I pause just before i round the corner, watching her sitting at the table. She has one leg crossed over the other and leans her elbow on the table. She's scanning the paper--I know it's the metro section, the only part of the Oregonian she reads. Probably reading about some new play showing in town. I study her form across the room, deciding she is the most beautiful thing ever to happen to me. Loose jeans and a sleeveless print blouse; unruly brown hair not touching her collar and grey eyes that never seem forgiving. She picks up her water glass and swirls the liquid around several times before taking a sip.

I duck back into our bedroom before she sees me. I've been thinking about this for days. She makes me feel so complete, so relaxed somehow, and I don't know how exactly to tell her. I opened my dresser drawer and extracted the small box. Opening it and fingering the wide gold band inside, I think about her sitting at the table out there. Is this the right thing to do? What will she say? Will I make a fool of myself? Five years we had been together, during the last three of which we lived together. We had talked about committing, but always in a joking way. "We're acting like an old married couple," or "Is this what I'm going to have to put up with in thirty years?" Small, offhand comments that make my stomach tighten and curl. I wonder if she's on the same page.

I decide to bit the bullet. Just do it Son, you won't regret it. I know I won't regret it, either. This is it, I want to be with this woman for the rest of my life. Spurred into action, I take the ring in my palm and move out of the bedroom.

The sight of her stops me in my tracks. Oh god. Do I want to do this? What am I afraid of? I try unsuccessfully to slow my racing heart. How.. how and I going to do this. I mentally kick myself for not having in mind a firmer plan. Calm down Son, walk up to her. I tuck the ring in the coin pocket of my jeans and slowly saunter up behind her. Wrapping my arms around her shoulders I press my lips to her crown.

"Hey Val."

"Hey gorgeous. Are we going out to dinner tonight?" She's still absorbed in an article.

"Mmm.. I thought we would, is that good for you?"

She tilts back her head and gazes into my eyes. I shudder at the feelings brought to the surface by the strength of her dark intense gaze. She brings a hand up to stroke my cheek. "Hey--what's wrong?"

I step back swiftly, trying to contain my tears or laughter I'm not quite sure. "Um, nothing. I--ah, just.." I paused to collect the thoughts running through my mind. Swift, Son, just swift. "You want to take a short walk before dinner?" My mind latches onto an idea and I can feel myself relax. Okay, this is okay.

Valerie frowns and sets the paper down. Her face full of confusion as she looks at me then starts toward the bedroom. "All right, just let me get some shoes."

I sigh in relief.

...

We walk over broken, uneven sidealk toward the park. I suppose I'm leading the way, as we never discussed where we where going, and I have plans and I'm guessing she doesn't. I pause to let her pass on the sidewalk first where a large tree is fighting concrete and pedestrians to gain room. We come to the park and I suggest a tour around the small pond.

When? Now? "Val, I wanted to talk with you about something." We're walking at a slow leisurely pace, our hands clasped together. I feel her falter, then keep walking.

"Something big?" She tried to keep the humor in her tone, but I wondered if there wasn't something else.

I quickly went on. "Sort of important, yes. I was thinking about you, and us I guess. I was thinking about how I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I was wondering if you wanted the same thing from me?" I hope my tone didn't sound as horrible contrived as it had to my ears.

"Are you proposing, Son?" She looked over at me, amused.

Oh god. She's laughing at me. I felt my face flush and something protective come back down over my emotions. Was I proposing? Yes, of course. "Yes, of course."

"Then yes." She leaned over and murmured in my ear, "I love you."