"They're putting in new backsplash here," she'd said, pointing below the cabinets in the kitchen. "And they're moving the toilet over a little bit because it's too close to the shower in the guest bathroom. Then they're completely redoing the landscaping and laying down fresh grass!"
You know you're an adult when you get excited about backsplash and sod.
As the four of us walked through the door that Sunday, our arms full of six-packs and housewarming gifts like fancy salad bowls and cocktail glasses, I was shocked to see how different the house looked from the time I saw it during renovations. Big, framed mirrors adorned one wall in the living room. A black dining room table sat under a modern chandelier. A matching sage green leather couch and armchair sat across from a 47" flat screen TV in the living room. They'd taken the house and made it a home.
"Wow," Cayden said when he walked in behind me. "This is really nice."
I nodded alongside him as he took in his surroundings. "Just wait until you see the backyard."
Rae and Chaz greeted us in the living room and we piled our gifts into their arms.
"Oh, you shouldn't have!" Rae said. "Come in. Come in! Let me show you where the food is."
A lot of familiar and some new faces turned to look at us to see who'd come in. A handful of my kickball teammates waved at us excitedly. We waved back but made a beeline for the food table.
Rae loved being a hostess so much that we often called her Martha Stewart. Dinner parties, housewarming parties, watch parties, you name it. If Rae can cook and make you feel at home, she's happy. That's where we're different. Don't get me wrong, I love to throw parties, but I'm more of the bring-food-if-you-want-to-eat and paper-plates-only-so-I-don't-have-to-clean kind of hostess.
The round table in the kitchen was full of cookies, vegetables and vegetable dips, fruit and fruit dip, chips and queso, guacamole and an assortment of candy. I was in fat-kid heaven.
"Chaz is cooking hot dogs and brats and burgers, so put your order in with him," Rae said.
I pulled Cayden outside to show him the yard. Maybe it's because I'd lived in NYC where 'backyard' meant '4'X4' slab of concrete where the trash can sits' or because I'd lived in apartments since graduating high school, but their backyard felt more like a football field. A new tall, brown fence lined the yard, lacking the warping, holes and unidentified foliage that came with the fence at our house. A tall, sprawling tree shaded the back lefthand corner. A game of Ladder Toss (better known as Teste Toss) was set up along the right side. A patio table and what I would consider a very manly grill sat closer to the house. And in the middle, there was still enough room for a volleyball court or a giant blow-up pool or a 30-person game of Red Rover, if I had to guess.
"We need a yard like this," Cayden said. "Our dog would just love it."
Yes, Cayden and I liked to talk hypothetically about things we didn't have yet, like our future pets, our sprawling bathtub, and even his green card.
"I wonder if Emory is here yet," I said as I scanned the faces in the yard. "You HAVE to meet Emory."
Emory was one of my coworkers at my new job, and he'd become one of my really close friends. When I started there, he was in a long-distance relationship, too, so we bonded over the frustrations and struggles of that reality. We'd down two Pisco Sours each and then go watch Planet of the Apes. Or we'd order a pitcher of margaritas and go see Fright Night in 3D, laughing obnoxiously at the corny parts and screaming when the person in front of us stood up and we thought it was part of the 3D movie. But then one day, I unknowingly set him up with my old coworker Jennifer. They've been inseparable ever since.
Let me explain. I didn't mean to do it. Emory was dying to go to a this concert and he didn't want to go alone. I was recovering from my tonsillectomy, so there was no chance in hell I was going with him. "If you really don't want to go alone, I bet my friend Jennifer will go with you. She's my concert buddy. She loves music. Unless you think that would be weird to go with a stranger..." In my mind I was confident it wouldn't be weird. They were practically the same person. They both loved music; he's a DJ and she's a freelance music blogger. They both work at social media agencies. And they're both really weird about things like group outings and any kind of forced company get togethers (by 'really weird about' I mean 'hate with the fire of a thousand suns'). They'd get along just fine.
And at the time, I was under the impression that Emory was perfectly happy with his long-distance girlfriend. In reality, she'd disconnected from him, detached herself emotionally, and they'd barely talked in the past month. Emory hadn't told me that part. If I'd known that, I would have told him to break it off with long-distance girl and find someone who treated him the way Cayden treated me; like there's no one else in the world she'd rather talk to. That person just so happened to be Jennifer, and they both knew it after the night they'd spent together dancing awkwardly and drunkenly at the concert. They saw each other almost every day after that. The housewarming party was their first official group outing as a couple. And from the looks on their faces, you'd never know they hated group outings.
"Emory! Jennifer!" I said, as I pulled Cayden toward them back in the kitchen. Their eyes lit up when they saw Cayden and me. Jennifer had met Cayden during one of his earlier visits, so she greeted both of us with a hug.
"I'm so happy you made it!' she told Cayden. "I just love seeing you two together!"
"Umm, speaking of which, how weird is it seeing you two together?" I said, gesturing toward her and Emory. They both blushed and offered shy shrugs. It was the first time I'd seen them together. It was like my old world and my new world were colliding.
Emory shook Cayden's hand and they exchanged "I've heard a lot about you" greetings. While the guys got to talking, Jennifer pulled me aside.
"I really am so happy for you," she said. "Look what you've done! You've turned me into a happy, mushy, doe-eyed girl!"
It was true. She barely looked like the Jennifer I used to work with. The old Jennifer was slightly jaded and somewhat of a pessimist when it came to men. But this Jennifer... this Jennifer was head-over-heels in love, although she hadn't admitted it yet. The same was true for Emory.
"Well, you're welcome!" I said. "I should just quit my job and start a matchmaking service. I'm on a roll!"
I introduced Shanna and Ronnie and they'd just gotten married. I set Joey up with Joyce, and they'd just moved in together. And I unknowingly created the perfect match with Emory and Jennifer. Looks like that Millionaire Matchmaker lady has some stiff competition. Watch out, now.