Summer was on it's way out in Sunset Valley and although the temperature hadn't changed yet it wouldn't be long before the cold returned. As if in an effort to refute the changing seasons the small park was a riot of colours and as Patina and I walked along the path we would stop every once and a while to take it in.
Things were still a little tense between us and we walked side by side but not touching. She had agreed to come to my parents birthday celebration months ago and as we continued our slow stroll I wondered if she regretted it now. Every once and a while I would steal both a glance at her and at the family gathered behind us. When we were out of earshot I turned to her reaching out, not quite touching her, to get her to stop.
"Hey can we stop here a second."
"Sure, what's up?"
"Well there's something I've been meaning to give you all day." I reached into my pocket my hands shaking slightly. "It's, well I mean," I fumbled in my pocket trying to get it out. "What I'm trying to say is," sugar it was stuck! I turned my attention to my task and in my nervousness pulled it out so quickly I dropped it. Trying to hide it with my body so she couldn't see what I was presenting her with I knelt down to retrieve it. Scooping it up I shoot back up.
And right into Patina's nose. I stepped back seeing stars from the force of the blow. Patina was there hands clutching her face tears streaming down her cheeks. Before I could recover myself enough to check on her Peach and Pear were at her side. Shooting daggers at me with their eyes they lead Patina away.
Great, how did I end up the bad guy in all of this.
"Everything ok Bondi?"
Gah! Mum may be showing her age now but she could still move like a cat. "Yeah it's fine mum. I just managed to bash Patina in the nose with this hard head of mine. That's all."
"Hmmmm," she said looking knowingly between me and the huddle of girls where Patina was. "Is there anything more than that? You two seem to be a bit, I don't know, distant."
Why did she have to be so observant? "Maybe a bit but I'm hoping to change all that."
"Oh?" She asked eyebrow raised questioningly.
I smiled back at her unwilling to give anything away yet knowing it must be clearly written on my face. "Yep." And with a wink and a tap on the arm I walked off to see how Patina was doing.
"Ladies," I said addressing them all. "Do you mind terribly if I have a moment alone with Patina?"
Peach jumped up right away. "Of course." She had a broad smile on her face as she started away. Realising she was alone she turned back to Pear. "Come on Pear. There was talk of heading down to the beach tonight for a bonfire let's go see what the plan is."
Reluctantly Pear got to her feet. As she past by me she muttered under her breath just loud enough for me to hear. "If you hurt her Bondi you are going to be in a world of pain." Trying not to think about where that came from I moved closer to Patina.
"So," I said stretching the O out in an attempt to sound casual. She still had a tear in her eye but it looked like there was no lasting damage to that pretty little nose of hers. "That didn't go very well did it?" She snorted a laugh and then winced touching her nose. I sighed, the moment was gone but I needed to ask before it was too late. "I got something for us." I said tossing an envelope in her lap.
"What is it?" She ask suspiciously.
"Open it." I nudged it towards her smiling. She picked it up cautiously as if afraid of what it held. As she opened it her eyes lit up.
"France! We're going to France?!?" She squealed and seemed genuinely excited.
"So you will go with me?" I was nervous now. I had to make sure she got on that plane.
"Absolutely!" Her eye shone and my heart fluttered.
Ah France. It's a wonderful and romantic place to spend time with the woman you love. You can fill it with candle lit dinners and long strolls along the riverside. Unless of course you are useless idiot like me who sprains his ankle within minutes of arrival.
So instead of long romantic walks on the beach we had short hobbles between some of the more easily accessible sights and lots of sitting on benches looking at the scenery.
It wasn't all bad, I mean we were in France, but I had plans for this trip, big plans, and they were rather hard to pull of when I could barely stand. As the days went on I became more and more nervous and it started to show.
"Everything ok?" She spoke softly so as not to disturb the other visitors to the museum but even that couldn't disguise the concern in her voice.
"Yeah fine." Gah why can't I even make those two little words sound convincing.
"You sure? You seem distracted or something."
How was I supposed to cover this one up? She knew me too well. Normally it comforted me, made me feel safe that she knew me better than I knew myself. Right now, however, I wished I wasn't so transparent. To try and keep this secret I was going to have to lie to her and the very thought of it was tearing me up inside.
The light glinting off the fountain in the courtyard caught my attention and provided me the answer I needed. "Well I am getting a little tired of being stuck in museums. There are so many amazing sights out there and I would hate to think we missed them because of my stupid ankle. I feel bad…" I trailed off not knowing how to finish my sentence and shifted my gaze back out the window so I didn't have to look her in her eye. It wasn't a lie, not exactly, but it wasn't the truth either.
"Oh no, you shouldn't feel bad." I could hear the sympathy in her voice and that made it even worse. "I'm so sorry for keeping you cooped up. I just didn't want to hurt your ankle anymore than it already is, but if you want to get out and do something we should absolutely do that. Gosh something outside, there are so many amazing places around here I don't even know where to start!"
"Well there's that old stone circle." I tried my best to infuse a level of nonchalance into my voice, never having been nonchalant in my life I had no idea if I was even close. "It's pretty close to road so I wouldn't have to walk that far and I've heard it's a magical place."
She clasp her hands together and her eyes lit up. "I've read about that in the guide books! They say if you kiss at sunset surrounded by the stones your love will last forever."
My eyes went wide at her mention of that particular part of the myth surrounding the standing stones. "Uh yeah I might have heard that somewhere." Quickly I tried to move on, "I just figured it would be a good place to start our adventures." Reaching my hand out to her I grabbed her hand and lead her out the door. The sun was already starting it's downward decent and I was in a hurry to get there.
When we got to the stones there was plenty of time and Patina swooped around them admiring them from all angles coming up with fantastical theories about why they were built.
I walked slowly around them trying to keep up with her but all the while watching the sun out of the corner of my eye. As it began to dip below the horizon I made my way to her side and with a deep breath sank, slowly, to one knee. Her reaction was instantaneous.
"Oh Bondi you're poor ankle must be killing you. I'm so selfish wandering around for so long!"
My brow furrowed in confusion. My ankle? I'm down on one knee and she's asking me about my ankle? "No, no my ankle is fine I just...." She cut me off before I could go any further.
"Please don't suffer on my account. I have had such a lovely time here, let's get back to the guest house and get that foot up."
"Bondi, love, I know you're feeling guilty but there's no need. It's getting late anyway and it's been a long and lovely day and I am more than ready to just sit down and relax."
And before I could get another word in she was helping me up and guiding me to the guest house.
The next morning I woke in a nervous sweat. It was our last day in France and I had no idea how I was going to pull off this proposal. There was no way I was leaving here with this ring still burning a hole in my pocket but where to do it and how? I hadn't bothered to read up on the other sights in the area being so focused on the stones to being the perfect spot. Luckily Patina had.
With the help of a hired boat we made our way to a small island ruin. There wasn't much to see if I was being honest but Patina was fascinated and sure that there must be much more to it than was evident on the surface. As she poked about spouting off theory after theory an idea came to me.
Maybe I'd been trying to hard to make it the perfect romantic moment before. I mean here I was alone in France with the woman I loved. What was stopping me? Since planning didn't exactly work out I'd try for spontaneity.
"Patina," I said as I got down, once again, on one knee.
Her eye sparkling with excitement she turned to me. My pulse began to race and I tried to remember how to swallow. She rushed to my side and my hands shook as they reached behind my back. This was it.
"You've found something!" She gushed dropping to the ground next to me.
"I have?" I looked down in confusion thrown off track by her unexpected comment.
Under my foot there was the oddest thing. At first glance it looked no different than any other patch of rubble around here but when I looked closer I noticed what appeared to be a bit of pottery sticking out next to my foot. Oh of all the luck. I moved slightly to the side so she could have a better look. "I guess I have," I said my tone a mix of surprise and disappointment.
I watched with bemusement as she scurried around the little excavation taking measurements and pictures and playing the part of an archaeologist. So much for spontaneity. Sighing softly to myself so she wouldn't hear I shook my head. I was trying too hard. I could feel that now and like other times when I tried to hard it wasn't working. I was so obsessed with the perfect proposal that I was missing amazing moments like these. Letting go of that idea of perfection I got down on my hands and knees next to Patina and started digging along with her.
We spent the day there among the ruins and the history. Patina had contacted the museum and before long the place had been swarming with people picking over our little find. It was a heady experience and we were both still riding the emotional high as we walked along the river and back to the guest house.
I felt her squeeze my hand and I turned to her smiling. Free from my obsession of the perfect proposal I could see this moment for what it was. A true moment of love against the backdrop of one of the more romantic cities in the world. Feeling that love well up inside me I started to speak.
"Patina I know I've hurt you lately." She opened her mouth but I cut her off before she could say anything. "Let me finish. I see now that my spending time with Lin hurt you and I'm sorry for that. Lin and I have a history, you're right, but until you asked I had never thought about what my feelings are for her now. You were right about that too. I do still have feelings for her."
This wasn't coming out right. I couldn't quite find the words to make her see what I was saying, but I was committed now and I didn't want to leave her like this while I figured out the perfect thing to say. "It's not what you think. Yes, I have feelings for her but they have changed from what they were. You see there is only room in my heart for one true love."
"That true love is you Patina. You fill my life with more love and happiness than I ever even knew existed. Without you I would be nothing, just an empty shell of a man. I will never, could never, love another the way I love you." Caught up in the moment and without concious thought I sank to my knee for the third time.
"My heart, my soul, my life belong to you now and forever. I cannot be without you at my side. So I'm asking, no begging, that you make me whole by agreeing to be my wife."
The moment stretched impossibly long. I was aware of everything around me yet focused totally on this amazing woman who had given my life meaning. A soft breeze rippled along the river side bring the sent of flowers and her answer with it.
"Yes," her voice was soft and I was so focused that although I heard the words they didn't immediately register. The tear that slide down her cheek caught my attention and that single word came whipping back to me. It lifted me on the lightest of wings and my heart soared through the sky. Slipping the ring on her finger I scooped her into my arms holding her tight and wishing I never had to let go.
There could have been no man in history who was as happy as me in that moment. This time as my heart rose to soar once again in the night sky I knew hers flew beside mine, now and forever.