against the counter. I was telling some dumb story from high school when you stopped me and said the words that would change everything forever.
“I think you’re amazing,” you said. You babbled on after that, but I barely heard it because all I could register were those four words. You liked me. You wanted me. I felt like I was expanding with love as you spoke. I finally stopped your rambling and said, “I think you’re amazing too.”
We left everything out then. How we felt, how you thought I had a boyfriend, how I was scared you didn’t like me back, how none of that mattered anymore. Finally, I crossed the room and we kissed. We embraced for what felt like forever, and when we pulled apart, you said, “Wow.” I agreed, and went back to kissing you. You were intoxicating and fulfilling. I had waited so long to do this, and it lived up to every expectation I had. We made our way over to the love seat in the corner and sat together, bearing our hearts to one another. We listened to Father John Misty as we talked, kiss, and touched each other. We abstained from going too far that night, even though we both really wanted to, me especially after you kissed my stomach and my thighs. We even slow danced to the music for a bit, and I fell a little bit harder for you then. Suddenly, it was two-thirty in the morning and I had to be at work at eight that day. You reluctantly left, promising that I’d see you at work tomorrow. I watched you leave and went to bed that night feeling like my skin was vibrating. I didn’t know yet what that night meant, but I could take a guess.
A few hours later, I woke up and I was in completely ecstasy. I ran around yelling with joy that I had kissed you last night and even more than that. I finally calmed down enough to shower, get dressed, and get my ass to work on time. Those four hours were torture, not being able to shout throughout the store that I had gone out on a date with you. I wanted to tell Lisa and Timmer and Diane so badly but I didn’t. I was working the seafood sale once again, and I needed to focus on stocking the fish and labeling the containers of dips. Every five minutes, I checked the clock, hoping every time looked up it would be noon and you’d be here. You ended up coming earlier than that so you could see me sooner. When you walked in, I was sending a package for a customer at the post office. After I set the box down on the back counter, I turned to face the store again, and there you were. Looking at you sent electricity through my body, and that’s when I knew. I was in love with you. I didn’t care about the fact I’d be back in Chicago soon and you’d be here. I didn’t care that I have a black thumb when it comes to romantic relationships. I didn’t give one goddamn shit about anything except that I had to be with you, no matter what.
My favorite Bible verse is, “…love builds up.” I didn’t understand that until I met you, and every interaction cemented another brick into the love I have for you. Every laugh, every time I’d say hi to you, all the funny moments and all the serious ones, all the conversations, and all the silent moments led me to that moment, looking up from the post office station and seeing you, waving shyly at me, and I wouldn’t have changed a second of that summer. I wouldn’t have done anything different. I understand now that everything that happened, happened for a reason. Every heartbreak, every rejection, every fear led me to loving you. It led me to letting go of fear, letting go of plans, letting go of this idea that everything must be perfect. Nothing ever turns out the way you want it to, but that’s okay. I didn’t expect to find you, my darling, but I did. If I could go back in time, and talk once again to all the people who asked what was in Canadian Lakes for me, I’d tell them it was you. I was leaving so that I could find you, and I’ve never been happier that I ran away because in reality, I was running towards you.
Now we’ve been together for over three months, and I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. You’re the one, Keatyn. After years of passing each other by, not knowing that we were passing the love of our lives, I finally ran smack dab into you and noticed you, and you noticed me. We noticed each other, and I want to notice you for the rest of my life. I love you, Keatyn. Notice me forever.