“Well, what do we do now?” Hans asked, his arm stretched across the back of the couch.
I sat next to him, facing him, my legs curled up under me. It was Friday night. We had just finished watching American Beauty and had already discussed the artistic shallowness of each character.
“It was a good movie,” I had said, “But it was still frustrating having to watch characters without a personality. You never saw anyone develop.”
“Well, maybe that was the point. You’re supposed to see that everyone has vanities. I mean, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? The hollowness of it all?”
After his response, I had been on the couch thinking about the materialisms of the middle class, of Anywhere, USA. His question about what to do disrupted my thoughts which, thankfully, did not contain red rose petals.
“What?” I said, meeting his gaze.
“What. Do. You. Want to do?” Hans enunciated the first part of his sentence. “I don’t want you to be bored.”
I stretched across the couch and hugged his midsection. Squeeeeeze. He patted my back and rubbed the muscles that frequently develop knots. What to do, what to do, I thought, still hanging onto Hans. My brain suddenly sprung with spontaneity, and I breathed in a short gasp of air at the “brilliance” of my idea.
“LET’S BUILD A FORT!” I half-shouted, excitedly bouncing.
“Oh. My. Gosh … yeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssss,” he hissed. He quickly bounded up off the couch. “Okay. Okay. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.” He exaggerated his breathing, and his hands were splayed out flatly as if to say, “Now, let’s just all calm down.” “Okay,” he said hyperbolically, “What we do use to build the fort?”
“CUSHIONS!” He yelled back. We picked up the three couch cushions and threw them onto the floor, unsure of precisely what to do with them.
“CHAIRS!” I yelled again, pointing to the dining room seats, one of which simultaneously serves as my “computer chair.”
Hans hopped and skipped over to the chairs and carried them back to the living room decidedly. He placed them opposite each other, about four feet from the couch. “Who will be attacking our fort? Who are we defending it from?”
“Donuts,” I instantly responded. Why did I skip out on improv, I wondered.
I heard Hans stifle a laugh. “Donuts? Okay!” He took my suggestion at face-value, playing along with the ridiculousness of my imagination. “Our fort will need a roof to protect us from jelly catapults!”
I ran to the hall closet, grabbed blankets and sheets and pillows, an endless supply of cloth and fabric to construct and maintain. After a few seconds of “How do we build up the other wall?” we half-jogged to the second bedroom and grabbed totes. Tote after giant, stackable plastic tote. Hans grabbed his camping chair to set atop the cushion-less couch. Blankets were placed over it, creating a lopsided, dual-peak mountain, in addition to a more-than-awkward fort entrance.
“How did we do this when we were kids?” Hans asked as he struggled to hold up the middle of the fort. A flat sheet ran across the top of the TV, enclosing the screen in what would soon be a 7’x6’ fort.
I laughed. “We had our parents’ help,” I said, collapsing in giggles. “Which is a ridiculous explanation, because we’re adults now who should be able to do this!”
Hans smirked, then disappeared. I stood there dumbfounded, sheet in hand. A few seconds later, Hans returned with his rotating fan, a novelty that could be extended to a greater height. “This,” he said, plopping it in the middle of our fort, “Is our central point.”
Having established corners, ends and a structurally sound middle, I climbed in and began building a “nest.” Hans joined me a few minutes later, taking the unethical route through the spokes of a dining room chair. His arms bent and swayed at awkward angles as he maneuvered his ribs, hips and thighs past the wooden legs. I laughed and took pictures, comparing it to the narrow crevice through which he had passed when we went spelunking at Maquoketa. “I don’t know how you do that,” I said, watching as he entered the fort at a 90-degree angle.
I smiled. “Speaking of strategy, we need … REINFORCEMENTS!” I yelled out the last word excitedly, stooping to climb out of the fort and over the canvas chair on the couch. “We need things to throw at the donuts if they begin attacking us!” I reasoned, going back to the closet. More blankets, more pillows. I grabbed the tick pillow from the bed as well, running back to the living room, where the fort cozily and warmly took up the entire space. “I’m going to feed them to you,” I said, shoving the linens via the same “entrance” Hans had taken just two minutes earlier.
“Reinforcements,” I would state.
“Reinforcements,” Hans responded, as I fed him blankets and pillows. I shoved the tick pillow in last and, upon seeing it, he began to laugh. “OH. My.”
I entered the fort again, happy to find a comfy nest. The stand of the fan had been completely covered, and pillows lined the entire floor. Blankets were woven and intertwined, a colorful melee of fabrics and textures.
Hans and I curled around each other, indulging in donut-related innuendo for several minutes. Giggling, I sat up and attempted to lean back, instead breaking through the wall of the fort.
We erupted in laugher, and I lay, turtled, on the collapsed couch cushion. “I ruined our fort,” I said through laughs.
After reconstructing that part of the wall, I settled into a more comfortable position, using the couch as back support. Hans stretched out similarly, commenting that our fort had a fan, a TV and wifi. “We’re prepared.”
I told him about the different types of forts I had built when I was child. I told him that, in the spring and summer, mom would hang sheets across the clothesline and pin them together in the middle. “It wasn’t a real fort, really, more like a giant tunnel,” I said. “But it was still fun. Mom would put blankets on the ground and I would sit out there for hours and color and play and … yeah.” I pictured our old house, the small yellow one, and the white, flowery sheets stretched across the yard. I told him about the more-than-a-century-year-old maple tree that had been there, and how it was cut down by the people who lived there after us. “We had the clothesline, and then there was the hammock, a really cheap string hammock, that was attached to the clothesline and then the tree. I have a picture of my cousins and I in it.” I smiled at the memory, as did Hans. Next, I told him about the time Keith and I turned the couch into a McDonald’s. “We built up the cushions on the front and made the couch itself into a tunnel. We had two “windows” which could be used as the drive-in.” I smiled again. “It was fun.”
I turned back to Hans, who was gazing at me, “that look” in his eyes.
“What?” I asked, just as I always do. Hans continued to smile, but reached out to stroke my cheek. His fingers brushed my dimples, my ears, my collarbone. “I love you,” he said, his hand on my neck. His fingers held their grip as he used his thumb to stroke my cheek. I closed my eyes and melted to the sensation. I reached up and touched his hair, running my fingers through his short locks. His fingers traced my jawbone before cupping my chin, a sign that meant “Open your eyes.”
“I want you to be happy,” he said softly, looking at me. “I don’t want to lose you, but I want you to be happy here.”
We sat, wordless, for several minutes, our palms touching, our cheeks resting against one another. His hands in my hair, on my waist, cupping my face. My hands in his hair, on his waist, cupping his face.
“You know I love you,” he said, his eyes light and loving. They sparkled in the dim light of the fort.
“I know,” I said, smiling to ward off tears.
My efforts did not go unnoticed. “No,” he whispered. “Don’t cry.” He reached out and wiped my eyes with his thumb.
“At least you know these are good tears,” I said. Hans smirked, exuded a small hiccup. He pulled me close, held me to his chest. My hand reached for his heartbeat, and I buried my face into his neck, breathing in his veneer.
His lips grazed my forehead. “I love you so much, Dawn,” he said, whispering. “You’re so beautiful.” I hugged him even more tightly, letting him continue his words. “You’re so much fun. I love having fun with you. I love laughing with you. I love that you like to watch movies and do things. I love that you like to build forts.”
Encamped in his arms, I smiled happily, my heart racing.
“Are you sure you want to be with me for the rest of your life?” he asked.
I looked down, sniffing. I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless, engrossed in emotions and happy thoughts, racing hearts and adventurous future. “I couldn’t imagine not having someone to laugh with every day,” I said.
Hans looked at me. “You want me to ask you now, here...” he gazed around our short roof, the orange glow of the fabric, “…in this fort?”
I laughed, shook my head. “No. I just want you to love me.”
And so we talked. Talked about futures, about marriages. About kids and jobs and problems and money and work and family. About Thanksgiving and Christmas, Iowa and Indiana, here and there and everywhere between. We crossed lines, emotions. Our hands held each other, comforted one another, exchanged electricity and chemicals and heartbeats as we talked and talked and spoke about life, my life, his life, our lives. “I love you.” “I love you, too.” “I want to take care of you.” “I don’t want to be away from you again.” Hands, emotions, tears, joy, love; our fort was a stronghold.
In the morning, the fort remained half-standing, basking in the sunshine and lopsided. Hans had taken the chair from the couch, intending it to use as a seat for his camping trip that evening. Cushions and blankets were strewn across the floor, collapsed into a heap that held no tells of the secrets we had divulged the night before. I picked up each piece, folded blankets and sheets. I put the chairs and totes to their respective homes, swept the living room with my eyes.
It was clean.
I was alone.
Before leaving for his camping trip an hour earlier, Hans had hugged me extra tightly, “I love you,” he had said, before grabbing his gear and heading out the door.
I had watched him leave, had waved from the sliding glass door as his car backed up and exited the parking lot. I had then checked my messages and gotten ready for the day before picking up the living room and collapsing on the couch, where I now sat, alone and thoughtful.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” I voiced.