One of our dream dates huh “Ben”… a picnic in the park with delicious food, sunshine and my barefeet in the grass…
She sees him already waiting for her at the corner. He looks good. He’s smiling, even before he sees her. He looks relaxed and calm, in blue jeans and a plum colored polo shirt. She parallel parks on Ivy Street. She’s tickled with excitement as she turns off the car and gets out. She waves him down to where she’s parked. He speeds in her direction smiling with glee. His eyes sparkle with delight as he coasts to a stop just in front of her.
“My Strawberry Tart Goddess has arrived,” he says, his face betraying his excitement.
“Nice to see you too, Ben. Are you happy to see me or eat tarts?” Sherry says, laughing and leaning down to hug him. “Can you help me carry some stuff?” she asks uncertain.
“Eat tarts, of course!” he says with a playful eye roll and wink. “I’d be happy to help, pile me up,” he says, dragging his knuckles over his lap.
Sherry opens the backdoor of her burnt orange SUV. She starts moving stuff around and pulling bags out. She puts a picnic basket on Ben’s lap. “Is that too heavy?” she asks.
“I wouldn’t know…” Ben says, passing it off.
“Oh, ok…” Sherry lets it go. So he can’t feel his legs maybe… She has 2 giant tote bags slung over each shoulder.
“You ARE like Mary Poppins! What do you have?” Ben asks laughing.
“Sorry, I’m a planner. I brought the promised picnic basket,” she says motioning to his lap. “I also brought some outdoor pillows and a blanket to sit on,” she explains.
“Wow, Sherry, this date was my idea and you’re making me look bad.” Ben laughs.
“Sorry, I love being outside and picnics. I’m a girl… I think about these things is all. I figured if we are going to sit in the grass we should at least be comfortable.” I hope I didn’t make him feel bad… like I didn’t trust him to plan a decent date?
“Sherry, it’s fantastic! I am amazed you put so much thought into it!” Ben says, dragging his fingers down Sherry’s forearm affectionately. His touch is so soft and tender… it sends shivers through her.
They start walking into the park. Ben’s pace a little slower than yesterday due to the picnic basket balanced in his lap. They follow the path toward the sound of the band warming up. Sherry looks around for a good place to sit. “Let me know if you see a good spot Ben. I’m assuming you don’t want to venture too far off the path.” She eyes him quizzically.
“That would be best, I left my all-terrain tires at home today,” Ben says with a cocky smile.
How did I forget that smile in less than 24 hours? I forgot how perfect it is. “Do you really have those?” Sherry inquires curiously.
“No…” Ben explains with a chuckle. “I have different ones of course, like a spare but nothing as fancy as all-terrain. That being said, grass is a bitch to get over, so close to the path is fantastic,” Ben explains looking around. “How about just ahead there?” Ben gestures with his hand. “Do you see the raised planter box with the concrete ledge border?”
“That looks great!” Sherry observes, taking it in. It’s close enough to the musicians, with a great view but far enough away we won’t interrupt people by talking. Sherry takes the bags off her shoulders and sets them on the concrete ledge. Ben turns his chair onto the grass. Sherry can see it takes a lot more effort for him to move here. She’s grateful he only has to move about four feet. Ben parks his chair beside the planter box and Sherry grabs the picnic basket off his lap. She eyes his legs curiously when they start trembling, the shock apparent on her face. Ben notices.
“Oh, that’s nothing, Sherry. Just spasms,” Ben explains.
Sherry slides out of her shoes and wiggles her toes in the grass. She looks up at the sky and stretches her arms out, taking it all in.
“Thankfully, the weather is nicer today than yesterday. It’s not as hot, and we’re in the shade.” Sherry comments.
She looks right in her element, outside with the gentle breeze catching her hair. She’s every bit the bohemian goddess that caught his eye at the market.
“Does the grass feel good?” Ben asks.
“Yes, I love getting my toes in grass every chance I can. Its grounding, like I’m connecting with the earth. Sorry, that probably sounds like hippie bullshit, huh?” Sherry laughs at herself.
“No, I love being outside enjoying the sun and air. It’s why I garden.”
“As much as I love shoes, I hate them too and take them off at the first reasonable opportunity. Luscious, soft green lawns like this, it’s hard to resist!” Sherry explains.
Could she have more perfect toes? Everything about them so exquisitely shaped, and they’re painted the color of tropical flowers. Are those… toe rings? He chuckles to himself as he sees the sunlight catch the shiny silver bands. He’d always thought women’s feet were one of their most overlooked features. Ok Ben, pull back those horses again, buddy.
Sherry busies herself spreading the blanket out on the grass and setting up a comfy little oasis in the park. Ben marvels again at this woman, feeling more and more taken with her by the minute. Ben begins to contemplate his next move.
Ok buddy, this was your idea… you said picnic in the park, she’s done her part. She’s more than done her part! I can’t believe she was so thoughtful! It’s a helluva lot better than the tattered sheet Tom made you stuff in your backpack. Now you have to get your gimpy ass on the grass pal. Ben thinks, trying to psyche himself up for the hard transfer ahead. I had to tell her we’d sit on the grass… Cocky and confident even when you’re not huh dude… Guess you still have that part of the game figured out… until you fall on your ass and end up looking like one… Chances are, if I do bite it Sherry will at least be kind, even if it blows my chances with her. Ben mentally cusses himself out. He knew he could do it, he’d done it many times at home and in outpatient rehab. But, there’s a difference between doing it in a gym surrounded by soft safety mats and physical therapists, and doing it in public with hard ground and a pretty girl looking on. At least we found a good place to sit. He observes, contemplating his transfer. Sherry is still busy unpacking her treasure trove of amazing surprises! I think the concrete ledge will be our first stop… Ben takes a deep breath. Here goes nothing…
Sherry watches from the corner of her eye as Ben starts moving out of his wheelchair. She wasn’t watching to make sure he was ok. She wasn’t watching to save him, or even help him. She trusted he wouldn’t have said sit on the grass if he didn’t mean they could actually sit in the grass. It’s why she prepared like she did, so they’d at least be comfortable and could enjoy their time together. She watches just to observe this man, this confident man who made no mistaking he was into her. He teases her and shows he likes her with such ease. She watches because she wants to know him too, and she hopes to be worthy of such a man. He pushes his leg behind his knee until his foot falls on the ground. He scoots and adjusts his body so he’s at the edge of his seat before leaning over and bracing his hand on the concrete ledge.
He was focusing hard, you could see it in his face. Still, it didn’t occur to Sherry to offer help. She trusted if he ever needed help, he’d ask. She bites her bottom lip, secretly hoping he doesn’t notice her watching. She’d hate to make him nervous, or make him feel like a spectacle.
She tries to take it in stride, this is his normal. He’s used to moving his body around and into and out of his chair the same way I sit down, stand up and move around my life. It’s like a unique dance she’s never witnessed before, but it’s his.
She watches the way he drags his butt off the seat of his chair and onto the concrete ledge of the raised planter bed. His body seems so heavy and weighed down, like nothing below his armpits works quite the way it should. The weight of his body is held up by his arms, not effortlessly but still with confidence. She wasn’t watching to stare, she wanted to learn. Learning meant anticipation; it meant she could understand his life and maybe in some way support him in it. Maybe, he would even let her in and she could share it with him.
She observes him grabbing, was it a seat cushion… off his wheelchair and how he seems to struggle a little with his balance. She hears the rip of velcro and the cushion comes out of the seat.. He pushes his knees to one side and puts the cushion on the blanket right below him. Before bracing both his hands on either side of his body and lowering his butt down on the cushion. His legs folding right up on the blanket beside him. She hears his triumphant exhale. She can’t tear her eyes away at this point, thankful for the fringe of her hair that shields her eager eyes from his notice. It is fascinating, the way he moves and manipulates his body, compensating for its lack of normalcy. He leans back against the concrete planter, pushing and nudging at his legs until they’re stretched out in front of him. They spasm and tremble again briefly, before resting perfectly still.
Sherry takes a deep breath to steady herself and tucks her hair behind her ear. “Do you want a drink, Ben? I brought iced water and tea,” she asks, smiling at him.
Whew, I made it and I don’t think she was really watching me. Good thing, I almost bit it coming down off the ledge.
“Did you bring your whole kitchen? What do you have in there?” Ben asks excitedly. This girl continues to amaze…
“You’re going to laugh… I always go overboard! I just see certain things in my head and imagine them so I try to make them happen. Sometimes it blows up in my face, like my nephew’s first birthday party but that’s another story. Anyways, yesterday you seemed so eager to know what I would make with my farmers’ market finds but we never got to talk about it. Sooo… our picnic is a sampling of yesterday farmer’s market trip.”
Ben feels his jaw hit the floor. She cooks, she’s considerate… don’t forget beautiful… She brought pillows to a picnic…. She’s got to be too good to be true or something. She hasn’t flinched or batted an eye at anything about me… yet.
“I made a couple different things all light, perfect picnic food… “ she sets the basket down on the blanket beside him, and opens it up.
She pulls out a bunch of mason jars all full of different things, one full of a brilliant green liquid, another with brown liquid and lemon slices, the last one full of ice and presumably water with… Are those cucumber slices? She’s soon stacking up several plastic sealed containers, that no doubt all contain some culinary delight. She piles them up on the blanket beside his legs. She pulls out one last container with a huge smile on her face.
“I think, this is what you’re most interested in…” She opens the container to reveal 2 perfect strawberry tarts. The strawberries glitter like jewels faintly dusted with a light snowfall of powdered sugar. He can see the custard underneath and smell sugar, butter and strawberries. He moans out loud.
“Oh my gosh, Sherry! It looks like you bought them, they’re beautiful.” Ben exclaims, in shock.
“Oh, they’re nothing just tasty treats, I told you I love to bake. I love to cook and play with food, it relaxes me. It’s my favorite way to be creative,” she explains.
“They’re incredible, don’t pass that off. I can’t believe you did all this. What’s in here?” he asks leaning forward, bracing his body on one hand to gesture to the stack of containers by his knee.
“Oh, well let’s see… There’s a few things.” She picks up and opens the biggest container. “This is a salad, with fresh arugula and mesclun greens, peaches, grilled chicken, pecans, onions, with honey mustard vinaigrette.“
“Yum, you know I like peaches. I don’t think I’ve ever had them in a salad before,” Ben remarks.
“Let’s see, salad, tarts…“ she opens another container, and shows it to him. It’s full of a deep, dark purple colored paste. She sees his nose crinkle and laughs, “It’s hummus Ben, roasted beet hummus, to be exact,” she closes it up and opens another container full of cut up vegetables for dipping. “I have pita chips here too,” she says, crawling half across his lap to reach into one of her bags. She’s so at ease with me and around me… he thinks, while appreciating the way her flowing skirt outlines the shape of her hips.
“What’s in the mason jars?” Ben inquires. “Water, tea and poison?” he raises a skeptical eyebrow. “You don’t have plans to poison a poor guy in a wheelchair and have your way with him, do you?”
Sherry is not fazed. She glances up at him with a serious, yet seductive look in her eyes. “I dunno Ben, would I really have to poison you to have my way?” She leans into him intimately, resting her hand on his chest and dragging it down below his awareness. Then, she blushes slightly, betraying her modesty.
Ben shivers slightly at her touch. Making her blush is fun… and that was a little surprising and bold I think. Teasing her is just as fun but she keeps giving it back. This game of mine is gonna get me in trouble if the time comes for me to put up or shut up though…
“The mason jars are full of iced tea with lemon, Water with cucumber and the poison….” She pauses dramatically for effect, “is cold minted pea soup.”
Ben raises an eyebrow suspiciously… “Well, I’m not sure how I feel about pea soup. I’m also unsure about cold soup if I’m being honest but…. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and try it. I’ll try anything. Where I come from the only thing you drink out of mason jars is moonshine.”
Sherry laughs. “They’re good for so much more than that! I appreciate your sense of adventure Ben,” she says, leaning in and nudging her shoulder into his affectionately. “I hope you’ll be surprised. It’s sweet, but still savory and refreshing. Are you hungry?”
“I am, I came for strawberry tarts, didn’t I…” Ben says flashing that grin again.
She notices he looks kind of slouchy, as if he’s having a hard time sitting up… The pillows, you moron! “Let me get us some silverware here,” She leans across towards her bag again. “Oh hang on, I’ll get the pillows too. We can lean back against the planter box, they’ll be more comfortable than concrete.” She gets up and tosses them onto the blanket near Ben. “Lean forward I’ll put one behind you.” Ben braces his hands on either side of his knees to lean forward. Sherry tucks the pillow securely behind him.
Sherry sits down again and slides a pillow behind herself too. “What should we taste first Ben?”
“Strawberry tarts?” He brightens and sits up straighter pushing into the blanket with his hands.
He seems to be more comfortable with the pillow behind him that’s good… “Now Ben, shouldn’t you eat your vegetables first?” Sherry scolds with a mock look of disapproval.
“Life’s short, eat dessert first…” Ben offers with the biggest grin ever. He looks like a kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Hell, yes, we can eat dessert first… I haven’t tried a tart yet myself and they smell insanely good,” Sherry responds, laughing. She reaches for the container and opens it up. “Fork?” She holds one up for Ben to grab.
“Actually, I think it might be easier if I pick it up?” Ben suggests.
“Ahh, a man after my own heart,” She proclaims and easily lifts a tart to her mouth and takes a dainty, girly bite.
“They look so perfect and delicate, it’s not gonna fall apart in my lap is it?” Ben asks, raising his eyebrow.
“They’re pretty sturdy, you might get crumbs on you but I have wet wipes and napkins, I always keep a package in my purse.” Sherry assures him.
“You really are Mary Poppins, How did you get to be so thoughtful?” Ben smiles at her again.
“Am I thoughtful? I’m just prepared, I think about things and plan appropriately that’s all,” Sherry explains.
“Sherry, believe me when I tell you you’re incredibly thoughtful. You brought pillows to a picnic. A picnic that was my idea, and the only thing I did to prepare was put an old sheet in my backpack. I only did that because my best friend made me. You’re incredibly considerate about things, it’s so awesome. I really appreciate that in a person,” Ben says, with honesty and sincerity in his eyes.
He thinks really highly of me, He sees value in my silly quirks… Sherry sits silently feeling the blush creep into her cheeks.
“Now you’re blushing again, you’re so adorable.“ Ben says, raising his hand gently, caressing her face.
Sherry feels her cheek softening into Ben’s touch. Tenderness and affection were things she deeply craved from a man, and here he was, naturally offering them. She rubs her cheek against the back of his knuckles and breathes it in.
Their eyes meet for a minute… she stares into the cool blue of them and feels herself melting even more. It was one of those awkward moments that sometimes pass between two people, where there could be a kiss but everything is still so new and exhilarating you hesitate to take that leap… Could he be… Don’t be silly, Sherry, don’t get carried away, you hardly know him… I do hardly know him… but looking in his eyes like this, I can’t wait to know every part…