“I know how much you love poetry, so I wrote you a poem.” Whitmore bent on one knee and pulled a sheet of paper folded into quarters from his back pocket.
Jessica stared at him. She wondered if she was making a face. He complained that she always made faces when he did something special and romantic. And tonight was special. Tonight was romantic. He’d reserved a table for them at the Melting Pot. A single rose placed on top of the menu greeted her when she sat. Inside the menu, not one entrée was under thirty dollars, yet they still had to cook the food. They were in a side room of the restaurant, separated by a sheer curtain. The area was secluded for lovers only, intimately lit by dim candlelight and shaded wall lamps. Each table sat two, and as the centerpiece, a single burner for the shareable fondue as the appetizer, and the broth to prepare their entrée.
It was their two-year anniversary, and that made her nervous. For the last month, Whitmore had been talking about marriage, about kids. That morning while in bed, he listed off baby girl names—Whitney being his favorite—made plans for how to raise her—dance recitals, beauty pageants. He knew nothing about women, about teaching little girls, yet he wanted one more than anything, while she couldn’t decide if she even wanted to be a mother to his child.
“Whitmore, wait,” Jessica said. Two years. Two years she’s been with him, and for a year and a half it felt more like an obligation. Could she manage another two years, or twenty? A lifetime. Whitmore was manipulative in preserving their relationship, even when he knew that his love for her was much greater than hers for him.
“When the sun sets, I still have light,” he began to recite.
Jessica tried to smile, but her lips were chapped from the cold weather, and under the tension and pull of her curled lips, the dry skin split at the center. She ran her tongue along her bottom lip. She folded it into her mouth and sucked the blood, metallic against her taste buds.
“Because your moon brightens my nights.”
She wanted to laugh. Whitmore hated poetry. It was one of the many things they didn’t have in common. Opposites attract, they say, but sometime she wondered if she and Whitmore were just too incompatible. When they first met at a mutual friend’s housewarming, she’d told him that she wrote poetry as a hobby, and he replied, “Like roses and violets? Seems kind of elementary.” Elementary was the poem he read now. Anyone could rhyme, but where was the compassion? Where was his care in choosing the perfect words to express his feelings?
He never wanted to learn the complexity of true love poetry. She worked as an assistant events coordinator in the downtown art district. They held poetry readings every weekend, for both amateur poets and the contemporary ones who had books published. He turned down her invites to readings, his excuse being he’d forget to snap instead of clap. It was a joke to him, and ultimately his needs were more important that her love for literature and art. When she gave him a translated anthology of her favorite Pablo Neruda poems for Valentine’s Day, he tossed it on the bed without reading the first page, wanting sex instead. It was rough, robotic, just like his poem.
“My precious angel descended from Heaven above…”
Jessica grew more uncomfortable. The room was quiet. Four other couples sat at the surrounding tables, and they all watched. Whitmore loved to make their relationship public. It was easier to get Jessica to bend his way when they had an audience. In public, he was sweet, the perfect gentleman. In public, he gave his girlfriend the world, treated her like a queen. PDA make-out sessions, extended posts of total devotion on social media, poetic restaurant proposals. How could she say no?
“…saved me from the heartache of unrequited love.”
Jessica flinched. He was only using poetry to soften her, to get her to say yes. It only infuriated her, but could she really deny him in front of his audience? For two years she’d been saying yes reluctantly, but this was her life now, and she couldn’t leave it in the hands of his controlling emotional love.
He reached behind his back again and revealed a small velvet box. A gasp escaped the mouth of the woman at the adjacent table, probably expecting a proposal herself, but Jessica sat still.
Would he really do this? Embarrass them both in front of all of these people? Ask for her hand anyway when she had told him she needed at least three years? Force her to commit to him when just that morning, after he’d spent nearly an hour planning for a baby they didn’t have nor were expecting, she had told she wasn’t ready for that next phase in their relationship?
“Jessica Monet Ryan.” He slowly opened the box, a diamond ring enclosed. “Will you marry me?”
On cue, everyone in the room “Awwwed”
Jessica couldn’t stomach it anymore. She shook her head, and Whitmore’s face dropped. “I think I’m going to be sick.” She would use the raw cubed steak as her excuse. She’d skewered it, lowered it into the boiling butter and chive flavored broth, but she didn’t leave it in long enough. It was still redder than she wanted, raw, blood oozing when she bit into it, like her period she was so relived to see soaked through her panties in the bathroom that morning after all of Whitmore’s baby talk. She rose from her seat, stepped over Whitmore, knocking the ring out of the box with her knee. It rattled and spun on the floor, and while Whitmore turned away to find where it landed, she scurried for the exit in pursuit of the bathroom, temporarily tangling herself in the separating curtain.
It is Short Story A Day May, and all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt asks us to write about the days leading up to the beginning of our novel. Since I did all of that and more during this year’s April A to Z Challenge for my NaNoWriMo novel, “Lost Boy,” I switched to a novel I haven’t looked at in a couple years. Perhaps you remember Whitmore and Jessica from my 2015 A to Z novella…