Part Two

It’s amazing how quickly time can pass when you look back at things. One day, you give in to the impulse of talking to an alluring stranger at a train station, and the next thing you know you’ve got a ring box in your jacket pocket as you begin the most important night of your life. You’re not going for some grand gesture or choreographed moment; you have learned over the whirlwind that has been your thirteen month romance that she not only wouldn’t require such a grandstanding and overt storybook moment, but that the whole thing just wouldn’t be her style. It was tough to suppress such instincts, as a lifetime of movies have painted such a moment as a societal standard: the bigger the better. But she wasn’t about standards, societal or otherwise. That’s what you love about her. Who cares what society thinks, what culture expects of you? You don’t, and she doesn’t. She’s too fiercely independent to find herself pliant to the whims of others, let alone some disembodied gestalt entity that is modern manners.

Of course, you don’t want to go too far in the other direction either. You can’t just casually throw a ring at her when she’s not particularly paying attention or surprise her as she’s exiting the shower, dripping wet and clinging to a towel as her only modesty. Granted, you could probably drop a “we should just get married” in the middle of a relevant conversation and she would probably (hopefully) be ameliorative to it, possibly even if you don’t have a ring to present her at the time. But you’ve got standards, dammit, and some things just need to be at least partially by the book. One knee. “Will you marry me?” It’s classic for a reason.

You don’t live together yet (it’s only been a little over a year, after all) so you’ve arranged to meet her at one of your favorite local bar and grills, a lovely little place that’s just a bit divey, but not as much as to consider it a forced trait. It’s got a great atmosphere, a wonderful wait staff, top notch food and topper notch drinks. She brought you here when you took the leap, threw caution to the wind and got off that train with her. It’s her favorite spot, and has become yours as well. You’ve decided not to overdress for the occasion so as to avoid suspicion. You aim for the same general style you usually rely on, a sort of workmanlike chic that tries hard to give an air of not trying hard. An aggressive sort of casual without being aggressively casual. You grab a light jacket on the way over in order to stash the ring. It’s not too long of a walk from your new(ish) apartment, but she’s already outside the bar when you arrive, greeting you warmly with a loving embrace, an affectionate kiss on your cheek and a frisky squeeze of your ass through your jeans. She’s wearing a playful turquoise sundress with a deep blue shawl, and a nice pair of open toe heels, not too ostentatious, but just enough to accentuate he subtle crescent of her calves, the slender shape of her thighs as they disappear into a sea of blue-green cotton. As always, it’s what you can’t see that drives you. And she has quite the knack for driving you.

The staff knows you pretty well at this point; you pass the doorman, offering a genteel wave, and head to the back of the seating area. Your favorite table happens to be available, a quaint and cozy four-seater that’s far enough away from the bar to allow for actual conversation, while not so far away to be considered secluded. Your waitress (a familiar face) greets you with a smile as she slides menus in front of both of you before retreating to a different table to check up on her other patrons. You look across the table at the love of your life; she looks back at you and stretches across the table to take your hand in hers. You feel that same spark you felt at the train station, and every other time she has held you. The intensity has not receded over many months. The fire still burns for her at all times. She caresses the back of your hand, and electricity surges through your body. The waitress returns to take your drink orders, and you each go with your old standbys. In what seems like no time at all (the perks of being a regular), she returns with a Maker’s Mark Manhattan for you and a Johnny Walker Black, neat, for her. You still can’t get over the fact that her default drink setting is straight scotch. It’s like she was cooked up in a lab for you. You take the opportunity to put in your entrees: she goes with the Alaskan salmon dish, and you opt for your old mainstay, the pork tenderloin with a side salad. As the waitress departs, you toast and take your first sips. The Manhattan is excellent as usual, and you sit back and bask in the glow of brown liquid and love.

Time passes leisurely as you talk about your day, a few recent events of note at work, and some spirited discussions of recent film releases, last week’s television and the state of the world. You’re still amazed at how easy it is to talk to her. How you can both be so animated, so passionate about different things, but it never crosses the threshold into a spiteful argument. You order a second round of drinks as your food arrives. The pork is, as always, wonderful; perfectly seasoned and tender. The salad is a marvelous compliment, and everything melds deliciously with your second Manhattan of the night. She seems to be enjoying the salmon, a new item on the menu, and offers you a fork. The fish is flaky and light, and you can taste the lovely mustard glaze that caught her eye in the first place. You finish the meal, pleased as always, and order a third round. The pleasant, cozy buzz sets in. She won’t let go of your hand. You’ve settled into a comfortable silence as you finish your final drinks and grab the check. She insists on paying her share (she always has), and you can’t help but wonder how long that’s going to remain an issue, absently daydreaming about an era of joint checking accounts and other sexy adult things as the waitress processes payment. With the meal paid for and the glasses empty, the time has come to depart. You assist her with her shawl and, hand around her waist, her arm around your shoulders, escort her out of the bar into the night. It’s noticeably colder out than it was when you arrived, and your relinquish your jacket to her as she shivers slightly in your arms, making sure to slyly remove the ring box from the pocket and slipping it into your jeans before draping it over your shoulders. No sense in blowing the moment now. To be honest, you didn’t even need the jacket, and only brought it with you for this inevitable occasion.

Her apartment and yours are in opposite directions, but comfortably within walking distance. You have a short, whimsical argument about where to go, who had better spirits at whose house, who had the better movie to watch, who had the more desirous DVR. You argue a bit more vociferously than usual, thinking of the champagne on ice (well, probably cold water by now) and the two flutes sitting on your kitchen counter. After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, she relents and you head off to the south toward your apartment. There is a quaint little colonial street on the way, dotted with little shops and classical townhouse facades. It’s the main reason you left behind city life, though being so close to her didn’t exactly hurt. You walk down the sidewalk in lockstep, arm in arm. She stumbles a bit when her heel gets caught between two bricks, but you catch her with confidence before she falls to the ground. You tell her that, even though she is maddeningly sexy in them, she shouldn’t feel like she has to wear heels when you go out together. She looks deeply into your eyes, a slight blush of red fading from her cheeks, and reassures you that she adores being able to wear heels with you without towering over her companion. It’s a privilege she didn’t have until she met you. You continue on, your pace a bit more deliberate in light of the stumble. You’re still about a mile away from your brownstone when you come across a wrought iron bench bathed in the warm glow of a lone streetlight at its base. This is the place.

You stop underneath the streetlamp; she has a confused and quizzical look on her face. You’ve been thinking about this moment for a few weeks now, and after bringing her over to sit on the bench, you begin to deliver the speech you have been practicing for days. You tell her how much she has meant to you over the last thirteen months since that fateful day at the train station. You tell her how much you love her mind, her personality, her taste in movies and music, her body. The look of confusion on her face slowly evolves into shock mixed with a growing excitement. You squeeze her hands with each passing sentence, and can feel her pulse quicken alongside yours. You tell her that you can’t imagine life without her, you can’t imagine being with anyone else for the rest of your life, and how you don’t believe in fate, but you believe in love. And you love her. So very much. You stand up, moving to drop down on one knee while pulling the box from your left side pocket. She lets out a quiet gasp as you look into her eyes. You open the box, revealing a brilliant sapphire nestled in a setting of white gold, resting regally on a bed of crushed velvet. The sapphire glints in the lamplight. It all comes down to this. You ask her the question. The question.

The shock hasn’t fully vanished from her face. Her hands are visibly shaking as tears well up in her eyes and begin to escape and roll down her cheeks. You do not break eye contact, looking for some indication that she’ll say yes. She closes her eyes, releasing more tears to stream down her face. You hope they are tears of joy. She opens her eyes again, with a look of warmth and love. She holds out her left hand. She says yes. She says yes. It’s the most wonderful sound in the world, and just hands in the still of the night sky for what seems like an eternity. You take the ring and place it on her left ring finger, then explode forward into a passionate embrace. Your lips meet in a deep, longing kiss. Her lips are soft and inviting. You can feel the tears, still running from her eyes as they collide with your chin. The embrace lasts even longer than the silence. You can’t imagine ever letting go, but you pull away from her wanting mouth to wipe away the tears from her face. You tell each other that your love is everlasting, possibly a thousand times as you sit on the bench together, refusing to let go.

Eventually, after an eternity, you get up from the bench and continue on, her head resting against your shoulder as you walk, her hands playing with her new found jewelry. When you arrive at your apartment, she finally lets loose, kicking off her heels, dancing around your living room as you pour two glasses of champagne. You can’t help but smile like some lost, drunken fool, marveling at your luck. You hand her a flute of the bubbly as you toast to the future. You both down the drink in one gulp and meet again for an embrace, this time noticeably more risqué as you find yourselves in the privacy of your home. You cap the night by making love on the couch, awash in the soft light of the television as the soft glow of The Fountain emanates from the television in the background. You’ve never felt more alive.