I arrived at the little art studio off of Main Street in a small town in Minnesota—for my first book signing with the Storyville Project. Wearing my favorite boots, jeans, and a flowy pink top that tightens at the wrists but hangs off the shoulder. He said, one evening, looking at me—"You don’t like things that are restricting, do you? Not even clothes.” Walking into the small Minnesota studio, I noticed a vase of flowers.
“Welcome, Emilee,” one of the other authors, Kim, said. “Can you help us with this mystery?”
“What mystery?” I asked.
“Who sent these flowers?”
I knew who sent those flowers, but I acted for a moment like I didn’t. Tip-toeing over to the vase of Chrysanthemums, Lilies, Irises, and Peonies pouring over the edges of the translucent pink vase.
Inhaling their sweet scents deeply and smiling a tiny corner smile.
“I know who sent these,” I said, opening the card.
The card read: Congratulations on your book signing, wish I was there to celebrate. Signed, Cute Guy in Khakis.
“Who is the Cute Guy in Khakis?” Kim asked, intrigued.
“A guy I met three weeks ago in Florida,” I said.
“You have to tell this story in greater detail, please, on your blog.
My author journey is going to get a lot more open than this: so here, this one’s for you—Kim.
Like most exciting love stories, this one begins with heartbreak.
I was on my way to Florida with beautiful lapping waves, magenta sunsets, and a broken heart. Struggling with my past and wrestling with my current reality, I had thought about backing out and not going to Florida. I wanted to just sit in my sad cocoon.
The first day was just as heavy as the heart I brought on the plane. I couldn’t really bring myself to be okay.
And then I remembered who Emilee used to be. The free-spirited ball of light and love.
She is in here somewhere, with this really sad and heavy outer shell. This is my time and I’m taking my power back, I decided. At that moment, I was walking down to the beach in a white one-piece swimsuit with a sunhat and a flowy tan shawl that I let dance in the wind at my back as I walked towards the pier in the afternoon sun.
She used to be happy, without anyone. She used to know her worth. She used to be strong and courageous. She used to allow love in. Where did she go? She had kind of washed away over the years.
But she’s still inside here, right?
I walked to the ocean’s edge and sat in front of the cresting waves and put my hands over my heart—accepting love for myself. It may have been taken, a little bruised and broken, but it’s still in there. It can heal and return to me.
Staring off into the depth of the ocean, I decided that this is my time. To hold my strength and inner wisdom so close to my chest, locked inside of me, and use it as the soil from which I will grow a new version of me.
All of that happened, and then I ran into Steve The Hat Man.
Steve The Hat Man, hereafter referred to as STHM, is a man that owns hundreds of different hats. Pizza hats. Birthday hats. Flamingo hats. Cheese hats. All the hats you can think of—this man has the hat. STHM wears these hats just to take them off and tell you his miraculous story of surviving several brain aneurysms. Every time he tells the story, he has tears in his eyes.
STHM doesn’t have a phone, but he loves to stay in contact. So, when he saw me walking on the beach, he said, “Oh my sweet dear, please write your address down for me so we can keep in contact.”
Of course, I’d love to stay in contact with you, STMH.
Just please, please, please don’t ask the cute guy that looks to be about my age, that I’ve been avoiding because this is my time to heal and I’m solo right now, for a piece of paper.
What does he do?
Exactly what I didn’t want him to… walks over to the Cute Guy in Khakis, hereafter referred to as CGIK, and asks if he has a piece of paper we could use. Now, he wasn’t wearing khakis at the time. He was wearing a swimsuit with pineapples on it, the khakis part comes later.
While standing there waiting for STHM to write his address, CGIK and I sat very quietly and awkwardly. I wasn’t going to say anything.
I wrote down my address and handed STHM the paper.
We walked away… and thank God potential distraction averted.
I went back to my chair, shaded with my sunhat, and pulled out The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was thankful for my quiet moments this week to just spend time reading. On a beach. With a few margaritas.
It was the going-up-to-the-room thing that got me, as I had to walk by him again.
“Doing anything fun tonight?” he asked. “It’s Friday...”
“If it involves reading more of my book, shading my lobster-red face from the sun, and eating a bunch of vegetables, then, yes. Otherwise, no.”
He laughed. Damnit, don’t laugh. That’s kind of cute, and I’m on a serious mission of healing the gaping wound in my heart. No distractions.
“Well, those plans sound nice, but if you want to go out somewhere—I’ll take you.”
I pursed my lips and tried my hardest to come up with a fast excuse. I came up with nothin’, so I said, “Hmm… okay, maybe, yes, I think, for a bit, maybe.”
He laughed. Again. STOP LAUGHING.
“How old are you?” he asked, still smiling.
“I’m 28. You?”
I held up my empty plastic cup that still contained the remanence of my second margarita, with the salt on the rim. “Well, cheers to life,” I said.
“So, you wanna go somewhere? Your answer didn’t seem real certain.”
“Yes, I want to go,” I said.
More smiles. “Yes? You sure?” he asked.
“Alright, what time?”
“Um, 7. No, 6:30. Okay, no, 7.”
More smiles. STOP SMILING.
“I’ll come get you at 7 and will meet you down in the entryway.”
“Okay,” I said, with a little smile.
And then, back at the condo, I started hardcore planning how I was going to get out of it. I shouldn’t go. This is Emilee time. No distractions. Please don’t drive a truck. That always gets me. Please, please don’t drive a truck.
He showed up in a truck, but thankfully, we weren’t alone. I asked my sister to come with me. The two of us hopped up into this guy’s truck that neither of us really knew and went to a restaurant where they served squid with an artistic dash of original sauces on black plates and it looks so beautiful, I didn’t even want to eat it. We got three dishes and shared them, family-style.
When my sister got up to use the restroom, he glanced over at me and said, “Glad you brought your bodyguard with you.”
We both laughed.
“She isn’t my bodyguard! I just wanted to invite her,” I said.
We went back to the condo and then he asked if I wanted to go to one other spot—like, with just the two of us. My guard was slowly dropping and what was I going to do? Go back to the condo and read more?
We went out for one more drink, and I watched as he peeled back layer after layer of who I am. Sometimes surprising myself with the layers I revealed to him. My failed relationship. My broken heart. My successes. My writing. My whole life. He just wanted to know more and more.
He really listened.
People stared at us and we kept talking. He waved at pretty girls who know him. I waved at them too. It felt like we were some sort of magnetic force of energy—or maybe people just like to see a white girl who looks like she reads books all day and a black guy who looks like he could've played ball with LeBron together, happy.
Kind of the way that you can't take a bite of an Oreo and not think that it was the greatest invention in the whole world.
The next night was my last night in Florida. I would return to frozen Minnesota and he’d stay in there in the Southern sunshine. One thing I’m really insecure about revealing to others is my taste in music. It’s nothing super weird, but I listen to instrumental beats and old-school rap music. I listen to a lot of Taylor Swift (she writes songs about my life, how could I not?) and artists like Purity Ring, ODESZA, the complete soundtrack to Avatar, and Shallou.
But I only had one more night here with the CGIK, so why not?
We drove around, up and down the peninsula, and listened to whatever I played. Windows down, hand draped out the window and looking at all the Florida homes on stilts.
“What’s your favorite color?” he asked.
“Orange,” I said.
The CGIK stopped the truck and stared at me. “No way! Mine too!”
He slipped an orange wristband (which is actually a rubber band) off his wrist and put it on mine. I still have it on right now—two months later. And we headed back to the condo but stopped first in an empty parking lot.
I had no idea what was going on and was getting a little nervous.
“Will you dance with me?” He asked.
I am sure my face turned even more lobster-red than it already was.
“Yes,” I said.
We danced and then he said, “I’m going to Texas for a wedding in a few months, would you meet me in Texas? You’ll get to see me in Khakis.”
“Oh, really?” I said, smiling. “I’ll think about it.”