George asked his Grandmother to pick up some of the smoky cheddar cheese from over in Tescott. He said he would pay her back. He snagged Ritz crackers and a bottle of sparkling apple cider in town at Lamer’s. The venison summer sausage was his own.
The day before his date with Beatrice, George walked down to the pond to check the boat and stack wood in the fire pit. He left a flashlight and a blanket in what had been a tiny cabin but now served as a glorified shed to house fishing poles, life jackets, and a couple tackle boxes.
Back at the house he sliced the cheese and venison with his grandmother’s fillet knife and arranged them in separate bags.
“Grandpa, please don’t eat this cheese.”
“I will think about it. What’s the occasion?”
“I have a date.”
“Gal whose dad is the mayor?”
“Yes. You know if you wanted to pay me, I could fix up that thing you call a cabin.”
“If you paid me I might not eat that cheese you’re saving for the princess.”
“Please don’t eat the cheese. I already paid Grandma for it.”
* * *
His chariot was a brown 1975 Ford Mustang II, and he arrived five minutes early. He tried to open the door for her. It was locked. She laughed. He started around the back of the car, stopped, then went back to unlock her side. As he went back around, she leaned over to unlock his door.
The highway would have been faster, but he wanted to show his knowledge of backroads and let the mix tape play a little longer.
“Where are we going?”
“Somewhere. You’ll like it.”
“Do you actually know where we are?”
“I think so.”
* * *
The introductions went more smoothly than he could have imagined. Grandmother was doting and Grandpa mostly steered away from politics. After sufficiently visiting, George grabbed the picnic basket and asked Beatrice to follow him. At the fence he stretched the barbed wires with hand and foot to allow her to step through. She did the same for him. They walked down an old cow path toward the pond, and George spoke of his grandmother’s cooking and his grandpa’s mischievous side.
“I’m here at the farm with them a lot,” he said. “Sometimes it feels more home than home.”
They sat on a blanket and ate the picnic in the early evening light. Beatrice wore white capris and a burnt orange sleeveless polo that nearly matched the color of the cheese rind. Her blondish hair fell into a curled version of a bob that she would tuck behind her left ear with a fingertip push. She often kept her hand in her pockets, and she had a smile that hinted that she knew far more than she let on. George took her picture with a disposable camera, and he would remember the grainy photo decades later.
“Would you be so kind as to accompany me on a boating jaunt?” He struggled to find the tone of nonchalance in his rehearsed line.
“Yes, I would love that.” His heart leapt a bit too much.
George thought he had the boat squared up so that he could just push it into the water. Instead he stumbled and placed his foot and white canvas Ked square into the drink. Beatrice laughed.
Once he had the back of the boat set in the water, he extended his hand and helped her in. He pushed off of the shore and hopped into the prow. He settled at the oars.
He rowed softly and pointed out the diving dock, the path of the trotline, the old boundaries of the water before the drought, and where he and his cousins had searched for arrowheads.
“Would you like to just sit for a minute?” he asked.
George dropped the anchor. He produced a bag from under his seat and pulled from it a small volume. He read, “Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough/A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou/Beside me singing in the Wilderness—/And Wilderness is Paradise enow.”
Beatrice moved forward and scooted next to him. She turned, set her hands on his shoulders and kissed George, lightly.
“I could stay right here forever,” she said.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.