On Monday morning, I relayed the overwhelming success of the epic handshake in securing a fully-functional dryer to Bonnie, excluding the accompanying proposition. Clearly our combined enthusiasm waned, or maybe I only imagined her interest, as she focused nearly exclusively on getting payroll finished.
“That’s great. It’s almost like having a new dryer, isn’t it?” I had not thought of that, but it did sum up my renewed love for clothing-centric appliances.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to resort to hanging my clothes over boxes, especially since I am down to about a dozen, maybe dozen and a half left to go.”
“You must have gotten a lot done this weekend.”
“Well, I got a lot unpacked, but I don’t know that I necessarily accomplished enough. I’ll probably be rearranging my kitchen cabinets for the next two months.” How mundane was this office chatter? Ugh, who cared about my stupid boxes or my cluttered apartment. “So what did you do this weekend?”
“My nieces each played in soccer games on Saturday, but the weather was so great, we decided to have an impromptu barbeque with all the family.”
“Oh, how fun! It was a fabulous weekend for that.” In truth, I didn’t understand the concept of family get togethers, and I could not imagine rounding up enough people I even knew by name in Wyoming to invite over for dinner, but I tried to engage her in conversation nonetheless. “And it is so light out so late, you can spend hours just sitting outside watching the sunset.”
“I think the guys went inside and watched the game. The ladies and I sat outside with a couple glasses of wine while the kids ran around.” I don’t even know what game. Or what sport. It’s not football season, I quickly calculated. I admit, it probably didn’t even matter. I ignored their activity and moved on to another topic.
“A glass of wine outside – how relaxing.” I made a mental note to buy a bottle before the weekend so I could do the same.
And so began week three on the job. Daily business lacked any momentous activities, but nonetheless, I simply adored the occasional, easy interaction with visitors and the quiet of the office. Perhaps the change of scenery, literally and figuratively, most delighted me. I’d walk outside and there ahead of me were mountains, tall and jagged, hazy on some days, and on others colorized by the sunrise or sunset. Depending on where I might have been in town, and the clarity of the day, even a few snow caps up near the wilderness could be visible. Each day included a glimpse of their beauty changing my daily routine to include sitting outside for a few minutes in the morning watching the sun bring its light to the mountains, providing a backdrop to a casual evening walk, or, more importantly, altering my perspective on this new phase of my life. I needed to make progress on the unpacking so I could explore them soon.
Despite the long days of extended daylight, the week passed swiftly, and between emptying at least a part of a box each night, catching up on the summer reruns of programs I missed over the past several months, and finishing the backlog of laundry, I occupied my evenings effectively. At work, I made progress learning new procedures and processes, guidelines and rules. I listened to the collection of voices on the two-way radio and tried to identify people by their regions and responsibilities. I received my first paycheck in my new bank account, and each day felt less out of place in my little apartment.
Midway through Friday afternoon, as the weekend bug began to flit around the office, the jingle of the cow bell lifted my glance and striding intently into the office was the Lumberjack, quite possibly wearing the same shirt as last week.
“Good afternoon.” I smiled, as much at the encore appearance of the shirt as out of politeness.
“Hello, Ma’am.” Did he just ‘ma’am’ me? His intent probably offered a full measure of courtesy and western charm, so I let it slide away as I rose from the desk and faced him.
“Are you in need of another firewood permit?”
He paused a moment, nodded, and I noticed his adorable eyelashes framed the gaze that looked me straight on, nearly unblinkingly. “You remembered,” he noted.
His was not a face, or any other physical feature, I would forget. His unshaven chin and cheeks featured the exact same scruff as the previous week, as if his beard stopped growing, and my ability to retain that tidbit confirmed how distinctly his image carried with me since his last visit.
“Most people who visit us are looking for firewood permits. Even if I had forgotten, I could hazard a guess.” I reached for the paperwork and a pen and set it in front of him on the counter.
He gestured with the pen towards the visitor’s log with what appeared full seriousness. Clearly he did not forget our first exchange, but he just as likely may have been toying with me. I couldn’t tell.
“If you have the time, I would appreciate it.” In the end, we could use all the visitor counts possible, but mostly I wanted to be courteous and helpful to my new favorite ‘regular.’
I watched him as he wrote, both on the register and the permit, and it struck me how differently he carried himself than the electrician. I wish I had the opportunity to invite him over to my house. I wonder if he could have fixed my dryer? I would much rather have him in my kitchen than the pond scum I got.
Midway through my daydreaming, he looked up at me, again, squarely in the eyes. His expression didn’t change, I wasn’t sure if he felt I was annoyingly hovering, or if perhaps he had a question. It must have been the former because he returned to the work at hand while I continued to think about his eyes, even though they hid behind the brim of his hat as he glanced downward. When he finished, he again spun the paper around for my viewing.
“Thank you. Let me get your copy and your tags, and I will get you on your way.” I stepped back behind the wall to complete his transaction, make the copies, and catch my breath. He was really hot, even if he was peculiar and silent. As I inserted the form in the feeder tray, a single unused piece of paper lay abandoned on the copier. While I made his duplicate, I glanced around for a pen, but found only a poorly sharpened Smokey Bear pencil. On the blank sheet, in small print, I wrote my phone number and a shortened version of my name. ‘Nat 737.555.1839’ I used the dots I prefer rather than the traditional hyphens, and I tucked the page behind his copy of the permit. I considered stapling it, but thought it might be too obvious and I really just wanted to be subtle. And apparently I wanted to behave like a twelve-year-old.
‘I’m not entirely sure this is a wise decision,’ I thought to myself. He seemed polite enough, but he didn’t leave me with any distinct impression that he might be likewise interested; he barely made an impression at all, besides his obviously being the silent type. Of course, the last guy made his intentions known and that turned my stomach. And did I not just tell myself that dating was a project for next year? I debated quickly, and hastily decided to include the page with his copies, but I also didn’t want him seeing it while still in the office. To be safe, I grabbed a Forest Service envelope and put everything inside it. Really, what sitcom was I in?
“Sorry, I am trying to get into the habit of not sending people out the door with loose pieces of paper, so I put all of your paperwork and the tags in here,” I foolishly explained as I returned to the front office. And by ‘habit’ I meant starting that moment. I handed him the envelope, which was too full to close properly making my excuse nearly baseless, and then I likewise offered my hand. I didn’t think I would necessarily try the amazing handshake with him again, despite its continued usefulness and proven success, although I wouldn’t have minded convincing him to call me. There was no way to ensure success other than sending him on his way and hoping he’d call. So a traditional handshake and smile seemed my best option. He returned the gesture, and childishly, I could not resist touching the back of his large hand ever-so-slightly creating a hybrid of the two handshakes.
“Thank you.” I released his hand without fanfare or delay and watched him again exit the office. The same shirt, the same oddly clean boots, and the same jingle of the bell. I hope I didn’t just shoot myself in the foot. I felt like I passed a note in class and I would then wait for his response. The laconic lumberjack offered me a mere six words, but they still became the highlight of my week.
NEXT: The Invitation – Part 7