Traditionally, when missionaries return home they speak in church, and then because relatives have travelled some distance to see them, there is often a lunch served. Ryan’s Mom has reserved a nice, big room in the local city office building.
I wear a red dress. It doesn’t say, “Nevermind me. I’ll be the good, quiet girl over here in the corner, the one that didn’t know her worth when Ryan left.” The dress says, “Look at me. I’m the still good, but less frumpy, confident girl who will smile and make conversation with you, the one that has been dated and wooed and loved and won’t fall to pieces over a little heartbreak anymore. That’s how I behave too.
There are other girls here, and I smile when I see them talking to him. I hug his Mom, I hold his nieces and nephews and I let the other girls be, because if one of them is right for him it will benefit all of us to find out now.
He talks with his friends a lot. I steal glances from across the room as he mingles. I’m still intimidated by his friends. The confidence radiators. The girl magnets. Wish I dared interview them. Can you imagine getting inside their heads? Ahh! To find out what makes them tick! To find out why they choose to be with certain people over others. I settle for being genuinely kind when Ryan draws me into the conversation. I settle for watching as people snap pictures of Ryan with them, and thinking about how he shines brighter than the flash.
It’s probably been about two hours when I see Ryan make his way toward me, speaking with the people as he passes. He touches my arm, leans into my ear. “I think I’m about ready to get out of here,” he says.
“What?” I say, “Mr. Social? Come on… you’ve got a couple more hours in you, don’t you?” He laughs a little. “I’m gonna say some goodbyes and then I’m gonna take off. You wanna come?” A little thrill shoots through my scalp and all the way to my toes.
“Let’s see. Whenever I’ve been with your family, I have to do the cheek test,” I say. I squeeze my cheeks with one hand, open my mouth and move my jaw back and forth. “Yep. Cheeks hurting from all of the smiling. We’d better get going. If I stay much longer, my dimples will get too defined.”
He smiles at me and it’s like he’s touched me without touching me.
A little later, he leaves and he takes me with him.
It’s basketball season. When Ryan asks me to go to the high school game, I’m nervous. We are so perfect when we’re sitting on the plush carpet of his family room in front of the crackling fireplace. I don’t want to let others in to upset the delicate balance of us re-discovering each other. I’m using one of those little brushes that the paleontologists use to slowly bring forth the dinosaur bones, and I’m afraid that if we go someplace with the ugly memories, it will be like I’ve uncovered the teeth of the beast and it will come alive, whip its giant, reptilian head around and chew my face off.
When the girls from the past make eyes at him from across the crowd of fans, I’m not sure I’m equipped for any kind of preventative measures. I won’t drape myself over him like he’s something that belongs to me because, first of all he doesn’t, and second of all we’re taking it as slow as possible on the physical affection front, and slow for a return missionary is entirely possible. That means no draping.
I can’t drape… because of my decency.
So how come SHE comes up to him after the game as he and I are walking out right next to each other so close that our upper arms are touching as we walk? How come she comes bouncing and pouncing up and throws her arms around him? How come she starts a bubbly conversation with him and then he answers her and she laughs, grabs him by the arm and tells him how funny he is. Flamboyant and flirtacious and shameless… if those are the things he wants then he can just….
I’m quiet on the car ride home as I stew over the possibilities.
“Hey Ry! I didn’t expect to hear from you tonight. Tonight was your double date, right?” (One of his friends set him up with someone.)
“Yeah. I got home a little bit ago and I wanted to call you.”
Those words make my heart feel like it’s soaking in a warm bubble bath.
“Did you have a good time?”
“It was fun, and she was nice, but… I just, I don’t know- I just miss seeing you.”
I close my eyes and try not to let my deep breath out into the phone. I smile. “How is it staying with your sister?”
“It’s good. You should come up here with me next weekend.”
“That would be great! Sounds really fun. I’d love to!”
“Good. I’ll tell her we’re coming together next time.”
I fall back onto a stack of pillows on my bed and stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. I think wishes do come true.
I’m hurrying across the college campus when I see blue lid guy. Remember when the guys I dated had lid colors? Very organized. You haven’t heard about blue lid guy yet, but he’s an amazing guy, sometimes a steamy date, always a close friend.
He sees me from afar and runs over with a smile on his face. He picks me up in a hug and I give him a squeeze back. “What’s been going on?” he asks. “I hear Ryan is back.”
I try to act like it won’t be a big deal to either of us, but I feel a conciliatory smile slip onto my features. “He is home. We’re dating, and I think we’re getting serious pretty fast.”
“Come on…” he says, not wanting to believe it.
“He’s become a really amazing person. You’d approve, I think.”
“You’re not gonna end up with him,” he says like he’s giving me a fact he learned on animal planet.
“I think I might.”
“No, Amie. Not him. Anybody but him.”
I gasp, offended.
“He’s sooo cocky. I just can’t imagine a sweet girl like you with-“
“He’s always been confident, but I’ve always liked that about him, and now he’s humble too. You don’t know him. He’s such a good person, that I have to reach up to be on his level. Really. He’s so good.”
“You can’t. I can’t live with the thought of you and him.”
“I’ve gotta get to class now or I’ll be late. It was good seeing you.”
“Amie, wait! We’ve gotta talk about this-”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll see you around! Thanks for being concerned about me, really, but you don’t need to worry. I’ll make the right decision.”
Later, back in my favorite place in the world, in front of Ryan’s fireplace with paleontologist brush in hand, I sit pinching myself to try and believe this moment is real. “I talked to blue lid guy today. He wasn’t very excited when I told him that you’re home and we’re dating.”
“I can’t imagine he would be, since he wants you for himself.”
“He seemed to just want what was best for me, but he doesn’t know you.”
“Yeah? What doesn’t he know?”
“How selfless you are. How you’d do anything for anybody. How you genuinely care about people.”
“Blue lid guy and I have never gotten along very well. It’s hard to get along with someone when you both want the same thing. There’s only one of you, Amie, and a person can only share for so long.”
That familiar fluttery feeling tickles all through me, and I don’t want to be shared at all. I want to belong to Ryan.
“I can think of someone I’ve never gotten along with very well for the same reason,” I say. “Little miss flirty, grabby at the basketball game. I can’t believe that it has never given her pause that I’m right there with you. Never. Never even a moment’s respectful hesitation!” Rrrrrrgh! I added in my own brain. It’s so hard to hold back, but no girl wants to seem jealous or desperate.
Ryan chuckles. “She’s just a friendly person.”
I hate how we both feel like we need to defend the other people we’ve dated. Okay, I guess I hate how he feels like he needs to defend the flirty, grabbies. I still feel compelled to defend the people I’ve dated because they are really good guys and I’ll always wish for their happiness to my very core. I’m just starting to feel strongly that I’m not the right person for them to enjoy that happiness with. In the end, you’re led to one person to share life with and you probably have to cut ties with the others… even though facebook exists to creep you out.
If you’re smart, you choose someone who is all of the things on that list that you’ve memorized. If you’re lucky, you find someone who wows you and who is wowed by you. If you’re Ryan and I, you begin to realize the magic of having just spent two years exchanging thoughts and ideas, and before that, learning how to forgive each other, and before that, finding out you have amazing chemistry, and before that, learning that you can be best friends. The “them” becomes fuzzy. The “us” becomes clear. The teeth of the rock encrusted dinosaur are slowly uncovered and they don’t pose a threat, and everything starts to become so warm and gushy that you imagine the T-Rex is wearing pink bunny ears and sometimes… you even wish the best for the flirty, grabbies… because what the heck- he’s here with you now, isn’t he?