I’m on a stakeout. Granted, I’m not disguised as a delivery person or hiding behind a newspaper. There are no binoculars or dark shades involved. No two-way radio tucked into my sleeve. Although the excitement tickling my gut might suggest that I’m crouched behind a dumpster aiming a telephoto lens, I’m actually perched on a low bench in Blu. It’s a handsome crowd and most are here to watch the fireworks. One person is here to rewrite history.
Larry is at a table with his girlfriend, Stephanie. I’ve known her for a while, and Larry has been like a little brother to me for more than 10 years. About a month ago, he called to ask if I could be on hand when he proposed.
“She’s always loved fireworks,” he said. “Last summer, I remember turning to look at her and her face was all lit up with lights and she was smiling like a big kid. I remember thinking, ‘I absolutely love this woman.’”
Of course, I coo.
“I didn’t tell her in that moment, though,” Larry said, disappointment still lacing his words. “I don’t know what stopped me. I told her, maybe, the next day. But at the fireworks? Man, that would’ve been perfect.”
The missed opportunity nagged at him. When he was ready to propose almost a year later, he was determined to create an unforgettable event.
“If I pull this off,” he said, “History just might smudge away that fact that I dropped the ball that night, and she’ll always associate my ‘I love you’ with fireworks. Maybe our kids will even retell the story that way.”
A conspiracy in the name of love and posterity? I’m in.
I’m at my post, crammed awkwardly between the bar, a married couple to my right and an adult family of six to my left. Everyone faces the window, watching the steel-grey sky surrender to nightfall. I’m making notes in my journal about the crowd, the mood, the floating constellation of lights from boats in the marina and, of course, Larry and Stephanie. Like many other couples, they’re sipping champagne, holding hands, planting kisses, listening to the jazz band, enjoying a romantic evening. I look at my watch. 9:05. My stomach begins to flutter.
The wait staff hustles to and fro delivering champagne and towers of hors d’ouerves to the tables. When a waiter appears beside him, Larry looks alarmed and I imagine his heart thundering beneath his shirt. He’s made arrangements for a custom dessert with “Will You Marry Me” written in chocolate. Not yet. Almost, but not yet.
The band is back from a mini-break. The singer begins “I Will Always Love You,” and the banquet staff approach Larry and Stephanie with their dessert. It takes a moment for its true sweetness to register, and Stephanie begins to smile and giggle. Larry produces the ring box and lowers himself to one knee. I’m not close enough to hear his actual proposal (should’ve invested in the wire tap kit, after all) but I could hear the whisper rippling around us, “Look, he’s proposing!”
Exactly –seriously- exactly as Larry and Stephanie stand to embrace and kiss, the sky erupts in light and fire. Larry turns to the crowd and confirms, “She said yes!” The entire lounge cheers.
Later that night, I ask Stephanie if she had any idea. She said she had none.
“I called her parents and all of her girlfriends to make sure this went off smoothly,” Larry said. “I even made sure that we were dressed up so all the pictures would look nice.”
“You really covered your bases,” I said. “When did you start planning?”
Larry recounts how he met with her parents early in the year, requested time off from work back in March, started scouting locations in spring, engaged accomplices in early summer, etc. All the while, Stephanie is admiring her ring. Our eyes meet, and she laughs.
“So, how’d he do? I ask.
“This was perfect,” Stephanie said, planting another kiss on Larry’s cheek. “It was everything, and it was perfect.”
Stephanie rested against Larry’s arm, smiling up at him as she draped a wrist over his shoulder. We were all silent, indulging in the gaze. The ring dressed her hand beautifully. Stephanie radiated. Larry beamed. The diamonds winked with fire and light. I am still smiling after we hug goodbye and they have head to the elevators. Smiling, and I have no doubt that their children will long tell love stories about fireworks.