They were seated in the fast food eatery down the street from the office. The lunch crowd had petered out as people returned to their workplaces to finish up what was left of the day. Her face was turned to him in a profile as she watched the noisy bustle going on in the street beyond the window. He watched the profile. The smooth curvature of her cheekbone. The faint laugh lines tugging at the corner of her eye. The dark roots of her hairline, from where rose the upsweep of her hair pulled back in a bun. He watched her and he realized – again – that he wanted more. More than she was giving. He deserved more, he told himself.
“Marry me,” he blurted out, surprising himself. The surprise wasn’t the words, but that he’d said them then. Of course he had bought a ring and had been carrying it around for days. But he had wanted to propose during dinner in a fine restaurant, with bluesy music playing in the background and the gleaming silver and subtle lights around them adding to the romantic ambience. Certainly not here, in this dusty afternoon, surrounded by the noise of honking horns and irate passersby.
“Huh…” she said, turning her face slowly around to face him. She hadn’t heard him.
“Marry me,” he said again.
She looked amused. She chuckled and then she laughed. Of course she thought he was joking. They didn’t have that kind of relationship. They were friends with benefits. No strings were supposed to be attached. She laughed until she caught his expression, which was as serious as a judge’s, his dark eyes fixed unwaveringly on hers. “Oh my God, you’re serious,” she gasped.
“Yes. Marry me.”
“But – but, that’s just ridiculous.”
“Why is it?”
“Because we’re friends –”
“We’re more than friends.”
“Am I not supposed to love you first before we get married?” she said with wry sarcasm.
“You do love me,” he countered.
“As a friend,” she rejoined. She placed a hand gently on his. “No strings attached, remember? This was just supposed to be physical, no emotions involved.”
“It’s changed. I’ve changed. I want more.”
She sighed. “I knew going in that this was going to be a mistake. I’m the woman, I’m supposed to be the clingy one here.” She waited a beat and reiterated, “This is a mistake.”
“It’s not!” he said. There was something desperate in his voice. “I’ve come to love you. Is that such a bad idea?”
“Yes, it is.” She said woodenly. There was now a distant look in her eyes.
“Is there someone else?” He had to know.
“Then why is this a mistake? I love you. You may not love me back now, but at least you care about me as a friend. Love will come. We can get married and I will spend the rest of my life making you happy, as you will make me happy when you say yes to me.”
She smiled at him. It was a sad smile. Then she patted his hand on the table and rose from the seat. “I have to get back to work.” She reached for her bag.
He called her name. She stiffened and repeated, “I have to get back to work. Take care.” And she walked out of the eatery. He watched her go with the sinking realization that his proposal had changed everything between them.
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