(A short story in Third Person Limited)
He could tell she was excited, even though he had told her not to get her hopes up. She was excited because they were together, on a date, for the whole day. Just doing what they love to do - together. He knew that because he felt that way too. She had picked the places: six in total, as instructed; the rest was up to him. And he had planned enough. He hoped.
After more than a year of dating, and three years knowing her, things had suddenly fallen into place and they were at a really good point; in their lives and their relationship. He knew it was because of her that his life was so positive, so full of potential. And she had told him that he gives her the right support to do everything she wants to and all those things she can’t even know about yet.
They were still young; not yet thirty, at least in western age, and they were still enthusiastic about life. But he still had to do everything right. Not perfect; it’ll never be perfect, but it can still be amazing. Oh - she’s taking him to the river ferry. She’s trying to hide the destination on her phone, but she always forgets how easy and clear Korean is for him to read, simply because it’s always a thoughtful effort for her. “Don’t look!” But he already saw. And she knows from his smile, of course. “Did you see?”
Sometimes he wishes he could lie to her (more than the small deception he’s made today), to give her bigger surprises, or just to have something for himself. Then he thinks how lonely that would be. He can’t live his life without her, not now that she’s so entangled in who he is and wants to be. She once told him that he makes her, or at least encourages her (he can never remember the exact phrasing, be it due to the second language or the inability to listen to every single word out of the millions that she speaks) to be the better person she wants to be and to be known as. He just knows that she makes him feel ok in this world, when most other people wouldn’t. She knows a lot about him. More than she should for the smile she gives him when she looks round her shoulder searching for his.
“Oh, there’s a ferry leaving at one thirty, do you think we’ll make it in time?” They’ll try. They always do. She gets so giddy when he does silly things with her, like rush for a ferry boat or dash across the road to swing on a rope and plank of wood hanging by a beach. She used to skip along to his car late at night when he’d pick her up for a drive - not quite dating, not quite just friends anymore. She’d jump in, shoot her whole head up into a grin, say “haiii” and then “to the beach!” at his request of where to go. The beach was just an easy, nice, quiet place to go at the start, but then it became their place. They flew kites there, burned sparklers or sat in serious conversation. All special, all important.
“Over there! No! Wait, there it is, isn’t it?” Today will be fun. Even though it’s still winter. But spring would be too late. Sooner is better. Everyone’s been waiting for this date. It’s cold. Good thing he made her bring that coat she’s immediately zipping up. “Oh, no, that’s not it. And that’s definitely closed. What if the actual one is closed? Oh.” She does these cute expressions. Not overly cute and sickly. Just fun for him and her. Mimicking her face lets her know it’ll be ok, because they’re together. In a way, it might be good if they can’t go on the cruise. There are five other places to go. “Ah, there, over there. That’s the one. That’s definitely closed, isn’t it?” Yes, there are no river ferries going out of that port. No ferries even close to it. “We could go on the swan boats. But that’d be pretty tiring and we have a busy day.” Thank goodness she said that. “Okay, let’s keep walking.” He wanted to know where, although he was pretty sure with the direction they were going, but where was the first special place for them that she had picked? That was important, even if she had no idea how much. “I guess that’s part A. We’ll have part B after a bit of a walk down the river.” Part B, then. It’ll have to wait until part B.
He’d been much better at keeping these secrets, for the main surprises, than he thought he could be. She’s pretty good at noticing all the things he doesn’t normally want her to notice; like when he needs to fart, or if he’s eaten fast food that day - how does she know that on a phone call? How does she know he’s in the bathroom during a phone call too? She hadn’t noticed anything strange today, though. Not that he’d recognised. She was just excited about the day, and perhaps distracted by the control she had in where they were going.
It was even nicer than he had expected having both of them planning and making this date so unique. That’s what she wanted; something unique - a story to tell. Making a story for a writer is a daunting task, however. “Nothing too over the top or public or showy. Just something for us. That we like. A story to tell when people ask me about it.” That doesn’t sound demanding, but it’s way harder to plan, especially when you’re not the one who’s grown up in the culture that demands this awkward recital.
The bridge. That’ll be part B. She loves that bridge. He loves it too. He loved watching her laugh and try to scream at him as the trains went by. Their first date. Although, no one called it that then. They were just meeting so that he could show her around this city she doesn’t know so well. She had her hair in a plait. To the side. And she wore shorts. They were nice, but he’d hate it if she wore those now. He’s become so protective of her. She’s so amazing and she’s so smart, she doesn’t exactly need to be protected, but he can’t help trying to do any little thing he can for her. That includes making her wear more sensible shoes sometimes, even if he does think these new ones look nice. Slowing down is not good for this long walk. Oh, not this side. If she holds his arm up high right there she might notice there’s something in the pocket. Keep calm and just move her hand to hold it instead. That was smooth. He’ll be ok. There’s a task he has to perform just right, and he doesn’t want to get too nervous. As long as she doesn’t notice him doing things like that, it’ll be fine.
“Part B! Let’s go up the random elevator.” The elevator wasn’t so random. It allowed pedestrians and cyclists to descend the bridge and travel along the path by the river. She just thought it was random and they had another good laugh on their walk across. He never did understand why she thought it was so random, but it had become their joke and would always be named so. He entered the elevator after her and she watched out the glass to see the way they had just walked. This was nice; he could see her face in the reflection and come up close to hug her. He grew to adore the little dance she always seems to do when he puts his arms around her. He knew this meant she was a happy little bird, chirping with contentment, or more hopefully glee.
A few people were walking or cycling across the bridge when they arrived at the top. He was conscious of everyone all around them. It made it difficult to know when to do it, and how to do it. He could distract her, at least, so she wouldn’t be watching his movement in the pocket. “Number two? It’s a secret! Ha ha! But we have to go across the bridge anyway, so come on.” He wasn’t being slower out of choice. But right here, as the first train approaches, maybe this is the moment? All? Or just the first one? Which one is this? She’s shouting at him through the roar beside them and he’s able to smile and laugh about it, but did she catch him taking a quick peek to see that he had the right thing in his hand? Oh no. Wait. Should he do it now? Just the one?
“What’s wrong? Oh, what’s that?” Well, she’s seen it now. But it’s not how he planned. He’s still not sure. He pulls it back. “What is it? Let me see!” She looks angry, why angry? And she wants it too much, it’s more fun to hold it away and let her struggle to get it. Ok, enough, it’s time to start this. “Oh! From handsome Prince. I thought it was to you! I thought some girl had given you a note. It’s for me?” Almost tears, he’s sure of it. He’s doing well so far. “Aww.” As she reads the letter out loud, talking about this very place, all the things they did when they first knew each other and how he felt about it, another train passes, just to make it an ideal moment for them. “You wrote me a letter! And it’s long. That’s amazing. Thank you.” He’s written six. Can’t she tell? That’s why it’s six places.
He’s guessed place number two. She won’t say, but there’s only one place it could be if they’re going this way on the subway. “Nope, not telling. Just wait. Not getting off here.” Not here? If it’s not here, there’s only one other place he can remember where they had a really special time together. But she wouldn’t want to do crafts today, would she? He really didn’t want to start something like that right now. “Here!” It is the stream. He was right the first time. But they should have gotten off at the stop before. “This way.” No, that’s not the right exit. It’s much closer to go the opposite way. “Come one. I’m leading. I know the way.” Better let her have her way.
“Do you see where we’re going?” The stream is right there, but she seems to want to cross it, not go down to it. “Are you hungry?” It is lunch time. “Can you see it yet?” She’s so excited with that cheeky smile, waiting for him to catch on to whatever he doesn’t realise he...oh, there. The pie shop. She does love pie and has made him go there often. It’s not too bad, he enjoys it enough. Two meat pies and smoothies. He still has to stop himself from ordering, letting her have some Korean practice anywhere they go. Sometimes it’s nice that he doesn’t have the pressure of doing every little thing. She really tries to do things on her own, even if she doesn’t know the words, and she’s so cute doing it. Well, kinda. As long as she doesn’t get too frustrated or angry. He’s a lucky guy. He’s sure he’s making the right decision. It was clear when he wrote the letters.
After lunch she announces another “part b: the stream!” Of course. That’s better. A nicer place to give her the next letter. And he knows she must be curious about it. At the stream, they sit where they sat the first time he told her he liked her. “I didn’t think you meant like, like. I just thought you meant as a friend. But I wanted it to be more. What’s that? Ohhh!” She’s reading it out loud again. He’s happy to hear her say his thoughts and feelings. She’ll just have to do that for the rest of the letters.
Number three, up to the mountain, all the way across the country to the city they first met, he was hoping she’d take him there at some point. Everything is going well so far. But what if she picks the rocks for number six? He really doesn’t want to do it there. The last time they sat on those rocks, they were nearly shot. It’s cold, the tide will be closer to them and there will most certainly be soldiers watching, ready to shoot anyone that could possibly be a spy from the north, climbing onto land.
Four is at their favourite burger restaurant. “You’re making me cry! In the middle of the restaurant!” But then she laughs almost immediately. He’s done well with the letters so far. There’s surprise; it’s what she wants. Then on to the beach where they sat and watched the waves for number five. The crying has really started to affect the letter reading. It’s starting to affect him too. What’s he going to do at letter six? She’ll definitely cry then. And there’s far more in store for her there.
“Um, I think you might know where number six is. You’ll have to go back the way we came, sorry.” The rocks. He knew it. He really didn’t want to go there, but he’ll do anything to please her, especially today. Driving up along the coast, the shops disappear; just mountains and the sea raging against those seats they rested on that night long ago when he really made it clear to her that he cared about her and she was happy about it. It was a special place; special enough for this occasion. That didn’t make it less frightening. Three soldiers stood by machine guns in their lookout tower. There’s another one just a little further too. They won’t be happy being disturbed by an older guy who’s already done military service, who should know better and his foreign gal. “Oh, now I see them actually watching us. I didn’t notice that before. It’s kinda scary. I don’t really want to go out there.” She said it, so he didn’t have to let her down. She really is fantastic.
If not here, where should he take her? Somewhere significant to them. They’d been to all those places. And it’s too late to go to anywhere else. He was too tired to think, and almost too tired to drive, plus his nerves were using up a lot of the little energy left. “What about the park behind my old house? We walked around there together once.” That might do. At least it’s a destination. Not a destination he feels is good enough, but maybe he’ll think of somewhere else along the way. “I haven’t been here in so long.” She loved living here. All that time they weren’t together, she had her own life here. It doesn’t seem right to make that a part of their future. His brain just isn’t working quick enough. They’re nearly there. He needs somewhere that was fun for both of them. A moment where they could see their lives merging and the purpose of it all.
The pavilion! They talked about the beauty of God’s creation, how they were excited to support each other and do things together in the future. There’s a feeling that they may have had a fight that day. His hair cut maybe? It was almost a year ago, they both had a weekday off to walk around the cherry blossoms in full bloom without too many crowds surrounding them and blocking their view. It was a sunny day, but still chilly enough for jackets. They got to the pavilion and as they walked up there any frustration seemed to melt away and they just smiled for the rest of their time together. Her mother even picked a photo from that day as her favourite of the couple before she met him. It was a good day. And a wonderful place to give her the last letter. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?
“The lake? Ah, good idea. No? Wait, where are you going? The beach? Oh, I see! Yes! The pavilion! That’s a great idea.” Good thing she approves. He can see the lights, good. It should be romantic. She’ll like that. Maybe they can get a good picture. He’ll do it where he took her photo before. That one he really liked. “Oh, this is lovely. It’s so quiet and pretty.” It’s all as it should be. Everything today has been right. Not perfect, but they’ve smiled and had fun. Now they can be alone in a beautiful place for this important moment. But they’re not alone. And those other people aren’t very quiet. It’s been a long day, he’s too tired and anxious to deal with this.
“Why are they screaming?” Why does something have to spoil this moment for them. They can’t find another place now. It’s too late. And they’re standing in his spot! That’s where he wants to take her to give her the last letter and ask the most important question of his life. “Shall we go inside? Do you mind?” He’s Korean, why would he mind taking his shoes off to walk around this wooden hut? He’s ready for this at every moment. “Oh, let’s go up here!” There’s levels to this pavilion. It’s quite extravagant. “There’s a third level!” She’s excited again. He loves it when she can explore and be surprised. But there’s still something to think about, to work out and plan. “Come on. Come up here.” But he can’t see the spot from here. They’ve gone! He can do it now. But she won’t stay still for him to figure this out. They can take a picture out there. That’ll be his excuse to give the last letter and all the rest. “Okay, I guess it’s a little cold, let’s go.”
No. She’ll be disappointed. It’s so beautiful and she likes it here. Maybe this is the spot. “Do you want the last letter?” He couldn’t have said anything else that would have made her more excited. Although, he can see she’s trying to contain it. She’s almost dancing as she reads his words, standing in that middle level in that vibrantly decorated pavilion. Her voice is a little too quiet for him to hear as she reads this final letter. “‘...so I want to ask you something. Will you do me the honour of allowing me to ask you to marry me?’ Are you proposing?” She almost can’t say it through the tears. He gets down on his knee as he reaches into that pocket he was careful to protect all day and brings out the purple box he picked up last week from the jewelry shop. “You told me you couldn’t get it!” That little twist worked. Not exactly a lie; he just didn’t tell her he got a discount and could buy the ring.
He’s thought about this and he knew what to say, but it’s still hard to get it out the way he wants to. He’s said everything already in these letters. But he still wants to give her this moment of asking her the biggest question a man can. “Will you marry me?”
“Yes!!” What do they do now? He’s not exactly a professional at this. Does she take the ring? Thank goodness she went for a kiss. When can he get up off his knee? “You put it on.” Ok, so he’s supposed to do it. No one told him that. “That was wonderful. Thank you.” Pictures. Lots of smiles. Lots of kisses. Now it’s official: she’ll be his forever.