--"Return To Send Her", Camera Obscura
"When you're done with him, Tiger, send him outside," I heard him say in that unmistakable gentle tone he's always had. At the time I didn't recognize it as such. At the time it sounded like a threat more than anything else. What was this "outside" and what did it want with the likes of me? A thousand questions flooded into my head at the ominous underpinnings behind the simple command he had given his daughter because, even though he had been addressing the aforementioned daughter, the instruction most definitely was directed towards me.
I watched as the bear of a man swung open the front door, bottles in one hand and a plate full of something in the other. I followed his form outside the window to the porch bench, where he proceeded to sit down and snap open the bottles. By "when you're done' he had meant as soon as possible and by "send him outside" he meant get ready to face the firing line.
I gave my friend a glance that could have melted icebergs.
Help me, Breannie-wan Kenobi, you're my only hope.
She gave me a pre-conditioned smile that belied the worry I knew she must have been feeling. Unfortunately, worrying about a person and being in a position to assist them are two different things entirely. We both knew that there would be no talking my way out of this. My going outside was as inevitable as the song's end and as fraught with tension as a ball game tied in the bottom of the ninth. I possessed only one course of action. I had to follow him outside in a few minutes.
We talked a couple more minutes to give off the impression that I was in any rush to get it over with. The last thing I wanted to do was insult his intelligence by pretending I was ready to face him right off the bat. He wanted me nervous. I was going to do my best to oblige his wishes accordingly. Besides, if I had rushed out there it would have been rude to Lucy. It was still my first day there, after all. The whole point in coming was to spend a decent amount of time with her. In that instance, her father could hold his horse for a second while she and I got a couple more moments of quality time in. I don't even know what we talked about, but I made sure to sound confident to her. I figured it was good practice and I figured she wouldn't want to send me out there scared out of my wits. It was better for her to believe that I had my act together than to see how I intimidated I was. All in all, I think I did a good job in carrying on the conversation, short as it may have been. I'd like to think that I made it seem like a natural transition between talking with her to getting up and walking out the front door.
"Good luck," she said as I finally opened the door.
"Thanks," is all I could think of in the way of a reply.
The last image I had of her was her getting up to walk in the kitchen to join her mother.
I walked down the porch bench. I chose a seat a comfortable distance away from the good-sized gentleman who held my fate in his hands. Yet upon sitting down, I found the corners of his mouth turned southward.
"You don't have to sit that far from me, son. I ain't going to bite you."
"I'm sorry," I answered, moving a little bit closer on the bench to him.
I watched in subtle amazement as he scuttled his own butt closer to me.
"Nothing to be sorry about. Now sit awhile and listen."
'What am I supposed to be listening to, Mr. Holins."
"The quiet... and me, if you're up to it."
I nodded my head at both suggestions.
My first impressions of Breanne's father was that he was an imposing figure. He was tall and thickly built--not overweight, but definitely stocky. What I saw of him I knew him to be a man that commanded respect without having to say word one; he just looked like a guy that was used to being in charge without ever having to force the issue. What she had told me in prior conversations was that he was a nice guy and that she was sure he and I would get along swimmingly. She didn't see him having a problem with me in the slightest. My own trepidation was not so easily squelched, however. I know that the manner in which he acted around her wasn't the greatest barometer of how he would act around me. For all I knew I could say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing once and there would go my chances of getting on his good side. My track record with parents aside, Mr. Holins was definitely a beast unto himself. He was a strange and new creature that I had no precedent upon which to base my behavior around him. I was used to dealing with people who either liked or disliked me off that bat. I wasn't used to dealing with people who were unreadable, even after three hours of getting to know one another. I had vast experience in improvising ways to improve upon my situation with people who openly despised me. I had vast experience in building upon the foundations I had laid down with people I had managed to impress right away. In the situation I found myself in, I didn't know if I should have been apologizing or sucking up. Without that bit of information, the first few minutes of the conversation absolutely bewildered me.
"Hot wing?" he asked, offering me the plate.
"Yes," I replied.
I carefully took the platter and snatched up the first offering. When I took my first bite, it barely registered as a nibble.
He shook his head slightly.
Almost as if to show how it's done, he took his first wing and proceeded to suck it down whole. When he extracted the wing bones from his mouth there wasn't a morsel of meat to be friend.
I was very impressed.
"Wow," I said, unable to contain my amusement.
"I don't know how they do it in your part of the woods, but that's how we do it down here. There's no sense digging a pothole when what you need is a ditch."
He had yet to crack a smile. All throughout the car ride home and all throughout dinner he had been very jovial. He had told stories, he had repeated jokes both clean and mildly obscene, and he had been very openly warm-hearted. To his wife and daughter. To me he had been pleasant, but not overly welcoming. I didn't get the impression that he didn't want me there--only that he wasn't quite sure what to make of me yet. I guess that explained the whole summons to come outside.
"How are you liking your trip so far, son?"
"Good. Great. It's already better than I thought it would be."
"That's good. I must say the two of you look like you have been friends all your life. I was just asking Jean exactly how long it has been since the two of you met."
"Your wife and me?" I asked, confused.
"No, my Breanne and you."
I watched him grab another wing. This time he sucked it down more carefully, slower--the entire time his eyes glued to my face to gauge my reaction. He extricated the bones again from his mouth and tossed him to the side of the plate.
"Help yourself," he said, offering the plate again.
I took another wing, but I didn't bite into it. It sort of rested in my hands while I waited for him to speak.
"So exactly how long have you and her been friends?"
"Almost a year-and-a-half now, as far back as July of last year."
"And, what? You two have been talking since then?"
"Talk, write, chat, &c..."
"Is that right?"
He nodded his head slightly a few times before, turning his head away.
Truth be told, I didn't even think it had been that long. When I said the words out loud it sounded like a lot longer time than it had actually been. When I had first met her, our friendship had started out like most friendships. I didn't think she was going to be that important--not after meeting her on-line--and I didn't really pay attention to the number of conversations we'd actually been having. In the beginning, they were far more sparse. I'd maybe talk to her once every two weeks and maybe chat with her on-line twice a week when I happened to see her. She certainly wasn't someone I went out of my way to make time for at the start of all of it. Then, like most long-standing friendships, I found myself thinking about her more often. When I would do something with other friends I would catch myself thinking what she might think of it. Or, in another more relevant case, I would be saying something to a co-worker and her name would crop up as offering something meaningful to the conversation. Fairly soon, once every two weeks become once every week, which in itself became two or three times a week. Our ten-minute conversations to catch each other up on our daily events became longer conversations where deeper, more philosophical thoughts began to creep their way in.
And before long, it wasn't unheard of me to call her three nights in a row and talk to her an hour each night.
Somehow the "smart, young poet I bumped into on-line" became the closest thing I've ever had to a soul mate.
Eighteen months didn't seem to cover it at all. It really did still feel like I had met her only yesterday and that I had just been having the mother of all good days with her.
"So you would say you guys are close right about now?"
"I'd say that, Mr. Holins. Your daughter is probably the most amazing person I know right now."
"She is... but don't let her catch you saying that, son. It'll go straight to her head," he said, finally showing a toothy grin.
I took the break in the wall of frigidness he had erected around him to take a bite of my wing finally. Instead of the small bite I had taken earlier, I took a good-sized piece into my mouth that next time. I hadn't quite moved up to sucking them down whole, but I was less afraid to indulge myself in his company.
He offered me one of the bottles by the bench. I took it and was glad to quench the mild burning sensation in my throat with something cold and refreshing. I placed the bottle down by my side of the bench and took a few more bites of my wing. Within seconds I had finished it.
"I must say, Mr. Taroc, that I wasn't a huge fan of the idea of you and her beginning to talk when you did," I listened to him say matter-of-factly. "In fact, Jean and I had a long discussion as to whether we should allow her to continue this relationship with you."
"Breanne never told me that."
"She didn't know. We never told her. We wanted to be sure about our decision before we informed her. She can be a real wildcat when she's disappointed, you know?"
"I've gathered that much. She's kind of evil."
"Evil is a good word for it. Her mother's real fond of wicked."
"That one I've heard."
"At any rate, we thought we'd disapprove of somebody so much older than her paying that much attention to her. We thought you must not have her best interests at heart. We thought your intentions for her had to be less than honorable," he continued. "So are they, son?"
There are times when you're asked a point blank question that you think to yourself that the answer's obvious the question must be rhetorical. What he was suggesting sounded quite ridiculous coming out of his mouth that I almost didn't want to dignify it with an answer. Of course my intentions were honorable for her. I may have liked her as more than a friend, but I wasn't about to try anything underhanded or sketchy around her. I had more respect for her than that. What her father was suggesting was probably what would have leapt to my mind had I been her father too, but knowing me and knowing her that was never something for once I ever considered. Our relationship had always been on the up-and-up. I never once hid how I was feeling from her. I never had to disguise it other intentions' clothes. At that point in time all I was thinking of was ways to get to know her... and her family better.
I took my time before answering him. I wanted to make sure my answer carried with it the full weight of my meaning. I didn't want him to take anything I said incorrectly and jump to the wrong conclusions.
"My intentions for her are pure, I can assure you that. I only want to be her friend. I only want to continue doing for her what I've done for her since day one."
"Listen to her, maybe guide her a little, most of all, just be somebody who's watching out for her when she feels like nobody else is. I know what it's like to feel like you're fending for yourself, that nobody cares what you're going through, and I kind of like the idea of being that type of advocate for her."
"And you? Do you get the same kind of benefits from her, son?"
"I do. Not exactly the same, but, believe me you, she's been there for me more than once since we've met."
A lot of the time when I see how much I talk about Little Miss Chipper and see how often I obsess over her I get embarrassed. I hate the fact that so much of my daily existence revolves around somebody I hardly ever see and always seem to have justify my relationship with to others. It just seems I devote too much of my energy to somebody that from the outside doesn't have all the appeal I attribute to her. Yet when confronted by these aforementioned naysayers all the reasons become opaque. It's only when somebody's attacking her or my being with her that i start to see all the reasons I became enamored of her in the first place. It's almost like seeing what matters to you most inside your house when that house is set on fire. You can claim this knicknack is important to you and that doohickey is valuable to you, but it's only when something or someone threatens to take it away that you can see clearly what's most valuable to you.
Hearing her dad's hesitation with me brought out this aspect of my personality and it was coming through me in spades.
I watched as he took another wing. He offered it to me, but I was still worked up a bit to accept it.
He again ate slowly. Before he spoke again, he took another wing and ate that. The wait was interminable. It was like waiting for the death sentence to be placed upon me.
He subsequently took a drink from his bottle of beer before he finally spoke.
"I like you, Mr. Taroc, Patrick. I wouldn't have agreed to you coming here during the holidays and all if I didn't think I would take a shining to you. After all, you don't light a fire that you don't need, do you?
"I have no problem with you and her being friends. For now she seems to care an awful lot about your friendship and I can tell it means the world to you too. And anything that makes my little 'ole tiger smile I'm all in favor of, you know?
"My only worry now is where the two of you go from here. Let me ask you where you see the two of you a few turns down the road."
That's the question me and her had been discussing the few weeks leading up to my trip. I wouldn't say it was the predominant focus of our conversations, but it was certainly that puppy dog following us around everywhere our conversation went. Before my trip to see her, we had confined our involvement to phone calls and mail. It was easy to say she was my best friend when I didn't have actually spend up-close time with her. It was easy to wile away the hours with her on the phone when I knew she had to conform to my schedule as much as I had to conform to hers. We never had to make concrete plans that involved the both of us. If I had some free time in the evening, I would call her. If she was available we'd talk until one of us became busy. If she had nothing to do, if she was bored, all she had to do was wake me up or find me and I would try to fit her in as best as I could. What we didn't do was schedule anything super-far in the future. What we didn't do was make plans to be involved with one another for the rest of our loves. That was an alien concept to the both of us. It's like she told me in one of our earliest conversations, "nobody sets out to make a best friend. It kind of sneaks up on you like a skunk. But once it's there, sugar, it sure as hell makes its presence known." But once the trip was in the initial stages of being planned, we both knew something substantial was occurring. Once we met in person the rules of the game would change. For one thing, it would be that much easier to see each other in person in the future. For another thing, it became obvious that what we had wasn't a normal run-of-the-mill friendship. She made the request to her folks to fly me over as her Christmas gift. You don't do that for someone you're only mildly on good terms with. Hell, I've never flown anyone out to see me, including her. It's just not done unless you're trying to say something concrete about what's going on between the two of you.
What was to become of us? That was the question of the moment.
"The way I look at it is this. I don't see myself walking away from her voluntarily. I followed her all the way to here and I can honestly see myself following her around for a long time."
"You're not worried all this is for nothing? You're not concerned that you two might fall out of favor with one another next week, next month, next year?"
"Not in the least," I lied.
He took another sip from his beer. I took another sip of mine. I don't know if we reached some type of arrangement or if all the talking had run its natural course. We were both silent for quite some time. I remember that. I'd like to believe we were both thinking about scenarios in our head. We were both considering the two possible outcomes. Either we would stop being friends, at which rate I would have wasted a trip and many hours on the phone, or we would get closer and then I could look forward to even more hours and even more involvement. Both thoughts had their disadvantages for both me and her father. The way her father was looking at it was that she was either going to get hurt if one of us stopped being involved in the other's life or she was going to get hurt if the two of us worked our way closer to one another.
About the only safe course of action was staying exactly where we were--neither one of us close enough to cause any long-lasting damage but not so far as to not be a comforting and calming influence in each other's life.
"She asked me to speak to you, you know?" he suddenly revealed. "I was going to talk to you anyway today, but she specifically wanted me to talk to you about how you felt about her."
"I'd do just about anything for her and she wanted me to see how much you really wanted to be here. I told her I'd try to get a reading on you."
"And what'd you come up with?"
"I came up with that you really shouldn't be wasting any more time out here with me. You're not here that long. You shouldn't be wasting another minute with me, son," he again laughed.
"I passed then?" I asked, getting up slowly from my seat.
"I don't know--I'm not the one who's grading you," he said, turning to face out from his porch.
I thanked him for the talk, picked up my beer bottle, and walked into the front door to meet the one person who was actually grading me. I found her in the kitchen with her mom.
"I like it here with you. Is it okay if I stay forever, Breannie?" I said, walking up behind her and giving her a relatively decent-sized hug.
Labels: Breanne, Camera Obscura, fathers and daughters, Mr.Holins, parenting