Carter and I were having dinner at the Bistro. It had been a week since I had seen Nate and judging from his silence, I was wondering if I had overestimated his affections for me. Perhaps I finally had found a guy friend who didn't want to jump my bones. Carter had asked me to come out tonight because he felt bad for the way our last conversation had ended.
"How's your job going, Marilyn?"
"I got promoted yesterday to Stage Hand."
He smirked. "One promotion in one week?"
I shrugged. "At least I don't have to pawn my grandmother's pearl earrings." When I was going through my mother's precious jewelry, the earrings were the only items I couldn't bear to send to the estate sale. So I kept them, and reasoned that if things ever got bad, I could always sell them.
"Aww don't get mad, Mar. I think the whole Working Girl act looks super cute on you."
"I should probably go," I said frostily.
"Marilyn! Don't be silly. Please come back," pleaded Carter. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." But I held my head high and proud and got to my feet in one swift move.
"Thank you for the lovely dinner." That damn etiquette class must have made an impression on me because I sounded as composed and gracious a lady as Lady Montmarte had ever hoped I would become.
Suddenly he was at my side. "Just a moment and then you can be on your way," he murmured.
I sighed deeply. Would this night never end?
He bent down on one knee. Oh, what fresh hell was this?
"Marilyn, I find myself growing tired of this little game we have had going on for some time now. I want you for myself. And I want an answer. Tonight. So take it or leave it."
I giggled. It was the worst proposal I had ever heard. Carter could have at least ripped off something from Nicholas Sparks. The giggling erupted into very unladylike guffaws. A ridiculous refusal for a ridiculous proposal. Hey, if the Louboutin fits.
"What?" he stared up at me expectantly. "Is it so unreasonable of me? We've been discussing this for a month now and I have yet to hear you tell me to bug off. This ring is a symbol of everything I have to offer you. I thought it would help you to see things more clearly."
I burst into another round of uncontrollable laughter. The ring was a symbol all right. It symbolized bondage to a man who didn't love me, who saw me as a hunter might think of a deer. It stood for social status, passionless embraces and a long life of being pampered and taken care of much like a pedigree poodle. The ring might be a 3 carat Tiffany Bezet princess-cut diamond solitaire but it was no comparison to the heart he would not or maybe even was incapable of giving me.
He stood slowly. "So you leave me no hope?"
Carter snorted. "Oh, because the Marilyn I used to know would have been most anxious to get back to her high society lifestyle. What happened to you? You're not the same girl anymore. "
"I'm not. I have a house, and even if it's tiny, it's mine and I'm proud of it. I'm learning to cook and I've caught three fish. Most importantly, I come home every day with money in my wallet that I worked for." I smiled sadly. "For the first time in my life, I feel like I can be whoever I want."
He grimaced. "There's something I have to tell you about your job. You know how my father owns the theatre? I kind of asked him to put in a good word for you."
I gasped. "You think I am so incompetent that I cannot secure my own employment?"
"I never said that, Mar. I just..." he looked down. "I just didn't want you to go hungry and I wanted you to think you were doing it all yourself."
I let my breath out in one big rush of air. "I might not have gotten my job myself but I'M the one who mops the floors, who runs errands, who comes home every night smelling like trombone spit, polish and sweat with dirty hands and filthy clothes. I'M the one who pays my bills and I don't owe anyone anything. I'm sorry my friendship is now insufficient for you. But like you said, take it or leave it."
Carter bit his lip. "I'll have my chauffeur take you home now."
"No thanks. I'll walk."
* * * * * * *
I found Nate in his favorite park sitting on the swings. The walk from the Bistro had cleared my head immensely and I was anxious to see him.
"Carter asked me to marry him."
He walked over to stand by me. "And what did you tell him?" he asked with a hint of uncertainty in his voice.
I looked down. "I said no." I sighed before adding shakily, "I lost one of my best friends tonight."
"Why didn't you go for it?"
"You", I said simply.
"Awww, Marilyn, you know I wouldn't let some jockstrap keep me from being friends with you."
"When he was on his knees with the ring in his hand, I thought about how nice it would be to not lie awake every night worrying about paying bills. To go shopping and once again not have to look at the price tags or whip out a calculator. It would have been so easy to just give in. But whenever my lips tried to form the word 'yes', I'd see you outside of the music hall playing your guitar. Or standing on the bridge fishing."
"And?" he asked gently.
"And I realized how much I have changed since Gregory died. How some things I once thought important are now so trivial and simple things I took for granted mean so very much." He widened his eyes at the word 'things'. "You mean so much to me."
We stood there in the early morning, talking. I could feel the electricity between us but neither one of us was ready to address the elephant in the room.
The sun had finally risen golden yellow in the sky when Nate looked at me, jaw set and a determined gleam to his eyes. "Marilyn," he breathed.
"Marilyn, you mean a lot to me, too. And I'm really glad you're not marrying Carter." He smiled nervously and I felt my knees turn to jelly and my head go light. "I have two things to say."
I glanced at him, for a second worried he might pull a ring out of his butt.
"First, I want you to spend this weekend with me. I know you want to see my house and I have some other places I would like to take you."
"And second," he leaned close, ""is this."