Ben was setting bullets. The girl in his passenger seat was stunning. He couldn't tell if she was actually becoming more beautiful with each passing moment or if he was simply falling harder for her with every second. He settled on both.
Willow was nervous, too.
She'd never done things like this before, having a boyfriend and meeting his family. She'd been a chore girl for her own family for so long that she'd forgotten what it was like to be treated like a normal human being, so she definitely wasn't used to being treated like she was special. Or, looked at like she'd taken someone's breath away.
She liked the way her hand fit inside his hand. It was nice.
They pulled up to a sprawling mansion an hour north of the city. Ben parked the car. Willow was out of it before he had the chance to open her door for her. He smiled and took her hand as they walked up the path to the front door.
He opened the door and she followed him into the house.
A woman with red hair came rushing to meet them.
"Mr. Montgomery, welcome home," she smiled kindly. "Welcome, young miss. May I take your coats?"
Ben helped Willow remove her jacket and handed it with his own to the woman.
"Thank you, Nan," he smiled. "Where's dad?"
"He's out in the back, having a drink," she said. "What would you both like? I'll bring it to you."
"I'll have bourbon," he said, then winked at Willow. "Dad always buys the good stuff."
"I'll have the same," she'd learned to handle a little bit more alcohol since dating Ben. Still, she was happy he'd driven.
Ben guided her to the backyard. His father was reading a book, a glass in his free hand. He had his readers on.
"Dad," Ben called.
George sat his book down and smiled at the sight of his son and the pretty, but nervous looking girl beside him. He stood to meet them, wiping the sweat from his glass on the front of his slacks.
"Ben," he smiled and hugged his son.
"Willow, this is my Dad," Ben introduced them. "Dad, this is Willow."
"Nice to meet you, Willow. I'm George Montgomery," he smiled and shook her hand.
They had a polite dinner. Got on well. It surprised Willow how normal it all was. She had imagined George as something of a tyrant, but now she saw he was sort of just sad. She made sure to give him a hug instead of a handshake when they left.
Ben was shaking, or at least felt like he was shaking. His mother's ring was in his coat pocket.
He was almost thirty, but here he was nervous like a teenager. He'd won his father's approval, but now he had to come up with a plan. And she wouldn't talk about her family. She didn't have too many friends. He needed help. He was way in over his head.
They had arrived at her building.
"Do you want to come up?" She asked once he'd put the car in park. "I've got some really good matcha powder that I grabbed at this cute little place off Sutter yesterday."
He followed her up the stairs the her apartment and she unlocked the door. He hung his coat on the coat rack by the door, then sat on a bar stool at the kitchen island while she began steaming milk in two ceramic mugs.
When she was done, she handed him his drink.
"I have something for you," she said nervously. "It's in the closet. Just, wait here a moment."
She hoped he would like this. It wasn't like she'd been thinking of him specifically when she found it. It's more like she had been thinking about him all the time and she stumbled upon it and thought it was nice while he was on her mind. And then she showed it to Mr. Chan, who helped her complete the gift the day before.
She found the small wooden box in her closet and brought it to him. He opened it carefully to find an old brass pocket watch. It was quite cool, in his opinion. He opened the watch to discover a photo of himself with Willow on the night of the rehearsal dinner. It was a candid photo of the two of them mid conversation. He was making her laugh. He didn't even know this picture existed. It was perfect.
"This is fantastic," he beamed. "Thank you."
"I just," why was she even talking. She had nothing she could figure out to say to him that would sound intelligible, but she couldn't make herself close her mouth. "I wanted to get you something nice. It's nothing in comparison to everything you've done for me, but..."
"You know you don't owe me for anything..."
"I know, but..." How did she explain this? How would she say it? This feeling she hadn't been able to pin down yet. "I wanted to... I love you."
And he suddenly realized how quickly he'd jumped the gun with the engagement ring. They hadn't confirmed their feelings for each other yet. This was it. This was the first time either of them had said it.
She looked concerned, and he realized he hadn't said anything yet. It would be lame if he just said it back after such an odd silence. So, he stood and stepped closer to her, putting his arm around her waist. He kissed her, pouring his feelings into her through his lips.
"I love you, too," he whispered when their lips came apart.
"You aren't just saying that too keep me from feeling too embarrassed, are you?" She asked, that concern still present in his eyes.
How could she lack so much confidence? He'd never met her family, but he wanted to ask them how they could let such an amazing person have such little trust in herself.
He started to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation and stepped away from her to go to the coat rack. He found the ring in one of the pockets and took it out to show her.
"This is not how I was planning on doing this," he said and placed the ring in the palm of her hand. "I was planning ways to get your finger size before we even managed to say that we love each other. But, I didn't have the opportunity. That's because I only just received this from my father tonight. It was my mother's ring, and my grandmother's before her. Now, I'd like for it to be yours if you'll have me."
She looked down at the ring and smiled. Her life was quickly becoming a fairytale.
"I know, it's very early," he said, now the one who was nervous he'd said too much too soon.
"If it fits," she said and handed the ring back to him, "then let's get married."
She held out her left hand to him. He gently placed the ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit.