That summer Gene, eyes longing, looked at Billie Jo like she was a county fair roller coaster. She got dizzy thinking about that look. Sitting in a lawn chair, sipping iced tea, and reading starlet magazines, Billie Jo thrilled to stories about Hollywood. She and Gene would play opposite each other as romantic leads. She was sure they’d have fantastic careers in show business.
Come the fall chill, Gene never looked
at her that way. It was always some other way and she didn’t always
like to admit it, but she should have known things would turn out
For Kat’s birthday, Grant made a board game. He scoured thrift shops, looking for tokens. The game squares read: darkest secret, childhood fear, favorite sexual position. They played together. Sometimes with close friends. She liked the heart token. He liked the stallion. The Identity Forest, a square decorated with tall oaks surrounded by question marks, asked: “Do you know yourself?” The answer was in the True Confessions stack. One card said, “I’ll marry Grant.” If a friend read it, they had a laugh. But he proposed each time she landed on that square, in case Kat drew the desired answer.
was determined. He thought, “Third time’s a charm.” But it
wasn’t. They vacationed in Paris. He proposed at the Eiffel Tower,
in the small park where they took selfies sitting in front of tulips.
He knelt. She said, “That’s so retro.”
next day at Versailles, he brought the box out and showed it to an
elderly American couple for approval. They endorsed his proposal. Kat
smiled and said, “It hasn’t been long enough. He asked me just
yesterday.” On the RER to CDG, she said no again, but agreed
to give up her lease when they got home.
After they’d been together for exactly a year, Grant made dinner on a Saturday while Kat was working. When she got home, he drew a warm bath for her and lathered her up and wrapped her in an oversized towel. He said he wanted to work up an appetite. The white box was sitting next to Kat’s spoon. She used her fork to secure her steak, cutting small pieces from it. She sipped red wine while he drank still water. No comment on the ring. She cleared the table, washed the dishes. Grant slipped behind her. She said, “No wedding.”
She sublet her apartment and set her toothbrush next to his. That lasted for a week. She bought a blue ceramic bathroom set. “To match your eyes,” she told him. There were other changes. She left her clothes strewn on the floor after showering. She made fresh brownies and left them on the kitchen table. Her smell clung to his clothes all the time instead of just occasionally. He breathed it in when he was patrolling the streets, responding to domestic disputes and bringing homeless people into shelters. The smell of her made some things easier. So did the chocolate.
When Grant first proposed, Kat was sweaty, her dark hair disheveled in ringlets around her shoulders after dancing to salsas and bent back tangos. Laughing, they stumbled to her place. She fetched sparkling water. He pulled out the velvet ring box from his pocket and set it in the middle of Kat’s bamboo coffee table.
She placed glasses on either side of the box as if it weren’t there. As if it had always been there. She stroked his broad shoulders and said, “You don’t know me well enough.” He said, “That’s my problem to solve. And what better way.”