We haven’t discussed this before, but I’m about 75 percent sure she’ll say yes. I grip the velvet box with clammy hands.
“Ten!” On TV, thousands in New York start the countdown.
I’m reminded of the last two times I held this box. I try not to, but your brain inevitably connects things against your will.
The first time was at my first girlfriend’s favorite restaurant. It was in fact her favorite, she said, but not the sort of place you propose in. Up until that day I thought Chili’s was pretty nice. She left me with this rejected ring in its velvet box, the bill, and no transportation. I got an Uber driver who happened to be very sympathetic.
The second time makes me shiver every time I think about it. I thought everything was going so well. Turns out she was caught completely off guard. She freaked out and slapped the ring out of my hand. That night ended with me fishing the box out of the frigid water under the pier. I called later to try to work things out but things were never the same. I learned a lesson after that one. Five weeks is too soon.
But Kylie’s different. She’s the one. I know it. We have a lot in common. We went to the same high school, we both like movies, and we both think country music is stupid. We really hit it off when we met at the Halloween party a couple of months ago. She was in a nurse costume, and I was dressed as a vampire, so I went up to her and asked her to draw some blood for me. She thought that was hilarious. She laughed so hard she spilled her drink. Then she grabbed me by the back of the neck, pulled my ear close to her mouth, and whispered something almost unintelligible about how her boyfriend had left her there. I of course offered to give her a ride. I was there for her when she needed me the most. Especially the next couple of days when all she did was cry. She said I really helped her feel better about herself. She likes that I’m not too clingy and I let her go out by herself. And that I have a job and that I like to get her stuff. We get along great. Plus she has a nice butt. And her dog likes me. And we walked by the jewelry store in the mall last week and she sort of glanced inside and I know it was a hint. It has to be.
She takes a long sip of champagne and smiles a lopsided smile. This is not her first glass. Her eyes are droopy too. I’ve seen this face before. It’s just like the Halloween party. She’s definitely a little tipsy. Maybe she’s more open to things. Like the time I was drunk and my friends convinced me to jump off the trampoline into the pool. That worked out fine. Mostly. I think my chances have risen to 85 percent.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from the last two. I waited two whole months this time and it’s a special occasion. Her family is here. I’m wearing my lucky socks. We’re nowhere near the pier. We’re about to start the new year. It’s time.
The rest of the room joins in the countdown. I glide off the couch in one smooth motion and ease onto one knee, trying not to think about the other two times I’ve done this very same motion. I start to pull the box out. I’m only mildly sweaty this time, so maybe I’m getting more comfortable doing this. Which is good because most of the rest of the room is staring. Kylie’s sister is shaking her head and nudging her husband. He laughs but I’m pretty sure it’s about something else.
I clear my throat. “Kylie, will you-,” I begin. Something behind me belches as it makes its way across the room. I take a look and it’s a pile of nachos. No, wait. Looming over the mountain in his hand, stomping toward me, staring fixedly at the TV, is her dad. I try to say his name, but all of Times Square drowns me out.
It’s too late. Earl trips over my outstretched leg. The plate goes flying. Chips, cheese, jalapeños, good gosh so many jalapeños, onions, ground beef, it’s all in the air now. It looks as if he might steady himself for a moment. The dog, Kylie’s lab named Hershey, is there in his winter sweater, also entranced by the TV. Something solid to steady himself. Within reach. Earl sees his salvation too and reaches out his arm.
Hershey makes a move for the nachos. I can’t blame him. He’s a dog. Earl’s fingers claw at the dog’s sweater but mostly get empty air. It’s hard to tell if he’s more upset at his lost plate of nachos, the dog, or what’s to come. Actually, I think it hits him all at once. Earl meets the ground like a bomb. Gloria, Kylie’s mom, finally notices the chaos from behind the couch. She has the same face as Kylie, only more pronounced. Gloria has clearly had too much to drink. She’s waving around the glass bottle in her hand like it’s a magic wand. Her grip on the bottle loosens as she realizes that both Earl and nachos are down for the count.
Kylie sees her father languishing on the floor and snorts with laughter. She throws up her hands. Earl looks like he might have broken more than a few tortilla chips. Hershey has already decided that jalapeños aren’t for him. He’s whimpering with nacho cheese on the tip of his nose. Gloria swings her glass bottle magic wand and casts her final spell for the night. Kylie’s hand connects with the bottle. The bottle falls. The rest of the family is in such a shock that I hear the hollow thump of the glass bottle as it collides with Kylie’s head. Her glass spills. Her eyes close and she slumps over. She’s out cold.
“Happy New Year!”