I took in a deep breath and gazed up at the grassy hill ahead of us, where fifteen umbrellas with letters taped on the back spelled out the most important question I ever planned to ask.
Today was going to be epic.
“Quit daydreaming and pay attention, Connor!” Granny swiped the walkie-talkie out of my hand and held down the talk button. “Whoever is holding the Y in MARRY better stop twirling that thing this instant! I can see you through these binoculars, little blonde girl!”
Maybe today would be epic as in an epic disaster. With Granny, you never knew. I was regretting a lot of things when it came to including her in all this—letting her supervise, teaching her how the buttons on a walkie-talkie worked, and dropping my guard enough for her to first steal the binoculars out of my hands and now the walkie-talkie. I was never getting either of them back. A tug-o-war with an octogenarian at a public park wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do today.
“The line looks good, Granny. Don’t worry, Melissa will love it.”
Granny turned and glared at me. “One little slip up with those children you hired, and it might say, ‘WILL YOU ARM ME?’ or ‘ILL YOU ARE.’” Granny put the binoculars up to her eyes again. “‘YOU WILL MARRY ME.’ That one would really knock her socks off. There’s nothing a woman loves more than an ultimatum.”
“First of all, there is no child labor involved in this proposal. Everyone volunteered to be here because they love Melissa. And second of all, nobody has swapped any words around. They’re just excited and a little twirly.” I had underestimated how much kids liked to spin umbrellas, although an upside down letter wouldn’t be the end of the world. The neighbor kids and their parents had been ecstatic at the idea of helping me pull this surprise off. After all, they’d been there the day I met Melissa. Surprise birthday party, surprise proposal. Why not?
Not that popping the question would be a surprise. Melissa and I had talked about marriage a lot. I was getting very familiar with her wedding Pinterest board, and the thing was growing by the day. But despite that, I wanted the moment when I dropped to one knee and gave her the ring in my shirt pocket to be more than a casual gesture. I wanted to wow her.
My phone pinged and I pulled it out of my pocket to read the text from Natalya. Almost there.
My stomach gave a kick of excitement. This was it.
Everyone was acting weird today. Connor’s head had been somewhere else this morning when I stopped by his place. We had a good time making waffles and eating breakfast together, but he’d been antsy, and when I asked if he was interested in going to the park with us later, he’d declined. Maybe he was just trying to give Natalya and me some girl time.
But then, Natalya showed up dressed like it was prom night, and thanks to her last minute makeover, now I was too, although I’d drawn the line at wearing heels. My rose-colored sneakers matched this dress better anyway.
She currently had a death grip on the steering wheel which was in complete opposition to the goofy smile on her face.
“Okay, what is going on, Natalya? Why couldn’t we bring the dogs to the park? And why are we dressed like this? Is there some hot jogger you’re hoping to run into or something?”
Natalya gave a high-pitched laugh. “Well, wouldn’t that be nice, but no, I’m not counting on any hot jogger action. And as much as I love Buster and Sarge, they jump on people too much so they can’t come today. I’m lucky my dress survived as it is, just walking into your house.”
“What people?” This particular park wasn’t busy, and I was always careful to keep them away from everyone else out walking their dogs.
“You’ll see in a minute.” Natalya pulled into the parking lot of the park and turned to grin at me. “I have a blind-fold for you. Don’t freak out.”
A normal person would freak out. But that news actually made everything that much less weird. “Oh, this is a Granny thing.” I should have known, although I didn’t know why I wasn’t in on planning this adventure. Maybe they wanted my reactions to be genuine. I was probably about to be stuffed in a trunk or pulled into a van or something. Granny was going to love this.
Natalya came around to the passenger side and put the bandana blindfold around my head, careful to keep it from tugging at my hair as she tied a knot in the back. “Okay, I’m going to take your hand and lead you. Just walk, friend. I think you were right to say no to heels today.”
“Am I supposed to act scared or confused?” I asked. I gripped her hand harder as we slowed to step up onto the curb. I did not want to fall and have a wardrobe malfunction. This dress showed off my legs, but that was all I wanted to show off in public. “Am I a rich socialite being kidnapped for money?”
Natalya laughed. “Oh, honey. You pretend to be anything you’d like for the next few minutes.”
“Well, that’s vague.” I hoped this wasn’t going to be so over the top that we had the cops called on us. A trip down to the police department was not my idea of a relaxing afternoon.
We slowed, and from my other side, an arm went around my shoulder. “What did you tell her, Nat?”
“Mom?” I turned my head towards her voice. “Are you in on this, too?”
“Yep. Dad’s here too.”
“Hi, honey.” Dad’s deep voice came from right behind me.
“Hi, Dad. Who else is here?”
“You’ll see in a minute,” Natalya answered for him. “We have about ten more steps.”
We walked a little farther across the grass and then stopped.
“Positions! Everyone get in position!” That voice was definitely Granny’s. Maybe she had decided to turn the tables on me, and she was now the one planning the spy adventures while I was just along for the ride. It figured.
“Granny, am I being kidnapped?”
Granny cackled. “In a matter of speaking. The romance is overwhelming me, Connor, my boy. Good luck with this.”
“Connor?” I turned my head back and forth even though I couldn’t see anything but red cloth. Was Connor here, too?
His warm hand took mine. I recognized the callouses on his fingertips, the temperature of his palms, and the familiar way he laced his fingers with mine. “I’m right here, Melissa. I have a question for you.”
I took in a deep breath and let it out. Okay, now things made sense. Much more than fake kidnappings or scoping out the park for Natalya’s next boyfriend.
Connor kissed the tips of my fingers. I ran my hand across his jaw. I could tell he was smiling. It made me smile, too.
“Ready for the blindfold to come off?” he asked.
“Just look right at me when I take it off, okay?” His hands slid behind my head and undid the knot before pulling the bandana away. I looked up at him and blinked at the sudden change in light while he smoothed my hair. Then I watched him pull a little black velvet box out of his shirt pocket and drop to one knee.
I was so intent on his smile and the most perfect sparkly ring winking at me in the sun, that it took several seconds before I realized there was a line of kids holding umbrellas that spelled out WILL YOU MARRY ME? up on the hill behind him. Some of the letters were dancing. It was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen. He’d done all this for me?
Connor turned and gestured to the umbrellas. “Melissa, will you marry me?”
I laughed and reached down to hug him. “Yeah, I totally will.”Granny’s trusty Kodak camera began to click as Connor slipped the ring on my finger. It was a perfect fit. Just like him.