I shower, get dressed, make it all the way to my car, before
I realize that I left my cell phone in my apartment. I pat my pockets, check my
purse, and glance at the dashboard to see if the Bluetooth symbol is
illuminated—it isn’t. I groan audibly as I switch off the ignition and rush
back into the cold. It’s mid-March, yet the thermometer has barely reached
thirty degrees this week, and with the wind whipping through the air, the “real
feel” is in the single digits.
Back inside my apartment I locate my phone on the kitchen
counter, still plugged into the charger. As I pick it up, my eyes scan over
several notifications, one of which is a text message from Bill.
Bill: Hi, Sweetie. Just got back from the airport with my
parents. Reservations are at seven. Are you on your way?
I glance at the clock. It’s five forty-five. I can make it
across town with plenty of time to spare—I think. Bill’s
perpetually early, as in, if we do not arrive twenty minutes prior to the start
of any function—and I do mean anyand every function—
he panics. He’s chronically early; I’m chronically late. We balance each other
out…in theory, anyway.
My thumb swipes the screen, but my fingers are too cold to
register the touch, so I drop the phone and blow into my hands in an attempt to
warm them up. A minute later, I type a quick message to Bill.
Riley: Omw. Left ten minutes ago.
This is an outright lie; I’m still standing in my
kitchen and I would never text and drive. He should know
that after nine months of dating, but he simply agrees.
His response is simple. Quick. Efficient. Just like him.
I knock on Bill’s front door thirty minutes
later—traffic was heavier and slower than I anticipated. His mother and father
are seated on the sofa. It’s not the first time I’m meeting them, but every
time they visit I have the feeling I should be walking on eggshells. They’re
prim and proper, formal, refined—the exact opposite of me.
“Mr. and Mrs. Lewg.” I smile as I embrace first his father,
then his mother, in the world’s most awkward hug. “So good to see you.”
“Lovely to see you, dear.” Mrs. Lewg—Carole, though she’s
never told me to call her that—says. “Bill was just telling us he has a special
announcement before we leave for dinner.”
“Oh?” I raise my eyebrows as I turn toward Bill. My mind
quickly scans over our last few conversations. I can’t remember him talking
about any major deal specifically, apart from the new property, but that deal
closed weeks ago. All right, okay, I may not pay one hundred
percent attention when he blabs on and on about investment properties or the
price per square foot of Building A versus Building B, but can you blame me?
Commercial real estate is freaking boring. Take it from me, I should know; it’s
all Bill ever seems to talk about.
“Riley.” Bill makes no effort to move from in front of the
mantle where he stands, but he extends his hand and pulls me toward him. “Can
you come here for one second? There’s something I want to ask you. Something
I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time.”
The smiling face of my roommate pops to mind and her words
bounce around my brain. You’ll be engaged before me. But
surely that’s not what this is. We haven’t been together that long. I haven’t
even given him a key to my apartment yet. He just met my
“Riley Ann Jones.” He takes both my hands, and I will myself
to close my mouth, which gapes open in the most unflattering way.
Oh, shit. Oh, no. Fuck. Please don’t let him be asking
what I think he’s going to—
“This past year…” —nine months, I
automatically correct in my head— “has been the happiest year of my life.
You’re everything that I want in a life partner: smart, beautiful, kind,
I swallow. I’m not so honest.
He drops to one knee, looks up at me with caring brown eyes.
“Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
My gaze darts around the room, heart beating wildly in my
chest, not from excitement, but from fear.
His mother smiles at me encouragingly, as Bill cracks open a
small, velvet jewelry box. “It was my grandmother’s. It’s been in our family
for generations. I asked my mother to bring it in with her.” He waves with his
free hand to where his parents sit. “It’s part of the reason why they flew in
early.” He smiles again. “So, will you? Will you be my wife?”
Holy fuck. Bill scrunches his nose and I press
my lips together, sending another silent prayer heavenward that I didn’t just
say fuck in front of his parents. In front of my (potential)
“Kind of waiting on an answer here, Riley.” His voice jokes,
but I can see the tension around his eyes.
I squeeze my eyes tight, swallow a deep breath, and nod.
“Yes.” My voice is the faintest of whispers. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
“Wonderful!” his mother exclaims, clapping her hands in
front of her chest. Bill pulls himself to his feet and slips the ring onto my
left finger. It’s delicate, a solitaire, round-cut stone, light and classy, but
it feels like a heavy anchor pulling me down. I’m suffocating. Sinking.
Mr. Lewg claps Bill on the back. “Congratulations, son.”
They shake hands as though they’re business associates rather than father and
Bill locks eyes with me, the megawatt smile that is
plastered on every billboard within a thirty-mile radius beams at me. He mouths
“I love you,” but all I can do is nod, because there’s only one thought looping
through my mind right now, and if I’m not careful, the words will escape and
topple the house of cards that I’ve struggled to build this entire year.
Those words are on my mind throughout our indulgent,
They’re there later that night when Bill makes love to me
and tells me how happy he is.
And they’re still there long after his breath has slowed and
he has fallen asleep. Then, and only then, do I let the devastating truth fall
past my lips:
He’s not Jesse.