David sat in his silver Chevy Cruze in front of his best friend’s apartment building. As he scrolled through Kindle on his tablet, TJ approached the passenger side door. It was just past 10am on New Years Eve.
TJ slid into the passenger seat with a groan. Shivering from the frigid air, he rubbed his hands together and said, “Where are we starting? Alcohol or decorations?”
“Change of plans.”
David looked down and said, “You won’t even believe my morning. Mai woke me up around 8. She was with her parents last night, having dinner. And when she was about to leave, her dad said, ‘see you tomorrow night’. So, she thinks this is weird and asks him what he’s talking about. Her dad tells her I invited her to the party tonight! Her mom tries to redirect, but Mai is already putting things together. So, after a little digging, she figures out I’m proposing to her tonight.”
TJ rubbed his eyes and yawned, then said, “Ok, what’s the big deal? Haven’t you and Mai been talking about getting married for two years?”
“Yeah, but there’s a problem now. She called to tell me she couldn’t accept my proposal tonight because I didn’t fulfill any of my New Years resolutions from last year!”
TJ shook his head and said, “What? That’s crazy! Nobody does!”
David pointed at him and yelled, “Right? That’s what I said! But then she tells me that she did.
Confused, TJ closed his eyes for a moment and said, “I don’t get it. What does New Years resolutions have to do with you guys getting married?”
“You remember Stan’s party last year when he had everyone write one resolution on that big chalkboard?”
“Later that night, Mai got an idea for us to come up with a list of five things. Resolutions. I was just going to put a bunch of easy ones, but she made a point of me taking it seriously.”
“Can’t you just tell her you forgot your list and move on?”
David shook his head. “Tried that. She texted it to me.”
“So, what’s on your list?”
David handed him his iPhone opened to his last text from Mai.
TJ read them one by one. “Ok, so what now? The party’s off? You’re not getting married?”
“No, the party is still on. But I’ve got to complete every one of these resolutions before midnight. If I don’t, she won’t marry me.”
Opening the passenger side door, TJ said, “Well, good luck with that. Call me when you want to start getting ready for the party. If there even is one.”
David grabbed his arm and said, “Wait. I need you to help me.”
“With what? You can do all of those yourself.”
Pointing at number two on the list, David said, “I need your help with this one.”
TJ’s eyes widened, and he said, “How am I going to help you read an entire book? And what the hell is Memoirs of a Geisha? It’s oddly specific. Why that book?”
“It’s Mai’s favorite novel. I figured I would try to take more interest in things she likes. I mean, she does that for me. She saw both Deadpool movies with me.”
TJ grinned and said, “Oh my God, I love those movies! Ryan Reynolds, right? The man is a legend!”
David rolled his eyes and tossed the tablet into his lap. “I am going to need you to read to me while I drive.”
“We’re never going to get through this book, man.”
“I know. But I have to try.”
“And what about number six? Are we starting with that one? I can’t even believe you put that on the list. Are you ready to do that?”
Looking through the windshield, still parked in front of TJ’s apartment building, David revved the engine and rubbed his hands in front of the heat vent.
“I’m saving that one for last. I don’t have any idea what I’m even going to say. Right now, we’re going to the city.”
TJ’s mouth dropped open. “What’s in the city?”
“Lakeview Food Pantry.”
“Now why in the hell are we going to a food pantry?”
Driving toward the highway, David said, “Mai goes there just about every weekend. She asked me at least a dozen times over the past year, and I always had some lame-ass excuse. She never nagged me or got pissed off. But she did ask. I should have gone, man. It’s just another thing that I didn’t do for her.”
TJ hesitated, then said, “You know, dude. Her making you do all of this running around, it’s a red flag. Like she’s training you or something. You’re about to get engaged to her, and she wants to make sure she can control you. Think about it.”
David stopped the car and looked down. After a few seconds, he shook his head and said, “No, not Mai. That’s not who she is. I won’t pretend I understand why this is so important to her, but I know she has a good reason. I trust her, TJ. And if I don’t do this, I lose her. I love her.”
TJ nodded and said, “Ok, bro. I’m with you. But this is above and beyond for a best man.”
David put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Thanks.”
“What about the stuff for the party? We’ve got to get all the alcohol, setup the place—“
“Mai said she’ll handle it.”
As David drove them toward I-57, TJ said, “Chapter one. Suppose that you and I were sitting…”
At just past 11, they pulled into the parking lot of the Lakeview Pantry on Sheridan. TJ had gotten through the first chapter. David regretted having to get out of the car now, as the story was starting to get interesting.
One of Mai’s closest friends from Northwestern University, Paula, worked at this particular kitchen on the weekends. David meandered through the crowd of the less fortunate and found her at a table helping little kids find warm jackets that fit.
Paula looked up and caught David’s gaze, then smiled.
“Mai said you’d be coming. We could use all the help we could get. You guys want to head over to the serving line?”
For the next two hours, David and TJ begrudgingly worked a post on an assembly line of workers putting together hot meals for needy Chicagoans. Their moods softened with the increasingly frequent offers of gratitude from all the people in the lines. By 1pm, TJ was actually sitting with a group of older woman at a table, laughing it up.
Walking back to the car at 1:30, TJ wondered aloud, “All those kids, man. Where are they going to sleep tonight?”
David nodded solemnly. “I guess I never gave it much thought. I’m such an asshole.”
Frowning, TJ looked over at him and said, “Me too. I feel bad for them.”
David looked out toward the lake in deep thought. “I think I’m going to come back next week.”
As they got inside the car, TJ added, “Hey, you think that Paula lady is single?”
“Dude! She’s old enough to be your mother!”
David pointed to the tablet and waved his hand. TJ grinned and resumed reading.
A little past 2pm now, the two friends sat in a Popeye’s Chicken parking lot scarfing down their lunch. David had the tablet now and was scrolling through what looked to be a university website.
With a mouth full of biscuit, TJ asked, “What’re you doing there?”
Without looking up, David absently said, “Just ticking off another item on the list. I promised I would finish my degree.”
“How much do you have left?”
“Really? You didn’t graduate because of one class? Which one?”
TJ asked, “Why didn’t you just take it two years ago?”
Taking a deep breath, David said, “Because I’m terrified of public speaking.”
After a moment of thought, TJ nodded and said, “Yep, I get it.”
A half hour later, they sat in the parking lot of LA Fitness on Harlem Avenue.
“What’re we doing here?”
“I promised I was going to join a gym. This one should be easy. You can wait here. I’ll be out in a few minutes, I hope.”
Inside, a fit young woman named Tiffany in a black LA Fitness shirt nodded as if she were waiting for him when he told her he wanted to get a membership and told her his name.
She brought him to a desk off to the side of the main entrance.
As she typed David’s phone number into a form on her computer, she said, “Mai told me you were coming by today. Although I thought it would be earlier. We’re going to close in less than an hour, so you won’t be able to work out today.”
Sitting back against the seat and rolling his eyes, David said, “She called you too, huh?”
Nodding, Tiffany smiled and said, “Yep.”
A minute later, Tiffany jumped up and ran around to a counter where a printer spat out a temporary membership card with his picture on it. She handed it to him and said, “You’re all set. The entire year is paid for. You’ve got three free trainer sessions, but you gotta use them before March.”
“All paid for? By who?”
“Mai, of course.”
Back in the car now, David slid the card into his wallet and said, “Remember my friend Linsey?”
TJ thought for a moment, then said, “The animal lover, right?”
“Yeah, that’s her. We’re going to meet her next.”
Just past 5pm, they pulled into the gravel parking lot of a plain white building with a white sign indicating this was the Kankakee Animal Shelter in big black letters.
There was only one other car in the parking lot.
TJ groaned, “Cleaning out dog cages? Are you kidding me?”
David closed his eyes and nodded. “I’m sorry, but it’s on the list. I have to do it. Come on. We’re almost done.”
They dragged themselves out of the warm car and into the frigid air. It had begun snowing on the way over.
TJ mumbled like an insolent three-year-old, “I don’t even like animals. Much less dogs. Why don’t they clean up their own crap? And why did you put this on your list?”
Shaking his head, David said, “I guess I always admired Linsey for doing it. She comes here voluntarily every single weekend. Doesn’t get paid a dime.”
TJ scowled at the thought of hard labor.
David mumbled, “I wouldn’t say I dislike dogs, but I never really wanted one.”
Linsey met them with a huge smile. “Hello boys. Ready to get to work?”
Two hours later, they emerged into the night, each holding a leash with a cute little puppy at the other end.
Once they were back in the car, David could not look at TJ as an adorable red-coat Labrador stood on her hind paws and licked his neck and wagged her tail so hard her whole body wobbled. TJ was busy scratching the belly of the chocolate lab who lay in his lap.
David had already decided his new puppy’s name was Ginger. TJ started making cooing noises as he spoke in baby-talk, “Who’s the most precious little girl, it’s you! It’s you!”
After shaking his head, David said, “I thought neither of us liked dogs?”
Grinning from ear to ear, TJ said, “You saw my little Pudding, she followed me the whole time we were in there! How could I leave without her?”
“Yeah, it’s like the best dessert ever. And she’s a chocolate lab. It’s a perfect fit. She’s my Pudding. What’s your girl’s name?”
Blushing a little, David mumbled, “Ginger.”
Pointing at him and laughing, TJ said, “Ah ha! I knew it! Don’t be embarrassed. We caved. So what?”
David steered his car back toward the highway while TJ showered his affections on both puppies.
“What have we got left?”
“We’re going to my parents’ house.”
TJ’s smile evaporated. “Your dad?”
After a long car ride to the west suburbs and several more chapters, they sat in the driveway of a house David knew well. A little ranch in Aurora, IL. His childhood home, and his parents still lived there.
His mother met him at the door. Quietly, she said, “Mai called this morning. David. I know you don’t believe it, but he’ll be so happy you made the first move. Go on into the kitchen, he’s waiting for you.”
TJ followed, the puppies in tow. David’s mom dropped to her knees as Ginger and Pudding jumped up on her, drowning her in sloppy kisses.
We can’t know for sure what caused the rift between David and his father, but TJ and David’s mother saw from the backyard as they sat across from each other at the kitchen table. What started out as heated, eventually grew calmer, and then David’s father got up and held his arms out to his son. Whatever it was, it was serious enough to keep David and his father from speaking or being in the same place for over five years.
David’s mom ushered TJ and the puppies inside, and they gave David and his father privacy as they found closure. They talked for over an hour, getting heated at times. But finally, they admitted their faults and got up. His dad hugged him for the first time in five years.
After a half hour or so of lighter talk with all four of them present, David’s heart leaped when he saw the clock read 10:35pm. “I’m sorry, we’ve got to go!”
Dad said, “We’re right behind you, son. We’ll meet you there.”
As David drove them toward the Moose Lodge, he glanced nervously at the clock as the minutes ticked toward midnight. Something in his gut told him Mai would not compromise on the midnight deadline.
At 11:56, he pulled into the Moose Lodge parking lot.
TJ said, “Just stop in front of the door and get in there. I’ll park the car.”
David offered a look of deep gratitude, opened his mouth to say something to express this, then TJ added, “Hey Dave, your mom’s still hot.”
David smirked at this, then headed inside.
The banquet room he had rented out for this festive occasion looked amazing. The entire room was decked out with blue and white streamers and balloons. Silver tinsel sparkled from the ceiling.
His mind was a flurry of nerves as he walked past people who called out to him, wishing him a happy new year and congratulations. He barely saw them as he sought out his soon-to-be fiancé. Hopefully.
And then, he saw her. She was gorgeous. Mai wore a fitting black dress with a red choker. Her full red lips formed a loving smile as her eyes found him. But then, a look of disappointment spread over her face.
He walked up to her, grabbed her hands, and said, “I made it.”
She stared at him for a moment, then said, “You didn’t finish.”
Confused, he stammered, “What? What do you mean?”
“The only thing I really wanted you to do, reconcile with your dad, and you didn’t do it. I told your mom to call me to let me know you and your dad worked things out, but you—“
She looked up toward the front entrance, then a broad smile spread out on her face. Glancing back down at him, she beamed. TJ came in with the two puppies and David’s parents.
Holding her hands, he said, “I can’t say I completely understand why you were so adamant about me finishing this list today. But I’m glad you did. I guess maybe you wanted to change me to be a better man? I don’t know. But, I did some things I knew I wanted to do, but never did.”
Mai lowered her head and closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, then looked back up at him.
“I didn’t ask you to do those things because I wanted you to do them. But because you promised yourself that you’d do them. I wanted you to be a man who keeps his word. To me, and to himself. Someone who makes a promise and keeps it. And I know you are that man. I love you exactly as you are. But I knew you would regret it if you didn’t follow through. Maybe not today, but someday.”
He smiled and said, “I did them.”
“Even the book?”
David shrugged and said, “Well, a few chapters. But I am going to finish it.”
With a huge grin, she said, “Ok, I’ll let you off the hook for that one.”
Amidst the cacophony of crowd noise and the music blasting from speakers, David looked around. His parents and TJ were behind him now. People around them hushed, and the music lowered. This part of his night wasn’t planned, but he went down on one knee anyway.
He opened the maroon velvet box, exposing the gorgeous diamond ring.
“In front of all of our family and friends, will you be my wife?”
She nodded emphatically and grabbed him, pulling him to his feet.
And just as the clock moved from 11:59pm to midnight, she pressed her lips softly to his.
With her mouth next to his ear, she whispered, “It would be my honor to be your wife.”