“This place is beautiful, Jake,” Samantha said, staring out of the windscreen in awe. There were plentiful shrubs and blooming flowers surrounding them as they drove. “Why have you never taken me here before?”
“I’ve been trying!” Jake spluttered; hands white from gripping the wheel so hard. “I’ve asked you every month, but you’ve always had an excuse. Oh, sorry Jake, they need me for another shift, oh, sorry Jake, my parents are having a barbecue, oh, sorry Jake.”
“All valid excuses,” Samantha said.
“Yes, they are,” Jake agreed, turning into a cobbled stone drive. “I’m not angry, Sam. You know I’m never angry at you. I’m just happy you’re here now. You know I’d wait forever for you if that’s what you needed from me.”
Samantha grinned and pecked his cheek. The two of them could never stay mad at each other for long. Their longest argument had lasted two hours, and it was still a memory Jake refused to relive if he could help it. He’d never looked at towels the same way since.
“Is this it?" Samantha asked, staring up at the cottage in front of them from the passenger seat. "It's incredible."
Jake helped Samantha out of the car and stared at the picturesque building in front of him. The front garden was full of bright green plants, thriving in the summer heat, and dripping with dew. Red roses, blue tulips, and white snowdrops were blooming in the soil. The brown thatched roof swooped down, contrasting with the pearly-white walled exterior. Several windows, all different shapes, sat on the walls. To Jake, it looked as if it belonged in a fairy tale. He could hardly believe his family owned it. It seemed too pretty for someone to own.
He walked towards Samantha, who was sitting on the soil and sniffing a snowdrop. Her face was a picture of beauty, full of happiness and contentment. Jake never wanted her to lose that smile. She was so beautiful, even with her knees covered in soil and her white dress muddied from the wet grass. Jake smiled at her as she looked up at him, and sat down beside her, clutching her hand to his.
They stared up at the sun. It had been raining for the past few weeks, and now the brightness was almost too blinding for them to enjoy. Still, Jake and Samantha sat in the grass, letting the sun wash over them until their skin turned pink. Jake winced as Samantha pulled at his now burnt arm and then smiled as she led him towards the door. It was wooden, panelled, and perfect.
“Come on, Jay,” Samantha said, holding onto his arm. “We’ve been outside for long enough. I want to see inside.”
Jake couldn’t say no to her. He fished out the keys from his trouser pocket and turned the lock. He laughed as Samantha ran straight inside. Despite being twenty-eight, the cottage had a way of drawing out her childlike wonder. Jake, having visited the cottage since he was seven, couldn’t find the energy to appreciate it as much as he should. He was grateful that Samantha was there to remind him of the true loveliness of the cottage.
He followed Samantha into the living room. It was delightful, with a wooden floor and several old-fashioned sofas scattered around. Samantha was staring mesmerised at the fireplace. Jake stared at her until she coughed and realised he’d gotten caught up in her wonder. He couldn’t help it. Samantha was so gorgeous when she was happy.
Jake didn’t get to experience Samantha's happiness enough, despite his best efforts. Her long shifts as a nurse often made her tired, and so they didn’t get to spend as much time together as he would have liked. It pained him when she’d come back from a shift and fall asleep on their living room sofa before she made it to their bed. He knew she loved her job, but it hurt to see her so exhausted and know there was nothing he could do to help. He was thankful that they’d found time to come on this trip. The cottage was good for her and she looked radiant. Now or never.
“Sam, do you want to see the back garden?” Jake asked, voice as calm as he could make it as she turned to look at him. “We’ve got some new flowers blooming. I’m not the best at knowing their names, though.”
“I’d love to see them,” Sam agreed, and gestured for Jake to lead the way.
He led her to the back of the house and to the kitchen. There was a door at the back which he opened. Jake told Samantha to go ahead. He tried to hide the smile from his face.
“This garden is beautiful,” she said, stroking a petal of a flower. “I can’t believe your family’s been hiding this from me. It’s so wonderful.”
“Isn’t it?” Jake agreed. “Follow me. There’s something I want to show you.”
Samantha nodded, allowing Jake to take her hand in his. He pulled her through the blossoming flowers until they reached a red and white picnic blanket. Samantha gasped as she noticed the hamper in the middle. She turned to face Jake, eyes teary, and pulled him into a hug.
“Did you do this for me?” she asked. “Of course you did. Thank you, Jake, I love it. I love you.”
“It’s nothing,” Jake replied, but he was blushing. “I love you too.”
They sat on the picnic blanket and Samantha unloaded the hamper. There were strawberries sprinkled with sugar, turkey sandwiches, Jake’s attempt at a homemade chopped chicken salad and dried peaches. Samantha kept unloading until she reached the last item. It was sitting in a Tupperware container. She grinned as she noticed what was inside.
“Did you make these?” she asked Jake, who was playing with his fingers and trying to avoid her gaze. “White chocolate cookies are my favourite.”
“I know,” Jake said. “I had to use a recipe, you know what I’m like in the kitchen, but I tried to make you some white chocolate macadamia nut ones. I know you love them.”
Samantha nodded, taking a bite from one cookie. She let out a satisfied moan and turned the cookie in her hand. “Jay, these are amazing. You should bake more. I think you’ve found your calling.”
“I think my boss would miss me down at the office,” Jake teased. He didn’t love his accountancy job, but it paid well, and gave him enough time to plan romantic getaways.
“Her loss,” Samantha said, finishing the cookie. “This is perfect, Jay. This entire day has been perfect. Thanks for bringing me here.”
“Anything for you,” Jake said.
They sat eating until the sun faded, and the air turned cold. Jake offered Samantha the picnic blanket as a coat and she laughed, letting the material cover her bare shoulders. Jake pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and then picked up the hamper.
“I think you missed something,” he said, handing her the hamper.
“There were no more containers,” Samantha said, bemused.
“Dig a little deeper,” Jake told her.
He watched as she scanned the hamper, touching each corner to ensure she hadn’t missed anything. “I can’t find anything.”
Jake knew it was now or never.
“Oh, never mind, it was in my pocket,” Jake said, taking Samantha’s hand, and bending down on one knee.
He hoped she would say yes.