Part 26: Cookout For Two
The grill was a little rusty, and there wasn’t much propane left, but we managed to slow cook our hamburgers. I sat out on the porch watching over our food, while Summer got all the condiments ready. At one point, I turned to see her at the doorway looking out at me. She was behind the door itself, as if trying to do it in secret, but once she realized she was spotted, she gave a little wave and flashed a smile brighter than any flame on the grill.She brought all the fixings out on the porch and set them on one of the little glass tables. She came over and sat next to me on the metal swing. We both had dressed into jeans and t-shirts, though her jeans looked better on her, and the shirt she wore clung to her frame tighter than mine did. Emblazoned across the front was an image of Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet in a scene from the movie, Spaceballs. Nerd love on display as usual.
From where we sat, the view of the orchard and the mountains behind it were incredible. The sun was in its descent, making her way to the edge of the blue tinged mountaintops. Within an hour, she would disappear behind the mountains and turn the sky into the color of orange flames.
“What can be better than this?” I sighed. “Cooking out, brilliant sunset, amazing company.” I looked at Summer next to me. She was staring out there somewhere, her eyes perhaps fixed on some imaginary place far away. Maybe she was thinking of ocean shores, western plains, or Paris nights.
“I’m going to miss this,” she said.
I hung my head; this wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear her say she wanted to stay here forever, or at least as long as I was.
“Me too,” I replied. “Can I ask you something?”
“You asked me today what was next for me. I’m wondering, curious I guess, what’s next for you?”
She seemed to ponder the question for a moment, as if she wasn’t sure, but knew it didn’t involve staying here. “Well, there are still some things to settle with my mother’s estate. Now that I know how my father feels, it will make it easier to do that. After that, I’m just not sure. I guess I’ve been so busy living day to day and caught up in this little adventure with you I hadn’t planned that far. I don’t really have a job to go back to.”
“Is there a guy back home?”
I got up and flipped the burgers on the grill. “What do you mean?”
“We split up after mom died. I don’t know if it was my grief or just that it wasn’t going anywhere. He was the typical guy. Didn’t really want to be with me. He’d rather watch soccer than to see me blocking the television with my butt.”
“If I turn on the TV now, would you block it for me?” I teased.
She laughed. “You’re so funny, Matthew.”
“I’m here all week.”
“I guess it’s one of those things where I was his girl when it was convenient for him. He said he loved me, but there were always unspoken conditions. I mean, who wants someone that when he comes home from work he doesn’t even act like he’s happy to see you?”
I flipped the burgers again and turned to face her. “I’m always happy to see you.”
She smiled. “And I’m happy to see you too.”
“Summer, these past few days have been some of the happiest of my life, I want you to know. I came here wanting to get away from everyone, forget all my pain and loneliness… And you…well, you showed up the first day like a summer breeze to blow the winter away from my heart. “
“That’s sweet,“ she said in a hushed whisper, the way someone speaks if they regret having to hurt someone’s feelings. “Thank you.”
I sat down next to her and leaned back in the swing. “I don’t look forward to winter returning when you’re gone.”
If I was testing to see if she wanted to stay, she didn’t take the bait. Instead, she looked down at the ground. “I don’t know how to say this, Matthew…”
I swallowed hard and held my breath. Here it was, the beginning of the pain again. “Yes,” I stammered.
“The burgers are on fire.”
“Oh crap!” I jumped up, and sure enough they were flame grilled. Big time flame grilled. Scooping them up with my spatula, I put them on the plate I had brought out with me. Some of them were shriveled and black, but two seemed at least edible. I looked at Summer and shrugged. “Hope you like them like your coffee,” I said.
We both laughed, and once again, a serious moment was averted. We were getting good at this.
The burgers weren’t as bad as they looked. Dressed up with condiments and cheese, you almost didn’t taste the burn. We laughed about the food, and though it had gotten ruined, it was one of the best little dinners I ever enjoyed. When she learned I didn’t like mayonnaise, it got even more memorable, with her trying to find ways to sneak the condiment into everything I ate. When she handed me a potato chip, it had a little on the edge. When I asked for a bun for my second hamburger, she smeared it on its bottom. I was too vigilant of course, and noticed every time, sending her into fits of laughter.
Eventually, the fun and laughter died down, and we moved from the porch swing to the steps, so we could see the sun setting from a more picturesque vantage point. As it dropped low on the horizon, the colors began to spread like paint across the sky, from yellow to orange to red. We watched the skies and their dazzling display of warm vibrant color. I had never seen a sunset this spectacular before, but maybe I had never taken the time to look. That was Summer’s doing for sure. She had a way of inspiring me to see things differently. In just the few short days I had known her, she was changing my very world. But what was the change for? What good would it be if she weren’t around? I looked at her sitting beside me on the steps. She was watching the sunset, too. Jackson had come around the side of the house to sit at her feet, and as she stroked his fur he seemed to be changed by her, too. I imagine on most nights Jackson just sat alone without much company, but here he was enjoying the attention of another. I guess we both would be sad come tomorrow. As if to show me how right I was, the sound of a blues guitar wailing on a note broke the silence of the sunset. As the sun sank behind the mountains and the last light faded, the guitar was joined by the rest of its ensemble, carried to our ears on the wind.
“They are playing my song,” I said.
Summer smiled. “I love blues. Nothing gets closer to the soul than that.”
“Must be that concert Helen was talking about. Blues night at Shelfy’s barn, I think she said it was. It’s up there close to the church. Not far at all.”
“That adds another dimension to the evening,” she said with a wistful smile. “Cookout, sunset, blues. And you.”
“I’m feeling a little blue,” I admitted.
“Don’t be. Blues may be sad, but they remind us of the joys of life and how we should savor the moments.” She looked at me. “Moments like this.” She reached over and put her hand in mine. My fingers instinctively curled around hers.
The band was playing full speed now. What was once a slow number, had now kicked into overdrive, mixing ZZ Top with a bit of Willie Dixon. The night was falling fast. The colors of the sky were all gone now, replaced by a cloudless canopy dotted with stars. I had never seen so many stars before. You never saw this in the city, and I thought to myself, as beautiful as the starry blanket looked above us, I would never get used to it. It would always be a wonder to me, much like the woman at my side.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.