Chapter 28


Where there is great love, there are always miracles.

Willa Cather

One day, my trainer introduced me to Ryan, a redshirt football player for the University of Iowa. I learned he was in town to support his older sister, who was battling stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’d come to offer encourage-ment and help her with her four kids. I immediately liked him, and it seemed ­reciprocal. After a Facebook mix-up (in which he sent a message to the wrong Shawn John-son), we began hanging out: I went to his games, we hung out in Iowa City, and he even came to my mom’s birth-day party.

One night, I had an idea.

“Why don’t you come to West Des Moines? I’ll take you out for a real date—my treat.” Even though I love it when guys act like gentlemen by paying for dates, I sometimes feel bad when they’re always expected to pay. He was a college student, after all.

The next week, he drove to West Des Moines, and I took him to HuHot, my favorite Mongolian restaurant. It’s a little loud and decidedly not romantic—in other words, it was perfect. We ordered our appetizers and drinks and then walked around to the grilling area to decide among the many food options. At this restaurant, the customers select vegetables—my favorite!—meats, and then sauces. We piled our bowls high, passed them to the chef, and watched as our food was prepared on a huge grill.

We ordered a lot of food—partly because Ryan is a big football player who needs to eat large portions, but mostly because I wanted to treat him to a nice evening. After we ate our meals, we ordered the cheesecake empanadas, desserts that look like ravioli but are actually filled with cheesecake.

Why not? I thought. Since I was paying, we just kept racking up the bill. When we got the check, I made a big show of grabbing it and handing the waitress my credit card.

“Remember,” I said, “this is on me!” As we finished nib-bling the last of the empanadas, I felt our date had been a resounding success. But just a few minutes later, the wai-tress sheepishly approached my side of the table.

“Miss Johnson,” the embarrassed waitress said, slipping my credit card into my hand. “There seems to be a problem with your card.”

“It didn’t work?” I asked. But then I could tell by her ex-pression that she was trying to help me save face.

“Oh,” I smiled at Ryan. “Don’t worry. I have another credit card in my car.” I ran outside and scrounged through the console and the glove compartment for another credit card. I found sunglasses, an old parking ticket, and some stale gum, but nothing that would help me get out of this humiliating situa-tion. I grabbed my phone and hoped Mom or Dad would answer.

“Mom!” I said into my phone. “My credit card was de-clined!”

“What?” she asked.

“I may have forgotten to pay on time or something,” I said, realizing that every second spent in the parking lot was making it more awkward for Ryan. “What should I do?”

“I don’t think I can get there in time,” she said.

“He’s never going to go on another date with me!” I cried into the phone, finally slamming the door shut and hanging up.

When Ryan saw me slink back into the restaurant, hanging my head in shame, he smiled and gave the wai-tress his credit card. I figured I’d never see him again.

Surprisingly, Ryan didn’t stop calling after I stuck him with the bill at HuHot. We kept hanging out, and our friendship grew. After my time in Hollywood, Ryan helped bring me back down to earth and made me realize that I’m a Midwestern girl at heart. Like me, he comes from a close-knit, physically active family. My parents have always loved nature and the outdoors, and his family does too. They own a cabin on a lake in Iowa, and Ryan loves to hunt and fish. As a college football player, he is committed to athletics and a healthy lifestyle, just like I am.

Early in our relationship, I let Ryan read a few of my poems. One day, he jokingly told me that he would know I really cared for him only if I wrote a poem about him. In fact, as our friendship deepened, that’s exactly how I chose to express my feelings:

It’s strange how guys come in and out of your life,
always hoping they’ll be Mr. Right. . . .
They’ll change you and make you want to cry.
And never really understanding why,
you’ll notice that with each one you seem to change,
adapting to interests so you seem the same;
acting for some and hiding for others,
just wanting to be accepted and love each other.

But it’s the ones that end wrong and seem right from the start
that change you the most and break you apart.
You act like a stranger and look in a mirror
and don’t even recognize who’s standing there.