Time in Willow Creek: 4 months, 2 weeks, 6 days
Hillary and Jesse met at The Kissing Llama just as they had planned the previous week. He arrived early so he could wait for her and escort her to the table he selected. Upon her arrival, he kissed her hand and said, “You are stunning.” He offered her his arm and hopefully led the way to a wonderful evening. Between the opened doors and the pulled out chair, she felt like a princess and the night had only just begun. Refracted light from the pool danced across her face as he admired it for a brief moment. He asked if he could buy her a drink. She appreciated the offer, but somehow she felt she should remain completely sober for this night.
“I’m so sorry for staring,” he said. “But, your eyes! They’re so lovely. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with gray eyes before.”
She smiled in appreciation for his words. No one except Jase had ever noticed her eyes. At least, they were the only two kind enough to tell her. “They’re my mama’s,” she said.
“Hmmm…I bet you look just like her.”
She laughed. ”You have no idea. We could be twins.”
“I knew it. Well, it’s easy to see how your dad fell for her…not that beauty is the only thing that matters, of course.”
That was the first time a man—besides Jase—had ever expressed something like that to her. It got her attention. Most men she went out with had one-track minds. They too were attracted to her because of her looks, but not because they felt she was beautiful. If that wasn’t what Jesse was after, what was his angle? “So…what does matter to you, Jesse?”
“The heart. Character…loyalty.”
Those were all the things she wanted in a man too, if she was painfully honest with herself. She wanted someone good. Someone who was confident and stood for something. Someone who wanted her and only her–for the long haul. That was what she truly wanted. But, she didn’t think she deserved it. Truthfully, that was what made it so easy for her to reject Jase.
Jesse noticed she hadn’t responded and looked like she was thinking about something. “What about you?” he asked. “What matters to you?”
She snapped out of the daze she was in and said, “Same.”
He grinned, and his heart grew warmer. “So we’re in good company, huh?”
“Seems like it.” She agreed but still kept her guard up.
He changed the subject. From the past, he learned it was not good to stay too serious on the first date. “So…what’s your favorite movie?”
She was glad for the subject change. “Oh dear…ummm… I actually like old movies. I used to watch them with my daddy when I was little. My favorite one was Roaring Vice.”
“Really? Wow, that’s kinda nice. Are you close with your dad?”
Her eyes dropped a little. “Not really.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
She really didn’t owe him an explanation, but somehow she felt she may have made him feel uncomfortable and had to fix it. “No, it’s ok. It’s not for my lack of trying, that’s for sure. He’s not a warm fuzzy kind of man to begin with. There was something that happened long before I was born that he’s still dealing with, and I understand that. I guess…well, I guess I just wish he’d get over it, but…what can you do, right?”
Jesse was listening and hanging onto every word she was saying. He wanted to know her every thought. He wasn’t quite sure why he was so taken with her, but he was. However, he was quickly about to learn that was a subject she did not wish to dwell on.
“So, what’s your favorite movie?” she asked.
“You’re gonna laugh,” he said.
“I promise I won’t!”
He didn’t believe her, but it was fine. He wanted her to laugh. “Ok…so…believe it or not, I’m a bit of a sap…”
Her face lit up like a Christmas tree with anticipation.
“You know that movie that came out last year about the girl that found the guy on that dating app–
“Simder?! That’s your favorite movie?” She was howling and doubled over with laughter.
“You promised you wouldn’t laugh,” he said feigning disgust.
“I’m sorry,” she said between fits of laughter. “I’m so sorry!”
“You’ve broken my heart,” he said with all the dramatics he could muster. “I knew I should have kept it to myself!”
She calmed herself as much as she could to apologize some more. “Nooo! Don’t say that! I didn’t mean to laugh. It…just kinda came out,” she said as she began smiling again. “I actually like that movie too! I just didn’t expect–
“Me, a man. Yes, I’m well aware of the stereotype. Hello, my name is Jesse, and I am man enough to say that I adore chick flicks. There! I said it.”
“Why I think that is absolutely adorable!”
“Do ya?” He hoped she wasn’t just being nice.
“Yeah. It’s rather precious.”
Hillary felt a familiar comfort with Jesse. It was the same comfort and ease she felt around Jase. Jesse was real. He had substance, and she was having fun getting to know him. Most of her dates were comprised of dudes who spent most of their time together buttering her up to ensure the date had a happy ending. True, Jesse could have been running the same game, but if he was, she was enjoying his approach. He seemed honest and didn’t come off as trying to be something he wasn’t. This was definitely a different experience for her, and she for once was enjoying herself. God, don’t let me mess this up!
They talked more about favorite foods, music, TV shows, and all that first date stuff that either brought two people closer or repelled them. They were certainly closer than they were a few hours ago.
“Hillary…can I just say something?”
“Tell me everything, Jesse.”
“I think you’re wonderful. I know we don’t know much about each other yet, but there is something about you that I very much desire to know. I would love it if we could become good friends. And…maybe more…if you want.”
No one had ever stated their intentions like that before. Scratch that. Most guys did, but they were mostly about what they intended to do with her at the end of the night. And, Jase, well…he was in the friend zone and didn’t count, and she was trying very hard to stop comparing Jesse to Jase every ten minutes. Knowing he didn’t plan for this night to end at his apartment was comforting–and very attractive. As much as she was enjoying this very rare display, she didn’t want to get swept away and remained fairly guarded. That’s another reason why she chose not to drink.
“I appreciate you saying that,” she said. “I think we could be great friends…and more.” I could actually introduce you to my mama.
“I’m glad,” he said with relief. “I’m always very upfront with people, but most folks are put off by it a lot. I’m glad I didn’t scare you.”
“I don’t scare easy.”
“So, Hillary…what is it that you want for your life? Like, what does the future look like for you?”
That question was bothersome for her. How could she answer honestly without bearing her scarred soul? Would she scare him away? Did he scare easily? That was a risk she was not willing to take just yet, and she gave a safe yet honest answer. “Umm, I want the usual. Family, house…all that stuff.”
“Of course. You?”
“Oh yeah. I want a house full of kids.”
That made her smile. “I don’t know a lot of men who like kids that much”
“I think children are a blessing. If you raise them right, I think they can be our little gifts to the world. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah! That’s a nice way to think of it.”
“You know what we haven’t done yet tonight?” he asked.
“We haven’t danced! You wanna take a few turns with me?”
They got up from the table and went downstairs to the lounge level. Of course, he held the door open for her. Who was this strange man with whom she had grown to like so much in just a few hours? She knew men like him existed because she refused to believe all men were pigs in spite of her getting involved with many of them. He was the type of man she wanted but believed she would never have. But there he was shaking his hips right next to her.
It was the closest they had been all night, and they enjoyed their new proximity. He was so close to her he could smell the sweet scent of her shampoo, and she his cologne. She loved a man who wore cologne. It almost didn’t matter what a man looked like if he smelled good enough. Luckily for her, he smelled nice and was very pleasing to her eyes. They kept stealing glances and conveniently bumping hips. A couple times, she playfully did it on purpose, and he happily reciprocated.
“Have you had a good time tonight?” he asked.
“I had an amazing time.”
“Good. I’m having a good time too. I don’t want this night to end, but I don’t want to keep you out too late.”
“You’re not keeping me from anything,” she said.
“Ok.” He was glad to know she didn’t want to leave either, but he still wanted to act responsibly. “Can I get you anything before we leave?”
“I’m fine, thank you. You’re such a gentleman!”
“I just want to thank you…for tonight.”
“Oh, Hillary, you don’t have to–