This story is by Sandra Whitten and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He knelt before her and she blushed. No, Connor was not the most charming, nor the most gifted man when it came to romance, but he tried. Instead, Connor’s strengths lay in business. He made lots of money – and managed it well. By forty, rather than marry, he’d spent the bulk of his time amassing an empire. Now he had set his sights on Mila – pretty, thirty and much like his own mother. It wasn’t his boyish good looks nor his material success that drew Mila, it was the way he treated Henry. Henry was her six-year-old son from a previous relationship. He was the reason she worried on a daily basis about Hell. She had fallen from grace and he was a constant reminder. Now she wondered if Connor was a second chance – a kind of Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card from God. After all, he was quite the catch – good looking, eligible and Catholic. Furthermore, Connor wanted a family; and, Henry wanted a dad. Still, Mila couldn’t help but compare him to Peter.
She felt excited and wanted desperately to cry, to show Connor the emotion she was supposed to feel when a man proposes on one knee. But somewhere deep inside, something was missing. Logic screamed: Connor is perfect – the perfect husband, the perfect father. Even her family adored him. Henry idolized him. In fact, the two were inseparable.
Now, the shouts of people, mostly men, brought her back to the moment. They weren’t alone in the bar, the bar Connor owned – O’Malley’s Pub. She blushed again as he threw his head back in laughter, a gesture to acknowledge the crowd. She remained seated, but slowly turned to face him. He held her left hand and pressed it between his own. The crowd grew louder, whistling and cheering. Connor put his head down for a second which did little to calm the commotion. He paused, then released her hand and waved toward the room.
“Aye, bear with me! I got to do this while I got the courage; before the lady runs for the door!”
Everyone laughed, then sipped at their drinks. The room got quiet. Mila panicked. She knew he was about to ask. God, why couldn’t he be Peter? She felt ashamed. She didn’t deserve Connor. Now, before everyone, dare she say, “No”? Dare she hurt a man who gave so much of himself, especially to a tainted woman and her illegitimate child?
Then he asked, “Will you be my wife?” He opened the box. It was beautiful.
Mila stared at the ring – speechless. The room grew quiet. Everyone waited; Connor waited.
Cheers filled the room. The music resumed as he slipped the ring on her finger.
“Next round – on the house!” Connor announced.
The Monday following Connor’s proposal, Mila walked into work. No sooner had she stationed herself at her desk, than a text came across her phone. Henry hadn’t felt well the night before. She picked it up, worried it might be the school. It wasn’t. She read the text and took a deep breath. She stood up and walked discreetly to the elevator where she hit the arrow pointing up to the next level. It was Mr. Harrison’s boardroom, Mr. J. Peter Harrison – her boss and Henry‘s father.
She was still seeing Peter. It wasn’t fair to Connor, she knew. Still, she needed this job and Peter made her feel the way no other man did. Before she could step off the elevator, she felt an arm wrap around her and pull her in. It was Peter. He kissed her and she wanted to push away; but it was familiar and warm, and she kissed back. He reached over and turned the key to lock the elevator. He began pushing her toward the table at the center of the room. Suddenly, Mila pulled back.
Peter stopped. It was the first time she had ever refused him. That’s when he noticed. She’d stepped back to rearrange her blouse and it caught his eye. The light hit it, a ring on her left finger, a simple band with one large stone. Peter stood there – stunned.
She looked away.
“Mila?” his voice louder, commanding. “Mila, tell me it’s not what I think it is. I told you it’s only a matter of time…”
“Time? A matter of time? Get real, Peter! Six years. How much more time do you need to take her to dinner and…and on lavish vacations and business trips? Meanwhile I sit at home – alone. No! I’m sorry, I take that back. Not alone – with your son!” She twirled the ring around her finger.
He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him.
“I won’t let you go. No one loves you like I do, Mila. No one. Give me some time – two months. By then I’ll have things in order.”
He whispered into her hair, “Two more months.” Next, he took her hand and looked at the ring.
“Take it off.”
She jerked her hand away and stepped back.
“Take it off!” he demanded.
“I’ll give you two months.” She turned the key and the elevator doors opened.
Every day for those two months, Peter wooed her. Fresh flowers, jewelry, bottles of wine – “promises”. Her interest in the wedding waned. Connor assumed she was being polite – allowing his family to handle the arrangements, especially since the wedding was overseas.
Now, two months later, Henry was at her mother’s while she sat alone at the apartment. Connor had pleaded with her to stay a few days with him. Instead, she lied, telling him she had to finish a project before they flew to Dublin. Only then had Connor relented. The guilt sickened her. Meanwhile, she waited.
Staring out her bedroom window, Mila watched for Peter’s car. It was now or never. She played with the diamond band on her left hand. She’d removed Connor’s and replaced it with Peter’s. “He loves me,” she told herself, admiring the way it sparkled on her finger. Lost in thought, she jumped when her cell phone buzzed. She quickly looked down. It wasn’t Peter, not yet. Instead, it was an alarm to ensure she didn’t fall asleep. He’d promised to arrive no later than 11:00 p.m. or else he’d call.
She’d made it clear. Midnight. He had until midnight. She moved away from the window and checked the clock on her bedside table. She decided to wait downstairs. With cell phone in hand, she made her way to the kitchen for a cup of tea. The tick of another clock on the wall made her even more anxious – anxious and wondering why it was taking him so long.
Her mind drifted. It would be a winter wedding in Connor’s hometown –Dublin. His father requested as much since his family still lived there. She willingly obliged. After all, it didn’t matter, really. Peter would come. Her bags were packed and ready. She’d carry her scarf and coat; wear her boots. Poor Connor would be waiting.
Suddenly, the cuckoo sounded. It startled Mila. She’d stopped watching the time, hoping somehow it might keep the hour at bay. The grandfather clock chimed from upstairs. She swallowed. She looked down at her cell phone. It read 12:00 a.m. in bold numbers. No messages. No missed calls.
Mila stood up, leaving her tea on the table. She hesitated; then, took a deep breath. She walked to the front door, picked up her suitcase and reached for her coat. With purse in hand, she looked down at her cell phone one last time. Nothing.
She considered giving him 5 more minutes, a last chance. Instead, she turned off the lights as she opened the door. She stepped outside. It was dark and cold, a light frost covered the ground. She was grateful that Connor had put the chains on her tires. She turned to lock the door, but not before straightening the #3 affixed to it.
Within minutes she was on her way. She reached for the radio and turned it on, hoping it would drown the quiet and lighten her mood. Tears blurred her vision as she pulled onto the interstate. She knew Connor would be waiting. Mila removed Peter’s diamond band from her left finger and slipped it into her coat pocket. Connor’s ring, a simple band with one large stone, soon replaced it.
Meanwhile, James Taylor’s voice filled the car.
“I’m gonna wait ‘till the midnight hour” he sang out. “…that’s when my love comes tumblin’ down.”
Mila heard someone laughing, laughing out loud. And then she realized, through the tears, she was laughing. In front of her was a sign, “Airport, 2 miles.”
It was exactly 12:30 in the morning when Mila saw Connor. He was waiting for her at Gate 16 – destination: Dublin.
Back at the apartment, apartment #3, a clock chimed and a cuckoo cried out. The phone in the kitchen continued to ring.
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