"Well hello, Oscar, it’s nice to see you again," the young lady behind the bookstore counter blushed. "How have you been?"
"I’ve been okay. I missed you, Sue… I mean, you know, seeing you here." He paused awkwardly and adjusted his glasses, a nervous habit of his. "I guess you didn’t know that I wrote a book."
Her face lit up. "Oh, so that’s what you’ve been doing lately! That’s amazing, Oscar. You never mentioned you were writing one. What is it, a novel?"
His awkwardness slowly melting, he quickly replied, "It’s a self-help book, actually. I talked to Mrs. Ingles yesterday, and she said she ordered a few copies for the bookshop. I’d like to see if they’re on the shelves yet. Do you think you can show me where the self-help section is?"
She sprang to her feet. "I could show you, but that would sort of defeat the purpose, now wouldn’t it?" she asked glibly, leading the way regardless, with a laugh like the gentle rain outside. He chuckled softly in reply.
"Here it is," she said as they reached it. "Let’s see, if my mother stocked the shelves last night, then she would have put the new arrivals here." Her large smile wavered slightly as she traced her finger over the bindings, not finding one with the name of her friend.
Friend? Was that the right word for it? She supposed so. They had known each other since kindergarten, had gone to the same schools, had stood by each other the entire time growing up. Neither was popular at school. She was the bookish girl with dimples and her head in the clouds. He was the school genius who never participated in sports and thought that playing the tuba in the school band was "cool". They both had their lunch money stolen frequently. It was only natural that they gravitated to each other. After graduating high school, they had promised to stay in touch. She took a job at her widowed mother’s bookshop, and he went into accounting, but he often stopped by to visit and discuss what they were reading, talk about life in general, or sometimes just go for a nice drive. Lately, however, they had been seeing less of each other.
"Sue? Did you hear me, Sue?"
Her head fell back down from the clouds and settled on her shoulders where it belonged, and she turned to him with a jolt. "Oh, I’m sorry, I was lost in my thoughts as usual. What did you say?"
"I said I don’t think it’s there. Perhaps she organized it alphabetically by author, like these books here. Do you think so?"
"We can surely see," she said, running her hands over the books as she walked, as though feeling for the book by Braille. "A…B…C…" she chanted, stopping at C.
"Oh, it wouldn’t be under C. I forgot to mention, I used a pseudonym. I couldn’t very well write a book with the last name of Chuzzledew, could I? Not when it is so simple to make one up. Try looking under L," he suggested with a laugh.
"L for what?"
"L’Dew, ma petit mademoiselle. Do you not like my, shall we say, name? Is it too, shall we say, French for your, shall we say, liking?" he said through a thick accent.
"French? S’il vous plait cerise chapeaux, mon cherie. Oui?" She retorted smartly.
His face went blank. "Um, you might have lost me after s’il vous plait, but I think that you asked me to give you your cherry-red hat. Am I correct?"
"I don’t know, is that what I said?" she giggled.
He made a playful lunge at her, but she ducked under his arm. She resumed looking at the shelves. "Ah, here we go. Lackey, Lambert, L’Amour… wait, that doesn’t go in this section… Lafferty, Laurence… oh, is this it?"
She pulled a small hardcover book off the shelf and eagerly stared at the cover. It was a photograph of Oscar pushing her on the park swings at age six. She vaguely remembered her mother taking the picture, but she had not seen it in years. The title on the dust jacket, spelled out in bold white letters, was How to Tell Her "I Love You". Her head shot up, and he met her gaze.
"Go ahead," he gently prodded with a shy smile. "Read it."
Her hands quivering, she opened it to the first chapter. She read:
Chapter One: Get To Know Her
I met Sue at a very, very young age, and my youth took away any inhibitions I would have later had in going over and introducing myself. Actually, I think when we met my words were more along the lines of "Do you wanna play?", but you get the picture. It wasn’t until I really got to know her, though, that I discovered in her the perfect counterpart to myself, although I didn’t know it at the time. If I had not gotten to know her, her likes and dislikes, her habits, her mannerisms, the fact that she has read Dracula four times but gets scared watching Jurassic Park, or that she loves spinach but doesn’t like strawberries; if I had not gotten to REALLY know her, I would never have fallen in love. Get to know her as well as you know yourself, and let her get to know you. This is the key to the beginning of love…
Tears streamed down her face as she again looked up at Oscar. He adjusted his glasses, nervously shifting from foot to foot. "Please keep reading," he asked. "It’s kind of long, so you don’t need to read the whole thing. You can do what we used to do when we were in a hurry to read a book for school."
She flipped forward to the next chapter. Long ago the two of them had devised a method of speed-reading founded on the theory that an entire book could be summarized based on the first paragraph or two of every chapter and the last page of the book. The theory had served them well through school… they had each utilized it at times to write whole book reports, the teacher being none the wiser when she gave them an "A".
Chapter Two: Stand Up For Her
When Sue and I were in second grade, there was a big bully at our school. Being the unassuming children we were, and not interested in the things most of our class was interested in, we often were the targets of his bullying. He was much bigger than I, nearly twice my size. It was normal for him to push me around on a regular basis, and I never defended myself, but I would not let him pick on little Susie. I would get a beating, but if Susie was okay then I was okay, too. Throughout our school years this theme often repeated itself. In retrospect, not only did my actions show how much I cared about her, but they were great practice for being her protector later on in life…
She turned ahead to Chapter Three.
Chapter Three: Be a Friend in Deed
A person usually has many "friends" growing up, playmates who are in your life one minute and gone the next. Neither Sue nor I had many of those, but we always had each other, and knew that it was a friendship we could count on in times of both joy and trouble. I’d like to think that what our friendships lacked in quantity, they made up for in quality. Being a friend has its downfalls. She may be so used to you as a friend, that she forgets you are also a man. However, when she comes to you asking advice on how to meet her hunky highschool crush, try to help her make it happen, and be happy for her when it does. If it works out, and if you care about her, you’ll be happy for her as long as she is happy. If it doesn’t work out, then know that she will always have your shoulder to cry on…
She looked up at him again, eyes wide. "What kind of a friend was I? I never knew…"
He hastened to put his hand on her shoulder. "You were a great friend, Sue. Don’t berate yourself." He gently took the book from her trembling hands, and opened it to the beginning of Chapter Four. He read aloud from it.
"Chapter Four: Be Loyal
One time in the third grade, a rumor with no foundation in fact spread around our school about my mother, something I would rather not repeat. Sue made it her mission to deny the rumor every time it came up, and hunted down the kid who had started it. She had a long talk with that person, and while she refused to tell me what she said, the rumor was never repeated again. Knowing Sue as I do, it would not surprise me if she had threatened to start spreading rumors about the youth’s own mother unless the rumors of mine were squelched. It was with this same kind of loyalty that I have always strove to treat her. Loyalty is a necessity for every meaningful relationship, whether a friendship or something more…"
She noticed his voice was starting to choke up, and she gently laid her hands over his. Holding the book together, she turned to the next chapter and began quietly reading it.
"Chapter Five: Be of One Mind
Sue and I have startled people by being able to read each other’s minds. Sue told me a story once that serves as a perfect example. One sunny Sunday afternoon, seven-year-old Susie told her mother that I was coming over to play. Knowing she hadn’t seen me or spoken to me since Friday, her mother asked her how she knew. She said, "Because I want to play." Ten seconds later, the doorbell rang, and it was me. I not only knew that she would want to play on such a nice day, but I knew when she would want to play, and what’s more, I wanted the same thing! It is important to want the same things and have the same priorities, but it doesn’t always happen like that. Even people who agree 98% percent of the time will have arguments, because there is always that 2%. But if there is some small disagreement, it gives you the opportunity to show your love for her by considering her point of view and trying to please her. If the argument is not so small, then you have trouble, which is why being of one mind is so important in any relationship…"
"That’s important to me, too," she said.
"I know it is," he replied. He flipped a few pages, cleared his throat, and began to read.
"Chapter Six: Give Gifts Worth Giving
Roses. Chocolates. Perfume. Jewelry. Perhaps even seductive articles of clothing. These are the kinds of gifts most young men give to those they love. While most of these things are quite alright on their own, they are generic go-to items for a loved one. She is unique and special; she deserves gifts as unique and special as her. Often the most special things cannot be purchased at a store.
It was in highschool that I realized the attachment I felt for Sue was more than just friendship. But I didn’t know how she’d react, and I didn’t want to tell her. Instead, I tried to show her by sharing with her the things I considered the greatest gifts. As soon as I could drive, I took her for long rides to the scenic pastures of the countryside at four in the morning to watch the sunrise on the horizon, then later in the same day drove out to mountain lakes to watch the sunset cast brilliant hues over the water. In winter, I spent hours making intricate ice sculptures based on her favorite books: Captain Ahab and the whale, a studious Sherlock complete with cap, cloak and pipe, a miniature riverboat upon which sat a young Huck Finn, Buck leading the dog pack in The Call of the Wild, etc. If they were too large, I would have to take her to them, but if they were small enough (which they usually were) I would pack them in a Styrofoam cooler and take them to her. Flowers withered and died and were forgotten. The memories of the gifts I gave her live on still…"
He paused. She took the opportunity to speak. "I looked forward every winter to seeing you walk through the door with one of those coolers. I would be so excited to see what inspired you this time. Do you remember the time you told me you made something from H.G. Wells, you opened the cooler, and it was empty? You said you brought The Invisible Man!"
They both laughed. "I knew you’d remember," he said. He turned to Chapter Seven.
"Chapter Seven: Become a Good Provider
In many households, the wife contributes to the income in part or in whole. If that is what she wants to do, and it makes her happy, then I have no personal objections. However, I firmly believe that before even considering marriage, a husband should be in a position where he could sustain the household no matter the choices his wife makes. You can show your love by becoming a good provider, somebody who can give your future wife all of the things you want her to have. I held off on declaring my love for Sue for a long time, perhaps too long, until I had money for a house put away and a steady job with decent pay to sustain us..."
Oscar did not allow much of a pause before turning the pages and continuing.
"Chapter Eight: Tell Her
I have written about seven of what I consider to be the most important and meaningful ways to SHOW somebody you love her, but have not addressed the main topic: how to TELL her you love her. You should remember when you tell her that the way in which you tell her should not just be the way you are most comfortable with, but also the way that she is most comfortable with. Many people at this point would just walk up to the person and say it. Some don’t need to say it, they can convey the feeling with a kiss or a caress. Still others would write it through beautiful poetry. I am shy by nature. And I am about as poetic as a warthog. But I write reasonably well, and I surely know that Sue likes to read, so I chose to tell her through the pages of this book. Let us hope that I made the right choice…"
He removed his glasses and wiped them on his sleeve. His eyes were misty. "Can you read the next bit?" he asked.
"Of course," she said softly, wiping at her own eyes. He handed her the book.
"Chapter Nine: What Comes Next
Do you know her inside and out? Would you be willing to fight to protect her? Have you been a true friend to her, even when it was hard? Are you loyal to her, always on her side? Can you be of one mind with each other? Have you shown her how special she is to you? Would you make a good husband for her, somebody who wants to provide and take care of her? Have you told her how much she means to you? If your answers are to the affirmative, then take the next step. Get down on one knee, and say to her:
SUSAN INGLES, WILL YOU MARRY ME?"
She looked up from the page. He knelt in front of her, an open jewelry box in his hand, a small diamond ring gleaming under the bookshop lights. He smiled at her with trepidation.
"Do you have a pen?" she suddenly asked, confusing him.
"I, uh, yeah," he stammered, digging one out of his shirt pocket.
"Thank you," she said, taking it from him. She wrote something in the book, closed it, and handed it back to him.
He took the book, giving her a curious glance. She put on her best poker face. He flipped through the book, looking for the right spot. He finally found it on the last page.
YES, OSCAR, I WILL MARRY YOU. I’VE LOVED YOU ALL ALONG, it read.