Dunking my hard-boiled egg in the pink-hued vinegar, I smiled across the kitchen at my sister-in-law’s concentration, her brow furrowed as she pressed a crayon to the shell of her Easter egg in a decorative floral pattern. Meanwhile, my brother – her husband – was scoring points by inscribing their initials and a heart on his own egg. I trained him well.
I spent Easter weekend with my family, winning our traditional family Easter egg hunt (per the usual) and attending church together before driving over to my grandmother’s house to see our extended family. Lily and Wren were there, adorable in their Easter dresses, and my dad prayed a blessing over our meal before we passed the home cooked dishes around my grandmother’s dining table.
By four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, I hugged everyone goodbye and headed to my car, planning to have some quiet time at home to recharge before the work week. But my phone rang, and I was pleased to see Seth’s face illuminating the screen. He’d left for his family’s ranch several days prior, taking off two weeks’ vacation to work the land, fertilizing the soil and turning bulls into steers.
When I answered the phone, Seth wished me a Happy Easter and surprised me by saying that he was headed south on the highway back toward the city. “You’re coming back into town early?”
“Just for the day,” he told me. “Some stuff came up at my parents’ house that I need to help out with tonight. I was wondering if you’d like to get together this afternoon before I head over to their place.” I’d been bummed about the prospect of not seeing Seth for two full weeks, so I jumped at the chance for us to spend some time together.
Seth came straight to my apartment on his way into town, parking his pickup truck outside of my complex while I hurriedly changed out of my Easter dress and into athletic shorts and a breezy tank top. We’d agreed to go for a walk in a nearby park and enjoy the beautiful, sunshiny day.
Once at the park, we opted for the hilly, tree-lined mountain biking trail rather than the flat, gravel-paved walking path encircling the park. But as we neared the trailhead, a wooden sign warned us that the trail was temporarily closed. Seth shrugged and kept walking right past the sign. He reminded me of my father.
“Is it okay for us to walk back here? Is this considered trespassing?” I asked cautiously.
Seth quirked his eyebrow. “They don’t really mean it.” Okay, he and my dad are definitely cut from the same cloth.
We walked in the shade of the trees for quite some time, telling stories about our families (“we finally got that mad cow in the trailer”) and sharing our political opinions (“whatever you tax, you’ll get less of; whatever you subsidize, you’ll get more of”). We passed one couple and then another; some walking dogs and others journeying alone. I was glad to find we were in the company of other rule breakers.
Just after waving and passing a young couple walking a golden retriever, Seth and I both stopped cold at the same instant. I let out a small gasp, and Seth threw his right arm in front of me, pushing me behind him. A four foot snake was coiled on the path only a few feet ahead of us. In horror, I watched its head sway side to side as Seth told me in a calm voice, “It’s okay. It’s not a poisonous one.” Just then, the snake slithered off the path into the tall grass to our left.
“How do you know?” I asked in concern, glancing behind us as Seth hurried me along the trail. He described the shape of its head and its coloring, contrasting it to the three known poisonous snakes in the area. I looked up at him in silent admiration. He’d handled himself well. Heck, I’d handled myself well, not screaming or jumping into his arms in momentary panic!
I felt protected by Seth, poisonous snake or not. I feel safe with him, I reflected. Over the course of the month, he’d proven himself trustworthy and level-headed; kind, calm, light-hearted and playful. Seth nudged me with his elbow a couple of times during the rest of our walk, teasing me and seeming to want a little physical contact without yet being ready to reach over and take my hand.
As we exited the mountain biking trail, I spotted a cop car parked in the lot where the trail ended. I could see a police officer inside the car, head down as though reading something. “Oh, no,” I said quietly to Seth. “Are you going to get me in trouble?! You’re such a bad influence,” I teased, grinning up at him.
“I’m a bad influence?” he quirked one eyebrow in mock indigence. “As I recall, you’re the one who coerced me into walking this biking trail, ignoring the very clearly labeled sign.” I rolled my eyes as Seth continued, “And anyway, don’t you have a history of rule breaking?” He has a point. I am a bit of a rebel.
We waltzed past the cop without issue, still verbally jousting, and began the walk back to Seth’s truck. On the way there, walking along the road, Seth suddenly interrupted himself mid-sentence, “Hey, I think I know that guy.”
I followed his gaze, looking to my left just as a black Jeep sped past us. Its driver was Joe – socially awkward, kumquat eating Joe.
“He looks really familiar to me,” Seth was going on. The sweet rancher didn’t recognize him, but when the Jeep passed a second time – Joe had circled around and locked eyes with me on his second pass; this was intentional – I touched Seth’s arm and raised my eyebrows. “It’s Joe. Remember? From bible study?”
Seth’s eyes widened in recognition. “Oh my gosh! It’s Joe!” And then realization dawned. “He’s stalking us.” He started chuckling. “And here he comes again!”
Sure enough, Joe drove by a third time, circling us like a vulture, staring us down and obviously feeling hurt and jealous. “He looks really mad,” Seth commented. I just silently nodded. This is my life. Why is this my life? I live in a city of literally millions of people. How in the world do run-ins like this always seem to happen?!
Seth and I finally made it to his truck, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What must he be thinking? “You know he’s not competition, right?” I asked Seth as I buckled my seat belt. I didn’t want to overstep – I wanted to let him lead – but I also felt like I needed to reassure him after first the kumquat fiasco and now this!
“I dunno,” Seth commented in a half-teasing tone, “He seems pretty zealous in his pursuit of you.”
I smiled and then sobered. “Look, maybe this is out of line, but… I like you. I’m interested. And I’m excited to see where this might go when you get back from the ranch.”
Seth’s expression was indiscernible. He was driving by this time, so all I could see was his profile. “You’re right. That is a bit out of line. I mean, I’m interested, too, but I was going to wait until April to have that conversation.” He glanced at me, and I felt my face flush – whether from embarrassment or pleasure, I wasn’t sure. Probably a combination of both.
I was glad to know the feeling was mutual, but I wanted to kick myself for speaking out of turn. Flustered, I tried to change the subject, commenting on the music playing in the truck. I asked Seth if he played any instruments. His response? “Nope, I’m not musically talented at all. But maybe Joe is.”
I stared at him, mouth agape. A comment like that was completely out of character for Seth. Our perpetual run-ins with Joe must have gotten to him more than he let on. And Joe actually is very musically gifted – he sings and plays guitar, occasionally leading worship – but of course I wasn’t going to tell Seth that.
Almost as soon as he had made the snarky comment, Seth apologized. “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate. Forget I said anything.”
We picked up some tacos and red velvet cake – my favorite, though an odd combination – and Seth dropped me back off at my apartment. Although we hit a rough patch in the middle of our afternoon together, we ended on a high note. I appreciated that Seth was quick to apologize – a none-too-common sign of humility and maturity. And, in the end, we were back to laughing together. Seth always makes me laugh, and I do so dearly love to laugh.
Seth hugged me goodbye before he left again for the ranch, commenting in closing that he believes “it’s the man’s job to stick his neck out there. That way the girl can better guard her heart. Let me lead. Trust me to lead.”
I will. Just don’t make me wait too long.