“Reason number one,” Stacy said.
“You don’t have to do this,” I protested. The bar felt warm and humid, maybe from the body heat of the crowd, or maybe from my anxiety. She sat across from me at the small two-top in the middle of the room. Her journal was propped up in front of her as a barrier between us.
“Reason number one,” she repeated, not looking up from her journal. Her hair was pulled back in a pony-tail, and she was wearing the dark rimmed glasses she bought two years ago. It was her “nerd” look. She knew it drove me absolutely mad. She was a beautiful nerd.
“Seriously,” I said. “This isn’t…”
“Reason. Number. One,” she said again, shooting a fierce glare at me. She looked back down at her journal. The theater of it was absurd. She had everyone on her list memorized. We both knew it, but setting was important to her. She liked the stage of conversation to be precisely arranged.
“At my mom’s house last Thanksgiving,” she said, “you ate the last of the pumpkin pie, even though you knew it was my favorite.”
“That’s a reason? Really.”
“Then, when I asked you if you ate it, you lied about it.”
“It was really good pie,” I said, flashing my most charming smile.
“You lied about it. To my face.”
“It was really good pie,” I said, sheepishly.
“Reason number two,” she said with increased confidence. “When we started dating, you brought me flowers at least once a week.”
“Well that’s hardly a reason I suck,” I said, interrupting. “That should be on the reasons I’m awesome list.”
“You haven’t brought me flowers for over a year now,” she said, undeterred. Looking up from her book, she added, “You used to open the car door for me too. That didn’t make the top eight though.”
I took a sip of my beer. We were only on reason two, and I was already afraid of where this was going.
“Reason number three,” she said. “You got drunk at my brother’s bachelor party and shared intimate details of our life with my ex-boyfriend.”
“He was being an asshole,” I said.
“I don’t care,” she said, looking up again. “You don’t get to talk about what we did in the bedroom. To anyone. Ever.”
“But you weren’t there,” I said. “You didn’t hear the shit coming out of his mouth.”
“It doesn’t matter what he was saying,” she said. “He’s an asshole. That’s why I left him. All I care about is what you were saying.”
I took another sip of my beer and then picked up a coaster from the table. I rubbed it between my fingers. It was wet from my glass. Pieces of paper came off in little shards as I fiddled with it.
She continued. “Reason number four. You never clean the sink after you shave. Even if I’d just clean the bathroom.”
“I’m a guy. I don’t think about that stuff,” I said, deflecting.
“It’s inconsiderate, and gross. I don’t like finding your beard in my tooth brush. Reason number five,” she pressed on. “The drawers of your dresser are nonsense. Socks, underwear, t-shirts — in every drawer.”
“It’s amazing you can get dressed in the morning. You’re such a slob.”
I leaned back in my chair with a smile.
“Reason number six. You snore,” she said.
“No,” I said. “You snore.”
“When I snore it’s cute,” she said. “Your snore sounds like the death rattle of a walrus.”
“That’s mean,” I said, crossing my arms.
“I hate — Hate — your snore.”
I sighed. Only two more to go.
“Reason number seven,” she said.
I knew from the way her voice grew with soft intensity that we were coming to the climax. It occurred to me that this production wasn’t for me. It was for her. She needed to work up to what she really wanted to say. The list, the journal, it was all for her. It was her suit of armor.
“When we went to the market last August, and I got in a fight with the beef jerky guy, you took his side.”
“We’ve talked about this,” I said.
“You picked him over me.”
“It was just over a few bucks.”
“You let him yell at me.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“You’re supposed to have my back. You’re supposed to defend me.” Her eyes were moist with tears. She swallowed and looked back to her book. “Reason number eight,” she said.
“We don’t need to do this,” I said. “I get it. I suck. I was a shitty boyfriend. I’m sorry. I’ll go, and I won’t bother you again.”
“Reason number eight,” she said softly, staring at her journal. “Last Christmas, while we were on a break,” she conceded. “You slept with that girl from your office. And that hurt.” She paused and looked me in the eye.
I leaned forward and looked down at the table.
“It really hurt,” she said again. I could hear a knot forming in her throat.
I bit my bottom lip, and wished there was something I could say.
She inhaled, held the breath in her chest, and then let it slide out slowly through her nose, just like she’d learned in her meditation class. Her eyes were locked on her list.
I had no defense. Yes, I was drunk on a business trip. And yes, it was a one-time thing I immediately regretted. And yes, I’m the one that told her about it. She would have remained in the dark if not for my confession. Maybe. And even though all these things were true, she and I both knew I had no excuse. I’d been stupid. I’d broken something between us, something I wasn’t sure we could ever fix.
Stacy looked up at me. We locked eyes. She gave me the cocked smile she always gives me when we both know I’ve screwed up, then she looked back down at her list. She sighed. “These are the eight reasons you suck,” she said. “And despite them, I still love you. And so, in answer to your question last week, yes. I will marry you.”
I took the ring out of my pocket. She held out her left hand, and I slid it onto her finger. “I love you,” I said softly, admiring the symbol she’d accepted.
“I love you too,” she said. “Damn it. I love you too.”
I laughed, released her hand, jumped up on my chair and yelled over the crowded room, “Hey everybody! We’re getting married!”
And the room erupted with joy.