Chapter 23: A Change in the Weather
I made a seven-thirty reservation at Candilotti's. I was excited about our date. Rose and I were getting along very well and I felt more and more impressed with her as I got to know her better. I also found I was looking past her handicap and not seeing it as a barrier, merely a fact ... not unlike my dietary needs. I had explained on the phone my inability to eat large quantities to Mrs. Candilotti and she said to leave it to her and she would create something special for Rose and me.
I knocked on the Cummings door precisely at six-thirty and Margaret opened it almost immediately.
"Doug, come in. Rose is almost ready," she said, leaning over and whispering in my ear. "I'm so glad you're getting her out. She needs a life outside this ranch and the business. Thank you so much for doing this."
"I'm just glad she agreed to come with me tonight," I said quietly.
At that moment, I saw Rose walk into the great room and turn toward us. She looked amazing. Her hair was done in a special way that made her look very elegant, but her dress, a deep green in color, was also a highlight. For the first time, I saw her with some makeup and while it wasn't very much, it enhanced her appearance dramatically.
"Oh, my, Rose. You look wonderful," I said in awe.
"Thank you, Doug. You look very handsome yourself."
"I'll check in with Debbie around nine o'clock to make sure everything is okay," Margaret said. "Have a nice evening and don't rush back. Enjoy yourselves."
Margaret handed Rose a wrap for her shoulders, knowing it would be cool later that evening. With a final word, I turned to escort Rose out to the Dodge and caught a glimpse of Harlan, standing in the kitchen entrance and smiling and extending a thumbs up. I had the approval of the Cummings, and I hoped that it would be the beginning of something for Rose that would encourage her to socialize more.
I helped Rose into the Dodge and then put her wheelchair into the back. She seemed a bit nervous, but I was as well and the drive into Sacramento was quiet other than a comment or two about the weather or other innocuous topics. I found parking and helped Rose into her wheelchair. We walked, or rather, I pushed toward the restaurant a about a block away. I liked the old town and its very western feel. Despite being November, it was lively and active this Friday evening. Decorative street lighting and the various store fronts were lit up, giving the place a special feeling.
Mrs. Candilotti was at the reception desk when we arrived, and when I announced us she smiled and welcomed Rose and me, showing us to a very nice table near the front. I had not mentioned Rose's handicap, but I had asked if the place was wheel-chair accessible, discovering that it was mandated by law. The delightful, rotund woman welcomed us as if we were old, established customers.
Her "something special" was a series of samplers of almost everything on the menu. Pasta, veal, seafood, chicken and more. Not too much of any one thing, but plenty more than we could eat in one sitting. It allowed me to eat as much as I wanted without disappointing our hostess. Rose, as I already knew, had a hearty appetite and was enthusiastically praising our hostess's choices. I could relax. The evening was a hit and Rose was smiling continuously.
It was two hours later that I paid the bill, surprised that it wasn't as much as I expected. I thanked Mrs. Candilotti for her thoughtfulness and imagination and tipped the waitress generously. She had helped make the evening special for me and, I hoped, Rose.
"That was wonderful, Doug. Thank you. How did you know what to order? We never did see a menu."
"Our hostess promised something special when I mentioned my restrictions and by golly, she sure delivered."
"I probably ate too much," she said, "but it was so good and there were so many dishes to sample, I couldn't resist."
"If it's not too cool for you, why don't we walk around the town and see some of the sights," I suggested.
"Sure. It's early yet and my wrap will keep me warm enough for now. Thank you for tonight, Doug. I really enjoyed it."
"I'm glad you did, Rose. I'd like to do it again sometime. Maybe try something different next time."
I couldn't see the expression on her face since I was behind her, pushing, but I didn't sense any hesitancy when she replied.
"I'd like that too. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to be out on a date."
"Good. Then it's settled. I've discovered Armenian food since we've been going to Fresno. How does that sound?"
"Sure. I like it too. Armenian it is, then." I couldn't see, but 'heard' the smile in her voice when she agreed.
After our walk, I took her back to the car and helped her in once more. By ten-thirty we were back at the ranch. Margaret and Harlan were still up and I suspected were waiting for us.
"How was your evening," Margaret asked.
"Wonderful," Rose responded immediately.
I wonder if she knew how good that made me feel. I could see the big smiles on both Harlan's and Margaret's faces as Rose described the meal at Candilotti's.
I turned down a coffee offered by Margaret, knowing it would keep me awake, not that my evening with Rose wouldn't as well. I drove home with a good feeling about our first date and hopeful that it would be the first of several. I walked into the house to find Debbie sitting up, watching TV, but obviously waiting for me.
"How was your date?" she asked immediately.
"It was good. We had a very nice time and we'll probably go out again."
"I'm glad, Dad. You need to have a life besides work and us kids. Rose is really, really nice, too. Did you kiss her?"
I must have blushed before I stammered out a "No. It's a little soon for that."
She giggled, "It's never too soon. Was she easy to talk to?"
"Yeah, very easy. We've been around each other for a few months now, so it's not like we don't know anything about each other."
She smiled once more before, "I'm going to bed now. Sweet dreams, Dad," she said as she kissed my cheek.
Yeah, sweet dreams all right.
Thanksgiving was held at the Cummings ranch house and Margaret prepared a wonderful feast for the seven of us. Bill and Harlan watched football games while I spent time with Rose. Debbie and Sandy tried to help, setting the table and fetching things for Margaret when needed. When the kids headed back to the house later that evening, I stayed behind to help Margaret with the cleaning up.
"Are you and Rose going out this weekend?" she asked as I dried some of the dishes.
"Yes, we thought we might spend Sunday together. She's almost finished her driving lessons, so with her learners permit, I can accompany her while she gets some practice time in the van."
"You two are getting very close, aren't you?"
"Are we? It's hard to tell. I'm kind of backing off from her, trying not to push her into something that she's not ready for."
"Doug, Rose is ready, let me assure you. You are being too careful. I can see the look in your eyes when you are together, so I can guess how you feel about her. But I can also see the look in her eyes. Trust me, you don't have to be afraid to move the relationship along."
"You don't think I'm too old for her?"
She gave me a withering look. "You're just forty years old. She's not that much younger at thirty-three. That's hardly a big leap."
I stepped back toward the entrance to the kitchen and checked in the living room to see what Rose and Harlan were doing. They seemed to be absorbed in something and likely oblivious to the conversation between Margaret and me.
"Rose isn't completely inexperienced," Margaret said when I returned. "She's had a few temporary boyfriends over the years, but none of them lasted."
"Do you know why?"
"Some she dropped after a couple of dates. Maybe they thought they could take advantage of her. That she'd be grateful or something like that."
"Yeah, I can see that happening. But none of them were keepers?"
Margaret smiled. "There were one or two I thought might be right for her, but ... I guess there was no real connection. No magic ... you know?"
"I think I do. It's what Diane and I had. That intangible that makes the difference."
"Exactly! I have a feeling that it might be different for you and Rose. I don't really know why, but ... well ... it's just a feeling. Don't take me too seriously, Doug. I'm just an old gal with romantic notions."
"You have that feeling with Harlan, don't you," I stated.
"Yes," she smiled. "I have had since the beginning and it's still there."
"I know what it's like and I keeping hoping I'll find it once more."
"I'll keep my fingers crossed for you," she said with a genuine smile.
I'm not sure if the conversation with Margaret was the stimulus or not, but that Sunday when Rose and I went out for a drive I felt a good deal bolder. I was only worried that if I said or did something that upset Rose, it would distract her from her driving and I didn't want to do that, so I kept my thoughts to myself until we were back at the ranch.
"You drove very well today, Rose. I think you're ready for your test ... if not now, then soon."
I got a very big grin from her and a "Thank you" as well.
"You gave me the courage to do this, Doug. I really appreciate it. I didn't realize how much it would give me a sense of freedom. I was thinking, maybe it was time I took you out on a date, my treat. And I'll drive."
"That would be great. Name the time and place and I'll be ready."
"Well, let's see," she said playfully. "We've done Italian, Armenian, Chinese and Mexican. Why not good old-fashioned American?"
"I'm for that. Old Sacramento has a bunch of nice places. What about that bistro we've passed by several times?" I suggested.
"Yes. I'll make a reservation for Saturday night. Will Debbie be able to babysit?"
"She's going out with her latest boyfriend and I think Bill is going out too. Maybe I can get someone for Sandy."
"I'll bet Margaret would be willing. Sandy could stay with her until we get back. I'll ask her."
It turned out Harlan and Margaret had no plans for Saturday evening and immediately volunteered to have Sandy join them until we got back.
What had changed for us when we went out on a dinner date was the seating. Instead of my sitting across from Rose, I was now sitting beside her. If we could find a booth, so much the better. But if not, a table would still allow us to be closer. We were also holding hands quite often as well. I'm not sure when that started, but it seemed quite natural after Rose initiated it. I had been surprised until I remembered Margaret's comments at Thanksgiving.
"What would you like for Christmas, Rose?"
"A man in my bed," she answered immediately, completely catching me off guard.
"Oh, don't look so shocked, Doug. We've been leading up to this for some time."
"Rose, I haven't even kissed you ... except on the cheek. I mean, there hasn't even been a hint that you ... well ... you know."
"Doug, we're both mature adults. We both have feelings for each other. I don't believe in dancing around pretending we're just friends. I can tell how you feel, or at least I hope I can. You aren't anything like the men ... or boys ... that I once knew. Despite my handicap, I'm still a woman with all the normal hopes and dreams. You don't look at me with pity. You see past that. You see me. Not many men can do that."
I was shocked at her confession and I didn't know how to respond, but I knew I needed to. I needed to tell her how I felt so that she didn't for a moment think she was wrong.
"You don't beat around the bush, do you?" I finally managed. "I have no idea how you saw into my heart, but you did. I was afraid to tell you how I felt, Rose. I was afraid I might drive you away. That would have ruined everything. I do have strong feelings for you. I do want more from our relationship. I want to know that it's right for both of us."
She smiled. It was a smile of pleasure and comfort. I had given her the encouragement she was hoping for. I had told her we had a chance. The rest was a matter of just how much we could create from our feelings.
"Eat hearty, Rose. You're going to need all your strength," I grinned as I leaned into her and for the first time, kissed her lips.
She didn't say a word, gazing into my eyes before returning for another kiss, this time with the tip of her tongue moving slowly across my lips.
"We'd better behave ourselves or we'll get tossed out of here," I chuckled as we parted.
"That would be a first, but maybe not a last."
She was showing all the signs of being happy. A lighthearted happiness that only encouraged me. We kissed once more before sitting back in our chairs.
This was the beginning of the next phase of my life. There were some logistical problems to work out, but I knew that night that Rose and I would make love and it wouldn't be long before it happened.
"So," Rose said with her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand, "your place or mine?"
"I don't think it matters," I said. "Either way, it's going to be awkward."
"Hmmm ... let me give this some thought," she said with a sly grin before pulling her cell phone out of her purse.
I watched her speed dial a number and waited.
"Margaret, it's Rose. Do you mind if I bring Doug back with me tonight?"
I felt the air go out of me at the sheer audacity of her question. I couldn't hear the other side of the conversation, but I could easily hear the giggle from Rose as she listened.