I had my suspicions.
It’s not like The Boyfriend (hereafter known as himself: Paul) and I hadn’t spoken of marriage before. We had done so kind of a lot, actually. So when he said, “Can you please block out the Saturday before Christmas? Can we go on an day trip again? It’s been a while,” I agreed because–well, true, it had been a while, but also, what if that was the day he was going to propose to me?
Then I remembered that Cousin Mary Anne and Grandma M were planning to visit that weekend.
I called Mary Anne and told her about the Saturday scheduling conflict. “Here’s the thing,” I said. “I think–I’m not sure, but I think I might be getting a ring that day.”
Appropriate gushing and squealing ensued.
“Of course,” I said, “It could just be a decoy.” Maybe I was supposed to think I was getting a ring that day, and he was going to hold out and wait until Christmas or something. Just in case, Mary Anne and I rearranged our weekend so we could still see each other and yet Paul and I could have our day trip.
This week Paul said, “I think we should leave early. Like 7.”
Groaning, I set my alarm for 5.30 a.m. when I went to bed at 11.30 p.m. on Friday night, and woke up accordingly. Seriously. I think I only hit the snooze button once. I walked Oscar and took a shower and did my hair and my make-up, and made extra coffee for our trip, and then I texted Paul to tell him I was on my way.
“Don’t rush,” he texted back. “I just woke up.”
We might’ve been on the road by quarter to eight, and got out in Newport, Rhode Island, at the Cliff Walk. It was cold and overcast and we were bundled up in layers upon layers, topped with scarves and hats, but it wasn’t raining, so we leashed up the dogs and set out. We walked and stopped and took pictures of things like roses which apparently still bloom on the Cliff Walk in December, and it was very companionable, and then we came to the Forty Steps. There are actually more than 40 of them, but we walked down them all and stood at the bottom in a little alcove-y sort of thing, looking out at the water. Paul got a little romantic. Then he bent down on one knee and . . .
. . . tied his shoe.
He stood up again and patted down his pockets. Then we climbed back up the Forty Steps.
The rest of the walk went pretty much the same way, with some sunshine and Doctor Who references thrown in. I suppose I should have thought to be suspicious about how many times he appeared to need to tie his shoe, but the thing was, he was wearing new hiking boots which had only just arrived last week. Everyone knows that new shoelaces don’t stay tied. So I guess I didn’t think much of it.
After we returned to the car from the Cliff Walk, I suggested that a cup of tea would be nice. (My philosophy is that every good walk should have a cup of tea at the end of it. Particularly when the walk requires scarves and hats.) We discovered a cute little diner crammed between some other shops, with a ceiling full of glass Christmas baubles. It was the epitome of tacky Christmas, but it looked sort of great in that space. Paul drank a coffee. I drank a tea. Paul said, “It’s a little hard to hold my girlfriend’s hands when they’re both cuddling a teacup.” I smiled and gave him my left. Which he held until we decided we were done and it was time to go.
We got back in the car and drove along Ocean Drive to look at all the mansions and other exhibitions of profligacy along the Newport coast, and then drove down to Jamestown for lunch in a cute little deli. By this time, I had to admit to myself that I was feeling a little disappointed and that clearly this was the decoy day and that Christmas was only a week away, but really? Couldn’t we just make engagement official today? My left-hand ring finger was starting to feel lonely.
For the next little while, we drove around along the coast and Paul would keep suggesting we get out and look at stuff, and so I gamely did. But the sun had gone in again, and it was colder than ever, and I’m not a big fan of short drives and short stops and hopping in and out of the car, so by the time we got to Fort Wetherill State Park, I was pretty much ready just to go home. This time, though, when we got out, we left the dogs in the car. I took note of this, but not too hopefully. By now I had quite a little catalog of passive aggressive comments I could have said going on in my head, but fortunately I had enough foresight to realise that a proposal extracted by passive aggression wouldn’t be very satisfying either to me or my beloved, so I kept my mouth shut.
We walked along a little scrub-lined path and came out onto a high bluff overlooking the ocean and surrounded by it on three sides. The water extended in a dark grey expanse and the sky extended in a lighter grey one and it was, in fact, quite beautiful. There were benches facing the view, and I thought I might like to sit on one, although it also occurred to me that the cold of the metal would probably cut right through my jeans and long johns. “Here,” said Paul. “Let me take your picture.”
After the shutter clicked, things got a little confusing. I think I was summoned up to the bench, and then suddenly Paul was on his knee again but not tying his shoe, and there was a little fuzzy black box in his hand. “Oh!” said part of my brain, “He’s doing it!” and I sat down awkwardly on the bench because I’m already considerably taller than my man and the ground was uneven and something felt weird about standing there towering over him on his knees like that, and then he said, “So, are you gonna marry me or not?”
I laughed, and then I said, I suspect a little reproachfully, “Yes.” And then I said, “It’s beautiful!” because the box was open and the ring was glinting out of it in the winter light and it really really was. I should hope that, just as every mother thinks her baby is the most adorable, every woman would think her engagement ring is the most beautiful, but I really think mine is. I had told him I didn’t want diamonds–that a plain band would be fine, but I’m glad he didn’t listen to me (in spite of the havoc that the diamond trade wreaks in places like Africa) because he managed to find something that was so simultaneously simple and fancy and just plain elegant that I never could have imagined myself. I handed the box back to him because I wanted him to put that astonishing piece of jewelry on my finger, and even though I didn’t say so, he did it.
Then he said, “Let’s go back to the car–I brought some champagne that we can drink out here. It’ll warm us up.” So he marched back up the path and I think I might have cavorted along behind him. As we were walking, he said, “Did I just ask you, ‘Are you gonna marry me or not?'”
I laughed again.”Yep.”
It turned out he had an entire speech planned, and none of it came out at all, but it didn’t matter, because what he had said had worked anyway, and we were sitting back on those cold benches drinking champagne out of champagne flutes which had our first initials painted on the side (the champagne was Perrier-Jouet and the flutes had an intertwined P and J) by accident. The sun came out and made a cross on the water and we were happy.