A girlfriend and I had gone to a hotel in the Catskills back in January of 1968. We were sitting at a table in the bar and this guy who looked a lot like Buddy Holly came up to our table and said, “What are two nice girls like you doing at a place like this?” He was looking at my girlfriend, but when we got to talking, it turned out that he lived in the same apartment complex I did! We got married five months later and had fifty-two years together before he passed away.
“Hey, Sprinkles, you remember that question you were saving for later?”
Mae scrunched her nose in the adorable way she always did when she was confused. Or annoyed. I liked to make her do it as much as possible. For fun.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She turned a page in the book she was reading.
“Sure, you do. That time we went to the Taco Truck, and I was very manly and beat you at the hot sauce challenge.”
That got her attention. She set her book aside. “Excuse me? I do not think so.”
This was the best part—when she got all riled up. Her face turned all pink, and it made her freckles stand out even more.
“No, no. I remember. I beat you fair and square.”
Mae stood, causing the porch swing to shift and knock her in the back of her knees. The swing was a new addition at the Wilson place. Except it wasn’t the Wilson place anymore. It was mine. But nobody in this town was inclined to call it the Sterns place. It would probably take a hundred years before that caught on.
I’d bought it flat out six months ago after Mae had pronounced her undying love to me in a supply closet while wearing a nightgown. What more could a guy ask of a grand romantic gesture, I say.
Moving to Two Harts hadn’t been much of a hardship. Strangely, Ellie had decided to stay too. She’d found a job and a little apartment to rent in town and for the first time in a long while, she seemed to be settling into her own.
Staying here meant Mae could still help out her mom. Lucy had done well in therapy and had taken a very part-time job at the drycleaners in town. She said it made her feel “human” again to be working. Iris still lived at home and commuted to the community college for now, still not quite settled on what she wanted to be when she grew up.
As for the house, I had begun the critter removal almost immediately. Although we were still on the fence about the moose. Mae felt some kind of kinship to him. I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting that sucker out of the house.
I had one more year on my contract with the Stars. When it was up, I was retiring. I still planned to go to medical school, so we’d have to leave Two Harts, at least for a while, but we’d figure it out. Like Mae had said, doing ever after together meant we’d find a way to make it work.
“That is not what happened at all.” Her eyes narrowed.
“How about we agree to disagree?”
“You know you only say that when you know I’m right and don’t want to admit it.” She took a few steps toward me where I was sitting in a sturdy wooden chair on the other side of the porch. It was such a nice day in March. Perfect for lazing around and for asking questions. Important questions.
“Why what?” I asked innocently.
“Why do you want to know about my last question?”
“So suspicious.” And smart.
She hummed and took another few steps toward me. She was close enough now I could reach out and grab her hand if I wanted to. But I didn’t. It was more fun to get her to come to me.
“Well, to be honest, I did have an ulterior motive.” I smiled up at her. “I was sort of hoping you might let me have that question.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Oh, really?”
I nodded solemnly. “Yes.”
She came even closer, all shrew eyes and long, pale legs. I did like those legs an awful lot. “You’re planning something.”
“You don’t know that.” She was right.
She put her hands on the arms of the chair and bent over me, so close now I could lean forward and kiss her. Which was mighty tempting, but I had an objective here. I needed to finish that first. Then kissing.
“Alright, you can have the question,” she announced.
“That easily?” Now I was suspicious. But never look a gift horse in the mouth, they say. Catching her off balance, I wrapped my hands around her waist and set her on my lap so her feet dangled off one side and she was forced to lean into me or risk falling over.
She grinned and linked her arms around my neck. “Hi.”
“Hi.” I started to get distracted because her mouth was this close, and it didn’t seem right to leave her lips there all alone. With a frown, I pulled my head back.
“I want to use my question now,” I announced.
“Now remember, you have to answer honestly.”
“Because this is a real important question, okay?”
She rolled her eyes. “Ask the question.”
“Do you know what today marks the first anniversary of?”
“That’s your question?” Her nose scrunched in thought. I wanted to kiss it. But I resisted. I should be in the running for Saint of the Year. “No, I guess not.”
“On this day, exactly one year ago, I was minding my own business in the Two Harts Public Library—”
“You were sleeping.”
“That is debatable. Anyway, this bossy librarian came over and started heckling me.”
“Heckling?” She laughed.
“I’m telling a story here. Sssh.”
“It was an important day. Did I know that librarian would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me? Not at the time. Mostly I just liked when she whisper-yelled at me. It was sexy.”
She smacked my shoulder. “You’re so weird.”
I picked up her left hand. Her ring finger was bare. Shortly after we’d gotten back together, she’d given me the ring back and told me to hold onto it until the day I wanted to propose for real.
Today seemed like a good day to do that.
I pulled the box out from where I’d hidden it next to my leg. Mae straightened, her eyes lighting up.
“The first time we were engaged, it was all twinkling lights and fancy gazebos and photos. All that stuff is nice but it’s not real.” I popped open the jewelry box. “Real is you and me sitting on this porch together exactly where I hope we’re sitting fifty years from now.”
Those blue eyes of hers were growing shiny with unshed tears.
“Chris,” she whispered.
“I’ve already spoken to your mother, of course. And I cleared it with Ali and Iris, too, to be on the safe side. I think I may have promised both they could be maid of honor. I’ll let you figure all that out.”
I cleared my throat. “Maebell Sampson, would you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”
“No contract this time?”
I shook my head.
“All real, all the time.”
She plucked the same opal ring I’d picked out almost a year ago, the one I’d made Piper search high and low for, and slid it on her finger. “I would love to marry you.”
“You know, you do suit me,” I whispered against her mouth.
“I love you, too.”