When we last saw Ben he was waving to me from the next lane over, Halen cranked, fists a'pumpin (well, one was held high in the rocker's devil horn salute out his driver's side window). I had my first glimmer of shame.
Yes, I said shame. Do I think I'm better than someone just because they rock out while driving? No. But I am a Minnesota girl, and we like things such as a strong penchant for 80's rock kept close to the vest. Ben was going to give me a valuable lesson that summer. A lesson in how to say "Suck it" to the world. "Suck it, because this is who I am." If nothing else, I learned that from Ben. I also learned how to make a Manhattan, but I think the whole "suck it" thing will stick with me longer.
So, our first official date was on the Fourth of July. It was on a Wednesday that year, and both of us happened to be kid free for the last half of that week. Ben's parents lived on the river (for you non-Minnesotans, any river reference I make refers to the mighty Mississippi) and Ben invited me over there for a lazy pontoon cruise down said river. He added, "My parents are out of town, so it's chill." And here was where I got goosebumps, because I felt as though I had just made plans with the Bad Boy at school. And his parents were out of town. Goosebumps, I tell you.
Ben picked me up Wednesday morning, and we headed off to our cruise. But first, we had to stop at a liquor store. Ben had brought along a cooler and as we walked into the store to get enough beer to fill it, he said to me, "How about we go halfsies on the beer?". I wondered to myself why two people needed an entire case of beer for an afternoon river cruise, but figured what the hell. And so we headed off to his parent's empty house with a cooler full of Coors Light and a wee bit of sexual tension.
The trip down the river, and then back up again, was nice. The weather was absolutely perfect, perfect enough for Ben to give me my first "suck it" lesson when he took off his shirt and proceeded to commandeer the pontoon topless. Ben was a big guy. Not fat big, but big in general. No multiple chins or man boobs, but he did have a good size Miller Lite tumor (many, many thanks to my friend Jen for providing me with that vocabulary nugget). Which was most likely the result of many, many beers. Several of which he had downed before noon.
There was one freaky sunshower about halfway through our little river date, and for a minute I thought how romantic and awesome it would be if we were to just start making out like Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in "The Notebook". But that didn't happen. Instead, I clutched my warm can of Coors Light and cursed my decision to wear a white t-shirt which was now transparent. I was sure that my nipples were on display and decided that this was the ideal time to face away from Ben and soak up the scenery.
We stopped at a little sandbar beach thing, and disembarked. As I was stepping off the boat, all Mrs. Howell-like, Ben grabbed me and we had our first big smooch. And then kept on smooching, actually ending up laying down on the sandy beach embraced in a beer-fueled neckin' session. Ben was still topless.
We hung out at the beach for a while, talked and drank. Actually, I talked, Ben drank. I'm not a huge beer person, especially not a warm Coors Light beer person. We talked about being single parents, about our own parents, about cats, about our exes. All of the usual first date fodder. We discussed dinner for that night, and Ben suggested a little steak place not far from his parent's house. So we gathered up the empties, found Ben's shirt and headed back onto the water.
After dinner, we decided to drive back to my house. I had left Walter with my neighbors, and wanted to get back before it was too late. Ben asked me if I wanted to go see some fireworks or if I "wanted to make some of our own" back at my place. At this point it had been a while since I'd had relations with something that didn't require two double-A batteries, so I jumped all over that invitation.
I think this must have been the first boot-knocking I'd done since my sphincter and I parted ways with Curiously Cheap George because I remember trying to casually find out if Ben was a backdoor man. He actually said, "Ewwww", if I recall correctly, and with a sigh of relief I laid back and enjoyed the Mullet Experience. And it was good! Ben did have some asthma-like breathing issues, and at one point during the festivities I stopped and asked him if he was ok. He explained that he just need to go grab his inhaler, but "don't you move. I'll be back in a minute."
And so Ben and I began dating. I had never before even considered introducing my kids to anyone I was seeing. I felt like it was too much, too soon for them. They were dealing with the whole concept of their dad sleeping in a bed with someone new, and watching their dad snap her thong in the kitchen and listening to them moan and yelp at night when everyone was supposed to be asleep. I didn't want to have them watching another parent act like a horny 14 year old.
But all that changed, when one day Ben called me, frantic. He and his ex had the kids on a very unscheduled visitation loop. She'd have them for 3 or so weeks, or 2, and then he'd have them for a week or a weekend. Ben had someone near his house to watch the kids when they were staying with him during a work week, but this someone had apparently stopped offering her babysitting service. Hence the frantic call.
"I know this is really, really soon and I know how you feel about getting the kids involved, but I'm desperate" he said. This was summer, late July now. Ben's two younger kids were staying with him, his older daughter was back home with the mom. The two of them, a boy and a girl, were the same ages as my Henry and my William. I hemmed, and hawed, and tried to work this out in my head. My mama bear instincts were all tangled up in a confused knot....do I open the door to my dating life and let my kids in? Or do I leave the guy I'm dating in a lurch, and say no?
Of course, you know what I decided. Come on in, kids.
To be continued.....