It all started with a cup of coffee.
He came into Starbucks a few weeks ago. He came in with a friend – a very darling cutie pie of a girl whom I assumed he was dating. I took his order, and he told me what he really wanted more than anything was some almond milk for his coffee. As I’ve been trained, I apologized that we didn’t have exactly what he wanted, and I offered him every other kind of milk to make his drink complete.
His friend, the cutie pie, leaned into our dialogue with a stage whisper, “Don’t let him fool you. He’s a former Starbucks partner, and he knows you don’t have Almond Milk. He’s just giving you a hard time.”
Well, in that case… Game. On.
He says that he was captivated by me from that very first conversation, when I engaged with eye contact and a smile, when I kept up with his witty banter. I thought it was merely a great customer connection, just me doing my job really well. After all, remember, he was with Cutie Pie. Or so I thought. Turns out, sometimes friends-who-aren’t-dating just meet for coffee on occasion.
He was intrigued, and he wanted more of these interactions. So he began his pursuit. He came back the next day to see if I was working. When I wasn’t there, he came by the next day. And then the next. Always with a playful banter, a very witty, flirty approach to getting his cup of coffee.
He has such a gentle, disarming approach to life, and he talked me right out from behind the counter. Everything was on my terms, on my timing, and whenever I was ready. He just kept showing up for more coffee, waiting for me to take the next step. As it turns out, even a girl whose heart has been shattered can learn to trust again with enough time and courage.
He started coming at the end of my shift, sitting at the bar at the end of the counter, waiting for me to finish working so I might join him. One day, he said, “So, tell me your story.”
It was profound, the realization in that moment that he knew nothing about me, the author-blogger-speaker-teacher-widow with an internet presence. He hadn’t studied me on the internet, read my blog, googled me, or facebook stalked. He just liked what he knew, and he wanted more. And I cannot tell you how unbelievably attractive that was to me.
I tilted my head and settled my gaze, a vulnerable gesture he still talks about. I said, “I have a story. It’s a sad one, but it’s a good one.”
One conversation led to another, as the best conversations do.
One day he said, “Trish, I know Starbucks is your safe place, and I’ll keep coming here for as long as you want. But when you’re ready to come out of your cocoon, I’d like to see if we can continue this conversation in other places.”
He and I began to learn each other’s stories. I learned that he does impeccable accents and cartoon voices, from Kermit the Frog to Mrs. Doubtfire’s perfect Scottish brogue. (He has come through the drive-thru at Starbucks to flirt with me via the microphone when I was taking orders. And let me tell you, one never knows who might show up if he is behind the wheel.)
I learned that he’s a recruiter, the CEO of his own company, and a networking genius. He partners with corporate businesses’ hiring processes to place employees in the most effective positions. He’s known widely as the guy to call if you’re looking for a job or the perfect employee. He’s an old fashioned guy, and he’s unapologetically attached to his core values. He prioritizes things like eye contact and thank you notes, learning people’s names and creating significant conversations in the briefest moments.
He learned my story. When he learned I’m a writer, he bought my books and plowed through 400 pages in a weekend. He took notes and asked questions, setting another date and opportunity to talk about what he’d read. He turned me into a walking book report. (Be still my heart.)
After many, many cups of coffee, he took me out for dinner. He sat across from me and took my hand at the table, and he said —
“I can’t imagine why you’d want to do life with me, but I want you to know, I’d like to give this a try. I love every single thing I know about you, and I only want more. If you’ll have me, I’d like to let the book Wild At Heart play out before you… I’d like to woo the maiden, fight for her, and protect her. I’m not perfect, but I’m a really good tryer. If you’ll let me, I’d like to give this a try.”
He took my hand in his. He said, “What do you think? Would you let this man have a shot at loving you?”
Oh, for crying out loud. They could have brought out a mop to clean me up off the floor. Yes, yes, I believe I’d like to let you give that a try, Peter.
Now, for just a moment, let’s take a step away from that story to talk about what’s probably weighing on your mind, dear readers and fierce protectors who love me so generously even though you’ve perhaps never met me, you invisible community who have kept me from drowning. You may be wondering, Are we sure about this guy? Can we trust him? Can she trust him? Should she? Who’s asking the hard questions? What if she’s swept up in a love story that’s going to come crashing down? And how can she possibly handle a heartbreak like that?
The truth of the matter is that I have a nonnegotiable list of approvals that must take place for major decisions in my life. I have a deeply entrenched network of people around me, individuals who look me in the eye and ask the hard questions, who aren’t afraid of hurting me in the short term if it means protecting me in the long run. I was very honest with Peter about this process, about the many people who have kept me safe from any curveballs I might miss in the blindness of my own enthusiasm.
Peter so graciously responded, “You can take me through the gauntlet of a hundred interviews. I just want to show them all that I’m going to do this right. I am a very patient man, and I’m in no hurry to rush this. I love watching every piece fall into place as you get one green light after another about me. Every time someone approves, I will be reminded of how loved you are.”
So many of you have so many questions, and some of you have the right to ask them. But please know, while I live my life out there on this page, a great many someones are walking through this with me on a private, intimate level. I won’t give an ear of discernment to everyone who asks, but that doesn’t mean I’m not operating with a fierce level of righteous discernment and holy wisdom.
God gives wisdom to those who ask, and I’ve been asking for a long time. I believe he’s answering. After all, he said he would.
Back to the story at hand… after that delicious dinner with my hand in his, Peter called my dad on the phone the next day. As I’ve heard from both of them, the conversation went something like this:
“Doyle, as a dad, I bet you’d like to know my intentions with your daughter, so I want to be above board and tell you straight from the top: I’d like to honor and cherish your daughter. I want to come alongside her and support everything she’s already doing, She’s been so strong for so long, and I’d like to carry that world on her shoulders. Truly, I just want to love her. With your blessing, I’d like to date your daughter.”
You guys, I’m 36 years old. No man needs to ask my dad’s permission for anything. It was such an unnecessary honor to my dad.
I said to Peter, “Nobody would have ever asked you to do that.”
He said, “I’m a man of honor, Tricia. Nobody should have to ask me to do the right thing.”
As you all know so well, my parents have been the lifeline for my boys and me from the very moment Robb died. They are our greatest support system, and they’ve walked this very fine line of supporting me as I rebuilt my life, yet somehow never overstepping into my roles of parenting my boys. They’ve loved me with open hands, with fierce support and readiness to set me free when I could fly again. Peter recognized that intuitively, and he wanted his own relationship with them so they might trust him to be the one to hold this healing mess.
My dad, having never expected the honor of a voice in my dating life again, said, “Yes. Yes, of course, Peter. You have my blessing.”
One day soon after, Peter came over for dinner with me and the boys. Well, I should say that I was a frazzled mess at the end of a very long day, and I texted him truly just to complain that my day was endlessly long from morning business meetings with my literary agent, a day of serving coffee, an afternoon of parent-teacher conferences, followed by a trip to the grocery store and now me fumbling to get hot dogs on the table for dinner. I was honestly just complaining. But he said, “I’m on my way. Put me to work.”
See, the thing is, I’m used to doing it all on my own. By necessity, I’ve had to. And now, along has come Peter, who says to me at least once a day, “I’m here, Tricia. Help is on the way.”
Over my pieced-together dinner of hot dogs and Doritos, Peter asked my sons to tell him the most important things about them. Tuck said he loves football, and his favorite parts of school are recess and lunch; Tyler said he was born with six fingers on his left hand, and he hates to be teased or tickled.
Peter said, “These are so important for me to know, you guys. See, the reason I’m asking is because I came into Starbucks a few weeks ago, and I met your mom. And I really like her. I just really like-like her. And so I’d like to spend some time with your family, and when I’m with someone, I like to know what matters to them, what they want me to know about them. So this is really good for me to know. I want to know about you.”
Then he said, “What would you think if I spent some time with your mom? How would you feel about me dating her?”
Tucker’s face lit up and he threw his arms up like he’d scored a touchdown. “Yes! Someone finally wants to date my mom!”
(Nice, Tuck. Thanks, kiddo.)
Peter said, “Yes, someone sure does. I do. Guys, we have something in common: I didn’t have my dad when I was growing up either. My dad didn’t die, but he just wasn’t around. So I grew up without him, and I know what it’s like to just want to have your dad around.
“Tyler, I bet you’d really like to have your dad at your shows and musicals. And Tucker, I bet you’d really like to have your dad at your football games, just like the other guys on your team. Boys, I can’t bring your dad back, and I’m so sorry you don’t have him. But I’ll tell you what… I’d like to be the man in the audience who’s there just for you. What do you think about that?”
Tyler smiled. “I’m okay with that.”
Tucker said, “I’ve waited five years for you, Peter. Finally you’re here. Finally, someone can help me take care of my mom.”
Peter said, “It’s a big responsibility, Tuck. And I understand how you feel – I felt that way about my mom, like I had to look out for her all the time because nobody else was. So I promise you, from this day forward, I will never, ever hurt her. If you’ll trust me, I’d like to be on your team. I’d like to take care of her, so you can work on just being ten years old.”
Peter builds Legos with Tyler; he throws the football with Tucker. He listens to them and laughs with them. We are all pretty smitten with him. When everybody is in bed or at school, I get Peter to myself. And I’ll tell you what… somewhere along the way, I fell in love with this man.
I’ve fallen in love only once before, and that was seventeen years ago. Since you might recall it happened fast and furious, you may be wondering if I’m going to rush into this. I might. Stay tuned.
Someone asked, “So, are you going to take this slow and easy? Or do you just feel like, when you know you know and so why wait?”
Peter said, “Tricia, this is a both/and situation. I know this is it, and I’m also not in a hurry. I’ve waited many years for you, and I’m a very, very patient man. You take all the time you need to be sure and to be ready. Meanwhile, I’m going to give you 100% of me every single day I have the chance, and I’d like to do that for the rest of my life.”
I’ve guarded the story from the eye of Facebook and blog readers, because even the greatest oak trees need some fierce protection while they’re taking root. But I do believe it’s time to tell this story. This is beauty from ashes, the next chapter, a story of redemption, and the grandest miracle I’ve known.
He split the sea so I could walk right through it; my fears were drowned in perfect love.
It’s time to let you in, my dear friends who have lived this story with me, cried your sweet and bitter tears on my behalf, and waited with longing for joy to come in the morning.
A new day is dawning.
And as they say on Facebook, Tricia Lott Williford is in a relationship.