Four years, three weeks and four days ago, I drove to Hatch, running late as usual. It was a Monday, our first day back after the New Year holiday. Five new interns were starting that day, and we'd scheduled a training session for the morning. The new blood consisted of four girls and a boy. Two of the girls were from Harpeth Hall, a January tradition, the other two from different colleges up north. The boy was more of a mystery. In classic Hatch nepotism, which I both regularly protested and participated in, one day in the fall Jim had called up to the front of the shop, "One of my friends from high school is sending his kid down to intern with us sometime this winter!" I picked this as an opportune time to be a pain in the ass, and objected. "What do we know about him? Have we seen a resume or a portfolio? Do we even know his start date?" Jim, to his credit, at least obtained that last vital bit of information for me. There was a post-it left on my desk with the words, "Austin Gray. Salina. Jan 5."
The training session was already in full swing by the time I got into the shop. I made name tags when I got to my desk, and tried to distribute them by instinct, instead of asking who each new intern was. Austin was easy enough to pick out, the only new boy, so I slapped a name tag on his chest and thought, "Oh, he looks fine."
A week later, I had determined that he was, in fact, more than fine. He was funny. I was organizing some intern/staff bonding, and asked him what his plans were for the evening. He responded by saying he was probably going to wank it a few times, in this incredibly casual way that made me laugh before I even realized he was joking. I recruited him for a sushi and board game night, where we played a game called Kokology, from a book of quizzes I'd received for Christmas. Our quiz responses were supposed to give us insight into our psychology. The quiz we all took was about an imaginary amusement park, how we pictured our own experiences there. One of the questions was how long we expected to stand in line before getting on a roller coaster. My optimistic sisters, who obviously haven't spent time at Cedar Point, said there would be no line, no wait, just walk right up to the ride. Edan said, "Maybe five minutes?" I pragmatically predicted 45 minutes. Austin's response: "EONS." At the end of the quiz, it was revealed that our responses were supposed to be indicative of our attitudes toward sex, and specifically, our wait time for the roller coaster represented foreplay. Much giggling ensued...
Another week passed. Everyone at Hatch made plans to attend the Guilty Pleasures show at 12th and Porter, and I was frothing at the mouth with excitement. Austin left the show after the second song, and I was troubled by how mad this made me. Why should it matter? I knew he had a girlfriend at home in Kansas, although he occasionally exhibited an apathy about that situation that gave me a mean flare of happiness that I didn't want to examine. I was in a long-distance Thing with San Francisco. I wasn't supposed to care.
By the next week, Austin and I were either talking on the phone every night after work, or making plans together. Mostly still group activities, dinner, movie nights. He came to Jenny's birthday dinner with my sisters and their (now) husbands, but it Wasn't a Date. The next week he helped me make my famous chocolate and almond tart, and was joking around with the whisk, which was covered with ganache. He had chocolate all over his face and in his beard, and I remember thinking, for just one second, that I wanted to kiss it off his face. Uh oh.
January 30th was a Friday night. We had talked about going to the opening at Cheekwood with Casey and Trent, but it was too cold. We met a visiting friend of Austin's for a beer at Bosco's, and a couple of times I didn't move my leg away when it rested next to his under the bar. We took the friend back to his hotel and then picked up sushi from Ken's. We watched The Italian Job at my house while we ate. I had a blanket spread out over both of our knees. At one point I realized that his hand was on top of the blanket, on my knee, which was under the blanket, and I wasn't sure if he realized it, but didn't want to move my knee so as to not make a point out of it. Trent was in the living room talking to us, and Austin didn't move his hand. We were sort of snuggling without really discussing it. We sat on that couch and talked late into the night after the movie. We were reading Calvin and Hobbes books out loud to each other by the time the snuggling had become more overt, and then, eventually, turned into kissing.
And, I suppose, you know the rest. Or, to skim over the next two months, Austin went home to Kansas with the intent of returning to Nashville as soon as he found an apartment and a job. I visited and then sort of lost touch with San Francisco. Austin and I talked on the phone and IMed every day he was gone. I was becoming addicted to the sound of his voice. He came back the first weekend of March to sign a lease on an apartment, and we went out in public as a couple, and I got to meet most of the Jenkins family, with whom Austin had grown up and also stayed with during his internship. I suppose the clincher was the middle of March, when I went to Texas for South by Southwest with Jenny and Shannon. This trip also coincided with my birthday. I spent the entire trip either on the phone with Austin or seeing things that reminded me of him and I wanted to tell him about. I stayed back from a shopping excursion to talk to him for two hours. He had made me a beautiful birthday card and sent an incredibly thoughtful box of gifts. He was winning.
He moved to Nashville the last week of March and we have, literally, never looked back. Four years of inside jokes and amassing an embarrassingly large zoo of spoiled pets. Four years of ridiculous dances in the kitchen, and planting tomatoes, and holding hands thistight on airplanes. Four years of baseball games and guilty cheeseburgers and washing dishes. Four years of always having something to talk about, but also not always having to say anything. Four years of sharing family and history, and saying, "Sweet dreams," before we fall asleep, and slowly building this future that I'm so honored to be a part of.
Happy anniversary, my Boo. I love you the most of all.