Anything but Lukewarm

She knew exactly the day, the very hour when she became lukewarm. It was the day Trevor told her that he was leaving. Sighing quietly, Jenn sat on the sofa; Ranger jumped on the couch next to her and whined.  “You need to be walked, and I need to get out of this place for awhile,” she told her dog.

After grabbing a sweater and the leash, she slipped on her old beat up tennis shoes, for they were heading to the beach today.  Outside, it was cloudy.  “Should we walk, or take the car, Ranger?”  Upon hearing his name, the dog looked up at the woman who had rescued him from the shelter just a few months ago. When she looked at her pet, the dog began barking and wiggling with pent-up energy after being cooped in the house all night.  “Walk, it is,” she told him.

Her favorite place on the island was just a few blocks away. The park had a large area for Ranger to run and play. It was grassy and large pine trees filled the space. Next to the park was Crab Cove with its sandy beach. It also had a walking trail that she and Ranger always enjoyed. Well, at least she used to anyway. As the lady made her way to the shore, the salty water from the San Francisco Bay lapped softly against the shore. She just wanted to slump in the sand and gaze at the view before her, but she knew Ranger would have none of that.

Heading back to the trails, the two began their walk. Although it was an early Sunday morning and the day was chilly, others were also out and about. She wondered if they were trying to escape their ordinary routine too. Her best friend, Merry, came to her mind as she replayed their conversation from last night. “You can’t hide forever,” Merry, scolded her friend. “You stay at home, and when you do leave, you never leave the island. Everyone is worried. We miss our Jenn.”

“I’m fine,” Jenn lied to her friend. They both knew she was anything but fine, but for the moment, Merry allowed her friend this one fabrication.

“Are we still on for dinner on Monday?” Merry questioned. As much as Jenn dreaded the thought of being around other people, she promised to meet Merry at their favorite restaurant on Park Street.

Since Trevor left, Jenn’s world had become a world of grey. Each day, she flitted through life while not really feeling any emotion. The woman wasn’t sad, but she wasn’t happy. Jenn ate to sustain, but not for enjoyment. Her job as a nurse at the local hospital filled her days, but she no longer felt satisfied at the end of her shift. Lately, she drank more wine than she should and hoped the alcohol would make her feel something, anything, but all that it gave her was a morning hangover and a killer headache.

She was tired of living a lukewarm life. Lukewarm, was how Trevor described people that blindly went through each day without taking time to enjoy life’s little pleasures. When she was with Trevor, they often “people watched” to see who was among the living and to witness those who were just lukewarm. Almost smiling, she remembered the day they had spent an afternoon at Pier 39 in the city. They sat on one the benches while eating ice cream, and Trevor began watching the people on the pier.

“See those kids over there?” She turned to see where he was looking, and then she spotted a group of boys that were laughing and pointing at the seals that lounged on a deck below them. “They are definitely not lukewarm. They still enjoy the little things like lazy seals basking in the sun, just waiting for them to bark, so that they can bark back at them. But look over there.” She turned to see a couple. The man was trying to get the woman’s attention. He was pointing at a large pelican that had just landed on a nearby post, but she was looking at her phone. Clearly, he was upset with her because she was ignoring him, and she didn’t have a clue. “Now, that one,” pointing to the woman, “is just lukewarm, and she has forgotten her manners.” Next, the two noticed an older couple. The couple was leaning on the rails of the pier when out of nowhere the older man patted his wife’s backside, and the woman giggled. No explanations were necessary as the younger couple began to laugh.

This man of hers was a southern country boy who had stolen her heart, just a few short months ago. She met him the day that she found Ranger. The two bumped into each other at the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter. She had just spotted the perfect pet, and he volunteered by walking the shelter’s dogs. She was leaving after finding Ranger, and he was entering with a small beagle pup that was bouncing on one end of a leash. “Hey, that’s my dog, “ he told her.

“Excuse me?” she asked. Her mind was racing. Ranger’s papers clearly stated that he had been surrendered.

“That’s my dog. Come here, Ranger.” On cue, Ranger barked and whined while pulling on his leash, for he was trying to get to the man who had just given him a command.

How did he know his name? “Do you work here? She quizzed the man.

“Yes. Uh. No, I volunteer. I walk the dogs that need to burn off excess energy, and Ranger was one of those dogs, “ he replied. “And walking dogs helps to get me outdoors and keeps me in shape.”

“Oh,.” she replied a little dazed while wondering what she had just done. No one said this dog was extra energetic. She thought of her schedule at work and worried.

Laughing at her expression, he told her “Ranger is really a great dog. He is just spirited.”

Closing her eyes, she sighed while wondering if she had just made a colossal mistake. As much as she wanted this dog, she worried if she would be able to give her new pet enough attention. Had she been too impulsive?

By the look on her face, Trevor knew he had upset Ranger’s new mama. “Hey, how would you like to walk your dog? I am dropping off this little pup. We could take Ranger for a walk, and I could give you some advice about your new guy.

“Well, I guess if you don’t mind,” her voice trailed.

“I don’t mind. Besides, I have an ulterior motive. It gives me a chance to say good-bye to my buddy here. I’m Trevor by the way.” He reached out and offered his hand.

She took his hand and smiled. “Jenn, and, I would like that.”

“Do you know a place called Crab Cove? They also have a dog park nearby.”

“Yes, she replied, “I know the area.”

“Great. Let me take in Max, and I will meet you there in about 20 minutes.”

Slipping into her PT Cruiser, Jenn smiled at her new family member and said. “A new baby and a hot date in one day….well maybe not quite a date, but your friend, Trevor, is hot.”   She slid the key into the ignition and turned the key. Backing out of the parking slip, she pulled out of the lot and drove to the park that Trevor had suggested. Once she arrived, she looked in the mirror, grabbed a brush from her bag, and tried to tame her windblown curls. Without much luck, she grabbed her lip-gloss and slowly slid it across her lips. She told Ranger, “That will have to do.”

Once in the park, Jenn focused on her new dog. Ranger was a Golden Retriever with soft brown eyes that warmed her heart.   While at the shelter, she moved from kennel to kennel while viewing each dog. The area was quite noisy as each dog vied for her attention. Once she rounded a corner, she quickly spotted Ranger. He barked and jumped up on the cage door, tail wagging. As she walked over to him, Ranger whined for her attention, and she swore he was smiling. “Hey boy,” she called as she scratched his ears through the wire mesh. He lowered himself from the gate and sat on his haunches and lifted a paw to her. “Are you the one?” She asked. As she was talking and petting the dog, an older woman wearing a T-shirt with the shelter logo came up to her and asked if she would like to take Ranger to the visiting room.

In this room, Ranger put on quite a show. He ran in circles, for he enjoyed the attention. He barked and jumped and showed off for his new friend. The information provided explained that Ranger was two years old. He was surrendered to the shelter because his owner had to move and he could not take Ranger with him.

“Let’s see what you can do.” Jenn said to the dog. “Sit,” she commanded, and the dog obediently sat on his hindquarters. “Stay,” she told him as she walked to the other side of the room. Ranger sat still as he watched her walk across the room. “Come.” And Ranger walked to the woman. Laughing, Jenn sat on the floor with him. Once seated, Ranger climbed into her lap and lounged quietly as long as she scratched his ear and softly talked to him. “I think you might be the one,” she whispered, and Ranger gave her a quick kiss in response.

Lost in thought about Ranger, she didn’t realize Trevor had arrived until she heard his soft Southern drawl.

“Hope you haven’t been waiting long,” he softly stated.

When Jenn looked up at him, she believed her heart stopped for a moment. In front of her stood this charming man who had a smile that put the afternoon sun to shame. Since she and Ranger lazily sat on the warm sand, Trevor offered his hand to help her stand.

“Do you mind?’ he asked while reaching for Ranger’s leash. Without saying a word, she gave the leash to this man.   “Now,” he commented, “Ranger has been well-trained by his previous owner. He knows basic commands, and he listens fairly well, but he still likes to chase cats. Once he sees one of those critters, it’s over, and you have to hang on tight.”

The couple and the dog walked along the trail until the pack arrived at the gated dog park. The park was empty, so Trevor unleashed him. Reaching into his pocket, he threw a mangled ball, and the two played fetch. Jenn realized that this was a routine the two had established. She also understood that Trevor truly loved this dog.

“Why didn’t you adopt Ranger?” she asked.

“Oh, I wanted too, but I am only here for a short time. I have been helping my granddad fix up his old place and pack up his life. He plans on selling and returning home to North Carolina. He was stationed here years ago when he was in the Navy. My grandparents loved it here and decided to stay. Grammie died about six months ago, and granddad says it’s time he returns home; he misses family.”

“Here for a short time,” echoed in Jenn’s mind. She just met the man, so why did this bother her?

The young couple talked and walked all afternoon. Too soon as early evening approached, the twosome made their way back to the parking lot. Trevor walked Jenn to her car. After Ranger was squared away, Trevor turned to Jenn and asked if he could see her again. She agreed, and the two exchanged phones and added their numbers.

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. When Jenn wasn’t working, the two spent every spare moment together. She discovered that Trevor had his own construction company in Beaufort, North Carolina. When his granddad needed help, he left his foreman and best friend in charge of his business and headed west. She met his grandfather and fell in love once again. He was the kind man that everyone wanted in a grandfather, and since she had never met hers, Mr. Sherman fit the bill.

One afternoon, she had fixed a picnic lunch and was taking it over to the two men. Trevor had stopped by earlier and picked up Ranger, so she could run to the store and pick up the items she needed for lunch. Walking around the side of the house, she could overhear the two men talking. “Your work here is through, son, and it has been for awhile,” Granddad chuckled. “I can put the house on the market now. You know you love her, so why don’t ya just ask her to move to Beaufort with you?”

“You know why I can’t,” Trevor almost shouted at his grandfather. “It’s just too soon.”

Jenn held her breathe and wondered about what she overheard. Too soon? What was he talking about? At that moment, Ranger found her and barked in delight, happy to see his owner. Surprised, Trevor walked around the corner and took the bowls and bags from her arms and gave her a smile and a kiss on the cheek.

On the patio, the men had set plates. Since they knew beer was not entirely to her liking, they brought out some red wine for her. Someone had even picked a bouquet of roses from the garden that Esther, Trevor’s grandmother, had once tended so carefully. Country music played in the background, and she laughed. These two country boys had warned her that it would grow on her, and so it had. While Trevor was setting the food, on the table, Jenn asked Granddad, “May I have this dance?”

“Of course,” he replied, and the two practiced her two-step. “Getting the hang of it gal,” Granddad laughed as the two twirled around the patio.

Trevor laughed, “Stop stealing my girl and let’s eat.”

The trio sat together and ate their fried chicken and potato salad. They laughed and talked, and the two men took turns giving Jenn country western dance lessons. She was getting the hang of the country swing when she began to yawn. She knew it was getting late, and she had an early shift in the morning. As was now their custom, Trevor kept Ranger when she went on her shift. After hugging Granddad goodnight, Trevor walked his girl to her car. Always the gentleman, he opened the door for and kissed her goodnight before she slid inside.   “Ranger and I will check on you tomorrow night. Call me when you get home, and I will bring dinner to you.” Jen nodded in reply. He was so understanding of her crazy hours when a twelve-hour day could quickly become a 14 or 15 hour day.

Driving home, she couldn’t stop thinking of what he meant about too soon. She couldn’t stop thinking about what granddad had said. Could it be true? Did Trevor really love her? She knew they had only been together for three months, but she knew she had fallen in love with this man. Jenn wanted to talk to Trevor and discover what he meant, but at the same time, Jenn felt frightened and wasn’t sure if she wanted to know. The woman had misgivings about the whole situation.

Her workweek sped by quickly. As usual, on her first day off, Jenn slept in late. She woke to the sound of Trevor opening her door. And she braced for what was next, for Ranger bounced on the bed whining and giving her kisses and letting his mama know how much he had missed her. “Save some kisses for me,” Trevor laughed as he walked into her bedroom. Always spoiling his girl, he stopped by her favorite coffee shop and brought Jenn her favorite caramel delight.

“What did I do to deserve you? Come here and let me thank you properly.’

After setting her coffee on the nightstand, Trevor began bouncing on her bed too and started covering her in kisses. She decided to table the talk she wanted to have with him because she didn’t want to ruin the moment. It could wait until later. Trevor snuggled in next to her, and the two began talking at once while trying to make up for the hours they missed when she pulled her 36-hour shift. She discussed her patients and talked about her co-workers. He spoke of the finishing touches on granddad’s home, and both skirted the questions that weighed heavily upon them.

Later that afternoon, Trevor and Jenn took Ranger to the dog park when the sun began its descent; the two sank into the sand to enjoy the sunset. Ranger, tired from his play, settled in close to the couple. Talking at once, the couple tried talking. “You first,” Trevor stated.

“No, you,” replied Jenn. She was still wondering about his words “too soon.”

“Well, granddad’s house is on the market, and I need to return home. Brayden’s done a fine job holding down the fort while I have been gone, but he needs a break.”

Jenn held her breathe, afraid to hear what was coming next.

“Granddad and I have packed up his belongings, and we are renting a truck and moving on Saturday,” Trevor stated.

She had been dreading this moment but knew it was coming. Tears filled her eyes, and she hung her head. She didn’t want him to see her cry. Immediately, Ranger knew something was wrong and climbed into her lap and started giving her kisses. Her dog’s response opened the floodgates, and she could not hide her emotions any longer. Trevor pulled her close and tried to soothe her. Once the tears stopped, Trevor told her that he would miss her. She waited for more, but that was all he said. Suddenly, her sorrow turned to anger, and she screeched, “That’s it? You will miss me? Is this it?”

Trevor turned away and said nothing. When he finally turned around and looked at her, she noticed tears had filled his eyes. Finally, he spoke the three words she had longed to hear. “I love you,” he barely whispered, “but it’s too soon.”

And there it was those words she dreaded. “What do you mean it’s too soon?”

Trevor started talking, but he did not sound like himself. He spoke in a monotone voice.   “ She died, you know, in January. I got the call at 3 a.m., and I wasn’t even there to tell her goodbye.”

He continued talking, but she had stopped listening after she heard him mention his wife. Confusion welled up inside of her. January? They met in February. He didn’t mention a wife before this.   And how could he treat her like he did if his wife had just died in January? Their days together over the past few months flashed before her. Holding hands, laughing, kissing, and a spending every available moment together, what had just happened? She felt sick and got up to leave. He jumped up too. When he looked into her eyes, he knew he had messed this up big time.

“Wife?” She whimpered. “Don’t you think this is something you should have told me about sooner? How could you? I mean she only died about a month before you met me! How could you do this to me? To her? I don’t believe I know you at all,” she cried as she started walking away with Ranger on his leash.

Ranger whined and pulled at his leash. He tried to drag her back to Trevor, but in her pain, Jenn didn’t feel the leash digging into her hand. She commanded her dog to come, and the confused dog complied.

Trevor ran after her and pleaded, “Let me take you home; please let me explain.”

“You have explained enough, and I prefer to walk,” she told him between clenched teeth. Once she was out of earshot, the pain erupted, and she wailed. As the tears flowed, she made her way to an isolated spot in a grove of pine. She held her dog close to her body and cried until she could cry no more.

Once she arrived home, she phoned Merry and told her some of what had happened. She explained that she didn’t want to see him and that he was leaving on Saturday, just three days away. Without having to ask, Merry told her to pack a bag and bring some dog food. Afterwards, she called her supervisor and asked to take a week off. Helena knew something was wrong and immediately arranged to have her shift covered. “Call me, if you need anything,” Helena told her before she shut off her phone.

For the first two days, Jenn could hardly breathe. How could she fall for a man who couldn’t even tell her that he was married? Merry kept the house stocked with her friend’s favorite wine and took Ranger for walks since Jenn couldn’t bring herself to get out of her pajamas. On the third day, the day Trevor was leaving, Merry went to the spare bedroom and told her best friend, “Get your ass outta that bed because you need to walk your own damn dog.”

Jenn dressed and marched into the living room, glaring at her friend. Merry handed her the leash, but as she walked out of the front door, Merry was right behind her.   “Talk,” her friend demanded. While the two ladies walked Ranger, Jenn finally told Merry about everything that had happened. Hand in hand, the two friends, cried together. Since childhood when one sister hurt, the other cried too.

The day after she spilled her guts to Merry, she decided it was time to go home. She unpacked and finally looked at her phone. She knew he had called, but never answered her phone. Before she could change her mind, she deleted his messages.

Time quietly slipped by and before she knew seven weeks had passed. She tried to forget Trevor and fell back into her routine. On the days, she worked her long hours, Merry took in Ranger, so her “nephew,” wouldn’t spend so much time alone. Although she felt numb, Ranger helped fill Trevor’s absence. Still, she believed life would never be the same.

One day after walking Ranger, Jenn rounded the block when she spotted Trevor sitting in his truck in her driveway. She froze. Standing there she didn’t know what to do, but Ranger had other plans. Once he noticed the pickup he knew Trevor was somewhere close. Barking and running full speed, Ranger pulled free and ran straight for his old friend.   Hearing the commotion, Trevor climbed out of his truck and started hugging and loving on Ranger in return. Jenn remained frozen on the sidewalk. Trevor looked up and began walking towards the woman he loved. Without hesitation, the two melted into one another and kissed. When they finally came up for air. They both started talking at once. Trevor told her, “Let me go first.” He grabbed her hand and walked to his truck. Lying on the front seat was a bouquet of roses; he grabbed them and a letter and handed them to her. “Please read this because I am afraid I will just mess things up again when I try to explain.”

She took the letter and sat on her front porch. Once she began reading, so many emotions tugged at her heart. It was true that Trevor had married once before. He had married his high school sweetheart, but just nine months after the wedding, Sarah was in a car accident. One evening after leaving her friend’s baby shower, a drunk driver plowed into her car. For almost a year, she laid in a coma. She died a month before he came out to help his grandfather move. He told Jenn that he never believed he would ever fall in love again. He explained that meeting her took him by surprise. He confessed that he often felt guilty for falling love again shortly after Sarah’s death. Granddad had tried telling him that Sarah had been gone for over a year. And it was here that he wrote about their near argument on the day she had overheard the conversation between the two. Trevor told granddad that it was too soon after her death to bring another woman to Sarah’s hometown. He felt as if he would be dishonoring her memory. He also told her that Granddad was pretty upset about how his grandson had never told Jenn about his first marriage.

Still, he explained that life just did not sit right without her. Life was only lukewarm, he announced in his letter. He ended by professing his love once again, and that’s when she looked up. Slowly, she stood and then ran into his arms. The two kissed and held each other tightly. She whispered in his ear that she loved him too.

“We can make this work,” he promised her. “I can’t live a lukewarm life.” She nodded in reply, and the two walked up the stairs hand in hand. Before they entered the door, he dropped her hand and patted her backside. As she began to giggle, he grabbed her hand once more. From that moment on, they both knew that their lives would never be just lukewarm again.

Photo Courtesy of Alejandra Quiroz

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