The Forest for the Trees
Olivia's heart pounded. Her knees shook. The room became a blur with the tears gathered in her eyes.
"Yes," she whispered. She looked down at him while trying to catch the tears with her fingers.
"What? I didn't hear your?" he said, standing. Olivia rolled her eyes at him, which caused the tears to release and cascade down her cheeks.
"Yes, I'll marry you!" she said loudly this time.
He leaned over and they kissed, unconcerned that almost 80 pairs of eyes were looking on. A thunderous applause erupted in the cafeteria.
All those gathered were giddy with happiness including those who were envious at what they considered Olivia's good fortune. There were two exceptions. Sara Marks stormed out of the room, forgetting the portable drive she had given to the Tech Coordinator which included the only copies of the videos she held as leverage against Fitz and Olivia: their sexual liaison in the 4th grade supply closet and Fitz being arrested. She had intended to copy them, but had never gotten around to it. Now the video was the last thing on Sara's mind. She felt like a fool so all she could do was flee to the bathroom for a good cry. The second exception was the bride to be, Olivia. She was uneasy about this proposal because she realized Fitz had been coerced into giving a fake proposal.
Fitz pulled back from the kiss first and slipped the ring on her finger. A group of people formed around her to see the ring. Fitz was pushed to the side. Abby, Huck, and Harrison hung back so that the others could get there turns at wishing her well.
"Congratulations, Ms. Pope!" Ms. Kingston said, hugging her and then whispering in her ear, "I am glad you two can finally be together out in the open. You won't have to hide anymore. But I knew about you two from the start." She winked her eye and walked away.
"Thank you," Olivia responded, but she was shocked by the admission.
"You two are so cute together. The teachers in third grade had a bet going to see how your relationship would end…either one of you would go to a different school, or you would break up, or you would get married. I was the only one who voted for getting married so I won $200! I promise to get you a great wedding gift." Olivia let Ms. Delvecchio hug her before Quinn approached.
"Olivia, I'm so happy for you and Mr. Grant," Quinn gushed.
Olivia waited for her to make some comment about their not so secret relationship, but she didn't.
"Quinn, did you know about us too?"
"I work the closest with Mr. Grant, but I didn't really know until I saw the beautiful paperweight on his desk...the gift you gave him with the love poem on it. Everything fell into place then."
Olivia thought she would scream if another person congratulated her while slipping in their comments about their secret relationship. The crowd in the cafeteria started to thin out.
"Liv, I am sorry I flaked on you today, but I knew I wouldn't be able to keep this a secret. I am so excited that you and Dad are getting married," Karen said kissing Olivia on the cheek.
"Congratulations, Liv. I vote for Dave and Buster's. That's where the wedding should be," Gerry hugged Olivia, lifting her off her feet for a swing.
"Gerry, put me down. I don't think they do weddings," Olivia said.
Sybil and Lauren walked up next. Sybil handed her a fragrant bouquet of flowers. "These are from your parents and sisters."
Olivia read the card.
We hope you said, 'Yes!' Congratulations to you and Fitz.
We will see you soon.
Love, Mom, Dad, Sierra and Savannah.
"Wow! Fitz was a busy man yesterday. How did he pull this off so quickly?" Olivia asked as she hugged Lauren and then Sybil.
"Liv, you know us. We Grants stick together. Now you are one of us," said Lauren.
Sybil teared up. "I'm happy to see my brother happy. I won't have to worry about him so much now."
Olivia hugged them both.
"Did you all know about this?" Olivia asked when Abby, Huck, and Harrison appeared.
"No!" Abby and Harrison said in chorus.
"People will be talking about this for years, long after you and Fitz are gone," Harrison said.
"I feel so…the only word I can think of is, 'stupid.' We put so much effort into hiding our relationship, but it turns out everyone knew…even my AP, Ms. Kingston. The joke was on us. Everyone was better at hiding that they knew than we were at keeping it a secret," Olivia said, sitting down at one of the cafeteria tables. She was tired all of a sudden. Fitz was receiving hugs and well wishes too. She wondered if everyone was telling him that they knew.
"I guess no one said anything to us because they knew we were all friends. Liv, you two were not good at keeping it hidden at first. Those googly eyed looks you gave each other were telling. It would only take one person to notice and tell someone else to observe you two. By the time Karen started interning in your class, it was already a forgone conclusion. The best part of the proposal was watching Sara Marks turn 50 shades of green and then storm out of the cafeteria. Huck already got the portable drive from the tech guy," Abby said sticking out her hand toward Huck.
Huck passed it to Abby, but Olivia intercepted it. "Thanks Huck."
"Liv, I can review it for you first," Abby said.
Olivia shook her head at Abby.
"Well at least we know that everyone seemed to approve of the relationship or at least accepted it. Which leads me to wonder why Sara would try to blackmail you if she knew that everyone already knew about your relationship," said Harrison thoughtfully.
"Maybe she didn't talk to anyone but Mellie about it. I know they were working together on this. Maybe they still are or Sara could be trying to get what she wants without Mellie's help now that Mellie is incognito. I intend to find out if she has more copies of the tapes. I told the Tech Coordinator to send her to me when she comes looking for her portable drive. I am happy for you and Mr. Grant, Liv, but I have to go" Huck kissed her on the cheek and walked away.
"Liv, we have to leave too. Call me," Abby said before she and Harrison walked over to Fitz to offer their congratulations.
"Huck, wait!" Olivia rushed over to him before he exited the side door. He didn't approach Fitz like the others.
"You're behind all this aren't you? That's why you asked me if I loved Fitz…if I was ready to marry him. I can't believe you coerced him into proposing. I am not mad at you, Huck because I know why you did it, but a girl wants the man she loves to ask her to marry him of his own free will…not because her best friend tells him to."
"That is not what happened, Olivia. He called me before..." before Huck could finish Olivia interrupted him.
"It's okay, Huck. You are a genius. I think this worked, though. Sara can't hurt us now that the cat is out of the bag so to speak," Olivia hugged him.
"Olivia, this proposal was not a plan to…" Huck tried to finish, but Olivia walked away.
"Bye Huck and tell Siobhan I said hi."
GG walked over to Olivia and rubbed her back.
"Olivia, what's wrong? You look a little…I don't know...disappointed, dear. You seemed like the happy fiancé, but I can tell that your excitement doesn't quite reach your eyes. Aren't you happy to be engaged to my grandson? I know you two are in love, so why the long face?"
"I am happy. I just...I don't know if he asked me for the right reasons..."
Fitz appeared. "Here are the two most beautiful women in room and they are going home with me. Let's go so I can lock up the school. Livy, Sybil will drive your car to the house so you can ride with me. You, too, Granny."
"No, I think I'll ride with Lauren so you and Olivia can be alone before we get to the house where there will be no privacy for at least a couple of hours. Everyone is coming over for dinner tonight."
Later in the car on the way home, Fitz held Olivia's hand in his lap. The rode in silence for awhile. Olivia wanted to thank him for the lengths he had gone to protect them, but she was inexplicably sad.
"Babe...let's talk dates. What are your thoughts? When do you want to get married? I guess that would depend on how big or small you want the wedding. I'll do whatever you want."
Olivia looked over at him with a frown on her face. "What are you talking about? I don't think we need to announce a date right now. You pulled it off. I have Sara's portable drive. Huck is going to get any additional copies she has. So she is pretty much not a problem. But, Fitz, it seems that everyone at school already knew about our relationship! This makes Sara's attempt to blackmail us, and your fake proposal, totally unnecessary. And Huck…how did you let him talk you into proposing? I will give you credit, you got so much done in just one night! How did you do it?"
Olivia was talking animatedly with her hands so she was caught off guard by the momentum of the car as it swerved sharply off the road and jerked forward when Fitz hit the brakes.
"What in the holy hell are you talking about, Olivia?"
"Fitz? What is wrong? Why did you pull off the road like that?" Olivia said. The people in the cars behind them honked, cursed, and threw up their middle fingers.
Fitz killed the engine sharply, removed his seatbelt, and turned to face her. They sat on the side of the road. "I have no idea what you are talking about…fake proposal? Sara Marks, the kindergarten teacher?"
"But didn't Huck tell you about Sara?"
He looked as if he had no idea what she was talking about. "Before Spring Break, Sara presented me with a video of us having sex in the 4th grade storage closet. She was trying to blackmail me with it so I would convince you to make her the Literacy Coach and nominate her for the Emerging Principal's Leadership Program. I refused to negotiate with her. When we returned from Spring Break I talked with Abby, Huck, and Harrison about it and told them about my intention to resign at the faculty meeting. That's when Huck contacted you with the idea to propose. It was genius, if somewhat drastic! It seemed so real. Even though the proposal was fake, my tears weren't. This is a beautiful ring. It reminds me of those earrings you gave me for Valentine's Day."
While she explained, Fitz turned away and faced the road. His expression was blank. She saw the rise and fall of his chest and then he sighed.
"I don't...So let me get this straight...you are saying that a teacher had a video of us...having sex and she tried to blackmail you with it to get a promotion from me. You didn't tell me, but talked to your friends about it. You decided to resign without telling me. But you thought I found out about it and came up with a better solution...or that Huck did...to fake propose to you in front of everyone...my family, your family…bought a ring and made a fucking video to make the fake proposal believable?...and you fake accepted."
She reached out to touch him.
"Please...don't touch me."
"Fitz, what's wrong with you?" She unbuckled her seatbelt and moved closer to him.
He ignored her attempts to get closer and pulled the seatbelt across his lap forcefully until it clicked. He started the ignition. "Put on your seatbelt," he said.
"So this was real?"
"Put on your seatbelt, Olivia!" She complied.
"But Huck randomly asked me if I loved you and was ready to get married? Tell me what really happened, Fitz?"
He did not answer her, but focused on the road, waiting for the lane to clear.
"Talk to me, Fitz!"
When he pulled onto the road, he didn't say anything which alarmed her immensely.
Olivia pulled out her cell phone and dialed Huck.
"Hey, Olivia. I was expecting your call. Now you want to hear what I have to say I bet."
"Yeah...he won't talk to me." She looked over at him. He drove as if he was in the car alone and in deep thought.
"He was planning to propose and called to tell me during Spring Break. I helped him get in touch with your mom."
"Did Abby and Harrison know about this?" she whispered.
"No. He didn't want to tell them because he thought they would tell you. I didn't get a chance to tell him about Sara's plan or your intention to resign. He was busy planning everything so our conversation was cut short. Liv, I thought you knew me better than that. First, I would never interfere in your life like that and ask someone to propose to you and...he is the principal."
"I know, but...you could have told me...never mind...thanks Huck. Bye." Olivia disconnected the line and looked at Fitz. His face was more relaxed.
"I spoke with Huck. He explained everything." Fitz pulled into his driveway, put the vehicle in park, and turned to face her.
"Why didn't you come to me when Sara Marks tried to blackmail you?"
"I knew I could handle it myself...and one of us was planning to resign so..."
"Why did you accept what you thought was a fake proposal?"
"I thought you were trying to fix the Sara Marks problem too...after Huck presented you with that as an...option."
Olivia couldn't read his expression now, but he seemed resolved, calm, and settled.
"What would you have said if you thought the proposal was real? It is obvious that you would say anything to fix a problem, but if I asked you to marry me now and you knew it was real, what would you say?"
"Fitz, I'm sorry for keeping the thing with Sara Marks from you. I really thought I had it handled. It was a-."
"I asked you a question, Olivia. What would you say?"
"Let's go inside. We can talk about this later. Your family is waiting for us. " Olivia pulled down the visor to check her face in the mirror.
"Answer the damn question! I don't care about my family right now. This is between you and me. Would you marry me, Olivia? It's a simple question!"
His eyes bored into her.
"You are obviously upset. We should talk about this later when you aren't as...pissed at me."
"Get out of the car." Fitz released the locks.
"The receipt for the earrings and the engagement ring are in my top desk drawer. You will see that I bought them at the same time, months ago. You can take them back if you want. I don't care. I love you, Olivia…and have loved you from that first time we met. But it is obvious that the feeling isn't mutual. You've said it over and over...and I guess it is true that I have pushed you at every point in our relationship…pushed you to go out with me…pushed you to say you love me…pushed you to spend time with me…and now pushed you to accept what you thought was a fake proposal…I am not going to push you to accept what you now know is a real one. I can't see my family right now. Tell them I…I am sure you can make something up. I'll be back in a couple of hours. Please be gone by then. I can't even think about school right now, I need some time to let this sink in."
"What are you saying then?"
"I'm apologizing for pushing you and I won't anymore," he said.
"But you haven't pushed me to do anything. I love you. I know I haven't been the best at expressing my feelings, but everything thing I've done has been because I wanted to, Fitz!"
"Get out of the car, Olivia!" He leaned over her and opened the door for her.
"No, you can't just push me away like this. You can't do this!" Olivia said. She slammed the door shut.
He leaned over her to reopen the door again. "Get out of the damn car, Olivia!"
She slammed it back, screaming, "No! I'm not going anywhere." Her eyes were red and she was crying openly now.
They continued this back and forth a couple of times. Again, he opened the door and demanded that she exit. Olivia slammed the door shut, refusing to go. When she reached to slam the door the 7th time, he grabbed the top of it to block her, but she was successful in slamming it. Instead of the whooshing sound of metal hitting metal, there was the sound of a thump and a crack.
"Awwww…Fuck!" Fitz screamed when Olivia slammed the door against his hand. She pulled the door back.
"Oh baby, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to. Let me see." Fitz fell back against his seat and grabbed his arm. Tears were flowing from his eyes, evidence of a broken heart and broken bones.
Olivia examined his hand which was already starting to swell and bruise. "I'm so sorry for everything! 1,000 times yes! I will marry you for real okay? I know you are in pain and maybe you don't understand. I need to drive you to the emergency room. We have to change seats."
"What's going out here? Why do you two look like you've been in a brawl? Why are you crying? Fitz what's wrong with your hand?" Lauren asked. She was standing at the passenger side door.
"My future wife is trying to kill me. She just br-broke my ha-hand in t-t-two. I thought love wasn't supposed to hurt." Fitz said weakly.
"I am going to drive him to the emergency room," said Olivia.
"Umm…I think I should drive, Liv. You look like you are about to throw up," Lauren said. She walked around to the driver's side while sending a text to Sybil.
Lauren: Major drama with Fitz and Liv. Driving them to the ER. Think his hand is broken. Will be in touch with more details. Tell GG.
Sybil: WTF? I will be right behind you.
When Lauren hopped into the driver's seat, Fitz was on the passenger side with Olivia between them. They both looked battle worn.
"Lauren, please don't t-tell the family," Fitz said as Olivia pulled him against her chest and elevated his mangled hand.
"Too late little brother," Lauren said before she backed out onto the street.