I heard him—every single sweetly uttered word—but I need clarification. Or verification.
Or another glass of wine.
It’s warm in this room. Stuffy. Stifling. Sweat beads above my lip and beneath my hair uncomfortably. An open window and a cool breeze would be nice right about now.
Luke’s lips twitch with amusement, his blue eyes crinkling at the edges. In this moment, I feel our age difference.
“I said: Will you marry me?”
“I heard you,” I breathe behind my trembling fingers, causing Luke to chuckle. My eyes shift from his smile to the small pale-blue box resting on the table in front of me. The white silky ribbon is tied in a perfect bow. I wonder fleetingly if there’s a special Tiffany’s class the sales staff is required to attend just to learn how to tie these bows.
He’s waiting for a response and I know I need to give him one. I open my mouth to say something, but my throat suddenly closes up, prohibiting me.
Walters. Luke’s last name is Walters. If I say yes, I’ll be Misty Walters, which is so close to Misty Waters. And that’s just…ugh.
Of course, it’s not like I have to take his name. I could stay a Handlin. Or I could hyphenate. Maybe he could take my name…
“Misty?” He laughs again, nervous discomfort twisting the normally pleasant melody into something that fills my stomach with dread.
It’s so damn hot in here.
I watch silently as he tugs one side of the ribbon. The loops pull free, floating to the table, and he removes the lid, exposing the small black velvet box inside.
A box inside another box. Why do they feel the need to do that? It seems wasteful.
“I knew I was going to ask you this question after our first date,” he says softly, stirring me from my wandering thoughts. “I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t get you off my mind once I dropped you off that night or if it was the way you powered through the basket of hot wings while cheering for the Buckeyes. It might have been the jersey and jeans you wore while I was dressed in khakis and a sweater, ready for a romantic dinner. Or possibly because you were—and still are—the prettiest girl I’ve ever had the fortune to lay eyes on. I fell in love with you that night. And every day since has just been leading us here.”
He pops the box open—the second one. Light reflects off of the princess cut ring. It must be at least two carets. Maybe three. I’m guessing this is a twenty-thousand-dollar ring. Probably more.
Holly shit, that’s big and sparkly.
I don’t know what to say.
Luke is thirty. He’s established with a great job, condo, cars, and all the expensive toys men love. He’s at that point in his life where he’s prepared to settle down. Get married, have children.
I’m still in school. I share an apartment with three other people and can barely make rent. I’m only recently able to drink—legally. I’m not ready to marry a man I’ve known for just ten months.
Luke is great. He’s smart, funny, attractive, and he’d make a wonderful husband.
And this ring is so big and pretty.
“Will you make me the happiest man in the world?”
I’m looking directly at him, but I don’t see him. I see myself standing at a crossroads. One path leading me toward a bright, secure future. The other full of shadows, questions, and ghosts from my past.
We were supposed to be celebrating the end of finals. Not changing our lives. I should have known something was coming when he insisted on staying in and cooking for me.
He never cooks.
“I don’t know,” I finally choke out.
Luke’s eyebrows crinkle in confusion, and I can’t blame him. He’s a catch—he couldn’t possibly have anticipated my reluctance. Any woman in her right mind would jump at this opportunity.
“I don’t understand,” he murmurs.
“I need time. I need to think about it.” I need air. And more alcohol.
“What is there to think about?” he asks. The skin between his brows pinches into a white line. “Either you love me and want to marry me—or you don’t.”
“I do love you. It’s not that.” He releases a breath as if he’d been holding it in wait of those words. The muscles in my throat tighten as if I’m being choked, but I keep going, trying to explain whatever this is I’m feeling inside.
“This is just fast. I’m only twenty-one. I still have another year of school. And…” I shake my head, my hair swinging across my back. Nine years never felt like much of an age difference. Not until now. Now it’s the space between planets.
I close my eyes, inhaling deeply. How can I possibly say yes to the most important question I’ll ever be asked without knowing if I’m missing out on a once in a lifetime love?
“Is this about ‘sowing your wild oats’?” Luke questions, his eyes flicking over my face. “Because if that’s all this is—if that’s what you need—I can handle that. You’re young. Take the summer, go crazy. Get whatever you need to get out of your system, and then give me your answer.”
I take a sip of wine, the bittersweet liquid doing nothing to sooth my dry, aching throat. “You want me to go wild. For the summer.”
He nods, gently snapping the box closed. “I want you to say yes. But I want you to feel good about it when you do. Whatever is holding you back, take care of it.”
I laugh lightly. “And if what’s holding me back is a deep rooted desire to participate in an orgy?”
He smirks at me, his full lips curving upward wickedly. “Do it, because once this ring is on your finger, nobody else is allowed to touch you.”
“What if I’m secretly a lesbian?”
“You enjoy my cock too much for that, but if you feel the need to experiment, now’s the time.”
“What if I have feelings for another man, but our timing has always been wrong? What if I can’t marry you until I know without a shadow of a doubt that there can never be anything between this man and me?”
His eyes narrow as he looks back at me, pinning me in place with his probing gaze. “The fact that you’re sitting here with me and not him tells me he either doesn’t exist, he’s a fool, or he’s completely insane. Either way, I feel good about my odds.”
It shouldn’t, but that stings. Because Kellin is most certainly real and he’s probably saner than I am.
© Cheryl McIntyre