Barney came barreling around the corner of the house and skidded to a stop beside me. He planted his haunches on the ground and stared up at me, eyes shining happily and tongue lolling. He exuded joy. I looked at his happy face, momentarily wishing I was him. Life is so simple when you’re a dog.
“Let me guess, Matt is in the back yard? Let’s go see him.”
Barney jumped up as I started walking towards the back of the house, and raced off ahead of me. I came around the corner just in time to see him run to Matt, who was leaning over the garden bed in the back corner. That Matt hadn’t heard my knock on the door was obvious. That he didn’t know Barney was behind him was equally obvious, since he stepped back, straight onto Barney’s foot.
Barney yelped, and Matt did an awkward little hop-skip dance as he tried to avoid Barney and keep his footing. He failed, and fell onto his backside. Barney rushed forward to see if he was ok (presumably anyway) and knocked him onto his back. Matt ended up lying in the garden bed, missing the night scented jasmine by centimetres but landing dead centre on another plant.
“Oh dear.” I hurried forward, while Barney took the opportunity to lick Matt thoroughly on the face.
“Are you ok?” Reaching him I bent down to offer him a hand up.
“Cassie! Hi, I didn’t know you were here, sorry.”
“No problem, you were a bit busy.”
Matt accepted my hand and clambered to his feet, rubbing his backside with his other hand. Barney was distracted by the crushed plant, and after sniffing it with interest, started to dig it up.
“Barney!” We both reacted, me stepping onto the garden to save the plant – which was probably beyond redemption anyway – and Matt reaching for Barney’s collar.
After a brief scuffle Barney was successfully distracted by a stick, which Matt threw into the other corner of the garden. We surveyed the damaged plant.
“It’s so crushed I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s a cuphea, a small one I bought last weekend. I thought it would add a bit of colour in this space.”
“It might come back, if you replant it.”
Matt turned to look at me. “Yes, it’s damaged now, but with the right care it will grow and bloom.”
I met his serious gaze, and felt something shift. “We’re not talking about the plant now are we?”
He smiled, a rueful upturn of his mouth. “You know, in my fantasies you swoon into my arms when I say something profound.”
“Well you’re none too steady on your feet you know.”
His smile became fuller. “A good point. Ok, give me a minute while I replant this little bush. What did you come around for anyway?”
I watched him carefully stand the little plant upright, scooping earth around it and patting it gently into place. Remembering my rose I looked around, and saw it lying on the ground near the corner of the house.
“Just a sec, I forgot something.”
Matt glanced up at me. “Ok, I’ll be here.”
I ran over to the rose, my mind replaying our conversation. Matt hadn’t referred to the marriage proposal, hadn’t said anything about the conversation. Was he now regretting it?
Picking up the rose I stopped my thoughts before they could get on the well-worn track of uncertainty I had been travelling for so long. This was the first day of the rest of our lives, and I wasn’t going to allow anything to stop me from getting it right. Not even, or most particularly, myself.
I ran back to Matt, who was adding some mulch to the soil around the bush. He stood up as I got there, and we both looked at the replanted bush.
“It looks better.”
I glanced sideways at Matt, he seemed serious. I looked back at the plant. It was upright now which was an improvement. But it was still crushed, bits of branches hanging like broken bird wings.
“Maybe you should trim those branches?”
“Yes, you’re right. Poor little plant, it didn’t have much to begin with.”
I watched as he dug around in the disturbed soil close to the night scented jasmine, astonished when he came up with a pair of secateurs.
“You leave your secateurs lying in the garden in case of Barney damage?”
“What? Oh, no, I brought them out here because I was going to cut some of this.” He waved his hand at the jasmine.
“Oh I see.”
I watched him carefully trim the broken branches, and when he had finished had to admit that it did look better. Damaged for sure, but possibly able to recover.
“Right, let’s go inside and get a coffee, and you can tell me why you’re here.”
I followed him inside, passing Barney who was lying on his dog bed, sound asleep. He must have had a big morning.
Inside Matt disappeared to wash his hands, so I put the coffee maker on and dug around in his fridge. I had given him some vanilla slice not long ago and thought there may be some left. Finding it I pulled the container from the fridge. As did so I saw a bottle of champagne, an expensive bottle which was something that Matt didn’t normally buy.
I shut the door and turned to see Matt holding the rose I had placed on the table.
My face burning, I put the container down on the counter.
“That’s not quite how I planned it.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Oh Matt, why do you put up with me?”
He came towards me. “Because you’re smart, you’re funny, you’re brave. You light up the room just by being in it. You make me smile, you make me cry. You make me feel alive. When I’m with you I feel like I have everything I need, you’re everything I need. You’ve been through so much and you didn’t let it defeat you. You’re sassy, you’re caring, and you’re kind. You’re sweet and cute and beautiful. I look into your eyes and I see the universe, because you are my universe. Because I love you Cassie.”
I stared at him, speechless. Nobody had ever said such things to me, nobody had ever made me feel…whatever it was I was feeling now. Whatever it was, it was good, it was wonderful. It was love.
“I think I’ll swoon in your arms now, if that’s ok with you.”
He opened his arms wide and I walked into them, into a sweet, loving kiss that promised everything. I kissed him back, my arms wrapped tight around him. I never wanted to let him go.
Eventually we came up for air. Matt touched my cheek with the tip of his finger.
“So, the rose?”
“Ah, yes, the rose.”
I pulled free and went to the table to pick it up. Turning to face Matt I presented it to him with a flourish – ignoring the slight droop to its petals.
“This rose is for you. It is, as you can see, deep red, the colour of love. It’s in full bloom – like my love for you.” These weren’t the words I had planned, but I wanted to show Matt that his feelings were reciprocated, so I was improvising.
“Matt, I’m so sorry I reacted the way I did to your marriage proposal. I didn’t understand, I thought you were offering to marry me only to protect me. I got it wrong and I’m sorry.”
“You did kind of ruin the moment, but perhaps I should have been more careful in my choice of words.”
“I’m sorry.” I took a deep breath, wondering how to do this next bit.
“So anyway, it’s a leap year this year. So the woman is supposed to do the proposing.” God that sounded wrong, wrong, wrong.
I hesitated, Matt’s expression was a mixture of amusement and bemusement. Ok, he deserved some sort of grand gesture.
I sank to one knee, took his hand, kissed it. Or was that something you did to the pope? Come on Cassie, get on with it.
“Matt Burnett, will you marry me?”
I looked up at him. He looked ready to laugh, which was not the effect I was after.
“Cassie, oh my girl you always surprise me.”
Then he did laugh, a soft chuckle. Pulling me up by the hand still holding his, he wrapped his arms around me and rested his chin on the top of my head. His shoulders were shaking. He was still laughing!
I was indignant. I had just proposed and he was laughing!
“Happy I could entertain you,” I muttered into his shoulder.
Matt leaned back, and tilted my face up to his.
“I was laughing at us Cassie. What a pair we are! We trip and stumble our way through this relationship. Nothing works out the way we plan it. I propose, you run away. You plan a proposal and by the time I get it – due to dogs and plants – the rose you present me is wilted and the setting probably not what you had envisioned.
“Well, when you put it like that.”
“And, Cassie, I was in the garden to cut some of the jasmine so I could bring it inside for tonight. I was going to invite you over, and propose to you properly. I even bought champagne.”
“You were that sure of me. Humph.”
“I figured if you said no I could console myself with some excellent bubbly.”
“You were going to propose tonight?”
He nodded. “Properly, the way you deserve. Yes, I want to marry you to protect you. But more than that I want to marry you because I love you, and I can’t imagine my life without you.”
“So I guess this means you accept my proposal.”
“And I guess this means you accept mine.”
“So, who proposed to whom? Which one of us did the asking?”
Matt laughed again. “Both of us Cassie. We are equal, just as we are equal in everything. Our relationship - our marriage - is a partnership.”
I grinned, that lightness seeping into me. No, not lightness, happiness. Happiness was seeping into me, permeating every corner of my mind.
“So we’re getting married?”
“Looks like it. Guess I can open the champagne now.”
He handed me the rose. “Maybe we should put this poor thing in some water.”
I took it, and went to find a vase while Matt got the champagne. Putting the vase on the table I watched him open the bottle.
“Should we be drinking this early?”
"Did we or did we not just get engaged?”
Oh my, engaged. “We just got engaged.” Was that breathy little voice mine?
The cork came out of the bottle with a satisfying pop. Matt got two glasses from the bench beside the fridge and poured. I watched the golden, bubbly liquid fill the glasses. We were engaged, it seemed unreal.
“Are we doing this too fast?”
Matt slanted me a narrow eyed look. “You’re kidding, right? This has to be the longest, most convoluted courtship in history.”
“Courtship? You were courting me?”
He sighed, came over to me and handed me my glass.
“I was courting you, wondering when you were ever going to notice.”
“I’m so glad you were so patient with me.”
“Cassie, I would have waited for you until the end of time.”
Who knew Matt could be poetic? Or that I would like it? He held his glass up, and I clinked mine to his.
“Cheers Cassie, my fiancé.”
“Here’s to you Matt, my fiancé.”
With those prosaic words we drank to our future.
“This is excellent champagne!”
Matt muttered something about so it should be, but quietly enough that I couldn’t be sure that was what he said.
“Oh! One more thing. Wait here.”
I stood uncertainly, watching as he disappeared from the kitchen. What else could there be? While I waited I drank some more of the champagne, which seemed to be going straight to my head. Or maybe it was the fact that I was now engaged that was making my head swim.
Matt came back into the room, an expression on his face that I could only interpret as bashful.
“Hold out your hand.”
I held out my hand, the left hand since I was holding the glass in my right.
I watched in complete bemusement as Matt slid a ring I recognized onto my ring finger.
“The ring you admired in the antique store we looked at six months ago? Yes.”
“You bought the ring?” Well duh, here it was sparkling on my finger.
“I did, I went back the next day and bought it. I’ve been waiting ever since for the right moment to give it to you.”
I stared at the ring. It was an antique ring, an oval emerald with seed pearls and diamonds set at intervals around the edge of the setting. The ring itself was gold, with intricate carved swirls that curved around the setting. I had fallen in love with it at the time, but never expected that it would ever be mine.
“Cassie, I didn’t know if I should give it to you as an engagement ring or as a gift. I don’t want you to feel I’m taking control of your life. I mean an engagement ring is a big thing. Maybe we should select it together. If you would rather do that, this ring can be my engagement gift to you.”
I looked at the ring, then at his anxious face.
“Matt, the very fact that you thought about this makes it unnecessary. If we were going to buy an engagement ring, this would be the one I would choose. So why go to buy something I wouldn’t like as much just to make a point?”
I admired the ring again, and the thoughtfulness and caring it represented.
“This ring is perfect, and I couldn’t choose anything better. Thank you, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.”
I put down my glass and flung my arms around his neck.
“I believe this is the part where you sweep me off my feet.”
Matt obliged, picking me up and carrying me out of the kitchen, putting his glass on the table on the way past. He carried me into the bedroom, sitting on the bed with me on his lap.
“What, am I too heavy for you? Did you hurt yourself?”
“No, it’s just my backside. I think I landed on a stone or something. It hurt to sit down. Never mind, it’s fine now.”
I wriggled around on his lap, intending to kiss him senseless.
I tried, and failed, to stifle a laugh.
“Oh, my future wife thinks my pain is funny!”
“I’m sorry, it’s just look at us! Here we are celebrating our engagement and you can’t even sit without pain!”
Matt chuckled. “We’ve lurched from one semi disaster to another haven’t we? But here we are, together.”
I sobered. “Together, and it feels like the best thing in the world.”
I kissed him, deeply and thoroughly, until he took control of the kiss, and I believe he felt no more pain after that.
This is the end of Cassie's story, I hope you all enjoyed it. My next job is to turn it into a novella and publish it. I'll let you know how it's going as I work through the process.
It's not the end of Cassie though, the next book in this series is Saffron's story, which I will be working on soon.
Here, next week, I will be posting another serial, so come back next Monday for a new story.