The Engagement Party

Submitted into Contest #138 in response to: Write a story about an afternoon picnic gone wrong.... view prompt

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Fiction Romance

Frances placed the last dish in the dishwasher.

“Thank you, Frances,” Gram Sarah, her grandmother, said. “My arthritis does a number on my hands at night.” Gram Sarah caressed her swollen knuckles and winced. “It’s a wonderful ring. You and David will be very happy. I just know.”

Frances beamed but then stopped. She took a closer look at Gram Sarah’s hands. She tilted her head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “Gram Sarah, how did you get that scar on your knuckle?”

Fifty years before Frances and David’s engagement party and before Gram Sarah met Colonel Collins and had six babies who had several babies, all of whom were visiting with each other in the living room, some by hologram, some by avatar, some actually present, Sarah briefly dated a gentleman named Don. Sarah may very well have ended up with Don, but she dumped him soon after a picnic had gone terribly, horribly, and awfully wrong. When anyone ever asked Sarah why she dumped Don, she usually explained dismissively that she and Don “were on different life paths,” or something like that. But the scar on Sarah’s hand concealed a different story.

“I’m surprised he let you borrow it,” young Sarah said, brushing her blond locks away from her face. The wind had billowed much more than she expected on the one-mile hike to the top of Bingley Hill.

“I’ve driven a Tesla before,” Don said. 

“No, but it’s my dad. He loves his Tesla, probably more than he loves my mom.” Sarah walked in tandem with Don along the 6-foot-wide trail at Longbourn Park. She carried a light cooler packed with sandwiches and mini-bottles of Zinfandel. Don carried a blanket and picnic basket. 

“Did you pack the bug spray?” Sarah said, dodging non-existent and unforeseen spiderwebs.

“Of course.” Don pulled the spray from the utility pocket of his cargo shorts. 

“You brought organic spray,” she said with a smile. “I can’t stand the chemical stuff.” Sarah sprayed herself liberally with not-too-foul smelling, natural bug repellent. 

The wind picked up as they arrived at the top of Bingley Hill. A gust puffed opened the blanket that Don had unrolled, causing it to land in a perfect, idyllic square on the ground. Don smiled gallantly and welcomed Sarah to sit on the red and white checkered blanket.

“Shall we eat?” Don asked. 

The Zinfandel, hummus sandwiches, and light brie nourished Don and Sarah’s discussion of harmless things—a light smattering of politics, the shortcomings of close family members, and how the weather forecast had called for clear skies. 

Then, upon finishing their meal, Sarah asked, “Why are we here, again?”

Don blushed, smiled a recovering grin, reached into his pocket, and stood up. He paused and looked Sarah in the eyes.

“What?” she said. “What are you doing?”

“Sarah, the reason we’re here is—“

 “Ouch!” Sarah said. She jumped up and slapped her tanned thigh. “Dammit! Ants!” In that moment, she hit her thigh so hard that she left a red handprint.

Flummoxed, Don said, “Should we have used the real stuff?”

“Real stuff? DEET! Metofluthrin! Ethyl hexanediol! Might as well spray poison on ourselves, Don!” 

Don blushed. “Sarah . . . I’m sorry. Look, let’s go home, OK?”

Sarah exhaled, pushed the hair out of her face, and paused. 

“No, it’s OK. Ants are a part of picnics.”

“No, I mean about the chemicals.”

“That’s—OK, too.”

The wind picked up even more and an awkward silence followed. 

“So, why are we here again?”

Don paused. “Um, well, we hadn’t been on picnic before and I thought—“

“Don.”

“What?”

“Don, they’re—THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!”

Ants crawled all over the remnants of the food, all over the blanket, and all over Don’s white pants. Sarah stood up, jiggled, and jerked around, trying to get the mass of ants off of her. Don tried to help, but she swatted him away as she cleared herself of the matting swarm.

“Don, I’m ready to go home now,” Sarah said, her eyes glazed with tears, breathing heavily. 

Don smiled, reminding Sarah of his perfect, white teeth but was hit by a gust of wind. Thunder rumbled in the distance. 

Sarah walked down Bingley Hill in a huff. Don followed. 

“Sarah, wait up, I’m sorry—“

Then, it began to rain. It rained hard.

“No! My jacket. It’s couture, Don!” Sarah wrestled her mohair jacket from her slender frame and bunched it up. She held it under her body, sheltering it from the rain. She stomped down the hill and to the foot path, which was turning from dirt to mud.

Don picked up his gait and moved in front of Sarah. He walked backwards in front of her, trying to get her attention.

“Sarah. It wasn’t supposed to rain, Sarah.” Don stumbled and fell ass over tea kettle into the sludge, ruining his pants.

“Don! Where is the picnic basket?!”

“The basket? It’s back at the top of the hill.”

“My mom’s silver is in there!”

“Well, I—“ Don considered turning around and retrieving the basket, but the rain escalated even more and occluded Don’s train of thought. 

“AAAHHH!” Sarah yelled. She too tripped in the mud and was covered head to toe in muck, her jacket irreparably ruined. 

“Let’s get to the car,” Don said. Sarah and he moved as fast as they could, slipping occasionally on the slick mud but catching themselves, now aware of the unsteady ground. 

As they got closer to the Tesla, Sarah said, “I know we need to get out of the rain, but we really shouldn’t track mud in my dad’s car. He’ll kill us.” 

“I packed a tarp in the trunk. We can cover the seats and floor—“

Don and Sarah stopped as they caught sight of the car. The parking area at Longbourn Park was adjacent to Austen Creek. The innocuous 12-foot-wide stream had spread out exponentially from the heavy rain. The Tesla was up to the middle of its tires in rising water. 

“Don, we have to get out of here or we’ll be stuck here!”

Don ran to the car, unlocked it, and climbed into the driver’s seat. He pressed the start button on the Tesla, but a sad water face just appeared on the heads up display. Then, water filled the interior of the car, up to Don’s feet. Struggling to even open the door, Don bailed out of the car into a foot and a half of rushing water. 

“Don! Get out of there!”

As Don rounded the back end of the Tesla and towards Sarah, the Tesla began to float. Don fought his way through the current, water thrashing him left and right. He made it to the metal, bolted down picnic table where Sarah had perched herself in safety. The flash flood carried the Tesla far and away down stream. 

“We’re dead,” Sarah said.

“Oh, no. Oh, fuck!” Don said, patting down his front pockets. 

“What?”

“The ring is gone.”

“What ring?” 

The rain stopped. Don sighed, turned to Sarah, and got down on one knee there on top of the picnic table, the water rising slower now. 

“Sarah, will you marry me?” Don said, with a smile. 

She hated that grin. To this day, the scar of where, in that moment, Sarah rammed her hand straight through Don’s perfect white teeth still shows. 

“Gram Sarah? Are you OK?” Frances said.

“Me. Oh, yes. I was just thinking about this scar.” 

“How did you get it?” 

“Oh, you know. I fell one day when I was younger.” She picked up her dogeared copy of Pride and Prejudice and walked toward the din of the engagement party gathered in the living room. 

“Gram Sarah, how do you know David and I will be happy?”

Gram Sarah stopped and thumbed the pages of Austen’s tome. Casting a long, frail silhouette into the murmurs in the next room and without turning she said, “What choice do you have?”


March 25, 2022 13:10

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