“So where do we eat? I can’t afford another nice meal tonight and then to come back here again next week.”
“You can’t afford it? You have thousands in savings. You scrape and scrimp for every penny.”
“I, uh, I just mean it’s more money than I should spend. I still haven’t gotten all my Christmas shopping done.”
“Well, I don’t mind buying dinner.”
“No! Not tonight!”
“But our real Christmas date can be next week.”
“I don’t think I can wait until next week.”
“We have no choice. We don’t have a table.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“What do you mean, then?”
“Nothing. It’s okay.”
She squinted at me, obviously confused. Even that was adorable. “Okay, let’s go to our place.”
“Really? Tonight? Dressed like this?”
“Hey,” said the young cashier who’d waited on us countless time. “They change the dress code and not tell me?”
“Hi Pedro,” said Dee. “We missed our reservations at Six-Ten Magnolia and this was the next best thing.”
“This place ain’t the next best by like a million. I saw a rat in the back eat a burger somebody dropped. He was dead inside of five minutes.”
“Oh, Pedro, stop it.”
“Okay, your funeral.”
“Pedro!” shouted a voice from inside the kitchen. “Shut up!”
Pedro grimaced satirically and mouthed, “Uh oh,” to us while rolling his eyes. Dee’s eyes sparkled and she laughed quietly. “Yes boss! What can I get you lovely folks tonight? The usual?”
Our order filled, we went to our table in the back left corner. As we sat eating our sliders, she could tell something was up. I’m invariably a clown, especially at the Castle, where we both knew everyone who worked and ate there. But this night, I ate quietly as I stared into her chocolate eyes, which shone with concern that something was wrong as she watched me fidget through my meal. Pedro even stopped by to banter with us as he swept and wiped tables, but I just couldn’t bring myself to join him. All I could think about was how was I going to wait another whole week with this ring burning a hole in my pocket? But how could I propose here? In a greasy spoon like this. She deserved a perfect location. But a whole week? I’d end up in a padded room. I just needed to ask her. But here?
“Are you okay, honey? Please don’t worry about dinner. You know I don’t care about that. I’m happy anywhere as long as I’m with you.”
I smiled at her and knew I couldn’t wait. I decided to plow on, the somewhat-less-than-romantic location be damned. And besides, this place was more ours than any fancy downtown restaurant. We’d been here two or three times a week for two-and-a-half months and the closest we’d come to going to Six-Ten Magnolia was standing at the front desk being told someone else was eating at our table. So, in a way, I hoped I could eventually convince myself, this was even more romantic. The only question was how she would react. Would this place be just too seedy? Does an angel deserve to be proposed to in a slider joint? But these were all my issues. She had told me repeatedly that she didn’t see herself as an angel and was puzzled by the fact that I did. She was just a woman in love with a guy who was kind of crazy in an amusing way. So I hoped she would see this as just another instance of me being a fun wacko. I took a sip of my water and decided to just go for it.
“Dee, I know we haven’t been together for that long, but I pretty much knew the minute I heard your angelic voice that I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life. I always told people that I hoped you were beautiful when I heard you singing, because I knew I was going to marry you someday.”
I don’t know if it actually did or it was only in my head, but the whole restaurant seemed to go silent. Even the passing traffic noises faded. As realization dawned, she put her dainty right hand, tipped with perfectly manicured fingernails that were painted soft pink, over her mouth. Her eyes started to glisten with tears as I slid out of my seat and onto one knee on the floor beside her, reaching into my pocket for the box.
“Babydoll,” I said, opening the box to reveal the ring. It sparkled in the bright light of the restaurant. Her hands dropped to the table, revealing her tiny bow of a mouth, which was now a perfect circle. Her eyes grew wide and a tear spilled out of each, running down her soft, white cheeks. “I’m sorry about doing this here, but I just can’t wait. Is this okay?”
She tried to speak but words wouldn’t come, so she nodded silently. I took her right hand in my left. “I’ve never known or been known by anyone like you before, and I know that will never change. The air has more oxygen when I’m with you and the sun shines more brilliantly. I want never to stop feeling that. I love you more than I ever would have guessed I was capable of loving anyone. You make me want to be the hero you think I am. Will you please marry me?”
She was shaken with sobs, so she just kept nodding as she held out her left hand for me to put the ring on. I struggled, not because the ring didn’t fit, but because I’d started bawling too and could barely see to do it. The ring finally in its place of honor, I started to rise, but before I could, she dropped to her knees in front of me and crushed me with a hug. I honestly couldn’t say how long we stayed there, but I held her, whispering I-love-yous in her ear until our crying subsided, and when we finally came to our senses and started to rise, it was to the enthusiastic cheers of all the employees and patrons of the restaurant. She laughed and covered her face for a moment, but then had to pull her hand away to look adoringly at the diamond on her ring finger as Pedro came from the back to shake my hand. She kissed me tenderly as we walked out the door and to the car.
Next week: Harry and Dee receive a special gift from Harry's mentor.