“Did you get my ring back from the jewelers?”
“Hmm?” Jake glances over at me from his sprawled position on the couch, idly stroking our cat, Rosie, on his lap.
“You said you were getting it cleaned, right?” I unconsciously rub at the naked spot on my finger, missing the feel of my promise ring from Jake. It’s been there nearly two years, but the indentation has already faded in the two weeks since I gave it to him to get shined up.
“Oh, yeah.” He scratches at the back of his neck, his triceps bunching as he reaches behind his head. I take a moment to appreciate his body — the sliver of toned abs peeking out from where the hem of his shirt is riding up, his strong jawline just visible through the dark beard he’s let grown in lately, and those delicious muscles in his arms, even bigger now that he’s seriously working out again. His knee doesn’t limit his workouts nearly as much as it used to. “They said it’d be a few more days.”
I frown. “Just to get it cleaned? It takes two seconds for them to run it through their machine.”
He holds his hands up in a defensive posture. “Don’t shoot the messenger, okay?” There’s an edge in his voice I rarely hear from him. It usually only comes out when I ask if he’s going to do the dishes and he claims they’re “soaking”.
I turn back to my textbook in front of me, hardly seeing the words. “Sorry,” I mumble.
“Hey, no, I didn’t mean it like that.” He gently transfers the cat off his lap and onto the couch cushion, coming to kneel in front of me in the armchair. He looks up at me, his rich, brown eyes full of remorse and sincerity. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been a little… distracted lately.”
I’ve sensed an increasing amount of agitation and nervous energy from him over the course of the last couple weeks, but I’d attributed it to his job. Spring training is coming up soon, and it’s time to see if the new players he’s scouted will be up to snuff.
I shut my book and glance at the clock, noting that I have forty-five minutes left till I have to be at the lab. “What’s wrong? Is it work? You said all the guys you picked are great.”
“No, it’s not that. Work’s fine.” He runs his palms up and down my thighs before taking my hands in his, the paleness of my skin even starker against his golden tan. That’s what I get for staying inside a laboratory all day, but I couldn’t ask for a better job as a graduate research assistant in Suncoast’s Virology department.
“It’s nothing.” Jake smiles, his grin making the butterflies in my stomach flutter a little, the same way it’s done for the past three years.
“You wouldn’t have said anything to begin with if it wasn’t something,” I counter with.
His eyes search mine for a moment before he stands and paces the length of the living room once before returning to me. “Let’s talk about it at dinner tonight. You didn’t forget about dinner, right?”
“No, I didn’t forget.” He’s only reminded me about it every night for the past week. We both know he’s the one more likely to forget things out of the two of us.
“And you know I’ll be home at six, right?”
“Yes.” Again. How many times is he going to tell me?
“You’ll have enough time to get ready?”
“Jake, I’ll have plenty of time.”
He must sense the exasperation in my voice because he breathes out a long sigh, smirking slightly, then leans down to give me a delicious kiss. His mouth is warm and minty, soothing a place inside me that was feeding off his agitation. “I have to go. I’ll see you tonight.”
“I thought you didn’t have to be at work till ten.”
“I have an errand to run first. Love you.”
I watch him go, shaking off the sense of unease that floods back in, convinced something’s off about him, but I don’t have any true evidence to support that hunch. And any good scientist knows that without evidence, you’ve got nothing.
My gaze flicks between the different options in my closet of what to wear tonight, not completely satisfied with my choices. Why don’t I ever buy anything nice? I push my glasses up to rub at my eyes, then startle when I hear the doorbell, walking hesitantly out to the front door. I hate answering it when Jake’s not home.
I peek through the peephole, relaxing when I see it’s Samantha and Charlotte. “Hey, what are you doing here?” I ask as I open the door for them, giving each of them hugs as they make their way inside. We don’t see each other nearly as often anymore now that we’ve all graduated, though Charlotte and I still meet up for lunch on campus if our schedules align. She’s working on her doctoral dissertation and is more stressed by the day from it.
She looks fine today, though, as she says, “We were just in the neighborhood over at Ulta and thought we’d stop by.”
“That’s so nice of you.” I close the door and join them in the living room. “I’m actually getting ready to go out for dinner.”
“Perfect,” Samantha exclaims, pulling a box out of her shopping bag. “I bought a new hair straightener. I can do your hair.”
“And I have new makeup,” Charlotte helpfully supplies.
“Um, okay,” I murmur, watching the two of them unload their bags on the coffee table. Why did they even bring all that stuff in with them and not leave it in the car?
I don’t have long to ponder it, though, because the doorbell is ringing again, and my two friends don’t seem at all surprised to find Natalie on the other side, her face beaming.
“Hey girl, I have some clothes for you.”
“What?” I ask, thoroughly confused as she waddles in, clutching a reusable tote bag.
“I officially don’t fit in anything anymore,” she declares, rubbing at her huge baby bump. Being seven months pregnant will do that, though. “So I’m giving you a bunch of my old clothes. Isn’t this dress just to die for?” She pulls out a silvery cocktail dress, made from some kind of material that shimmers slightly in the light.
“You should wear that to dinner tonight,” Samantha says, plugging in the hair straightener by the wall. “You’d look gorgeous in it.”
I glance between the three of them, my internal suspicion alarm going off. “Why are you here?” I ask slowly.
“We’re just stopping by,” they all say, the unison effect incredibly creepy.
I shake my head. “No, why are you really here? It’s way too coincidental for all of you to show up out of the blue like this.”
Natalie and Samantha immediately go stone-faced, but Charlotte starts fidgeting, peeking over at the other two as if she doesn’t know what to do.
I stare at her until she nervously asks, “What do you mean?”
“You hardly ever wear makeup. So why did you buy some today?” She doesn’t reply, but I don’t need her to, turning to Samantha next. “And you rarely straighten your hair. You complain it’s too much work.” She runs a hand over her riotous curls, pursing her lips. “And Natalie, those clothes will fit you again someday. If anyone could commit to losing baby weight, it’s you. There’s no reason to give them to me.” She rubs her belly, an absent-minded gesture I’ve seen her do more and more lately as her son grows inside her.
“You knew about my dinner, didn’t you? Hair, makeup, dress,” I tick off on my fingers. “You’re trying to make me look good.” But who cares? It’s just dinner.
Except, it’s not just dinner, I realize. Jake’s been acting weird, he reminded me a million times about tonight, he took my ring to get it cleaned… I pause, understanding crashing over me. “Oh my God, is Jake proposing?”
Samantha and Natalie can’t keep their neutral expressions up, each breaking out in identical grins. It’s only Charlotte who realizes I’m not as ecstatically happy as they are. I mean, I am, but also, whoa, is the room spinning?
“Come sit down,” she murmurs, taking my hand to lead me over to the couch. “Just breathe.”
I take a long, choppy inhale, holding it for five seconds before slowly releasing it.
“What is it?” Samantha asks, finally getting on board. “Aren’t you happy?”
“Yes,” I answer truthfully.
“Then what’s wrong?” Natalie asks, coming over to rub my back soothingly.
“Will… will he do it in front of everyone at the restaurant? Will they all be looking at us? What if I start crying? Or I drop the ring? Or I accidentally say no?” I’m aware of the increasing frenzy in my voice, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
“Don’t worry a single thing about any of those people,” Charlotte says kindly. “When the moment comes, you’ll only have eyes for Jake. The rest will fall away.”
I nod, knowing she means well, but she has no trouble in front of a group. I remember her teaching my Intro to Lit class ages ago. There’s a reason I’m a research assistant and not a teaching assistant in grad school now. I’ve always hated having all eyes on me.
I let the three of them make me over, their happy chatter washing over me in my preferred dynamic where they talk and I listen. It’s obvious they’re still concerned as they finally take their leave ten minutes before Jake gets home from work, but I do my best to assure them I’m fine.
I’m fine, right? The issue isn’t that Jake’s asking me — I want him to ask me. It’s how he’s asking. He should absolutely know I’d prefer something like that done in private, just the two of us. I don’t want eyes on us, people oohing and aahing and craning their necks better to gawk at me, coming up to say congratulations, wondering what in the world this gorgeous Adonis sees in this mousy—
I stop in my tracks, not even realizing I was pacing the length of the living room, that Jake came home and I didn’t hear the door open.
“What?” I try to school my expression, hide my trembling hands in the folds of my new dress, but he’s not having any of it.
He strides over, picking up on my mood immediately. “You’ve got a line right here.” He lightly touches the space between my eyebrows, his finger warm against my cool skin.
“Are you proposing at Sakura tonight?” I blurt out, unable to hold it in, shaking out my hands, my skin suddenly incredibly itchy. “Because I don’t want all those people looking at—”
“I’m not proposing at Sakura,” he interrupts. “What gave you that idea?”
My mouth opens, an unintelligible sputtering sound emitting as my stomach drops. He’s not proposing?
Oh God, of course he’s not. What was I thinking? The girls never actually said he was, they just smiled when I asked and I took that as a confirmation. It was wrong of me to assume.
But I didn’t realize how much I’d begun looking forward to getting engaged in the last half hour. Again, not the how, but the why behind it. I love Jake. With every breath in my body. These last three years with him have been happier than I ever could have imagined.
“You’d hate a public proposal,” he continues. “Sakura is to celebrate afterward.”
The tears that were threatening retreat. “After?”
“After I ask you to marry me. Here. Now.”
He pulls a ring box with a custom jeweler’s name emblazoned on the top out of his pants pocket, bending down on one knee. My hands fly up to my mouth, covering my gasp.
“I should have known you’d figure it out. Not that I was very subtle, was I?” He smirks mischievously.
Wait, did he want me to get a hint of it beforehand? “You know I don’t like surprises, so you…”
“I wanted you to know it was coming, but maybe throw you off the trail a little.” Well, he certainly did that.
He takes my hands in one of his, turning serious. “Eden, you are the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. Every day with you is better than the last, and I’m so incredibly grateful you still haven’t realized you’re way too good for me.”
Those tears make an appearance again, blurring my vision, and I release myself from his grip to frantically wipe under my glasses, knowing I’m probably smudging the eyeliner Charlotte painstakingly applied.
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you, to make you happy, to protect and cherish and love you. And I promise to always try to be the man you deserve.” He flips open the ring box, a stunning diamond nestled inside. I smile, recognizing the band of my ring, the unique filigree design still present along the sides. This must be why it’s taken so long for it to be “cleaned”.
He takes it out, holding it carefully between his thumb and forefinger, the gemstone sparkling as it catches the light. “Will you marry me, Eden?”
“Yes.” I nod, my excitement ramping up as he cradles my left hand, sliding the ring on, the fit familiar and perfect.
I drop to my knees to join him and wrap my arms around his broad shoulders as tight as I can, burrowing into his embrace, wanting to get as close as humanly possible. He squeezes me back, settling his head in the crook of my neck, the two of us staying like that for a long moment, connected by a love more profound than I ever dreamed of. This man will be my husband.
And I’ll be his wife. Eden Fulton. I like the sound of that.
“You okay?” he asks, leaning back to look at me.
I push my glasses up the bridge of my nose, then dab at the corners of my eyes. “I’m just so happy,” I tell him, sniffling slightly, still overcome with emotion.
My new diamond catches my eye as I bring my hand back down, and I stare at it, never believing I was a vain person until I beheld this ring.
“You like it?” he asks, noticing the direction of my gaze. “I thought you’d want to keep your original ring.”
“It’s gorgeous,” I tell him, barely able to tear my eyes away, unable to believe I get to wear something so stunning for the rest of my life. “I love it. And I love you. More than I believed it was possible to love another person. I can’t wait to spend our lives together.”
He meets me in a kiss full of promise, his lips tender as they gently caress mine, coaxing me, until it turns hotter, his hands roaming my lower back, reaching down to press me closer, knowing exactly what to do to get me going. After three years together, he knows my body inside and out. Like I told him a long time ago, practice makes perfect.
And we’ve had more than our fair share of practice.
“Sakura will have to wait,” he murmurs, easily lifting me in his arms to carry me into the bedroom. I cling to his shoulders, kissing a spot behind his ear he particularly likes, and notice Rosie jump off the bed before he lays me down, covering me with his big body.
He quickly divests me of my dress and undergarments, his new beard tickling me as he leans down to kiss my breasts, an added level of sensation I greatly appreciate. Shivers race down my arms, and my legs automatically part in eagerness for him, so ready to have him inside me already.
“I’m taking my time with you tonight,” he murmurs, gently circling my nipple with his tongue, so tantalizingly slow I nearly whimper with want.
“I thought we had to get to dinner.” I arch my back, trying to convey my need, but he merely goes slower in response, smiling against my skin.
“I think I’ll eat you instead.” He kisses a path downward, my hips lifting, anticipating what comes next as his tongue makes first contact, a sigh of relief escaping me.
“Yes,” I groan, burrowing my hands in his hair, holding him in place, loving every lick he gives me.
“Spread your legs wider, babe. Yeah, like that.” He rests his palms on my inner thighs, keeping me open so he can lick his way in further, until I’m trembling, on the verge of spilling over.
“Not yet.” He backs off, pressing kisses everywhere but where I need him most, teasing me, taunting me with what’s just out of reach.
“Jake,” I moan, tossing my head from side to side restlessly on the pillow. “I need… I need…”
“I know what you need.” His voice is dark, hypnotic, spurring me that much closer. “I’ll get you there, don’t worry. But you’re mine until then.”
He starts from the beginning again, going slowly, building me up, then pauses when I’m almost there.
I’m practically pulling his hair out in my desperation, trusting him to finish the third time. Logically, I understand he knows what he’s doing. He’s got my orgasms down to a science, knowing exactly when to push further and when to back off to make it that much better, that much stronger for me.
It’s the getting there that’s torture. The sweetest torment, sure, but torture all the same.
He doesn’t stop this time, continuing on when I arrive at that familiar edge, his thumbs digging into my thighs to hold me as I buck against his mouth, frantic, wanting everything he’ll give me, his tongue sucking at my clit, sending me over until I cry out his name. I chant it, along with a few other nonsensical things, the relief the same as I assume a drug user would feel as they reach that high.
Because there’s no doubt about it — I’m addicted to Jake. Even after this long, I still crave him, need him in a way that shouldn’t be possible. But my heart doesn’t listen to logic anymore. It beats only for Jake.
He brings me down easy, gently teasing me, and when he finally raises his head, he slowly wipes my arousal off his bottom lip with his thumb, holding eye contact with me. I shudder anew at the eroticism of it.
“Was that a good start to our engagement?” He grins, his boyish charm fully on display.
I can only reply with, “Mmm hmm.” I’m too far gone for actual words right now.
He slides up my body, propping himself on an elbow, and takes hold of my left hand, stroking the ring. “I love seeing this on you,” he murmurs, serious once again. “God, I can’t wait to marry you.”
I turn toward him, running my fingers through his hair to fix it, and lean in close to softly kiss him. “You’ll be my husband.”
“And you’ll be my wife.” He brings my hand up to lay a kiss to the underside of my ring, right where the inscription lies along the inside, the one that has our names engraved together.
Jake may be my first love, but I know in my heart he’ll be my only one. I couldn’t ask for a better man.
Or a more perfect love.