Last week, I found myself stuck on the novel, so I decided to write something that’s been sitting in my head for a while. This is part of the Last Breath universe, though it is definitely a much happier tale. Since I don’t have a book where this belongs, I thought I’d share this short story with you all. It will give you a glimpse of these two characters I’ve come to know so well.
So, without further ado, I present “The Engagement.”
Stepping out of the cab, Smith walked up to Kath, who stood in awe of the building before her. A soft, warm San Antonio breeze tousled her long, brown curls. Smith slid his hand into Kath’s. Squeezing it, she turned to him and said, “I can see why you love this place. It’s beautiful.”
Before them stood a Spanish-style mansion beyond a lush green lawn lined with palm trees and perfectly trimmed bushes. To their right, flagstones led to a large koi pond covered in lily pads. The McNay Art Museum looked like heaven on earth. And with it being the day before Thanksgiving, Smith and Kath appeared to have the place to themselves.
Overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, Kath let Smith guide her, first to the koi pond where she marveled over the large fish. Smith stood back, watching his girlfriend’s unfettered joy. Ever since her surgery over the summer, Kath had seemed so subdued. The weight of losing her chance to have children brought about a melancholy that dug in as time passed. Grief had stolen the bubble out of the beautiful woman, but now, he saw her former spark.
“We haven’t even gone inside, and I already know I love it here,” Kath said, turning to Smith. “How did you ever find this place?”
“My parents brought me one summer. Later, I tried running away so I could live here.”
“I would have, too.”
“Ready to go inside?”
Kath squeezed Smith’s hand again and nodded. “But be warned, I may never leave.”
“I’ll be right here with you.”
Leaning over, Kath kissed Smith’s cheek. The act was bold for Kath, but Smith didn’t mind, not when he saw the light in her emerald eyes. He found her beautiful everyday, but today, she was stunning. Her forest green sundress brought out her eyes, and her porcelain skin glowed. What few people milled around the grounds turned to watch Kath pass. Smith couldn’t help but beam with pride.
Hand in hand they entered the museum. Kath, in her good-natured charm, smiled and greeted the docents. Smith grinned. He was, without a doubt, the luckiest man on the planet, and if things went as planned, it would be a day Kath never forgot.
The east wing housed a collection of Monet paintings. Kath loved impressionists, Monet above all. Once, when they visited Kath’s parents over winter break, they took the train down to New York City to see at Degas exhibit at the Met, and Kath floated around for days afterward. Today, she stood in front of one of the water lily paintings, one hand on her chest, her mouth parted in wonder.
They spent close to an hour looking at the paintings, although Smith spent most of that time watching Kath. He had picked the perfect place to ask her to marry him, but they hadn’t yet reached where he wanted to propose.
Smith guided Kath through the building, letting her marvel over the art and the architecture. For a moment, his thoughts turned wistful. Imagining Kath as a toddler, her eyes filled with delight and wonder, Smith couldn’t help but see the daughter they’d never have. As the thought hit him, he gripped her hand tight out of reflex. She saw his flash of pain, her face crumpling.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered.
The one thing Smith could never do with Kath was lie. Not that she could see through him. He just couldn’t willingly hurt her. But he couldn’t spoil this perfect moment.
Kath saved him from the decision.
“Is it hard to be here? Because of your parents?”
Not committing to the lie, Smith shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
Smith walked on, leading Kath into a narrow hall lined with dark walnut paneling. On their right, a wooden sculpture of a man stole Kath’s attention, stopping her. She fawned over the tiny beads of stubble on his cheeks and the neat crescents of his fingernails.
The man wore weariness in his delicate but detailed features. Smith understood the pain and exhaustion in the man’s eyes. He had seen it time after time in Kath’s eyes as she battled the pain of endometriosis. All the times when Smith could do nothing more than hold her in his arms and whisper that things would be okay.
As Kath stared at the sculpture, Smith let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. As she always did, she leaned against his body and slid an arm around his waist, hooking a finger through one of his belt loops. Pulling her gaze away, Kath kissed Smith on the cheek once again.
“Thank you,” she said.
“All of this. I never knew this place existed until today, and now, I never want to leave. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, returning the kiss.
They continued wandering through the museum until they emerged in an enclosed courtyard. Smith led Kath to a bench under a towering cluster of palm trees. As he sat, Smith pulled the ring from his pocket, closing it in his fist. They sat in silence for a few minutes as Kath’s gaze took in the lush greenery growing around them.
“It’s like I’ve been transported to the setting of a fantasy novel. It’s too beautiful for words.”
Smith smiled and angled his body toward Kath’s. Taking a deep breath, he pushed his glasses up his nose. Smith grabbed Kath’s hand, and as he spoke, kept his gaze on her long, delicate fingers. He had rehearsed the words, repeating them each night while he laid in bed watching his love as she slept.
“Four years ago, I met and fell in love with my best friend. Love was something I thought only others experienced, but you swept in like a whirlwind, throwing my life into disarray in the best possible way. I couldn’t help but fall in love with you.
“I know I haven’t always been the best boyfriend, but the fact that you gave me a second chance means more to me than you will ever know. You taught me how to love. If you let me, I’ll never stop showing you how much you mean to me.”
Pulling his eyes up to Kath’s, he saw the promise of tears, but the smile stretched across her trembling lips spurred him on. Opening his hand, Smith held up the blue diamond encircled by tiny flecks of diamonds on a white-gold band.
“Will you marry me?”
The first tear fell as Kath nodded. “Yes, yes! Of course!”
Before he could slide the ring onto her finger, Kath threw herself into Smith’s arms, kissing him on the lips before hugging him. He held her tight, face buried in her hair. She smelled of sunshine and love and happiness. In a word, she smelled like home.