Sweeter- Finale

THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION

Jim sat on his sofa, waiting for Leanne to finish getting ready for their date. “Don’t jump up here, guys. Seriously,” he begged the dogs. They both had those ‘here we come’ looks on their faces. “Normally, the shedding doesn’t bother me, but I’m in a suit and all that. Wanna look good for Lee. Tonight’s important. So don’t. Please.” Oddly, the dogs seemed to wholly understand him. They went to lay in their dog beds instead of climbing onto the furniture and invading his personal space, which was their routine (and treasured…not tolerated) behavior. This was Jim’s third Valentine’s Day with Leanne; his longest relationship with a woman by far. Last year, they took a long weekend trip to Coker, Alabama, where most of Jim’s family and old friends still resided, just as they had on their two Thanksgivings together. They didn’t travel for Christmases, though. Leanne casually joked with him on their first Christmas together that it was her busy time at work and she just couldn’t get away. ‘It’d be like if you were seeing an accountant and asking her to take a trip during tax season. Charities are hoppin’ on major religious holidays.’ They had two Christmases each year instead; the first one home alone together, on the actual days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then a week in Alabama from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day with Jim’s family. Leanne felt misplaced and unwarranted guilt about him delaying family time for her, but he insisted on her going with him for the holidays. Really, he didn’t mind waiting. He actually liked starting a new tradition with her. He definitely didn’t want to spend any time without her if he could help it. This was another file in the ‘Totally Opposite of Kyle’ catalog.

Leanne’s family was small and only sporadically there for her, even in her illness. Part of what she wanted (and basically counted on) marriage to be, was being adopted into a new, supportive family. It didn’t happen, though. Kyle’s family always seemed removed from her, even hostile toward her. That surprised her, but it shouldn’t have, as Kyle himself was rather removed from her, and sometimes hostile toward her. She was with Kyle for five years, and he took her to one family holiday event that required no travel. His folks were all local. Jim seemed joyed, and even proud to introduce her to his family, and each trip she made to Alabama, her welcome was warmer than the previous one (and even the first one was quite gracious).

Leanne studied herself in the mirror, feeling enthusiastic and genuinely happy for the third consecutive Valentine’s Day; a new personal record. For the past year, she shared a home with Jim. He asked her to move into his house after their trip to see his family last year in mid-February. Her memory of his adorable wariness made her smile at herself, again, showing all her teeth, something she now commonly did since she was with Jim.

“Um…I know you’re really serious about…doing things the…um…right…proper way. But I just…I really want you to live with me. I’ll feel better…safer…uh…I’m not using the right words. I wantcha to live at my house so I’m not always thinking about what happens if you have a hard blood sugar day and you’re by yourself. Stay with me. Um…please? You can even have a separate bedroom if you…”

“Hahahaha! Jim! Goodness…I’m not…I don’t think it’s ‘wrong’ to…I don’t want my own room. I had ‘my own room’ for a while when I was married, and I’m really not a fan.”

“Good. I mean, not because I want you to…I mean I do want you to…but…ugh. Real smooth, huh? Starting over. Ahem. When you’re close to me, I know you’re okay. So besides the obvious…um…reasons for not wanting you in a separate room…I’ll know you’re okay. That’s why I said, ‘good.’ Not because… Shit.” He rolled his eyes at himself with mild embarrassment.

“You’re so sweet, Jim. I’d love to live with you. Not giving up my dogs, though…”

“Of course not! The Simpsons will live here too. They don’t get their own room if they want it though. They either gotta share with you or me or…um…us…”

“They’ll share with us. Whether you want them to or not, actually. I love you.”

“I love you. So I successfully tricked you into movin’ in here? Awesome,” he jibed.

“Yeah. You just want a live-in housekeeper. And dogs. I know the truth,” she chided back.

She amusedly shook that memory from her head and walked down the hall toward him in a smart, black and white a-line dress. “Well?” she asked.

“Wow! I should take you out to fancy places more often.” She blushed, expecting a simple, ‘You look nice,’ at best.

They went to a romantic fondue restaurant she used to go to with Kyle. It was really the only ‘upscale’ place to go locally for special occasions. But even though the location was the same, everything else seemed different. While they waited on the dessert course, he said, “I got you a gift this year too.”

“More tennis balls?” she giggled. She then began to tingle with anticipation. Perhaps he was going to propose. It wasn’t unheard of to go somewhere nice on Valentine’s Day and pop the question.

“Not this year.” He slid an envelope across the table to her, and she squinted confusion at him. ‘No ring in here,’ she thought to herself. “Open it up.” She did, and found inside, not a mass produced greeting card, or a love letter, but an airline ticket to Stockholm, Sweden. Her squint became a stunned, wide-eyed silent question. “I have a ticket too. I thought we could take a trip together. You said you might want to live in Sweden someday, and you should probably check it out first. You know?”

“W-when is this…?”

“Before your Easter rush at work,” he laughed. “I already lined up Sarah and Mark to watch the Simpsons. You’ll go with me, right?”

“Well, yeah! But…I…didn’t get you anything even close…it’s at home…it’s just a Bama football national championship hoodie…I thought the ‘big deal’ was the restaurant! I didn’t think you were gonna do…this…

“Lee, you work your ass off for a non-profit and I sit around, playing on computers all day, making money off work I did five years ago. Let me treat you to a nice trip. I want to. That’s your big present for me. Letting me.

***

“Well…?” Sarah impatiently inquired when Leanne entered the Wilke house for cheeseburgers and sugar free brownies. Frankie had chosen the menu. She studied Leanne’s fingers intently. “Where’s the damn ring at?!”

“He didn’t ask me to marry him. He bought tickets to Sweden!

“I know! He already asked us to watch the dogs. Still love Jim. Still a great gift. Still pissed I’m not looking at an engagement ring right now.” Sarah huffed an irritated sigh.

“I know he loves me. Maybe he doesn’t wanna get married…ever. He is almost thirty-seven now and he’s never been married. I dunno.” Leanne shrugged, slightly defeated, but trying to convince herself she wasn’t.

“He knows marriage is important to you. I don’t know either. I thought for sure he’d propose on Valentine’s Day. Shit. I hate being wrong.”

“Hahahahaha! You’re the goofiest person I know.”

“I know. That’s why you keep me around. So Sweden next week! Hell yes!”

“Hell yes!” Leanne reiterated.

***

Jim and Leanne rode up the Katarinahissen lift, and Jim incessantly drummed his fingers against the wall. “You’re not afraid of heights!” Leanne exclaimed. “Why are you so antsy?”

“Just rarin’ to get to the top.”

“The view’s that good, huh?”

“That’s what I hear. The website used the word ‘life-changing.’ So I’ve got really high hopes.”

When the elevator finally stopped, and they stepped out to look at Old Town (and most of Stockholm, really), Leanne leaned back into Jim and released a contented sigh as he wrapped his arms around her waist. “This view really is stunning. Wouldn’t it be great to live here?”

“It’d be great to live anywhere with you.”

“Oh, that southern charm.”

“All the romance I can come up with, you never trust the words. You always think they’re ‘lines.’ They’re not.

“I don’t mean to be a cynic. I love the things you say. Just my friends tease me about having Disney Princess Disease, and that’s Disney Prince dialogue if I ever heard it.”

“Bet I can top it.”

“Yeah? You’re on. Let’s hear something even more suited to ‘Prince Charming.’”

“Will you marry me?”

Leanne turned to look at him, choked up and amazed. She swallowed hard, but still didn’t answer him. “I th-thought you weren’t…”

“I know. I could kinda tell, even with the plane ticket, you were let down on Valentine’s Day. I wanted to do it here. Where it’s a story nobody else you know is gonna have. In a place you’ve wanted to go. Not some chain restaurant you used to go to with your ex-husband. But damn, Lee, that look on your face. I’m never gonna let you down again. Not on purpose like I did this time, anyway. And I’m gonna try like hell to never even do it on accident. I don’t wanna boss you around, but…y’know…you didn’t answer me…”

“Yes!”

“Whew! I really thought for a minute you were gonna…omigosh…you said ‘yes.’ Now you can have this,” he said, unveiling the ring he chose for her.

“It’s a pearl!” she pointed out in surprise as he slid it down her finger.

“Well, yeah. I figured, with your relationship to Africa…it’s similar to mine, and…I just didn’t think you’d want a diamond. Diamonds are…problematic. And I don’t think a diamond’s right for you anyway.”

Okay…

“Oh no! I’ve lost ‘Prince Charming.’ I didn’t mean that… I mean, diamonds are something people artificially made a status symbol. That’s totally not you. Pearls are the result of an oyster making something beautiful from its suffering. That’s all ‘you.’”

“That was really ‘Prince Charming.’”

“Well, I’m still giving you my ‘best.’ It seems to be working for me.”

“It’s definitely working for me.

pearl

THE END

 

If you enjoyed reading this short work, please check out my other fiction, including hopefully one (or more) of the 13 novels I’ve self-published which are available here.

 

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