Ben’s palms were sweating. It felt like he was wiping them down his trousers every two minutes. He couldn’t remember ever sweating this much in his life. At least it was dark in the theater. He kept checking his jacket pocket, generic to make sure the box was still there. Ugh, if he lost it… Mom would kill him, for starts. Who knew what Gracie would do.
He glanced over at her; she was looking up at the screen, completely enthralled. There was even a slight smile on her face; it was a good smile, one of his favorites, not at all self-conscious; in fact, she probably didn’t even know she was smiling at all.
As if she knew what he was thinking, her left hand crept into his. He looked at it, brushing her fingers lightly with his thumb. Part of him wanted to just put the ring on. It’d be so much easier here, in the quiet dark. But what if she said no? I’m such a mess, God. She is totally going to say no.
Grace turned her hand, interlacing her fingers with his so their palms touched, her forearm resting atop his. What do I do if she says no?
*** *** ***
After the film, Grace asked, “What did you think?”
His mind was a blank. “Um,” he said.
“Did you fall asleep?”
“No.” Off her look: “Promise.”
“Then what did you think?”
His palms were going again, so he balled his hands into fists and shoved them into the pockets of his jacket; the knuckles of his left hand bumped against the box.
“I don’t know,” he said. Lame. He wanted to bang his head against something. “I wasn’t watching the movie,” he said, finally. “I — I was watching you watching the movie.”
He didn’t know what her reaction was; he was too embarrassed to check it. After a moment she put her arm through his, and they continued walking. It was a Friday night, and the Megaplex had been crowded; the Jeep was parked on the far edge of the lot. Just past the asphalt was a sudden drop, a hillside that rolled down to sprawling, undeveloped acres of brush and scrub oak.
“What did you think?” he asked.
“About the movie? It was all right.”
“Just all right?”
It was a little — I don’t know. Easy for him. He just asked her, you know? Just proposed, like he was asking, ‘Please pass the salt.’ Totally out of nowhere. No spark.”
He shifted on his feet. Tried leaning against the door of the Jeep to look cool, but realized too late the angle was bad and that his knees were too bent. She cocked her head at him, and he stood up. “My back is — you know,” he said.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Sure. Yeah. Peachy. Today was a good day.”
“Because you seem a little — ”
“Do you think it was easy, really? For him to propose?”
“It seemed that way. I mean, it didn’t seem to mean much to him. Like he was going to be fine whether she said yes or no.”
Ben rubbed his forehead. “Huh. I guess that makes sense.”
She was next him, her hand on his arm. “You’re flushed.”
He swallowed, and it felt like he was eating dust. “I think the curry was a bad choice.”
“We should get you home — ”
“No. I mean — I have to ask you something, and I just — ” His breath stopped, and something in him gurgled. Literally. “Oh, that’s not good.”
He turned too quickly, tripping over the low cement barrier and flying headlong down the grassy incline.
“Ben! Are you okay?”
His chin stung from skidding across the grass, and his shoulders and knees were not happy. Slowly he pulled himself to his feet. He half-ran, half-stumbled toward a clump of bushes where he leaned over and vomited. Great, that’s just great. He stood there for a minute, his back slightly bent, his hands on knees.
He didn’t want to turn around. If he had been a mess before, he didn’t know what to call this.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just — ” he straightened up and without thinking his hand went to his pocket. The box was gone. Oh, no. He patted himself down. Where the — ? He turned to look the way he had come.
Grace was standing at the bottom of the incline. The box was open in her hand, the modest solitaire winking at him.
“Oh, good,” he said. “I thought I had lost that.”
“It’s lovely,” she said. She was smiling, just a little. That sweet, almost smile.
“It’s yours, if you want it,” he said. “It was supposed to be a surprise. I don’t know how to do this. But I’ve literally fallen on my face and — ”
“Yes,” she said.
“Yes?” he repeated. “Do you mean…?”
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