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Saturday, August 27, 2011
Locketful of Love by Carol Ayer
"Thinking about your grandmother?” my best friend, Courtney, asked. She had a knack for reading my mind; a knack that hadn't disappeared despite our lack of contact for the last couple of months. We'd finally made a lunch date so we could catch up, and we'd packed in a lot in just the first fifteen minutes. I knew that Courtney was in training for a half-marathon and had been promoted at work. She knew I'd redecorated my apartment and taken my nephew to a theme park that past weekend. We hadn't gotten around to relationships, although I knew that was coming. But Courtney had thrown me with her last question. Just as she had guessed, I'd been thinking about Gran. It had to do with where we were eating lunch at that very moment.
I nabbed a couple of French fries from my friend's plate. “Yeah, you're right, I was thinking about her. I don't think I ever told you that we used to come here once a week, every Tuesday afternoon. At 12:30 exactly. She'd always have the grilled cheese, and I'd always have the tuna melt. Then we'd share a piece of chocolate cream pie.” I pointed to the dishes in front of me. I hadn't changed the routine, even though Gran was no longer with me. I'd ordered all three, and would take the leftovers home for dinner.
“I was wondering why you'd ordered so much. I'm just glad I didn't offer to pick up the tab." Courtney smiled to show she was just teasing. "I know how you miss her, Vicky. I liked her very much. She was an amazing woman. You take after her, you know.” She turned her attention to the miniature jukebox on our table. She inserted a quarter and chose a song.
“I know how fond you were of her," I said, my eyes tearing up. "She was a fan of yours, as well. She always said I had excellent taste in friends. And she was right.”
Courtney took a long sip of her chocolate milkshake. “Okay. Enough of this mutual admiration society. Now for the down and dirty. How are things with Jason?”
“Great! Mostly great. Well...kind of great.”
Courtney laughed. "Okay, spill it. What's up?”
“We've been dating now for a year. A year and two weeks, actually. A year, two weeks, and five days, to be precise. Not that I'm counting."
Grinning, Courtney said, "And...?"
"We get along well and have the same interests, and I think we want the same things. But he hasn't proposed yet. I'm beginning to think he's not going to.”
Courtney nodded at me sympathetically. “It'll happen. Don't worry. That guy is crazy about you. At least that was my take when we had dinner that time. He pulled out your chair, always made sure you had a full glass of water, and couldn't take his eyes off you. I've never seen a guy like a girl so much.”
“Yeah, I know. I'm sure he'll ask. Probably any day now." But secretly, I wasn't so sure. I wished Gran were here. She had been an expert on many things, including the strange inner workings of the male mind. I'd always relied on her wisdom, just as I had relied on her white chocolate cocoa when I was feeling ill and her fashion sense when I needed the perfect outfit.
At home after work, I flipped through a photo album I'd made of Gran and me. This was my most treasured album, the one I'd save if my apartment caught fire.
"Gran," I whispered to one of the pictures. "I'm lost. I don't know if Jason is ever going to propose. I love him so much, but I don't know if I should stay with him. I want my own family. I want to be a grandmother some day, just like you. Tell me what I should do. Please."
I wasn't surprised when the picture didn't reply, but I went to bed with a heavy heart. I was starting to think I would have to break up with Jason if I wanted my dreams to come true.
Jason invited me to the diner the next Friday evening. He knew how much I loved it because of the ties to Gran. He was sweet that way, always remembering what was special to me. How would I ever break up with him?
“A tuna melt, a grilled cheese, and chocolate cream pie for the lady, and I'll have the cheeseburger and fries,” Jason told the waitress.
Once the waitress returned to the kitchen, Jason looked at me intently. I knew his face so well; the bright blue eyes, the dark hair that was always a little too long, the slight wrinkles spreading out from his smile. I loved this face. But something seemed different tonight. His smile was a little shaky, and the whites of his eyes had a tinge of red. And he'd stuttered a bit when he gave our order. He seemed, well, nervous.
My heart rate picked up. Could it be he was going to propose? I'd always thought, if it were to happen, it would be on a special occasion. But today wasn't Valentine's Day, or my birthday, or one of our anniversaries.
“I have something for you,” he said.
I gulped. “Okay. That's so nice of you. It's not my birthday or Christmas or anything.”
He handed me a small package wrapped inexpertly in floral patterned paper. The unevenness of the wrapping made me smile. But I had other things to think about. The package seemed the right size. It could be...yes, it could be.
I surreptitiously wiped my sweaty hands on my jeans, and accepted the gift. I tore off the wrapping to reveal a blue velvet box. My heart was beating so fast I worried I might collapse onto the floor. This was it! He was going to propose! I had to keep myself from leaping up from my chair and doing a little dance in front of the entire restaurant.
I took a deep breath and opened the box. My heart sank when I didn't see a ring inside, but rather a silver chain attached to a silver ball.
“Oh!” I cried, trying desperately to keep the disappointment from my voice. “That's lovely. What an interesting necklace. Help me put it on.”
“The ball opens,” Jason said.
I found and sprang the lock on the silver ball, and a chain of tiny pictures popped out. I looked at them closely. They were all pictures of me and Gran, in miniature. There was one of us throwing darts at the county fair, another of us hamming it up at a baseball game, and one of us at my graduation from college. Each represented a happy memory with my grandmother. I felt a wave of emotion swell up inside me.
“I got the pictures from your mom,” Jason explained. “I had them reduced at the photo store.”
Tears sprang into my eyes. “Jason! I love it. How thoughtful. It's...” I stopped, for the first time noticing something nestled in the other half of the ball. It was a heart-shaped diamond, set in a platinum ring. My mouth dropped open.
Meanwhile, Jason had lowered himself to the floor and was now kneeling. “Victoria Anne Johnson, I want to spend the rest of my life making you happy. Will you marry me?”
I looked into Jason's blue eyes, and then down at one of the pictures at Gran's smiling face. This time, I could almost hear her telling me what to do. Not that I needed her help.
About the Author: Carol Ayer's short stories have been published by "Woman's World," "Every Day Fiction," and previously at "The Long and the Short of It." Her e-novella, "Storybook Love," is a sweet romance set at a storybook park. It is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit Carol's website at www.CarolAyer.com.