I’m seeing Northern Utah for the first time, driving through Sardine canyon on the way to Logan to stay with Ryan’s sister. It’s late November, and this canyon is arguably one of the most beautiful to ever deck itself out in fall colors. The trees and bushes cover the hillsides like a ruffled ball gown that never goes out of style. It used to be that the beauty was a dangerous distraction when the canyon roads were thinner and covered in ice, but the roads have been updated and are regularly maintained now, so the driving is easy. The scenery is easy on the eyes, the red, yellow and orange, a gorgeous backdrop for the boy that is my focal point.
Ryan tells me stories of travelling here as a young boy. It was about here, as the canyon opens up into Cache Valley,” he tells me, “that I would start to get nervous. I had to uphold my record, you see. I was always the first one into Grandma’s house. My siblings got trickier at trying to stop me as the years went on, vying for the seat next to the door at the stop previous, trying to lock the door I was next to without me noticing, but they never succeeded. No matter what I had to do, or who I had to tackle nobody ever beat me. The pressure was immense.”
I laugh. I don’t know why my heart jumps into my throat whenever I hear about younger Ryan. I remember him with his super tan skin and his blonder than blond hair and his innocent, glowing face. I think of young him with all of his hopes and dreams, his competitive nature and the look in his blue eyes that told you he believed big things were possible.
His hair is darker now. His skin, tucked behind a suit jacket for the past two years, hasn’t seen much sun, but his eyes are more believing than ever. Uhh… uhh… Cache Valley. We’re talking about Cache Valley.
“What sort of urbane place is this anyway?” I ask. Why is it bequeathed Cache Valley? Not Cache County mind you. No no! Nothing so drab and commonplace as that. Cache Valley. The place where big time dreams come true in a small town atmosphere, the place of dreams and dairies!
Ryan gives me a sideways grin. “Are you finished?”
“I bet they have fancy cows here. Not like our simple Emery County cows. I bet the cowgirls here wear their rodeo queen outfits year round!” Apparently I’m not finished.
“Funny you should mention the cows,” Ryan says. “I told Tash I wanted to introduce you to Cache Valley and she arranged a tour of a local dairy. We’ll be milking a cow in a sequined leotard within the hour.”
The mocking smile slowly slides off of my face, making room for my eyes to grow larger. Ryan laughs. “I’m kidding. Tash recommended I take you to the mall, and then we’re hitting A&W for root beer served in frosted mugs.
I couldn’t be more dazzled if we were slurping two ends of an extra long spaghetti noodle in Italy.
After visiting at Tasha’s house, I change and get ready while Ryan runs some errands. Then we venture into quaint, downtown Logan. It’s plenty big for the country girl in me. Even the small version of a shopping mall, suits me to a certain level of bliss. I’m content to meander around this place and follow wherever Ryan leads me.
Through the front entrance of the mall and straight ahead, there is a gorgeous gold sign, with a spotlight shining on it and reflecting. Its sparkle gives birth to a million baby sparkles that reside below it, glimmering diamonds of all shapes and sizes. I’ve never been transfixed by jewelry stores. They always seemed like stores for grown-ups, which I was not. Therefore, as Ryan walks directly toward this one, I know that he is doing that pretend play scenario that couples in the early stages of dating do… the one where they pretend they’re shopping for engagement rings. I’ve never been keen on the idea. Who is it that’s being fooled when they play that game? The salesperson? Or one of the two daters? Or are they fooling themselves? These are the questions I’m asking myself while Ryan is asking me, “What do you think about this ring? And how about this one? Do you like silver or gold?”
I don’t answer. I gaze through the glass as though I’m at an art museum and I keep repeating, “They’re all beautiful.”
The man behind the counter finishes answering the questions of another couple, shakes the man’s hand and turns his attention to us. A terrible shudder quakes through me. I don’t want to take this man’s time by pretending that I’m getting engaged to Ryan. I don’t want to betray my own mind and heart with this terrible tease. I hear suspenseful, the-murderer-is-now-making-the-stabbing-motion-in-the-horror-film music, instead of the quiet classical music playing over the speaker. The streaks of light from the glittering diamonds are reaching out, grabbing for me like sharp fingernails.
Ryan is shaking the salesman’s hand now. My feet are glued to their spot, my mind is trying to explain to my tongue how it can move to tell lies when it wants those lies to be true. What mocking tone can be inserted to hide the longing that my voice will surely convey?
The man reaches into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulls out a business card. On the back of the card there is a name and a phone number. The man reads it and looks up again. “It’s Ryan, right? I talked to you earlier?”
“Yeah,” Ryan says in his easy, friendly way, “And this is Amie.”
Ryan has been here earlier? What lengths did he go to so that we could come fake ring shopping? The man has his name written down on a card for heaven’s sake! I’m stunned past friendly greetings and introductions. I hardly breathe a hello. This might not be a game. This might not be a lie. Ryan points a few more rings out to me. I offer a few more statements of, “They’re all beautiful.” Ryan asks some questions and the man answers them. I’m of absolutely no use to either of them. When we walk out of the store, I feel like I’m coming up for air.
I make a beeline for the nearest bench. “Can we sit down for just a minute?”
Ryan sits next to me, angling his knees toward me and I think he’s wondering why my face portrays shock.
“That man knew you,” I say.
“Yeah, I came and looked at rings earlier today.”
“I thought maybe you were playing one of those jokes where you pretend-” I can’t finish.
Ryan rushes to explain now. “It doesn’t have to mean anything too serious, if you don’t- I mean, I just thought it might be nice to look at them. I mean, have you ever thought about what kind of ring you want?”
“No. No, I honestly haven’t. I’ve only thought about what kind of guy I want. Never what kind of ring.”
“I’m a little confused,” I say. “We just looked at rings.”
“And we weren’t playing a joke on that poor man.”
“I guess I’m just surprised because… well, because you’ve been home from your mission for about two weeks now but you haven’t even held my hand yet.”
This registers on his face like a revelation. His hand, like it’s been given long awaited permission, reaches out and takes a hold of mine. A calm comes over me. A lovely, giddy sort of calm, like everything is back in its place and I couldn’t want for more.
“There.” he says. “How’s that?”
“Good. I like that.”
We stand up and continue to walk around the mall. There are people, but I don’t see them. There are things, but I don’t need them. Ryan’s blue eyes are full of what’s possible, his fingers are laced through mine… and it’s for real.