The proposal hadn’t gone as smoothly as Eric would have liked. In fact, it hadn’t really gone at all. Bethany bolted for the bathroom as soon as he took the ring box out of his pocket. He’d sat at the table for ten minutes, numb, like a dazed dog clipped by a speeding car, until one of the waitresses took pity on him, whispering that his ‘dinner partner’ appeared to have crawled out the bathroom window and would he like dessert now?
Eric paid the check and left.
The Inner Harbor sparkled under the full, summer moon like a mirage in the desert. Ring box still clutched in his hand, Eric walked along the waterfront for a good half hour before remembering that he had shut his cell phone off during dinner and hadn’t yet turned it back on.
The message light winked at him. He held the phone up to his ear. Bethany sobbed. Not the reaction he had been hoping for. He sat down on a bench facing the bay, the wood still damp from yesterday’s thunderstorm, and listened as Bethany broke up with his voicemail.
He stood. He sat back down. He stood again, this time throwing himself across the trimmed grass to the railing which separated the sidewalk from the Chesapeake.
How had he gotten it so wrong?
Eric fumbled the ring box open and glared at the diamond nestled against the velvet, his tear-filled eyes leaking saltwater down his cheeks. How could he have thought…?
Yanking the ring free from its cushy prison, the box dropped to his feet as Eric swung his arm back, preparing to give his ring to the murky, crab-filled water of the bay.
“Whoa there!” Two hands clamped around his forearm, dragging it, and the rest of him, down. “At least get your money back!”
His whole upper body followed the trajectory of his arm, and as he bent in two he came face to face with the reason why. The woman couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, and given that he was just over six feet, she had jumped into the air to reach his arm, latching onto him like a cat hanging onto a thread.
The woman smiled at him, flashing a full set of blinding white teeth, her lip ring catching the light of the street lamps. “Trust me; you’ll thank me later.”
Eric stared at her. Her smile never dimmed.
“Could you let go of me now?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” The woman released him, running one hand through her blue striped hair. “But seriously. That ring looks really nice; must have cost you a bundle. It’d be a shame if you couldn’t get it back.”
“The money.” The woman shook her head, shrugging. “When my fiancé cheated on me with this sleazy radio DJ, I wanted to chuck my engagement ring too. But I remembered where we’d bought it, returned it, and used the money to get a new tattoo.” She rolled up her sleeve, pointing to a large stain on her skin. “This one; cool, right?”
Eric nodded politely.
The woman grinned, shaking hair away from her face. “I’m Ashley.”
“Eric.” He slid back from the railing and shoved the ring into his pocket.
“Sorry if you feel like I butted into your business there.”
“No. I mean, you did, but,” Eric shrugged, uncomfortable in his dry-clean only suit, “it’s okay.”
Ashley nodded, fiddling with the zipper on her worn black hoodie. Her smile faded. She turned to walk away, but Eric took a step towards her. “Thank you.”
She spun back, grin taking over her small, sharp face. “Hey man, no problem! Look, could I buy you a drink? Not in a creepy, rebound way, but just – I mean – I really needed a drink after the whole – the DJ thing – and I thought you might too – but – you know – it’s cool, either way.”
“That would be nice.” Eric was surprised to find that deep down, he did indeed think it would be nice.
“Sweet, awesome!” Ashley jumped in place, swiveling on her heel and waving for him to follow. “I was on my way to this cool new bar that opened up last week, apparently the band is really good, but I hate going to new bars by myself; it feels like bad luck or something, you know?”
Eric could never be sure afterwards if his ignoring of Bethany’s calls all the rest of that evening had been intentional or not. It was not the night he’d had planned, but plans can be overrated sometimes.
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