I looked at the original permit, and carried it to Bonnie’s desk. I thought about saying something clever like, “And that’s four,” but I didn’t feel any particular sense of relief like she might have. Instead I asked her about work.
“I’m going to finish stocking the brochures. Would now be a good time to find the new ones for the Creek Lodge? I mean, if you are at a stopping point?”
“Now’s as good as any.” She wandered out to the garage, and in the meantime, I started filling in additional leaflets from the piles on my desk to the locations in the bin where there were some gaps. I picked up a variety of brochures from the perpendicular stacks to avoid walking back and forth, and then started dropping them with other identical ones. The cool air penetrated through the glass door at my back, and the combination of the chill and the gloomy afternoon, plus the permanent departure of my quirky customer, left me feeling mildly melancholic.
And then the bell rang, jingling as it opened and a rush of cold air preceded the Lumberjack, or whatever his new persona was. Completely taken aback by his return, the fact that I neither dropped the brochures or allowed any of them to be swept away in the gust of air that blew in with him still amazes me.
“Hi,” I tried to speak but emitted a sound closer to a gasp. I regrouped. “Did I forget something?”
For a moment he didn’t reply, as usual, preferring to stand half in and half out of the door. The rain dripping from the door frame must have been getting him wet but he didn’t move. When I realized my nearness to him may have appeared as though I was blocking the door, I took a step back so he could be completely under the cover of the office ceiling, but he still didn’t move.
“Do you camp?” What an odd question. I expected a statement from him, not a question.
“Do I camp?”
He waited silently for me to answer the question.
“I have camped, yes.”
“Do you want to go camping this weekend?”
What? Was he asking me out, or was he merely looking for a camping buddy? Oh wait, I thought, I didn’t care which one it was.
“Yeessss,” I replied slyly, allowing the words to escape from the side of my mouth with an accompanying crooked smile. The idea suddenly tantalized me, whatever this offer was.
“Do you have your own tent?” Okay, so it wasn’t that kind of outing.
“Yes, I do.”
“We’ll leave after you finish working tomorrow.” He wasn’t asking.
Tomorrow. The word stuck out. Oh, this is happening and it’s happening soon.
Wait, I didn’t want him picking me up here; my mind tried to address practicality. I didn’t want to haul my gear, my clothes, my food, and anything else I couldn’t think of at that moment to the office with me tomorrow. I forced myself to stop the stream of planning running away in my mind and find a way to tell him not to come here.
“I should be home by five forty-five. Three nineteen east Corbin. The entrance is on the side by the driveway.” That ought to work.
With no acknowledgment beyond what may have been a nod, he turned and left, allowing a bit of rain to make its way inside the office and appear as the only remnant that he had even been there. Tomorrow. I was going camping tomorrow with the Lumberjack. Did I not just consider going away for the weekend by myself to enjoy the mountains? How coincidental! Well, this was not what I had in mind, but camping with someone more experienced might be educational as well. I chuckled quietly – who was I kidding? This was not an educational opportunity.
I’m still not entirely sure what happened in that one minute, which probably explained why I just stood there at the door watching him walk down the stairs, get in his truck, and drive away. I was still staring, dumbfounded and delighted, thoroughly confused by what I just agreed to do and how he asked, and entirely baffled by the abruptness of his departure when Bonnie returned with the brochures.
“What are you looking at?”
“Your favorite customer just came back inside.”
“What did he want?”
“He asked me to go camping with him.”
“Ha!” Never had I heard much inflection from her voice on any topic. “That’s funny. Seriously, did he come back inside?”
“But he’s gone now?”
“Good. Another year until we have to see his shining face again.”
I struggled with the work of filling the brochures into their designated slots the remainder of the day. What I dismissed as a mundane task now became a monumental endeavor complicated by the fact that I possessed no ability to focus on anything but the brief exchange, what to expect of the weekend, and the Lumberjack’s captivating features.
NEXT: The Invitation – Part 12