Into You (Part 15)
We step to the silver metal grill, and Gerald raises the lid, up and over. Heat and small billows of smoke cascade out around us. The scent of many previous barbecues is intertwined with the heat and char smoke. Now I see why his kitchen is devoid of the other ingredients of the meal: two large potatoes and two ears of corn in their husks are arrayed on the narrower upper rack. He holds the edge of the tray, slides the spatula under both steaks, and deposits them on the large lower grill. They begin to sizzle and Gerald looks pleased as he turns to me.
'I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time preparing this; I wanted to spend more time talking at leisure. So, I took the liberty of starting the process with the bakers and the corn about fifteen, twenty minutes ago. It only takes a few to braise the steaks…' He pauses and gives me a sidelong glance. 'How do you take yours, Lynne?'
'Medium or a bit less. Is that okay? Can you do – '
'Easily.' He swings the lid closed, and smiles at me. 'I like mine between that and nearly rare. I’ve got a little joke I toss at waiters if I dine out. ‘Shave the hooves and the horns, show it a picture of a campfire, then bring it to me.’ Usually gets a…' I’m already laughing and he nods appreciatively. 'Yeah, like that.'
After I rein in my mirth, I ask him, 'So you figured to speed things along?'
'I’d rather be spending the time enjoying the meal with you under the stars.' He glances away for a second, but he’s not blushing. On the contrary, he seems more emboldened than I’ve ever seen him. 'It’s gonna be gorgeous out here tonight, and your presence simply enhances this whole evening.' He reaches under the partially raised lid of the grill and flips the steaks. The aroma washes outward and my mouth waters in anticipation.
'You want to eat outside? Do you have a – ' In mid-turn, as I scan his back porch, I note he has set up a small folding table, draped in a white cloth, with dishes, utensils, and wine glasses arranged neatly to provide an intimate dining experience. 'Oh. You’re really prepared,' I observe. 'Were you a Boy Scout in your youth?'
Gerald chuckles and uses the spatula as a pointer. 'You’re pretty darn keen, Lynne. Not much gets by you, does it?' I shake my head. 'Then I have a feeling we’re gonna have some really good conversations…' He leaves the statement as an open-ended idea between us. The lid comes up again and he flips the steaks again.
'Like what kind of conversations?' I ask him. 'What topics?'
'Okay,' he says, and it sounds like he wants to get a good running start. 'How about… What the heck is a Jack Frost? Other than a wintertime character?' He leans back against one of the side platforms of the barbecue grill, and I notice he’s at ease, not even tapping the spatula.
'It’s taxonomic ‘real’ name is Brunnera macrophylla, a rhizome type of broad-leaf…' Gerald’s eyes haven’t glazed over, but I see he’s not digesting the info. 'It’s great for ground cover or as an accent.' I point over the fence, toward my yard. 'You saw me root them under the willow tree, right?' He nods. 'They’re partial to shade, and they’ll make a wonderful border ring under the shelter of the willow.'
'I was kinda wondering about the location. Shade, huh?' He checks under the lid of the grill, in the shadows beneath, and flops each steak over again, testing their doneness by pressing the edge of the spatula into their centers.
'Did you notice the coloration?'
'Nuh-uh,' he grunts. 'Are they green?'
'Gerald…' I put my hands on my hips and shake my head. 'Good guess, but not quite. The tops are mostly silver white, with veins of green running throughout the heart-shaped leaves. Your guess is correct for the underside. Very green.'
'Score one for me, then.' He smiles and chalks it up in the air with one finger. 'Or do I only get half a point?' He scrunches up his brow and pretends to wipe away the initial tally.
'Consider it a ‘gimme’ point. Most plants are green, so – yay! – you knew that.' I’m enjoying the repartee with Gerald. My face feels good wearing this perpetual smile. 'Okay, on to round two. I assume there’s a round two, because you said conversationzzz… plural.' With my right hand, I beckon the next question, palm up and flicking my fingers inward.
'Yeah, hang on…' As he turns to the grill, opens the lid, and flips the meat over the flames, I realize it’s the first time he’s used the word ‘yeah’ since I arrived. Uncommon. He refocuses his attention after closing the lid, and picks up an errant thread.
'I asked you what genre of reading you like, and you didn’t feel at liberty to say.' He cocks his head to one side and his gaze enchants me. I can’t help but let myself get swallowed up by the feeling of kinship between us, predicated on the common ground of books and stories. He’s working it so much better than he ever has. 'Let me try to guess.' Gerald raises his right arm up to shoulder height and uses the spatula as an epee, pointing straight at my heart. 'I bet you like to read about Romance.'
'I’m a woman. Too easy. Duh…' I whisk that one off to the side.
'Since I consider you more the intellectual type…' I raise my eyebrows at this. '…I bet you also like non-fiction works. Perhaps historical novels?'
'Oh, you’re good. Two for two. Get a third one right and you’re entitled to have a glass of wine.' There’s a tingle building up inside me. I feel the hairs on my arms and the nape of my neck standing up; not in fright, but because I realize he’s given this some thought.