Matt put his hand in his pocket again for the umpteenth time.
He just had to make sure, even though he had made sure about a hundred times before, during, and after he had left the house, that he still had the box with the ring with him.
Feeling the compact ring box still as securely in the side pocket of his shorts as it had been the minute previous, he felt his mind relax and his heart tighten. This all had to go absolutely perfect. He was fairly sure that she would still accept him if he didn’t pop the question in a way that would win him the best fiancée award, but he wanted it to be as romantic as possible for her. For Chloe.
His palms slipped slightly on the steering wheel grip.
Matt was proud to say that he had thought to wear his loosest, most baggy pair of patch-pocket cargo shorts so that the ring box wouldn’t make a visible bulge that would be noticeable to her. The idea had come to him in one of his rare inspirations, and he was particularly pleased by it. He wanted to stun her with his proposal just like all the guys in the movies did.
He adjusted the rearview mirror so that he could see himself in it. Did his facial expression give anything away? Did he look too spiffy? He had tried to make his hair look presentable, but now it looked like was starting to stand up. Or, perhaps, did he look too casual? He just knew that wearing something as stupidly retro as patch-pockets to an occasion like this was a bad idea! Let alone patch-pocket cargo shorts!
He checked his watch frantically. Was there enough time to go back home and change? But no, the fates hated him and he only had two minutes, barely enough time to get to the meeting place to meet Chloe from where he was.
Walking over to the start of the hiking track where he had agreed to meet her, he felt the box bouncing on his thigh with every step and he instinctively trapped it down with his hand. Then a sense of horror overtook him and he jerked his hand away. Had Chloe seen his tell-tale movement?
He walked another couple of tentative steps before he saw her sitting on a bench with a bright smile directed at him. He felt a smile come naturally over his face; if there had been any doubt about proposing to her, he definitely knew that he wanted to marry her now.
Then, another flash of horror. Was Chloe’s smile a knowing smile or simply her usual hello smile? Wait, shouldn’t he be able to tell the difference between her smiles by now? What sort of horrible boyfriend couldn’t tell the difference between the types of smiles his girlfriend had?
His facial muscles kept the warm smile locked on his face even while he felt like a deer in headlights. She waved at him.
“Hey Chlo,” he somehow said in his normal tone, using his pet name for her. “Wanna go?” Oh dear god, that rhymed! He sounded like some five-year-old idiot!
She leapt up excitedly. “Yeah! Let’s get you and me gone already! I’m so jazzed!” He loved the way that she could mangle grammatical structures and sound like she was from the eighties and still sound respectable and amazing. Actually, she was just amazing in general.
Chloe jumped up and started skipping towards him so they could walk together, holding hands like always. Matt felt another deer-in-headlights moment coming, much faster than the rate that Chloe was advancing towards him. Chloe was approaching his right side, specifically the right side with the ring!
She would totally feel the ring box as they were walking, and she would totally figure out what it was, and the fantastically romantic surprise that he had been planning for weeks would be totally ruined, and…. Think fast, think fast, think fast!
Matt dumbly extended his left hands towards her. Some improvisation, he mentally berated himself, beating himself up inside for the second time that day for being so stupid as to not plan out such a crucial moment.
How could he have forgotten that he always held his right hand with her left! What if Chloe insisted on being on his right side? And why, why had he not thought to put the ring in his left side pocket?
Chloe cheerily reached for his left hand with a grin before giving out a small yelp.
“Did you feel that?” Chloe asked.
“What?” he said, feeling his heart throb unpleasantly. If this kept on, someone was going to have to crack out the defibrillation paddles before long.
“Static electricity! There’s electricity between us!” Chloe yipped happily, giving him a coy smile. Matt grinned back in relief, blessing his girlfriend’s adorableness, and pointedly resisting the urge to clutch his heart.
The couple began walking, Chloe chattering about something or other and Matt desperately trying to pay attention to what she was saying while fervently hoping that the pocket with the ring in it didn’t have a hole.
With every step, Matt felt the box bounce on his leg, making him fear that the box would somehow fly out of his zippered pocket. Even though the bouncing on his thigh confirmed that the box was still there, he couldn’t shake off the irrational desire to feel it in his hand as though feeling it in his palm would make the presence of the box more real to him.
They finally reached the first resting station, a mini waterfall. By that point, both had broken out in a light sweat although for Matt, it might have been more due to his newly developed anxiety disorder than due to any particular physical exertion.
As they looked at the waterfall, the water of it noisily spraying in sparkling droplets, another of Matt’s moments of inspiration came to him. The sound of the falling water was probably loud enough to drown out the rustling of his cargo shorts as he felt for the ring-box, and the surrounding sights might just be distracting enough for Chloe not to notice him putting his hand in his pocket.
He glanced at Chloe, who was leaning into the light breeze with her eyes closed, her wavy hair windblown. Keeping an eye on his girlfriend and, with a measure of luck, soon-to-be fiancée, he unzipped his pocket and slid his hand into it, feeling the box firmly present on his fingers. Instant relief washed over him. Then he hurriedly took his hand out of the incriminating position it was in and quickly scratched his side, trying to act even more natural than the nature all around him.
Chloe turned towards him after breathing out one last contented sigh. “Alright, I’m good. How about you? Ready to go again?”
Matt was sure that some high divinity was watching over him right that moment. If he had taken his hand out of his pocket even a second later, then… he didn’t even want to think about all his hard work thus far at keeping his surprise a surprise going to waste.
He smiled in affirmation and they started hiking again, passing the next few resting stations without stopping, and only pausing long enough to take water from their respective water bottles. The ring-box beat a steady tattoo of bounces on Matt’s leg along with his steps, and even his breathing and heartbeats were in tandem. Step, bounce, breathe, beat. His current life revolved around the ring that he had in his pocket.
Then like lightning out of a cloudless sky, a terrible, terrible thought struck Matt. He definitely had the box, but how could he be sure that he had the ring to go with it? Come to think of it, he had never checked to see if he had the actual ring, only the box! He had been admiring the ring the other night just before he gone to bed; what if he had left the ring on his nightstand?
He simply had to check for the ring. And soon, at that. How pathetic would it be to get down on one knee and present the box with no ring?
And he wasn’t about to wait for the next resting station, which was at least ten minutes away. He might go into a coma from nervousness if he tried to wait that long without checking for the ring.
When Chloe was momentarily distracted by another hiker asking for directions, Matt decided that his chance had come. Pretending to be interested by something in the bushes, he wandered off a couple of meters to where foliage covered him, plunging his hand into his pocket to take out the box simultaneously. He had very minimal time and he had to act fast.
He took out the box after making sure that his back was properly turned, and opened it. There the ring sat, glinting with a luster even in the shade of a tree. He touched the shiny metallic surface of it and the feel of the cool metal under his finger calmed him.
Then, he heard a cheery “Thank you!” spoken as the parting words from the hiker who had wanted directions. He knew what that meant. Time had run out.
Matt felt a thrill shoot through his mind as he frantically tried to hide the ring from view, but his fumbling fingers couldn’t seem to be able to grasp the box properly so he could snap it shut. He could hear Chloe’s footsteps coming in his direction, and also impending doom approaching.
“Hey, whatcha doing over there?” called Chloe. For some reason, Matt’s brain decided that now would be a good time to start giggling nervously as Matt’s hand fisted around the box. Matt blurted out the first thing that came to his mind that might possibly make the smallest bit of sense and save his surprise from being found out.
“Uh, nothing. I just needed to, you know, go.”
As soon as the words left him, Matt prayed that some passing god would strike him down and spare him his humiliation. Yes, that’s right, turn to the most base of bodily functions when you’re trying to impress your girlfriend. Brilliant! Makes you seem so husband-material! Oh, why did the fates love to torture him?
But Chloe just flashed an amused grin at him. “Drank too much water, huh?” Matt weakly laughed with her, not trusting his words, and almost violently shoved the box back into his pocket when they started walking. If he managed to get through this without making a complete fool of himself or causing himself bodily harm, it would be a miracle.
They had arrived at the top of the mountain and the cliff where Matt had planned out his proposal was coming into sight. Matt glanced around to see if there was anyone else around.
Matt lovingly gazed at the cliff that he was approaching, imagining the scene that would happen there in a few moments’ time. He would say “Chloe, what do you feel right now?” and she would say something like “Great!” and he would say “Well, what you feel right now times a million is how I feel every time I’m with you” and she would say something like-
His reverie was interrupted by none other than the object of his reverie herself. “Did you feel that?” she asked.
“Uh, no?” said Matt, feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu. “Static electricity again?” he asked hopefully, offering a smile.
“No, I thought I felt a drop of rain.”
Matt was just about to say that he hoped not, when he felt a drop. It trickled down his bare arm much like his heart was starting to do down his leg into his scuffed hiking boots. Before he knew it, it really started to rain and they were in the middle of a storm.
The couple instinctively rushed under the nearest tree they could, Matt inwardly cursing himself for not being able to control the weather. How could he not have thought to doubt the weather forecast when it informed him that today would be a sunny, slightly cloudy day with a ten percent chance of rain? The rain was completely, well, raining on his parade and his chances for making this a perfect day for Chloe!
So much for his chances for a fantastically romantic surprise proposal like the one he had planned out. Right about now, he was supposed to be standing with her on the cliff at the top of the mountain, gazing at the beautiful panorama, proposing, and then going off into the sunset with her!
But no. Life just loved to mess with him. He was wet, Chloe was wet, and they were under some spindly trees that were mere meters from the designated cliff, and it was just killing him, and he would have to plan out a different way to pop the question, and they were weathering down a completely unexpected storm, and-
A burst of lightning filled the whole surrounding area with blinding white light. A roll of thunder followed, the sound crashing and echoing down the mountain. Matt flinched. Oh, and lest he forget, the storm in question was also a lightning storm. Another burst of lightning and roll of thunder.
Matt had no words to describe the situation anymore. This situation was just…just freaking perfect, he thought bitterly. The only way it could possibly get any worse was if he somehow lost the ring down the cliff. He looked at Chloe gloomily, preparing an apology, but she was gazing out at the stormy mountains with wonderment.
“You know, can you imagine how fantastic it would be if, after the storm, we went back down and found that a hundred years or more had passed? You know, sort of like Rip Van Winkle except that we would still be the same while everything else changed. Everything would be different except for us. Can you imagine?” She swayed her body with the wind.
Matt looked at Chloe. She was gracefully twirling around under the canopy that the tree branches made, and smiling in a way that he could not understand but that he knew he loved. Her face was lit up not only from the sporadic bursts of lightning, but from an expression of strange enjoyment. Matt could not understand her unexpected feeling of happiness in such a situation as this, but he thought he understood exactly what he felt towards her in that moment.
He reached out a hand towards her, and took hold of her hand gently. Touching her, even in such a simple gesture, made it all real to him. “Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine. It would just be us.”
“This is just so stereotypically romantic, that it’s actually truly romantic,” Chloe said dreamily. “This whole surprise storm, I mean.” She laughed. “I probably look a mess, though, all sweaty and wet with my hair frizzed up.”
Matt had never heard anything that sounded more wrong to him that the latter part of what Chloe had just said. He firmly said to her, grasping her hand even more firmly, “No you don’t. You look beautiful, gorgeous. Definitely.” As he said those words, Matt suddenly had a flash of what he should do that was more powerful than the lightning ripping above his head.
The crash of thunder seemed to him as a divine voice directing his words.
“You know that Rip Van Winkle comparison you just made? Well, if it was actually true and it was just us, would you want to keep on being with me in the new world even after we got down from this mountain? Like, even if the new world was really different?”
Chloe looked at him. “Uh, yeah,” she said softly. She smiled and spoke with more conviction. “Definitely.”
That was all he needed to know. The pitter-patter of the rain was like a celestial drum roll as Matt, his hand as sure as his mind, took the ring-box out of his pocket. He snapped the box open, revealing the engagement ring to the wide sky as well as to Chloe. Reverently lifting the ring from its slot, Matt led it over to his girlfriend’s finger and then looked at her, asking for permission.
Chloe’s eyes were wide and her frizzy hair waved up and down as she nodded jerkily.
Sliding the ring onto Chloe’s rain-slicked finger, Matt popped the question that he had been dying to ask since he had planned out his proposal some several weeks ago.
“Chloe Janice Warren, will you marry me?”
A lightning flash of ethereal white light filled the space between them and the burst of thunder blasted out Matt’s eardrums, preventing him from hearing the answer that Chloe never got to give.