“Are we there yet?” I shifted in my seat. Jones had been driving for well over an hour, and she absolutely refused to tell me where exactly we were going.
“I didn’t borrow Alex’s car just to ruin the surprise. We’re close, I promise.” She smiled and looked back at the road.
“You’re driving really well for someone who went nearly ten years without a license.” I froze. “Holy shit, we’re in the wilderness.”
She laughed. “Yeah, Alex has been helping me with remembering how to drive. Wait. What?”
“Are we upstate? Where are we? No city!” Trees and long stretches of grass and dirt and small bodies of water! They were becoming more and more prominent. Not only were the trees much more abundant here than in the city, they were multicolored. It had been so long since I’d seen a full range of color from trees in autumn.
Her smile was even wider than before. “Oh! No, we’re not upstate; we’re, like, an hour and forty minutes out from Brooklyn.”
Electricity bounced off her in the way I was so accustom to; her excitement was contagious, and I could feel it working its way into my system. I licked my lips and looked outside more closely than I had before.
Prior to registering the trees, I’d been uninterested in the view on our drive. I’d assumed this was about going to the city by car since I’d complained on and off about public transit after moving to Brooklyn.
I glanced at her again. She held my eyes for a second before taking her attention back to the road. Whatever we were doing was a complete mystery to me, and she was relishing her element of surprise.
“Are you taking me somewhere to kill me? You know, if you wanted to end things, you could have just broken up with me like a normal person. We have a pact, remember? We can’t break up like normal people, but I don’t think that involved murdering each other.” I narrowed my eyes. “Okay, seriously, where are we going?”
She shook her head, eyes glued to the road. “I wouldn’t kill you. Please don’t talk about breaking up. We’re not breaking up. I’m in the middle of trying to surprise my girlfriend with a cute date. Now we are about ten minutes out; can you please close your eyes? I wanna be able to appreciate your face when we get there.”
I sighed, but a smile wormed its way through my dramatics. I shut my eyes and waited; I remembered the last time she’d asked me to follow her somewhere blindly. I bit my lip. Things were different now; we were different now. She said she wasn’t taking me somewhere awful, and I could believe her now in a way I couldn’t the night she asked me to go for a walk blindfolded on the Lower East Side to the alley where she demanded I hit her with a baseball bat.
My car door opened, startling me just a bit. I kept my eyes shut.
Helping me out of the car, she said, “Careful here, the ground is uneven.”
She held me by the waist while we navigated the bumpy path. After a few more steps, she stopped and clapped. “Okay, you can open your eyes.”
I opened my eyes: a small barn with a banner above it that read, “Uncle Apple’s Orchard.”
We stared at each other. Her giant smile contorted her entire face with pure joy. She was rocking on the balls of her feet just a bit. Her hands were clasped together. I smiled back until my cheeks hurt, and then I smiled more.
“Ta-da!” She gestured to the place as a whole. “I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate the fall.”
I laughed and launched myself at her. “This is awesome.”
Throwing her arms around me, she kissed my cheek. “I’m happy you think so. I thought you’d be too cool for this.”
She laughed and shook her head. “I don’t really know why I thought you wouldn’t be into it, but I was really nervous.”
“No! This is perfect.” I kissed her, both of us still smiling. “How did you find this place?”
“Alex!” She glanced around. “He said he and Zeke come here every year to pick apples and enjoy fall stuff.”
Alex and Zeke had helped us get to New York in the first place, but they lived far away from the Lower East Side, so we hadn’t seen much of them until we moved to Brooklyn. I looked around. “Are we meeting them?”
“Huh?” A slight breeze cut between us, ruffling her hair. “Oh, no. I just got distracted by how much there is to do here.” She touched her head, trying to smooth down any damage from the breeze.
I helped her put her hair back in place. “Oh, I thought you were looking for them.”
“No. It’s just us today.” She looked back at me. “Hey, um, also, I know it’s kind of lame, but happy anniversary.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Anniversary already?”
She looked away with a small laugh. “It’s not, like, a big one or anything, it’s just, it’s been, um, a year and six months. Today.”
She fidgeted with the zipper on her hoodie and glanced away from me, looking instead at the rows of trees with apples hanging from them. “It’s bigger than I expected.”
Jones was not someone I would ever get used to seeing nervous, embarrassed, or blushing. I swallowed and smiled. “Happy anniversary, Amelia.”
She looked back at me, her face pink. She ducked her head. “I hope this is okay.”
I nodded and slipped my hand into hers. “Yeah, let’s go pick some apples.”
“And they have food trucks and candy apples. And cold cider, but I think you can also get hot cider if you want.” She was once again bouncing with her exhilarating delight; I could feel it crackle through our connected hands.
After paying admission, we wandered around the farmers’ market and bought some snacks. While she slipped off to wash her hands after touching something sticky, I doubled back to a booth with necklaces made from butterfly wings before meeting her outside of the restroom.
“Ready to pick apples?” She motioned to the field that seemed to stretch into infinity behind her.
We took a basket and walked through the pathways littered with apples. She was determined to find the perfect apple tree.
“How about this one?” I pointed to one on our left. She looked at it for a moment and shook her head. I eyed a few ahead of us and pointed out one on the right. “This one then?”
She smiled and shook her head. She let go of my hand and darted forward with the basket. I could feel the butterfly wing necklace burning a hole in my pocket, but I was determined to give it to her on the way home.
She paused next to a particularly hefty tree. “This is the one!”
Once I was at the tree, I could tell why she liked it. The trunk was slightly twisted, and its branches were a little gnarled; it looked like it had lived a good life. She glanced around and pulled out a small knife. My brow furrowed as my brain raced to catch up to whatever she was doing, and I found another reason she liked this one: our twisted tree was also further away from prying eyes. Everyone had mostly stopped to pick apples closer to the entrance, along the first few rows of trees.
She took the knife to the tree and slowly etched away at the bark near the base of the trunk. I picked up the basket she had set down to do this and started eyeballing apples overhead, but I also kept lookout for her. I had no idea what she was doing, but I didn’t want to interrupt and drag on the process or get kicked out over it.
I collected ten good-looking apples before she stood up and put away the knife. I was checking the firmness of another one when she spoke.
“Look, Lins.” She pointed at her handy work. I took the few steps over to where she was and looked down. I felt her eyes on me while I examined the spot; her smile was in my peripheral vision.
L+J was carved into the bark with a heart outlined around the letters. I laughed and shook my head.
“You’re actually ridiculous.” I held out the basket. “Do you want to pick any apples with me, or are you just here to carve our love into a tree?”
She nudged me gently. Looking into the basket of apples, she smiled. “You’ve done a great job without me. But I’ll pick some.”
I watched her shirt and hoodie scoot up her body just a little as she reached toward the branches. Her midriff peeked out momentarily; I bit my lip and looked away. If I was having the thought, I was certain she was already planning it. But there was no way we’d have sex here.
She held an apple between us; her midriff disappeared. “How’s this one?”
I nodded. “It’s perfect.”
She set it in the basket with a level of care I was surprised to see. She looked up and saw me watching her. She winked. My heart echoed in my throat; I swallowed and smiled.
“You okay, Lindsay?” She ran her finger over the top of my hand gripping the basket. “Want me to take that?”
My knuckles were white on the handle of the basket. My eyes zipped around the field. I bit my lip. “Yeah, I’m good. I’ve got the basket, thanks, though.”
Her furrowed brow went from concern to mischief. She smirked. “Oh. You’re scheming.”
I rolled my eyes, finding composure at last. “I’m not. I just happen to be on a date with my beautiful girlfriend.”
Even after a year and a half together, the word still felt strange in my mouth. I thought about the day she asked if I wanted to be girlfriends, how taken aback I was, how right it felt. I smiled. Despite my lust being mostly locked down, the pounding in my chest didn’t slow.
I licked my lips and cleared my throat. Our basket was full now.
“Um, wanna head back?” I looked around again. She couldn’t possibly find a place to be alone. “Apple cider? Hot or cold?”
Her breath was against my lips when I turned to face her again. Startled, I let out a small gasp. She kissed me and took the basket from me. After setting it down, she took my hand and pulled me along the path, deeper into the rows of trees: an outer wall of the corn maze loomed before us.
We took a turn and found ourselves in a secluded spot, wedged between corn stalks and apple trees. Anticipation gripped my body. I could feel her lips on mine even before she’d turned and pressed them against me. Our mouths worked furiously but quietly. She slipped a hand up my shirt. I gasped against her mouth, but matching her pace, I slipped one into the top of her jeans.
A small exhale from her and a pause. I looked at her. The silent question we took time to ask each time passed between us: was this okay? We nodded simultaneously and smiled before kissing again; we knew time was limited.
Finished, we hurried back to our basket, holding hands and smiling.
“This has been fun.” I laughed. “I can’t believe you figured that out so fast.”
She laughed and kissed my cheek. “Oh, you know that old saying, where there’s a need, there’s somewhere to hide. Or something like that, right?”
We found our abandoned basket and walked back to the small barn to trade out this basket for a bag we could take with us. The leaves and grass crunched under foot. My mind wandered to the necklace.
“Before we go, I want to grab some honey and apple butter.” Jones squeezed my hand. “Don’t let me forget.”
“Honey and apple butter.” I nodded. “Got it.”
I paused. “Wait, Jones, I’ve got something for you. I wanted to give it to you at home, but I’m too excited.”
She tilted her head; her brow furrowed, and her nostrils flared slightly. “What is it?”
I set down the apples and dug into my pocket. “I got you this. I know you were looking at it. And I just thought it would be nice. It matches your eyes.”
I pulled out the small triangular glass that held the pressed green and black butterfly wing; dangling from a thin, black chain, I slid the necklace into her palm. “I know you think it’s silly, but I know it’s important. Happy anniversary.”
When she looked up, her eyes were wet. “Lindsay. When?”
I winked. “When I handed you the sapped-up branch by mistake.”
She scrunched up her nose. “You sneak.”
Laughing, I shrugged. “Do you want me to put it on you or something?”
“Oh, yeah, put it on!” She moved her hair and spun around to face away from me.
After I finished hooking the clasp, she turned around, her fingers twisting her zipper again. “I know I said this at our six-month anniversary, and at our one year one, but this is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in.”
I threaded my fingers through my hair and untangled it. “I know. Same for me, you know.”
Smiling, she leaned her head against my shoulder; her fingers touched the butterfly wing around her neck. “Thanks for letting me surprise you.”
Holding her hand, I squeezed it as we stepped into the small barn to buy apple butter and honey.