Almost eight years. She and Albert had been together (yes, together; despite what Albert may tell you, they were a couple) for almost eight years, and Albert seemed to have no intention of ever getting serious with Rose.
It's not that he's afraid of commitment, Rose thought wryly. The problem is he's more committed to this company and his mother than me! She sighed and followed Albert out of Almaelou after a long day of work, shutting off the lights and locking the door behind her. He said good night (like he always did) and kissed her (on the cheek! Eight years and he's still uneasy about kissing her in public). Rose watched him go, shoulders drooping in disappointment, and a little bit of sadness settling in her heart. She shook her head and turned to walk home, alone. Like she always did.
Rose awoke in a much better mood than the night before. Maybe it had something to do with the fresh dusting of snow on the ground, but today she was feeling... happy. A little happy, and a little mischievous. Her mood had not changed by the time she arrived at work; if anything, it intensified. Albert for one definitely noticed the added spring (or was it more of a swing?) in her step. He was already sitting at his desk when Rose came in, grinning broadly, and sauntered over to plant a kiss on his cheek.
"Good morning, Albert," she said sweetly.
Albert blushed slightly. "Good morning, Rose."
Rose's grin grew even wider. "There's no need to look so embarrassed, Albert. There's nothing wrong with your girlfriend kissing you hello in the morning." To prove her point, she bent down, took his chin in her hand to tilt his head towards hers, and kissed him again, letting her lips linger much longer than was appropriate for the office. Albert's blush was an obvious, bright red when Rose finally pulled away.
"Rosie, please," he mumbled, getting up and moving to the filing cabinets, trying to put his mind back on work. "Not here."
Rose pouted and learned forward, resting her arms on Albert's desk. "Why not here, Albert?" she asked. Albert made the dreadful mistake of turning around; Rose had left more of her blouse unbuttoned than usual, and— well, the way she was leaning forward, Albert could—he blushed even brighter (if that were possible) and turned determinedly back to the filing cabinets, desperately trying not to let Rose distract him, especially not so early in the morning!
"Because," he told her. "When we're at the office, we should be focusing on work. Not— other things." Albert pulled the top drawer of the filing cabinet open and started looking through it— not searching for anything in particular, just giving himself something to do other than look at his secretary. That was when he felt a pair of arms wrap firmly around his waist. Well, one was around his waist; the other was slowly making its way down toward—
"Rose, please!" Albert cried, turning around and taking Rose's hands in his own. She grinned mischievously at her boss, clearly amused by his distress. "Can't you keep your hands to yourself?"
Rose laughed. "Apparently not."
Albert sighed and released Rose, then sat down at his desk again. "I'm sure you have work you can be doing, Rose. Don't you?" he said pointedly.
Rose nodded, suddenly looking composed and professional. "Of course, Mr. Peterson. I'll get right to it."
"Thank you," Albert said gratefully, smiling a little. Rose smiled back before starting her work for the day.
The sooner I get this done, the sooner I can return to far more interesting tasks, she thought.
It was two in the afternoon. The rest of the morning had passed uneventfully. Rose had filed paperwork (after checking it once or twice to ensure Albert had filled everything out correctly). Albert worked on lyrics for a song he was trying to finish (the sort of project one forgets about and comes back to every few months; he was determined to get it done this time). Rose had been working harder than she could ever really remember working before. Which was why, at two in the afternoon, instead of bustling about with a stack of files, she was steadily making her way toward Albert's office. The poor man was unaware of exactly what his devious secretary had planned for that afternoon.
She let herself into the office and closed the door behind her (after making sure Albert wasn't looking, she locked it as well). He didn't look up as she approached; he was far too engrossed in his songwriting.
"Afternoon, Rose," he said.
Rose smiled and positioned herself behind Albert's chair. "Good afternoon, Albert," she said softly, leaning forward to wrap her arms around Albert. He groaned and put his pencil down.
"Rose, I thought we had finished with this—"
Suddenly his mind was no longer on reprimanding his secretary. And it was nowhere near the song he was supposed to be writing. All he could think about was Rose's lips slowly pressing kisses to his neck, while her hands moved up and down his chest.
"Rosie," he moaned. "Rose, what are you—"
He gasped and his eyes went wide. Rose was now— well she was... biting his neck. "Oh god. Rosie, please..."
"Shush," Rose whispered in his ear. "I'm just trying to remind you, Albert. You're not just my boss. And I'm not just your secretary."
With that, she pulled Albert's chair away from his desk and turned him toward her. Before he could stop her (or even fully realize what she was doing), Rose sat on Albert's lap, straddling him right there in the middle of Almaelou. And she didn't give him an opportunity to protest either: one hand went around the back of his neck, the other just above his hip, and she kissed him, without any intention of stopping. Albert was shocked— not only because Rose was doing, well, this in the middle of the office in the middle of the day (where anyone could walk in on them!), but also because... he was enjoying it. Despite how much he knew he should, at the moment, he didn't exactly want to stop. Not yet.
So he kissed her back. He put his hands on her hips, and let her sit there, and he kissed her. Rose deepened the kiss, tilting her head and scooting even closer to Albert. He moaned softly, and then immediately felt embarrassed for doing so. After all, he wasn't supposed to be doing this in the first place.
Rose, on the other hand, felt very confident in what she was doing. She lightly ran her tongue across Albert's lip, eliciting another moan from him. Slowly, she moved her hand to rest on top of one of Albert's, then guided it from her hip to just under her skirt. Hesitantly, after some prodding from Rose, Albert began to run his hand up her leg, fingers trailing along her smooth skin. And then, Albert realized that was all his fingers were encountering. In a panic, he pulled away from Rose and drew his hand out from her skirt.
"Rose," he stammered, eyes wide. "You— you're not wearing any—"
"I know," she said softly, kissing his neck. "I thought it would get in the way."
"Get in the way of what?" Albert cried. Rose answered that question almost immediately. When he felt her begin to tug on his belt, Albert knew exactly what Rose was trying to do.
"No. No, Rose, we can't, please—" Rose didn't seem to be listening; she went right on trying to undo Albert's belt. He quickly grabbed her hands and pulled them away.
"Rosie." He stopped and waited until she was looking at him. "I mean it. We can't do this! Not now... not here." Rose frowned slightly and pulled her hands out of Albert's grasp.
"Fine," she said coolly. She removed herself from Albert's lap, straightened her skirt and walked right out of his office without another word. Albert was left feeling very confused, slightly hurt, and increasingly embarrassed. Even more so when he realized that Rose had succeeded in unbuckling his belt, though she hasn't gotten around to taking it off yet. Quickly he fastened it again, afraid someone would walk in and wonder what exactly might have happened between himself and Ms. Alvarez.
"What did just happen?" Albert asked himself. The truth was, he had no idea. Albert shook his head and turned back to his desk. Dwelling on it any longer would only further distract him from the work that needed to be done. So he returned to his half-finished lyrics, despite how much he suddenly wished that Rose had distracted him for just a little bit longer.
Hardly a minute passed before a very strange thought struck Albert. This was not the first time Rose had— well, accosted him at work. Afterward, he usually felt confused. And embarrassed. And relieved. Glad that she had stopped.
This time, he didn't feel relief at all. Almost the opposite, really. He was, of course, glad he managed to stop Rose from taking things too far, but... he didn't want her to stop entirely. Albert sighed and dropped his head into his hands. He sat like that for a moment, trying to make sense of everything he was thinking and feeling.
"I wanted her just as much as she wanted me," Albert said softly, realizing at last exactly how deep his feelings for his secretary really were. He loved all of her— heart, mind and body. Right then and there, Albert decided he had to show Rose just how much he loved her. Certainly not the way she was trying to... but he'd do something.
Six o'clock now. The end of another day at Almaelou. Rose sighed and gathered her things. Maybe she was the slightest bit disappointed at how her little plan turned out, but if she was honest with herself, she wasn't expecting anything different from Albert. The man blushed like mad when she kissed him in front of his mother. What made her think he'd be willing to...
Speaking of Albert, Rose thought. Where is he? It's odd for him to linger at the office so long. She shrugged, deciding Albert's whereabouts weren't really all that important, and opened the door to leave.
"Rose! Could I talk to you for a moment?" She stopped in her tracks and turned at the sound of her boss's voice. A grin crept onto her face.
"Why, of course, Albert. What's on your mind?"
Albert ran a hand through his hair, looking thoroughly flustered. "Well, I... I was wondering if— if you'd like to have dinner tonight? With me?"
Rose smiled but didn't say anything, so Albert had no choice but to continue his nervous ramble.
"See, I didn't want today to end with— I mean, after what happened today, I..." He sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry for pushing you away, Rosie. It's just— I really didn't feel comfortable doing... that here. But I still feel bad about it, so I thought I'd take you to dinner? To make up for it. If you'd like to."
"I'd love to, Albert," Rose said, grinning. "And then maybe you could walk me home after?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and stepping much closer to Albert. He swallowed nervously, understanding what Rose was implying with that request.
"I... of course I'll walk you home. And I can pick you up at eight, if that's all right?"
Rose nodded and gave Albert a peck on the cheek. "See you at eight, then."
Albert wasn't sure if Rose had abandoned her sultry seductress act entirely, or if she was just saving it for after dinner. Either way, that night felt just like any other time Albert had taken Rose to dinner. Rose smiled and laughed warmly, a happy sparkle in her eyes. After the fifteen or so minutes that it took Albert to once again remember he was supposed to be treating her like his girlfriend rather than his secretary, they settled into comfortable, fluid conversation; they relaxed and enjoyed each other's company.
Except this time, Albert was having a terrible time hiding his nervousness. Twice he almost knocked over his water glass, and the third time he actually did. A few times Rose caught him staring blankly at a spot on the tablecloth, and she had to call his name once or twice before his attention was on her again. And she wasn't sure, but when he lifted his fork to his lips, Rose thought his hands were shaking. But then he would seem to snap out of it; he would smile at Rose, and she smiled back, and the moment was forgotten.
Despite how terrified he felt on the inside, Albert was very happy with how the evening was turning out. He paid the bill, and helped Rose with her coat. Opened the door for her and offered her his arm, which Rose accepted gladly.
"So," she said, pressing herself very close to Albert, "are you going to walk me home now?"
Right. He had been so distracted by his plans for the night, he had completely forgotten about Rose's. "Of course," Albert replied after a pause. "B-but... before I do, is— is it all right if I ask you something, Rosie?"
Rose smirked and nodded. Albert took a moment for a deep breath, stood up a little straighter, and stepped away from Rose, facing her instead. She pouted and let her arm drop to her side. And then—
Rose could not believe her eyes. The scene unfolding before her could not possibly be happening. Because the next thing she knew, Albert reached into his jacket pocket, got down on one knee, and looked up at Rose with loving eyes.
"Rosie," he said softly, opening the small box in his hands, "will you —will you marry me?"
From the second he knelt down before Rose, Albert became so scared he couldn't think. Not clearly, anyway. I'm ready for this, Rosie. I want this. I'm really ready to take this step, I promise. Please say yes, please...
She had her hands over her mouth. Albert thought he saw tears streaming down her cheeks. He let his hands fall ever so slightly...when Rose finally brought her hands away from her face. She was smiling. Despite the tears she was smiling. She looked happier than she had all night. All day, all week... as long as Albert had known her.
"Albert... you really mean it? You really want to—"
Albert nodded. "Of course. I love you, Rosie," he said simply. He didn't know what else to tell her. Nothing else mattered, really.
"Come here," Rose said, reaching out to help Albert to his feet. He stood, snapping the ring box shut (wouldn't want to lose it), and took Rose's hands, not taking his eyes off her face. Rose stared at their joined hands for a moment, taking a shaky breath and blinking back tears. She swallowed and looked up at Albert. Rose smiled and laughed a little when she saw how serious Albert looked, and then Albert smiled too.
"Of course I'll marry you, Albert. I just—" She stopped to wipe away tears. "I can't believe you're really asking me..." Rose looked up at Albert again. "Am I dreaming?"
Albert laughed and brushed a piece of hair out of her face. "No, Rosie. You're not dreaming. I think I might be though."
They stood still for a moment, content to stare into each other's eyes. Until Albert's gaze dropped to their hands, and he remembered what he was holding.
"Oh! Rose, I..." He opened the little silk-lined box and took Rose's left hand in his. "I hope it fits," Albert mumbled. Rose laughed and watched with wonder as Albert slid a simple, diamond-adorned ring onto her finger.
"Perfect," she said, smiling up at her fiancé. Albert smiled back, returned the box to his pocket, and bent down to kiss Rose. It was nothing more than a gentle brush of his lips against hers, but it was sweet and soft and beautiful.
"I love you, Rosie," he said again.
Rose laughed and squeezed Albert's hand. "I love you too, Albert." He started to say something else, but Rose cut him off.
"Are you still going to walk me home?"
Albert swallowed nervously. "I thought we'd wait until we were married, Rose..." he mumbled awkwardly.
"Oh!" Rose blushed. "I didn't mean— I'm sorry, Albert. I know I had been implying that before, and I know I shouldn't have... but I meant actually walk me home. Not—"
"Oh. Okay," Albert said, relaxing a great deal. "Of course." Once again, he offered Rose his arm. "May I?"
Rose laughed and took his arm. "You may." He held her close, and she rested her head against his arm as they walked.
"So," Albert began, breaking the silence, "do you like the ring?"
Rose gave his arm a squeeze and nodded, lifting up her hand to look at it again. "It's beautiful, Albert. I love it!"
He laughed and kissed the top of Rose's head. "I'm glad I held on to it, then."
Rose frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I bought that ring two years ago," Albert said, gesturing to Rose's hand. "I don't remember the exact occasion, but something must have happened at work to make me decide I was ready to propose. So I went out and I bought a ring, but..." Albert laughed a little. "By the next day I had lost my nerve. So I brought it back home and put it in a drawer, until I knew for sure I was ready to ask you."
"I've been wondering about that, actually," Rose said, looking up at Albert. "You told me for years that you weren't ready for— what was it you used to tell me? 'Something of a more permanent nature between us?'"
Albert laughed. "Yes, that sounds about right."
"What made you change your mind?" she asked. Rose suddenly felt embarrassed, remembering how she had been acting at the office. "It didn't have anything to do with—with earlier, did it?"
Albert stopped, and so did Rose. "Rose, I—"
"Oh my god, it did," Rose moaned, covering her face with her free hand.
"Rosie," Albert said again, taking Rose's hand away and forcing her to look at him. "I meant to talk to you about— all that."
Reluctantly, Rose met Albert's eyes. "While I'd like to remind you about what is and isn't appropriate behavior at the office..."
Rose blushed and looked away again. "I'm glad you did what you did," he said quickly.
And then she was looking at Albert again. "What?"
"It made me think, I guess," Albert admitted. "When I said I love you, I meant it, Rose." He turned to face Rose head-on again, taking her hands in his. He said his next words slowly, careful not to trip over what he was trying to say. "I love you in every way a man can love a woman, Rose." He reached out to place a hand on her cheek, cupping it gently in his palm. "A-and that includes what we'll do on our wedding night. Whenever that may be. You're a beautiful woman, Rose," he added softly. "And I do want to be with you that way."
Albert nodded. "I do."
Rose stood on her tip-toes to kiss Albert, and this time he did not hold back. He left his hand on her cheek and placed the other on the small of her back, holding her close. Rose threw her arms around Albert's neck and when she kissed him, he responded with far more passion and fervor than Rose had ever thought he possessed.
In the end, they didn't break apart so much as return to solid ground. Albert moved his hands to Rose's hips, and Rose's hands slid down to rest on Albert's chest, but neither stepped away; they remained standing where they were, each looking lovingly at the other's face.
"Will you stay with me tonight? Just stay in bed with me, so I can spend the night in the arms of the man I'm going to marry."
Albert smiled. "Of course." He kissed Rose's forehead, and for the third time that night, took his fiancée on his arm. "Let's get you home, then."
It started snowing again as they continued to walk. Neither spoke, but it was a comfortable silence. Just being in the other's presence was enough. Every once in a while Albert would reach over to brush snow out of Rose's hair, and every time Rose would try to bat Albert's hand away, and grin when she succeeded in doing so.
When they arrived at Rose's apartment building, Albert held the door for her, receiving a smile in return, and helped her with her coat once they were in her apartment. Rose put on a nightgown while Albert's back was turned; he took off his shoes and suit jacket, and his tie as well (at Rose's urging— she insisted it was absolutely ridiculous to go to bed wearing a tie).
When they finally got into bed, Albert held Rose close and she rested her head on his chest; he placed a hand on her back, and after a moment, Rose scooted closer to rest one leg on top of Albert's.
"Good night, Rosie," Albert whispered.
"Good night, Albert," Rose murmured back. Soon, Albert's breaths became deep and rhythmic. Rose listened, content to hear her fiancé's inhales and exhales and feel his heart beat steadily against her cheek. It'll be like this every night, Rose thought, smiling. Every night for the rest of our lives... With that, Rose snuggled closer against Albert, and she too fell asleep.