We decide to eat dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. I want to go on a run about Garrison Keillor and Norwegian bachelor farmers and Lake Woebegone and Prairie Home Companion but I feel it may be lost on Anders and Professor Rosholt.
I am the only one drinking of our merry crew. I sip a German Reisling. Anders and Rosholt insisted on ordering the shaved cabbage salad as an appetizer. This is a different kind of hell. It’s like sitting next to a Norwegian cartoon with no subtitles. And being given SHAVED CABBAGE instead of popcorn. At least there’s wine.
I look over the menu. The pan-roasted duck breast seems like the least-Norwegian option, even if it does have rutabaga. Would it be rude to order the duck breast sans rutabaga? I don’t want to risk being chastised in Norwegian. I decide to order it as is.
I am dying to check my cell phone and text Jamie, but I know that would seem rude. And if Anders and Rosholt are going to be rude by talking in Norwegian and completely excluding me from the conversation, I am going to seize the opportunity to be the polite martyr.
Our tall, blonde, Nordic waitress comes back to take our order. They both order poached eggs with fingerling potatoes and squash.
I start to put words in their mouths. Since there are no subtitles, I will have to use my imagination.
“You remind me of my mother,” I imagine Anders saying. “I may have an Oedipus complex, actually. Currently, I’m seeing a woman almost twice my age.”
Rosholt nod vigorously.
“Tell me more about that,” she says (in my head).
“Well, my mother was very cold and distant growing up. So I thew myself into my studies. I read all of the books at my school library. Since affection wasn’t readily available, I decided that being a good student was the way that I could show my mother that I really loved her. And now, this woman I’m seeing, Linda, she’s the head of the library. When I make love to her, I feel like I am finally able to show someone love through more than words and figures and footnotes.”
Rosholt nods even more vigorously.
“I have a fear of commitment and secretly harbor feelings for the florist in the little shop down the street. I like the way her fingers gently pick up flowers by their stems and place them in methodical bouquets. Every Monday morning, I stop by her shop and buy a bouquet for my office. That way, I am reminded of her and her graceful fingers all week long. Then at the end of the day, I go home to my cats. I have 6.”
“That is a lot of cats.”
“Yes, it is. They find me. I have never gone to a shelter or a pet store. One by one, they appeared on my doorstep, like feline disciples. I feed them, and in exchange, they keep my warm in my bed by sleeping near my feet and chest. Some day, I will ask the florist out to coffee. Some day.”
Our food arrives, and it is thankfully silent as we all eat. I order a second glass of wine. Since I’m not paying for dinner, I order the most expensive item on the dessert menu, a Big Woods blue cheese Napoleon with maple glazed figs and brandy ice cream. Even I have to admit, the food has been pretty delicious.
Something has alerted the Norwegians. Anders leans over.
“Dorothy, Professor Rosholt has offered to let me stay at her house. She has some documents she’d like to share with me. She is more than happy to drive me back to Decorah tomorrow or Monday and may even join me for my Monday morning appointment. I will give you some gas money. Hopefully this is alright? You can find something entertaining to do in Minneapolis, perhaps?”
Immediately, my mind lights on Jamie. I can take a detour to Lanesboro on my way back south and surprise him.
“Yes, Anders, that would be fine. Perhaps I can see a show somewhere. So nice to meet you, Professor Rosholt.”
As I leave, I think I overhear her asking Anders if he’s allergic to cats.
I have to speed all the way to Lanesboro to make the 7:30 show. I have no idea what I’m seeing, but I remember vaguely that shows at the Commonweal start at 7:30. Thank god it’s not at seven.
I find parking across the street from the theatre, in front of one of the many bed and breakfasts that populate the town.
Lanesboro Minnesota has a population of about 800 people. This number grows substantially in the summer months, when tourists come from all over the Midwest to bike on the Root River trails or participate in other outdoorsy things of that nature.
I love it when small towns endeavor to maintain some sensibility of the historic downtown feel. Nothing makes me happier than varied storefronts with white gingerbread trim.
But there’s no time to enjoy that now. I run across the street. It’s 7:28.
The young woman running box office for the night is pleasantly dressed in a bright read cardigan. She whisks through my ticket order. I take my program and find my seat in the theatre just as the lights start to go down.
The lights come up on A Christmas Carol. Gosh, isn’t a little early for a Christmas Carol? I think to myself. But after all, it is mid-November. And I’m not really here to see the play. I’m here to see Jamie.
He plays Bob Cratchit. And he’s really good. The scenes with Tiny Tim break my heart a little bit. He really connects with the actor playing his son. He doesn’t over do anything. He is obviously talented, but he’s also able to keep his performance really grounded and authentic, which wins him even more points than he already has with me.
Afterwards, I wait in front of the theatre for him to come out. The rest of the audience has already left. It takes about 20 minutes. And then there he is, all handsomeness and smiles, exiting with a few other actors, including Tiny Tim.
He stops when he sees me.
“Surprise!” I say.
“Yes, definitely a surprise.” His dazzling grin seems a bit tempered with caution.
Oh, crap. Did I screw up? Should I have called or texted, should I have told him I was coming before just showing up? This always works so well in romantic comedies, I mean you just show up and 10 minutes later you’re making out in an apartment somewhere. Right? Hollywood has ruined romance for me.
The other actors disperse, but Tiny Tim stays close to Jamie, holding his hand.
“Daddy, who is that?”
Holy. Crap. Jamie is a dad. This did not come up over drinks the night before.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Let me introduce myself. My name is Dorothy and I work at the college where you father will be teaching in January.”
Tiny Tim/Jamie jr. looks up at me with his father’s green eyes.
“And you came up here to surprise him?”
“Yes, it’s always nice to make new friends and see what they do.”
It has been so long since I’ve had a conversation with a little kid. I have no idea if I’m being condescending. This kid has to be about five, if I had to guess. I guess I could ask him. And his name. I should probably know his name.
“I’m Peter,” he says, as if he’s reading my mind.
“Hi, Peter, nice to meet you.”
“Dorothy, do you like hot chocolate with marshmallows and lots of sprinkles?”
He asks this question very seriously, as if the fate of the planet hangs in the balance.
“Yes, I love hot chocolate.”
“But hot chocolate with marshmallows and lots of sprinkles?”
“Well, there’s not really any other way to have it, right?”
He grins his father’s grin at me and I feel like it’s Christmas morning. If I were the Grinch, my heart would have grown at least one size. Maybe two.
He looks up at Jamie.
“Daddy, can your new friend come over to our house and have hot chocolate and help us read bedtime stories?”
Jamie looks at me.
“If she wants to, Pete.”
“I’d love to. That sounds like a lot of fun,” I say, maybe a little too quickly.
“Well come on then, slow pokes, I’ll race you there!”
And he is off, waddling ferociously down the street in green dinosaur boots and blue puffy jacket.
Jamie looks at me as if he’s about to apologize. In this moment, when he is confused, caught off-guard, not confident, vulnerable, I realize that there is the possibility that I could fall for him. Hard. And instead of being afraid, I am excited.
I grab his hand before he can say anything.
“Let’s go, slow poke!”
He grins, then nods.
“We’re going to beat you, Pete! Last one home is a rotten egg!”
We run up the length of main street and run onto a small side street. Peter stops at a small yellow cottage with gingerbread trim.
Jamie looks at me and squeezes my hand.
“Home sweet home.”