"Hey, Red," I said as I settled in for our weekly meeting. "You'll never guess what happened yesterday. I'm positive you'll never guess. Want to try anyway?"
No answer, but really I was just pausing long enough to catch my breath before I hogged the entire conversation. "Gimme a minute to remember exactly what happened." I pulled my hair back into a ponytail without even thinking about it. The gesture seemed to clear my mind. "Okay. Got it. You ready? Good."
"Well, do you remember how I told you I was going to have dinner with my brother? Of course you do. Anyway, I thought we were gonna hit Rosebud or something, but no. He shows up and is all insistent that we go someplace 'special.' We ended up at one of those froufrou French places. Chez Something or other. I wasn't really paying attention. It's a shame because I really wanted a burger something awful, but when someone else is footing the bill... what brother wants to pay for, brother gets.
"So, we get there and we're whisked to a really nice table and the staff is so friendly and overall this is a great time, y'know? Sure, there aren't a ton of other diners, but that makes it even better. Still, there's something kind of weird that I can't put my finger on. It takes me awhile to realize that it kind of feels like I'm out on a date. Only with my brother. It's weird and awkward and once I think it, I can't un-think it. It just can't be done.
"You know me. Once I have a thought, it takes an awful lot to keep it locked in my head. So I say, 'Sam, this has been fantastic, but what's going on? You said dinner and this isn't any place you'd normally take me. Is something wrong? Oh, wait, are you working for one of those trashy afternoon talk shows now? Oh my lord, we're not being recorded right now are we? Because I was expecting burgers and fries, not some fancy French place.' Of course I catch sight of one of the really nice waiters walking by so I feel myself turning bright cherry red as I say, 'Not that this hasn't been great. Because it has. Best dinner ever! Really!'
"Sam sighs and says, 'Kristy. Relax. This isn't being recorded, okay? I... You can't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you, okay? Anyone.'"
"Don't worry. He didn't mean you. You'll understand in a minute." I took a minute to dig in my pocket for a piece of gum. I'd rather have had something to drink, but I'd been running a little late and didn't have enough time to stop and pick something up. I'd rather go without the drink than be late. I still pride myself on being on time for just about everything.
"Where was I? Oh, yeah. So I tell him I won't breathe a word. 'My lips are sealed. Now explain. Pronto. Because your snails are getting cold.' Yeah. He got the snails. Can you believe that?" I could feel myself beginning to turn green at the memory. Ew.
"He gives me this Look, you know the one. I guess it must run in the family. Anyway, the next part happened kind of fast, so I don't remember every little thing. What I do remember is that the next thing I know, he's reaching into his pocket. He starts to pull out a small, dark box, but his hand is shaking so much that he drops it.
"I put my foot out to stop it. Instead I kicked it under a table halfway across the room. Sam's face turns white. Casper the friendly ghost white. He says, 'We have to get that box. Now!' Which of course means it's up to me.
"So I scramble across the floor and I finally find it, unopened. I bring it back to the table and I swear, Sam's still crawling on the floor looking for it. I don't know why since, like I said, the restaurant is pretty empty and I had a clear look at which way it went. I guess he was just so busy panicking that he wasn't thinking much.
"I tap him on the shoulder and hold out this tiny, black velvet box. 'This it?' I ask... only you know me. My voice carries across the restaurant and I realize that the four other diners have gone absolutely silent. And I realize that I'm standing in front of a guy, who is at this point on his knees as he attempts to stand up, and now he's got the box, which I think he's about to open... and this looks so bad.
"Then it finally it hits me. The table, the excellent service in a place known for being a little on the snooty side, Sam being dressed up... This is a trial run. Like I said, this looks bad. So it's my turn to panic. I slap him, not hard of course, and say, 'Of course I can't marry you!' and I walk out.
"Everything is so quiet that I can hear myself stalk out of the place. It's kind of creepy. Once I'm outside and away from the door, I'm fine until I get to his car. That's when I guess it all hits me, and I double over with laughter. Sam isn't nearly as amused as I am by the whole thing at first, but I know he'll come around, which is why I say, 'You should ask her. Exactly like that. EXACTLY like that.'
"And for a minute I'm positive he's going to kill me. Until he starts to laugh, and once he starts I start again, which makes him laugh even more, which of course makes it so that we're both pretty much dying there in the parking lot. We probably scared off anyone who might have wanted to stop by Chez Whatever, but it was worth it. I don't think I've laughed like that in years.
"Oh, and wait until you see the ring. It's gorgeous. I can't believe he actually picked it out himself. It's very sparkly and the perfect size. Not too big that her hand is going to fall off, and not so small that she's going to have to squint to see it. I wish I knew more about rings so I could describe it. Stacey is going to faint when she sees it. When I told him that, he was entirely too surprised.
"You think she'll say yes?' He actually asked that! Of course she'll say yes. Even if she hadn't been doodling 'Mrs. Sam Thomas' on notebooks and things since we were twelve, the ring alone would do it. Did I mention it's sparkly?" I concluded with a laugh.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts and slowly got to my feet. I brushed my hands across the cool stone, wiping away the dirt that had accumulated since my last visit. I let my fingers slowly trace the familiar letters and the pain in my chest spread outward, engulfing me right on time. A tear or two slid down my cheek and I didn't bother to wipe them away. There wasn't anyone out there to see, and even if there were, it wouldn't matter. I miss my friend, even after all this time.
I knelt down and straightened the flowers left by her family. "God, I wish you could see it, Mal. You'd love it. I wish..." My voice broke and I'm not sure how long I stood there, wishing for something that would never happen.
Night had fallen by the time I was ready to leave. "I miss you."