Slivers of sunlight radiated through Mary’s window casting a warm glow throughout her entire bedroom. The sultry smell of freshly cut grass blew in and tickled her nose. She woke up with a thundering sneeze and subconsciously cursed the neighbors for mowing their lawns so early in the morning. Letting her eyes adjust to the light, Mary yawned like a ferocious lion ready to devour the day. Stretching her arms high above her head, she was ready to get up.
Off and running, Mary took a quick shower with warm vanilla sugar body wash to revitalize her senses. The popular Bath & Body soap was a birthday present from her boyfriend, John. Whenever she smelled that sweet aroma, her thoughts would immediately take her into his loving embrace. They had been going steady for about six months now, and Mary was ready to take things to the next level.
Today’s the day I tell John how I really feel about him!
Rushing to the kitchen, Mary quickly fried two eggs and a piece of bacon. She had a big day and needed her strength to carry her through. She took a big gulp of orange juice and heard the roaring sound of a car engine pull into her driveway. She rose up from the table and pulled back her floral curtains to see a light blue 1957 Ford Thunderbird pulling into her driveway.
John gently stepped out and closed the door with a white handkerchief. He buffed his fingerprints away with a delicate rub. Mary ran outside with big round eyes and a smile etched from ear to ear.
“John, you bought the car. I knew how badly you wanted it!”
Turning his attention away from the Thunderbird, he opened his arms wide and said, “Oh baby, isn’t she cherry?”
Mary jumped into his loving embrace, and uttered, “She’s a real gem alright! Where did you get her?”
“I got her down at O’Leary’s Auto. I got one heck of a deal.”
Stepping back to admire the new hot-rod, Mary took a deep breath and ran her eyes from bumper to bumper. “I know how hard you’ve been working at the lumber yard,” she said in a soft comforting voice. “You deserve this tiger!”
I can’t believe he bought this stupid car! I thought he was working hard to buy me a diamond ring…
Walking back to the car, John ran the white handkerchief along the shiny blue hood. “I’m so happy to hear you say that sugar, that’s really swell!”
Mary pierced her lips together into a thin line to hide her frown. “So, are we still going to the park today?”
John put the white cloth in his pocket and slowly shook his head. “Gee sugar cakes, I’m sorry. I thought we could take a ride down highway 606 to see what this Thunderbird can do!”
Mary plastered a fake smile on her face and fought hard to hold back the tears of disappointment. “Sure, we can do that if you like. I know you’re probably anxious to let this car fly like the wind.”
John’s cheeks turned rosy red. “Ah kitten! That’s great, I promise we can go to the park tomorrow.”
How could John do this to me? I had the perfect day planned where we would spend the day at the park, and underneath the moonlight I would confess my undying love for him. Then he would surprise me with a diamond engagement ring.
John ran over and opened the passenger door. “Here ya go,” he waved with a free hand. “Have a seat my lady.”
Mary sat down in the car and the first thing she noticed was the fresh brand-new smell. Everything looked so fresh and polished. John closed her door and ran over to take his place behind the wheel. He inserted his key and turned it with fierce determination. As the Thunderbird ignited like a phoenix rising from the ashes, John turned and looked at Mary with a boyish smile. Mary widened her eyes and gave him a reassuring grin.
“Well baby, are you ready for this summer road trip?” John said.
“I’m ready when you are!” Mary replied.
I need to keep my happy face on, so he won’t notice how upset I am. It’s not proper for a lady to do that.
John put the Thunderbird in reverse and backed out of the driveway like a professional driver. Mary folded her hands and took a deep breath to calm herself. Her love for John ran deep and although her expectations for the day had been postponed, she wanted to put those thoughts away and enjoy her time with him.
Maybe I’ll get my fairytale proposal tomorrow. I still can’t believe he spent his money on this car instead of a ring for me.
The air was hot and humid as they drove down Harrison Lane towards the highway. As the sleek Thunderbird roared through town, John and Mary glanced at people mowing their lawns and trimming their bushes. Some folks waved as they drove by and some people would just give them annoyed looks and go about their business.
With highway 606 coming up, John hammered down on the gas pedal and turned on the radio. The smooth sound of Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock erupted through the stereo speakers.
“Yeah! That’s my favorite song!” John screamed, bobbing his head to the beat and tapping the steering wheel.
Even Mary felt the good vibes and started tapping her hands on her legs. “It’s great John, I think this Elvis guy is going to be a big star one day,” she said smiling.
John raised his arms high above the wheel and yelled out to heaven, “You may be right kitten! Wooo!”
Mary’s heart suddenly skipped a beat as her moment of joy was stolen by this act of stupidity. “Keep your hands on the wheel, John!!” she snapped.
Without uttering a word, he flopped his hands back down on the wheel and a joyful moment of teenage angst turned into a foolish embarrassment.
“I’m sorry Mary, I got carried away…”
“It’s ok John, I just don’t want you to have an accident.”
John nodded his rosy face and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. Mary knew she had embarrassed him, but she wanted to live to see tomorrow. He eased up on the gas as he merged onto highway 606. He turned the radio down and maintained a steady speed of fifty-five, because he didn’t want to startle Mary again.
The highway was a billboard Heaven surrounded by open farmlands and wide-open skies. With three lanes of burning asphalt there was plenty of room in the fast lane to let the T-Bird rip. Wanting to break the uncomfortable silence, Mary reached down and turned the volume up to hear the sound of All Shook Up by Loving You.
John quickly glanced over to Mary who was smiling ear to ear. “What you are waiting for?” she yelled. “You have the open highway! Step on it!”
Coming to life, John shouted, “Oh yeah, that’s the spirit!”
He pushed the gas pedal harder and soon they reached a speed of seventy miles per hour. The warm muggy air was blowing in through the car windows like a fire breathing dragon causing Mary’s hair to wisp around her face.
Holding her golden hair in place, Mary blurted, “This is a long highway, where are we going?”
“Well, kitten I thought we’d go to the Barbour County fair grounds to show off my new ride to the boys,” John insisted.
“But John, it’ll be dark when we get there.”
“Mary it’s fine, I promise we won’t stay long. Billy and Anthony will be there, and I know they’ll lose their marbles when they see this car!”
Ugh! This night is going to be super boring. His friends are numbskulls!
Through foot tapping melodies and soul wrenching love songs, the night soon swallowed the day. Every time a ballad came on, Mary’s thoughts lingered back to the perfect day that she so desperately wanted. John looked antsy, like a little boy waiting for hot chocolate pudding. How arrogant to wallow in material things, Mary thought to herself.
At long last, they arrived at the Barbour County fairgrounds. The parking lot was jammed packed and fireworks were exploding in the night sky. People were sitting on blankets around the open campgrounds, and the smell of fried food was emanating from the brightly colored concession stands. The Fourth of July festival was underway.
John and Mary found one of the few remaining parking spots and quickly got out to stretch their legs. “Where are your friends?” Mary asked, stretching her arms high above her head.
John grabbed a blanket from the back seat and ran over to Mary. He took her hand and gushed, “Oh, don’t worry about those guys, I’ll find them later.” He pointed over to the open field and continued, “How about we go find a spot and enjoy these fireworks for a while?”
Mary’s eyes brightened, “That sounds like a lot of fun! I like that idea.”
Hand in hand they fumbled in the dark around other couples and families enjoying the show. Thunderous booms echoed through the sky and shook the ground like a giant hungry monster searching for food. They found an open spot near a weeping willow tree and John quickly unrolled the soft blanket on the ground. He helped Mary sit down and put his arm around her as he snuggled up to her.
How fitting to be sitting next to a crying tree. I’ve been fighting back tears all day. Mary thought.
John squeezed Mary tightly in his arms while the sounds of laughter and gasps of astonishment fluttered all around them. The fireworks were a sight to behold. Bright colors of red, green, blue, orange, purple and yellow painted the sky into a bright rainbow.
John looked at Mary who was staring at the ground, and noticed a single tear fall from her check. He took a deep breath and looked at his watch. He noticed that the show was about to be over.
He leaned over to Mary’s ear and whispered, “Sweetheart, I think you should look up to see the last hurrah.”
Mary lifted her teary eyes to see several explosions painting the darkness of night in a wonderful display of bright colors. In the smoky afterglow was a dazzling message that read:
Mary, will you marry me?
Mary immediately looked over at John who was now kneeling on one knee. In his hand was a black box with a sparkling diamond ring nestled softly in white padding.
Oh my God, this was his plan the whole time!
“Will you marry me?” John asked.
Mary raised her trembling hands to her quivering lips as tears of joy flowed down from her blue eyes.
John rose to his feet and threw his arms around Mary. As their lips met for a loving kiss they heard a roaring applause from the crowd. John reached for Mary’s hand and placed the ring on her finger.
“You had all this planned, didn’t you?” Mary mumbled.
“I did, sweetheart. I knew you wanted to have this special moment in the park, but I wanted to surprise you!”
“But how did you buy this ring and the car?” Mary asked.
“The car isn’t mine, Billy bought it yesterday and it’s all a part of the surprise!”
Mary’s heart started beating like a big bass drum. “Oh, I love you so much!!”
“I love you too Mary, and I will for the rest of my life!”
Their lips met once again, and one last mighty explosion erupted in the afterglow of the night sky.
Daniel R. Hayes