“Glad to see you survived the night,” Eliza joked.
“Me too. I almost died of embarrassment thanks to you two.” Alli winked at the happy couple.
“He’s a good boy, that Bryce.” Ed said.
“You know him?” Alli asked shocked. She wasn’t expecting an elderly couple to play wingman for a young bachelor.
“Yes, and his family. His parents passed away a few years back so we haven’t seen much of the boys, but they used to come here for the summers and help us in the store. They are a hard working family. Good, good boys. Be nice to Bryce. He’s had a rough year.” Eliza shook her finger at Alli before she added, “You’re one of the Johnson girls right? Jack and Lucy’s girl?”
“Ya. I’m Alli. I didn’t know you knew my parents.”
“It’s a small world up in these parts. When you are as old as us, you meet everyone at least once, and sometimes we even remember them,” said Ed as he patted his belly and laughed at his own joke.
“It’s true though. We know everyone that comes and goes.” Eliza tapped Alli’s shoulder. “I think I see your tow truck. Tell him I’ll give him a free cinnamon roll if he gives you a discount. He’ll do it too. My food’s that good!” Eliza waved at the driver and shuffled off slowly to straighten the shelves.
The tow truck driver made quick work of the lock and Alli was in her car in less than ten minutes. The driver collected his cinnamon roll and gave Alli the “good neighbor” discount. It still cost her an arm and a leg, but at least she had her car back. The drive home was beautiful in the day time. The sun was out and the sky was a crisp blue. Flashes of light streamed through the trees, and Alli seemed to be shining a little brighter herself after her accidental encounter with Bryce.
As the day marched on she found herself both giddy and nervous. It was her first “first date” in over two years and she wanted it to be perfect. It was a weird sensation to be dating again after almost getting married. For the last two years it had been her and Nathan. He wasn’t big on going out, unless it was with his friends, and most “dates” he planned consisted of a football game and a make out session. When he left her at the altar he didn’t offer any explanation. He just didn’t show up. She stood there in her white dress waiting for two hours before she realized he wasn’t coming.
A full week had passed before she heard from him. Even then, he hadn’t had the guts to talk to her in person. He just sent a text that said “I’m so sorry. I never meant for this to happen. Please forgive me. I never meant to hurt you.” She couldn’t understand how she had missed all the signs…the signs that were so obvious to her now… Bright neons signs that practically screamed “HE’S NOT THE ONE!” She had loved him though, and sometimes, love makes you oblivious to reality.
It was still painful to think of Nathan. It was hard to wrap her mind around having to start all over with someone new with no guarantee that it would work out. But tonight was just for fun. No commitments. She lived hours away and who knew where Byrce was headed. There was no pressure, no expectations. She was determined to laugh and have fun and enjoy the moment. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to be dating again, but he was easy on the eyes and fun to talk to. He hadn’t asked her to marry him, just to dinner. She could do dinner.
At 6:45 Alli locked up her cabin and headed toward the Olsen’s. She crossed the stream using the same bridge the Olsen boys had made so many years ago. She wished she would have thought of a prank to play on him on his territory. She decided to wait and see how the date went before she determined the right lark. She rang the bell and wrung her hands together as she waited for Bryce to answer.
The Olsen’s place was a beautiful traditional Appalachian log cabin with massive logs that had been dove-tailed and stacked like giant Lincoln Logs. The logs were stained a deep, rich red and the gaps between the wood had been chinked with sandy mortar, making it look straight out of the 1900’s. The high peaked roof on the outside translated into gorgeous cathedral ceilings on the inside. The roof trusses had been left exposed on the interior to display the craftsmanship of the builder. Alli couldn’t help but run her hands along the wood and admire the detail. Bryce noticed her look of awe.
“You like it? My great-great grandpa built this back in 1907. He had to clear the land and he used the trees he logged to build this place. He hand carved everything. It’s had some updates here and there- like the flushable toilets and running water- but we’ve tried to keep everything as original as possible. Every log was hand hewn and placed by sheer manpower.” He flexed his muscles and made his best attempt at a body-builder pose. Alli laughed and tried to decide if he was cocky or carefree. Either way, he looked amazing.
“I can’t believe all these years we’ve been just down the road and never met.” Alli sat down on the leather couch and tried to not look nervous. She crossed and uncrossed her legs several times before standing up again. Bryce smiled and Alli got a little weak in the knees.
“If I would have known the Johnson girls were as cute as you I wouldn’t have run off.” He blushed a little and tried to change the subject. “Want a drink?” Before she could answer he handed her a coke. “What are you doing here this time of year anyway? Don’t you guys usually come in the summer?”
“Ya, but I needed a little R&R and couldn’t wait that long.”
“I get that. Who’s staying with you?”
“It’s just me this trip.”
“Better be careful out there. Single girl, in the forest… I hear Bigfoot’s on the loose.” Bryce flashed his perfect teeth again and sat down on the couch. He patted the seat next to him, inviting her to join him. She sat down a little further than he was hoping.
“How about you, Mr. Olsen. What brings you here?”
“Repairs. My parents passed away a few years ago, and we don’t make it up here as often as we should to check up on the place. Ed and Eliza, the store owners you met in town, were friends with my mom and dad. They drove by a few days ago to make sure the place was ok. They were worried a pipe had burst, so I came up. Luckily, it wasn’t anything major.”
“That’s good. How long are you here?”
“That’s to be determined. I was supposed to go home tomorrow, but I have a few other projects I need to finish before I head home. We have been trying to decide if we are going to sell the place or rent it out since none of us use it all that often. I’d hate to sell it, but my brothers all live out of state now and I’m the only one here to do the maintenance.”
Alli perked up after hearing he lived in state. It was definitely good news. “You seem pretty handy. What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a contractor. I own a renovation company. How about you? ”
Bryce took a sip of his drink and rested his arm on the back of the couch. Alli’s heart surged. She wasn’t sure if he was flirting or just resting his arm. She took a chance and casually scooted a little closer; his fingertips grazed the tip of her shoulder.
“I’m a bounty hunter. Right now, I’m tracking down Bigfoot,” she teased. Bryce raised one eyebrow and laughed. “Actually, I’m a real estate agent.” Bryce couldn’t tell if she was still joking or not. He had a look of disbelief on his face, so she added, “Seriously. I’m a real estate agent; but don’t worry I’m not here for your business.”
“Well, if I decide to sell, I’ll need your number.”
“We’ll see how tonight goes. If you’re lucky I might leave you my card.” She was a little surprised that she was flirting so much. She was usually more reserved. Alli decided to just go for it. She had already been left at the altar, so there was nowhere to go but up.
“If my charming disposition doesn’t win you over, my cooking will. I hope you came hungry,” Bryce said.
“I did. What’s for dinner?”
“My mom once told me that two things should be avoided on first dates. The first thing was spaghetti, so I made flank steak and mashed potatoes with grilled asparagus on the side.”
“Sounds amazing. What was the second thing she told you to avoid on a first date?”
Bryce smirked and reached for Alli’s hand, "I’ll tell you later.” Alli took his hand and let him lead her to the dining room. Her eyes widened as she looked around. The table was made from the same wood that Bryce’s ancestors had used to make the cabin. The logs had been cut in half and laid out, flat side up, and covered in a rich varnish to enhance the wood’s natural grain. The table top sat on two thick trunks, one at each end. The trunks looked so organic there, almost as if they were still in the ground. Bryce had put fresh flowers on the table and set the rustic table for two. Alli was impressed with his effort. Nathan had never made diner for her in their entire two year relationship.
Above the table was an antler chandelier that Bryce had helped his dad make when he was a teenager. Bryce talked fondly of his parents and asked all about Alli’s family. The conversation flowed easily and Alli sat happily across from Bryce and listened to him talk about his parents and his job and everything in between. She had forgotten how nice it was to have an actual conversation; one that didn’t revolve around fantasy football or recent episodes of Nathan’s favorite shows. She was pleasantly surprised that she and Bryce had so much in common. She caught herself staring at him several times throughout dinner, and she felt his gaze a few times as well. It was well after midnight when Alli thanked him for dinner. She didn’t want to leave, but it was getting late.
Bryce walked her over the bridge and back to her cabin. His heart was racing and his palms were sweaty. As she opened the door she tilted her head slightly and smiled and thanked him again. She rested against the door frame and studied Bryce, looking for a reason to keep talking.
“You never told me the other thing your mom told you to avoid on a first date. What was it?” she asked coyly.
“Kissing.” He leaned in and kissed Alli on the cheek.
“I guess that just means I’ll have to see you again.” She returned the affection and kissed his cheek. She lingered there for just a minute and whispered goodnight in his ear. She closed the door slowly and leaned against it. Bryce stared at the door fighting the urge to knock. He ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath. He walked home slowly, looking back at her cabin several times. Alli giggled as she heard a familiar howling as she drifted off to sleep.
Don't forget to check back tomorrow for more of the exciting story!