“Where in God’s name are you going? The sun isn’t even out yet.” Nellie grumbled, rolling over to find Crutchie weaseling his way out of bed, pulling on his boots, “Come back to bed. There will still be papes for you to hawk in a few hours.”
“I want to get out there early today.” he insisted, “But I’ll finish selling early today so’s I’ll be back here before dinner. How does that sound?”
There were few benefits to living in the back room of a bakery, but one of them was that the leftovers were always there in the morning, “There’s leftovers from what we didn’t sell last night. Take them with you. I don’t want you going hungry today.” she yawned, “And wear the thick scarf today. It’s supposed to be below freezing all day.” she reminded, flipping back over to get her last few hours of sleep before she had to open the shop for the day, “Don’t work yourself too hard.”
“I never do.” he murmured, leaning across their shared four-poster to kiss her on the cheek, “I’ll see you tonight.”
Nellie grumbled something nearly unintelligible in return before dozing back off.
“The usual for you, then?” Nellie asked as Katherine walked into the bakery during the normal lull. It was then that she always chose to come in and pick up that week’s bread, because it gave her the opportunity to have a few minutes to chat, before Nellie had to get back to business, “How has the baby been? Is she sleeping through the night?”
“She’s been just fine.” Katherine said, an impish grin spreading across her face, “How are you and-”
“Good Lord, Katherine; you try this every time. It’s not going to happen.”
Nellie shrugged, going back to her work behind the counter, “I’m just saying,” she shouted over the beat of the blender that Nellie had taken to using, “I’m getting really sick of being the only married one.”
“Last time I checked, Jack was married too.” Nellie quipped, not turning away from her work, “I told you not to hold your breath. I’m not going to press the issue, because I don’t want Crutchie to have one more thing to worry about. He’s already working himself too hard. Can you even imagine how much harder he would push himself if we started thinking about that kind of thing? He’d want to get this ring that I certainly don’t need and he would want to find an apartment for us. That’s too much stress to put him under.”
“What do you mean he works himself too hard?” Katherine questioned, less in intrigue and with more concern this time.
“I mean he’s sick all the time. He’s always out before any of the other boys and he always says he’ll be home for dinner, but he never is. He never has energy anymore. I can just see it isn’t good for him.”
“Crutchie is the kind of person who would do that because he wants to, though.” she reasoned, “He wants to give you everything, even if it means missing out on certain things for himself.”
“But he’s harming himself, Katherine, and it’s really frightening me.” Nellie admitted, collapsing in a chair alongside her friend, giving up on her work for the time, “What am I going to do? I can’t tell him I’m worried he’ll think it’s his fault. I can’t not tell him; he’ll work himself to death.”
“Just tell him yourself.” Katherine murmured, “Looks like he’s home early for once.”
They watched for a moment while he fumbled his way through the door and into the warmth of the bakery, “Evening, Ladies.” he called, untying his scarf and laying it over a nearby chair, “How was work?” he asked, leaning down to peck Nellie on the cheek.
“It’s…not over yet.” she laughed in her confusion, “What are you doing home so early?”
“Got done what I needed to get done, now I’ve got the rest of the day to myself. Do you need help in the kitchen?” he asked.
Nellie shook her head, a slow smile spreading across her face, “Go wash up and I’ll see what I can find for you to do.”
“I should probably be on my way, then.” Katherine murmured, sliding out of her chair quickly and making a mad dash for the door.
“So soon?” Nellie asked. Katherine usually stuck around for most of the midday to keep Nellie company, so it was odd that she was bailing out so soon after she’d arrived.
“Yeah, yeah. I mean, Crutchie’s home early for the first time in forever. Spend some time with him. I’ll be back tomorrow.” she said, turning and walking toward the door before freezing and shouting over her shoulder, “Just a suggestion, though; you may want to come over here and see what Crutchie’s hiding under his scarf.” With that, she vanished.
Her curiosity getting the best of her, Nellie strode over to where Crutchie’s scarf sat, making sure he was nowhere in sight before she lifted it. Underneath was a tiny, leather box. She peered at the unimpressive thing, picking it up and eyeing it from all angles. She didn’t understand why Katherine had been so excited about it. It was nothing particularly spectacular.
“Nellie-” he murmured, his eyes growing wide as he emerged from the back room, “you weren’t supposed to see that.”
“What is it?” she questioned, not entirely sure if it was good, bad or otherwise, “It’s a box.”
“It ain’t just a box.” he snorted out a laugh, making his way over to her as quickly as he could, “Give it here.” he snatched it from her, holding it down by his side, “This box is why I’ve been starting off earlier than all the others and why I’ve been back after midnight every night. Because I’ve been saving up for this.” he murmured, cracking the box open, revealing a small ring, “I wanted to do it right, and according to Jack, this is how it’s done.”
“What are you talking about?” Nellie asked, “It’s a beautiful ring, but-”
“I’m asking you to marry me.” he rushed, his face turning beet red.
“This is the way Jack said it was supposed to be done, eh?” Nellie questioned, breaking the tension between them.
Almost immediately Crutchie rolled his eyes, a smile spreading across his face, “It’s a yes or no question, Nellie.”
She could feel her tears welling up as she nodded uncontrollably, “Yes.”
He nodded along with her, his relief evident, “So…do you put it on, or do I put it on you-”
“I think you put it on.” she giggled, as they both fumbled with the ring, “It’s a beautiful ring.” she repeated, still in utter shock at how fast it all had happened.
“I’ve got to do something real quick. I’ll be right back.” he murmured, making his way over to the door and flinging it open, shouting into the dark, “She said yes.” which was followed by applause, whoops, and hollers, as all of their friends filed in from the street to wish them well.