Yaniz had finally gotten dressed up. She was beside me in the vehicle, and I could tell she was frustrated but there was nothing to be done about it now. When she had come out of her room in her mismatched outfit and lazy afternoon hair, I thought I would have to break the surprise to get her changed. I knew she would be mad if I had paid a photographer and she didn’t look her best. I had been conflicted, but I had kept my cool, and when her best friend Raquel came by, she convinced her to change.
Now we were on our way downtown in Raquel and Lucas’ Prius. Beirut came on Raquel’s playlist and she and I fawned about Beirut’s eclectic instrumentation. “East Harlem” is one of my favorite love songs of all time I tell her and she plays it.
I try to caress Yaniz to cool her down, but I can tell she’s grumpy and intends to stay grumpy. We have gotten into a number of arguments over the last two days because I have had to keep her on a tight schedule without any explanation. Her mother is in town but Yaniz doesn’t know so we stayed away from last night’s lawn concert where we might all run into each other. Earlier that Saturday, I had gotten into a huge fight with her in the middle of a conversation she was having with a friend. In my defense, that friend was on the verge of ruining the mother surprise and raising all sorts of questions and problems.
Plus we really had no time for Brazilian potlucks.
We had places to go.
Places like the Terminal Station. That’s where the proposal was going to happen.
Hopefully I haven’t argued away Yaniz’ yes.
We parked in Track 29—a concert venue in downtown Chattanooga. That parking lot is near the Choo Choo Hotel eateries, but it was far away enough to make Yaniz grumble some more.
“Why did we park all the way here? Where are we going?” she asked.
Nobody really offered much of an answer because there wasn’t much we could say to her. We parked all the way here so we could make sure you wouldn’t see the photographer.
I hold her hand. We walk. She’s wearing her new black dress. She really likes this dress, but I am afraid she might not like it in photographs. It’s ok though because it’s black and she looks really good in black. We walk in silence. Her red hair radiates in the late afternoon sun. I laugh at the fact she’s wearing heels because she’s not the kind of person to just wear heels. Raquel did well.
I look up and notice Raquel and Lucas are both wearing denim jackets. “Love the denim look guys.” They laugh. It’s Lucas’ birthday today. That’s the alibi for this whole event. Yesterday, Raquel and Lucas had texted Yaniz, and I had pretended to not know anything.
“They want to spend the whole day with us, Babe. They have like a dinner idea. Are you interested?”
“Yes,” I say. “I’m flattered. I didn’t know it was his birthday, but this works perfect because I haven’t planned tomorrow.”
And now there we were at the Terminal Station walking in silence. She was grumpy and I was nervous, and everyone else around us was tense with anticipation. When we got to the garden area, I asked her to come with me to the trains. I want to photograph you was what I told her. She complained, but acquiesced. It was not a far walk from the gardens to the trains, but it may as well have been a marathon for my heart.
I was getting really nervous. Did I really want to marry her?
I took her to the second bridge between the train cars on the parking lot side of the Choo Choo Hotel. When we got there, I talked about this frame I was envisioning.
“What do you want me to do? Just tell me what I’m supposed to do.”
She’s flat and I regret not thinking through what my fake directions were going to be. Where’s Ben Chase’s text? I guess I’m gonna have to just trust he’s in position.
She’s getting really impatient with me so I know it’s time to move to the next step.
“Alright, Babe. I’m gonna get my camera out now,” I announce to no one in particular.
I unsling my camera bag, kneel down, and go to open my bag. I have turned my back away from Yaniz; as I am on the ground, I check my iPhone. I see the text I want: I’m in position. Relief washes over me.
I reach inside my camera bag, and open the box housing the jewelry. The jewelry that had been the cause of my duress all summer. The jewelry that was the fruit of weeks of searching and had eaten up all my assets like some pearl of great price. The ring that I hoped Yaniz would love because it literally represented everything I was worth at that moment.
I pulled out the beige case. My hands are trembling. I turn around, but stay kneeling. I open the case. I can’t stop smiling. My cheeks will ache by the end of the day. Remember to extend the ring towards her left ring ringer like your hair stylist trained you.
Yaniz has finally realized what’s going on, but somehow she remains unconvinced.
“Are you serious?” she says between laughter. Her laughter is loud and incontrollable. Guffaws is the way a thesaurus would have described it. I can tell she’s laughing because she’s excited and incredulous in a way only the surprised can know.
“Where’s the photographer? This isn’t serious if there’s no photographer!” As she says this, she swivels her gaze.
She sees Ben.
She turns back to me.
She’s still laughing.
“Yaniz, will you marry me?” I gave up on my speech.
She’s still laughing.
“Yes! Of course!”
More laughter, and this time, mine mingles with hers into a song of ecstatic release. Finally. Officially engaged.