Jeremy sat across from Heather in the little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. It was just his style to take her some place like that to “unexpectedly” pop the question. She waited eagerly to see the ring box appear on the table. He’d been hinting at it for nearly a month now. At least, she was pretty sure of it.
But the lemon chicken came and went. So did the fortune cookies. Heather felt her temper boiling up, but she batted it back down. Surely he would take her somewhere for dessert, or maybe a romantic walk along the lake, and ask her then. He had to ask her tonight, didn’t he?
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17 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Engagement?”
The check arrives at the table. Jeremy looks it over and reaches into the breast pocket of his jacket, then gives me a nervious smile as he pats the rear pocket of his jeans.
“Opps! I think I left my wallet at home.”
“Are you kidding?” I ask.
“It’s only sixty-five dollars. Can you cover it?”
“I only have thirty dollar on me.”
“What about your credit card?” He asks.
“My credit card is maxed out.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to the manager and fix this.”
Jeremy leaves and I feel like every eye in the room is staring at me. I’m so embarrassed.
He returns and tells me to wait here while he goes home to retrieve his wallet.
Twenty minutes later Jeremy calls my cell phone.
“We have a problem, Heather. I got pulled over for speeding and the officer was a real jerk about me driving without a license. I’m at the police station and have no idea when they’ll release me.”
Panic begins to set in as I realize that I’ll have to try to explain this whole mess to the restaurant manager.
The manager is not pleased, but tells me he’ll let this slide, under one condition.
He points behind me and says, “That you’ll marry my friend Jeremy.”
I turn around to find Jeremy down on one knee, with a smile on his face and a engagement ring in his hand.
“I love you Heather. Will you marry me?”
Heather brushed some grains of rice that had fallen on the table into her hand and dropped them onto her empty plate. She wanted the surface as clean as possible, just in case. She stacked the dishes, prompting a waiter to hurry over and clear the table.
Jeremy took a sip of water. Heather thought he was starting to look a little nervous. Sweat was starting to break out on his forehead. She sat back and looked at him, waiting for him to speak. Why didn’t he just come out and ask the question?
The silence started to feel awkward. Heather leaned forward and raised her tea cup to take a long sip, making sure Jeremy had a clear view of her ring finger. Jeremy looked like his mouth had gone dry. He tried to speak, thought better of it and closed his mouth.
Heather felt the heat of her temper begin to climb again. She took a deep breath to control her annoyance. “If you have something to say, just say it,” she told him. “Don’t be afraid.”
Jeremy decided to have another drink of water. This time he drained the glass. He put it back on the table, and began patting his pockets. This is it, Heather thought. Jeremy pulled out a handkerchief and mopped the sweat from his brow. Heather sighed with frustration.
As Jeremy placed his handkerchief away, he finally found his voice. “Heather,” he began nervously. “There’s something I want to ask you.”
The check came. Jeremy paid. Heather sat there, stunned. She couldn’t wait for the dessert or the moonlit walk. “Jeremy,” she stated with a scolding tone.
He looked up from his wallet. When they made eye contact, he recoiled just a bit, almost as if he feared her.
Heather’s words came out in a harsh whisper. “MaryBeth said she saw you at Steinman’s Jewelers on Thursday. Is there anything you want to tell me?”
Nearly knocking over his glass of water, he managed to get a grip on it and take a drink. “Well, yeah, there is. Emily Johnson was in there. She mentioned you’d been under investigation for her son-in-law’s murder. How come you never told me that?” Jeremy swallowed nervously.
“Oh. My. God. Seriously? You bought into that crap? The woman hates me because her pitiful daughter thinks I was flirting with her husband. It’s all crap.” Heather’s expression softened, as did her voice. “You know me, baby. I like to kid and stuff, but he was a married man.”
Jeremy didn’t seem convinced. Heather smiled despite the fact she was gritting her teeth. “Besides,” she said, “if I’d killed him, why didn’t they arrest me? Because I didn’t do it.”
After placing her napkin on the table, Heather rose. Clumsily, she knocked her knife onto the floor. “Silly me!” she said as she picked it up. “What do you say we go sit by the lake? It’s such a lovely night out there.” She slid the knife into her purse.
A whimper escaped Heather’s lips as the hood brushed against her face. Around her, she heard muffled voices and footfalls, but it did not deter her struggling against the ropes that bound her. Fear seized a hold of her and her head started to spin. What would the men do to her? Would she even survive the night?
Only an hour ago she was eating lemon chicken with Jeremy at a little Chinese hole-in-the-wall restaurant, eagerly awaiting for him to pop the question. She should have taken a hint from the seediness of the restaurant and the dilapidated buildings that dotted the street.
The men in balaclavas had grabbed them in the parking lot the moment Jeremy had reached for his car keys. Hoods were draped over their heads and they were pushed into an unmarked van. Where they had taken them was anyone’s guess.
Heather bit her lip, forcing down her overwhelming despair. She leaned to her side, seeking comfort in Jeremy’s presence. Her chest tightened when she realized she was alone.
Footsteps shuffled toward her. She drew in a sharp breath as the hood was pulled off and her wrists were unbound. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the light before she realized she was in her living room surrounded by family and friends. A whirl of emotions threatened to consume her as Jeremy stood before her with a diamond ring.
“Heather, my love, you have stolen my heart. Will you marry me?”
“So what are we celebrating here in this little hole-in-the-Great-Wall Chinese joint,” Heather asked Jeremy, on the other side of their table’s pulsing candle light.
“Why do we need a reason? Isn’t just going together for, what, ten months, enough?” Jeremy said. He took two very large gulps of his double bourbon on the rocks and shifted his eyes everywhere but upon Heather’s.
She’d hoped this would be the night he would at least ask her to move into the condo on Park Avenue he’d shared with his late mother, to whom he was so devoted he kept it as she’d left it before she got sick — even keeping her closets full of her designer wardrobe.
But Heather suddenly shivered, yet felt her face burning with mind-spinning fear Jeremy’s anxiety might be a prelude to telling her she was losing her passionate, sensitive, funny, sexy, “beautiful man.”
Jeremy took Heather’s warm hand into his moist, ice-chilled fingers, gazed into her eyes and said, “Sweetie, I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time. When you came into my life, I knew you were different and, well, I now know you’re the only one I could ever ask this.”
Heather gasped as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a small velvet box,
“How would you feel about having a lifelong partner, someone who loved you more than this crazy life itself…someone named Jacqueline?”
Turns out she was right on both counts.
All through the night, Jeremy had been looking at his phone. Heather thought it cute at first. He slipped a glance from every now and then and played it cool. But by the time the fortune cookies had arrived, he had stopped playing it off.
“Are you breaking up with me?” She blurted it out as the server returned with his credit card. She started the night with such hope to be dashed now, tossed aside like yesterday’s kung pao.
He gave the server his crooked smile (not so cute anymore) as he accepted the payment book. As she walked away he said, “What are you talking about?”
“Our relationship. Apparently, you aren’t asking me to marry you tonight, so you must be breaking up with me.” The flow of tears down her cheek ran unchecked. “I can’t believe you’re doing it here, of all places.”
He glanced around the restaurant. Only the old piano guy was witness. He played “As Time Goes By.” Jeremy started to speak when his phone lit up. “I have to take this.”
“Screw you!” She slammed her chair back as she leapt to her feet and then marched toward the door. She didn’t see him chase after her with his phone firmly attached to his ear.
He caught her arm at the door to stop her. That damn crooked smile again couldn’t quite quench the fire in her eyes. “I got the fellowship. We’re moving to Paris. That is, if you’ll have me.”
Jeremy pondered whether to tell Heather what he was thinking and what he was planning doing. They had been going together for eight months and he really loved her, but. There was always that but. He could tell she was upset and he figured it had to do with her wanting to get married. How was he going to tell her what he was thinking? He thought tonight was the night to clear the air.
Heather looked over at Jeremy, she could see he was heavy in thought, should I bring it up about marriage? No it is his place.
Finally she asked “Are you ready to go.”
“Yeah, I guess so, it is getting late”.
With that they gather up their stuff and left the restaurant. They walked to the car hand in hand when finally, Jeremy spoke.
“Heather we need to talk.”
“OK Jeremy, what about?”
They got into the car and he looked into her eyes, “Heather, I really love you.”
She thought this is it
“I would love to share my life with you, but” he though here we go “I am not sure you want to spend your life with me, as I am a trans-gender, I used to be a woman.”
Heather heart stopped. He used to be a what?? Oh I can’t think, I love this man…woman…whatever he is…what do I do?
“I don’t care what you were, I love you.”
Did the live happily ever after, only time will tell.
“I have a craving for a piece of death-by-chocolate cake. Let’s stop at Karen’s Bakery, okay?” Jeremy asked.
“Sure,” Heather responded.
Upon entering the cafe, Karen greeted them.
“I was just about to close up. But, I can whip something up for my two favorite lovebirds,” Karen cheerfully remarked.
“Thanks, Karen. We already had dinner, but would love a slice of chocolate cake with two forks, please.” Jeremy replied.
A few moments later, Karen whisked to their table with a basket of baked goods.
“Before the cake, I want you to try these new muffins I am experimenting with.”
“No thanks, Karen, I would rather not, I am watching my weight,” Heather responded.
“Oh come on, Heather, one bite will not hurt.”
“I said, no thank you. Is that so difficult to understand?”
“Okay, you deal with this!” Karen snippily retorted to Jeremy as she tossed the basket to him.
“Heather, why are you being so rude?”
“First off, I am not being rude. Secondly, I never like her muffins, you know that.”
“Just this once, would you please try a bite?”
“There, are you happy?” Heather snidely remarked as she took a bite.
Confused, Jeremy eagerly searched the basket only to find it empty.
“What are you doing?” Heather asked as she bit into something so hard that she chipped a tooth.
“Wait, Heather, stop …” Jeremy warned.
From the corner of her mouth, Heather pulled out the blueberry muffin covered diamond ring and began to cry …
“It’s a beautiful night, how about a walk?” Jeremy said standing from the table.
“Sure! I’d love that.” Heather replied trying to hide her excitement.
They walked out of Wonton Palace, and towards Central Park, hand in hand. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Jeremy let go of her hand and nervously fish through his jacket pocket.
“This is it!” She said to herself as she watched her future fiancé.
But instead of a ring, Jeremy pulled a cell phone from his pocket and began to type feverishly.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Sorry. I had to take care of something real quick.”
“Just take me home.”
“Are you sure? It’s still pretty early.” Jeremy said looking down at his watch.
Before the car came to a complete stop in her driveway, Heather was out the door leaving Jeremy in her wake.
“Wait!” Jeremy yelled, willing Heather to stop.
“We’ve been together four years and this is what I get? Some crappy dinner?” She screamed, slapping him across the face with all her fury. “I don’t want to see your stupid face ever again!”
Heather let herself into her house and slammed the door. She took a long breath and flipped on the light.
Standing behind Heather was her entire family and in her father’s arms was her beagle, Roxy. On Roxy’s collar was something so large the sparkle could be seen from across the room.
An engagement ring.
Heather could only roll her eyes and sigh with impatience. Her hopes for a romantic proposal were fizzling as Jeremy paid the check and stood to leave.
Fidgety and nervous, Jeremy claimed Heather’s hand and abruptly pulled her out of the Chinese restaurant. Once they reached the dark street Heather decided she’d had enough of Jeremey’s strange behavior.
“Jeremy, what’s the matter tonight?” Heather implored.
Jeremy looked down at his feet, pinching his bottom lip.
Heather loved when Jeremey did that. It was such a cute, little boyish move he did when he was excited or shy. “ You seem really nervous, is there something on your mind?”
He glanced up into Heather’s hopeful eyes. Stuttering, Jeremy tried to say what was on his mind. “H..Heather I was wondering if you would…” Oh gosh, Jeremy thought. What am I doing? She’ll never go for it!
Heather pulled Jeremy’s hand from pinching his lip and lifted his chin, forcing him to look into her sparkling, sapphire eyes. “Sometimes a girl has to take matters into her own hands.” Heather bent down on her knee and looked up at her best friend. “Jeremy Jay Jackson, I love you. Will you marry me?”
Raising his face to the night sky, he laughed out loud. Kneeling in front of Heather, he pulled the ring from his pant pocket placing it on her finger. “Yes, my brave, beautiful girl!”
Jeremy paid the check but kept staring toward the kitchen. She bit back a pout. Maybe they were supposed to have delivered the ring with the receipt. So why wasn’t he doing anything about it? Would some busboy’s girlfriend be wearing Heather’s engagement ring by tomorrow?
“Problem with the bill?” she asked.
Jeremy’s gaze didn’t waver. “No. It’s fine.” His jaw tensed. “Stay here.”
His chair scraped the tile. Before she could stop him, he’d disappeared through the kitchen doors. She couldn’t discern Jeremy’s words, but a man barked a reply. Harsh. In Mandarin.
Jeremy…answered? When had he learned Mandarin? The argument escalated, then went still. He shot toward her, cheeks red. “Let’s go.”
She grabbed her purse. He tugged her wrist, nearly taking her off her date-night stilettos as he shoved her outside. “Keep walking. Don’t look back.”
She couldn’t help herself. Blood dotted his crisp white shirt. “I’m walking as fast as I can.” Heat pulsed into her face. “Jeremy. What did you do?”
“You liked the lemon chicken, I was getting you the recipe.”
Heather wheeled around and socked him in the stomach. “You said we could have a normal life. With a future. And a family.”
Doubled over, he gasped, “We will, Heather. I’ll just get my payout and—”
A gunshot went wide, glancing off a mailbox. Heather snatched her Glock from her handbag and emptied the magazine into the shooter. He crumpled. Then she turned back to Jeremy. “So, where’s my ring?”
Jeremy paid the bill and offered his hand with a smile. Heather couldn’t decide whether to take it or spit in it she was so frustrated by his teasing. She offered a weak smile and took his hand, then cracked open the cookie she had ignored and read the fortune.
“What’s it say?” Jeremy asked.
“May your reach exceed your grasp.”
“Between the sheets!” Jeremy added the old joke line, laughing and wiping his eyes.
Heather yanked back her hand and glared at him. How dare he make light of tonight. How dare he lead her on and make her think he was going to propose.
“Do you think this is a joke? A game?” Heather crumpled the paper strip and bounced it off Jeremy’s forehead. “Well I’m done.” Her voice broke and she stood abruptly. “I’m just,” her eyes welled up, all anger no regret. She shook her head. “I’m done.” She threw her napkin on the table and stomped out of the Chinese dive, ricocheting off tables and waiters.
Jeremy watched her leave, then crushed the cookie he had been hiding in his other hand and opened his palm to see the diamond solitaire. The waiter came over to collect the bill nodding sympathetically. Jeremy shrugged.
“No sense of humor and no idea what a heaven’s for.”
Heather wasn’t the one. Her loss.
Sheila Scobba Banning
Their conversation grew stale, as did the leftover taste of fortune cookies. Finally, Jeremy awkwardly pulled an impeccable velvet box from his pocket.
Heather straightened, plastering on her yes smile–she’d been practicing for months.
“What is that?” Heather purred.
“First, I have something to tell you.” He paused dramatically. “I’m moving.”
Heather stared blankly at him, wondering what he meant. He was moving to another apartment? Or wait–maybe he wanted to move in together?
Jeremy continued, “I’m going to Botswana. I didn’t want to tell you until I knew it was for sure, but I applied to the Peace Corp and I finally received my assignment.”
She was stunned. Heather’s perfect smile drooped. She barely managed to squeak, “When?”
“Five weeks.” Jeremy scratched his forehead like he was considering a math problem; all previous nerves had vanished. “Obviously we needed to talk about this right away.”
Heather’s shock briefly faded and she snapped “You bet, buster! I can’t believe you didn’t say anything!”
“Wait! Before you go all crazy on me just open the box.” He slid it over.
Inside on the satin pillow sat a golden ring. But not just any golden ring. There was no diamond. In fact, it looked almost like an earring. Heather looked up to excitement in Jeremy’s eyes.
“In some cultures, when a couple mates she wears a nose ring as a marker that she’s taken.” Jeremy smiled confidently. “You see, Heather, I want you to come with me. Will you be my female?”
Jeremy was non-committal, refusing to marry or let her go. Heather was waiting for him to commit. The whole world watched Jeremy’s ambivalence. Everyone knew that she was hanging on to him like a blind bat. Heather was extremely embarrassed. Should she get up and leave? No one answered her. She decided to leave. But she found herself paralysed. Unable to move or talk. Panic set in. That’s when she woke up. A deep feeling of shame followed Heather, across the chasm of sleep, like a faithful dog.
This recurring dream made no sense, Heather thought. Jeremy ended each phone conversation with a ‘love you’. Jeremy kissed her everyday when he left to work and when he returned. Jeremy ended each text exchange with a “luv u”. Jeremy was a good father to their three children, the oldest turning 20 in a few months. Why then this recurring dream? In the year of their 20th anniversary?
He had asked for a couple of months to decide when she gave him an ultimatum angrily at the Chinese hole-in-the-wall 20 years ago. But he came through finally didn’t he? For her? And the baby?
“Should we celebrate our ‘China’ anniversary?” Heather asked Jeremy at dinner.
“Whatever you want to do” , Jeremy replied.
” A small party ?”
“Fine.”, Jeremy replied.
“Or maybe a cruise…just our family?”
“You decide what you want”, Jeremy replied.
That night Heather dreamt that she was still waiting for a commitment from Jeremy. Why? Why now? The answer eluded her.
Today’s the day. That’s what Heather heard from Cecilia, who heard it from Rona, who heard it from Isabelle who is dating Pete, Jeremy’s best bud. Pete told Isabelle, “Yeah, all Jeremy talks about is Heather and that TODAY will be The Day.”
So at 6:00 that evening, Jeremy surprised her with a trip to Wo Hop’s in Chinatown, the memorable but hole-in-the-wall place of their first date, and she waited patiently through a serving of dumplings, greasy Lo Mein and Lemon Chicken.
A box with a shiny ring did not appear.
Heather excused herself from the table to “go whiz,” as she calls it. She texted Cecilia: “No ring. R u sure?”
“That’s what Rona told me. Pete said Jeremy said today’s the day.”
“Jeremy’s screwing up again.” Maybe he has a carriage ride or something planned afterwards. Heather returned to the table and finished her chicken.
“Heather, I have something to say.”
“I know what you were doing while I was in Iraq. With Pete and Jason. And your little walk on the wild side with Crackhead Peggy from the 7-11.”
Hm. Not what she expected.
He held her hand across the fortune cookies. Again, not what she expected. “I sprinkled your chicken with tetrodotoxin.” He smiled at her furrowed brow. “That’s Pufferfish venom, easily acquired in Chinatown, by the way.”
Yeah, really, really not what she expected. At all. And Heather’s extremities numbed quickly as Jeremy’s face morphed into a Picasso painting.
No dessert. No walk by the lake. Just straight home.
Those ‘hints’ were beginning to nag at Heather’s memory. She replayed conversations from the last few weeks. Questions were brushed aside with an ‘oh, nothing’ or ‘just some changes at work’ or ‘just had a really good day at work.’ Why was he so secretive? He was hiding something from her and she had been quietly hoping he was about to give her a ring. Now she was not sure about that at all.
Jeremy interrupted her thoughts. His parents wanted him to stop by to pick up some things from the attic. They had just sold their home and were in the process of clearing out all old items including things stored in the attic by Jeremy and his siblings. She thought about that white colonial. She had fallen in love with it the first time she saw it and she was really going to miss it.
Heather recognized some of the cars that filled the driveway as belonging to Jeremy’s siblings. As soon as they walked through the door Jeremy’s mother handed him a velvet bag. He revealed a very old wooden box and handed it to Heather encouraging her to open it. Inside were two boxes. Jeremy gently took the smaller box, dropped to one knee and proposed. When all was calm again and the ring was safely on Heather’s finger, she was encouraged to open the other box. Inside was the key their white colonial.
As Jeremy and Heather left the little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant Phook-U-2, Heather was aggravated, but held herself together and plastered a smile on her face. Phook-U had been their special place, sadly it had burned to the ground. Tonight had been the restaurant’s grand re-opening and it happened on the anniversary of their first date.
Turning the corner Jeremy spotted Suckers Unlimited, Heather’s favorite candy store, and led her inside. Kat Sweetmeat greeted them warmly and suggested the fresh truffles she had just set out. Heather noticed three truffles in the front row. Each had a ring sticking out of the top of it. One had what looked like a huge diamond ring, one had a smaller chip diamond ring, and the third held a simple gold band. Jeremy dropped down on one knee and blurted, “I love you Heather. Will you marry me?”
“Yes, oh yes,” she cried.
“Pick a ring,” Jeremy prompted.
With tears in her eyes Heather pointed to the truffle with the simple gold band. Kat beamed and handed her the truffle she’d chosen. Heather smiled her thanks and pulled the ring out to eat her truffle. Her mouth dropped open as a beautiful 3 caret diamond came out. She squeee’d as Jeremy placed the chocolate covered ring on her finger. Heather popped the truffle in her mouth and with a deep kiss, shared the confection with Jeremy.
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