It had been weeks since I’d last seen you one-on-one. It’s not that we never spent any time together; it was usually spent among friends. We’d occasionally get some alone time to talk at parties, but it was never long enough.
In the time we spent with friends (not at parties), I’d learned how much you had an eye for art and design. When I suggested visiting some favorite gardens of mine from childhood, I hoped you’d jump at the opportunity. It wasn’t a museum or classic film, but the architecture and flora scheme was certainly no eye sore.
As you pulled into the driveway, I practically flew out the front door. I couldn’t wait for the day to get started. I was ready for an adventure with just you. As much as I enjoyed outings with our friends, I was stoked at the opportunity to know you better. I certainly couldn’t wait to share something personal with you.
I was nervous, of course. What if it rained and we missed seeing the gardens? What if you didn’t like them? What if you slipped and fell? More likely, what if I found out you didn’t feel the same way about me? What if I put myself out there, yet again, to no avail?
These ‘what if’s’ flooded my brain, trying to drown out the excitement of the day ahead. I shut down these thoughts as I firmly closed and locked the front door. When I sat down in your car, I immediately began yammering about everything we had to see.
Once we arrived, I knew I had nothing to worry about. The excitement on your face was enough to displace any concerns previously held.
Your gaze fell upon the cascades and torrents of water which flowed over stone steps. These steps were like those of ancient Incan irrigation, based on the architect’s Peruvian heritage. The water didn’t pool on the wide, flat terrace edges, but tumbled down into a churning, otherworldly undertow at its base.
The terraced design was the basis for the entire gardens, including the botanical elements incorporated within. At the very top, trees of all sorts provided shade. My favorites were the overhanging weeping willows, which seemed to lean toward the center of the water garden.
The willows reminded me of sad women or Narcissus, leaning over waters’ edge, seeking meaning in its depths. I shuddered at the meaning imparted by the churning waters below me. It was reminiscent of an unsettled stomach, or an ocean in the midst of a storm. Considering my own anxieties about sharing these moments alone with you, that was the last reminder I needed.
I looked up from the whirlpool of uncertainty and met your gaze. You seemed to want to say something, but kept it to yourself. I wondered if you wanted to know why I shuddered. I hoped you’d ask, but you didn’t.
You started descending to the next level of the gardens, eager to see the sunlight play upon the water at a different level. You seemed curious about the tropical plants scattered round the secondary level, too.
The constant spray, light as it was on this second gradation, made it possible for equatorial flora to flourish. It also slightly increased the chance of slipping.
I slowly followed you down the stair, careful to not trip and fall. I don’t think I’d ever live from the embarrassment. It was rather challenging to keep my eyes on my feet, especially as I watched your strong, lithe form saunter ahead. There was something about the easiness of your gait which simultaneously soothed and distracted.
You stopped, abruptly, to inhale the fragrant jasmine vine which twined round the secondary terrace. It wove through luna hibiscus and standard-trained white chenille. The unusually upright catkins were soft to the touch.
At the corners of this step were bunches of ghostly orchids, palest cream from pistil to outer petal. Even these produced a subtle aroma which complemented the jasmine well. Intermixed with the orchids were the whitest bromeliads I’d ever seen. Their spikiness accented the vertical chenille while adding to the orchids’ protruding petals.
I passed you to take in the pearly orchids, and inhale their aroma. I wanted so much to linger beside you as you looked up at the nearly cloudless sky, inhaling the fragrant flora deeply. Instead, I perched on the edge of the orchid box and looked up, too.
Overhead, I saw a bird diving and wheeling with another. It was unclear if they were fighting or flying together, but I envied their dance all the same.
I looked back down to see you reading some plaque about the training of the chenille, one I’d read countless times in childhood. So I moved on to the tertiary terrace, knowing that waiting for you would be too obvious.
As I tentatively began the descent, I felt the spray from an overarching jet of water right in my face. I have no clue how I didn’t see it, but the next thing I knew, I was falling backward. Except, I didn’t thud against the concrete.
I didn’t hear you coming over the increasing din of the water, but you must’ve been right behind me. Instead of falling onto my backside, I fell into your outstretched arms. Honestly, I’d prefer the bruised bum over my now bruised ego.
You asked me if I was okay. I must’ve worried you when I slipped. I tried not to read too much into that. Who wouldn’t show concern over someone slipping and potentially cracking their head open?
I told you I was fine, thanking you for catching me and apologizing for my clumsiness. You looked at me with a curious twinkle in your eye. Maybe you thought I’d done that on purpose?
I finally asked you,”What?”
You answered, “I hope you’re not falling for me.”
Rolling my eyes I said, “No. Just falling on you, apparently.”
At that, the twinkle in your eyes became a mischievous gleam above a wolfish grin. You replied, “I’m okay with you falling on me, but make it face first next time, huh?”
I immediately felt the heat rise in my cheeks and pointedly stared at you with a chastising stink eye. It was a well-worded innuendo, I had to give you that. It didn’t necessarily dignify a verbal response.
I stepped out of your arms, turning around to continue the way I’d intended. Before I was out of your reach, you grabbed my hand. I stopped and turned back to you.
You asked, “Where do you think you’re going, Ms. Trips-A-Lot?”
I said, “The center of the gardens. It’s my favorite spot and I’m not letting one little slip stop me. Why are you holding my hand?”
“So you don’t fall again.”
“I’m not going to fall again!”
“Not if I’m there to catch you, you won’t.”
“Fine. I’m still going in front of you though.”
We made our way downwards, toward the frothing center of the gardens. At its heart, there was a bare concrete dais. Its bleakness was intentional.
After the visual beauty of the arboreal overhang at the top, followed by the botanical brilliance below, the center remained austere to make way for the water.
Aside from the arc of water which’d blindsided me, there were several smaller jets on the primary and secondary levels. On the tertiary level, the streams were much larger and more powerful, producing a dull roar.
The sound only increased as you reached the center of the gardens, for beneath the dais, the water was sucked down and back up again to the topmost level. Between the arcs of falling water and cascades from the upper levels, the noise was palpable. Beneath the dais, the current was so strong, it produced a sound akin to a pounding waterfall.
I led you to the center of the dais, treading ever so carefully. It was even harder than before to concentrate, what with the buzzing in my left arm from the prolonged contact. If I started to falter, I squeezed your hand, and you squeezed mine reassuringly.
Eventually, we reached the base. Water was beating the concrete all around us. It was streaming overhead. And then I asked you to let go of my hand.
“Trust me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just going to sit down.”
“But you’re going to get soaked. The ground’s all wet.”
“Do you think I care? That’s part of the point, anyway.”
You stared at me, bewildered. I sat on the ground, and took off my shoes. I crossed my legs and closed my eyes. Taking several deep breaths, I let the beating water all around me drown out my fear of what you might think. The palpitations within my chest began to match the rhythm of the swirling eddies of current around me.
I hoped you’d come sit beside me and try to experience what I was feeling. Letting yourself wash away in the steady sounds of the whirlpool below allowed a necessary disconnect from the anxieties of the moment. I was briefly cleansed of worry and the racket of ‘what if’ in my brain.
As always, you surprised me when you sat down behind me. You spread your overlong legs wide, and wrapped your arms around me. I stiffened, slightly, at the unexpected contact. It was welcome, not just because it came from you, but the water had started to seep into my bones. A chill had begun to set in.
With you holding me, the damp didn’t matter anymore. I leaned into you. My heartbeat and breathing picked up, and I knew you could feel the hammering in my chest. You didn’t say a word. Instead, you held me tighter and slowed your breathing.
I was surprised I could hear your breathing over the watery din around, above, and below us. The closeness helped, I guess. I matched my breathing to yours. Our chests moved in tandem, inhaling and exhaling.
We sat like that for a long time, not saying anything. We just were. After what finally felt like forever, I opened my eyes and realized the sun had almost set. I began to move, but you stopped me. You pulled me close and inhaled again, then ever so gently kissed the top of my head.
You asked me, “Was that okay?”
Just as I was about to answer,