I stared down with tired eyes at the cheap disposable cameras sitting in front of me on the table. “Come on J, it doesn’t count if you are already planning your defeat.” Chris gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before grabbing one of the cameras.
“I’m not planning it, I’m just accepting it. I know I can’t win a rigged game.” He gave a quick laugh and handed me my scarf from the coat rack.
“It’s not rigged.” He defended himself as he slipped on his coat and tucked his plastic camera into the pocket.
“Sure.” I laughed and grabbed the remaining camera. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.” I walked past him and towards the front door. The Sunday morning air had a chill to it. Dew still stuck to the grass and I could feel my hair beginning to frizz in the thin morning fog. We normally never schedule our dates this early in the morning, but Chris insisted the sun before 7 am gave off the best light. I rubbed my gloved hands together on the short walk to the car and instantly turned on the heat once Chris put the key in the ignition.
I watched out the window on our short drive. The trees drooped, heavy with a slight frost. Someone from the south could mistake it for snow, but a true Pennsylvanian would know the real snow still isn’t coming for another month or two. I’m normally not a morning person, but it was Chris’s turn to pick our date and he wanted an early morning photography competition. The best shot would win and get to choose where we ate dinner the next night. It wasn’t a fair fight, and I was certainly not looking forward to showing off my lackluster photography skills, but I picked the date last week. This week it was Chris’s turn. This careful system is what has kept us together for three years, so I’ll suck it up and enjoy the date. To be fair, I did force him to have a scary movie marathon with me last week and he only complained twice.
The sun was just starting to shine through the layer of fog coating the air when we pulled into the parking lot of the park. This was our favorite spot and one of the prettiest places in our town. Chris got out of the car and walked around to meet me at my door. He grabbed my hand and we started walking to the lake in the center of the park. “Okay, 10 pictures each. Then once we get them developed we’ll vote on the best.”
“What if there’s a tie?” I asked.
He laughed and said, “I don’t know, then we’ll ask Cam to break it.” I nodded. “On our mark.” He dropped my hand and grabbed his camera from his pocket. “Get set.” I let out a deep breath that clouded in front of me as a visual representation of my impending defeat. There was no point to this being a competition. There was no way I could win.
But Chris was always competitive. Every night at a bar turned into a drinking game. Every episode of Jeopardy was a trivia competition. Every stoplight was a mini Daytona 500. I both loved and hated how competitive he always was. “I never do anything if I can’t be the best” he once told me after he had beaten me in a contest to see who could carry more bags of groceries inside. I had laughed and rolled my eyes at him. His competitive nature was never ill-intended, he just liked a challenge. Luckily, my stubbornness always gave him one.
“Go!” He exclaimed and then trotted away from me like a kid gleefully running after his mom lets him pick out a candy bar. I laughed and he was barely three feet away before he turned around and quickly snapped a picture of me. I tried to take one of him back, but I was too slow and only snapped the photo when he was half turned around running away from me again.
I laughed again and squatted down to try and get an artsy picture of the lake. “This is hopeless,” I mumbled to myself as I took the shot. I don’t have an eye for this, or the knees apparently because both of mine squeaked as I stood straight again. I turned and saw Chris carefully setting up his next shot. I took another photo of him, this time without him seeing.
We circled each other around the lake as we finished taking our photos. I took my last eight much faster than Chris did. Of course, mine were all random. One of a tree, one of a duck, one of an empty bench. There wasn’t much to take a picture of in an empty park, but I’m sure Chris took hauntingly beautiful photos of the deserted park. He had a talent for finding beauty in simple, mundane things.
We held hands again as we walked back to the car. Chris opened my door for me, then quickly skipped around to turn on the heat. In his mind, it was probably a contest. Who could open the most car doors? How fast could he turn on the car? I smiled to myself as I fastened my seatbelt.
“What’s got you so happy? Did you actually enjoy my date idea?” Chris gasped in an overexaggerated tone and put his hand over his heart in mock surprise.
I rolled my eyes but answered sincerely, “I’m happy I got to spend time with you.” I paused. “And I’m happy you’re happy.” He smiled and clicked on the radio. “And next week, I’m planning a date you’re going to hate.” I teased him. He laughed and pulled the car out.
The next morning we sat at the kitchen table with the newly developed photos, still in their envelopes. “Okay so let’s pull them out one at a time. You go first” Chris said, holding the envelope of his pictures tight to his chest.
“Oh, so your pictures can upstage mine?” I joked.
He shrugged. “I figured we would save the best for last.”
I giggled and pulled out my first photo, the one of Chris running away. I just caught the side of his face, his smile brightened the entire photo and I smiled looking at it. I turned it around to show him. “I like this one.”
He smiled looking at it too. “See, you’re not as bad at this as you thought.”
I shook my head. That photo was great despite my photography skills, not because of them. “No, that was all you.”
He smiled as he pulled out his first photo. “Well, this was all you.” He turned it around. It was the photo of me laughing at his silly run. Despite the early wake-up time and my resistance to his whole date idea, I looked genuinely happy. Maybe he was right about the sun giving the best light early in the morning.
We continued to switch off showing our photos. Each one of Chris’s was worlds better than mine. When we got to the last photo he stopped me. “Let’s show them together.” I nodded and he counted us down. I looked over my last picture before turning it around. It was of the empty bench on the left side of the lake. I took it quickly because my feet were starting to get cold and I wanted to leave. It was slightly skewed like I wasn’t holding my camera level and the sun cast a weird shadow over the top corner. Wait, that may have been my finger. It was a terrible photo to end with, but we both already knew Chris won the competition anyway.
After Chris counted us down, we turned our photos. It took me a second to process what his picture was. The lake was in the background of the photo. I was standing off to the side, completely unaware that I was in his shot and completely oblivious to what was in his hand. The foreground of the picture featured a stunning diamond ring that Chris was holding out from behind the camera. My eyes flashed from the picture to his face, back to the picture. This was nothing compared to my awful bench picture.
There was a comfortable silence but the air was thick with suspense. My eyes returned to Chris and at some point, while I was staring at the picture, he had taken the same box from the photo out of his pocket. He didn’t break eye contact with me as he slid off his chair and onto one knee in front of me.
“Yes.” I sighed before he could even open the box.
“I didn’t even ask you yet.” He laughed.
“The answer’s yes.”
“I had a whole speech.” He laughed again and opened the box. I laughed at him and slid off my chair to hug him on the ground. We both laughed again in each other’s arms.
“You win for fastest proposal,” I whispered in his ear while still holding him in a tight embrace on our kitchen floor. He laughed and pulled back just enough to slid the ring on my finger.
“Well, I never do anything if I can’t be the best.”