Jenson flipped a switch and the bathroom lights flickered to life, revealing her figure in the mirror. She chuckled at the mess her long hair had become in the night and set to work making herself presentable. Doubtless Gray would be sending his private driver to fetch her at any moment.
As if on cue, the second she finished dousing her made-up face in setting spray, there was a knock at the door.
“Ms. Bradley, are you ready? Mr. Covington said he requests your presence promptly,” Colin’s voice barely sneaked through the closed door.
Jenson took one last look at herself before darting out the door and joining Colin at his sleek black car. She slid into the back seat and hummed to the radio on the way to Gray’s manor.
If Jenson had her way, she would just take the bus. But Gray insisted that Colin be her transportation; he wanted nothing but the best for her.
Gray swung Jenson’s car door open the second the car came to a stop. He barely gave her time to stand up before grabbing her in a warm hug.
“Good morning, beautiful!”
Jenson breathed in the scent of expensive cologne and cigars that always lingered on him. “Merry anniversary!”
Gray laughed. “Merry anniversary to you, too. Though, considering we’re still not married, I’d argue you can hardly call it that.”
Jenson rolled her eyes, knowing what was about to happen.
Gray dropped onto one knee and pulled out a dainty velvet box. He flipped it open, revealing an ornate diamond ring.
“And ruin the rest of your plans for the day? I couldn’t.”
Gray didn’t even blink before putting the box back and rising to his feet. “I suppose that’s fair,” he shrugged.
Typically, proposals are a big deal. They involve careful planning, precise timing, and emotional reactions. Even for Jenson and Gray, there was a time in which that was true. However, Jenson and Gray’s relationship was nothing if not atypical.
Jenson was a senior in college when she met Gray. She was studying abroad in Scotland, and Gray’s mother worked at her university. Gray followed his mother to work one fateful day, and knew the second he set eyes on Jenson that she was ‘the one.’
Of course, Jenson took a bit more convincing. She had a family—however awful they were—back in the United States, and she only intended to live in Scotland for a semester. Luckily for Gray, though, his charm and wit surpassed even his devilish good looks. He eventually won Jenson’s heart and she packed up and moved to Scotland.
One would think moving to another country would suggest a great deal of commitment already on Jenson’s part, but this was not enough for Mr. Gray Covington. At his parents’ Christmas Eve party, exactly a year after his first date with Jenson, Gray proposed the first time.
Everyone at the party expected Jenson to be thrilled when he pulled out the ten-grand engagement ring. Jenson knew she should have burst into tears and barely choked out an ecstatic ‘yes.’ But she couldn’t.
Instead, she ran away. She found herself in the Covingtons’ garden and hid in the rose bushes. Once Gray found her, Jenson was sure he had tracked her down to ask her to leave. It turned out to be quite the opposite, in fact.
Gray was certain Jenson was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. So much so that he made her a unique promise: every year on the anniversary of their first date, he would propose once for each year they had spent together.
Jenson and Gray got back into the car, and an hour later, they were walking along the beach; the green-blue sea roaring on their right, cliffs jutting into the sapphire sky on their left. The air was crisp and still. The cold was perfect. The fewer people nearby, the better.
Jenson hugged onto Gray’s entire arm as they walked—she was cold, but she also loved being close to him. Something about it made her feel safe and at home.
As they walked, Jenson caught sight of a white blur in the distance. The closer they grew to the blur, the more horselike it became. Jenson groaned internally once she could no longer deny there was a stunning white horse standing alone on the shore, his bridle fastened with rope to a massive piece of driftwood.
“You did not.”
Gray grinned. “Oh, but I did. Would you join me for a ride?”
“You did not buy me an entire horse,” she continued, stopping in her tracks.
“Love,” he chuckled, “I get the feeling you would have been more upset had I purchased one in part. Don’t worry, he’s hardly even yours. He’ll be boarded at my parents’ estate in Aberdeen, and you’ll never have to see him again if you so choose. But for this one day, would you kindly join me on the horse?”
“You’re unbelievable,” she sighed, stepping toward Gray and the horse.
He untied the rope and they climbed onto the horse’s back. His hooves crunch crunched through the damp sand as he pranced with Jenson and Gray along the beach.
“It’s not so bad, is it, love?”
“I wasn’t worried about it being bad, Covey. It’s just…a lot.”
“Aren’t you always accusing me of being, quote, ‘a lot?’”
“Yes, I do often make such an accusation,” Jenson answered with a smile.
She had been meaning to say more, but a tiny flash caught her eye. Threaded onto the leather reins was a ring. It was made of white gold shaped like a vine with emeralds for leaves and amethysts for berries. A lot, indeed.
“Well?” Gray prompted once he saw Jenson had noticed the ring.
“You know the answer, Covey.”
“You’re holding out for when things get good, I understand.”
Jenson sighed and slid the ring further down the reins until she could no longer reach or see it, wishing the horse and the day would speed up.
The stallion was collected further down the beach by some of the Covingtons’ People, and Colin was at the ready to take Jenson and Gray to their next destination.
“What are you going to do to me next?”
“I believe the question is, what am I going to do for you next. One way or the other, the answer is obviously lunch at MacGavin’s.”
“MacGavin’s? Really? I thought they were booked until the new year!”
“Not for my darling’s anniversary, they’re not.”
When they pulled into the parking lot, Jenson was confused to see that there wasn’t a single other car there.
“I think they’re closed, Covey. No one’s here.”
“Oh, I assure you, they’re open.”
Gray hopped out of the car and opened Jenson’s door, grabbing her hand and helping her to her feet.
“What a gentleman you are,” she said facetiously.
Once they pushed their way past the heavy oak doors, Jenson gasped. The restaurant was cleared save for one table in the center. There was a dusting of fake snow over everything, white Christmas lights strung up everywhere, ornaments hanging from the crystal chandelier, and a half-circle of decked-out waiters flanking the table.
“Lovely, isn’t it?” Gray asked as they made their way to the table.
“It’s beautiful. How did you pull this off?” Jenson asked in awe.
“Oh, I had to pull a few strings, but nothing is too much for you, love. Especially not today.”
Once they were seated, Jenson cringed at the menu. “Gray, some of these things cost more than my car payment!”
“I know, I know. Order whatever you like, love. And, for the love of God, stop thinking about the money. You know that’s not a problem with me.”
Jenson nodded and hunted quietly for the cheapest option, hoping he wouldn’t notice.
Once the food was out, Jenson ate quickly, hoping (surely in vain) to avoid whatever display Gray had planned.
She had just swallowed her last bite when a violin cried out into the quiet. Shortly thereafter, a cello and an upright bass piped up and the trio flowed through a haunting melody. It reminded Jenson of a dirge her grandfather used to sing her to sleep with.
Gray smiled warmly at her. “Do you like the music?”
“It’s wonderful, Gray. What are they playing?”
“Oh, it’s an original. Bradley in C Minor, I think it’s called.”
“A song? For me? How long has that been in the works?”
“Jenson, sweetheart, please stop focusing on all the specifics. Just enjoy the music!”
Gray stood up and reached toward her. “Care to dance?”
Jenson lit up. “But you hate dancing, Covey.”
“Not today, I don’t. Come on, join me!”
For the next several minutes, Jenson and Gray twirled and swayed to the music. Once one song ended, another began. Sometime into their third dance, a choir of angelic voices sneaked in with the strings. They were singing her grandfather’s dirge! Jenson felt like she could cry as Gray spun her into his arms.
“This is wonderful. Thank you.”
Gray stayed quiet, but Jenson could feel him smirking. Oh, well. He deserved some self-congratulations. It seemed like he finally hit the nail on the head.
At least, Jenson thought so until it happened. Gray freed her from his embrace, and she turned to the table. She was startled by the richly dressed waiters from earlier.
Each of the men got down on one knee and flipped open a little box, showing off five pure gold rings.
“Get it?” Gray asked excitedly. “It’s like that weird Christmas carol!”
“It is…,” she responded through clenched teeth. “Am I supposed to marry all six of you?”
“I was hoping just the one, but I suppose we could figure something out. Is that a yes?”
“No, Gray. That is not a yes. Can we go, please?”
His face fell and he waved the waiters off. “Yeah, we can.”
“Are you okay, Covey?” Jenson asked once they were in the car, leaning her head on his shoulder.
He nodded. “I am. It’s just…it seemed like that was going so well. I thought I might actually get a yes this time.”
Jenson felt the uncomfortable tightness in her chest she always did when Gray proposed. When he did a lot of things, really. She loved Gray deeply, but there was a reason she couldn’t marry him. She just couldn’t tell him that, or even put it into words for herself.
“It was great, Covey,” she said after a deep breath. “Couldn’t bear to let the next two go to waste, I guess. Tell me we’re going home next?”
“To your apartment, in fact,” he answered, back to his usual, chipper self.
Once they got to Jenson’s apartment, she was confused when Gray didn’t head inside. Instead, he led her to the car ports behind her apartment building. He slid the door to her space open, and there was a shiny black Corvette where her car belonged.
“Where’s my car?”
“Love, I bought you a new one! I know you were saving up to buy it yourself, but I just couldn’t resist. Merry anniversary!”
Jenson’s face reddened, but Gray didn’t notice.
“And there’s more! Look inside!”
Reluctantly, Jenson swung the driver’s door open. On the seat was an envelope with her name on it.
She did, and she found a pair of plane tickets and a picture of a gaudy beach house.
“We’re going to Hawaii! You told me once that you’ve always wanted to go. The house in the picture? I bought it for us! Won’t it make an amazing vacation home?”
Jenson’s head was spinning. When she looked back at Gray, he was on one knee just as she had expected him to be. What she didn’t expect was the ring in the box. It had a platinum band, it was studded with pink diamonds, and the diamond in the center was bigger than her thumbnail.
“Will you marry me this time?”
Jenson had finally had enough. Gray had been spoiling her for five years, but this was too much. She was infuriated, and she was tired of swallowing it down.
“Gray, I can’t marry you. And I don’t just mean not now. I mean not ever! I love you, I really do, but you’re too much for me. I’ve never minded that you’re wealthy, but…I hate the way you throw your money around! You’re always taking me places and buying me things, and I love spending time with you, and I appreciate the thought, but I can’t stand that you try to buy my love. You can’t buy my love, and you certainly can’t buy me. You mean the world to me, but this is all too much, and I’ve had enough. I hate that things have to end this way, but it is what it is. Just… go find someone who wants your money as much as they want you, I guess.”
Gray looked like he was going to respond, but Jenson couldn’t look at him any longer. She felt tears about to pour from her eyes, so she ran away. She ran into her apartment and threw herself on her couch.
Jenson was never much of a crier, not even as a baby. But as she bawled over her final words with Gray, she was convinced she cried every tear she’d ever held back. She fell asleep long before the tears stopped flowing.
Jenson wasn’t sure how long she was out, but it was dark outside when she woke up. She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, then heard a knock at the door.
“Gray, if it’s you, go away! I meant what I said earlier.”
“It’s me. But…please let me in? I promise I’ll leave you alone after this if you still want me to, but won’t you hear me out first?”
Jenson sighed. “Fine. It’s unlocked.”
Gray slipped in and Jenson was shocked to see that he looked as awful as she felt. He joined her on the couch, and they sat in silence for a while. Jenson was tempted to rest her head on his shoulder like she loved to, but she knew she shouldn’t. The sooner she started letting go, the better.
A while later, Gray finally broke the silence. “I know I’m a little…loose with my money. That’s how I’ve always been. Would it help you to know that that’s kind of my love language?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, my parents were always travelling for work. They felt bad for me, so whenever they were home, they’d give me gifts to make up for their absence. I guess I figured the stuff must have been proof that they loved me, because nothing else was. So, you see it as throwing my wealth around, and maybe that’s what it is. But it’s more to me.”
“Aw, Gray,” Jenson said, scooting closer to him. “I’m sorry about your parents. But having a reason doesn’t change anything. I watched wealth destroy my parents’ marriage, and I just can’t sign myself up for a life like theirs.”
“Before I met you, I didn’t know how to express myself in any way other than big gestures. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve gotten better since I’ve been with you. I get too caught up in the big stuff sometimes, but I know even you have noticed a change in me.
“I go overboard on our anniversary, but the fact that I don’t go overboard every other day of the year should count for something, shouldn’t it? I know when just a hug and kiss goodbye would be better. I like movie nights at your apartment more than private dinner theater dates. I can say I love you instead of giving you an exorbitant gift to try and convince you of it.
“I know I’m just a spoiled rich kid. I’ve never gone a day in my life without more money than I know what to do with. But…Jenson, I would rather give up every dime I’ll ever have than to lose you.
“I won’t be able to change overnight, but I promise you that I will spend the rest of my life trying to be everything you deserve in a man. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my life, and I know you love me, too. If you could please just give me one more chance, I will do everything in my power to make it up to you. I can get rid of all the gifts, I can pawn the rings, I can donate everything to charity. I just can’t lose you. Jenson Selena Bradley, will you do me the honor of giving me forever to fix myself for you?”
He pulled out a little plastic ball. Inside it was a pale green glow-in-the-dark ring.
Jenson started crying again and didn’t bother to hide it. “Where did you get that?” she asked through her tears.
“The quarter machine at the convenience store across the street.”
Gray laughed as a few tears found their way to his eyes. “It is awful. I’m just trying to make a point. Will you please marry me?”
Jenson wiped her tears. “Of course, I will! But I don’t think I can put that thing on.”
Gray grabbed Jenson in a tight embrace. “I’m sure we’ll find a compromise somehow. I love you so much, future Mrs. Jenson Covington.”
“I love you, too, Covey. Merry anniversary.”
“Merry anniversary, love. I look forward to many more.”
“Yeah, me, too.”