I sweat during the whole twenty minute drive to TGI Fridays to attend my welcome home party, cranking up the AC even though it's practically snowing outside the car windows – what if you’re there? What if you’re not there? I’d just arrived back in Colorado Springs that day, after a long drive from the east coast, with this day in my mind, anticipating and trying not to anticipate seeing you again. When I pull into the parking lot, I grin. Our group has waited on the curb for me, and there you are, standing with your hands in your fleece pockets.
I wave, park, step out of the car, and Kristina runs toward me, squealing. “Liz! Finally! Welcome back!” We hug in the middle of the parking lot.
“I missed you, friend,” I say, “And I can’t wait to hear all about the wedding plans!” I say.
“Can’t wait to tell you,” she says, grinning.
“Also, we should probably get out of the road,” I say, and she chuckles. We walk to the sidewalk, where Rebecca, Lis, a few other women and another guy from our group have gathered. They all say hello and give me hugs in turns. Then you step toward me.
“Welcome back, Liz,” you say, and you hold out your arms for a hug. I feel warm when you pull away, and I hope my cheeks haven’t turned pink.
We head into the restaurant, all talking at once, sit down at a red and black booth big enough for eight, and order appetizers and sodas. Kristina and Rebecca sit beside me, and you sit across the table. I beam at all my friends, and try especially hard not to just stare at you. Your side burns have grown especially long, and between your chunky black glasses and swoop of hair, I’m swooning inside.
“Anthony wanted to be here but needed to stay at camp in the mountains today,” Kristina says.
“Good for him,” I say, “Work is a hard thing to come by.”
“Yeah, how’s the job hunt going?” Rebecca asks me.
“Well, I have an interview tomorrow, actually,” I say, smiling, focusing especially hard on Rebecca and not on you.
“Oh yeah!” says Kristina. “At an internet company, right?”
“Avatars?” you say.
“Yep,” I say nodding. “I know, it sounds weird and creepy. But the more I’ve looked into it, the more I like it – they’re all about making the Internet more relational. The avatars are sort of hosting a website for a company. And the work environment is fun and innovative. So, I figure, I can get on board with that.”
“Code baby: making the internet more human, one robot at a time,” you say.
I grin at you, relieved to be able to look you in the eye. “Exactly,” I say.
“What would you be doing if they hire you?” says Rebecca.
“Scriptwriting,” I say. “The Avatars sort of pop up on your website, but their speech and personality has to be coded, so I’d be filling in the words. Anyway, I’m just psyched I have a second interview.”
“Cheers to that!” you say, raising your root beer. The guy next to you raises his glass and clinks yours, saying, “Cheers, man!”
“So, what have you all been up to?” I ask.
“Same old, same old,” says Lis.
“Yep, working at the hospital mostly. Except I’ll have to tell you next time we get together about this family I met,” says Rebecca.
“And I’ve been getting fired and rehired as a temp at the nonprofit I’ve been working at,” you say.
“What? That’s so lame,” I say.
“They keep running out of budget, and then I’ll get a call like, ‘We’re so overwhelmed! We need the help! Are you free?’ I don’t have anything else going, so it doesn’t bother me much. But it seems like they’ll have work for me over the summer – at least I’m hoping they do,” you say.
“Oh, so does that mean you aren’t going to be up at your family’s rafting company this summer then?” I say.
“It’s doubtful – I just really want to find a full-time design job, and I’m not sure if that’ll happen if I’m an hour and a half away for most of the week,” you say.
“Makes sense,” I say, calm as I can, but inside, I have swelled with joy – turns out, you won’t be away this summer, like I feared.
Kristina hits her glass with a fork until the group quiets. “Well, I just want to say, thanks for coming to celebrate Liz, everyone. Liz, we’re so glad you’re back!”
“Hear, hear!” says Lis, and I smile at her.
As we empty our drinks and plates, and our waitress clears the table and passes around checks, people leave as their bill is paid. Soon, there’s just a few of us, and the waitress brings the last round of credit cards back to their owners. Kristina, Rebecca, and I are still talking when you stand.
“Welp, I’m going to head out,” you say to me. Then you look at me: “But stay in touch, okay?”
I grin. “Will do,” I say.
I am writing and serially publishing scenes from my falling-in-love memoir, about the anguished, beautiful, and spiritual way that my husband and I met, fell in love, and married. Read about my plans for this in-progress writing project here.
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