T'was the week before Christmas, I was wearing a dress,
I had been told earlier to put on my best...
Incidentally, the bulldog loved me. He would wait for me to emerge from my bedroom each morning and barked defensively whenever Boyfriend came near me. He would joke "your boyfriend's getting jealous" and I'd appease the dog with some good ol' backscratching. Approval from the family dog must count for something, right?
I was told to wear formal dinner clothes, but with shoes I could walk in. As I brushed bulldog hairs from my overcoat, before we left, my boyfriend reminded me about the favour of picking out a locket for his sister in the next couple of days. He was really anxious about making sure the jeweler had it in time for Christmas, and the weather report was looking treacherous for Christmas week, which could only impede things. "Thank you for helping him out" his Mom/Mum added, "we want something really heirloom quality for his sister, and it's been a hassle to get this all sorted in time."
Boyfriend and I had only met in February, when some small freak snow had littered our University city in the UK, and on our but second date we strolled through the local botanic garden, him trying to impress me and me sliding on the ice like a kid. I was now being taken to a botanic garden (in the USA!) and for a formal dinner as a pre-Christmas treat. Wrong time of year to see a garden maybe? Yes, all of the trees were bare. The flower beds were empty. But the weather was clear (luckily) and the garden trees were lit (beautifully) with festive lights that slowly illuminated as we walked around the park as the cold sun fell. We entertained for a moment a plan to strip some of the trees of lights for our still as yet naked tree back at the house. Sadly, wearing a dress is not conducive to climbing trees. Or walking in the cold.
We spent ages in the network of conservatories, indoor and warm, travelling from subsaharan Africa to ferny jungle. Each room had its own themed Christmas wreath, made of palm trees, ferns, succulents, or roses. As evening wore on the gardens filled with more people.
We queued for dinner in the conservatory restaurant, and Boyfriend's heart sank as a denim-attired group with long hair and baseball caps were given a table in the restaurant. It claimed to be a fine dining restaurant, but it seemed that we were both ridiculously and hilariously overdressed. I could only laugh. We were given a quiet corner table though, and dinner was delicious, the service was great and our tip was complimentary.
Afterwards I was led to a hall where we were treated to a wonderful gospel choir concert. I have loved gospel since I saw Sister Act II at the cinema as a kid, always wanted to experience it live, and I have a secret desire to be reincarnated as a gospel star. It was a gorgeous Christmas experience to hear their jubilant hymns, and I should let you know that it even beats the Coca Cola ad for bringing out the festive spirit in folks.
As the evening drew to a close, the stresses of the holiday season were behind me. After dinner had finished and my anxious pre-emptive speculations about the evening had been proven false (come on, jewelry store? locket? posh dinner?), I melted into the thought that this could be one of many lovely dinner evenings to come. How deliciously pleasant.
That was until we were walking to the car, and we meandered to the museum house to have a quick saunter round. It was a typical colonial American building, full of artifacts about the estate that Boyfriend could only feign interest in. He started to walk faster and more agitatedly through the display rooms before proclaiming brusquely "I need to get outside, there are too many people in here and I don't feel well."
I rolled my eyes, and followed him out and round to a dark corner of the outside porch. The fountain light show was going on just behind some tall evergreen trees. I slumped down next to him on a bench.
It was cold. The fountain light show played its classical Christmas music in the background. He apologised, and he spoke to me for a bit.
And he asked if I would marry him.
And it was a ring, not a locket, of course.
And yes, he had been anxious all week: he wanted Christmas to go without a hitch, but with the promise of getting hitched.