Chapter 51 - One last time
She'd never been on a real date.
I had laid in my big, empty bed replaying her words in my mind for most of the night.
I still wasn't sure if she had even read the letter but that was secondary at this point.
One of my wishes for her was also my worst fear.
She could've easily met someone at Yale that she had plenty in common with. She could've dated a hundred guys by now. But she didn't and I let myself think that it meant something, that maybe it meant she didn't want to.
The second we left the ice cream parlor last night a thought popped into my head and had lingered since.
I could take her on a real date. No one would bat an eye at us now. No one would look at me sideways and I wouldn't have to worry about Jackson. Not only because he was over five hundred miles away but because he was coming around to the idea. I thought he would for sure be the hardest step in this process but he might have been the easiest. He still wasn't a hundred percent comfortable but I didn't need him to be, I just needed him to understand.
A guilt-free date with River.
If I could convince her to go.
I gave up on sleep and started brainstorming. I couldn't just take her to some fancy restaurant. That took little to no effort. I was trying to get a point across and I had to do it the right way.
I showered and as I was getting dressed I turned the news on. It was a habit that today I was grateful for. I heard something that sparked my interest and an idea struck. It would be hard to put together in one day but if I could pull it off, she would love it.
I drove around until a found a sporting goods store that I knew would have exactly what I needed. Then I went on a search for the perfect place. I actually knew the best spot but I couldn't show her that just yet. We were working up to it and I knew the order was important.
I found a park not far from the diner that would do the job. There was a nice flat area near one of the playgrounds where I could set everything up at.
I glanced at my watch and cursed myself. I had to get to work soon and I'd barely have time when I got off to get back here to set up before going to meet River when she got off.
I could take time off but I was hoping I would need that saved for later. Although that might've been wishful thinking on my part.
I drove to work with more nervousness in my gut toward River than ever before. If she said no, or said nothing at all, I wasn't sure what I would do. I couldn't make her come with me. I couldn't force her to understand why I did the things that I did. But I needed her to understand that I couldn't hold onto those reasons anymore.
By the end of the day, I was regretting skipping my last two hours of sleep. I had a weird schedule at work and somehow always ended up being the busiest person there. But it gave me less time to obsess over tonight.
I pushed the door open to the diner at 9:25. River was talking to an elderly woman at the counter. I sat down next to her and I could feel the woman's eyes on me.
"Well, aren't you handsome?"
She said as she stared up at me.
I smiled then looked toward River, she was biting her lip trying not to laugh.
"You know I have a granddaughter in college, she's coming in now. Maybe I should introduce you two."
I was just about to ward her off when her granddaughter stepped in.
"Nana, come on it's time to go, " She nodded at River before continuing, "sorry, see you later."
"See you next Friday."
River waved at the two women as they left. I watched her as she wiped down their table, then the counter. When she made it to where I was sitting I grabbed her hand as she ran the rag over the tabletop. She stared at our hands for a second before looking up.
"Can I take you on a date?"
I wrapped my hand around her small wrist and felt her pulse underneath my fingertips. All I wanted to do was flip her hand over kiss the soft skin but I settled for the pulse instead.
"Now. After you close up."
She turned her head to the side and studied me. Then she closed her eyes and sighed. I thought for sure she was about to turn me down.
I bit back a smile and rubbed my fingers over her skin before releasing her wrist.
River finished cleaning and I opened the door for her before she locked it up.
"Can you ride with me?"
It wasn't like she couldn't just follow me in her car, but I wanted her as close to me for as long as I could have her.
She nodded and I opened my passenger side door for her. It had been so long but the familiarity of it was overwhelming. I took a deep breath as I walked around to the driver's side.
We pulled into the park and I could tell she was confused.
"Just stay with me, it'll make sense soon."
She only nodded in response.
When I got out, I pulled out the blanket first and I laid it down on the big open space that I found earlier. River sat down on the edge and I went back to get the rest of the things I bought.
I had just enough time after work to put everything together and stop by the grocery store and buy her favorite things. I brought the basket over first and sat it beside her. She looked down at it then back up at me.
"What are you up to?"
She whispered as I walking back to get the Bronco one last time.
I sat the massive telescope down and River's head shot up at me.
"We're watching the meteor shower?"
"You know about it?"
Of course, she did.
She nodded as she stood up and brushed her shoulder up against my arm, trying to get a better look at the telescope.
"We still have about an hour."
River was already looking through the eyepiece with a smile playing on her lips. It made me so damn happy to make her happy.
"Did I see lemon heads in that basket?"
She asked, with her eyes still on the stars.
I stepped closer to her and she looked up.
I had to stop myself from grabbing her by her biceps and lifting her body so that I could wrap her up in my arms.
"What are you waiting for?"
She whispered. She already knew what I was thinking, she always did.
I bent my knees a little and lifted her. River's arms snaked around my neck and she looked back and forth between my lips and my eyes.
I didn't deserve her. Definitely not then and not even now.
But she was mine.