Red flannel. That was my first impression of the hulkingly tall figure to serve as my test subject. Perhaps his shirt wasn’t flannel, and maybe it was just a conservative, colored print, and his clothing in no way impacted my choice to prove my point, but if Central Casting looks for a blond, Paul-Bunyan type, he would receive a call back. He did not address me as I approached him, and I remained on his side of the counter, rather than return to my usual position behind my desk. I extended my hand.
The duration of time he took removing his hand from his pocket concerned me that he might not allow me to prove my point, but when he did, I wondered how his hands ever fit inside the faded denim pouches tucked against his hips. Even my long fingers disappeared inside his palm. Regardless, the experiment was on and when I grasped the back of his hand gently, with minimal movement and no fanfare, it offered the only visible proof that my limbs were participants in this hypothesis. In size, my two hands still rivaled his one, yet I secured his grasp and I effortlessly tossed the first roll of the dice in the game only I knew we were playing.
“Hello, I’m Natalie. I’m new to the Forest Service.” I wanted to assess his complete appearance, but found myself fixated on his soft, slightly green eyes. Men shouldn’t be allowed to have eyelashes that long unless all women have them first, or at least until I get them. I’ve always thought that to be one of the great inequities of creation, but at least they looked well placed on him.
His blond curls dangled from beneath his cap just long enough to be begging for a trim, but left the lashes unobstructed. His scruff, with only a slight tint of gray, accentuating a jawline that would require dynamite to be so dramatically chiseled, blanketed his skin, and yet the tanned flesh still appeared beneath the forming beard. If anything appeared manicured in his countenance, his lips best qualified, but may have been alone in the category. I would need multiple moisturizer applications for that kind of suppleness. And in a moment, facing this combination of ridiculously stereotypical, dramatic features, I nearly forgot that I still held his hand in mine.
He offered no response, but nodded and glanced at my name badge. Stating the obvious didn’t help my argument, so I continued.
“We’re conducting a statistical assessment of our visitor population. Would you be willing to sign our guest book? We utilize the information to justify our total visitation as a factor in budget allocation.” I think that was the purpose for the visitor log, and even if it wasn’t, it sounded believable. I still retained his hand.
He glanced at the log book on my counter, yet remained unable to take any action in his current captivity. His eyes, however, were glancing at the columns of information.
“Just so you know, we do not require your street address, just the city and state, despite what others may have written. We mainly are attempting to determine the percentage of local traffic versus non residents.” I still indicated no intention to release his hand yet, but I did adjust my grip to position my hand even closer to his sleeve. “I’m not going to send you a postcard or anything,” I playfully offered.
He still refrained from speaking, and I accepted his silence as a cue and kept my voice low and polite. His uncommunicative style fit the description I read in the handbook for newly relocated Wyoming residents.
“Okay,” he ultimately acquiesced, but glancing at his hand, he probably was wondering if I was going to allow him to keep his commitment. I only partially gave him hope of such a reprieve. Across the open pages, a pen laid uncapped and tethered to the counter, which I grabbed and offered to his clasped hand. He surprised me, but not that I let him see, as he reached across our embrace so as to take the pen in his left hand. A southpaw? I didn’t expect that alternative, but he wouldn’t be able to rotate to a position to register his information until I ended our strategic play anyway.
I’d let him suffer long enough, although neither of our palms even sweated despite their extended contact. I let him off easy, I think, and if he signed the book, I would count this as a win in my empirical research data.
He signed the ledger, as promised, and I returned to my side of the counter. The cubicle enclave in which I now took up my defensive position continued to offer me the coveted high ground, even if his overall height still earned him the appearance of an advantage. By the time I planted my feet and glanced back at him, he transferred the pen to his right hand. Touché, sir. Perhaps he did know this was a competition of sorts.
NEXT: The Handshake – Part 3