“Savannah, I really wish you wouldn’t worry so much,” Matt says. He reaches over the car’s center console and pats her leg, smiling at her encouragingly.
Savannah glances sideways at him and nods as he focuses back on the road in front of them. She admires his strong jawline, his bright blue eyes currently hidden behind his sunglasses, his fitted tee shirt, and the curve of his bicep as he grips the steering wheel.
Last night on the phone Matt suggested they spend their day off together enjoying an easy hike to a waterfall. She had offered to make them a picnic lunch. Unfortunately, while attempting to fry the chicken, she’d let the oil get too hot, then cooled it down too much and it ended up both burnt and drenched in oil. It always looked so easy when her mother made it, but on Savannah’s first attempt, at age 25, she’d turned it into a soggy mess. To top that off, she then was left scrambling to get ready this morning when Matt arrived to pick her up.
Matt had chuckled at her distress and teased her, trying to make her laugh when he arrived at her condo. He didn’t seem to realize or take seriously the fact that she’d spent hours putting this all together in such a short period of time. Last night after their call there had been a store run- actually two, because, of course, she forgot a couple of ingredients, then a 30-minute drive to her parent’s house to pick up the fryer, then baking until 2 am, then up early this morning to cook the chicken. Surely, even if she wasn’t ready on time like he’d expected, he should understand why.
“I’m just so happy to be spending the day with you,” Savannah says now, forcing a smile.
“Me too, “he agrees. “We don’t do this often enough. Let’s make a pact to get outdoors on a regular basis together. Yes?”
She mentally tries to will herself into a better mood. He’s right. She should just relax, sit back, enjoy the drive, admire the perfect sunny, summer weather and feel lucky to be with such a wonderful, handsome man. The Beatles “Good day, sunshine” comes on from her playlist and she starts to sing softly along with the music.
“So, we’re about 10 miles out from the waterfall,” he advises, glancing at the GPS screen on the car dash. “Did you still want to stop to pick up some food?”
“Yes,” she says. “Just for some chicken though. I have the sides and dessert packed, remember.”
“Sure. Did you figure out where the nearest place is?” he asks.
“Oh, no, not yet,” She reaches for her phone. In her frustration with having him show up to her apartment and find her both flustered and unpresentable, she’d forgotten she had promised to navigate. She quickly does a search and scrolls through the listings trying anxiously to locate the nearest restaurant.
“Wait. Here’s one. Just 4.5 miles away,” she exclaims. “We’ll have to turn around. I think. One second…” She tries to zoom in on her screen and then scrolls down for the description of the highways to get there.
“Ok, well, we’re almost at the trailhead and we’re already running about 90 minutes behind schedule,” he says. “Why don’t we change it up and do the hike first, then stop for chicken on the way back?”
Savannah feels her face flushing. What about her picnic? He was completely dismissing the work she’d done to try to please him. Plus, she wants to take some Insta selfies of their spread prior to getting hot and sweaty on a hike.
“Matt please. The food can’t sit in the hot car.”
She sees his jaw clench and his arm tighten as he grips the wheel.
“Fine,” he agrees. “We’ll go back.”
At the next turnoff he spins them around aggressively and then burns some rubber accelerating back in the reverse direction. Savannah holds her tongue and glances at her phone. She begins giving him directions.
“Turn right at the next light,” she says. “Oh wait, not this first right, but the next, next light.”
He lets out a grunt and hits the brake a tad too hard as they reach the light.
“Are you mad at me?” she asks quietly.
He sighs and hits the gas as the light changes.
“No Savannah. I’m not mad. I just would really like to find parking at the trailhead. That’s why I said we needed to leave when we did. Not only weren’t you anywhere near ready but now we’re going on an additional side trip.”
“I tried to make us a nice lunch,” she states.
“Well, I didn’t ask you to,” he says. ‘Is that it?” He points ahead to the right.
Savannah follows his finger. “Yes, that’s it.”
Savannah stays quiet, thinking back to what he’d just said. He didn’t ask her to. She went through hours of work to put her picnic together. His favorite lemon bars. That particular brie that he likes. The pasta salad he’d raved about when they’d been at a friend’s BBQ a couple of months ago and she’d called up the friend, his friend, to get the recipe last night. The bottle of prosecco that he’d remarked on at the seafood restaurant where they’d celebrated their six-month anniversary. Fresh strawberries and cool whip (another of his favorites). She also went to a lot of trouble to at least ‘try’ to make the fried chicken. How much difference could another 20 minutes make to the parking situation?
After Matt surprisingly orders an entire ‘meal deal’ at the drive thru and then when they are back on the road headed towards the trail, he reaches down beside her to grab the bag of food.
“Do you want yours?” he asks.
She glances at him quickly, then back to the road, biting her lip as he rustles in the bag.
“You do realize I’ve planned a whole picnic,” she says. “To eat at the picnic table,” she adds.
Matt has taken his first big bite of his sandwich. He chews and swallows.
“Yes, I do. But I don’t really want a cold fried sandwich, which this will likely be by the time we get there.”
They ride the rest of the way in silence. Savannah is fighting back tears. The smell of the fried food is making her nauseous and she cringes with each gigantic bite he takes. She never wanted to go on a hike. The only things getting her here was the idea of a romantic picnic and time with Matt. She’d envisioned uploading the adorably cute photos to Instagram for all her friends to fawn over. She wanted it to look outdoorsy and adventurous but not necessarily be outdoors.
Matt hops out quickly once they’re parked at the trailhead. She follows his instructions to “come see” excitedly. Savannah checks the mirror on the visor quickly to make sure her makeup hasn’t smeared, then takes a deep breath. Coming around the back of the car, she sees his hand out, holding what looks like a pair of purple hiking poles.
“What’s this?” she asks.
“Hiking poles. For you,” he says.
“Oh,” she says. Savannah has no idea why he would buy her these. She’s never even feigned enthusiasm for hiking. “Thanks?”
“I got myself a new pair too, see?” he holds out his own set of black shiny poles. “This is something we could do together and more often. We’ll have to get you some better shoes too.”
“Oh,” she says again. “Sure.” She thought they were just walking the half mile in to the waterfall, maybe climbing a few more steps past it afterwards. Not a path requiring hiking poles.
Savannah reaches into the back seat, stuffs her sandwich into the picnic tote and yanks it out, shouldering its weight with some difficulty.
Matt is working on adjusting the hiking poles. “Are you sure we need all that?” he asks, glancing at her.
Savannah bites her lip again, feeling the tears build up. He has no idea how much work she put into this and now isn’t even trying to understand or respect it.
“Well, yes, this is a picnic. These are things you need for a PICNIC,” she says, emphasizing the word and stretching it out.
“Ok, ok,” he says. Matt is frowning now. “But it is about a half mile uphill to get to that site. I thought I warned you about that. And then another mile or so to the top. Are you sure you can carry that?”
Savannah freezes and stares at him wide eyed. This time, she doesn’t bother to stop the tears from breaking free. This romantic adventure, where she envisioned a perfect date beside a picturesque waterfall sipping wine and eating brie had completely blown up. She drops the bag and it hits the ground with a thud and a clank as the bottle of wine hits against the metal wine opener.
“I’m done!” she screams.
Matt hops out of his black Acura in the visitors parking section of Savannah’s condo. He pops his trunk and reaches in for the new set of hiking poles he’d bought for Savannah. He attaches a bow to the poles and smiles. He had been pleasantly surprised when she had agreed to the hike today. Maybe she was more of an adventure girl than he’d taken her to be in the six months they’d been dating.
He takes the elevator up to her condo and uses his key to open the door. To the right the kitchen was a disaster, very uncharacteristic for Savannah.
“Savannah?” he calls.
She appears in the bedroom doorway wearing her lounge clothes – a pair of terry shorts and an oversized sweatshirt that was once his. Her hair was wet from the shower and she had no make-up on; a rare sight.
“What’s going on?” he asked when he sees her sad expression. “Are you ok?”
“I burnt the chicken,” she says, her voice wavering.
“What chicken, honey?” he asks.
“The fried chicken. For our picnic,” she says. “I tried to follow my mother’s recipe. She always makes fried chicken for picnics. I don’t know what went wrong. The chicken ended up disgusting. I’m so sorry,” she said. Her bottom lip juts out.
He smiles. She is very sweet, this girl of his. “Don’t worry about it Savannah,” he says. He puts out his arms wide and she steps forward and snuggles against his chest. He holds her close, resting his chin on the top of her head. “I don’t need fried chicken. We can always stop on our way and pick something up.” There, he’d solved the problem.
“But I made all this other stuff – the sides, dessert…”
“Ok, ok. Well, bring that. We can still have it at the site by the waterfall.” He hoped there was still a picnic table there. He was about 75% sure he’d seen one that previous time he’d been. Laura, his ex-girlfriend, had raced past as she headed for the top. He’d been trying to keep up with her.
“Ok.” Savannah takes a deep breath and disentangles from his arms. “I’m sorry I’m not ready yet. The chicken took longer than I thought. I tried a second batch and it didn’t work either. Sorry. I’ll be quick,” she said. With that, she hops away from him and runs back into her bedroom.
“Remember, we’re going for a hike. You don’t need makeup!” he shouts after her, knowing it will be unheeded advice.
Over an hour later, once Savannah had tried on two different outfits, they were finally ready to go. When he sees the cute yellow sundress she’d picked out, he is pretty certain her goal today is getting Instagram photos to show off to her friends. That seemed more important to her these days than actually living in the moment with him.
She reaches for her white canvas sneakers when they get to the front door. He looks around. “Do you have anything else you could wear?” he asks.
She freezes. “What do you mean?” she asks.
“Well, I don’t know, something a little sturdier for the trail. I don’t think those have much of a tread, do they?” he asked.
She flips them over. They were smooth on the bottom. “Well, this is all I have really. We’re just going like half a mile to the waterfall, right?” she asks warily, looking up at him.
“Yes. But I thought maybe afterwards we could climb a little higher. You know, if we feel like it. To get a better view. But no worries.” He shrugs.
He watches her pack up a large picnic bag that he’s never seen before. Had she bought it for this occasion? How much stuff was she bringing? She picked it up and threw it over her shoulder, knocking her slight frame off balance. He reaches out a hand to steady her.
“You know we’re not going for a week in the wilderness, right?” he laughs. She tended to overdo things sometimes. He was starting to wonder if he should have been more direct about what lay ahead. He was convinced that when they got there, she would love the view and the waterfall so much that she would forget about the trek uphill to get to it. After all, she seemed in pretty good shape to him.
“Again,” she says as they lock up the condo. “I’m so sorry about the chicken.”
Matt shakes his head. “Seriously, not a big deal. We’ll pick up some Chick Filet or something. While I’m driving, you could look up a place for us to stop that’s near the hiking trail. Ok?”
Savannah nods. He reaches out and takes her free hand as they walk to the car.
During the drive, when she turns up the music and starts singing, he assumes she is feeling better. Then he realizes how close they are to the site. Asking her if she’d located the restaurant, she gets flustered all over again. To ease her stress, he suggests they skip the restaurant.
She whines about the food spoiling. When had they ever discussed her knocking herself out to create some sort of elaborate spread to eat in the woods? She’d mentioned a picnic but he assumed it was a couple of sandwiches and some fruit. He wasn’t even entirely certain of the existence of a picnic table and even if it was there, the likelihood was high by now that some other family had commandeered it. He was seriously regretting agreeing to the ‘picnic’ part of this plan.
After they picked up the food and headed back on the road to the hiking trail, he reaches for the bag, only to be scolded by Savannah. He has fries in there, he doesn’t want to let them get cold and soggy. By now, he is done with her sulky mood. He hadn’t asked or expected her to go to any trouble. He’d only asked that she be ready on time. When he’d visited this spot with Laura a couple of years ago, he doesn’t recall any complaining. What he did remember was a lot of laughing as she raced him to the top.
As they pull into the trailhead parking lot and follow a middle-aged couple to their car in order to grab their spot, he feels some envy. They’re back from a hike looking fit and happy. The woman laughs as the man helps her remove her backpack and they share a quick kiss. This outdoors lifestyle was what he was hoping to introduce to Savannah. He thought they’d have fun like Laura and he used to. Why couldn’t she be just a little more like that? Samantha was a gorgeous girl, sweet and caring. All his friends told him how lucky he was. He agreed but she could also be a ton of work, needing constant reassurances and he was beginning to wonder how much they actually had in common.
As soon as they were parked, Matt jumps out, ready to make her smile with the gift of the hiking poles and perhaps get this adventure back on the right track. He hopes she sees them as piece offering. He sees her face light up a little when he suggests she come around to the trunk because he had a gift for her. Then he sees a look of confusion when he hands them to her. He sighs and proceeds with removing the packaging from the poles. He tries hard not to roll his eyes as he sees her struggle to get the picnic tote bag out of the backseat.
“Do we really need all that?” he asks.
She freezes and says something about it being a PICNIC and did he not understand what that was?
Now she is going to expect him to offer to carry it for her. He wants her to realize he has no intention of helping with this ridiculous bag he doesn’t even think they need. He just wanted a casual hike, not a production for Instagram.
“Are you sure you can carry that?” he asks.
She ceremoniously drops the bag with a loud clank. He sees the tears start to roll down her cheeks.
At this point he is really struggling to feel any sympathy for her. He wants to see her happy, he really does. But did she take a moment, just one moment, to think about him? She has gone on about all the work involved in putting this together but who was she putting it together for? Certainly not him. He realizes how tired he is of all of it.
“I’m done!” she exclaims, still standing frozen, waiting for his response.
“Me too!” he replies.