On a warm afternoon in May, Dexter Jones, forty-six, gets home at five from his job of delivering packages for UPS in Springfield, Oregon, undresses in his garage, drops his uniform into the washing machine, enters his kitchen naked as a jay bird, washes his hands with great thoroughness, feeds his hungry cats Frank and Ethel, and takes a hot shower during which he washes his longish brown hair.
Now he puts on his favorite tie-dyed T-shirt featuring lots of blue and green blobs, captures his hair in a stubby ponytail, slips into comfy old blue jeans, and saunters into his kitchen to make some guacamole to have with chips and lemonade for his first official date with Melody.
Melody lives in the house directly behind Dexter’s house, their backyards connected with a friendship gate Dexter and Melody’s brother Godfrey built a few weeks ago. Melody is sixty, trim and pretty with short brown hair. A high school Home Economics teacher, Melody does an hour of yoga and takes a brisk two-mile walk every morning before she conducts her online classes for five hours, and then she takes another brisk walk when she’s done with her teaching.
Neither Melody nor Dexter has been in a relationship in several years and they were both pleasantly surprised when they found themselves desiring to maybe get into one with each other. How to create a new relationship in the midst of a deadly epidemic is a mystery to both of them, but their desire to explore the possibility trumps their reluctance, and tonight is the beginning of their experiment in dating during a pandemic.
Dexter sets up a little table on the edge of his vegetable garden about ten feet from the friendship gate and covers the table top with a green paisley tablecloth upon which he arrays two bowls of guacamole, two bowls of chips, and two glasses of lemonade. Now he places a lawn chair on either side of the table and sits down to await Melody.
While he waits, Dexter closes his eyes and thinks back over his life, recalling several other first dates. And as he watches his memories, he notices that in every previous first encounter he was so anxious about wanting the woman to like him, he never allowed himself to be who he really was. Instead, he tried to say and do things he thought the woman would like. Thus he was never genuine with these women in the beginning, never the true Dexter, so no wonder the women were all confused a few dates along when he could no longer keep up the façade and they found out he was not the person he’d been pretending to be.
“But no more,” says Dexter, sighing in relief. “From now on I speak from my heart and tell the unvarnished truth.”
“Sounds good to me,” says Melody, standing in the friendship gateway.
Dexter opens his eyes and gazes in wonder at the lovely woman in a reddish short-sleeved summer dress, barefoot, with a red rose in her short brown hair, a plate of almond-butter cookies in one hand, a small glass decanter of red wine in the other.
“Wow,” he says, mesmerized. “You are so beautiful.”
She steps through the gateway and sets the wine and cookies on the table.
“Don’t hold back, Dexter,” she says quietly. “Say what you feel and I will, too.”
He gets up from his chair. “I’ll go get a couple wine glasses. Be right back.”
Melody moves her chair a little closer to Dexter’s chair, about seven-feet away, sits down, and exhales profoundly. “Just be yourself, Mel. You’ve got nothing to prove. If he likes you, he likes you. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. Better to find out sooner than later.”
Dexter returns with two small and delicate crystal wine glasses and sets them on the table next to the decanter of wine. “Got those in Venice. The one time I went to Europe. Nine years ago. Never used them until now.”
“They’re exquisite,” says Melody, her eyes filling with tears. “I never did get to Europe. Always wanted to, but never made it.”
“You might go some day,” says Dexter, his eyes filling with tears, too. “We might go together.”
“It doesn’t matter,” says Melody, smiling through her tears. “The only thing that matters is being here with you right now. Everything else is a memory or an idea. This is what’s real. And I want to tell you, need to tell you, that ever since you called two days ago and asked if I’d like to meet you here today, just the two of us, I’ve been happier than I’ve been in years and years. Just knowing you wanted to be my special friend is a great gift, Dexter. No matter what happens.”
“You have the most appealing voice I’ve ever heard,” says Dexter, feeling deeply happy. “You want to pour the wine or should I?”
“I’ll pour,” she says, removing the crystal stopper and pouring the wine into the delicate glasses. “I almost never drink alcohol, but I thought it would be fun to toast our new…” She half-frowns and half-smiles. “What are we calling this? Friendship or…”
“I like relationship,” says Dexter, reddening. “Everything it conjures up.”
“You mean sex?” she says, arching an eyebrow and raising her glass.
“Among other things,” says Dexter, raising his glass, too.
“Like what other things?”
“Like sharing time. Holding each other. Laughing together. Watching the cats goofing around. Gardening. Going on walks. Making food together. Telling each other things we don’t tell anybody else.”
“Here’s to all that,” she says, gently clinking his glass with hers. “Though I think we’ll have to wait a while before we hold each other. Until we’re ready to take the chance.”
“To all the possibilities,” he says, clinking her glass with his. “Whatever they turn out to be.”
They drink the wine and gaze at each other for a long time without speaking.
“You’re wonderful,” says Melody, the first to speak. “I’ve never wanted to kiss anybody as much as I want to kiss you.”
“I feel the same way,” says Dexter, grinning. “But in lieu of a kiss, try my guacamole.”
Melody dips one of her chips into her bowl of guacamole, and at the taste of the good green goo her eyes grow wide with delight.