The morning after our "change everything" phone call I woke up with flushed cheeks, a happy belly and some texts on my phone. By the afternoon there was a bouquet of roses for me at the door (as well as Spring Mix bouquet for my mother. Well played, Oklahoma dude.) We sent each other pictures of each other. We talked on his drive home from work. It all felt back to "normal." Almost like we had never stopped being in each other's lives at all.
The following day I drove to the beach with my mom, a couple siblings, aunt and cousins who were going on a cruise. I was spending the night with them to drop them off and then take the car home. I sent my boyf a text of my toes in the sand and said something like "I wish you were here!" I should have known by now that if you give this boy a bait, he will bite (Christmas Eve anyone?)... but then again, maybe I did know that and that's why I said it. His wheels were turning. It is Friday. I have to be back in Texas on Monday morning. But there is nothing I *have* to do this weekend. Start the fiery finger engines as I turned into a mad, one-focused, iPhone flight hunter. Sitting in the hotel room with a half-napping, half-swim-suited family, I kept apologizing for being such a brat. If anyone talked to me or asked me a question I either didn't hear them or would forget to answer. The internet wasn't working on the laptop. DUMB cheap hotel wifi! Scroll scroll scroll on my phone. Darn. No. I didn't click that! I was scrolling! Go back. GO BACK. No. Not back two pages. Kristen, can I have my shoes. Kristen. Kristen, my shoes? Load load load load. Come on. KRISTEN. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I just HAVE to see if he can get a flight now! I hate that I'm being so rude!" Travelocity and Expedia did not have particularly smartphone friendly websites, and I was anything but patient. My mom, the voice of reason, asked about the prices. Are you sure you want to spend that much for such a short trip? If I found a flight that I thought was good, I'd call Caleb who was driving home from the Texas job site (nearly 3 hours from his house). The call would cut out because stretches of midwest desert like to be in charge and make new, desperate couples frustrated. After far too long, we came to a noble solution for a semi-honorable price: Saturday morning he'd fly from Oklahoma to Orlando, Sunday night he'd leave Tampa and fly right to Texas. We'd have about 30 hours together, but when you're young, stupid and in-like, that seems like a forever.
I couldn't sleep at all on Friday night. I kept watching the clock. Re-living the last few days. Reading over our latest texts. Because there were texts in my phone from him, once again. Wondering what would happen. Excitement was full, but my heart was raw. I was smart enough to know that one letter and a couple of conversations isn't the recipe for a healthy, successful relationship. We had a lot ahead of us. And we already had so much behind us. I couldn't help but travel down the what-if's on both ends of the line. "What if this really works out?" "What if we break-up 'again'?" "Oh my gosh. I'm going to SEE him in seven hours!" I finally rested my eyes and brain for a few hours.
When the crew woke up, ready to sail the seas and explore new islands, I got dressed in my swimsuit and totally adorable white summer dress. After dropping the cruise-group off (and saying good-bye to my mother who was SO bummed she was going to miss seeing [and grilling haha] Caleb!) I drove to Orlando to pick up Caleb. One of my cousins was with me and on the drive I told her the whole long, detailed, girly version of the story. My phone was set - well, what would YOUR phone be set on if you were waiting to hear that your new mister had landed where you were? - yeah, it was on high and vibrate and I still checked it at every red light or stop sign. Just in case we had gone through a dead zone and my phone had missed it. Just in case.
As I was parking, I got the word! He was here. I fluffed my hair. Checked my arm-pits. Hairy? Nope. Smelly? Not yet. Seeing Caleb? YAA GURL! The only slightly (read: completely) self-concious issue I had was the many, red, leporsy-like, bumps I had... everywhere. I've never talked about my acne problems on this blog... I wasn't the girl who would break-out occasionally and then have it clear up in a few days. I was the girl who had face texture like the moon and had more skin covered in zits than "normal," clear skin. By a long shot. You might be like "No! Your skin was never that bad! I don't remember seeing that in pictures?" Um. HELLO. I know how to use Photoshop! And when my skin was at it's worst, I would hide all week and come out to go to church and then scurry back indoors. The worst was baby-sitting, because at least adults and friends pity you enough to avoid saying anything. Children are far too blunt ;) Anyways, at the time, I was in the beginning stages of taking a very controversial drug, that you are only supposed to take once in your life but because my face was so bad, I was taking for a third time. I was the stage "My flesh peels away like filo dough, my lips are crusty like french bread and my nose has bloody-crunchy-swords waging war inside of it." The only way to combat the fish-scale-dryness was to baste myself in Aquaphor. Half-an-inch around my lips, up in my nose, all over my hands. Pretty! To boot, my day in the sun where I expected to get a nice little glow - a kiss from the sky! a touch of bronze! a coating of summer! - turned into a nightmare. My skin reacted strongly to the sun and started breaking out in awful blisters (I was careful. I wasn't out long. I just forgot that I was closer to the equator and the sun is much stronger in Florida than Maryland. I'm pretty aware of what I can handle and how much sun my body can take.) The medicine causes these reactions. But, on top of that I was apparently attacked by demon beach bugs. I counted over 100 bites on my legs. To prove that I'm not exaggerating I am showing you - the world - disturbing and horrifying images.
Needless to say, I had to make sure my hair was properly puffed. The sweet, tall, toned, beautiful boy I liked so much was coming to see one heck of a polka-dotted, greasy, burned little thing. My hair was my only unaffected feature ;) Why do I spend so much time detailing my body flaws? To begin the series-of-laughable-events that take place when it comes to Caleb and Kristen. We had the almost-missed flight at Christmas, and the delayed flights in January. We had the "break-up" in February. And now we're finally at the same airport, together, making our way to each other and I'm a Bible Times Outcast. But un-hidably excited. I raced into the baggage claim area, with my cousin trying to keep up. I ran between the stairs and the claims. I waited and scanned furiously when a new group descended. Five, 10, 15 minutes later... still no Caleb. He called. Where are you? I'm here! At the bottom of the stairs! Me too! Right at the bottom of the stairs! My pretzal-knot stomach was only getting tighter by the word. I'm at the bottom of the stairs too. Right by the baggage claims. And the bathrooms. And the taxi booths. I would not have missed you! Caleb started reading off signs around him. And then I realized: I'm in the wrong terminal. I took off to find where he was waiting for me. And after a good seven-minute run/walk I found him at the bottom of the other stairs. He ran to me when we spied each other. He squeezed me in a warm hug when I got to him. Oh it was good to be together.
I'm already trying to cram too much into this segment of the story, so I have to start to re-cap some of the events briefly. We met up with my dad and the rest of my siblings at the beach. My dad make a joke about "It's a good thing you're a man of grace now" (since we were at a bikini-filled beach haha I love my dad.) Caleb just said "Yes, sir" and shook his hand. After some playing in the ocean, Caleb and I took a walk to the corner of the beach. In-between large rocks, a family of palm trees and soft white sand, he gave me a silver chain necklace and asked (for the third time) if I'd be his girlfriend. He wanted to "look in my eyes and see me say it with my mouth." I obviously said "yes!" and we hugged. It was a very dear moment. We didn't hold hands or kiss or even hug "around our waists." Just over our shoulders ;) It was April 23, and the day we consider our "dating anniversary." We were awkward and happy and red and feeling on top of the world. That night we enjoyed a beautiful BBQ at home. I got sick that night and Caleb brought me tea and onions (he heard onions were the secret to some ailment. I have no idea. But it was darn cute. And he makes the best cup of tea I've ever had the pleasure to drink.) We stayed up until almost four talking and enjoying each other's company. Such bliss. The next morning was Easter so we dressed all fancy and went with the family to church. A big lunch, easter egg hunt, sweats and Mad Libs were in order when we got home.
Before I took Caleb to the airport he taught me how to play part of a duet to "Glorify Thy Name" on the piano. We also went for a walk in the hot Florida rain. He dropped me into a puddle and I screamed and kicked and tried to run away. We sat on the curb and bemoaned the end of his trip. We sometimes bumped shoulders and made our insides steam. We flirted and prayed and had very much fun.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave. Caleb packed his small, leather carry-bag back up. I sang country songs while we drove. Happy songs. He bopped his head a little and smiled a lot. He tried to pick up on some of the words. But he didn't know many country songs. Hardly any. I told him he needed to learn. He smiled. I drove. And smiled back. Awkward and happy and sad and on the cusp of a great love story. It was magical.
Caleb left for Oklahoma, and I left for Maryland a few days later. I had a wedding to shoot on April 29 and I was flying to London for a European adventure on May 1. I would be gone until May 12. I had a wedding to shoot on May 15. It was busy... and part of me wanted to cancel everything and buy some Ariat's and drive until the roads turned red. But another part of me had a hunch that this might be my last summer "like this" ever. I still lived in my beautiful, window-ed, white apartment. I traveled often. Work was wonderful. I went pretty much wherever I wanted to go, when I wanted to. I stayed up late, tried new things, met new people, shopped, dreamed. I couldn't help but wonder - and maybe even fear - if this lifestyle was in the beginning stages of changing forever. If I was writing the last sentences in a chapter, only to be re-read as a strong, good memory.
Communication was actually even harder than I thought it would be. Any long-distance couple knows how it goes. You make plans to talk, something happens, you can't talk when you plan. Or you can, for only 8 minutes... and then the service cuts out and someone has to go. You never have time to really talk and tell stories and ask questions and hear jokes. You just repeat the same basic lines over and over, and try to update a little bit. "I miss you." "I can't wait to be closer to you." "It's beautiful here... I wish you were with me." "I have so many stories to tell you." "Today was saw beautiful cliffs and countryside. Ate in a pub." "Come back to me." "Have fun!" "I am!" "I like you." "I like you, too." "Good-bye." "...bye."
We chose to eat in Strong Mansion's neighbor's back yard. Strong Mansion is a wedding and event venue, but the mansion next door is just a private house. Where someone lives. Caleb loved the tunnel of trees and the view of the gardens, so he wanted to eat... in someone else's backyard. Cue my other rant about someone lives here and we definitely do not have permission to be here, unless you talked to the owners of this house, which I don't even know who they are, like, I know you could call the owner at Strong Mansion because their number is on their website but we don't know who lives in this house maybe you should knock on the door?
Caleb arranged the feast while I fretted. "CALM down. Jeez! I thought you were adventurous! You'll go to Europe alone and miss trains and walk down dangerous alleys in other countries, but you can't sit on a mountain and have a picnic with me?" I took the hint.
I soothed myself by taking pictures before it was "ruined" and all eaten. I was too nervous to eat much. A scenario that rarely happens to me. Caleb asked about my Europe stories. Half-a-sandwich, a few sips of wine, and some tales later I was feeling very calm and peaceful. We were laughing and recounting our latest travels. Caleb finished his dinner and I wasn't going to eat anymore, so he suggested we go explore. He kicked off his ugly black shoes and wanted to race me to the Private Mansion. Sure, I'll race you. I'm wicked fast! He let me think I had the lead for a while and then whipped my rump in a terrible loss ;) I wanted to race back to the blanket. He had other ideas. He wanted to check out this gorgeous, historic house. He started walking up the stairs to the back-patio. My insides trembled. But I tried to be adventurous and go with him. He then stood up and walked up on the hand-rail, balancing confidently. I went up the stairs. He started peaking into the windows. "Wow. This house is amazing. And empty! Look at that crown moulding!" I looked and then looked for security cameras. He jumped from one sill to another. Climbed on ledge and balcony. Hid from me once to scare me. Once I felt sure no one was around, I started playing more freely with him. I loved his care-free, relaxed spirit. I love that he didn't flinch when he had an idea. He just did it. I thought of Noah laying in the street with Ally telling her "Trust. You need to learn to trust."
All of a sudden I realized it was dark. I tricked him into racing me back to the picnic blanket. I told him we should come back in the daylight so we could discover more. But there was nothing else we could see in the dark. Motion-activated flood lights popped on when we left. I turned white as a ghost. Back at the picnic area, away from any lights, he gave me a very nice hug. My bare feet were in the cold grass. My head didn't reach his chin. He told me that he loved doing anything with me. And that he was going to prove himself to me. When he wasn't talking the only thing I could hear was his heart-beating.
"HEEEEEY! HEEEEEEEEEY! HEY YOU!"
Someone was screaming from the woods. I couldn't see Caleb's face in front me anymore, and we couldn't tell where the yell was coming from.
"HEEEEY! I KNOW YOU'RE THERE! HEEEEY!"
I shook Caleb and told him to not go anywhere. Please don't leave me. Please stay here. What should we do? Answer him? What if he has a knife?
The next "HEEEY!" came over a loud-speaker, complete with red and blue swirling lights. Their was a police car next to Caleb's truck in the parking lot, and he was after us. I SCREAMED at Caleb to get up there and talk to him! Tell him we're sorry! We're leaving! Act nice! I TOLD you police will come! MARYLAND ISN'T LIKE OKLAHOMA. Caleb said "Come with me? I don't want to leave you... You told me..." "GOOOO. NOW! HURRY!" With no shoes on, he went charging through trees, calling back to and waving at the police man. I stayed behind in the dark and tried to grab all of our dinner. It was completely black, so I tried to do mental inventory as a I felt around and tossed bottles and cups and blankets into the basket. I grabbed a handful of potato salad right before I found my shoes. I could hear Caleb rustling through the trees. "HEEEEY! WHO ARE YOU? HEEEEEY!" "I'm sorry, sir!" I grabbed my boots with my mayo-hand and carried the wreck of a basket in the the other. I stepped in roast beef and a tomato while I fled. Caleb's ugly shoes were under my arms and my heart was throbbing inside my face. I was picturing a fine. Probably just a fine. Maybe if he's nice he'll just give us a warning. God, help him not be a brat-cop. As I tried to maneuver the forest alone, I heard one final "HEEEEY!" and then could see up ahead that Caleb and the cop were chatting. Sparkling cider fell out of the basket and started rolling back down the hill. I hoped he wasn't getting put into hand-cuffs. Before I even got to Caleb, the police care drove away. "Kristen! Don't worry! He was so nice! It's okay! It's okay!" Out of breath and sweaty, he met me in the trees and took the basket.
"WhoooaOOooa, how sweet it is."
to be continued...