Timing is everything. It's a cliché for a reason. There's a little bit of truth to it, melded together deep down in the mix.
I met Sienna through an online dating site. We emailed for about a week. Then we agreed to meet in person at a Mexican restaurant. Or, at least I think it was a Mexican restaurant. I had two that were my go-to first date spots. One was next to a movie theater. The other in the middle of downtown. Each location was full of opportunities to take the night further, should that first dinner go well.
In mine and Sienna's case, our first date went very well. We hit it off. We spent the whole night together. Literally, and in more ways than one. Then we went our separate ways for a few hours. Mostly just to shower and change clothes. Soon, we were spending the next night together as well. For those who are wondering, she and I probably ate at my downtown go-to Mexican restaurant. After our dinner together, we moved our first date to the pool hall, which also happens to be downtown.
We were seated at the bar in the pool hall. She ordered a fruity drink. Something bright colored. Two parts vodka, one part sugar. The syrupy sweetness that wafted from her drink stung my nostrils. Since she ordered liquor, I ordered a gin and tonic. I preferred beer but sipping on the piney fizz of a G&T was better than pounding shots.
As we shared our first drink together, Sienna told me she had woken up that morning and decided she wanted to try new things. By our third drink, she confessed that she'd just been rejected from four different nursing programs. I dumbly asked what a nursing program was, and she clarified that she wanted a master's of science in nursing. Sienna explained that getting into a master's program had been her sole focus for the last two years. Since that dream was being denied to her, Sienna was ready to explore what else was out in the world. Expand her horizons behind the hard edges of a textbook.
I understood the emotions Sienna was trying to convey. I was in a similar situation, and if I'd been the one describing it, I would have added how lost I felt and how lonely that made me. However, that didn't seem to be an appropriate thing to say on a first date. Or at least not something I thought would be conducive to getting a second date. Or getting laid that night.
I empathized as best I could, though I didn't share everything I was feeling. My own angst over where my life was going after a major setback stemmed from an ex-girlfriend. Her name was Danielle. We had dated for two years and she had broken up with me a couple months before I met Sienna. I didn't recognize it until much later, but Sienna and Danielle were in similar junctions in their lives. Danielle had finished her degree, was working a dead-end job, and was looking for something more. She ended up moving to Seoul to teach English. During our last few days together, before she got on a plane for Korea, I realized that the relationship was coming to an end. I could feel it, but I wasn't ready to let go.
Danielle and I dated long distance for a while. Then, I went and visited her in Seoul, where she broke up with me. She didn't say this in so many words, but it was obvious that she had moved on in life and left me behind. In the months since our break-up, I'd done a lot of healing, but still had feelings of uncertainty and doubt. I recognized those same feelings in Sienna on our first night together. Unfortunately, exes are another topic that I felt I should avoid on a first date, so I did my best to emphasize with Sienna without revealing too much, too quickly.
On our second date, Sienna told me to wear tennis shoes. She drove us to a park I'd never been to before. A park I'm not sure I could find again. Sienna asked me if I was good at riddles. I told her I wasn't. Then she asked If I knew how to work a compass. I said I could work a compass and low and behold, she handed me a compass. We got out of the car and Sienna announced that we were going geocaching.
Through decent brain power and amateur tracking, we found the first location. A mound of crushed gravel and rock. I had no idea what geocaching was. I was baffled as to what was so special about this tower of piled stone. Sienna ducked around the mound and came back with a big blue rock. She handed me the rock and then threw her arm around my neck. She held up her phone, I held up the heavy blue rock, and she snapped a selfie.
Then she snapped a picture of the clue written, in what had to be sharpie, across the rock's flat top. It was a set of coordinates. Now, I hadn't lied to Sienna. I did know how to use a compass. Or so I thought. As we'd made our way to the pile of rocks, I'd secretly checked that I could still find North on the compass. The clue made me question whether finding North would be enough to get us to the intended destination. The coordinates were eighty North/Northwest by six Eastern squared or something like that. I had no idea what that meant in relation to our location
Sienna put the rock back, and feigning more confidence then I felt, we set off in a generally North-Western direction. The majority of the city’s parks had walking trails. This one had hiking trails. Winding up and down through sparsely placed trees and slopes riddled with rocks and roots. We wondered for about two hours. The further we got into the park, the darker the sky became. Finally, we climbed and crawled our way up to the top of ridge. Scrambling up the slope by stretching our legs to reach rocks and using exposed roots as handholds.
Stepping past the trees, we found ourselves standing on the edge of a bluff. We sat on an elevated bump of rock and took in the view. We had our own private Grand Canyon, Ozark Mountains style. The sun had almost set, leaving a deep orange smear across the top of the rock wall across the chasm from us. Looking straight down, our side of the cliff seemed to shine with the last rays of the sun. Shadows from the trees on the opposite cliff gently caressed the rocks below us, creating brief but intense flashes of light that bounced back and forth within the canyon. Then the flashes met the stream at the bottom and were flung joyously back into the air, to bow in reverence to the Sun, thanking it for another day of warmth.
We sat there on the stone lump, taking in the view, when my heel bumped something. I reached down and pulled free a red topped Tupperware container. Inside was a small notebook. The next clue was a riddle, written on the notebook's cover. On an inside page, we added our names and the date we'd visited the site. We knew there wasn't enough light left in the day to make it to the next site. Instead, we went down, though not back down the hill. That night, as the stars began to peak out of the darkening sky, I got to admire a different set of bluffs and a whole new canyon.
The next week, Sienna announced that she wanted to try fishing. We bought a pole, line, hooks, and rubber lures. We also got bobbers, thinking they were necessary. We drove to a different park, this one with a pond the city stocked with fish. It was there we realized that we had no idea how to tie proper knots. My fingers were too big to work the thin fishing line. I found myself wishing it was coated in the same wax as dental floss. That way maybe there'd be my fingers could actually grip.
Sienna, transitioning skills she used as a nurse, managed to tie the hook to the end of the line, but then couldn't figure out how to keep the bobber from sitting atop the hook. The bobber caused the end of the line to float on top of the water. The hook itself hanging just below the water’s surface, like a chandelier over a dining room table. We cut the line and started again, this time with just a hook. Sienna cast the line into the pond. We stood there for over an hour, passing a forty of Olde English between us.
The bank was too muddy to sit on, so we stayed right on the edge of the water. Between the malt liquor and the wet smell of the pond, I started to get a headache. Finally we realized that we weren't going to catch anything. Sienna reeled in the line to discover that at some point, we'd lost the hook. Sienna handed me the pole and then found that her shoes were stuck in the mud.
I offered her my hand and tried to pull her out. The shoes were stuck fast, but her feet came free. She fell into me and both of us splashed into a puddle of mud. Covered in sticky brown muck, the smell of which brought images of pond scum to mind, we could only laugh. She leaned into me and we kissed. Even as her weight pushed my body deeper into the mud, my passion blocked out the wet cold that was seeping through my hoodie. Afterward, we joked that most couples do it doggy style, but we were special. We'd just invented piggy style.
Soon after, Sienna decided she wanted to try Frisbee golfing. Considering that the compass hadn't emerged from the drawer it now lived in and the fishing pole was untouched in a corner by the front door, I suggested we try Frolfing with regular Frisbees. I didn't see the point in spending more money if it turned out Frolfing wasn't for us and I had plenty of regular Frisbees at my house.
I'd been Frisbee golfing before, and I knew that actual Frolf discs were heavier than regular Frisbees, but I figured the differences between the two wouldn't keep us from having a good time. Unfortunately, that assumption was based on only having gone to one Frisbee golf course. On that one, the circular metal cages at the end of each hole could all be seen from the parking lot. It was easy to follow the path players were supposed to take from one hole to another and most of the holes were straight shots from the tee-off area to the basket.
This was not the case for the course Sienna and I ended up at. This course was set up more like an actual golf course. Except, instead of grass meticulously mowed, this course had been left to the machinations of Mother Nature. Trees grew everywhere, their roots hidden by knee high grass and clumps of weeds. The baskets were hundreds of feet away from the tee-off points. The first two holes required us to throw our disc around giant trees while avoiding the rampant swaths of tall grass.
By the third hole, we discovered why regulation Frolf discs are weighted. It took a lot of skill and even more effort to throw our Frisbees long distances. At the third hole, we could at least see the next basket. The catch was, we had to throw it over a pond. Through sheer luck, my Frisbee made it across. Sienna's skipped across the water like a flung stone before getting stuck halfway. The disc floated there like a yellow zit on the placid face of the pond.
I stripped down to my boxers and waded in after it. Sienna met me on the other side with my clothes, but instead of handing them to me, she took my hand and pulled me into the bushes. For the next half hour, we let other groups play through while Sienna and me just played.
A few holes later, Sienna got her disc stuck in a tree. I climbed up to retrieve it, soon discovering that the branches of this particular tree were covered in thorns. Two-inch-long thorns to be exact. Needing to lean forward to reach the disc, I grabbed a branch to anchor myself and wound up impaling my hand on a thorn. My red blood stained the smooth, bleach white bark of the tree. I leapt down, abandoning the Frisbee. The tip of the thorn got stuck in my hand, which then became infected. That day of Frisbee golfing led to another first in my life, getting a yeast infection.
The timing of mine and Sienna's relationship was perfect. We were having fun trying new activities and enjoying each other's company. Together, we were moving past the obstacles in our lives. Maybe we weren't growing, but at least we weren't stuck in one place. They say that to try is to have the intention to fail. I disagree. Sometimes, I think trying is all you can do. With Sienna by my side, I tried a whole bunch of stuff.
Over the next few weeks, we tried knitting, line dancing, barroom shuffleboard, and several other activities. My least favorite was Origami. I've had an aversion to folding ever since kindergarten. When you fail at folding a witch's hat and burst into tears in front of the entire class, it's hard to find folding enjoyable later on in life.
Another odd hobby we tried out, in the same way other people try on shoes in a department store, was jigsaw puzzles. We spent nearly three hours driving around town, trying to find a puzzle that looked easy for beginners without being designed for children, and one that had a final picture that excited us both. We settled on one with multiple breeds of dogs lounging around a fancy living room. We returned to the first store we'd been to that day and bought the puzzle, then took it to my place.
After another three hours, we'd managed to connect bits of the final picture, but were not making much headway. The top of the table looked more like we'd been cutting crumpled pictures of dogs out of a magazine but had lost control over the scissors multiple times. Finally, bored and discouraged, Sienna pushed me onto the table and busied herself with a different activity. If you've never received pleasure while the left side of a pug's face smiles at you from an incomplete puzzle, then you have a lot more living to do.
Of all the hobbies we dipped our toes into, the one that sounded like it would be my favorite also marked the end of our exploration. That hobby was working our way through the sexual positions listed in the Kama Sutra. Sienna purchased the book and sent me a picture of the cover. Then as she thumbed through it, she sent me pictures of some very intriguing positions. Studying the images further heightened my anticipation of the next time I would see Sienna. The next time just happened to be that night. The night our timing changed.
I arrived at Sienna's place, imagining a night of exotic fun. My gut tinged with nerves as I worried what would happen if it turned out I wasn't flexible enough. Some of the positions Sienna had sent me earlier looked like they walked fine lines between pleasurable for both parties, funny, and straight up awkward. Just like back in college, I hoped I had the smarts required to make it through an entire textbook.
Telling myself that my moves would be enough, I went inside Sienna's house. I walked in and one look at Sienna told me that something had changed. Unbeknownst to me, Sienna had applied to two more grad programs while we'd been dating. She had just received an acceptance letter and had decided she was moving to Colorado in a week's time. Her declaration made, Sienna fell silent and held my gaze.
This moment was all about timing. The silence lengthened tick by tick. Sienna was waiting for me to speak. I had a similar moment with Danielle, on our last night together before she flew to Korea. This time, I would be more careful about protecting my feelings.
I congratulated Sienna. Said I was happy she'd get to pursue her dream. Then the silence slid between us once again. I knew what I said next should be motivated by either self-preservation or boldness. I chose boldness.
I leaned across and delivered a quick kiss. Then I grabbed the book, slid next to Sienna on the couch and asked which position she wanted to try first. We spent the night together, attempting positions at random. Most with mutual success. Flexibility not turning out to be an issue. Yet, we were really just going through the motions. The real intention behind the Kama Sutra is joy and exuberance. Sienna and I didn't have either of those things. That night turned into mechanical activity inter-spaced with melancholic contemplation.
We forced small talk. Discussing everything Sienna needed to do in the week before the move. Tried to keep the conversation from strafing into uncomfortable territory. Failing, and choosing silence instead. Laying side by side, holding our thoughts but not each other. Neither of us said anything aloud, but in my head, one thought kept buzzing around. Our time was up.
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Wow! For your first romance, this is truly stunning. I loved the vulnerability between the two which quickly hardened into apathy. Well done, and as usual, excellently excecuted.
You're an astoundingly versatile writer, Michael. Every genre you tackle is handled with authority and style. I don't read an awful lot of romance, but this was engaging, witty, and best of all: profoundly human. : )
Appreciate it. I tried to right the kind of romance I'd want to read.
Am I odd in saying that this is my favorite kind of romance? I have to admit, I was apprehensive after reading the tags. It hinted at the satire of a romance because even when Sienna and he were having fun, there was an underlying sense of cynicism (perhaps I am projecting because I cannot seem to find a good example). I was initially going to suggest choosing just one or two hobbies to focus on, but I think the prompt warrants the multitude. The end was my favorite. You captured the irony of trying Kama Sutra paired with apathy and em...
Thanks so much. Yeah, mentioning so many hobbies was because of the prompt. Otherwise I probably would have used the space to further explore the commonalities between Sienna and "my" feelings/ similarities in the ending of this relationship versus the one with Danielle. I wanted it to feel like a chapter from a memoir, which is why I chose the 'creative non-fiction' tag.
I really enjoyed the story. It was very well written Michael. Such a sad and funny story. Poor protagonist. They were having so much fun through the story that I didn't see the ending coming. Great job.
Thanks so much.