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A Learning Experience Part 8


Renee leaned back against her seat and watched the scenery whizz past outside the Forrester’s passenger side window. David had picked her up from her house again. He was so chivalrous. He always insisted on doing most of the driving. David’s thumb smoothed over the back of her left hand.

“What are you thinking about?” He queried.

“You.” She smiled. David smiled back.

“I’m glad you agreed to come.” His happy tone warmed her middle. “I think it’s very important that you meet my parents now that we’re dating officially.”

“I’m very happy to meet your parents.” She grinned back at him. “I think it’s important too.”

David pulled off the highway and started down a remarkably busy street called Plainfield Avenue. Four lanes wide, the road was crammed with hundreds of vehicles. David deftly maneuvered the Forrester down the far-right lane and soon turned right onto a less crowded street.

“My house is not too far from here.” He glanced at her quickly. He passed two streets and then turned right again into a quiet neighborhood. They soon arrived at a large white house studded with stained wooden beams, the front door set back from the garage at the top of the paved drive. David did something with the gear shifter and then pulled up the parking brake.

“I’ve never driven a stick-shift before.” Renee commented as they opened their doors.

“Oh! It’s not that difficult.” David smiled at her and they headed up the path to the door. “I can teach you.”

As David pushed open the door, a German Shepherd, a Golden Doodle, and an English Springer Spaniel greeted them enthusiastically at the end of their leashes from the half-stairwell to the right of the entry. A slender, almost anorexic-looking, woman with short, graying dark hair barely held onto the handles of the three slip leads.

“You can let them go, mom.” David took Renee’s coat and hung it on the hook behind the door as the dogs surrounded her sniffing vigorously. He turned to her. “You can hang your coat here whenever you come. There’s an extra hook on the wall.”

“I didn’t hear you come in!” A short, balding man ascended the half stair from the lower level of the house.

“Hey, dad.” David turned to his father.

“You must be Renee.” The thin man held out his hand and Renee took it gently.

“Yes, Mr...” She replied simply.

“Oh, no!” He interrupted. “Just call us Sherri and Ben. No need for formality.” He smiled at her. She felt it a little impertinent calling David’s parents by their first names. I guess I’ll just have to get used to it.

“I trust you’ve had a good week so far?” David’s mom led the way into the narrow living room and perched in the middle of the suede couch; one tiny leg crossed over the other. His dad sank into the easy chair and put the leg rest up.

“Yes, I have.” Renee followed David’s lead and tentatively lowered herself next to him onto the suede couch opposite from his mother. She felt slightly uncomfortable, almost like as if his mom were judging her. But perhaps she had an overactive imagination. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and allowed David and his mom to carry most of the conversation. The conversation revolved around her mostly, but she said little. She felt a little awkward but did not know what to say.

“So, I suppose you must love horses as much as David does.” Sherri pointedly looked at Renee. She was jerked from her thoughts and scrambled to gather an answer.

“Yes, I absolutely adore horses.” She smiled at the woman but felt like it was just a formality. She didn’t really feel like smiling. Swirling feelings in her stomach were telling her that the woman was sizing her up. Why do I feel like this? She tried to push the feelings away and refocused on the conversation.

“Do you like tennis?” David’s mom was addressing her again.

“I suppose so.” Renee replied noncommittally. “I mean, I haven’t really watched it much, but I would probably like it.” She tried to smile reassuringly.

“There is a match tonight.” Sherri had a look on her face that seemed to say that it would be best if Renee should not disagree with her. “We could turn it on, if you like.” She then looked at her son.

“Definitely turn it on.” David turned to Renee. “That is if you would like to.”

“Sure.” She gave a gentle smile. “I would like to see if I like it.”

Two hours later, Sherri turned off the flat-screen television and announced that she needed to go to bed soon. Renee thought that was a little bit rude as she was sitting right there as a guest. Who really does that? A featherlight touch brushed the back of her left arm and she turned to meet David’s gentle blue eyes.

“We should leave soon. It’s a long drive.” He almost whispered. Renee glanced at her watch. It was almost 9:30pm.

“Let me help clean up first.” She insisted and then looked to Sherri to see if she approved of this. Yet, she was curious why she even was looking for approval. Perhaps because she wanted to impress her boyfriend’s parents.

“Sure.” Sherri gave a small smile and then turned to head up the short stairs.

A small tap on the arm brought Renee back to wakefulness. She looked around before she realized where she was.

“Thanks, David.” She gave him a tired smile. “How long was I asleep?”

“About half the ride.” He smiled back at her, looking almost as tired as she was.

“I enjoyed spending time with you…” She trailed off for a moment, and then kept going at David’s quizzical look. “Your mom seemed to be judging me, though I guess it could have just been my wild imagination.” She gave a half laugh at the end of her statement.

“No, she wasn’t.” David reassured her. “She was just a little uncomfortable because you didn’t talk very much.”

“Oh…” Renee felt a little crestfallen. “I don’t tend to talk much when I’m with someone new.”

“That’s okay.” David patted her arm. “Do you think, if you do it for me, that you could try a little harder to talk when you’re at the house?”

“Yeah, I can certainly try.” Renee smiled again. She felt an irresistible urge to please her new boyfriend.

As she slid under her covers, though, she was not sure she could talk much now that she had been asked to. Why does it turn off the desire after being asked to? The thought lingered, but the urge to please was still strong. She would try for the man she had grown to like very much.

Renee thumbed her touchscreen keyboard and hit send. She hoped he would say yes, though, he might be busy again. Her church’s New Year’s games and snacks party was in three days. It was rather short notice, but maybe he could come. She set her phone down on the nightstand and straightened her sheets on the bed. She and her mom had made up a list to go shopping today. I wonder if she’s ready yet. She wondered as she smoothed out the bedspread. Grabbing her phone, she threw a décor pillow onto the bed and trotted out of her room.

“Do you think we got enough stuff?” Mama turned her head and looked questioningly at the backseat. Renee laughed.

“Yeah, I believe so.” She turned the wheel of her Equinox and pulled into the driveway. After parking in the garage, she pressed the unlock on her seatbelt and slid out of the vehicle. Mama most of the time got more than was needed. Chuckling to herself, she called through the garage door for her youngest brother.

“These bags are really heavy! And they’re tickling me!” Bobby wrapped his arms tightly around the bottom of the bag, the top of the brown paper poking him in the nose.

“Quit your whining.” Mama teased. “These are way better than plastic bags. At least paper bags are compostable.”

“Oh, yeah, and you’ve got good strong arms for carrying them too.” Renee grinned over her paper bag at her brother. He rolled his eyes and set the bag down on the kitchen island. He took off for the stairs as soon as the last bag in the kitchen.

“That boy loves playing his new computer game.” Mama shook her head. “I’m going to make him go play outside after forty-five minutes.”

“I’ll set a timer.” Renee offered helpfully.

“Thanks.” Mama grinned gratefully and then began emptying the bags.

Gold balloons graced the corners of the gymnasium, four each. A large, black number was on each balloon, forming 2019 in every corner. Renee strode into the room and placed the platter of gluten-free pigs in a blanket on the long, white paper covered table against the wall. Mama hurried in behind her and set down a large bowl of fruit salad.

“I wonder when David will get here?” Renee shed her coat and took Mama’s coat as well.

“I don’t know.” Her mother dusted the melting snow off the top of her head. “Does my hair look flat now?”

Renee looked down at the top of her mom’s head. “No, just a little wet from the snow melting into your hair.”

“You’re just saying that to be nice.” Mama teased. Renee grinned.

“Nope, just the truth.” Dad bustled into the room; folding chairs easily gripped in his hands. He whispered a quick kiss on Mama’s cheek and then began placing chairs around the gymnasium.

More people were starting to arrive, so Renee hurried off to help finish setting up. As she rounded the corner to the kitchen, she collided with her cousin’s wife.

“Aah!” Rebecca and Renee both jumped in surprise as paper plates, napkins, and plastic dinnerware scattered themselves across the entire end of the hallway!

“Sorry about that.” Renee apologized and immediately began gathering up the fallen items. The plump, auburn-haired woman loaded everything back onto the tray and stood.

“Good thing they were all still in their plastic wrapping!” She chuckled as she hurried off into the gymnasium. Just at that moment, the door at the end of the hall opened. A tall, young man strode through the door towards Renee.

“Hey!” Renee felt a grin burst across her face. David ran a hand through the silky strands of his newly trimmed hair.

“What do you think?” He grinned down at her.

“I love it!” She grabbed his hand. “C’mon! I think everyone is here now! Help me get out the games!”

“O-okay!” David laughed as she tugged him towards the gymnasium.

Laughter rang across the room, music playing from the speakers, while people crowded around tables playing various games. Chess was set up on a square table somewhat near the corner, while non-gambling card games were spread out across three different rectangular party tables. A large round table near the door held several puzzles. A half-wall separated the tables from the basketball court, where a group of young men, including David, were shooting hoops. Renee watched him carefully as she sat playing Apples to Apples with her mom, Mary, Diana, Carol, and Rebecca. Soon, Rebecca stood and called the men to pray so they could get into the snacks.

Renee sat next to David with a plate full of food. His plate had very little on it.

“Are you not hungry?” She queried.

“Not really.” He replied. “I don’t eat a whole lot. It’s why I’m so thin.” He grinned and patted his flat stomach. Renee shook her head yet was smiling through a mouthful of cheese dip and gluten-free crackers. She swallowed and took a long sip of ice water. She looked around and smiled at all the t-shirt clad people. Dress shirts and sweaters hung on the backs of chairs and over the half-wall.

“I think I’ll have some sweets later.” She pushed her plate away and patted her own stomach. “I’m kinda full.” After a little more conversing with other people, she excused herself to the restroom.

When she returned, she found David leaning against the half-wall, watching everyone playing games. Renee approached him and tapped his arm. He looked up and smiled.

“Would you like to play chess?” She took his hand. He agreed and they made their way to the square table where Jay and George had just finished a merciless match.

“Our turn!” Renee grinned.

Several hours later, after several wins for David, Renee admitted defeat and they joined the rest of the church congregation in chairs set up in a large circle. They chose their seats and were given a blank slip of paper. Renee remembered that this was a drawing game. Whoever drew the best with their eyes closed won the game. After Rebecca gave the instructions, they all closed their eyes and began to draw. Renee was horrible at drawing with her eyes open, so doing it with her eyes closed was quite a challenge. She opened her eyes at Rebecca’s signal and examined her drawing. She ducked her head to suppress a giggle. Her “snowman” was practically unrecognizable. The top circle sat alone, while the bottom two circles were more shaped like squiggly C’s. the stick arms were on opposite sides of the paper and the face and top hat were smashed together just above the top circle. She turned her paper to show David. He smiled. He had not participated in the game, so his paper still sat on his lap blank. She wondered why he hadn’t participated. It was supposed to be fun. Perhaps he did not like to do things he wasn’t good at. But that didn’t make sense. It made better sense to assume that he was not completely comfortable with a bunch of people he did not know. Out of the corner of her eye, Renee noticed that Diana was pointing her camera at her and David. Inconspicuously, she tapped David and pointed over at the older lady. He gave a half smile, have grimace, and looked forwards awkwardly instead of looking at the camera. Renee smiled at Diana anyway.

Renee stifled a yawn by covering her mouth.

“You’re really tired.” David stated from the driver’s seat. Renee smiled at him and nodded. They were sitting in her driveway waiting for the rest of her family to get there.

“You can lean your head on my shoulder while we wait, if you like.” He said gently. “Unless you’d prefer not to. It’s up to you.”

Renee smiled at him again and then laid her head on his shoulder. They sat like that for a little while, their fingers intertwined. Renee felt a warmth spread through her. She could almost say she loved him now.

“Your family must have forgotten something and turned back.” He leaned his head against hers.

“Yeah.” She closed her eyes for a moment. She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knew, David was carefully waking her. “Your family is here.”

Renee roused herself and opened the door, letting in the frosty night air. She waved goodbye as she shut the door. She smiled to herself as she stepped back from the vehicle and watched him pull out. Tonight had been wonderful.

© 2020 Tori Leumas