Billy sat on the edge of the bed, his eyes fixated on the ring in the box. It wasn’t perfect, nothing like the ring he wanted for her, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. He’d find the perfect ring later, right now he would settle for the perfect moment with the perfect woman.
The ring might not be perfect, but his words should be. What could he say that hadn’t been said already? He wanted this to be something she’d remember—something special, something that let her know that this was about her—and only her. His mind raced through thoughts, moments, memories. He thought of things he’d said to her, of the times he’d felt they connected. The words needed to mean something because this did. She did.
Phyllis leaned up in the tub, the steam that built in the room beginning to become uncomfortable. She craned her neck, trying to see his reflection in the mirror, to hear his movement, to see a shadow, but instead she saw nothing—just the light from the interior room as it filtered into the bathroom. Sighing softly, she carefully stood up, grabbing a towel as she climbed from the tub. She wrapped the towel around her and crept towards the vanity where she’d laid out her things.
Smiling to herself, she dried off before slipping into the nightgown. She took a look in the mirror before adding the robe. Lingerie certainly hadn’t been something she’d packed for this trip. Frankly, she hadn’t expected to need anything of the sort, but she’d managed to sneak away for a few moments earlier in the day to peruse one of the ship’s boutiques. From the moment she saw the white, silk nightgown, she knew Billy would approve.
It wasn’t sexy in an obvious way, but the sheer black lace embellishments on the side and slit across the thigh were definitely details he’d appreciate. She’d quickly made the purchase along with the matching robe in hopes of having an opportunity just like this—a chance to surprise him and show him a life with her would never be boring.
In total stealth mode, she crept into the living area where she spotted him sitting on the edge of the bed. “What are you doing?” she said, her voice shattering the silence in the room.
Her own body jumped as he bolted upright, one hand immediately shoving something into the pocket of his robe.
“I uh,” he stammered. He took a few steps toward her before stopping and smiling as he took a long look. “I thought I told you to stay in the tub.”
“Well you did,” she cooed, stepping closer to him and smiling as she felt his arms wrap around her, “but you know I don’t follow instructions very well.” She leaned back slightly, her eyes finding his, “Besides I thought I might be able to make up for my disobedience somehow.”
The mischievous glimmer in her eyes made his heart beat faster. There was a reason he was having so much trouble coming up with the words to explain how he felt—there simply weren’t any that could adequately express it. No words could explain to her how much she meant to him. There were no phrases that could encompass the way she made him feel, what a simple look from her did to him, how the simple thought of her could make anything and everything okay.
“Come sit down,” he said softly, taking her hand in his and leading her over to bed.
“This sounds kind of serious.” Phyllis hesitated for a moment before sitting down. She looked at him, her eyes betraying her own insecurity. “Is something wrong?”
He shook his head. It was hard to even know where to begin. His eyes lifted up to meet hers. In the emerald pools where he’d just moments ago seen mischief and playfulness, he now saw confusion and concern. Maybe the words weren’t so important. He reached into his pocket, pulling out the box and holding it out in front of him.
Swallowing hard, he licked his lips nervously before beginning. “I’ve been sitting in here trying to figure out what to say to you.”
There was a tremble in his voice as he spoke and she now recognized the look—it wasn’t the seriousness associated with bad news—he was as insecure and as afraid as she was. Their own individual scars ran so deep that they had forgotten what it meant to hope, to believe, to trust. This was new and different and excruciatingly terrifying for both of them.
“You can say anything to me,” she said softly.
He’d never been afraid to say things to her, but this particular thing—this particular question—it came with definite risks. Somehow in the heat of the moment, in the romance of it all, he’d managed to forget the fact that it was, in fact, a question. That, by the very nature of the process, there was a chance she could say no. Was it too fast? Would he scare her away?
“Billy,” she said softly. “what’s in the box?” Her heart raced as she stared at his hand. She was almost certain she knew, but she couldn’t let herself completely commit to the thought of it because if she did, and she was wrong—if she believed the question was coming and she opened that box to find earrings, she wasn’t sure she would recover.
This wasn’t in her plans. It wasn’t even on her radar. Nothing about their relationship seemed to be leading to this—especially not this soon, but somehow, seeing the box in his hand hadn’t frightened her. Somehow, as she stared at his hands, her mind began to imagine the possibility of a future, of a life, of a family—of all of that with a man that she loved, that she trusted, that she respected, and most of all that she knew loved, respected, and trusted her—the real her..not the her he wanted her to be.
As she turned her attention back to the box, she realized it was open. His eyes were wide now, staring at her. “You like it?”
It wasn’t at all what she’d expect from an engagement ring.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed, smiling up at him.
“I know it’s not a diamond,” he said quickly, “but I didn’t want to buy something here and not know what I was getting. I’ll get you something better as soon as we…”
“Don’t you dare.” She felt the tears as they began to streak down her cheeks. “This is perfect. I love it.”
He smiled. “It’s jade and black coral,” he said quietly. “I thought it was different and unique. It just…it seemed like something you’d like.”
“It is,” she said, leaning in and kissing him quickly. “It’s perfect. I love it.” She paused. “I love you.”
He sighed as she sat down on the bed beside her. “This isn’t the way I envisioned this going,” he said dejectedly. “I wanted to do this right…better…something.” He looked down at the ring, shaking his head. “You deserve better than this.”
He shrugged. “I just…I couldn’t figure out the right words to say to you. I couldn’t figure out how to tell you how much you mean to me and how happy you make me. There are all these grand gestures I could have done. I could have written things in the sky or hired bands or planned some elaborate dinner, but nothing would have been big enough. I wasn’t looking for this. I thought my life was set. I thought I had found what I wanted and I was ready to settle down and then you blew into to my life and everything changed. You turned everything upside down in the absolute best way.”
“You challenge me, Phyllis. You don’t let me get away with anything. You know me better than I know myself and you’re not afraid to call me out on my bullshit. I can be exactly who I am with you and, even though I know I can drive you crazy, I also know you’ll never judge me for my faults or my imperfections because you understand. You know what it’s like to be knocked down by life and how you have to keep getting back up, but you also know what it’s like to need someone in your corner. There’s no one else in the world I’d rather have in my corner than you and I promise you—if you’ll have me, I’ll always be in yours. I know this won’t be easy. There are gonna be people who don’t understand it, people that don’t like it, people that are gonna have plenty to say about it and about us, but I don’t give a damn about any of that. As long as you’re beside me, I can face anything and as long as I’m beside you,” He paused for a moment to smile at her, “well, they better watch their mouths.”
“I guess what I’m trying to say is…” He reached down, pulling the ring from the box and holding it out to her in his trembling hand. “I want a life with you and I hope you want that too. I know we have to wait and that’s fine because I’m in this with you forever. Will you marry me?”
For a moment, her mind couldn’t even register the question. She was too overwhelmed with love for the amazing man in front of her. Then, as she felt the weight of his gaze on hers, she realized he was waiting for an answer. “Of course I will,” she managed, the tears nearly choking her words. “Yes..I’ll marry you.”
It amazed her that she could see the tension leave his body and he still trembled as he slipped the ring on her finger, bringing her hand to his lips for a gentle kiss before looking into her eyes again.
“Did you honestly think I’d say no to you?” she asked softly.
“I hoped not,” he said, his hands clasped loosely around the back of her neck. “I just knew this wasn’t something you were expecting…I mean I wasn’t expecting to ask so I wasn’t sure what you’d think…if you’d think it was too fast or if you’d think we hadn’t thought it through…”
She sighed, sliding closer to him as she felt his hands slip from her neck down to her shoulders, his fingers slowly beginning to knead at the muscles there. “Maybe it’s something about this place…I just don’t want to over think anything. I love you. I want to be with you. I want a future with you. Nothing could be more simple than that.”
She closed her eyes as she leaned her head back, “And, if you keep doing that, you’re going to find yourself with a much more compliant version of me.” She opened her eyes to flash him a smile. “You’ve been holding out on me with those magic hands. You could have been talking me into all kinds of things in exchange for massages like these.”
Billy’s eyebrows shot up as he stood and moved behind her. “Really?” He laughed as he felt her shoulders shake a bit with the giggles that he loved. “So there’s more—that’s what you’re telling me?”
“You have no idea,” she smirked, an evil smile slowly playing on her lips. “But you know…” She leaned back, her back against his chest, her head turned so she could see the look on his face. “Since we’re engaged now, maybe we should talk about something.”
“Okay…sure…What do you want to talk about?”
Phyllis sat up, taking a breath and doing her best to keep a straight face. “Well, you know since this is kind of a fresh start for both of us, I just think maybe we should try and do things a little differently than we’ve done them in the past. I’m sure we both can see things that we’ve done wrong, little mistakes we’ve made…that kind of thing.”
Billy nodded. There were certainly choices he’d made in relationships that he didn’t plan to make again—mistakes that weren’t going to be repeated. He had no plans of losing Phyllis, certainly not as a result of his own stupidity.
“Right,” he said, a bit confused as to where she was going.
“I just thought maybe since we’re planning on getting married and this is something we want to look at as a forever commitment, we might want to think about not sleeping together until the wedding…”
She fought the urge to laugh as she felt his intake of breath.
He studied her face, looking for any trace of a smile, a glimmer of suspicion in her eye—anything. She seemed completely serious, but surely….She couldn’t seriously think….
“I um…well…yeah..that’s um…that would uh definitely be different. Have you uh…done anything like that before?”
“I can’t,” she managed, collapsing onto her side as her body shook with fits of laughter. “I thought I could do it…I really did, but I just can’t. I wish you could see your face right now.”
Billy shook his head, a knowing smile on his face. “Okay…okay…you got me. Enjoy it. You had your fun. I’ll have you know that was a traumatic moment for me. I thought I was engaged to some kind of sadistic sociopath, coming in here dressed like this to tell me she wants to be celibate until the wedding night. I thought you had some kind of deep rooted desire to make me crazy or worse.”
He pulled her back up, her body now facing his. “That wasn’t very nice,” he whispered.
“I bet I can think of a few ways to make it up to you.”
They were nothing like the conventional couples, those that had the luxury of dating, sharing a first kiss, cuddling on a crisp night and easing into an intimate moment. Their moments together had always been shrouded in secrecy. They had always been rushed, both of them too fearful of being discovered to be able to enjoy simple things about being together. The luxury of time, of privacy, of normalcy was something that seemed foreign and almost incomprehensible to them. Yet here, they were just like everyone else. There were no stares, no judgmental whispers, no one to scold them. They were free to live their lives on their terms.
She hadn’t realized how accustomed she’d become to their frenzied pace until he’d covered her hands with his and looked into her eyes. “There’s nobody here but us,” he whispered, as he pulled her close to him.
Immediately, she relaxed as she felt his arms wrap around her, the warmth of his body soothing her and she couldn’t remember any other moment she’d felt so totally and completely content. He held her for a moment, simply enjoying the feel of her in his arms. It was the simple things—things like this—that you never realized you missed, until you had the luxury of the experience.
His hands gently stroked her back, then her shoulders before they finally moved to her neck stopping there to cradle her face as he stared into her eyes. He was quiet for a moment, simply looking at her and, just as she was about to open her mouth to inquire, he covered her lips with his.
There was something different in his kiss, in the way he kissed her. It wasn’t as it had been before, the frantic pashing that had left her with swollen lips and breathless. This was gentle, but still as passionate—as if now things were different—they were different—so this would be different too. She felt his lips move from hers, down her cheek, his face now planting soft, quick kisses down her neck. One hand fumbled with the clip in her hair, the fingertips quickly rustling through the now free tresses as the clip hit the floor.
She wrapped her arms tighter around him, using her face to nudge his robe off his shoulder, the tan skin a perfect spot for tender kisses of her own. Neither wanted to rush things tonight. There was plenty of time. After a moment, she felt him pull back, his hands now reaching for the tie of her robe. His fingers made quick work of the loose knot and she felt the cool, silk slide down her legs and pool at her feet.
“You certainly came prepared,” he whispered, the warmth of breath on her ear making her squirm and she yelped as he nipped her earlobe.
“Actually, I bought that especially for you…from the boutique just the other day. I thought you might like it.” She leaned back a bit, smiling slyly at him. “Was I wrong?”
“You were definitely not wrong.” He ran his hands down the sides of the gown, pausing to take a long look before moving his gaze back to her eyes. “You’re beautiful. You know that, don’t you?”
“You always make me feel that way..always,” she whispered.
He smiled, his arms wrapping around her again as he pulled her to him and kissed her softly. She felt his body gently nudging her backwards and her feet easily moved back towards the bed. She didn’t look or feel the need to—She simply knew she was safe in his arms. His strong embrace held her still as he gently lowered her to the bed, her hair fanning out onto the pillow.
Softly, his lips brushed hers again. He loomed over her as she pulled at his robe, smiling as she threw it to the floor. Her hands moved across his back, loving the feel of his warm, bare skin beneath her fingertips. His hands were on her now, exploring her body in quick succession, her face, her shoulders, her back, her thighs. Things were fast approaching the inevitable conclusion and as good as that was, this—the feel of his skin on hers, the way his fingers ran through her hair, the softness in his touch—this was wonderful too.
This was different she realized, as he loomed over her, his lips falling onto hers once more but he still made her breathless.