When I returned to the main building, I dropped a box full of assorted brochures on the counter at my desk with a thud, but after looking at the brochure rack, I may have brought too many. Oh well, it’s a good rainy day project, again convincing myself that this was a good use of my time on a slow day.
“Hey, thanks for covering the phones. Anything I need to handle?”
“No there were only a couple calls and they were pretty easy. Did you find everything you needed?”
“I think so. I definitely found a couple I don’t think are out here. Also, is it okay to recycle the brochures that are more than three years old?” I hoped so. I already dumped them in the blue bin.
“Yeah, that’s fine.” Whew.
“But I did not find the Creek Lodge brochures. Do you know where they are?”
“No, not exactly. I’ll go back there and check in a few minutes. Maybe they didn’t get taken out to the garage yet.”
Eight across, six down, the two brochure racks had something for the entire region: South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, cities, federal sites, state parks, private museums, bus tours, walking tours, self-guided tour, caves, mountains, monuments, camping guides, hiking guides, fishing guides, and maps of all of these. The OCD in me wanted to group them, but what worked best? Geography, tour types, maps to the left and activities stretching out from there? I should have thought this through, but now that I stared blankly at the wooden, vertical, pigeon-holed cases, I elected to just straighten and refill. Maybe in a few weeks I would tackle the organizational aspect, but for now, filling it would be enough. This activity just went from a time-killing project to a mundane task.
Having straightened the existing collateral and ensured only one item appeared in each bin, I started sorting through the items I brought in from the garage, spreading them out on my desk in small overlapping piles for each different brochure. Knee deep into this Thursday afternoon monotony the Lumberjack entered the office.
“Well, hello,” I offered, weakly attempting to sound inviting rather than surprised, but shocked I certainly was. No red flannel shirt, slightly less beard, a navy NorthFace rain jacket, tailored khaki trousers, and stylish laced shoes. Even his blond curls hung differently moistened by the continuingly dreary weather, but the eyelashes and the gaze behind them were unmistakable.
“Hello,” he replied, with his usual thoughtful cadance.
“I am guessing you are here for a firewood permit, yes?”
How weird that he was here on a different day and dressed completely out of his usual style. Given his unique appearance on this day, I decided to ask if that’s what he really wanted. His intent might have been different, too.
“After your previous request, we checked our records and this will be your last firewood permit for the calendar year as you will have reached the limit.”
He didn’t nod or acknowledge, but listened, so clearly there was no news here that was a surprise to him.
“I hope you don’t mind,” I offered, “but I wanted to be sure I remembered to tell you, so I went ahead and filled out the form with your information from the previous request. If you don’t mind taking a moment to review the information, then all you need to do is sign it and pay the fee.” As I handed him the form prepared in my own block printing, I removed the sticky note that read “last permit” tossing it in the garbage.
As he leaned over the paper, a drop of water trickled down from his wet hair. I reached across my desk grabbed a napkin and handed it to him. He blotted the paper first, then squeezed it around several particularly damp locks. When he finished, I offered an open palm to relieve him of the refuse.
“I guess you’ve been out in the rain for a little while today?” What an awkward, obvious statement. Improved conversation would be necessary if I wanted more than one-word answers.
“Yes, I have.” Wow, three. Small win.
“I’ve heard it will be beautiful this weekend, though. Do you have any plans?”
“Yes, camping,” he replied, signing his name to the form.
“It will be the perfect weekend for it. Enjoy yourself.” I grabbed the papers and his payment and circled back to make the necessary copies and obtain his firewood tags.
Okay, I considered this might be the last time I see him for quite a while. I could feel a nagging disappointment, but he never called me and I had no plan as to how to resolve my sentiment. Maybe if I thought about it before his usual Friday visit I might have developed a plan to spark conversation or identify a way to see him again, but now the window was closing. Given the day’s weather, maybe that metaphor said enough.
After today he wouldn’t be back in the office, and, in truth what did it matter to me? Perhaps, I considered, I was still trying to win the handshake rather than try to get to know him. And as the thought crossed my mind, that seemed entirely plausible and my entire system calmed as if I simply answered my own question. I didn’t need to win anything. I could just give him the best service this Forest Service employee could provide and wish him a lovely year. Besides, I gave him my phone number, and he knew where I worked in case he needed anything further. There was nothing to be gained, no upper hand to be retained, just a nice person in need of firewood. That was enough.
I was proud of myself that I remembered the envelope from the previous week and repeated the action, and when I circled back to the counter to provide it to him, I noticed how truly different he looked in his ensemble. Still tall, still handsome, somewhat less mysterious, I realized I might miss seeing him, even if only for a few minutes with even fewer words.
“Here you are. Enjoy your weekend, and be safe camping.”
“Thank you.” Okay, last chance, I yelled at myself as he nodded his basic gratitude.
“By the way, I like the new look.” It wasn’t a sad, pathetic last attempt. It was true.
He nodded, and I think, maybe even smiled, but I could have been mistaken.
“Thanks.” He pulled his jacket collar closer to his neck and ventured out into the rain.
NEXT: The Invitation – Part 11