A match made in the woods. - 1st place winner, Twisted Tales Contest
“Thank God it’s Friday,” I thought with a sigh.
Charlie called out: “Hey Gage, will I see you over at the “Duck” later?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there Charlie. Maybe a little after eight or so. I got some business to tend to.”
“That business, wouldn’t have anything to do with that little ol’ gal you’re courtin’ on the internet, would it Gage?”
“Light on my feet for a man my size, I turned sharply, and covered the distance to Charlie in three strides. Towering over him I said:
“Keep it down Charlie. I don’t want nobody knowing yet. Prolly won’t amount to nothing anyway. It never does. How’d you find out?”
“Aww, I didn’t mean nothin’ Gage. I was talkin’ to Stella is all. You should know that woman couldn’t keep a secret if her bleached blonde hair depended on it.
“Yeah, you’re right Charlie. I never should have asked advice from her. I was just needing a little direction. She promised me she would keep it to herself.”
“Well,” Charlie said. “You can count on me Gage. I won’t tell a soul.”
“You mean nobody exceptin’ everyone in this here parking lot, don’t ya Charlie?”
I turned back, moving over to my truck, noticing my new “vanity” license plates, “00 BUCK.” Most people got the clever play off my first name “Gage”, some did not. I didn’t care. I liked it, and that’s all that mattered.
The seat complained as I heaved my bulk up into my battered Dodge 4x4. Settling my 6’6”, nearly 300-pound frame, I cranked the engine. The big Hemi coughed once, caught, and settled into a low rumble. As it warmed, I daydreamed of my relationship with Sherice. Only online, and mostly in my own head probably, nevertheless I smiled when I thought of her. We’d spent the last few weeks just chatting and getting to know one another through the keyboard. We had been attracted to each other due to the fact, that neither of us included a photo in our Mix N’ Match profile. A bit unusual, but not unheard of. I had my reasons, I assumed she had hers.
My reasons were personal, relating to my appearance. It wasn’t just that I was a large man, some said huge, especially women. But I was abnormally hairy. I long ago gave up trying to shave down to my collar bone every day, while the hair on my chest, shoulders, and back curled out everywhere in thick black tufts. My jet black hair and beard were long, thick, and silky smooth. I kept it all manageable, with a semi-monthly grooming over at “Stellas Cut Hut.” Otherwise, I resembled a bear in clothes.
That’s what my mother always called me as she hopped up on a stool to hug my neck and kiss my face.
“Son, if you ain’t the biggest, most lovable, bear in clothes. Just like your father. I can’t for the life of me, understand how some woman hasn’t snapped you up.”
Though I longed for the companionship of a woman. I found very few that were interested. Was I so unattractive?
Being 28 years old, big, well-muscled and very little fat, I could work a 50-hour week at the mine, then using my remote cabin as a base, spend all weekend in the woods of northern Minnesota. Hiking up and down the forested ravines, pitching camp wherever, seeking to lose myself, and some of my loneliness, in the breathtaking beauty. It was where I felt most at home.
Sherice and I enjoyed the distance, and safety of our keyboard relationship. She’d had some bad run-ins with males in the past, and I’d had my emotions trampled by more than one woman. If they were honest, they told me they just couldn’t get past my size and appearance.
It was draining, and too often, humiliating.
I slipped the truck into gear and drove leisurely home through the town of Virginia, Minnesota. Pulling into my driveway, I saw Ranger scrabble out from his dog house built into the side of the garage. I hit the button on the door opener and rolled in.
“Hey Ranger. How’re you doin’ boy?”
I knelt, giving him a good rub down with several affectionate hugs. A couple big tongue laps were my reward. Ranger was a 90 lb. Chesapeake Bay Retriever. When I ‘d purchased him from a local breeder, she’d told me that male Chesapeake were notorious womanizers, chasing all over town and country, making a pest of themselves. I didn’t want a dog that needed bailing out of the pound every other week so I’d had him neutered at an early age. Now ol’ Ranger stayed home. He was loyal and loving and would follow me anywhere.
Freshly showered, I changed into my “evening” flannel. The difference between my evening flannel and my “work” flannel was that my evening flannel was a sight newer than my work flannel. Evening flannel would become work flannel, and work flannel would become shop rags. Christmas and Birthdays would always see my mother replenishing my supply of colorful, new, evening flannel. Life could be simple in northern Minnesota.
I got a nice fire going in the big, black, potbellied stove purchased from old man Patton’s kid when his father died. It was an oldie but a goodie. I loved that wood stove. So did Ranger. Having finished his dinner, he turned himself around a few times, threw himself down on his rug in front of the stove, put his head on his forepaws, sighed like only dogs can do, and passed out.
“Good gracious Ranger. You sigh like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
Ranger popped one big brown eye open, thumped his tail once and closed the eye again.
I logged on to see what Sherice was up to? Seeing she was online, I typed my usual greeting:
“Hey Sherice! How’re things in your neck of the woods?” and waited.
Soon: “Hey Gage! Or should I say, “double ought Buck?”
“Ah! You’ve seen my new license plate. At least you get the twist. Not everyone does. Where did you see my truck? You should have introduced yourself. I’m not that scary. I promise.”
“Some people will never get a clever twist, Gage. They simply cannot see the forest for the trees. I saw your truck out at your cabin last weekend. I watched you as you chopped wood. You were pretty impressive, I must say.”
As I read her response, I felt my face flush with embarrassment. It was a warmer than usual last weekend. The temperature reaching nearly 40 degrees F. Thinking I was alone in the woods, I had removed my flannel, and worked shirtless. I knew I must have looked like a great hairy beast.
“Sherice! You saw me? I never saw you at all. You must be very good at hiding. Wait a minute. Did you just say you thought I was “pretty Impressive?”
“It’s not like I was stalking you, Gage. I was simply out for a walk in my neighborhood. But to answer your question, I thought you were the most beautiful man I'd ever seen.”
I was struck dumb. I didn’t know what to say. My fingers just hovered over the keys. Was she playing with me? Was this the beginning of the next big emotional blow? I was afraid to find out.
“Gage, are you there?”
“Yes Sherice, I’m here. Hyperventilating as a matter of fact. No woman has ever said that to me. Some women may like me. Some may even be kind and friendly, but never has any woman told me that I was…a beautiful man. I’m sorry to be so skeptical Sherice, but my experience has been quite the opposite.”
“Is that why you do not include a photo in your profile, Gage?”
“Yeah. I’ve found it easier if, when I meet someone new, they don’t think I am a Grizzly bear, or some other hairy monster. Sounds silly, I know.”
“Not to me. And I don’t think you are a monster, Gage. I’ve been watching you for a few years now. I’ve seen your kindness toward animals and your appreciation for God’s creation. Your appearance may not be every girls cup of tea, but I find you very attractive.”
I was stunned. The anonymity of cyber space had just been stripped away.
“Sherice! You’ve been watching me for a few years? How? Why have we not met before? When can I meet you? And by the way, why have you not included a photo in your profile? You seem to know everything about me, but I still don’t even know what you look like.”
“Remember what I said about the “forest and the trees", Gage? You have looked directly at me many times, and yet, you have not seen me. You saw trees. But I was one with the forest. I am, as you say, very good at hiding.”
“Well, I would like to see you now. Can we at least get together and have coffee or something?”
“Yes, I think it's time we meet and talk in person. I have a friend in town. You may know her, Janine Corder. We have been close for many years. She allows me the use of her computer to talk with you. We can meet for coffee at her house and see how things progress. Agreed?”
“Of course, I agree. Shall I come tonight? Give me Janine’s address and I will pop right over. I am so very excited to meet you.”
“Yes Gage, you can come now. We will put the coffee on. Janine lives at 2013 10th Avenue North. I am also very excited, to finally sit and talk with you. I have dreamed of this for years. But…I am also afraid.”
“Sherice, you have nothing to fear from me. I know I can look big and scary, but I am a peaceful man who respects women. I would never hurt you.”
“I know you would never hurt me on purpose, Gage.”
“What are you afraid of then, Sherice?”
“Come over now, Gage. It will all become clear to you. Better leave Ranger at home though. I tend to make dogs…a little…uneasy.”
“I’m leaving now, Sherice. I’ll be there in ten. I can’t wait to finally meet you.”
Shutting down the computer, I grabbed my red plaid coat, keys, and red stocking cap. Telling Ranger to "Stay," I stepped out into the cold evening, my breath hanging in the air. Almost giddy with excitement, I fired the Hemi and set out. The Mud Duck crowd would have to do without me tonight. I was going to meet Sherice!
I pulled into Janine Corders driveway. Soft light shone in the windows of the tall A-frame structure. All at once I was quite anxious. I had to remind myself that Sherice had already seen me shirtless, and still liked me. What kind of girl liked a big hairy ape like me? I wondered.
I knocked gently on the door and waited. A tall, slim woman of about 40 arrived.
“Gage? Hello, I’m Janine Corder. Please come in, let me take your coat and hat. Sherice is waiting in the kitchen. She is very nervous. She almost bolted into the night. It was all I could do to calm her down. Come, I’ll show you in.”
I stepped into the kitchen and beheld Sherice for the first time. Her back was toward me as she poured coffee. Though shapely, she was quite tall. At least 8 feet. Her body was covered with long, beautiful, auburn fur.
The floor boards creaked as she turned and gazed at me. Then, smiling warmly, tears of joy shining in her eyes, she spoke in a voice, though low, soft, and trembling, was distinctly feminine.
“Hello Gage. I am a Sherice, Yeti Princess of the Saskatchewan Clan. I am so very pleased to meet you