For days I relived Gareth’s kiss. It had been simple, barely a brushing of his lips against mine, but wow. I’d felt it all the way to my toes. Just thinking about it sent tingles through me and a shiver skated across the back of my neck. I’d rushed out of the diner to hurry back to the dorm so I could get ready for our date tonight. He was supposed to pick me up in about an hour, which meant I needed to hurry my butt up. 

I jumped in the shower, taking extra care to shave…everywhere. Not that I anticipated anything happening between Gareth and me tonight, but it was better to be prepared than not. After rinsing out my conditioner, I rang the extra water from my hair and shut the shower off. I sniffed a few bottles of lotion, trying to pick out the perfect scent before settling on a jasmine one. 

Forty-five minutes later, I stood in front of the full-length mirror assessing myself. It had taken me two hours last night to settle on an outfit to wear. I’d picked a simple pink and teal ankle length dress, my white Keds, and topped it off with my jean jacket. I’d straightened my hair and tried to get my bangs to look wispy, but I wasn’t sure how well I pulled it off. 

I groaned at my reflection. My attempt at smoky eyes made me look like a drunk raccoon, but there wasn’t time to fix it. I could only pray Gareth thought it was sexy and sultry instead of intoxicated trash bandit. The pale pink lipstick was probably the only thing that looked okay besides my clothes. The door rattled. Shit. I didn't want to deal with Jackie right now. Too late. She paused at the sight of me standing there. 

“Where are you going all dressed up like that?” She closed the door behind her and threw her bag on the desk.

“Just out with a friend.” 

Jackie shot me a look. “Well, if you come back late, be quiet. I’ll be sleeping.” 

I resisted the urge to flip her off. She was never quiet the times she came in late, and I was sleeping. Deep breath. I ignored her, and instead, grabbed my bag and headed outside to wait for Gareth. Anything to get away from her. 

It was another warm day, so I was curious to see what Gareth had planned for us. He wouldn’t tell me, only that it was a surprise. I wasn’t outside five minutes before he pulled up. He parked and quickly jumped out, coming around the vehicle to stand in front of me. 

“You look fantastic.” His smile was huge.

I looked down at myself. “I’m not overdressed am I?” 

He shook his head. “Not at all. You’re beautiful.” 

“Thank you.” 

“You ready to go?” 

I nodded. In a sweet gesture, he opened the door for me and closed it after I was settled. He joined me inside and started up the engine.

“I forgot to ask, but you like animals, don’t you?” 

Well that was a weird question. “It depends on how many legs they have.” 

Gareth glanced my way with a smile. “No more than four, I swear.” 

I chuckled. “Then we’re good. Why?” 

“It’s part of the surprise.”

“Uh huh.” 

The faint sounds of Justin Timberlake seeped from the speakers as we drove down the road. Within a few minutes, I guessed where we were headed. It wasn’t long before we turned down the gravel road. It was a short, bumpy ride, and then I could see the giant farmhouse up ahead. An attendant guided us to a parking space. 

“Don’t get out yet,” Gareth said at the same time my hand touched the door handle. 

I waited until he came around to my side of the car and opened the door for me in a sweet gesture. I don’t think a guy had ever done that for me before. 

“Thank you. So, 1870 Farm, huh? Interesting choice for a first date. I’ve never actually been here.” 

“Everyone goes out to dinner. I wanted to do something special.” 

I smiled up at him. “I have no doubt I’m going to love whatever it is you have planned. I’ve heard this place is amazing. Thank you for bringing me.” 

“Well, don’t thank you me yet. We just got here. This may end up being the worst date you’ve ever had.” 

I reached for his hand. “I doubt that.”

Gareth squeezed my fingers and led me up to the farmhouse. It was still slightly light out, but there were lanterns and strings of orange lights hanging over picnic tables. People meandered around the property. Fenced off areas were to the left and right of the farmhouse. We stepped inside.

The entire place was decorated for fall with browns and oranges, scarecrows, corn cob wreaths, tons of burlap, ribbons, and pumpkins. The fireplace covering an entire wall was burning, casting a warm blaze of heat through the room as well as creating a cozy atmosphere. Shadows danced across the high ceilings, and I dreamed I could see the stars through the skylights above.

“Welcome,” an older woman with silver hair dressed in a beautiful red pantsuit greeted us. “Are you here for the fall festival?” 

“Yes, ma’am.” Gareth reached into his back pocket and pulled out two tickets that he handed to her. 

“Excellent. If you head toward the back and out the French doors,” she pointed in that direction, “you’ll find the patio. There’s a buffet set up. Help yourself. We’ll begin a tour to see the animals in forty minutes. The hayride begins at eight-thirty. Enjoy your visit.”

We strolled hand in hand out across the patio. Conversations floated all around us, and tons of people milled around. There were couples, young and old, and parents with their kids. Gareth and I grabbed our plates and went through the buffet line. I snatched up some lemon caper chicken, rice, and a piece of custard for dessert, while my date stacked his plate high with grass-fed steak, mashed potatoes, and a huge piece of chocolate cake.

“How was the diner today?” He asked between bites. 

I covered my mouth with my fingers for a second before I was ready to answer. “Busy like a usual Saturday. Had a few members of the basketball team come in before the game tonight.” 

“That’s right. I forgot they were playing.” 

“I’m actually surprised you were able to navigate through campus that easily. Usually the traffic is pretty crazy.” 

“I guess I just timed it right.” 

Something brushed against my hand, and I glanced down to see a little boy around two standing next to my chair. He was staring at me. “Hi.”

“Well, hi. What’s your name?” 

“Wyatt. You’re pretty.” 

“Aw, thank you.” 

A harried-looking woman came rushing over. “I’m so sorry. He got away from me before I could catch him. Wyatt, you can’t run off like that,” she scolded, scooping him up in her arms before disappearing. 

“He’s right, you know?” 

I turned back to face Gareth with a question in my eye. “I’m sorry?” 

“I said he was right. You are pretty.” 

My cheeks heated at his praise. “You’re not so bad yourself.” 

“Do you like kids?” 

“I do. They’re so fun and inquisitive.” 

“Good. You’d make beautiful children.” 

“What about you? Do you like them?” I wasn’t sure why, but this felt like an important conversation we were having. Especially when Gareth reached across the table to hold my hand. He rubbed his thumb across my knuckles. 

“I never thought I’d like them, but the more I think about them, the more I’d really like to have a couple.” 

There was an undercurrent to his words I wasn’t sure if I was reading into correctly. Impossible. We barely knew each other. I argued with myself. You’ve never had this connection with anyone else before

Gareth broke the spell. “Want to go pet a baby donkey?” 

I blinked away my confusion at the change in topic. “Um, yeah, sure.” 

We rose from the table and headed across the field to one of the animal pens. I squatted at the fence line.

“Oh, my gosh, he’s adorable.” I reached through the chicken fence and rubbed the bridge of the miniature donkey’s nose. His fur was coarse and prickly against my fingers. He brayed loudly causing me to startle. I laughed at myself. Gareth squatted next to me and reached out to pet him as well. 

We walked around, and I got to pet an alpaca, a baby goat, a pig, a horse, even the farm’s shaggy black and white dog. I steered clear of the llama. He looked like an asshole anyway. This whole night was absolutely magical. Gareth led me over to the sink so we could wash our hands. 

“Are you ready for that hayride?” 

I nodded, eagerly. This was absolutely the best date I’d ever been on. “Bring it on.” 

Gareth took my hand again, and we strolled across the brownish green grassy lawn and over to where the tractor and platform were parked. Several couples had already found their seats. He jumped up first and then turned to me, holding out his hand. I gathered my dress up to my knees, and he helped me up onto the platform with haystacks of varying heights piled around the perimeter. He picked a spot for us and took a seat, pulling me down right next to him. I glanced over at him in excitement.

“Thank you for an incredible evening.” 

He wrapped an arm around me and pulled me tight against him.

“The night’s not over yet.” He pressed a kiss against my temple.

I cuddled closer, the promise in his words sending heat straight through me. I couldn’t wait.