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our love story, part three | personal.

New to this series? Catch up on the insanity with Part One and Part Two!


It had been just over two weeks since our first date when he invited me to come to his aunt and uncle's farm for Thanksgiving. He'd met my parents once, just briefly, when he came to pick me up and they were on their way to take my sister back to college. It didn't count. They didn't really have a chance to meet him or talk to him and they were a little squeamish about me leaving town with him for several days. A day before Thanksgiving, I came downstairs to find him at the kitchen table, explaining to my Dad exactly where the farm was, what we would be doing, and offering to leave addresses and phone numbers for how they could reach us.

We left the next day.

It was a two hour drive, and not a pretty one, really. You have to go up miles of broken-up highways (Justin used this opportunity to explain to me that the unofficial symbol of the State of PA is the road cone), passing over bridges and a 5 mile stretch of adult film stores before you arrive in tiny Mifflinburg, PA. Justin told me he used to spend a lot of time at the farm when he was younger, that he once tattled on his cousin Jamie for riding a horse bareback and, in return, she made him eat a Fireball. I liked learning about his family, and it didn't feel like a ton of pressure because his parents wouldn't be there, and it seemed to be a place he loved.

We didn't waste any time. Before we ever sat down for turkey, I had fed the chickens, driven a skid loader and a 1940's International Harvester. I fired off a couple rounds of .22 into coffee cans set up in the field and made everyone duck when I walked around with the rifle. Uncle Bill showed us the hardware store he owns and Aunt Cindy introduced me to Peter Piper's Pickles, the ones that are so garlicky they make your eyes water, and she still buys them for me to this day.

Justin and Uncle Bill went hunting in the morning and I fell asleep on the couch in the living room, the one that is filled with half a dozen antique clocks ticking away at different intervals, and I had the funniest dream about falling down a rabbit hole. On Thanksgiving morning, we went for a long walk around the farm and I started to get anxious about making it back to the house in time to take a shower before more relatives arrived. It didn't happen. Lord, I was mad.

We walked back up to the porch and I saw new people mingling inside, hugging and greeting and passing off apple pies for the table. My hair was an oily mess. I had an oversized college sweatshirt on and rubber boots caked in mud. I think I whispered something in my Not Nice Voice to Justin about how he promised me we would be back in time to get cleaned up. I decided right then and there to break up with him. I'm kidding! Stay with me, folks.

I met more aunts, more uncles, and more cousins. I learned that yams are not actually sweet potatoes, and real sweet potatoes are hard to come by but absolutely worth it when you cook them in copious amounts of butter and brown sugar. I ate so much food I thought I might rip at the seams. I loved seeing Justin with "his people." It was a different element than being around my own family - their humor was different, the conversations were different, Justin seemed different. It was very, very good.

We slept in separate rooms that week, and on the second night, Justin came in and sat on the edge of my bed. He asked if I was having a good time and if there was anything I needed. What started out as an, "I'm happy you're here!" conversation ended with me feeling overwhelmed and scared, clamming up at the onslaught of feelings I had and reaching for the panic button. Justin left the room quietly, and I knew I'd hurt his feelings by not reciprocating all his kind words, but I just felt scared. I wanted things to slow down but here he was, barreling into my life and the way I felt about him scared me. It was strong and intense and consuming. I didn't want it to go away, but I also didn't know how to think  or feel about it. I was always a very strong-minded person, feeling like I could call the shots, and the powerless feeling of loving somebody can throw that sort of person for a loop.

I didn't sleep well. I wanted to cry. I was embarrassed at the thought of seeing him over the breakfast table the next day with his family around. I didn't want it to be awkward but after our conversation the night before, I didn't see how it couldn't be. When I woke up in the morning, I heard him talking downstairs. I brushed my teeth and came down the creaky steps to the kitchen where he sat in his blue police academy sweatshirt, drinking coffee with an English muffin buttered in front of him. He smiled warmly and I instantly felt at ease. He fixed me a cup of tea and pulled out the chair beside him, pulling my feet into his lap. We talked with Uncle Bill for a few minutes, and when he stepped out of the kitchen, leaving just the two of us, Justin leaned over and told me he was sorry about the night before and he didn't mean to put so much pressure on me. He said he was grateful I came with him and wanted us to both have a good time without any worries.

And can I just take this moment to tell you that kissing a man whose lips are warm with fresh coffee sitting in the kitchen of an old farmhouse while you both still have sleep crinkles on your face is quite nice? I recommend it.

We stayed one more night after all the relatives left and I'm so glad we did. That was the evening with the ice cream. I think I had rainbow sherbet, which always reminds me of being little because it was my favorite, and Justin had peanut butter chocolate. We carried our bowls to the living room couches and I tucked my cold toes under his leg (he must've really been rooting for us because when I do that today, he freaks out about why I have such bad circulation). I have never purchased peanut butter ice cream in any capacity for myself. I don't like it and it strikes me as cloyingly thick and sweet. But some reason, my sherbet seemed lackluster compared to what he had. I asked him if I could have a bite and he smiled, reminding me that I said I didn't like peanut butter ice cream, and he handed his bowl over to me and went right back to the conversation.

And there it was all over again. Like sitting at the restaurant and the peace came and my heart felt full and happy and content and quiet. We went home with a cooler full of corn, bagged and frozen over the summer, jars of homemade strawberry jam and Tupperware containers with Thanksgiving leftovers. A week later, I would visit Justin at his apartment and find two sweet potatoes left in there and wonder how he possibly resisted. I ate them both sitting on his kitchen counter, happy and full.


Part 4 - Our Engagement Story, coming up next!