(If you’re looking for links to other parts of the story, scroll to the end of this post.)
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Kristen is one of my closest friends and has been a constant in my life since we were eighteen and nineteen. We’ve texted endlessly and spent hours on the phone and hundreds of dollars flying back and forth between Baltimore, MD and Vancouver, BC—and sometimes, halfway in between, wherever we happened to be. She is the friend who ‘gets me’ the most. As a thinker herself, she understands my brain and works to understand it more each time we were together.
She had been a part of Randy and I’s relationship from a distance since the very first moment I started thinking about Randy. She was in the same room when I first started ‘just talking on the phone’ in April when I was visiting her in Baltimore. She often received weekly text updates after each weekend adventure.
[Time frame: October 2013]
Kristen and I both were excited to see each other again—our single years, free as a bird without boyfriends and children were starting to change—she was married with a baby boy and I was dating Randy. Our seeing-each-other-every-3-months soon turned into over 6 months between visits. We needed some in person time.
Kristen’s husband Caleb is originally from Oklahoma and had purchased a piece of land there before he met Kristen. He moved to Maryland to pursue Kristen (you can read their story here) – and recently, they had decided to return to Oklahoma to build the dream house he had visualized years before!
Kristen and I were humoured by some of the similarities between us – falling for hard-working, traditional-work-ethic men who lived “in the country,” (at least non-suburbanites like us!) and were construction contractors. In addition to a feeler personality (rarer in males) and many similarities in how they pursued both of us at the beginning of our dating relationships.
We made a spontaneous plan one day over text. Randy and I would travel to Oklahoma for a few days and the boys would work together on the house. During the days, Kristen and I would have girl-time and in the evening, we’d all be together. It would be the perfect chance for Randy to meet my closest friend. We booked our tickets and waited for the first week of October to arrive!
I was looking forward to the trip to so many reasons. I have a silly life goal of traveling to every Canadian Province and American State in my lifetime… and I had never been to Oklahoma! Check that one off the list. I would also be the first friend of Kristen’s to visit their new life in Oklahoma and I was excited to share that experience with Randy. And it would be the first time I met her son Rowdy, who was only four months old. And of course, having Randy meet Kristen and Caleb and see if we traveled well together and if he really could be my forever.
When our plane landed in Oklahoma, we gathered our bags and wheeled outside into the surprisingly-still-humid October air to wait for Kristen’s car. A few minutes later, I saw her wave and she bounded out of the car to give me a hug, then Randy. “So! A few things! I’m sorry I’m late. And another thing, I have a flat tire. I don’t know how it happened,” she motioned to the back left tire. “So there’s that. I tried to call Caleb but he didn’t pick up… How are you guys?!”
“Do you have a spare tire?” Randy asked.
He opened up her trunk and found a spare under the cover.
“What about a jack?” he asked.
“See. No. That’s where I’m out of ideas,” she laughed. “Oh wait! Look at that tow truck a few doors down! He may have one! I’ll be right back,” she took off jogging, returning ninety seconds later with a car jack.
“Perfect, I can fix this,” Randy said, putting his laptop bag down on the pavement and squatting near the flat tire.
Kristen and I moved to the side to get out of his way, “Helpful to have handy men around, I guess?” She laughed.
With the spare securely on the vehicle, we drove back roads to Kristen’s in-law’s home just outside of historic Guthrie, which would be our accommodation for the next four nights. A beautiful rancher on a large piece of land, we felt relaxed as soon as we stepped out of the car and into their house. We put our bags away in our separate rooms and changed into fresh clothes before gathering outside with the family for dinner. A few minutes later, Caleb arrived home from working on their house fifteen minutes away and Randy stood up to shake his hand. They made small talk and I smiled while I listened, thinking, This is so weird to be here with a boyfriend. So weird and wonderful.
Randy fit in right away with the group, a willing ear to listen to everyone’s stories while still sharing his own and carrying the conversation confidently. We sat on the back porch after dark, the air still warm despite the Fall season and Kristen and I chatted a few feet behind Randy’s back.
“He’s bigger than I thought he would be!” Kristen whispered.
I laughed, “What do you mean bigger?”
“Like broader! His shoulders! He’s a strong man! I pictured him differently!”
“I guess so.” I looked to my right, watching how Randy’s T-shirt stretched across his strong upper back. “Yeah, you’re right!”
Our routine for the first two days was the same, Randy, Caleb and a few of his brothers would leave for their work day around six thirty in the morning – and Kristen would come pick me up for the day around nine thirty. We’d explore the town of Guthrie together, or travel into another nearby city, Edmonds for coffee. At lunchtime, we drove food out to the boys at their nearby property, staying to watch progress before retreating from the heat in another air conditioned coffee shop. Dinners were at Caleb’s parents altogether and after Kristen and Caleb went home, Randy and I would sit side by side on the leather couch in the corner, just the two of us. We talked about our days, his arm around mine, playing Scrabble on his iPad for hours until our eyes grew heavy.
Being away together was so special. To not have to drive home at the end of the night, to simply walk to our separate rooms down the hall… and to know we could see each other within a minute of waking up. I loved it so much.
The second morning, I woke up to the sunlight coming through the white sheer curtains near my bunk bed. I peeked outside and saw the sunrise coming up over the fields. Noting the time on my iPhone, six o’ clock, I grabbed a big sweatshirt and threw it over my head. I walked out to the kitchen where breakfast prep was in progress for the boys heading to work. I spotted Randy on a chair by himself and came around the corner, sitting beside him. “Hi,” I said softly, rubbing my eyes. “I saw my clock and was hoping you were still here. I wanted to say goodbye and say have a good day.”
“I’m glad you did,” Randy smiled, reaching his arm around me for a hug.
“Okay, I’m going to go back to sleep. It feels like 4am. Bye.”
On the third afternoon, Caleb stayed to work later on their house but paused in the afternoon to drop Randy back at the house. We borrowed one of the vehicles to drive the fifteen minutes into town to pick Kristen up from a friend’s house. As we drove the red dirt roads, I leaned back and snapped a photo of Randy. His construction company t-shirt. His work pants. His one-handed strong grip on the steering wheel. His huge smile. The wide open space outside the car window. His right hand down by his side, waiting for my left hand to return.
I love this man, I thought. I really love this man.
After we picked Kristen and Rowdy up, we walked around the historic streets, wandering in and out of boutique shops, stopping for coffee, enjoying the adorable homes we passed. In the evening, we had potato chips, burgers and pop with the rest of the town, resting on hay bales as we ate outside of the football stadium. It was Friday night and the high school team was playing. We were pretty excited for the “All-American” experience… and in Randy’s words, “The only thing that makes me want to be American is the football.” (Not America-bashing. Just Canadian-proud.)
We had plans to fit as much into our weekend off together as possible! Caleb was taking time away from building the house and we were excited for a weekend-long-double-date. Saturday was spent in Oklahoma City and Kristen and Caleb made a mental map of every hipster spot you could hit. We explored some great neighbourhoods, local art shops, cute home decor stores, the best kind of browsing. And of course, all the best food and coffee spots.
On Sunday, we woke up extra early to drive three hours to Village Church in Dallas, Texas. I’ve been a long time listener of Matt Chandler’s sermons, as had Kristen, and we wanted to take advantage of being so close to Dallas! We attended a church service and in the afternoon, we were searching for kid-friendly places to spend the day and ended up at a fall festival. When we pulled into the parking lot, there were cars and children everywhere. This was the place to be on a Sunday afternoon.
We walked to the edge of the parking lot and came to a wooden fence about four feet tall. The three of them stepped over it and Randy turned around to hold out his arms to me. “Jump!” I laughed as his arms caught me, swinging my feet onto the ground.
As we made our way through the bales of hay and carefully balanced towers of pumpkins around the property, the afternoon sun beat down on our backs. (Texas doesn’t seem to ‘do’ Fall.) We sampled some of the Fall food, helped ourselves to a cold drink and stood in line for a miniature train ride.
Each train car had room for one adult and one child on their lap. The only adults on the ride had children on their lap, except for the excited moms riding in the train car in front of their family snapping pictures along the way. Kristen and Caleb climbed into two separate train cars and I said to Kristen, “Do you think they’ll let Randy and I ride in the same one?”
Randy was stepping into a train car, “Jamie, I don’t think our hips are going to fit.” But he held out his hand to help me in anyway.
I was giggling, “Let’s try it. I’ll sit on your lap. I hope we don’t get kicked off.”
The train started and we were moving around the track, no faster than a toddler’s walking speed. I couldn’t stop laughing as we moved, “Randy, every single person on this ride has a child with them. We are the only adults on this thing.”
Children around us were clapping and screaming with delight as we made our first loop around the track. As we passed the waiting line, I noticed Kristen turned around in her seat in the train car in front of us, taking pictures of us on her phone.
For someone who is usually uncomfortable being the centre of attention in a new setting, and avoided public displays of affection at all costs, suddenly I couldn’t have cared less. When we stepped out of the train, I heard Kristen laughing to one of the staff members.
“Oh my goodness, that whole thing was so funny to me.” I said, holding Randy’s hand as we walked.
Kristen replied, “I got some great pictures.”
“Hey, what was that lady saying to you?”
“Oh, she was laughing at you two on the ride and said to me, ‘Young love!’”
“Yep.” Kristen replied, “I shook my head back at her and said, ‘I know right, especially those two. They just cannoooooot keep their hands off of each other. They are like that all the time.’”
“You didn’t.” I said.
“I did.” She crinkled her nose as she giggled.
I laughed even harder, because nothing could have been further from my personality. And Kristen knew it.
Our four days together in Oklahoma were quickly coming to an end and we wouldn’t be leaving together. Randy would fly to Nashville for three days, and I’d be flying home. Randy was off the last evening we had in Oklahoma.
He wasn’t acting like himself on the drive back to the farm and I was frustrated. I didn’t know what was wrong. When our car pulled into the driveway, Kristen and Caleb went into the house and we stayed outside on the driveway to talk.
“What’s going on with you?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I wish you were coming to Nashville with me.”
“But I can’t. I have to go back to work.”
“I know. I’m just… sad.”
“Okay, but I don’t know what to do. It’ll be three days. It’ll go by fast.” I crossed my arms.
“Yeah, it’s fine. Forget it.”
We stood in the silence, my hip leaned up against the car, his hand in mine.
He spoke again, “I just love you a lot.”
“I love you, too.”
I didn’t understand why Randy was making such a big deal out of our goodbye. And it wasn’t even a goodbye. We still had an hour or so before going to bed, then the morning drive to the airport, hanging out by our gate until my flight, then he’d fly out to Nashville.
Why were we getting so worked up about this right now?
The next morning, we checked in for our separate flights and found a coffee place on the other side of security to play cards and wait an hour.
When it was time to board my flight, Randy gathered up his things and walked me to the end of the hallway. We shared a big hug and a simple kiss before I turned around to walk down the tunnel to my plane.
As soon as his arms left mine, I could feel tears coming.
You know how you feel tears before you see them?
Your eyes sting, tension sneaks into your forehead, watering begins. I found my aisle seat, put my bag beside my feet and focused on my breathing.
Jamie, keep it together. Why are you crying, why are you crying? My brain was so irritated. I was sitting alone, eyes full of watery tears. I was using every ounce of willpower I had, so none of my tears had escaped yet.
Within ten minutes, the plane doors had closed and we were taxiing before take-off. Still, my eyes filled with tears. I tried closing my eyes. Opening them. Looking up. Squeezing them. Thankfully, I wore glasses back then and they shielded part of my eyes from my seat mate’s view, offering me a sense of security. For the next hour, I struggled to keep my emotions in control.
I did not know what was happening to me.
The last time I had felt an emotion so strongly was two months before, when I told Randy I could see myself marrying him someday.
But back then, there was a reason for the tears. An emotional break-through. A verbal commitment. Right now? This was ridiculous.
Just last night, I had been irritated at Randy for being frustrated at the necessity of spending three days apart. It was three days. We’ve spent three days apart before. I didn’t understand what the big deal was.
And now, only a few hours later, I was sitting alone on an airplane, calming breathing through my mouth in a desperate attempt to slow the tears. For the first hour of my flight, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t read, I didn’t use my phone, I didn’t look at anything. I stared ahead, or closed my eyes. I couldn’t even form a proper thought.
The only thing I knew was that one hour ago, Randy was standing me and now he was not.
I was alone.
When the plane landed in Minneapolis for my layover, I was feeling a bit more normal. It was just three days. I’d get off the plane, find some dinner, a place to eat and get on the next flight home.
I found a spot on the carpet floor in a wide hallway and put my bags down beside me. I unwrapped my burrito bowl from the plastic bag and started to eat. I picked up my phone to check the time, calculating when Randy would be landing after his flight.
I sent Kristen a text, “I don’t know what’s going on with me, but I’m not joking. I cried silently for the first hour of that flight. It hit me how sad I was to leave Randy. Safe to say, I was not expecting that.”
Her response came through after a few bites of my bowl. (And although, of course, I no longer have these text messages, here is my best paraphrase.)
“Aw, Jamie. It was so good to have you guys here. It was so good to meet Randy.”
I read her text and smiled, feeling tears start again. (What was going on with me?!)
She continued texting, “I was just saying to Caleb, honestly, I was very prepared to not like Randy. I knew you thought you loved him. I didn’t doubt he was a nice guy. But I have high standards for you. And I told Caleb, if I don’t like this guy, I don’t care, I’m going to tell her. I’m prepared to tell her the truth. I am very prepared. But wow… Jamie… what you two have? I can’t explain how rare and good it is.”
Okay, now I was crying, alone over my burrito bowl sitting on dirty airport carpet. I texted back quickly, “Really? This is so weird and crazy. This is so weird. I can’t believe I cried that whole flight. I really love him.”
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The introduction of Forge can be found here and Part One can be found here. Part Two can be found here. Part Three can be found here. Part Four can be found here. Part Five can be found here. Part Six can be found here. Part Seven can be found here. Part Eight can be found here. Part Nine can be found here. Part Ten can be found here. Part Eleven can be found here. Part Twelve can be found here. Part Thirteen can be found here. Part Fourteen can be found here. Part Fifteen can be found here. Part Sixteen can be found here. Part Seventeen can be found here. Part Eighteen can be found here. Part Nineteen can be found here. Part Twenty can be found here. This is Part 21.