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Mixed Metaphors

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"I have a theory," he tells her and decides that her smile is the human equivalent of the sunset reflecting on the pond before them.

"Somehow I'm not surprised." Sarah leans into him, looking out towards the places the sky's turned coral, and he slides an arm around her waist. He's not about to waste an opportunity to nudge her just a bit closer when it presents itself. "What is it this time?"

"Well," Jake says, and all his carefully planned words--he'd taken notes this time!--flee his head. If he was the Titanic, his thoughts would be diving off the bow into the freezing waters of the Atlantic right about now. But he has to answer with something, he knows, and if he tells himself that his mouth hasn't just gone dry, maybe he won't actually feel nervous. "You remember what I said about the universe letting your heart expand?"

She has just enough time to get in a "Yes" before he plunges on. He knows what he's going to say a fraction of a second before it comes out of his mouth. Hopefully that'll be enough time to stop himself before he accidentally insults her dead mother or--or, well, he doesn't know, reveal that he's actually an ardent fan of Mussolini or that he makes dioramas of taxidermied animals in funny outfits in his spare time. Something stupid and completely untrue, something that'll end with him sitting alone on this bench and waiting for the stars to come out.

"Well, I think that sometimes the universe builds fences around your heart, too--not completely impenetrable, like a brick wall, more like a chainlink fence. So your heart can see what lies out there, but it's sort of trapped, unless you decide you're brave enough to try hopping the fence--"

Sarah's brow furrows as she straightens up to look at him, and the only thing Jake can think is my shoulder's cold. "Wait a minute. Are you--are you breaking up with me?"

His eyes widen. His stomach feels like a pond someone just threw a rock into, like something's sinking down into the pit of his abdomen and is going to hit bottom and sit there forever. "What? No! No, I'm not trying to break up with you. I'm trying to do the opposite of break up with you."

She doesn't look any less suspicious, but at least the frown turns into a raised eyebrow. He thinks that's probably a good sign.

He'll take his good signs wherever he can get them, at this point.

"So anyway, your heart has to break free from that fence and bust down the door, or it'll always stay the same size. Unless you do something about it, it'll never expand further and you'll never, uh. Find out how large it can grow, when you give it a chance to grow from a good experience. I, uh, I think I'm losing the metaphor here." Better cut to the chase, Jake. Fumbling in the pocket of his jeans for the box, he sweeps himself off of the bench and onto one knee before her. He didn't practice for this moment, but he thinks he pulled it off fairly well, if the way her mouth drops open slightly is any indication. "I'm starting to hate dating you, because every time the date ends, one of us goes home. I want to come home with you from a movie and go to bed and wake up the next morning and know that neither of us has to leave. And if you'd do me the honour of marrying me, I think we could have that."

She's silent when he finally finishes, but he thinks he can read her face. Her mouth's in a perpetual little "oh!", one of her hands fluttering near her neck, and she has got to say yes, or he'll never try this again. He doesn't want anyone else.

It occurs to him them that he never actually opened up the black velvet box, so he does then, turning it so she can see the ring nestled inside. "If the ring makes a difference..."

"Oh--oh, Jake--" she finally manages, her voice fading from surprise into a watery sort of sigh. She's blinking back tears, her brown eyes shining, and he's suddenly unsure why he wasted a week dithering after the ring came in at the jeweler's. "I--yes! Yes, of course I'll marry you."

She pulls him back up on the bench to kiss him, the kind of kiss that says you made the right choice, Jake, this is the one. When they pause for air, he takes the ring out of its box and slides it onto the ring finger of her left hand. For a moment, he looks at her hand in the fading light, thin-fingered and smooth and wearing his ring. He knows without glancing up that she's looking at it, too.

They stay there until the stars come out, together on a rickety wooden park bench. Really, they stay until the mosquitoes come out; if not for the bugs, Jake's pretty sure he'd be happy to sit outside, arms around each other, until one of them fell asleep. On the way back to the car, she says, "Let's wait until tomorrow to tell my family. Knowing them, one of them's already figured it out through ESP alone."

Jake groans. He's been to Thanksgiving at the Nolan house, and he knows damned well that a muddled proposal like that is ripe for immortality in a story to accompany the pumpkin pie. "Oh, they're going to think I'm a madman."

"Don't be silly," Sarah says, laughing. She squeezes his hand gently, the thin gold band of the ring a pleasant new pressure on his knuckles. "They always thought you were a madman."