He wanted to marry her.
It hadn’t swept over him like it did with Jackie. Instead, it was built. Every day. Every date night. Every family dinner. Every fight. Every sunrise.
Being with her had been everything he thought it would be. Loving and complicated.
He wouldn't have it any other way.
Being in love with Jessica was not new to him. She occupied a permanent part of his mind since the day they’d met. They had always been a team. And the last four and a half years had proved that even twenty years plus years later they still fit together, jagged edges, frayed seams and all. They learned all new rhythms and unlearnt old habits. They were building the life he had hoped they would.
Sitting here by the fire pit, blankets on their laps enjoying their wine and beer, taking in the crisp cool air, he and Jessica quietly enjoyed their night caps. They did this regularly now. Part of a deliberate effort on both their parts to slow down and enjoy as much time together as they could. Their jobs made that difficult but they made it work. They had made a promise to each other, no more excuses. Four and a half years in and they had stayed true to it.
Jessica was cuddled against him, deep steady breaths letting him know she was relaxed and calm. He kissed the top of her head and she gently reached up to take hold of his arm to put it around her even further. Her fingers touched his wedding ring in the process as she threaded their fingers together. In quiet moments like this the weight of his ring felt heavier on his finger. He had debated its presence for a while. He had lost Jackie almost eight years ago. He still missed her. He still loved her but he was now in love with Jessica.
He’s asked Jess if it bothered her numerous times over the years and she had always said no. She understood why he would want to keep wearing it. She told him, ‘She was your wife for twenty years. That doesn’t just go away. I understand. And I’d never ask you to take it off if you didn’t want to. I know you love me. You wearing your ring doesn't change that.’ She was right of course. She often was, though their children choose not to admit it very often. But he still wasn’t sure. They had made so many moves and milestones over the last four years, showed each other what love was all over again, bought a new home together, made memories of their own…
He always thought he needed the ring to be his reminder of Jackie. To make sure to always keep her close. But she was here. She was framed on the mantle and in the albums and lived on in all of their minds and hearts. She was never going to truly go away. Neither was the love he had for her. He knew he could take off the ring. He was in a new loving relationship. He didn’t need the ring. But here he was having this mental conflict again.
‘You're thinking very loudly, you know?’, Jessica said, looking up at him as best he could from her position. ‘Sorry’ ‘Do you want to talk about it? 'Jessica asked, finally sitting up so she could look at him. ‘No. It’s nothing. I’ll figure it out eventually’ ‘Well, then could we go back inside now. It’s late. This blanket isn’t keeping anyone warm and the fire’s dying.’ She smiled as she patted his lap and began getting up. Gil smiled back.
He put out the fire, she packed up their little cooler and for the drinks and ventured inside. It was warm and new and theirs. ‘Stately Whitly Manner’ simply wasn’t for them. Too much history. Too many ghosts and Jessica had finally been ready to let that go. The same could be said for his house as well. Though she did try redecorating first! Now they had a space that was truly theirs. Still grand and stately but still warm and homely. Jessica had left it up to the kids who wanted the manor and Ainsley gladly jumped at the idea. Malcolm wanted his home. Everyone was happy and Jessica finally got to put that Panera in Malcolm's building. Quietly, they made their way up their room, did their typical routine and got in bed. Still, the weight of Gil’s wedding ring weighed on. He knew he and Jessica would be together forever. He knew he wanted to marry her. But there was one thing he needed to do first. He wrapped his arms around his sleepy beauty and slept knowing what he had to do.
The next morning Gil, though off from work, was up early and dressed. Jessica quirked her eyebrow and smiled curiously, ‘Thought you were home today?’
‘I am. Just have something I need to take care of. I’ll be back after lunch’, Gil said quickly as he leaned down for his kiss before he left.
Gil got in his car and headed to the nearest florist. With six red and pink carnations and six Magenta Zinnias in hand Gil headed to the cemetery. He navigated the grounds with ease until he was where he needed to be. He went to see her less frequently than he used to but he could never forget where he had laid his favorite Bronx Girl to rest. Jackie had requested to be in a shady spot, she never much liked the heat, Gil had made sure that happened. He laid the flowers on the earth in front of her headstone in the shade of the tree.
‘Malcolm hasn’t redecorated very much since he moved in. He said it already felt like home. I hadn’t changed much either. We all know that because of you. You always know how to make a place feel like a home. Ainsley on the other hand, underwent a total overhaul. They have really come into their own. You would be proud. They are doing so well’, Gil filled her in on some of his favorite cases and how their friends were doing as well. He stayed silent for a moment. Taking in the peace of the scene before he said what he really came here for.
‘I love her, Jackie. I really really love her. And I want to marry her. Jessica and I have something very special. I have been thinking about proposing for months. I already have the ring, but it’s not her ring I'm worried about. It’s mine. I haven't taken off my wedding ring for twenty eight years. I kept telling myself that if I took it off that you would really be gone too. I felt so conflicted and guilty about even thinking about ever taking it off. But… I finally realize that you, the time we spent and the love we shared will never ever leave me. It will never leave any one of us and we are better for it. Taking off my ring will never change that. But I can’t take that step and give Jessica hers, if I can’t give you mine.
You told me to be happy. To let love find me and lead me. It has led me back to Jessica. I am happy. I will always love you but I’m ready to make her my wife, if she will have me. I hope, wherever you are, that you are happy for me. You will always be my Bronx girl.’
Just then a strong cool breeze blew through the grounds and the sun peeked through a gap in the tree he was sitting under. The little ray landed on his left hand, resting on top of Jackie’s headstone. His gold band is perfectly in the center of it. He chuckled. ‘You always could read my mind, couldn’t you.’ Gil shifted his position from seated beside to kneeling in front of the headstone. Slowly, reverently, Gil took off his wedding band. He rolled it in his fingers, taking one last loving at it before putting it in the plan of his left hand. Gil leaned forward and carefully dug a fairly deep hole in the earth as close as possible to the headstone. He placed one last kiss on the ring and then gently put the ring in the hole and and began refilling the hole. About half was done, he put the flowers upright and then racked the remaining dirt in so the flowers were standing.
He had made the exchange.
Not choosing one love over the other but having accepted that they were both his. No. This exchange was ...
A ring for a ring
Now came his next step, planning the proposal. He had a feeling he knew where he could get some help….