A Beautiful Year – Winter
Michelle was tired. The days leading up to Christmas were always fatiguing, but she was feeling it more than usual tonight. She supposed that was to be expected given the new normal. Five hours of celebrating at her parents with only two toddler meltdowns must be a record for Christmas Eve. She was pleased that the kids loved their new jammies and could have burst with pleasure when Audrey wanted to put hers on “On right now, Mama!”
Now they were home and the kids were finally in their beds and Robert’s family was all settled in. She loved his Mom and Dad, his sister too although she could take or leave his brother in law, but having a house full of guests this time of year was tough. She felt stretched thin and a little helpless, just trying to survive the waves as they crashed overhead.
The lights in the living room were off as she stared out the wall of windows overlooking the back yard. She loved this house. It probably wasn’t practical for them anymore, but she didn’t want to leave. The view out the back was breathtaking. Past the deck, the terrace and then the pool the Blue Ridge Mountains loomed, she knew, not that she could see them in the pitch black. Tonight they were just black smudges against the cobalt sky alive with stars. It was a perfect night, clear but not too cold, a whisp of snow on the ground. Michelle felt a niggle of Christmas spirit sneaking back in.
She thought about her babies glowing faces as they ripped paper tomorrow morning. She was excited to see the shock on Robert’s face as he opened her gift, a sneakily wrapped picture of the baby grand that he’s been dying for, but had been too afraid to ask to have. He wouldn’t want to presume that she would want to crowd her living room, their living room, with its huge woodenness. She’d watched him gaze longingly at it through the window of the music store for months. She giggled knowingly at his look of disappointment last week when the sold sign appeared. Tomorrow was going to be great.
“Come with me,” he said, breaking her from her trance, indicating with a tilt of his head their favorite spot on the back deck.
“Can you guess what I have in here?” He smirked, and blew steam from the mugs in his hands in her direction.
Michelle could smell coffee and irish cream. He had made it so that she couldn’t say no.
“I’ll grab an afghan too,” he said while holding the door open with his hip and flipping on the deck lights with his shoulder.
Settled in under the stars, coffee warming her hands and her soul, the afghan wrapped around her so tightly she could barely move. Michelle was so thankful for Robert she was almost in tears. This had been a hard year. This Christmas was stressful and she spent so much time disappointed in herself or angry, she struggled to find things to be thankful for. Only Robert would know that coming out on the deck with him was exactly what she needed tonight.
“Thank you,” she said, her eyes shining. “This is perfect.”
“This is my favorite spot. I’ll never forget how I felt that night almost a year ago when you told me not to buy a house in Asheville.”
“I must have been crazy.”
“You were. Absolutely. But that was one of the things I loved so much about you. You weren’t afraid. You’re never afraid.”
“I was. I was scared to death. I was scared what people would say. I was scared that you were going to hurt me. It seems a little silly now though, to be scared of you. And, I’m scared all the time, of everything.”
“You don’t show it.”
“I can’t. I can’t show it or it will consume me and fear will be all I have. Self preservation, you know.”
“Or the night when you asked me where I was going to sleep.”
“That was a good night.” Thinking back she could almost feel something sparking down below.
“Or the night that you told me you loved me.”
“I don’t think I ever said that.”
Robert was laughing so hard he wiped tears from his eyes.
Michelle had only been half paying attention to what Robert was doing, lost in thoughts of the past, the warm fuzzies of sweet memories. He knelt in front of her and looked into her eyes. His were the milky blue of a robin’s egg surrounded by a nest of thick blonde/red lashes. He put their mugs down on the deck boards and took her hands in his. Her heart began to beat very hard.
“Five years ago at the Grey Eagle I saw a pair of eyes in the crowd that made lose my breath. I’ve been on stage for a long time and never has an audience member ever had that effect on me. I spent years looking for you. I told my friends about these huge brown eyes that just stole me, they thought I was nuts. My parents thought I was nuts. My manager thought I was nuts. I, even, began to think I was losing it.
“Then I saw them again across the room at that party, and I knew you had to be mine. I couldn’t lose you again. I didn’t care that you had a boyfriend. Nothing was going to stop me.
“Except you. You stopped me and as much as it pains me to admit, I couldn’t be happier. You made me work. You made me frustrated. You made parts of my body ache for months. But, you made me a better man, a better person. You made me worthy of your love.
“You’re everything that I could ever want in a best friend. You’re honest and loyal. You support me but you don’t pull any punches. You love me when I don’t love myself. As a partner, you’re the best I could ever ask for. You encourage me to live my dream, to take chances and to not be afraid. You know my music better than I do. You really are my greatest fan and as a lover, damn.”
Michelle started giggling. She was pretty sure where this was going. She had been a screenwriter long enough to know a pre-proposal monologue but she really couldn’t imagine Robert doing that. Marriage wasn’t the kind of man he was.
“You are the smartest, kindest, most beautiful woman in the entire world, and I thank God every day that you said “Don’t buy a house in Asheville,” that you gave me a chance despite everything in the world saying that I was unreliable and broken.
“I love you. I love your kids. I want to build a family with you. I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?”
She sat in stunned silence. She couldn’t believe that he was asking her this. She couldn’t believe that he was putting her in this position. Of course she wanted to marry him, she had never loved anyone the way that she loved him, but this was not the time. His brows were raised, he was expecting an answer. Her tongue felt thick in her mouth.
“Are you sure?” She asked, afraid of the answer. Maybe he had changed his mind in the last thirty seconds. She didn’t know what she would do if he had.
“More than anything. Michelle, I didn’t just think of this, I’m not making this decision lightly.”
“It’s going to be really hard.” She felt like she had to warn him. She felt that if she didn’t he would eventually resent her and she would lose him forever. She didn’t want him to be tricked. She wanted him to be prepared.
“I know,” he said, bringing out the largest and most beautiful diamond solitaire she had ever seen. “I wanted you to be able to skate on it.” He laughed.
She was sobbing now. Happiness and fear mingled and she found that she couldn’t take her eyes from his face. He really wanted this. Despite how hard it was going to be. Despite how broken she was. He still wanted her and she almost couldn’t handle it. The fierceness of his love was overwhelming and healing.
“Yes. Yes, I would love to” she whispered, and he kissed her harder than ever before.
Applause erupted from behind the back glass of the living room windows. Surprised, Michelle turned to look as they turned the interior lights on and she saw all of their loved ones watching. Her own children in their pj’s being held by their grandparents pressing their hands against the glass.
She was awestruck by his thoughtfulness. She wanted to jump into his arms. She wanted to smother him with kisses and run into the living room and celebrate.
“You’re really something.”
“I know,” he said smiling. “There might be one other surprise. You know how Ray has been following me around all year working on that documentary? Well, he and I put together a little something for you.”
“Oh god,” she said with hope and fear as they joined their family and friends in the house.