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Nat and I were moving into an apartment together that was going to be much closer to where I was working at the time. It was 1 in the morning on Friday, May 30, 2008. All the big stuff would be moved in by the boys on Saturday and - as is my nature - I was too cheap to rent a U-Haul for more than one day and fill it with more than one tank of gas, so we were driving the mom van and my car getting as many boxes and clothes over there as we could.
It was our third or fourth trip of the day and we were banging around as little as possible when he came outside. The night was bright and his gorgeous smile glowed in the light of the moon. He ran his long fingers through his blonde hair and welcomed us to our new place. Then he promptly inquired as to why we were moving all of our own things and where the hell our (apparently) good-for-nothing boyfriends were.
Nat and I were not amused. Not only was he drunk but he was still drinking. And for all the boyfriend bashing he did, he didn't lift one box. Not one. It was only after we had both vehicles emptied that he stood there sheepishly and proffered the now lukewarm beers he'd brought for us when he first emerged from his cave. In all the years I'd lived away from home, he was the first neighbor to ever reach out to me with any sort of gesture; I was smitten.
We sat in the mom van's hatch for at least an hour telling stories from our childhood. It turns out that we shared a military upbringing and while I'd spent so many years trying to put it behind me he seemed to revel in it. I saw every new location as another temporary prison sentence where he had used it to develop his skills of adaptation. Then he told us about his foray into college at the University of Tennessee and how weird it was for him to call someplace "home" for five solid years. He worked his way through school by working for a shipping company and when he left he was the youngest Operations Manager they'd ever seen. Which is how he ended up here - our neighbor - bunking with a friend from college for the last four months.
By Sunday we were great friends and our doors were always open to one another. Mornings were spent scaring the crap out of each other as we exited our apartments simultaneously. Evenings were spent in camping chairs on our 4' x 3' piece of grass with beers and good conversation. Weekends were always spent apart until it was time for the "Sunday Night Recap".
I always thought The Volunteer was a good guy but I never realized how good until the first major thunderstorm of the season. There I stood, in my doorway, under the shelter of our awning, staring up into the night wearing nothing but a tank tops and panties. Then I hear a creak and low and behold if he doesn't usher out some petite blonde (who obviously didn't know her days were numbered) out to watch the same storm. For a moment, I was so stunned to see a master at work that I had forgotten all about the storm or my dreadful state of undress.
That was the first of our more intimate encounters. All summer I took to cutting his hair. I helped him pack for a trip to L.A. We dry-humped on the roof of his truck because he didn't have a parking pass and didn't want to get towed. He played my wingman when I was being backed into the proverbial corner by that night's guest of honor. Who waits until he gets back to your place to ask if you've ever slept with a white guy? He yelled my name and threw rocks at my window anytime he wanted to watch a movie. And we really did watch the movie. No quotation marks here. He woke me up after he'd partied too hard and asked if I had a soda can he could use as a bong. And he helped me break up with The Australian when I couldn't muster the courage on my own.
We had one big fight because I was a lot too drunk and he just shook his head, murmured an apology and let me win until I woke up feeling like leprechauns were using construction tools in my brain. He showed more grace that next morning than I've given my whole life and reminded me that forgiveness was never required between friends. And then, on September 17th, he told us he was moving out. In a week.
I remember being heartbroken. I knew I'd never find another neighbor like The Volunteer. Hell, I might not ever find another person like The Volunteer. People that open and men that strong don't walk by everyday. He's a special breed and that's why I was high as a kite when after two years and almost four months, I spotted him across the bar...