The Summer of ’99: Part I

It was the summer of 1999, the summer of romance. The sunflowers were in full bloom and a gentle breeze rustled through the tall pine trees while the melodious songs of the hummingbirds and blue jays filled the cloudless-blue sky. This often forgotten white house with its dark green shutters served as their sanctuary.

It had only been a few days since Tanner’s arrival, and he was already busying himself with building a wooden bookcase for Rosie, his grandfather’s neighbor. She had just broken her leg from a Jet Ski accident and would need to stay in bed for the next 6 weeks. His grandfather knew that she loved to read, the two of them had been neighbors since his marriage to Geraldine in the summer of 1935. He was 18 and she was 16, and although they were young, the two had fallen into a whirlwind type of love. They had first met at the park only a year before they were wed. They were both walking their dogs when the leashes got tangled together. Being the gentlemen, he dropped to his knees and began to tug at the two black leashes as Geraldine stood watching, her red curls gently blowing in the wind. Her dark green eyes were glued to her white shoes: she was attempting to hide her rosy red cheeks, but knew her efforts were futile. While she stood there, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, the young man pushed sweaty brown stands of greasy hair from in front of his equally dark brown eyes as he tried to concentrate on the puzzle before him, but knew he was failing. He was mesmerized by the tan dress that she was wearing, a short sleeved number that reached to the tops of her ankles. She had the most beautiful pair of ankles he had ever seen. He didn’t realize he was staring, his hands turning the now-free leashes over and over in an attempt to buy him more time with her. After a moment, she bent forward close to his left ear. “I’d love to,” she said with a slight smirk, her freckles highlighting her deep dimples. She let out a soft giggle as he turned his head to meet her knowing eyes. From that moment, the two were inseparable. That’s how they spent the next 60 years: right by each other’s side. It all changed during in the winter of 1995. That Christmas was the last one the couple would ever spend together. The next day, she passed away. The doctors said that her heart failed. From then on, Gary had never been the same. The following summer was the first summer Tanner came to visit. Tanner’s mom was afraid of what would happen to Gary if he was left alone for too long. For his grandfather, these visits were the only thing he had left to live for and for Tanner, these visits served as a sweet solace from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Though his grandfather was a man of few words, they both understood their role in the relationship. Tanner would wake up at the crack of dawn each morning and make his grandfather’s favorite breakfast: two sausage links, hash browns, and four scrambled eggs, just the way his late grandmother would make it, and then he would run into town to get any supplies needed for the day. After, he would come back to the quiet cottage and the two of them would work together, either building or repairing, and once the days work had been finished, they would end each evening with a quiet game of chess and a slice of apple pie. For a 20-year-old boy from Los Angeles, the mundane consistency of a slow-pace life could sound excruciatingly painful, but Tanner enjoyed it. For 3 months each year fields of dandelions and sunflowers, the whispers of insects minding their own business, and the sweet silence of a lone house on a forgotten back road, surrounded him. Here, Tanner felt more alive and more aware: he felt like he mattered. In a city full of thousands of people, he was easily replaced, bodies flooding in to take his place and become the next big star, but out here, he was important. He meant something to someone. He was finally connected to this world he lived in.

It took Tanner and his grandfather three days to complete the chestnut bookcase. The case stood 5 feet tall with 3 shelves on both sides of a center divider, all enclosed by two cabinets. His grandfather, using the pocketknife he has kept from World War II, carved an ocean scene on the two front cabinets. Tanner watched as Gary poured over the cabinets, as he meticulously created each line. Though his grandfather tried to hide it, Tanner noticed a single tear escape his lonely brown eyes and fall into the wood. With that, the old man sat back, admired his work, and walked into the house without saying a single word. Tanner leaned in closer, examining his grandfather’s work, and realized that the carved scene was a recreation of his grandparent’s anniversary. They would travel to the lake each year to celebrate the life they have together. Tanner couldn’t ignore the case’s simplistic, yet majestic quality.

Tanner followed behind his grandfather. “Let me tell you something,” his grandfather started, sensing Tanner standing in the garage’s doorway behind where he was seated at the kitchen’s bar “Once you find love, you never let it go.”

The men let the silence float around those words, his grandfather thinking about his love lost, and Tanner thinking about the love he’s never found. His grandfather lifted an iced drink of subtle poison to his lips, anticipating the warmth as it flowed throughout his body. Tanner finally walked over to his grandfather and rested a hand on his shoulder. They stood in that moment of comfort for a peaceful moment only interrupted by a knock at the door. Tanner strolled to the door and looked through the peephole, knowing that neither himself nor his grandfather was expecting anyone. The individual on the other side of the door was a tall, light-haired, tan man. Tanner shrugged then swung the door open with a hearty hello.

“Hello,” the stranger responded, “I’m Rosie’s grandson,” he finished by thrusting his right hand forward.

“Hi,” Tanner stated, mimicking the action, “I’m Gary’s grandson. My name is Tanner.”

“I’m Darian,” he offered whilst flashing a set of brilliantly white teeth.

Tanner smiled back, “Would you like to come in?”

“Yes.”

Tanner escorted Darian into the kitchen where his grandfather was sitting.

“Grandpa, this is Darian. He’s Rosie’s grandson,” Tanner introduced.

“Hi Darian. Are you here for the bookcase?” Gary asked, placing the cup of scotch gently on the counter and turning to face the young boy.

“Oh no, I didn’t know about that, “ Darian began, “My grandmother is taking a nap and she told me to be neighborly and this is the closest house in a few miles.”

“Oh okay,” Gary started, “Tanner, why don’t y’all play a game of chess. I think I’m going to go for a walk.”

Tanner took Darian into the living room where the board was already set and the two took their seats across from one another. Once Tanner heard the door close behind his grandfather, he felt the house slowly shift into a comfortable silence.

“So,” Tanner began nervously as he moved his first piece forward, “Where are you from?”

Darian flashed another large smile, “I’m from California, but I will be moving to New York at the end of this summer to sign onto a modeling contract,” he responded, moving his own pawn.

“Oh really?” Tanner began, “I’m from Los Angeles myself. My mom and I moved there after my dad split. She had always dreamt of being a male-up artist and for me, that’s been home for as long as I can remember.”

“So, what do you do there,” Darian asked without taking his eyes off of the knight in Tanner’s hand.

“I’m going to school currently for music. I’d like to become a music producer and have my own record label.”

“What would it be called?”

“It’s between Alias Records and Goldstop Records.”

“Well,” Darian began as he moved his rook foreword, ”If I ever own a modeling agency, I would book you to D.J. the fashion show.”

The two men laughed then settled back into a quiet, easy comfort. As the game continued, Tanner began to notice Darian’s green eyes: both light and inviting. Tanner couldn’t ignore the mole that rested next to his right nostril or the single stud that shone in his left ear lobe. His skin was the color of coffee infused with a few drops of milk. To Tanner, he was the perfect shade of brown. Sitting down, Darian’s height was deceptive. He was a few inches taller than Tanner, who already stood 6 feet tall. Darian’s biceps swelled underneath his fitted black shirt, which ended where his dark washed jeans began. Tanner’s heart beat with every passing moment, faster and faster.

“Your move,” Darian announced, startling Tanner back to reality.

The game continued as the two talked about everything from music to hobbies. With each turn, the conversation became deeper and deeper, until finally “Checkmate,” Darian announced, proudly folding his arms across his chest, giving Tanner a playful and coy half-smile.

Tanner chuckled, “I’ll be damned. The only person to ever beat me is my grandfather. Nicely done, pretty boy.”

The two laughed as they pushed back from the table. Tanner walked towards the kitchen to grab a bag of chips and an accompanying dip, while Darian did the unexpected and settled in on the couch. Darian allowed himself to sink down at one end, while he waited for Tanner. Tanner turned to face the living room, and saw Darian’s left arm extended on top of the couch and his other arm resting comfortably on his lap.

“What do you want to watch?” Tanner asked as he put the chips down to rearrange the living room. He had assumed that Darian would leave after the game. Even though he didn’t want Darian to go, he was taken aback by the forwardness of him to sit on the couch. Tanner didn’t know what to expect from this, but he tried to block out his jumbled thoughts by pushing the chess table and chairs to the far side of the room and replacing them with a small coffee table. He moved the snacks to the short table, grabbed the remote from a top the television, and took a seat on the opposite end of the couch. He scrolled through the channels until he found an action movie.

“Is this good?” He asked turning to face Darian.

“Sure.”

Darian reached forward for a handful of chips and a few moments later, Tanner echoed the motion. The two snacked in silence, while watching cars explode and bloody shootouts. Tanner didn’t know what the movie was about or even called, they started somewhere in the middle of it, but he didn’t care. All he noticed were the butterflies that fluttered throughout his stomach at the sight of this handsome model. Tanner could barely take his eyes off of Darian: he would continually steal glances, losing more and more track of the plot line and sinking further into infatuation. Tanner was lost in his own thoughts that he didn’t realize the movie had even ended. Another movie followed, and neither of the men moved. Instead, Darian moved in towards Tanner, allowing his arm to fall from the couch and drape across his shoulders. Tanner’s heart began to race, his palms sweaty and his stomach in knots. As the movie continued, Darian pulled Tanner tighter and tighter to himself until there was no space between the two. Nervously, Tanner extended his inner arm towards Darian’s lap, and confidently, Darian’s fingers met Tanner’s and their hands interlocked. Darian turned his enticing green eyes toward Tanner, meeting the piercing-blue marbles that were full of confusion, amazement, and wonder. Darian lifted his free hand to sweep back a loose blonde strand on Tanner’s forehead, then without warning, the two men leaned in, their lips landing upon each other’s in an indescribably passionate kiss. The men remained like this, tongue tied, until they heard the garage door unlock. Tanner jumped back, attempting to hid his guilt and shock.

“You boys here,” Gary hollered from the kitchen as he poured himself some iced tea.

“Yeah grandpa, we are,” Tanner shouted back, “But, Darian was just leaving.”

Darian smirked as he pushed himself from the couch, but without warning, he turned his body, lunged towards Tanner, pinning his shoulders onto the couch, their noses touching. Then, Tanner leaned in, reciprocating the feelings Darian sensed; the same ones Tanner himself wasn’t able to admit yet. As the men pulled back, they smiled at each other, silently knowing that this was love. Then, Darian turned his back to Tanner, walked through the kitchen to say goodbye to Gary, and left towards his grandmother’s cottage through the garage. Tanner sat shocked. He didn’t know how to process his feelings; all he knew is that he wanted to do it again. He touched his lips with his fingertips, tasting him, remembering him, longing for him.

“Go after him,” his grandfather called out from the kitchen after hearing the garage door slam shut. Tanner turned seeing that his grandfather wasn’t sitting at the table, its view of the living room blocked by the archway wall. Instead, he was sitting at the edge of the bar, his body fully facing Tanner. Suddenly, he realized that his grandfather had seen everything. He was shocked that he, a traditional war veteran, had received these emotions so well, but he wasn’t going to sit there questioning it. He knew he was wasting precious time. The two men exited their seats in unity and both headed to the garage. Tanner found a purple bow and placed it on the front of the bookcase doors and the men then loaded it into the back of the red pick-up truck his grandfather had kept since the 60’s.

The sun had just begun to set, infusing the blue sky with various hues of reds, oranges, and yellows. Tanner climbed up into the driver seat and peeled out of the driveway quickly. He sped down the dirt road barely missing a homeless squirrel before finally pulling into the driveway of a pale yellow cottage. He had anticipated a longer drive, but realized that it was about a 20-minute walk from his grandfather’s. Besides these two lone houses, there was nothing around for miles. He had never seen this house before, or at least, he never paid it any attention. That was, until today. Various flowers, growing wild and free, surrounded the cottage and framed the crisp-white shutters that hugged the windows that circled the property. The bright yellow of the sunflowers lined the cobblestone walkway that led to the home’s white front door.

Tanner and Gary unloaded the bookcase and carried it to the front door, where the two men waited patiently after ringing the old doorbell. After a few breaths, the gold knob finally turned. A 5 foot 3, silver haired woman answered the door. Her brown eyes were deeply sunken into her pale face, full of wonder, sorrow, and knowledge. Her frail body shook as the open door allowed the cool evening breeze to blow by. One ankle was exposed while the other was tightly wrapped in a cast and brace. Rosie propped herself against the door and one of her crutches.

“Rosie, why aren’t you in bed?” Gary asked.

“Because I can handle myself. Oh my, what is this?!” Rosie hopped to the side of the entryway as the men walked by, stopping in the den a few feet away.

“Well,” Gary began as he set the case in front of the empty wall, “I know you are bed ridden, at least you’re supposed to be, and I know that you love to read. So, we built you this.”

Rosie’s eyes swelled as she walked over to Gary and wrapped her arms around him. He gave her a sweet kiss on her forehead then draped one of her arms over his shoulders to walk her to her bedroom. Tanner shifted his weight from his right foot to his left waiting for Darian to appear or for his grandfather to come back, but neither happened.

“I’ll be in the truck grandpa,” he shouted from the den as he turned to exit, but as he swung the door open, he was greeted with a surprise. Darian stood on the porch with a bouquet of wild flowers and a movie in one hand and a 6 pack in the other. Tanner blushed and turned his gaze to the ground while Darien stood there with a wide smile on his face.

“Well,” Darian began, “I thought you were still at home, so I had gone over to ask you on this date with me, but you were here I guess.”

The two laughed and Tanner finally responded, “If you’d still like to, I’d like to.”

Darian gave Tanner a quick kiss, handed him the flowers, and then took him by the hand to lead him inside to the couch.

That was how Tanner and Darian spent the rest of their summer. Those next few weeks were perfect and irreplaceable. Tanner had never been in love, at least not like this. His heart would skip a beat every time Darian would reach for him. Their hands would touch and Tanner would feel his stomach flutter. Each day became sweeter and better than the last knowing that today is another day that they got to spend together. It had been only 6 weeks, but Tanner knew that he would never love another person as much as he loved Darian. Tanner adored everything about him: his smile, his laugh, and his sense of humor. Tanner had fallen madly and completely in love, and he decided that the day before Darian was planning to leave for New York, would be the day he proposed.

It was the last week of summer and Tanner’s nerves were rattled. Each night, he would twirl the gold band in his hands, thinking of the perfect words to say. “Darian, I have never felt a love like this. Dammit, that’s too sappy. I’m still a man.” “Darian, I am in love with you. No shit, Sherlock.” He’d think until his mind drifted to black and subconscious hopes projected on the screens of his mind. Images of the two of them growing old together, raising a small, but loving family, and finally dying in each other’s arms. Each day and night were consumed by the thoughts of the happy future that lay ahead, until the moment finally arrived.

It was the last day of their summer together and Darian was preparing to head out to New York to report for his first photo shoot. Tanner volunteered to drive Darian to the airport, so after a few goodbyes to his grandmother and Gary, the two threw the suitcase into Gary’s truck bed and drove off to the airport, hand in hand. The drive was silent as Darian took in the beauty of the countryside and Tanner took in his beauty. It remained that way until the old truck skirted to a stop in front of the drop-off location at the airport. Darian walked around to the bed of the truck, pulled out his suitcase, and when he turned to come back onto the sidewalk, there he saw Tanner. On one knee.

“I know this has been a short summer, but it’s been the best summer of my life. I love you, Darian, and I can’t imagine my life without you. This may come as a surprise, but so did the love I found in having you by my side. I would like to love you for the rest of my life. Darian, will you marry me?”

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