There are so few times in a person's life when they can say the stars aligned to make something happen. This was one of those nights.
Darren texted me "Dress warm --- very warm :-)" which seemed awfully mysterious for a first date. He picked me up in his Jeep, the real kind where the whole top comes off and the doors come off and it's basically like driving around in a tuna can. The stick shift made me incredibly happy (I think that all real men should know how to drive a stick shift and I'm really excited to have someone teach me!) I knew we were going to have an awesome night because as soon as he opened the door for me, Sirius radio was set to the country station.
If there's anything I love more than a firefighter in a truck, it's a firefighter in a truck playing country music!
The January air was biting at my nose, my toes, and everything in between. I dressed in warm layers as he suggested, but I didn't want to closely resemble the StayPuft Marshmallow Man either, so I brought a few extra pieces with me. He smiled and said, 'You're gonna need more than that to keep you warm!" I glanced in the back seat where he'd stashed a few blankets. Where in the hell were we going?
"Do you trust me?" he grinned. I squinted my baby blues at him and scrunched up my nose. "Should I?" I replied with cautious optimism. "Absolutely," he nodded, "I have a precious cargo theory. And you, my dear, are precious cargo."
With that, he handed me a large mint hot chocolate from DD (yum!) and laughed a little suspiciously. "It's a long ride. Figured you might need that." Off we drove into the darkness.
Let me be clear. I am not someone who likes surprises. I am not someone who easily surrenders control. I am not someone who hands over the reigns to her life. I am not someone who can relax into the passenger seat. I am the driver. I am the planner. I am the only person in charge of me. But there was something about his confidence, his charisma, his strength of character that made me trust him, made me want to sink back into this seat and go along for the ride. Wherever Darren wanted to take me, that's where I wanted to be.
We drove and drove and kept on driving. We sang along to country music. We both knew the words. We talked about our lives since high school, played some catch up, recalled some memories. We chatted about good times with our friends and who was doing what now. We each restated our total disbelief that the other had been interested and never said anything about it until now. We drove for so long and I was enjoying the conversation so much that when he turned off the highway onto a sandy little road, I almost choked on what was left of my hot chocolate.
There was no one around. There were no cars. There were no people. There were no lights, not even in the distance. There was nothing around us but the cold, dark, January night, and looking out the window I realized --- he had taken me to the only place on Long Island where you can still see stars.
"Remember all those layers you brought? Now might be a good time to put them on." I could tell by the smile on his face that Darren was pretty proud of bringing me out here. I know what you're thinking: this is a scene from Law & Order SVU waiting to happen. Normally, I would not be caught dead (pardon the pun) out in the middle of the dunes with a guy I hadn't seen in fourteen years. But the look on his face was more "excited to show her something amazing" and less "can't wait to kill her and bury the body where no one will find it." Thus, I bundled up and got out of the Jeep.
I was shivering despite my layers, and officially looked like a cross between the StayPuft and Michelin men. It wasn't sexy in the least, but Darren jumped down from the truck, took his fireman's coat off of himself and draped it around my shoulders. I looked up at him, my eyes tearing up from the cold, the winter wind stinging my cheeks, when he cupped his warm hands around my face, leaned down and kissed me. It was the gentlest, sweetest, most sincere kiss I can recall in all the dates I've gone on. The cold melted out of my body and his warmth spread from my lips all the way down to the tips of my fingers and the bottoms of my feet. In that instant, he defrosted my heart.
"I've wanted to do that since 1992," Darren smiled down at me, still holding my face in his hands. It was the only part of me not covered by jacket or gloves or scarf or hat. His touch was electric. I needed more.
Grabbing the blankets out of the Jeep and taking my hand, Darren led us down to the strip of beach off the side of the road. I saw we weren't far off from the lighthouse and only imagined how far out on the island we'd actually driven. Guessing we were on State Park property also made me wonder if we were allowed to be here, but I quickly quashed those thoughts and decided to stop being a goody-goody and just enjoy the moment.
He spread out a few blankets for us to lay on since the ground was partly frozen. I situated myself on top of them, and he piled a couple more blankets over us. Looking up at the stars in the pitch black night, I felt incredibly small and yet very safe. I hadn't seen stars like this in a long, long time. Maybe since I was a child? It was comforting to know that these same celestial beings were here long before I was, and they'd be here long after I was gone. They existed when Darren and I first met, and now here they were, half our lifetimes later, bringing us back together. He looked up and pointed out a constellation...and then another...and another.
A fireman who drives a Jeep, sings country music, brings me hot chocolate, gives me his jacket, kisses me under the stars, AND knows the names of the constellations??? This is much too much romance for one girl.
We laid under the stars, talking and kissing and picking out constellations for hours. He had an app on his phone that showed the night sky at the exact time of year at our exact location, so for all those millions of stars we couldn't identify, there was (quite literally) "an app for that." He held me close and knew it was time to go when I started to shiver again, despite my protesting that I was fine. I wanted to stay there all night. I wanted to camp out under the winter sky with him. I wanted to fall asleep to Cassiopeia and Orion and Jupiter and Saturn, waiting for Venus to rise. I wanted to know that his coat and the waning moon were my covers, his arms my protection, his kiss my lullaby.
Darren helped me to the car, warmed it up, and drove us back to civilization, leaving the lighthouse behind. In all my wildest Junior High school dreams, this night would still have been impossible, despite my vivid imagination and penchant for uber romantic tales. He created between us a memory, a moment, captured in time and yet utterly timeless. He brought us out of the past and into the present. The whole ride back, all I could think about was our future.