“Damnit!” I was trying my best. Couldn’t it help me out? Maybe spare me a couple minutes? I glanced back at the clock, still glaring, and did the math in my head. Niki would be arriving in Austin shortly while I was stuck in gridlock north of downtown Dallas. I grabbed my cell and held down 7 while switching off the radio. A beep and then dialing. Ring. Ring. Ri...
“Hey, it’s me.”
“Hi!” She perked up, audibly happy. “I can’t wait to see you. Where you at?”
“I’m still in Dallas. Fucking rushes because the sales team won’t tell their clients fucking no.” My unhappiness pulled out a glove and slapped her jubilation across the face.
Jubilation tried to meet the challenge, “That’s okay. As long as you make it down here. I just want to see you. I’ve missed you.”
It had been a month since we last saw each other. She had taken a job in Houston after graduation because I’d been a dumbass and broken up with her. Naturally, we got back together right after she signed her contract. The long-distance thing was unbearable, but we dealt. This weekend was the fifth anniversary of our first date. To celebrate, we picked a spot where we didn’t know anybody so we could just enjoy being together.
“I want to see you, too,” I replied.
“I hate that we don’t see each other more often.”
Aw, crap. She was using that tone again. The one that reminded me of Oliver walking back up to the serving line and wishfully, hopefully, asking for more gruel. Only she didn’t want gruel. She wanted commitment.
“Do you think we’ll ever get married?” Please, sir. Can I have some more?
“Sure. Sometime,” came the conditioned response. Terse. Drop it.
Taking the hit square in the nose, jubilation dropped to the ground. Bloodied, it looked a lot like heartache.
“But do you know when that mi…
“Look. You need to drop this whole marriage thing or it’ll never happen.”
The paramedics pronounced jubilation dead at the scene. I sighed.
“Traffic really sucks right now. I need to get off the phone so I can concentrate.”
“I’ll see you when I get there?”
“Um… yeah. I… I love you?”
“I love you, too.” My fingers couldn’t hit END fast enough. Not because I wasn’t ready for commitment, but because I couldn’t let her suspect that I was.
The ring was beautiful. I had done my homework. A signature platinum band cradled a half-carat stone of near flawless quality. The round cut was a modified version unique to the jeweler. Light bounced between the extra cuts making the diamond sparkle audibly. I’d never been the type to like jewelry, but this was one hell of a good looking ring. I was ready for the test.
After hanging up the phone, I reached to the inside of my jacket, feeling the small black-velvet box. It was still there. I’d been doing this every fifteen minutes since picking the up, despite the fact that there was no escape. With the pocket zipped shut, I could flip upside down and the ring was staying put. But there I was, checking yet again. Some of it was paranoia over having the most valuable item I’d ever purchased in my pocket. The larger part was reassurance that, yes, I was ready to put my most vulnerable item on the line.
But, before I could, I needed to place one more phone call. Bracing myself, I dialed the long-distance number.
“Hi… it’s Nathan,” I managed to stammer.
“Hi, Nathan. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah. Everything’s fine. Um… How’s everything with you?”
“Everything is good.”
“Um… I have something I need to ask you.”
“Well, I love your daughter very much. And I was wondering… well… maybe…” God damnit! “…if it was okay…” Spit it out man! “…if I could have your permission…”
“Of course you can, Nathan. You know she’s crazy about you. And I love you, too. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her.”
“Thank you. Very much. I’m gonna ask her tomorrow. At dinner. ?cause it’s our anniversary and…” I jabbered on a bit longer, excitement running my mouth as my mind reeled. At some point the smallest part of my brain figured out what was going on, ended the conversation, and hang up the phone. My last pre-proposal hurdle was behind me. Now I just needed to make it to Saturday night without Niki suspecting a thing.
Eventually, I arrived at the hotel and Niki and I went to get dinner. She had been crying, and I knew it was my fault. I’d gone overboard in my refusal of commitment. A good chunk of me wanted to propose then and there to make her pain go away. But the larger chunk, the rational and sadistic chunk, told me to wait. To let it linger, unaddressed. Friday was not our anniversary. If everything went according to plan, she would be shocked, relieved and elated in just less than 20 hours.
Saturday morning we slept in. We’d been up late and we had no real plans for the day, save a sneak screening of The Emporer’s New Groove and a nice dinner at Beni Hana. We lazed around the hotel happy to be together. At some point we grabbed lunch and I gave her some decoy presents ? Annie Get Your Gun, which had just recently been released to DVD, and assorted fun trinkets for the both of us. We ignored the elephant.
Eventually, it came time to get dolled up and go have our “Anniversary Dinner.” While Niki was in the bathroom, I quickly and nervously transferred the ring from my leather jacket to my suit jacket and snatched the hotel notepad and pen. Crap! This is it! My heart was deafening in my ears. Shut up or she’ll hear you. I got fidgety ? checking my pockets, pacing the room, clicking the pen. Cool it or she’ll know.
Niki came out of the bathroom gorgeous. I smiled.
“Alright, let’s go.”
We walked into Beni Hana to an hour wait. Good, I’d hoped for this. We sat in the waiting area and I took the notepad and pens out of my pocket. As I took pages and tore them in half, I explained.
“We’re each going to get ten pieces of paper. We’ll number them on one side, and on the other we’ll write something we love or enjoy about the other person. Then we’ll exchange them and read them in order.”
She looked at me puzzled. “Where did you come up with this?”
“Oh, it’s just this stupid thing I saw the internet. Thought it might be fun. You know, our anniversary and all.”
I handed her ten pieces of paper and a pen. We wrote. It was taking me an eternity. Damnit! Why didn’t you only use five pieces of paper?
“What’s the matter? Don’t have ten things you like about me?”
It’s not easy coming up with stuff when you’re this nervous!
“I’m just having to pick which ten to put down.”
Oh Lord, that was cheesy. I finished and we exchanged.
“I get to go first.”
“Why do you get to go first?”
“Because it’s my game and I said so!” Because I know what your number 10 is and you don’t.
We took turns opening and reading, both alternating between heartfelt and funny.
#3 ? “The little surprises.” You have NO idea, girl.
Smiles, laughs, and knowing looks were shared as we continued to work our way through the stacks. I finished mine and gave her the go ahead to open her last one. As she looked down to open it, my hand dove for my inside jacket pocket. Please hands, don’t fail me now. My fingers scrambled for the velvet box and found purchase. In one motion, I scooted off the chair onto my knees as my hand leapt out of my pocket, triumphant. I opened and presented the box, looking expectantly at Niki.
She still sat, staring at the paper. She blinked and looked again. Yes, it did say “Will you marry me?” Her mouth fell open ever so slightly as tears began to well up in her eyes. She looked up at me, skipping over the ring entirely. Into my expectant eyes. She stood up to come to me, but her knees buckled, falling into me instead. Embracing and sobbing. My own tears came as we held each other in our little moment.
“Sorry about that crap on the phone.”
“You’re an asshole!”
“Yeah, but you’ll marry me anyway.”“Of course!”