Happily Ever After
I’m upstairs in my bedroom, talking on the phone with a college roommate from years ago. Ryan has just returned from a trip to Seattle to visit his older sister and is downstairs being entertained by my parents. My brain has never handled multi-attention giving. I have to give all focus to one person or another. Call waiting, for example, is out of the question. So I’m pacing with the phone to my ear as I fill C in on the latest, while Ryan is left to his parent-impressing devices.
A lot of people are subjected to your romance-in-limbo when you’re writing to a missionary. They’re privy to so much whining, both current and past. They know about how you were young, too young and naïve, and in love. He went through an arrogant, heart-breaker stage. You went through half a dozen swear-him-off-forever rituals, the last one resulting in burying every reminder of him in your backyard. You finally moved on. He finally showed up, outside your window and saw you cuddled up with the guy you were moving on with. This somehow surprised him. He apologized… quite a few times. You agreed to write to him. These dear new friends that learned of your past, watched as you continued to be conflicted over two years of him being gone. They watched as you dated other people. They watched as you checked the mail every day, even on the days you knew there wouldn’t be a letter. They sometimes had to snap you out of your over-dramatics by shouting “Hell’s Bells!” when a letter came that made you doubt your future with this boy. Now the boy is home, and you’ve disappeared into an enchanted land of bliss. The outsiders deserve to know how it ends… or how it begins.
“So… how are you two getting along?”
“Oh C! I could probably make you throw up with how awesome it is. He is so- everything. I mean, yeah he’s totally got that whole nerdy return missionary thing, but to me it’s just proof of how focused he’s been. I love that about him! He’s still funny and confident. He’s got everything I loved from before and everything I think I could dream of for the future!”
As I gush, I poke my head out of my bedroom door and try to listen to whatever uncomfortable conversation might be happening downstairs, but I can’t hear anything.
“So… any talk of marriage? I mean I know he pretty much just got back, but two years and all.”
“A little talk about that. We keep trying to take things slow, but it’s hard to hold these feeling back.”
C makes an excited, girl friend sound on the other end.
“I know!” I say. “When I think back to that calendar I had hanging up in our room with his picture on it, and how I crossed off every day of the first four months, I honestly can’t believe I survived it. I didn’t know anything back then.”
“You knew enough to wait for him for two years.”
“True. I was a genius.” We giggle together as only girl friends can.
C asks another question, but it’s hard for me to pay attention because further neck lengthening out of my bedroom door has revealed Ryan sitting at the bottom of the stairs on a sofa, having a one on one conversation with my Dad!
“C, it has been so great talking to you, but I think I might have to go soon. Ryan is here, and he’s downstairs alone being forced into awkward conversation with my Dad.”
“What do you think they’re talking about? Amie. Do you think he could be asking for permission?”
“Oh my gosh. No. No. Too good to be true. But I’m all stressed, leaving him down there like this. I think I better go.”
C and I say our goodbyes, and I bound down the stairs in loud warning of my approach. “Hiiii!” I say. The two men in my life stand up and Dad saunters out of the room as I greet Ryan with a hug.
“Let’s go for a drive,” Ry says.
It’s dark and cold on this December night. I seem to be chattering to fill the silence. How was his trip? How was his sister? The nephews? The nieces? His mind is elsewhere and for some reason it makes me feel a little nervous.
He drives about two blocks to our church building. The building where we got locked in the closet together once. The building where we learned how to country swing together, where we first danced a real slow dance together to the love song from Aladdin. The building I’ve spent the last two summers cleaning, and thinking about Elder Leonhardt and what might happen when he returned home.
He parks and starts to get out of the truck, so I follow, sensing that I shouldn’t ask what we’re doing. He lets me walk ahead to the sidewalk, but he takes my hand from behind and pulls me gently to a stop when we’re standing directly under a street light. It’s a street light that I love. It’s a street light that we once danced under as giant snowflakes fell around us, the first time we ever acknowledged that we might have real feelings for each other. We were fifteen years old.
I turn around, and he’s on one knee. There’s a little velvet box in his hand with a sparkling diamond ring inside it. It’s all such a surprise, the extra good kind. I haven’t ever seen this ring, but it’s love at first sight. My free hand, the one he isn’t holding, flies up to touch my lips. He’s saying all of the right things, because that’s one of the things he knows how to do, but I’m remembering a moment from 1,745ish days ago. I wrote a poem about that night once.
We’re the enigma of Ferron First Ward,
Best friends who won’t admit to being more.
Sharing laughter, advice and everything else,
We’re even a mystery to ourselves.
Our activity ends, so outside we go,
To find the scene is washed white with snow.
My instant though is (what else?) romance,
So I challenge Ryan, “Can you ballroom dance?”
Suddenly I’m waltzing through the air,
I’m Ginger Rogers and he’s Fred Estair.
The church lamppost serves as our spotlight
As the snowflakes turn our ballroom white.
“Friends” with stronger feelings indeed-
But no inkling of where this night will lead.
“Yes!” I say, “Yes, I’ll marry you! I love you!” He stands up and wraps his arms around me. We hug and spin and laugh. He puts the ring on my finger, and I can’t stop looking at it. Then he asks me if I’m cold, and if I want to go inside the church to get warm.
We do go inside, and he reminds me that our Moms are both here for a meeting. “Should we go and tell them?” he asks.
My tongue, as with all of my parts, is near paralyzed with happiness and hardly wants to function, but I manage to smile and nod.
The meeting is breaking up with refreshments and mingling, so we interrupt nothing as we float into the room, Ryan holding my hand up in front of me on display while I fan out my fingers so that our Moms and friends can see the ring. Oh my gosh I’m wearing a diamond ring!
I look at our Moms and I see the years of creased brows and concerned eyes disappear before me, replaced by pure, self-less joy because this is right. This is finally, finally right.
Cue smiles, laughter, hugs and congratulations for a good while. We finally make our escape back into the night. I gaze up at the street light as we go by and we get back into the truck. As a possible foreshadowing of engagement and marriage not being the vague “happily ever after” that it’s laid out to be in the fairy tales, my mind jumps back over the years, all the way back to that beautiful, expert flirter who had her pretty little hands on Ryan’s chest in Sophomore history class when he was my boyfriend. It still smarts a little. I look down at the ring on my hand and then turn to him. “This means that we’re officially not dating other people anymore, right?”
His face snaps from the road to me at the audacity. “That’s usually what getting engaged means. You okay with that?”
I smile. For years he’s been making me smile. In all of the most glowing ways, this one feels like it’s the first. One day we’ll laugh that I asked that question, actually later tonight we’ll laugh that I asked that question. One day we’ll laugh about that history class. One day we’ll have a house, we’ll have kids, we’ll have grandkids. One day I’ll write our story, and share it with my friends. We are looking ahead to a future full of “one days”. I do believe in happily ever after, I just don’t believe in “The End”.