Monday, September 15, 2014

Golden Earrings

I'd waited nearly a seven months to see her again. When I entered the Crafts Building, I spotted her at her booth where she'd be selling her many specialties—scarfs, headbands, stocking caps, sweaters, shawls, blankets.
All meticulously and colorfully crafted, the work of a genius, I thought.
She saw me right away—Allison McGregor, the woman I loved. But after all this time, I still wondered if she loved me.
While twenty or thirty other craft people set out their wares for our city's annual Flea Market and Craft Show, she rose from a chair behind her booth.
She met me just inside the main entrance, where I stood aside so others could amble by. Smiling, her face flushed, she offered me her hand—small, delicate, warm.
"I knew you'd be here," she said, smiling. "At least, I was hoping."
I grabbed her hand, shook it, perhaps held it a bit too long, and said, "Why wouldn't I be? It's where we met a year ago. And I'm a crafty person myself, as you know." The flush in her cheeks deepened. What a raven-haired beauty she was, hair flowing loosely in curls beyond her shoulders. Slender and willowy in jeans and a white V-neck sweater she'd not doubt made for herself.
"We need to talk," she said, her blue eyes latching on to mine.
"Yes, we do," I said, nodding. "I haven't contacted you because you asked me not to. But now it's time to talk."
"After the sale," she said, and scurried away.
I'm a wood carver by night, a city engineer by day. Allison heads up the County Clerk's Office. Besides that, she sews, stitches, crochets, knits—you name it. We met last year at this craft show when we happened to set up our booths next to each other. It was my first experience at selling my carved, miniature creatures: owls, mallards, pheasants, loons, deer, elk, wolves, foxes.
My figurines intrigued her but not nearly as much as she intrigued me. We chatted during the sale. We were both the same age, thirty-five. She was divorced just three months ago, no kids. I'd never been married. She showed me how to engage with prospective customers to insure a sale. I asked her to dinner that night after the show. She hesitated but said yes, and thus began my courtship of Allison McGregor.
Our dates ranged from lazy weekends working on or crafts together to casual movie dates and sometimes dress-up symphony encounters. From the beginning, I knew she was the one for me. She was talented, fun, thoughtful, and loving. On our three-month anniversary, we dined at an upscale restaurant. After dinner, while we each sipped a glass of wine, I drew from my suit pocket a tiny, black-felt, jewelry box and presented it to her with a big smile, thinking she'd be pleased. But she looked fearfully at the box, as if she were afraid to accept it, so I took her hand and gently dropped it into her palm.
Her fingers trembling, she opened the box, and then—I swear—a look of relief swept across her face before she gushed, "Earrings! They're beautiful!"
"I thought you'd like them," I said, my smile even bigger.
The very next day, when I called, she dumped me. At first she said, "Things are moving too fast." Then, "I'm not ready for a serious relationship yet." Finally, "I don't think we should see each other for a while. Please don't call."
Today, when the craft show was over, the browsers leaving, the vendors packing up, she scurried across the floor and stood in front of me again. Biting her bottom lip, looking me in the eye, she said, "I owe you an apology."
"No, no, no—no you don't," I said, waving a hand. "Took me awhile but I figured it out. You thought that little black-felt box held an engagement ring, right? You weren't ready for anything like that."
Her eyes lowering, she studied her hands clutched in front of her, then looked back up at me. "My marriage was a total disaster—I still don't talk about it. I—" She faltered.
I untangled her hands and held them. "You don't have to talk about it," I said. "Ever. Unless you want to someday."
"I simply wasn't ready to make a commitment again. I needed time."
"And now?"
My heart thumped as I waited for an answer.
Wiggling her hands free of mine, she tucked her long, curling black hair behind her ears. In the lobe of each one gleamed an earring—a gold, heat-shaped diamond stud. That was good enough for me. A huge smile leaped onto my face as I said, "Dinner tonight after we pack up?"
Her smile matching mine, she said, "I'd love that."

The End
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