Zach and I just got home from taking Peter back to the airport—the end of his visit came too quickly! We had a rather harrowing drive home through a mountain blizzard last night, though, and I can’t blame him for wanting to return Chicago’s more predictable (if less temperate) climate.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the suspicions. I knew that the big day had finally arrived: it was just a matter of allowing Zach’s elaborate plan to run its course.
I cleaned up, as instructed, and tried to take a nap. But no such luck: I was too excited to sleep. So instead of staring at the ceiling, I took my sweet time getting dressed for dinner. Zach had wisely brought a variety of dress/shoe combinations, not relying too heavily on his minimal knowledge of feminine fashions. Apparently, he had been sneaking things out of my closet for the better part of a week, trying to choose items that I wouldn’t miss. He only forgot one thing: nylons. Not the most significant detail, aesthetically speaking, but you ladies know that these flimsy, sheer stretches of fabric can provide a significant amount of extra warmth in the winter. Nevertheless, I looked pretty darn good.
Heading downstairs, I was delighted to find Zach dressed to the nines in a freshly-ironed suit. (He does his own ironing before school every single day: could I BE any luckier?) He had pulled a bottle of wine out of a hat and we sat in front of the fire, sipping cabernet until it was time to drive into town.
For the dinner segment of the evening, Zach had done his research well. In a tiny mountain town, he managed to find a charming bistro called The Butcher’s Table that was run by a culinary expert who was once a contestant on Iron Chef. Those who know me know that an excellent meal is high on my list of Favorite Things, and Zach milked this weakness for all it was worth.
The funny thing is that I don’t remember what we ordered. Did we start with salads? Was there a couple’s special? Dessert? I don’t know! And I remember food. (Meg, the ravioli at Five? Allison, the gnocchi at that Italian place? Eva, the calamari at Blue Star? I remember it ALL!)
Instead, all I can recall is that we held hands across the table for most of the meal, and that Zach’s conversation consisted mostly of “remember when” anecdotes from our first few months together. He was clearly leading up to something (or so I hoped), but he never quite arrived: “Remember the time we went hunting for lilacs on Wood Avenue and we saw the most perfect porch swing?” Yes, I remembered, but it was hard to come up with a suitable reply beyond a mundane “Mmhmm…that was a beautiful afternoon.”
We lingered a long time over our wine, exchanging memories, smiling foolishly at one another, being happy. Finally, Zach rose to go and, as he helped me into my coat, he asked if I wanted to go for a walk. Did I want to tip-toe through snowy streets with high heels and bare legs in the stinging winter wind? No, not really! But I wasn’t about to refuse one of his suggestions—not THAT night.
I suspect that, by this point, Zach suspected that I suspected his end goal. He walked me through Salida’s quaint historic downtown, stopping on a bridge over the Arkansas river headwaters. Wrapping his arms around me as we looked over the waters, he murmured in my ear, “Isn’t the moonlight lovely on the water?” I was so nervous that I could barely squeak out an affirmative. Moon over head, water rushing under foot, and no one else in sight—could a scene be any more romantic? But, abruptly, he let go, and started leading me through a nearby park, still decorated with Christmas lights. We came to a bench that bore a plaque: “For Edna, in gratitude for the best 58 years of my life. Love, Norman.” Zach gazed at the bench, shaking his head in wonder, and asked “Isn’t it amazing, the idea of spending your whole life with one person?” I nodded earnestly, unable to breathe. It was amazing. Amazing! And yet, he walked on.
We continued in this manner for what seemed like miles, though I’m sure it was only a few blocks. Finally, he noticed my chattering teeth and, perhaps deciding that I’d been punished enough for my presumption, he suggested that we head back to the car. It was time to gather our things from the chalet and head back to the Springs.
That short car ride was silent as he mulled over the final stages of his plan and I mentally berated myself for getting all worked up. “You ALWAYS do this, Laurel. You get all excited and you start reading into things and then you end up disappointed. What could possibly be disappointing about this wonderful day? So what if it didn’t end up the way you expected? You do this to yourself by letting your imagination run away with you. You always do this and you deserve what you get.” I was nearly in tears by the time we pulled into the driveway.
Back at the Tudor Rose, I started to climb the stairs to change into travel clothes when Zach called me back. “It’s not that late,” he said, “and we still have half a bottle of wine left. Come sit with me a while.” Hope sprung anew. Ignoring the sensible voice in the back of my mind suggesting that polishing off the cabernet before attempting to drive home was perhaps unwise, I went back down.
He had a book in hand, A Severe Mercy, one of the first books we’d read together. I nestled next to him on the cozy leather couch as he read me some of the most beautiful passages: the shining barrier, the lilacs in the springtime, the instantaneous, magical certainty that Davy and Van shared that they were perfect for one another.
Finally, he closed the book, stood up, and took me outside to look at the stars. Again, he stood at my back and wrapped his arms around me, only this time, he took my left hand and slipped something cold and round on my fourth finger. As I turned to face him, he dropped onto one knee and asked me to marry him. (Of course, he knew the answer as well as I did—why else would he have put the ring on first?)
I’ll spare you the rest of the mushy details. Having known for months—since the before our first date, really—that Zach was the only man for me, this sudden and splendid fulfillment of those hopes was almost too much happiness to handle. We did end up driving home later that night, despite our exhaustion. (As Zach said at the time, “You’re going to be telling this story a million times, Laurel. Do you really want to have to explain if we stay?”) And though I tried to share the news with all our loved ones right away, no one seemed keen on picking up the phone at two in the morning.
But they all heard it eventually. They could hardly avoid it: I could (and will) gladly take an hour of anyone’s time to share just how wonderful my husband can be.
(Imagine what I’ll be like once I have a birthing story of my very own…)