Nervous eyes stared back at him. One hand on both ends of the sink, clutching the sides tightly. His tie swung crookedly as he ducked his head away from the mirror, trying to collect his thoughts into one coherent sentence. He didn’t fail to notice the bead of sweat running down his forehead,
He grabbed a paper tower and dabbed it away. “C,mon Peter.” He said to himself, backing up one step away from the sink. “Just…think of something..think of something better..”
He bunched up the paper and took a deep breath. “Marilyn..” he stared down the mirror, pretending he was the beautiful woman who sat in the restaurant, waiting patiently for his return. “We’ve known each other for a while now…a long time actually…and I think…I think it’s time…”
He shook his head, turning away from the mirror and holding his head. “That’s…that’s not good..” he picked at the paper towel. “She’s going to know right away..”
Refacing the mirror, he held up his hands. “Marilyn. Ever since grade one, when I saw you pick your nose I ....” His eyebrows furrowed at himself. “…can’t say that. She’ll be mortified!..there’s gotta be something else..”
He snapped his fingers with his right hand and balled the paper in the other. “Ah!” He stopped snapping and straightened his tie. “Ever since grade one, when I saw you save that ladybug, I wanted to be your friend…you were so gentle and kind that it drew me…I…”
He waved his hand in a circular motion, raising his eyes to think. “I…I am so happy to have found you.” He met his eyes again, then frowned. “No…I am so grateful that you let me in your life, and shared your sandwich with me when I forgot my lunch.”
He nodded, staring intently at what he imagined was Marilyn. “My darling, you have given me so much joy and inspiration, I wouldn’t have…” he sighed. “No, you are my joy and inspiration, I wouldn’t have…no that still doesn’t sound right.”
“You…you…” he closed his eyes, raising his head to the ceiling and dropping both hands. “You are the reason I feel so much joy in life, no..why I find life so joyful and inspiring….you have given me so much joy…”
“I believe you’ve said that already lad.” A voice in the back piped up, startling Peter.
The voice was followed by a flush and the stall door opened. A man in his 50’s walked out, also in a neat suit. He came up beside Peter and washed his hands in the neighbouring sink. They were both silent for a moment, joined by the sound of water splashing and intense awkwardness. Peter glanced down at the man's hand and saw a gold wedding band on his ring finger.
The man cleared his throat, turning the tap off. “It’s nerve wracking to do what you're about to do…It’s been about twenty-five years and I still remember how anxious I was.”
“Yeah?” Peter gripped his crushed paper towel with both hands. “How did you do it?”
The man looked around the bathroom, making his way to the paper towels. “Probably about the same way you are now, except I believe I already had my speech planned…are you coming up with yours just now?” He began to dry his hands.
“No…well yes…I’ve been practicing all week.” Peter turned back to the mirror. “I haven’t been able to think of anything that’s good enough for her.”
“She sounds like a catch,” the man chuckled, throwing the damp paper towel into the trash. “Would you like a tip?”
“I’d probably accept anything at this point..”
The man put his hand on the doorknob. “Let her know why it’s her you want to spend the rest of your life with, and try to keep it simple.” He tipped his head towards Peter. “My congratulations in advance.” Then he left.
Peter looked back at the mirror, thinking over the man's words. “Keep it simple…okay…I can do that.”
With one hand, he fixed his hair and straightened his jacket. “Marilyn, ever since grade one when I saw you save that ladybug, I wanted to be your friend. You were just so kind and gentle that it gave me the impression of how wonderful you would be….of how wonderful you are…”
“You are beautiful, strong, and you have given me so much joy…you are my joy…you make me happy…yeah…” he nodded to himself. “You make me happy to be just around you, just like how a tree needs water…I need you to live…”
He nearly banged his head against the sink. “That was too corny…” trying again, he looked in the mirror. “You make me happy, my world….my world would be dark without you…no…I…love.”
His eyes widened. He knew what he would say. It almost felt wrong with how simple it was, but somehow he knew it was the right thing to tell her. He stood back from the mirror, glancing down at the crumpled paper towel and smiling. His heart still pounded, and there was a ringing in his ears…but he wanted to do this. Dabbing his forehead one last time, he double checked his appearance.
He went to the door, threw the paper towel out, and walked back into civilization. The scent of seared steak and grilled onions enveloped around him as he made his way into the room full of tables draped with white tablecloths and candlelight. Waiters in white suit jackets carrying trays moved to the side to let him pass. The man he talked to not long ago sat a few tables down from his spot; however, he had his focus on one thing, and one thing only.
There she sat, in a beautiful maroon dress with her brown hair in a french braid. She stared down into her half full wine glass with a thoughtful expression. She twirled the contents slowly, as if the motion of the liquid gave her a view of another world.
Peter paused briefly, taking in the sight. He patted his coat pocket, then slowly came up beside her.
Upon seeing him, Marilyn smiled gently. “I was beginning to think you passed out on the toilet.”
The idea of passing out wasn’t out of the question just yet. He clasped his hands to still the shaking. “Not quite, but…I need to tell you something.”
She raised an eyebrow, and it was apparent that the tables around them had gone quiet in anticipation.
“Marilyn…” he started, feeling his speech fade to nothing. “Ever since grade one…when you saved that ladybug, I really wanted to be your friend..”
“Peter..” Marilyn whispered, staring at him intently.
“And all these years you have been the most wonderful friend, my best friend.” He kneeled, knowing the other tables were looking at them now. “You…You make me incredibly happy…I love you. I love you so much.”
Marilyn smiled, and small tears gathered at the corners of her eyes.
Finally, at long last, Peter pulled out the ring. “Will you marry m-?”
“-Yes!” Marilyn tackled him to the ground, hugging him hard. The room erupted in applause . “Of course I’ll marry you, you dork!”
It took a few minutes before he realized he had been crying as well. Through his blurred vision, he caught a glance at the man from earlier, tipping his head to him in approval.
The speech hadn’t been very elaborate, but having Marilyn accept him was the best embellishment he could ever ask for. The free dessert was a plus.