A Learning Experience Part 9
Her phone screen read 52 degrees. Renee turned and looked through the glass. The world had changed from white to brown. I suppose I don’t need my coat today. Renee grabbed her pink sweatshirt from the bottom drawer of her dresser and hurried up the stairs.
“I’m going outside to hang with Cinnamon before David gets here.” She informed her mom as she sat on a dining room chair. She slid her feet into her hiking boots and laced them up. The weather was odd for mid-January. A light breeze whispered through the bare branches. The dazzling sunlight glared off the puddles she was avoiding. She was glad she had grabbed her sunglasses.
The wonderful smell of her horse filled her nostrils as she buried her face into Cinnamon’s mane. The brown ears pointed forward as the gelding bent his neck to sniff her pocket. Renee grinned and dug her fingers into the pocket of her skinny jeans. She pulled out a horse treat and held it out. Just as the soft muzzle whiskered it off her palm, she jumped.
“Sorry.” David walked up behind her. “Your mom said you were out here. Ready to go?”
“Sure!” Renee gave Cinnamon one last pat and then climbed over the pasture gate. She followed David to his Forrester. The breeze ruffled through her long hair. Renee was excited for today. They had made plans to spend most of the day together. Renee checked her watch. It was only ten o’clock.
Sunlight filtered through the leaves as Renee stepped over a root in the dirt path through the trees. The top of the hill was in sight. Her legs burned slightly from the climb. Just a few more steps to go.
“I’ve heard the view from the top is amazing!” David was walking just a little bit in front of her.
“Yeah.” She took David’s hand and he helped her around a large tree. They stepped hand-in-hand to the fence protecting them from the edge. Trees dotted the sand below. The landscape changed drastically from hilly woods to dunes. The bright sun glinted off the countless grains of sand. In the distance, Lake Michigan waves crashed on the beach.
“Let’s sit on the bench.” He led the way. Renee lowered herself onto the wooden bench. She pulled her phone from her sweatshirt pocket.
“I have to take some photos!” She pulled up her camera app, aimed, and tapped the button a few times.
“Let’s take a selfie.” David moved a little bit closer and slid his green flannel clad arm behind her on the bench. His gentle cologne filled her nostrils. They grinned at the camera and she snapped the photo.
“I’ll send it to you.” She tapped a few buttons and his phone buzzed.
“So, your dad said that you have had a rough relationship in the past but said that you’ll tell me about it when you’re ready.” He looked at her with a kind expression.
“Yeah.” Renee felt comfortable, but hesitant.
“I’m not going to pressure you, but you will need to tell me if we are going to be close.”
“I can tell you now.” She smiled thinly.
“Only if you’re sure.” He rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb. Renee drew in a deep breath and let it out through her nose.
“I dated him for a year and a half in college.” She began. “Justin was so sweet for the first six months. Then, the abuse cycle started the summer I stayed in South Carolina, where I went to school, for my internship. It started out with him being late picking me up for our plans. He always had an excuse for why he was late. Then a few weeks later, he seemingly forgot that we had plans. If I texted him too much, he would give me the silent treatment to punish me. When classes started back up in the fall, Carol and Andrew came back. They were in college with me and had big class loads. Justin began criticizing them for not spending time with me. He came home with me for holidays and he would tickle me mercilessly until I couldn’t breathe, even though I asked him to stop every time.” Renee stopped and took a deep, cleansing breath.
“Wow, that’s horrible.” David rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand again.
“Its’s not over yet.” She continued her story. “The abuse cycle began for real after Christmas. He would complain about my family and scold me, give me silent treatment, and all that. Then he would apologize and bring me gifts. After that he would be nice for several weeks and up to months. Then it would start over again. I broke up with him a couple weeks before final exams at the end of my senior year.”
“I can see how this has hurt you.” David wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “You’re a really strong woman.” Compassion and empathy shone from his eyes. Renee leaned gently into his embrace.
“I will make a promise to you.” David took both her hands in his. “I will never treat you that way. I will always treat you like the princess you are.” He smiled at her gently. She grinned.
“I’ve known you for a few months now, so I can say that I trust you.” Renee tucked her fingers into his.
“That makes me happy to hear.” David drew her in for a short hug. Happiness thrilled in her heart. She sat back and then stood, her stomach grumbling. “Let’s head back down. I’m starving!”
The wafts of oregano and mozzarella filled her nostrils as David opened the door. Renee barely kept the drool from escaping her mouth as they approached the counter.
“You’ll love this place.” She pointed to the menu. “You can order a specific pizza, or you can do a ‘build your own.’ They have gluten-free here, which is amazing!”
“That’s cool!” He placed his pointer and thumb on his chin. “I’m glad you picked the restaurant. Fremont has so many that I haven’t been to yet.”
After ordering, they filled their drinks and sat at a table with their number to wait.
“I am really enjoying getting to know you.” He took a long sip of his lemonade.
“I’m glad.” She grinned at him. “And I you.”
“We should go do go-carts after this.” She leaned on her elbows and steepled her fingers, looking over them into his blue eyes.
“I’ve never done that before.” He confessed, anticipation sparkling in the azure depths.
“Oh, it will be so fun!” Renee pulled her elbows back as the pizza arrived. After David prayed, she lifted a triangle and took a hot, gooey bite.
“I’m not so sure about this!” He called over the noise of the carts. Renee laughed and grabbed his hand, pulling him through the gate.
“C’mon! It’ll be fun!” She followed the operator’s instructions and picked a cart near the front. “Pick a cart!” She pulled the straps over her shoulders and clicked them in place. David picked the cart behind her. Renee grasped the wheel and hovered her foot over the gas pedal. The operator dangled a red flag over the track. She held her breath. Seconds felt like minutes. The green flag dropped, and Renee flattened the pedal. Her cart jumped forwards and the race started. Several other people were playing too. Renee stuck to the inside, blocking carts behind her. There were four in front of her. She kept her eyes in front of her, glancing in her mirror often to check where drivers were behind her. She rounded the first curve smoothly, cutting beneath a man who had taken the turn too wide. She gained ground as she finished out the first lap. Two laps left. She passed the next three drivers in the second lap. The white flag flashed, and Renee glanced in her mirror. There was a large gap between her and the rest of the carts. She finished the race strong. After lapping two carts, Renee pulled into the pit area when the checkered flag was waved. David climbed out of the last cart when the operator told them to exit the cart area.
“I was spun out and you lapped me on the last round.” He pretended to pout, excitement sparkling in his eyes.
“Well, we can play again.” She grinned. They bought more tickets and stood at the back of the line. They drove two more times, Renee winning once more, and David won the last race.
“Thanks for doing that with me.” She smiled happily as he held the Forrester door for her.
“It was amazing!” He smiled back. Then he climbed into the driver’s seat.
She leaned on her elbows as she put the last bite of soup in her mouth. She glanced out the dining room window. She couldn’t believe that it had been in the fifties just a week ago. The snow had returned for the last bit of January. Her birthday would be in just a few weeks. Hopefully the weather wouldn’t be too bad.
“What are you thinking about?” David queried.
“I’m just hoping my birthday will be nice.” She smiled back at him.
“Is it close?” He rolled his flannel sleeves up, pushed away his mostly empty bowl, and leaned his arms on the table.
“It’s on the 18th next month.” She turned to smile at him.
“There are three of us here, you know.” Mama finished licking her bowl. Renee grinned. Her dad and brothers were working late that night. They had to finish up a bunch of paperwork at their offices before Monday.
“Do you want to play some games?” Renee ambled over to the kitchen with her bowl in one hand and David’s in the other.
“Sure!” David grabbed a cloth from the sink and wiped off the table. “I don’t mind staying later since it’s Friday night.”
Mama placed a deck of cards on the table, as well as Apples to Apples and Uno. “Do you want to play Up Down River, Uno, or Apples to Apples?”
“I don’t care. You pick.” Renee looked pointedly at David. He grinned and then covered his eyes with one hand. Then he shuffled the boxes around on the table. He placed a finger on one and uncovered his eyes.
“I guess we’re playing Uno!” Renee laughed. She opened the box and dealt out the cards. “You remember how to play?”
“Yeah.” He picked up his dealt hand and then turned over the first card on the middle pile. Mama scanned her cards and then placed a card.
“Uno!” David announced. He grinned maliciously.
“Well, Mama switched the order, so I go next.” She grinned back at him mysteriously, then placed a “take 4” card. David groaned.
“Uno!” Renee danced in her seat. After David and Mama took their turns, she placed her last card triumphantly.
“I win!” She tossed her hands into the air. Suddenly she jumped at her phone pinged. She glanced at her screen.
“Oh!” She looked up at David and Mama. “James, our neighbor, wants to know if I can go let their dogs out for them. They’re out for the night and won’t be home for several hours.”
“I’d say yes.” Mama suggested as she put the cards back in the box. “But you’re an adult so do what you want.” She smiled.
“It’s your decision.” David sat back in his chair.
“Okay, I’ll tell him yes, then.” She typed the answer and sent it.
“I’ll come with you.” David stood and headed to put on his shoes. Renee followed.
The snow sparked in the gentle moonlight. Renee and David stood close together shivering as the two dogs sniffed around her neighbor’s yard.
“Thanks for coming with me.” She smiled up at him.
“It’s no problem at all.” David glanced down at her. “I don’t mind.”
“I had a lot of fun tonight.” She smiled up at him, tucking her fingers into his.”
“Me too.” He grinned down at her. They stood and watched the dogs until they were finished. Renee called them and returned them to their crates in the finished basement.
“I have to leave now.” He opened his car door when they returned to her house. “It’s a long drive.”
“Okay, thanks for coming!” She gave him a brief hug.
Later that night, Renee slid under her blankets and grabbed her phone to text David. There was a message from him previewed on her screen. She opened the app and read it. I’ve already decided what I’m going to give you for your birthday next month. You’re going to love it. Renee grinned to herself as she typed out a reply. Wow, thanks for putting me on my toes for three weeks! She sent a wink emoji with it. After saying goodnight, she switched off her light and curled up under her covers. Now she really could not wait for her birthday.
© 2020 Tori Leumas