The Proposal Hazel Campbell © 2017
How she imagined it
"Wakey! Wakey! It's another beautiful day in our beautiful city. Don't waste another minute of it in bed. Pull back those drapes, open that window. Look outside and rejoice. The city is alive. You – are – A – LIVE!"
Maeve threw her pillow at the voice on the alarm clock thingy. In a delusional moment, she had recorded this as her wakeup message. She kept forgetting to delete it.
She took a few minutes to really come awake. Another unexciting day ahead, she thought. Another day in the life of a twenty-something girl trying to get along in a tough world.
Lately she had started to feel uneasy when she thought how her 'twenty-something' kept edging closer to thirty. Two roads to a successful life lay ahead. Get a husband, start a family. Or, claw her way up the corporate ladder in the advertising agency where she currently worked. When she said the ennie-meenie-moe rhyme, 'moe' always ended on the corporate ladder.
Before going to the bathroom, she made her bed, took up the clothes she had discarded on the floor, straightened a few items on her dresser, and nodded at her image in the mirror.
She was close to a bad hair day, she noted. If only she had one of those gadgets being advertised on cable. All you had to do was say: 'Alfie, make an appointment with the hairdresser', and it would answer: 'Appointment made'.
One hour later, she came out of the elevator on her office floor and smiled 'good morning' at her co-workers. She always took care with how she dressed and her reward was the admiring stares of the men and the envious stares of the women in the outer office. She made her way to her shared office – assistants didn’t get solo rooms, and noted that the office cleaner had again shifted her flower vase to the right of her desk instead of the left.
Silly woman, she thought. Then immediately wondered if the cleaner might be a man. That's how her thinking always flowed, restlessly, new ideas quickly crowding out old ones. When would she get the chance to be a producer in the agency instead of merely a production assistant?
Her phone rang. No surprise — it was her BFF, Francine, from sales.
"You're late," she said.
"No way. Nine on the dot." Maeve replied.
"Have something to tell you. Lunch? Usual place?"
"Yes. What is it? Give me a hint."
"Nah. See you later." Francine hung up.
The demands of her job quickly superseded her curiosity about Francine's teaser.
Facts to check. Talent to verify. Schedules! Schedules! Schedules!
It wasn't until she was waiting for Francine to join her in the lunch booth that she got a chance to check her personal messages.
There was one from Kevin. Why was he texting her? She thought she would see him later, as usual.
– We need to talk – Meet me at Christophe's at 7 –
How curious? They usually went to Christophe's only on special occasions, for prices were a bit steep. Today was nothing special, so why did he want to go there? Could this mean that he wanted to get serious? On their last date, he had seemed unusually happy but he had brushed aside her attempts to find out why. They had good times together, but she wasn't sure that she was ready to get serious. She wasn't even sure what getting serious could mean. What would she do if he proposed? They had been dating for some months. She liked him, a lot; but was he 'the one'?
As soon as Francine joined her, she confided her suspicions about Kevin's text.
"I didn't know you liked him that much," Francine said. "Marriage?"
"I'm not sure that I do."
"So what're you going to say, if he proposes?"
"I don't know, yet."
"Exactly what did he say?'
"That we needed to talk . . ."
"Oh no!" Francine exclaimed.
"Everybody knows that any conversation which starts with – ' We need to talk' is bad news. Those are often the opening lines to the end of the relationship."
Maeve shrugged. "We talk all the time. This has to be something very special. Then he said to meet him at Christophe's."
"That's not a very romantic spot. Hardly the place for a romantic proposal. Too . . .open."
"It will do. It's not very private, but the food is good and there's a dance floor and everything."
"Hmm! I don't know," Francine mused. "But perhaps he only wants to ask you to move in with him . . . Or meet his mother – which could be the prelude to a proposal – Or walk his dog . . . "
"He doesn’t have a dog." Maeve sipped her drink thoughtfully.
"Would you move in with him?"
"No. I need something more permanent."
"But you're not sure you want to marry him?"
"Are you in love with him?"
"Maeve, this is not like you. You're always so sure of everything." Francine shook her head.
"God! Look at the time!" Maeve exclaimed. "Eat up! I don't have enough time to do my hair, but we can stop at Joyce's and pick out a dress. I don’t want to go in this office outfit and I don’t have time to go home."
They never got around to Francine's news.
The rest of the day passed swiftly as Maeve twisted herself into knots trying to anticipate why Kevin wanted to talk to her.
At five minutes to seven, she alighted from the taxi in front of Christophe's. She couldn’t help feeling nervous about this date. As she passed the mirror in the lobby, she took a quick glance at her image and felt satisfied that if there was going to be a photo op, she would be looking just right in her new green dress, his favorite color.
She had pulled back her hair in a soft bun on her nape and wore only light make-up. She knew he would like how she looked.
The waiter showed her to the table where he was already seated.
Oh good, she thought, remembering Francine's comment. No potential mother–in-law.
He stood quickly at her approach, kissed her lightly on her cheek and said, "You're looking wonderful."
So was he, she thought. Everything about him was right. Tall, handsome, his raven black hair neatly cut, always a twinkle in his eyes revealing a comfortable sense of humor. He could keep her laughing throughout the time they spent together. She surprised herself by suddenly hoping that a proposal was really the reason for this date.
With that foremost in her thoughts, she thoroughly enjoyed two dances before the meal was served. He was a good dancer. Christophe's famous stuffed chicken breasts made a satisfying meal and he kept the conversation light, almost frivolous. She found herself laughing a lot. At the beginning of their friendship, they had agreed not to talk about their jobs since they worked in different advertising agencies. There was a lot of rivalry in this business and their bosses would not be happy if they even knew they were dating.
He seemed to be enjoying their time together too. No sign of the proverbial nervousness of a man about to propose. But she knew he was very confident, extremely self-assured. He would hardly think that a woman would turn down a proposal from him. He wouldn't need to be nervous.
As the evening wore on, she began to wonder when he would propose. She found herself looking keenly into her wine glass when it was refilled.
"Something wrong with the cheesecake?" he asked as he watched her demolish it with the fork before tasting it.
"No," she answered quickly, blushing when she realized what she was doing –searching for a hidden ring. How pathetic, she thought.
"It's good, as usual," he said, savoring his. But she had lost her appetite. She grew progressively glum when nothing unusual happened, but he didn’t seem to notice. In his car on the way to her home, he turned up the radio and sang along with some oldies. He had a good voice, but unlike other times, she wished he would shut up.
When he stopped before her apartment, she decided to push matters. "Are you coming in? You said you wanted to talk."
"Oh that. Yes," he said, but made no move to get out of the car. He was quiet for a bit, then, "I hope you enjoyed our date tonight I wanted it to be special so we could remember the good times we had."
"Had?" she echoed. Her stomach tightened.
"Maeve," he said. "I like you. I like you a lot, but something has come up."
She didn’t say anything.
"My boss has asked me to head a very important project. I can’t afford the distraction of a girlfriend, so . . ."
"You're dumping me?" her voice was incredulous.
"I wouldn’t call it that," he said. "It's just that if I am to succeed, I'll have to give it my all, every moment, every thought."
"You're in advertising, like me. We're used to deadlines. What could be so pressing?"
"This is a life changer," he said. His voice revealed his excitement. "The big one. If this project is successful, I'll probably be made a veepee of the agency."
"Oh," she said. She understood competition and wanting to be the top dog, but somehow his dumping her to get on with his job made her feel very small, inferior, unimportant, pushed aside. She wasn't used to feeling like this.
"Suppose you were married?" The question jumped out of her mouth. "Would you dump your wife for your job?"
"Wives are different," he said. "A wife would understand and support me. Girl friends are demanding. They use up time. They expect to be courted, and wined and dined and they need attention, which I won’t be able to give."
"Well, marry me," she said. Then she cringed. She hadn't meant to say that. It was a risk, not calculated, not planned. It was just that she had been so anticipating a proposal. She held her breath as she waited for his answer.
None came. The silence in the car grew as she wilted.
What an asshole, she thought. What was I thinking? What a conceited, egotistic, self-centered, smug . . . She ran out of words to describe him.
"I wouldn't tie you down like that. That's why . . . "
But she had already slammed the car door and was walking away.