"You want me to propose to him?"
My incredulous question caught the attention of more than a few curious patrons at the quiet sandwich shop. I recoiled, embarrassed. My friend, Renee Johnson, the one who had come up with the ridiculous idea that had resulted in my outburst, calmly set down her lunch in front of her and wiped her mouth neatly with a napkin. She had a knack for calm communication, a gift I was thankful for as I waited for the other customers to lose interest in our conversation.
"Didn't you just tell me that you want to marry him?" she asked as if the matter was oh-so-simple. How I wish it were.
"I can't do that!" I hissed, leaning forward so that my whisper didn't carry beyond the table this time. It was just a little past noon, and the sandwich place was completely packed with men and women trying to cram nutrition, fresh air, and conversation into their thirty-minute break from work. Renee's job was a little more flexible than the average person's, meaning she could take an extra long lunch break to help me solve this present dilemma. And I, being an elementary school teacher, had far less work to do now that the school year was over for the kids.
"Why not?" Renee asked again calmly. If she was confused by my response or frustrated by it, I couldn't tell. She was an absolute expert at hiding most of her emotions. I, on the other hand, was easily embarrassed and definitely way too shy to do what she had just suggested. In fact, I couldn't even do much beyond sitting here and blushing as I thought about the idea.
Renee didn't pick up her wrap again like I expected her to, instead calmly folding her hands in front of her on the table in an attempt to wait out my silence. I felt ridiculous, sitting crouched over my seat with my hands gripping the sides of the chair anxiously, my bottom lip tucked under my teeth. I was twenty-six years old, and yet the idea of proposing to my boyfriend of over three years was giving me the jitters.
"Well?" Renee prompted when it was clear I wasn't saying anything.
"Oh, you know me, Renee, I can't!" I whimpered. Renee's eyes widened slightly in a way I knew by now meant she was extremely frustrated. I would be too. We had spent the last forty minutes coming to this exact conclusion.
"Lily, I don't know how else to help you then," she finally replied. "You just spent the last thirty minutes, or maybe more, telling me how much you like Felix-,"
"Love," I interrupted quietly when she named my boyfriend.
"Love Felix," Renee continued without indicating that my correction was significant. "And not only just that you love him, but also that you can't imagine wanting to be with anyone else. However, you expect Felix to magically read your mind and propose to you, because you are too cowardly to do it yourself."
I nodded silently. Renee blinked before continuing, the equivalent of a normal person's eye roll.
"He's just a man, Lily," she told me bluntly. "You don't need to get so worked up over him." And just on cue, her phone vibrated with a text message. Renee cast a sideways glance, and I expected her to declare that it was just someone from work before ignoring it to return to our talk. Instead, Renee's eyebrows shot up so high I expected them to jump off her head, and the faintest of blushes appeared on her cheeks.
But this uncharacteristic expression speedily vanished, and Renee ignored her phone and covered up the momentary pause with a quick sip of her ice tea.
"Sorry, just someone from work," she said so casually and neatly that I almost believed I had imagined the whole thing. It was the sort of recovery I envied, for I knew that if I had that skill, I could pull off a proposal assured that I had a way to handle any awkward slip-ups. After all, it was only because I knew exactly what was going on that Renee did not manage to get away with this.
"Was it Eric?" I pried, trying to mimic her nonchalance in my tone in the hope that she would be more encouraged to share. Renee did not act so startled this time around, allowing a brief smile and a shrug before she picked up her wrap.
"I think the best thing to do in your situation is to propose to Felix," she said. I grinned wryly. She ignored it, trying to distract me with more conversation. "Don't you want to wake up in the morning and turn to see him waking up next to you, knowing that you'll start your day together with coffee over a breakfast table you bought together for a home you two share? Hm? Don't you want to be Lily Spencer instead of plain old Lily Hart? I mean, you've had that name for, what, twenty-six years?"
I had to admit, the vision of my future she painted did seem quite nice. But I wouldn't enjoy it unless I had something to say about her latest crush. "Yeah, I know…but hey! Twenty-four years is a long time to be with the last name Johnson. Maybe you should work on changing it to something else…let's say, Hoffman."
Renee's smile was carefully polite. "Eric is just a small crush, Lily." She offered no more explanation, though I very much knew one was due. Renee partied extensively, and therefore she had a very large list of ex-boyfriends and ex-crushes. However, I had never seen her so worked up about a guy until Eric came into the picture just a little less than two months ago.
Well, there was one exception to that statement, and it was the reason I was still asking for Renee's help even though I knew any advice she could give me would be too bold for my taste. Renee used to actually date my current boyfriend, and they went out for a whole year before she started college. She was the reason that Felix and I met, meaning that I was the reason they broke up. I even think that particular break-up was responsible for her decision to suddenly attend university, even though she had finished high school years before and had been content to work in customer service until then.
I had thought that it would be awkward for a long time after that incident, but Renee had always been good at controlling her feelings. I never had the chance to figure out whether the situation upset her. And I, being as shy as I am around most people, never dared to bring it up to ask her. I wouldn't have gotten a straight answer anyway. So that was that. Our friendship survived.
By meeting with Renee today, I was hoping to use the fact that she had known Felix intimately at one point as an advantage. I was completely in love with him, but I didn't know where else to go. I wanted more. But now I realized I couldn't expect her to answer this question. First of all, she wasn't me. We had completely different personalities. Second, she hadn't gotten to that point in a relationship, with Felix or any other guy she had ever gone out with. And third…well…there was only one answer.
"Fine," I agreed. Renee looked up from the last bite of her wrap, waiting for me to expand on that. I forgot that I hadn't said anything after her last statement about Eric. For all she knew, I could have been talking about him.
"I said fine, I will talk to Felix about wanting to marry him," I elaborated. Renee smiled.
"Good," she said. She didn't sound particularly triumphant, but I knew she felt it. I, on the other hand, felt extremely nervous, as if I had just agreed to jump off the Empire State Building. I guess this is why they referred to proposing as "taking the plunge". Luckily, as I reflected later, I never did end up having to jump off of anything for real. However, there was an emotional plunge.
That I could have done without.
The aforementioned plunge came two days after my eventful lunch with Renee. Felix had called me earlier in the day to ask me to meet him at the park near the school where I work. It was late afternoon as I walked the two miles from my small house in the neighborhood. The weather was lightly breezy and warm with not a cloud in sight. It was the perfect sundress-and-floppy-hat weather, and I almost forgot that I had decided to ask Felix about marriage during this date.
And then, right when I entered the park and saw him standing near the swings, helping several young kids play on the equipment, it hit me. Oh, my God. I was going to ask Felix to marry me!
It was such a momentous realization that I nearly dropped to the ground from surprise, something I did not want to do in the dirt wearing my two-inch heels and a white dress. The feeling got worse when Felix looked up and saw me standing at the edge of the playground, and he grinned and beckoned me closer.
I tried to smile as if absolutely nothing was bothering me as I headed towards him. Felix was laughing as he pushed a little girl on the swing, his happiness highlighting his handsome features. As if they even needed highlighting. With glossy, dark brown, chin-length hair and bright brown eyes, Felix was absolutely too gorgeous for his own good. Already, half the young girls in the playground flocked to him, their eager expressions giving away that they had developed tiny crushes on my playful boyfriend.
He would make such a good father! I sighed happily. He really, really would. Now if only I could pluck up the courage and tell him.
"Hey, Lils!" Felix greeted cheerfully, and I ducked into his embrace as he wrapped one arm around my shoulder, pulling me to his side so that he could kiss me on the cheek. He knew I disliked a lot of PDA, especially in front of children and their parents watching near the edge of the playground. With the other arm, he pulled out a bouquet of my favorite flowers, lilies, jasmine, and roses, arranged in a fragrant, colorful bunch. I was surprised, since I had been too preoccupied with my thoughts to notice that he had been hiding it behind his back.
"How are you?" I asked in my sweetest voice as I took his gift and inhaled the sweet smell, giving Felix and the children around us a grin. I didn't know why, but I felt the need to act extra-nice in front of the children. Well, actually, it was probably my teacher instincts. These kids were too young to have been in any of my classes yet, so I didn't recognize them. However, I still felt like they had to be comfortable around me and like me.
Before Felix could reply to my question, a young girl with blonde pigtails grabbed his sleeve. He looked down.
"Yes?" he asked.
"Mr. Felix, is she your girlfriend?" the girl asked curiously. I smiled. She was so cute! Felix laughed, letting his arm around me slide down so that he could grab my hand instead. Our fingers intertwined, and a shiver ran up my arm. It felt nice.
"Yes, Zoë, she is," my boyfriend replied. The crowd of children erupted into a fit of giggles and awwws as they stared at us holding hands. Even though they were just children, I felt self-conscious.
Felix must have noticed my slight discomfort because, after a quick look at his watch, he addressed the children again. "Hey, kids. I have something to show my girlfriend, so we have to get going now." The girls whined in protest, but Felix convinced them to resume playing. Moments later, as the children returned to the swings and the sand, Felix and I walked away from them towards the center of the park.
"How do you know those kids?" I asked as the chatter and laughter of the group of children faded away behind us. We were walking hand-in-hand, and I had my flowers pressed to my side so that I could keep smelling them. Felix looked down at me as we walked, a little puzzled at first, but then he seemed to realize what I was asking.
"Oh! I really don't know them that well. I was standing there for a while and they asked me to play. So we introduced ourselves. I didn't want their parents to think I was going to kidnap them or anything."
"Since you totally look like that sort," I teased, letting go of his hand and reaching over to ruffle his hair. Felix shot a quick glance behind us.
"Good, no witnesses!" he whispered. I laughed, thinking he was going to pretend to kidnap me or something, but instead he ducked down and kissed me. His arms surrounded me, one around my waist and the other higher, pressed against my upper back. I melted into his kiss, resting my hand on his upper arm as my lips parted, giving him entrance. He was all too eager to take my invitation, and we progressed into deeper, involved kisses. This went on for quite some time, until I finally pulled away for air.
"I missed you too," I murmured as he nuzzled my neck. Fireworks were exploding behind my half-lidded eyes, and everywhere his lips met my skin it pulsed and tingled. Even after three years of this, the intensity still didn't go away.
"Hmmm?" he asked, clearly occupied as he turned me to face him so he could better explore my face. I grinned.
"What is this you wanted to show me, by the way?" I put light pressure on his shoulders so that he stopped his caresses. Felix pulled back and looked at his watch.
"We still have fifteen minutes, hold on," he replied absently before attacking me once again. I let him for another ten minutes, eagerly responding his touches by running my hands through his delicious hair and moaning every time one of his kisses sent a flash of heat through my skin. It was addicting, and I couldn't stop. However, I remembered there was something important I needed to do, and I needed to do it before I convinced myself to put it off for another day. Or two. Or more.
"Felix!" I squeaked as he licked – yes, licked – my neck. He pulled away in surprise.
"Sorry!" he replied. I shook my head and laughed.
"No, no, that's okay," I said. It was more than okay. It felt absolutely excellent. But I could wait to tell him that. "Um…I have something important I need to tell you."
Felix looked confused. He shot another glance at his watch. "Okay," he said. "Shoot."
"Um…" I pressed my hands together, almost squishing the flowers, and gave Felix a huge grin. He waited, a patient smile ready for whatever I had to say. The problem was…I wasn't exactly sure how to put it into words. Felix, I want to marry you. It seemed a little too straightforward for me to handle.
"What is it?" Felix prompted when I didn't say anything for a minute. The urge to tell him never mind and return to his kisses was very, very strong. However, I swallowed that urge and looked down at my feet determinedly. I was going to say this!
"Well…uh, well…I was thinking," I said. "And you know…we've known each other for a long time! I mean, we've dated for like nearly four years." I looked up at Felix to see him nodding expectantly. "And well…you know…I was…well…" Thinking about what comes next. It was so easy to say in my head!
Felix gave me a funny glance. "Lily, what are you trying to say?" he asked.
"Uh…" I'm trying to ask you to marry me. "Well…" Felix looked at his watch again. I vaguely registered that it was the fourth time he had looked at his watch. What was he waiting for? It wasn't making my job any easier.
"Yeah, Lils, can you hold on to what you're going to say for a little bit? I have something important to show you." Felix took my elbow and tried to turn me, but I didn't budge.
"No, Felix, this is really important!" I insisted, swatting away his hand. Felix laughed.
"Well, you seem to have your words mixed up for the moment. Just let me show you something and then maybe you will get a better grasp on what you are trying to say." Felix tried once again to turn me around. "Or not," he added under his breath, clearly not for me to hear, but I heard it anyway.
"What?" I demanded, wheeling around. Felix gave an exasperated sigh. I stared him silently. The breeze picked up, and I heard the distant hum of a plane's engine in the sky behind us. Felix looked up. I took the time while he was distracted to try again.
"Felix, just give me one moment, I know I can do this!" I told him. "I just want to tell you how much I love you…" I trailed off again, and Felix quickly took the opportunity to try to distract me again.
"Lils, look up!" he instructed. I shook my head. If I let myself get distracted, I would never finish this. Felix stared at me like I had just slapped him.
"What the hell, Lils?" he cried. "Just look up!" His tone was no longer light-hearted and playful. He sounded angry. We had gotten into fights before during our relationship, and my usual response was to stare at the ground while Felix glared me down. It was exactly what happened now.
"Okay, don't do this!" Felix pleaded. "I know you're annoyed, but just for one second, look up! Please?" He stepped forward, his hand extended towards my chin. I slapped it away. Felix literally growled in frustration. I didn't look at him, because tears were already welling up in my eyes, and I was trying to keep them from falling. There was no way I could propose now, not when we were going to fight with each other. And over what? Nothing!
I continued to stare at the ground in stony silence. Felix made a variety of frustrated noises, but I knew that if I responded, I would start crying first. I already had that uncomfortable, tight feeling in my throat that told me that I couldn't avoid a sob-fest if I opened my mouth, so I wisely kept it shut.
"Okay, fine," Felix relented after an awkward minute. "What is it you want to say?"
"Nothing," I mumbled, and one tear escaped. Great.
"Are you crying?" My boyfriend moved towards me, and I turned away.
"No!" I sobbed unconvincingly. Felix gripped my shoulders and I fought my way out of his grip.
"What?" he demanded.
"Nothing!" I shot back, inhaling shakily. I wiped my face with my hand. My palm was now wet with my tears.
"You are crying!" Felix stated. Hello, Mr. Obvious. When I just glared at him, he held up his hands defensively. "Wha-can you just tell me what you wanted to say?"
"No!" I pushed away Felix's comforting gestures. He reached for my arm again.
"What the hell, Lily?" he finally shouted.
"Well, you can't exactly propose when you are angry!" I screamed at him. And then I stopped, choking on my own tears, as Felix's eyebrows shot into his hairline.
"What? You knew?" he sputtered, throwing me for a loop as well. What? Knew what? I had been talking about myself.
"What are you talking about?" I asked blankly, the tears and anger shocked out of my system. Felix stared at me open-mouthed and motioned with a single finger towards the sky. I decided to look. Written in the cloudless blue sky was a single phrase, outlined in dots of white smoke that were starting to spread in the wind.
Marry me, Lily?
My head snapped back down to stare at Felix with an expression of complete bewilderment. He had been trying to propose to me?
I repeated that question out loud. He nodded. Suddenly, the situation seemed like the funniest in the world, and I burst out laughing. Felix stared for a while before joining me.
"Are you okay, Lils?" he asked once we had calmed down. I wiped stray tears from my eyes, happy ones, before I fell into his chest.
"Oh, Felix! This entire time, I've been trying to tell you that I wanted to marry you!" I pressed my face into his shoulder and wrapped my arms around his neck, fitting perfectly due to the fact that Felix was six or so inches taller than me. But he didn't give me much of a chance to relax. He pulled me away, and I noticed that his face looked as bewildered as mine must have been a few seconds ago.
"Serious?" he asked. I nodded with the biggest smile on my face. He broke into a grin as well. Oh, I can't believe we got into a fight about this!
We stayed like that for a few minutes, just staring at each other with the knowledge that there was no reason to fight anymore, when Felix suddenly jumped away from me with an "Oh!" of surprise. I raised my eyebrows.
"I still haven't done this properly," he explained as he started patting down his pockets. I grinned and crossed my arms, waiting. Eventually, Felix produced a small ring box that he opened as he got down on one knee. I grinned. I couldn't wait to tell Renee about this.
"So," he finally asked. "Will you be my wife, Lils?"