Stepping in It
“That sounds disgusting.” I wrinkled my nose. My sister, Annie, should know better than to ask me to something called Brunch in the Barn.
“Come on, Guy, it’ll be fun.” She poked my side in that irritating, baby sister way she has. “Hot farmers. Maybe a cowboy or two?”
“Right, because nothing shouts hot gay guys like a barnyard full of cow shit.”
“How would you know? You never leave the house. Not exactly a great strategy for meeting Mr. Right. Besides, I didn’t expect to find true love at a cooking class and yet here we are.” She waved her new, shiny engagement ring at me. “Maybe your plus one will be in the barn having brunch with his sister too. You won’t find out unless you try.”
I’d known it was a losing argument from the beginning. Annie had flown in for the weekend to rope me into wedding planning. I hadn’t seen her since Christmas and if she wanted brunch in a cow shed, I’d pull on my oldest, grossest shoes and go along. And she was right about the getting out of the house part. My last relationship fell apart a week after I started freelancing from home. These days a trip to the grocery store felt like an adventure.
I drove, and she navigated. The road wound through vast green fields. We passed maybe a dozen decrepit barns with peeling paint and missing boards. Ancient pickups and mud-encrusted farm machinery dotted the front yards. Every now and then I caught the distinctive smell of fresh manure, and my appetite disappeared.
But when we finally arrived at the right farm, the freshly painted farmhouse and pristine red barn weren’t anything like I expected. Late model cars filled the drive and people clustered in small groups. Everyone held a mug of something and they all looked happy.
“This is so cute, even better than on the webpage.” Annie grinned at me. “Oh, Guy, thanks so much for coming.”
My mood lightened when I saw how happy she was. Maybe this was a good idea after all. I climbed out of the car with my heart full. We started up the drive toward the other happy, smiling people.
That’s when I stepped in it.
Cow shit, chicken shit, even pig shit – I’d been expecting all of those. But instead I felt that familiar urban squish and smelled the stink as my shoe slid across a big, fresh pile of dog crap.
I swore loudly enough that a few of the cheery brunch folk looked over. Someone laughed. Someone else groaned in sympathy. Too many people watched as I scraped my shoe against the gravel. No wonder I never left the house.
“Come on over and we’ll get that cleaned up.” A man’s voice cut through the crowd.
I looked up to see a vision beckoning to me from beside the farmhouse where he stood holding a hose. He was tall and lean with curly dark hair and bright blue eyes. He smiled, and my knees went weak.
“Go on. You need to wash that off.” Annie poked me in the ribs and I realized I was just standing there, gaping at him. I closed my mouth and limped over, feeling stupid and awkward and unable to take my eyes off him.
When I got closer, he patted a white plastic lawn chair. “Sit down and take off your shoe. I’ll get it cleaned up. Dog dirt, that’s what the Brits call it. Sounds much more appetizing, don’t you think?” He held out his hand and kept talking, which was great, because I’d been struck dumb. “I told Madison that if she was going to let the dogs out in the front this morning that she’d need to clean up after them. But you know how kids are.”
“Madison?” I managed to ask as I slid my shoe off and handed it to him. A little zing flew up my arm as our fingers brushed.
He gestured with my dirty shoe to a middle schooler who was passing through the crowd with a tray of muffins. She had his coloring. A blond woman holding a carafe of coffee stopped to stroke the girl’s head in a proprietary, motherly way. His family. My little vision of walking into the sunset with this gorgeous man dissolved in a surprisingly painful wave of disappointment.
I gestured to my shoe and the hose in his hand. “Thanks for cleaning that off. It’s really nice of you.”
“No problem. I’m something of a clean freak.” He grinned at me as he held the shoe away and sprayed the tread. “I doubt you’d enjoy your meal with the smell of poop wafting up from your feet.”
I looked around at the farm fields and the freshly painted barn. Very attractive as a farm, but hardly somewhere you’d expect to find a clean freak. I cocked my head and looked up at him. “Being on a farm must be a challenge.”
“Tell me about it.” He examined the dripping wet bottom of my shoe. “Did you and your wife drive out from the city this morning?”
“My sister.” I glanced at Annie, who was busy trying not to watch our interaction.
He looked me full in the face, his smile even more radiant than before. “Your sister. How nice.”
The beautiful man with a lovely wife and child held my gaze for a few more beats, then he handed back my shoe. “What a crappy start to your barn brunch experience, so to speak. Still, welcome to the farm. I’m Patrick.”
“I should have offered to clean this off myself but I’m really glad you did. As a fellow clean freak, I know what a sacrifice you made to enhance my brunching experience.” I held up the shoe in a weird little salute that only sort of reduced the tension between us. “Thank you, Patrick. I’m Guy.”
“You must be the Guy I’ve been waiting for.” He grinned.
I blinked at him. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the joke, but I was pretty sure I’d never heard it from a husband and father. Maybe he swung both ways. But even though he was heart-wrenchingly attractive, I just couldn’t see myself as anyone’s piece on the side.
I decided to act like I’d misunderstood. “Excuse me?”
He looked away. “Sorry. Just. Never mind.” He gestured to his wife and continued in a more formal tone. “You better head on over to Sue and get yourself some coffee. I hope the food makes up for the inconvenience.”
I walked away, telling myself that spending any more time with him was dangerous. That way lay heartache. I rejoined the crowd without looking back. Sue gave me coffee. I grabbed a muffin from Madison, and found Annie, whose expression was all questions.
I shook my head and mouthed, “Married.”
She scrunched up her face into a comforting look of disappointment. She’s a great sister.
Birds sang, bees buzzed, and a rooster crowed in the distance. Eventually Sue led us all to the back yard where long tables had been set between the vegetable gardens.
It was like a rustic garden party, not at all the manure scented meal I’d been expecting.
A familiar voice from just behind my ear said, “They only do barn service in the rain.”
They? I turned. Patrick’s face was inches from mine. He smelled of soap and coffee and fresh air. He held my gaze for a long moment, then patted my shoulder and moved out of the crowd and toward the kitchen door. I stared after him.
Beside me Annie whispered, “Are you sure he’s straight?”
I shook my head. No, I wasn’t sure at all.
For the next hour, Sue and Patrick and Madison and three other clearly related children brought out heaping platters of food. Grilled vegetables, eggs, meat, sliced tomatoes, pastries, homemade bread and jam, all washed down with rich coffee and fresh cream. Annie chatted happily with the woman next to her and the couple across the table. I ate and stole glances at Patrick.
Who was often looking right back at me.
At the end of the meal the kitchen door opened, and a man stepped onto the stoop, wiping his hands on a towel. With broad shoulders and thick biceps, he was much larger than Patrick, but the similarity in coloring was striking. People around us started clapping and whistling.
Someone called, “Chef, chef.”
The man on the back stoop smiled tiredly. Sue put down a platter and stood beside him, her arm around his waist, smiling at the group of clapping guests.
Annie was looking from Patrick to the chef and back again. She turned to me and mouthed, “Brother?”
I nodded. My attention was riveted on Patrick. As I held his gaze, his smile widened. Annie had been half right. It hadn’t been in the barn, with his sister and he’d been serving, not eating brunch. But I’d found my plus one on the farm. Thank god he was just visiting for the weekend. Our first date was back in the city where I belonged.
It all goes to show, even after a shitty start, there might just be a happy ending.