Sparks to Embers

The day we met, my best friend had just broken up with her boyfriend. She joked that you shared your blanket with her, so clearly it was meant to be.

I had a boyfriend, but secretly, I was jealous.

From that day on, I always thought you were really cute.

We didn’t talk for months after that introduction. I broke up with my boyfriend. My best friend made up with her boyfriend, and moved to Peru for four months. I told her that I had four months to woo you.

I was kidding, though.

I was hurt from my last relationship. I swore off boys, or at least relationships, until graduation.

I had a plan: graduate, move to New York City, go to law school. In that order.

Instead, I accidentally fell in love with you. 

You added me on Snapchat, and we started talking the night of the Super Bowl. The Patriots won.

For a while, it was just Snapchat. You lived with my friend, so I was in your living room a lot.

We only talked occasionally. You were always out late, but I was in your apartment late. We were never alone.

Until one day, we found ourselves in the same campus courtyard. You sauntered over to me, smiling, backpack slung over your shoulder. I was supposed to be reading for my next class, but instead, I found myself talking to you, leaning in to your questions.

I was immediately comfortable with you.

You must have been comfortable with me too. You invited me to go skiing on Friday after fifteen minutes of small talk.

Of course, I agreed.

Two days later, Wednesday, I was doing homework in your living room while my friend watched TV. When you walked in, you gave us your trademark bright smile, shrugging off your tan Carhartt, setting your Nalgene–the clear one with the green top–on the counter. “Hi, guys,” you drawled, still beaming.

Not to be dramatic, but even now, that smile makes me swoon.

You sat down beside my friend. I was reading–something I was always doing as an English major. When the episode ended, my friend went to bed.

“Goodnight, Rach. Let yourself out,” he said, yawning and waving.

I read another few pages before you started a conversation. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I know I stayed until 1 a.m. I know we made plans to go to the ski resort on Friday (two days away) and you braided my hair and hugged me goodbye. You were taller than you looked.

I got back to my room and sent my best friend an SOS text. Falling in love with you was not part of the plan.

You met me outside your apartment at 7 a.m. on Friday morning. It was 21 degrees outside, and I could see my breath in the air. You had a steaming cup of black coffee in the camouflage mug that’s still sitting in my kitchen right now. You were wearing camo overalls, too.

At first, we didn’t talk, but you turned on the radio, and we sang along. You listened exclusively to country music. I was surprised at how many of the songs I knew.

You would be a good kidnapper. I followed you across state lines, knowing virtually nothing about you. Or maybe I’m an easy target.

Either way, we drove to Pennsylvania, an hour and a half away. I hadn’t skied in over a year, but it came back naturally and quickly. It felt good.

And I was almost as fast as you.

Truthfully, I liked racing you down the mountain. I had never dated anyone who enjoyed the outdoors. You challenged me–and I loved it. 

We drank beer on the ski lift, even though it was ten in the morning.

That was the day I learned that one beer could get me drunk. You were drunk, too. Or, I thought you were. Later, you told me you were just pretending, because you felt bad for getting me drunk.

“Babe, it was like three beers,” you said, chuckling, the night after you drank fifteen. “I was sober as fuck.”

Oddly romantic, if you ask me.

You kissed me on the ski lift, somewhere between beers. “Thank you for coming with me, Rachel,” you said, and my name had never sounded better than it did on your lips. It was the kind of kiss that made me never want to stop kissing you.

I tried to talk myself out of it. I wanted law school and New York City, not a country boy, a lifted pickup truck, and a new group of redneck friends.

It’s just a crush. He probably doesn’t like me like that. I’m not looking for anything serious.

 My friend told me you weren’t looking for anything, either. I tried to believe him.

I fell asleep in your twin bed every night after that ski trip. We never fought over the blankets, and there was always just enough space for the two of us.

For the second time in a month, I followed you across state lines. This time, Virginia, to a rodeo. 

A rodeo.

Never thought I’d be a girl going to rodeos, but I had never had so much fun. I sat beside you, gripping your hand, counting down the seconds, and screaming at the outcome, quieting down only to hear the score. 

To be completely honest, it was exhilarating.

That was the night you leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Are you my girl?”

I rolled my eyes, feigning annoyance. “You asked me that this morning,” I said, but I was glad you asked, because it felt surreal. I couldn’t believe I was your girl. I couldn’t believe I got to call you my boyfriend.

“I was just checking,” you said, fake-defensively.

“You’re drunk.”

“Yeah, and still, I have the prettiest girl here.”

Year One
The first few months were intense. It only took a month for me to fall in love with you, and you loved me right back, fiercely.

We traveled a lot. Despite being broke college students, in the first six months, we went backpacking in North Carolina and West Virginia, vacationed in Massachusetts and New Jersey, laid on South Carolina’s beaches, and splashed in Delaware’s oceans.

Traveling became a hallmark of our relationship. Every weekend, we were backpacking, hiking, or snowboarding. In November, all of our friendsyes, they were my friends now, toowent to Vermont for five days. We spent days on the slopes and nights in the hot tub. We ate wellhomecooked meals, local diners, and once, we snuck away for a wonderful, memorable date at the mountaintop lodgeand drank heavily.

I loved the people you brought into my life just as much as I loved you. I loved how much they adored good food and cheap booze. I love the way they thirsted for adventure. They may have been your hometown honeys, but they had a desire to see the rest of the world that matched even my restless wanderlust.

We went to New York City for one night around Christmastime. We were on our way to visit my parents in Boston. We took pictures by the Rockefeller tree and ate expensive cheeseburgers in a local bar. We went to four museums, and met Toby Flenderson from The Office. (Or, rather, the actor who plays him, along with his wife and kids.)

We celebrated our first anniversary at the same rodeo where you first leaned over and drunkenly whispered in my ear: Are you my girl? 

Yes. I’ll always be your girl.

Year Two
We kind of lived together. You slept in my bed every night, showered in my bathroom every morning, and ate dinner at my dining room table every evening. I grocery shopped and cooked for two. I packed your lunches and washed your dirty socks. In return, you made me coffee every morning, rinsed my hair in the shower, and did the dishes after dinner. You brought me candy bars and seltzer and ice cream.

Not a single day went by without an I love you.

You moved away after college. Not far, only half an hour by car, but it was enough to cause problems. We fought the most in the months following. I clung to you like a vise and you pushed me away. The harder I clung on, the more you pushed back.

I was lonely without you. You were miserable in a suit and tie.

Slowly, we began to figure it out. I found things to do to keep me busy. I read more, did yoga, went back to the gym.

You started stepping up when I needed you. You stopped at the store for fancy seltzer and Reese's. You paid for my Chipotle. You touched me more–holding my hand when leaving a restaurant, rubbing my back while we watched TV, playing with my hair while we laid in bed.

We were not as passionate as we once were, but we were still deeply in love. It’s like building a fire. You need it to burn strong and bright at first, to get the center hot. Once there are embers, you just need to poke it once in a while, add another log, and it will burn by itself, as long as you maintain it.

In the beginning, it was extravagant trips, frequent date nights, and constant Snapchats. Now, things are slower. We go to happy hour on Mondays after work. Sometimes, we will see each other during the weekdays following. We still travel on the weekend, but not as far, or for as long. We barely text throughout the day, but a call on the drive home is just enough for us to feel that same connectedness that once required constant attention.

There are fights, too. It’s not good all the time. In one handwritten letter, you said, If we’re going to spend forever together, there are going to be bad days. Things can’t be good all the time.

Of course you were right. 

There are days where I go to bed crying and days when you can’t stand to listen to my voice for one more minute. There are days where we need space. Spaceand sleepis the best remedy for us. It’s the reset button.

And then, we come back to the table, ready to sit and talk. Sometimes, it is a long talk. Sometimes, a tight hug works wonders.

I have learned to be humble. I have learned to voice my feelings and back down when the matter is unimportant. You have learned to be patient and understandingand to go to yoga classes, even though you hate them.

Thick and Thin 
In a lifetime, one will encounter bumps and bruises, rough patches and rocky roads. A person shouldn’t seek a partner in someone willing to endure; rather, they should find someone willing to extend a hand, kiss the scrapes, and give you a boost when you need it. 

And that is what I have found in you. Yes, there are rough patches. We have gone through them before, and come out, heads high, hands intertwined.

There are intimacies you only get in a relationship. It’s the morning snuggles and afternoon naps. There is midnight pasta-making, hot towels from the dryer when you get out of the shower, and family dinners for a family you are not part of. There is praying together, in bed, in church, over a meal. There are adventures to Target, where we don’t buy anything, just run around and put wet floor signs in the freezers. 

There is always adventure. We’ve been to 31 states. We’ve slept in forests, deserts, fancy hotel rooms, and Walmart parking lots. We have driven hours for concerts or a half-day of snowboarding. We have hiked eight miles, barefoot, with thousand-foot-drops on either side of us. We have trekked into canyons. We have stood beside each other, smiling, with degrees and high honors.

There is an overwhelming amount of support. I was there through every head cold, armed with orange juice, vitamin C tablets, and hot soup. You carried me to my psych class when I broke my hip the same day as an exam. We watched one another graduate, days apart. I sat in your lap and promised that things would be okay when you stressed over family drama. You hugged me and wiped my tears when I cried overwell, everything.

And there is a lot of beer. Cold beer, couch beer, surprise beer, congratulations beer, fancy beer, funky beer, craft beer, cheap beer, road beer, woods beer, backpacking beer, parking lot beer, slopes beer, tequila beer, seawater beer, red beer, local beer from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Nevada, Rhode Island.

There’s a lot of coffee, too.

But mostly, there is love, the kind of love that makes you drive half an hour to pick up your boyfriend on the side of the road when his truck breaks down (again) or half an hour to your girlfriend’s work because she locked her keys in her car (again.) It is the kind of love that sits with you in the doctor's office and rubs your back after a long week at the office. It’s the kind of love you want to come home to every nightcomforting, relaxing, snuggly love that greets you at the door with a kiss and a hot meal. It is the kind of love that you can build a home in. I’m glad it’s our love.

By Rachel Pfeffer

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