Have you ever tried to get to know a man under the watchful eyes and filterless mouths of sixty middle-schoolers and forty high-schoolers?
Hence “the blushing years”…
Well, we had made it through that painfully long summer.
And now that my time in the youth group was officially over, I found that, not only was a relationship with Mr. Gore allowed, it was encouraged.
I suppose I didn’t realize it at the time, but the chemistry we were just beginning to discover between us must have been more than palpable, for, all of a sudden, we had plenty of help finding our way to each other…
but why was Mr. Gore even there in the first place, you ask?
Didn’t he go back to school and leave you pining and lonesome?
But then…not quite.
Oh, dear. I suppose I got a little ahead of myself in my last post and now have a lot of ‘splainin’ and backtracking to do…
About a month or two after he returned to college, after I had lost weight and slinked around my house like a gloom-worm (but before our “non-date date” in October), it was decided that Mr. Gore would continue on as a part-time staff member at at our church, driving in and staying with our youth minister and his family nearly every weekend. While our youth minister taught the high school group on Sunday nights, Mr. Gore took on the middle-schoolers.
And it didn’t take long for him to enlist a passel of eager “youth workers” to help him with the middle-schoolers.
I was the first in line.
Because I just loooooved middle schoolers.
Just like I “loved” SportsCenter. (I hate SportsCenter with all my heart).
And just like I loved anything that would bring me closer to you-know-who.
But as it turned out, I really didn’t need to resort to any shameless feminine wiles to catch the heart of this man, because apparently everyone and their dog in my small church and community had decided that they would help a sister out.
Especially the youth we were ministering to. Much to my chagrin, I quickly learned that middle-schoolers have absolutely no filter and no ability to discern another person’s discomfort in delicate situations. Or if they do, they just don’t care…
I’ll never forget one night at church as Mr. Gore and I were in the kitchen serving hot dogs to the youth group before their worship service. A middle-schooler named Ashlyn stepped up to the window to get her food, and as Mr. Gore handed me her plate , she said, as vocally as you please, “Lesley, do you like him?”
My eyes met hers, shocked, and I searched for a fitting reply to her bold and unexpected question, my mouth slightly dropping open and closing shut in indecision. She had completely stumped me! “Um…do you want some ketchup?” I asked.
Not surprisingly, she took my response as an affirmative one and, laughing her head off, loudly proclaimed “You DO like him! You do!!!”
Blinded by the veritable spotlight her booming voice was shining upon us, I bit back an involuntary smile and quickly squirted ketchup on her hot dog as a pesky blush stole across my face and my entire body broke into a hot sweat.
“Here you go, Ashlyn…” I said, shoving her plate into her hands while shooting her a threatening look, even as she continued to laugh and point at us. I couldn’t for the life of me bring myself to look at Mr. Gore, but the energy between us assured me that he hadn’t missed a bit of that painfully awkward exchange.
From that point on, Ashlyn took to calling me “Mrs. Gore” regardless of how many people were around us, regardless of whether Mr. Gore was absent or very much present…
And I started blushing and sweating every time.
But Ashlyn wasn’t alone in her teasing. Some of the male youth also took to making jokes, using the word “gore” as often as they could when they were in my vicinity.
“So, Lesley, who are you going to vote for in the election?…Bush or GORE?”
“Be careful today…don’t get ‘GORED’ by a bull!”
And don’t even get me started on the adults. They were the worst, mercilessly teasing me, pairing the two of us up for games (especially of the hand-holding or teamwork sort), encouraging those filterless middle-schoolers…
Plainly put, there was just a lot of scheming going on behind the scenes.
Which explains why I rode home with Mr. Gore that fateful night after the OU vs. Nebraska game in the first place, the night I told you about in my last post…
Like I said before, our time spent together that Saturday in October, though a huge step for us, was not officially categorized as a date, resulting in plenty of those awkward moments that are typical of such occasions. I’m sure Mr. Gore ended up paying for everyone’s food at Coach’s that day, because if he only bought mine, it would look like we were exclusive, and if he only bought his, it would make him look disinterested; to say we were testing the waters would be a huge understatment.
But the culmination of our awkwardness took place after the youth rally we attended later that night at Mr. Gore’s home church, where I sang and our youth minister, Mat, preached.
Many members of my own church were present at this event, including my Mom, and since it took place nearly 2 hours from our hometown, they had carpooled together in one of our church vans. I, on the other hand, had been spending the weekend with my brothers in Norman where I met up with Mr. Gore to watch the football game, and after the game, had hitched a ride with him to his church.
After the rally was over, we would all be making that long drive back to my home…
Complicated, I know.
Resulting in a major problem for me as I exited the church building and made my way into the dark parking lot. There were two vehicles going back to my hometown and they were parked very closely to each other…
1. The church van, where all of my best friends and my Mom were riding,
2. Mr. Gore’s car.
“What’s the problem?” you ask?
Well, Mr. Gore had not invited me to ride back with him.
Thus, my mental monologue was of the more-than-panicked variety as I slowly approached both vehicles…
What do I do?
Did he not ask me because he just expects me to ride with him or did he not ask me because he has no interest in me whatsoever?
Was he just hanging out with me today because he likes me or because he wanted some people to watch the game with?
Oh, dear Lord, I want to ride with him!
I will DIE if I have to ride the church van and miss this time with him!!
Die, I tell you!
Somebody help me.
What to do, what to do?!…
But alas, regardless of how fiercely my head was talking, my feet won, and they led me straight to the church van.
I just hadn’t been able to muster up enough brazenness to slip into the passenger seat of Mr. Gore’s car, even though my heart was already in there, begging to be reunited with me. My insides deflated at my cowardice, and the day that had been so bright just hours earlier began to darken considerably.
However, just as I was about to climb into the van and join my Mom on the front row, someone stepped in front of me, obstructing my path.
It was my youth minister, Mat, and on his face he was wearing the grin of a cheshire cat, his prominent dimples shining with mischief in the moonlight.
“Hi, Lesley,” he smiled.
“Hi…” I replied, suspicious.
“There’s no room on the van,” he said, continuing to grin at me.
“Uhhh…yes there is…,” I confusedly said, gesturing to my Mom and the several other empty seats behind her.
“Nope. No room. You’re going to have to find another way home,” he said, barely-concealed laughter behind his voice.
Understanding finally dawned on me (I’m a little slow…) and I began to shake my head in denial, even as I fought to keep the embarrassed smile off of my face.
“Mat, let me on the van!” I demanded, trying to step around him.
“There’s really no room,” he insisted, blocking my way.
I started to nervously giggle as my face flamed red.
“Mat, move out of my way!” I begged. My eyes met my Mama’s, pleading and laughing at the same time, and she just shrugged and smiled in return. She was as helpless as I was, but it seemed like she was enjoying the show as much as everyone else on the van.
And just like that, before I knew it, the church van doors were being shut right there in my face and I was left standing alone in the parking lot, my stomach a twisted knot of anticipation and dread. I wanted to give my youth minister a giant hug of gratitude and pinch the fire out of him at the same time…
But I had more pressing matters in front of me, namely, my walk of shame to Mr. Gore’s car.
He was already in the driver’s seat of his shiny, black Pontiac Firebird, the tinted windows barely allowing me to see his outline from my vantage point as I made my dreaded approach.
Can he see me? I thought. Does he think I’m a huge, pathetic idiot?…
Taking a deep breath, I knocked tentatively on the passenger door window before slowly opening the heavy door.
“Hi…” I said timidly, wishing I could die on the spot.
“Um, can I ride back with you?…they said there’s no room on the church van…”
“Of course you’re riding home with me!” he exclaimed, completely unaware that I hadn’t realized that and had consequently just walked through the most excruciatingly embarrassing five minutes of my life.
“I don’t know…” I muttered, sliding into my seat and quickly shutting the door so I could hide my flaming red cheeks from his view. I was sweating like a packmule.
It was humiliating, to be sure, but I was where I wanted to be, thank God! And, like I said before, that drive home turned out to be quite important in our history…
For in the course of a two-hour conversation on those darkened highways followed by winding country roads, something tangibly clicked between us, and although we were in no way “official” yet, our hearts had finally made exclusive contact and our eyes seemed to be fixed on each other for the long-haul. And the best part? There were no middle-schoolers in the car with us!
I no longer wanted to pinch my youth minister, and I am eternally grateful for his interference on that awful/beautiful October night.
It certainly wasn’t the last of the awkwardness, and in the weeks and months to come, Mr. Gore and I couldn’t be seen together in my hometown without receiving teasing comments, and the middle-schoolers, precious as they were, continued to haunt us with their boldness and naivety week in and week out. Thus, that short period in my life as Mr. Gore and I were trying to fumble our way into a relationship is one marked by unceasing squirming, embarrassment, blushing, and lots of sweating…
Our church family was our audience and we had unwittingly become the stars of their latest love story. As sweet as the memories have become in my heart, if I’m being honest, I still find myself fidgeting a little in my chair as I revisit them; I wouldn’t change a thing, but I sure am glad they’re over!
In fact, I didn’t know that we’d ever make it to the comfortable “courtin'” stage, but make it we did.
And I suppose I’ll tell you all about that…
I don’t know. Maybe in July? Stay tuned!