Bree’s Story – a companion novella to Secret Admirer by Ally Hayes
Yes, I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the bracelet and purse are gorgeous and I’m grateful to have a boyfriend with such great taste. Still, when you’re expecting the ring for Christmas, how can anything else measure up?
We’d been talking about getting engaged for almost a year and Alec led me to believe he was ready to propose last summer with little teasers and hints of our future. I kept a standing appointment at Super Nails every Thursday after work so I’d be prepared to show off the emerald cut, platinum set diamond I’d pointed out to him in the window of Hartford Jewelers.
Summer came and went. My nails looked great, but my left ring finger remained empty. Everything was wonderful between us though and Alec and I began the habit of staying at each other’s apartments on weekends. We usually went out as a group with friends on Friday nights and saved Saturdays for date night. On Sundays we either went out for brunch or stayed in to cook our own version. Weekends were bliss. Weekdays were hard. We spoke on the phone every day but rarely saw each other. He worked late most nights as a young lawyer must and I kept a routine of yoga and pilates to fill my time. My job as junior accountant at Pearse and Associates was fulfilling, but not so demanding that it followed me home. I liked it that way and knew if I ever wanted to take it to the next level I could, but I was content. Except for that damn elusive ring!
New Year’s was fun. We started off with a romantic dinner at an upscale restaurant so of course I got my hopes up. Nervous all through dinner, I tried to eat neat bites of my sea bass so he couldn’t catch me with a mouthful. We discussed his cases, our plans for our upcoming ski trip, but nothing that spoke of nuptials. After dessert, Alec announced we were meeting up with our friends at a bar and I knew the chance of a proposal were over. At least, I hoped it was. I wanted it to be romantic, memorable, not a spectacle at a bar. I didn’t have to worry though as Alec is not a showy kind of guy and wasn’t likely to propose in public. Once at the bar, I was able to let go and have fun. I reminded myself I was lucky to have Alec to kiss at midnight. I felt bad for Clare, whose so-called boyfriend never showed up. Abbie kissed some random guy. Maggie and Ethan had each other of course, they’ve been engaged for over a year. Poor Josh waited all night for Sam, who later made some lame excuse about being stuck at another party.
Basically, it’s been hard to complain, but challenging not to. Our friends were getting sick of me talking about it, but it’s all I could think about. So when I heard a new girl was starting at our office after the New Year, yes I was excited. I was eager to make a new friend.
Bob Fitzgerald sent a memo on Friday via email with the announcement: Andressa (call her Andi, please) Maroun will step in as the new Special Accounts Manager beginning Monday. She’s been with Pearse and Associates for three years in the Providence office. I hope you will all welcome her here to Hartford.
I took it upon myself to greet Andi and was instantly glad I did. She seemed to be around my age and had a stylish, if a bit hipster, look. At lunch her first day I learned a little about her and decided she was normal, so I included her in the plans to get together with the gang on Friday.
My hope was to have a fun, stress-free weekend in Hartford because the following would be another proposal opportunity when Alec and I took a skiing trip. I had Monday off for MLK, but Alec took a vacation day which was rare for him, so I was taking it as a good sign that it would be the big weekend.
I did have fun at the bar that night and I think Andi did too. It was too bad Garrett couldn’t make it. He was our only single, straight friend at the moment. It was okay though because she had her eye on a guy she saw at the coffee shop each morning. Once I knew all this I was relieved and figured it would be okay to talk to her about the Alec/ring situation with her. I waited until Monday to get her up to speed on the current state of proposal-gate.
The next Friday I was even more hopeful when Alec called at five-fifty in the morning to suggest we both call in sick. He told me to look out the window.
I pulled back the curtain to take in the beautiful scene that was fresh January snow.
“We can head right to the slopes and check into the Inn after a day on the mountain.”
It didn’t take any arm twisting on my part. I texted Clare and Andi so they’d could support my fib by not slipping up at the office. I raced through my morning prep routine and threw a few more things in my already overstuffed designer duffle and waited by the door for my prince charming to arrive.
Not only was I in full ski gear when Alex’s luxury 4x4 pulled up to my condo, but in full make up too. No doubt I would be snapping selfies as soon as he popped the question.
Maybe on the chairlift
On the top of the mountain, or halfway down a trail?
By the fire at apre-ski?
After a romantic dinner at the Inn?
I let my mind wander as we made our way onto the highway, I must have been unconsciously smiling.
“Wow, you’re perky for it still being dark outside.”
“I’m just excited to get our weekend started early.”
“Well, hang tight, it looks like traffic might be bad with the storm just ending.”
And it was. At noon we found the furthest parking spot available at the mountain and had to wait another thirty minutes for a shuttle to arrive to take us to the lodge as they were running on off-peak times. By the time we purchased half day tickets, strapped, zipped, and clipped everything on, it was one in the afternoon. I was still holding my smile though and was determined not to let anything ruin the day.
At the top of the mountain, just before setting off on our first run, Alec turned to me with a sad puppy dog look on his face and my heart skipped a beat.
“I know this isn’t great timing, but I’m starving. Are you?”
Of course I was, I only had a granola bar in the car because I didn’t anticipate the delay. I thought we would’ve made six runs my now and be heading back out for more after a monster lunch. My heart sank with his disappointing question, but my stomach growled.
“Let’s stop at the mini-lodge halfway down,” I conceded.
Lunch was great, the snow was great and dinner later was wonderful – just uneventful. Not that our night time activities were normally boring, but I made sure to kick things up a notch that night and Alec seemed to notice. I figured it couldn’t hurt my chances at that point.
Saturday started off looking promising. After giant waffles we hit the slopes on the now well-groomed snow and had a fun and flirty day. We dared each other on hard trails, raced and tackled the moguls. I was certain it would be that night.
“Someday we’ll be peeking in on the kids at ski-school,” Alec said casually as we took off our skis to head into the lodge for lunch.
“I love to hear you talk like that,” I admitted.
Alec, now free of his skis, hobbled over to me in his unbuckled boots and pulled me in close, “I love you, Bree,” and kissed me in front of everyone stowing their gear outside.
“I love you too.” I took his hand in mine and we walked, or rather stomped, into the crowded cafeteria-style restaurant at the base lodge.
We made an amazing eight more runs before calling it quits and deciding on a drink by the fire in the lively lodge before going back to the quaint Inn.
“Just one,” I assured him. I didn’t want to be rushed getting ready for our dinner that night and hopefully the proposal.
“I promise, just one.”
Famous last words.
Halfway through his dark beer and my Moscow-Mule we heard a familiar, blast from the past voice.
A massive figure appeared from behind us and before I knew it I was locked with Alec in a double bear hug by one of his roommates from college.
“How the hell have you been?
“Great, Greg. What’s new?”
Greg was a big guy, but in a baby Huey kind of way. He blushed deeply as he answered our question. “Well, let me introduce you to my fiancé, Courtney.” He pulled a skinny blond to his side and she held up her hand, ring side out.
“A Christmas surprise. Thanks, Santa.” She kissed his cheek quickly and shook our hands and sweetly told us it was nice to meet us.
I was instantly jealous, though I knew it was petty, and was prepared to not like this girl. We stood by the fire for a bit and asked all the usual questions: where and how long they were staying, if they skied that day and where they live now. After fifteen minutes I nudged Alec, hoping he would get the hint to announce we had to leave to make our dinner reservation. I still had to shower and get ready back at the Inn. Instead, he and Greg ordered another round of drinks and swooped in on four seats as two couples left.
I made the best of it by asking Courtney all about the proposal and her plans. Without even knowing, I drank two more mules and at eight when they announced Karaoke would be starting soon, well, I was a goner. Alec must have called the restaurant and cancelled our reservation as soon as the microphone was in my hands. I remember singing a solo of Dancing Queen, a group version of Sweet Caroline and I think possibly a duet with Courtney that might have been Islands in the Stream.
Needless to say I woke up sans ring and in no shape to ski. Sunday wasn’t originally planned as a for sure ski day anyway so I didn’t feel like I blew our plans. I slept in, Alec did work and we met Greg and Courtney for dinner. It was nice, period.
Monday’s drive home was quiet. I blamed it on exhaustion from all the fun, but I felt like he knew. Frankly, I wanted him to know and hoped my silence spoke volumes.
Andi was very understanding whenever I spoke about Alec, so I felt like I could confide in her that Tuesday back at the office. She was supportive all week as I dealt with the disappointment.
Knowing that I was dumping on her, I tried to help her in her own guy situation. The week before, she learned Cute Coffee Shop Guy’s name was Conner and I dared her to ask him to Alec’s upcoming Superbowl party. I thought about setting her up with our friend, Garrett, but she seemed smitten with Connor so I just tried to be as supportive as she had been to me. It was too bad actually; Garrett was pretty cute and really nice and intelligent, too. At least he could be back up if things didn’t work out with Connor.
When Friday arrived, I went straight to Alec’s after work to prepare for Sunday’s party. We ordered dinner in and created our shopping list for the next day. Everyone said they were coming, but then I got a crazy text on Saturday from Garrett. Apparently it was his thirtieth birthday and his college buddies talked him into going to New Orleans for the actual game. I was kind of disappointed, I like a full house at our parties, but I guess we’d blown his birthday and had no grounds for grumbling.
I made a seven layer dip and my famous killer brownies for the party. Everyone usually brought something, either an appetizer or drinks and we always ended up with a ton of great stuff. Everyone arrived around four in a fun mood. I got almost all to participate in my betting pool. I created a poster board chart and Josh taught us a new drinking game to play during the commercials. It sounded pretty easy and a sure way to get everyone drunk.
“The guys will be animals,” Josh started to explain.
“Obviously,” Maggie interrupted.
“Right. And the girls will be babies. Each time a baby appears, you ladies drink. Whenever there’s an animal, it’s the guys’ turn.”
Josh was in advertising and knew animals and babies were a sure thing in Superbowl ads. As expected, we were loud and feeling no pain by halftime.
The party was a success. Everyone had fun, even Andi, even though she seemed a little disappointed at the beginning. I think she was hoping to have made more progress with Connor by that point and comfortable with inviting him to join us. Or maybe it was just nerves. She wasn’t used to all of us yet, but she relaxed and seemed to lighten up eventually.
When everyone left and Alec and I were cleaning up, there was a moment.
“Babe, can you grab that box over there for me?”
A box, possibly the box? A box with a blue velvet cushion cradling a two carat stone?
“Sure,” I skipped over to the counter where he had pointed and searched for a little box, which I didn’t see. “What does it look like?”
“Oh, never mind. I left it in the bedroom.”
He disappeared. My blood pressure soared. He returned holding a flat, rectangle box.
“What do you think of this tie? Too loud?”
My face fell. Something wasn’t loud enough for him I thought to myself.
I knew I was overreacting, I really did, but couldn’t seem help it. Clearly I wasn’t good at hiding my feelings in front of my friends.
“You’re sucking all the fun out of it. Don’t you want to be surprised?”
“I don’t know, Abbie. Maybe I don’t. I just want it to happen, now.”
“That’s obvious. I think you need to just let it happen though.”
I shut up after that, for a little while at least. I could tell my friends were getting annoyed with me. How could they not be? I was getting annoyed with me.
Still, Valentine’s Day was coming and a girl could hope. Couldn’t she? The holiday became my new focus.
Andi and Clare told me in no uncertain terms not to get my hopes up for a Valentine’s Day proposal. I thought they were just being sour grapes and basically told them to stick it and make their own plans.
Then a strange thing happened. They listened to me. They both made their own plans for the Friday night holiday. After some soul searching, I got an idea to follow suit.
Why did it have to Alec who had to do the proposing? It’s not like I’d be pulling a fast one on him if I were to do it. If I asked him, then I’d seal the deal and get to pick out my own ring. I was a genius. I just had to make my plan.
That weekend while we sat on his comfy sectional, Alec reading through documents for work, me flipping the pages of a fashion magazine -I would’ve opted for a Bridal one but didn’t want to be too obvious – I set my plan in motion. At least I tried to.
I tried to sound and look casual as I asked, “Honey, want me to make reservations for dinner on Valentine’s Day?”
“Already taken care of,” Alec answered, surprising me.
“Not telling,” he smirked without looking up from his stack of papers on his lap.
This wouldn’t work with my plan, I had to know the place.
“Oh come on, I hate surprises.”
He chuckled, “I know.”
“Well, how fancy? What do I wear? You have to give me something to go on.”
He looked up finally, “Um, I don’t know. Not jeans but not a formal gown. Does that help?”
“Hardly. Is it quiet, loud, private or bar style?”
“Hardly. Is it quiet, loud, private or bar style?”
“Enough questions. The witness may step down now.”
Friday arrived with all the usual fanfare. There was excitement all day in the office to further fuel my anxiety. Flowers, balloons and tacky teddy bears were delivered throughout the day and chocolate kisses seemed to be everywhere. I wasn’t sad Alec had not sent anything to the office, I felt like we were beyond this point and on to bigger and better – or rather, smaller and shinier.
I indulged in a few chocolates and skipped going out for lunch, opting for a yogurt at my desk so I could leave early. Andi, as a Director, didn’t have this leave-early option and was out to lunch when I stopped by her office to ask about her date that night with Connor. Though I was disappointed she wasn’t there to chat with, I was glad she wasn’t there to witness my candy heart thievery. She was always offering them, so I assumed it would be okay to take a few from the large bag on her desk. The first was a pink Cutie Pie, the next an orange Miss You and the rest I brought back to my cubicle. Once at my desk I discovered a green Purr-fect, a purple Hey Baby and finally the one I wouldn’t melt on my tongue but save in my blazer pocket – a blue 2-nite. It was exactly what I needed.
That’s where the productivity for a Valentine’s Day Friday ended at the office. I had a lot more work to do at home to get everything Purr-fect for 2-nite.
Even though I couldn’t picture the restaurant, and believe me I tried desperately to find out the name, I still knew how I was going to propose. I was all ready to go except for the finishing touches on my hair and make-up when Andi called, freaking out.
She was rethinking her date and I couldn’t let her do that or cause me to have any doubt at that point either. I tried to remain calm myself as I told her to do the same. I told her she could text me to rescue her if she really needed me, then prayed she wouldn’t need me as I undid my hot rollers.
The restaurant was perfect, Alec did good. Trendy, but not tacky. Dark, but not depressing, and just loud enough.
A bottle of Champagne was already cooling in a table-side stand when we were shown to our table. A waiter magically appeared, but Alec asked if he could do the honors. Suddenly I was nervous, and warm, wishing I hadn’t worn the burgundy velvet dress I had been saving for a special occasion.
Alec handed me a glass of the cool bubbly and clinked his glass to mine across the table.
“To our future,” He said with a little crack in his voice.
“Forever,” I added.
We both drained our glasses at once and said, “I have something to ask you,” at the same time. We laughed and Alec said, “Ladies, first.”
“No, you go.”
A smile spread across his face. “Same time?” That’s when it hit me we were about to ask the same question.
“On three,” I said and began the countdown.
“One, two, three – will you marry me?” We burst out laughing, sprang from our chairs and hugged and kissed while clapping from the diners around us filled the air. We pulled apart and thanked those congratulating us and sat back down.
The waiter appeared again and held the napkin wrapped champagne bottle at the ready to refill our glasses asking, “Well, did you both say yes?”
“So did I!”
The waiter nodded at the affirmation and filled our glasses to the top and disappeared again.
“I thought you wouldn’t expect it today, too cliché,” Alec explained.
“And I thought you’d never expect me to ask you.”
“You got me there.”
“You got me too,” I said.
“You got me too,” I said.
Alec reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out a box. A little box this time, not tie-sized. “I also got you this.” He opened it to present me the perfect ring. It was perfect not because it was a princess cut set in platinum, but because the timing was right, for both of us.