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Alfred isn’t sure what’s more nerve-wracking right now: what he’s going to do when he walks into this store or, what he’s going to do when he walks out of it. It’s an exciting sort of nerve-wracking though, the kind that has Alfred’s belly squirming as he looks up at the shop’s bright logo.

Craftworks Diamonds and Jewelry
EST. 1961

Al takes a deep breath, wiping clammy palms against his jeans. Swerving into the mall’s parking lot had been a spur of the moment decision as months of half-formed ideas finally clicked into place, becoming something he’s never been more sure of. Tonight, in only a few hours — he’s going to propose to his longtime lover, Matthew Williams.

But first, he needs a ring.

The ring.

A saleswoman stops him three steps inside of the shop with a warm smile and a hand extended. Alfred takes it, shaking firmly; it has to be his imagination that she looks knowing as she says, “Welcome to Craftworks, I’m Anna. Is there anything I can help you find?”

“I’m, uh, I’m looking to buy an engagement ring,” Alfred says, torn between a serious face and the eager grin that wants to stay plastered to his face. He can even feel his cheeks heating up; it’s the first time he’s said it aloud, engagement ring, and that feels enormous all on its own.

“Oh, aren’t you lucky? I specialize in finding our customers the perfect engagement ring,” Anna says pleasantly, turning on her heel and gesturing for Alfred to follow. Stuffing his hands back into his pockets, he looks to where she’s pointing ahead of herself, to racks upon racks of glittering, jeweled rings. “We have an entire selection here, and more in the back. Did you already have an idea in mind?”

“Not really…,” Al responds, trailing off as he gets closer to the counter, his gaze is drawn to a row of thick silver bands set with deep purple gems. They look as if they would match Matthew’s eyes perfectly, as if they would perfectly mirror the warmth that radiates from him. None of them feel right. Alfred looks back at Anna with a sheepish smile. “Thought I’d know the right one when I saw it.”

“Lots of people say that until they see our selection; then it becomes harder than it looks to choose,” Anna says, moving behind a counter to stand opposite of Alfred, arms crossed. “Why don’t we start with this? Tell me a little bit about your fiancé-to-be.”

“About Matty? He’s awesome,” Alfred says, breaking into a grin all over again. He starts to tick facts off with his fingers like he’s memorized them, which isn’t far from the truth. “His favourite colour is red; he loves documentaries and hockey and maple anything — seriously, maple anything. He makes the weirdest stuff with it sometimes but it usually comes out good 'cause he’s a great cook, you know? Especially when it comes to pancakes, I could eat 'em forever and not get sick.”

And Alfred runs out of breath before he runs out of things to say, because simply thinking of Matthew makes his chest feel tight and warm. Simply thinking of Matthew makes him feel like his heart is three times too big and trying to break free of where it rests. It's how he knows that this is it; that Matt is the person he wants to wake up next to forever, quirks and all. He can't imagine his life being any other way.

He’s preparing to mention this too when Anna interrupts him, a look of consideration on her face. She doesn’t seem fazed at all by how much he’s said, or how fast he’s said it.

“I know just what you’re looking for,” she says, bending down to disappear behind the jewelry counter.

“Awesome,” Alfred replies, trying to stop himself from bouncing on his toes impatiently. He just wants something that’ll tell Matt, even more than his words ever could, how much he loves him.

A simple request if he’s ever asked for one, right?

He’s lost the battle and openly bouncing when Anna pops back up.

“This is called an eternity band,” she says, pushing toward Alfred a black velvet stand, fashioned in the shape of an elegant, if unusually long, finger. On the stand sits a wide platinum band, silvery and shiny, twisting into loops and inlaid with gems — two rubies and one diamond of equal size.

Al’s heart skips a beat when he lays eyes on it. He can see himself presenting it to Matthew, catching the blonde completely off guard with his suddenness. He can see the way Matthew will smile and blush and grope for the best way to say yes, Alfred, yes. He can see himself slipping this ring onto Matthew’s finger and promising to never leave.

He slides his fingertip gently over the ridges of the gems and metalwork, admiring. “I’ll take it.”

From there it takes mere moments for Anna to move him towards the cash register, scan the ring’s barcode, and sell Alfred on a ten-year loss and theft warranty in the same breath. Alfred’s only half-aware that he’s agreed to it, fumbling through deep denim pockets for his wallet. His phone buzzes against his thigh halfway through handing over his credit card; by the time he’s gotten the phone out of his pocket the call has rolled to voicemail.

“Sorry, one sec,” Alfred says, flashing Anna an apologetic smile as he presses playback for his voicemail. He cradles the phone between his ear and shoulder, reaching for a pen and the receipt to sign.

What he hears stops his pen cold.

No.

He plays the message back once, then twice. On the third playthrough Alfred feels the words finally sinking in, spreading numbness throughout his body.

… Alfred, it's Arthur ... Matthew ... highway ... speeding driver ... dead on arrival ... Matthew …

Alfred’s rooted to the spot with Arthur’s voice echoing in his head, filling up his ears and throat and feeding the sudden, growing hollow inside of him. It eats through his eager excitement; swallows up the butterflies in his belly; and leaves him staring blankly ahead as Anna presents him with a small gift box and another warm smile.

He starts to reach for the box and then stops short, fingers curling into a fist as he pulls back. He swallows. Sourness coils in his stomach, threatening to claw it’s way up and his voice is thick, so thick he barely recognizes himself, as he says,

“Hey, so... what’s your return policy on rings?”