[For M. and J. This story, like the world, is now yours to keep.]
Window seat. Always get a window seat.
The boy (why is it always the boy?) was nervous, but that was okay. This was a nervous kind of moment. It was Valentine's Day. A big one at that.
He reached into his coat pocket, felt the small box was still there, still full of his hopes and what he'd promised the girl so long ago.
The train rolled on through the night.
The snow fell hard outside through the yellow city lights and he thought back to that 4th of July. The two of them and all their friends were sitting on blankets and half-broken folding chairs along the waterfront, oohing and aahing the way people do at fireworks shows. In that afternoon they had walked together for hours. They watched children playing, laughed at people getting drunk on cheap beer, stared out onto the waves. The day seemed to last forever.
"Some day," people used to joke, "you two are going to be spending a lot of holidays together." They would laugh this off. Not in a million years.
They were younger then. They were not yet in love.
In the days that passed they had learned to finally see in each other what had been there all along. That he was a thoughtful and charming man. That she was a beautiful and sweet woman. That the reason the two of them had been alone so long is that they couldn't see what was right in front of them. That they could be so happy if they wanted to.
Click-clack, click-clack along the rails.
Like any good romance, theirs was a long string of ups and downs, but mostly ups. The time he wrecked her car. The time she spilled wine on his computer. The time they got drunk in Memphis and screamed at each other all through the night. The time he wallpapered her living room with red roses. The time she drove 100 miles just to surprise him with the old football jersey he had wanted since he was a kid.
But also like any good romance, the day came when the only thing left to talk about was the future.
As in, The Future.
She was sure about them. They had been such good friends, even better as lovers. This was perfect.
He wasn't. How could they know? How can anyone? Every relationship dies these days, he thought. He didn't want to see theirs crumble on such a large scale. Maybe it was better to stop this before it got to that point. Kill the romance to save the friendship.
The girl wept for days and weeks over this. All this time she had had it in her head that he was all she needed, and now he was ready to take that away without a second thought.
"It doesn't have to end yet," he told her.
"If it's going to, I don't want to wait," she told him.
"We'll wait and see what happens," he said.
"No waiting," she said. "If you've got it in your head that you can live without me I'd like to see you do it."
And for a little while he tried, realizing soon enough that he couldn't. The way she laughed at his stupid jokes. The way she opened his eyes to a world he might never have otherwise seen. How nice it was to wake up with her as the first thing he saw, and knowing when he would lay down again to dream she would be the last.
He saw now how she had slowly come to mean the world to him. And there was only one thing he could do that would prove that to her.
"Damen is next," said the train announcer. "Doors open on the right at Damen."
This is your stop, buddy.
He felt around his pocket again. In his mind, her face was already lighting up. Everything about it would be perfect, he thought. Finally.
She would look at him the way he had for so long dreamed she would. The light in her eyes would shine on him. For him. The way he should've realized he couldn't do without in the first place. The way the engraving on the band said it would, and the way he wished it hadn't taken him so long to understand he would love her:
FOR NOW AND FOR EVER.
He rang the doorbell and waited. Last chance, he told himself. Now or never.
She opened the door.
"What are you doing here?"
Well, he thought, here goes nothing.