I’m standing in the kitchen on a Friday night, pulling peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies from the oven, when Pete walks in.
“Hey, Babe,” he says. “Oh, smells good in here.”
The combination of peanut butter, chocolate and the lingering scent of tomato sauce and pesto from homemade pizza makes our house smell like love.
The scents dull my disappointment over our cancelled date: the PAHT-nah and I are supposed to be in town, feasting on Asian food. Pete called earlier in the afternoon, saying his boss wasn’t flying out until seven that night, so he’d be home late. Damn. We need a night away from the kids. We need to talk. We need to eat a good meal we neither have to cook nor clean up.
“How was work?” I ask, even though I could recite the answer myself: “Full-on; hardly a moment’s break; they’re asking for ten impossible things before noon…”
Instead, Pete tells me the day wasn’t half-bad; he had a beer with the boss after work. He goes upstairs to change.
My friend, Louise, enters the living room with a friend. They wear going-out frocks, shoes and makeup. Louise is dropping off her son, Raymond. At four-and-a-half years old, he’s tall for his age, blonde and easygoing. We often swap sleepovers for our kids.
Pete, still in his flight school uniform with gold and navy striped epaulets, crisp white shirt and navy trousers, comes back downstairs to greet Louise and Lois. After small chat and ‘Have a good time,’ they’re off.
I ease open the oven. The scent of peanut butter baking into a conglomeration of flour, butter, sugar and chocolate fills my nostrils. Pete says, “Can you come upstairs for a moment? I want to show you something.” I place two hot cookie trays on the stove top and decide against baking another batch just yet.
On the small balcony off our bedroom, Pete has placed a bottle of champagne, two glasses and a candle, which keeps blowing out in the wind. “Maybe try placing it in a bowl?” I suggest. Pete finds a glass and pops in the tea light.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t have a date tonight,” says Pete. “I wanted us to spend a few moments together. And I wanted to give you this.”
He sets a two-inch tall lavender box on the table. It’s tied with silver satin ribbon.
“Is this a charm for my bracelet?” I ask. I don’t want to assume…
I pull the ribbon, slip it off and open the box. Upside down. The inner chamber falls out, leaving a sparkling circle at the bottom of the container. Indeed, it’s a ring.
The PAHT-nah and I had started talking about rings shortly after my birthday. We were celebrating at Mission Estate Winery in Hawke’s Bay, waiting on steak (his) and fish (mine). Pete looked down at my left hand, on which I wore a gold ring with leaf design. My parents gave it to me when I turned sixteen.
“Isn’t that on the wrong hand?” Pete asked.
“Well, it feels kinda bare,” I replied. I’m used to having something there…
We’d started talking about marriage about six months into our relationship, around the time we moved in together. I’m Someone-Who-Values-Marriage. I knew Pete’s platinum membership in the Never-Been-Married club made him a risky proposition for husband material. But he makes me laugh, helps steady my nerves so I don’t beat the children (too badly) and is handy with a hammer. Just thinking about intimacy with him sends ghost fingers of wonder across my skin. I catch myself sighing out loud. We don’t just have chemistry, we have Advanced Chemistry: Kinetics with reaction rates and colliding molecules whose energy and geometry are so well-suited, liquid in the test tube starts bubbling before you’ve added liquid number two.
I’m getting sidetracked (‘Sidetrack,’ by the way, is the name of the café where we first met for coffee). Hormones will do that.
I had hoped that when the kids and I returned from the States late last August, Pete would have greeted us at the airport with treats for the kids and an engagement ring for me. One outta two makes for a twitchy American.
“I’m too old to be someone’s girlfriend,” I told Pete during the aforementioned birthday dinner.
I had started to wonder if, in fact, the PAHT-nah and I had hit the one slippery steel wall we couldn’t scale. We’d survived cultural differences: he considers French fries a vegetable and recreates on the couch watching movies involving shooting, car chases and conspiracies.
We abided seven-thousand miles of distance over four months; we’ve managed the Tasmanian devil called Finley and his Emmy-award wanna-be sister, Fiona; we’ve surmounted crises that would’ve shredded other couples like the wood chipper in the movie, Fargo, shredded Carl Schowalter.
I feared our Waterloo was I couldn’t live together indefinitely sans nuptials and he could (Or that I pitched a pair of his thirty-year-old stereo speakers without asking first, but that story deserves its own blog post).
You know, you shouldn’t live together if you want to be married, said my Inner Critic. Because it might never happen.
“I’m not a patient woman,” I told Pete during the birthday dinner.
I’m a pacing puppy in the space before engagement. One year is seven to me.
Thank God Pete has a sense of humor. And I’m pretty sure he can detect an imminent doggie dash.
“I want to do this right,” he said. “I want to talk to your dad and the kids first and I want to get you a nice ring.”
“You can go to the Warehouse and buy a band for two-hundred dollars,” I said. “The important part is being married. Save the flashy diamonds for our tenth anniversary.”
Back on the balcony last Friday night, I’m pulling out the ring as Pete kneels before me.
“Sweetie, I love you. I want to spend my life with you. Will you marry me?” he asks.
“Yes, Honey. Absolutely.”
The ring is a solitaire set off by a square of small, flashy diamonds. More diamonds shoot down the sides.
We’re about to toast our love and happiness when Fiona appears.
“Is it okay if we watch X-Factor that we recorded?” she asks.
Pete says, “Do you want to see what your mum just got?”
I show Fiona the ring. Her blue-gray eyes grow wide. Then wider. Wider still.
“We’re getting married, honey,” I pat Fi on the shoulder.
Pete says, “Nothing will change, Sweetie. We’re still the same.”
Fiona displays the reaction of a rubber tree plant. Whenever I’ve asked her in the past how she felt about Pete and me getting married, she’d say, “I want you to marry Daddy.”
I ask Fiona if she wants to be a bridesmaid or flower girl. “Flower girl,” she says. “And I want to read, too.”
As soon as Fiona disappears, Finley arrives. I show him the ring.
“Petey and I are getting married,” I say.
Finley smiles and rushes to wrap his arms around Pete’s midsection.
“Daddy!” he says. “Now I can call you Daddy. Can I try your wine?”
Pete and I sip bubbly and talk for two hours.
“I’ve had the ring for a month now,” Pete says. “I tried to reach your dad for a couple weeks, and then I wanted to give this to you when we were in the Coromandel, but either the kids packed a sad (had a tantrum) or we packed a sad (had an adult discussion about world peace or who should be cleaning the motel before we leave and who maybe shouldn’t go running and then drink two cups of coffee before pitching in).
“I thought you might take me up in a plane and propose,” I say.
“Yeah, I thought about that…it just didn’t happen,” says Pete.
“Work’s been crazy… and this is real.”
A car horn honks on the street just below us.
“This is our real life.”
That’s the weird part. I’ve been engaged twice now. It’s real, but not. Lots of people marry once, twice, three times… but it still seems odd to have this kind of love – twice – in one lifetime. And while I’ll always miss Sean, I feel such gratitude for Pete, I rarely steep in grief.
Lionel Richie’s “Still” plays on Pete’s iPod. Neither of us reaches to Facebook, tweet or even photograph this moment.
That’s good, because I’m not wearing eye makeup. Also, I’ve quickly pulled on my ‘Australia’ sweatshirt to buffer the night air’s chill, and getting engaged wearing an Aussie shirt would be like wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey to a Cleveland Browns home game.
After two hours on the balcony, we remember the children downstairs, including one who’s not ours. The four-year-old is sleeping sitting up on the couch. I put Raymond to bed and tell Fiona and Finley to brush their teeth and go to sleep. It’s ten o’clock.
I pull off my slightly-too-big engagement ring to finish balling and baking cookies. I place two warm ones on the counter for my fiancé and me.