Ali and I were inseparable the weeks following Thanksgiving. We’d practically moved in together. If our shifts didn’t coincide he’d pick me up from work and we’d stay over at his place. We’d exchanged keys to each other’s houses and had settled into comfortable routines. That year, I decorated for Christmas. Ali and I shopped together for a real tree and ornaments. The yardman and Ali put up lights and Lacey bought an elegant wreath for my front door. Lacey and Ali joined me, Camilla and Oliver when we delivered the gifts we’d collected on Thanksgiving night to the Women and Children’s shelter. Ali and Lacey signed up to come back in the new year to host a few, seminars and resume writing services for the women looking to get back into the workforce. Ali was good with the kids and he seemed to have enjoyed himself. I found him sprawled across the floor playing a video game with two little boys, when it was time to leave. We decided to do some Christmas shopping and get dinner somewhere in the Lenox area. Oliver and Lacey disappeared somewhere between Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s and Camilla latest beau picked her up from the mall, leaving Ali and I to ourselves. We agreed to go our separate ways to buy gifts for one another and to meet up in an hour and a half at the valet entrance. I wandered around the mall, looking for the perfect gift for Ali. I stopped by sporting goods stores, menswear stores and high-end boutiques.
“Dang, I wish I had Lacey or Oliver here right now.” I said to myself, then whipped out my cell phone to call Oliver and noticed that I’d missed a call from him.
There was also a text message.
---Why is your boy in a jewelry store. W/out U?---
My heart stopped. I read and reread the text message several times.
Why would he be in a jewelry store? He couldn’t be buying me jewelry. Could he? What kind of jewelry? My head was spinning, and I found a bench, because I had to sit down.
“Cami, you’re tripping.” I told myself. “He could be buying something for his mom or for Lacey. Or a watch for his dad.” I said aloud.
“I was buying your gift, Camisha Ann.” Ali said, startling me.
He plopped down on the bench beside me and kissed me on the cheek. He stretched his long legs to their full length and casually draped an arm around my shoulders. “Why are you sitting on a bench in the mall talking to yourself?” he asked laughing.
“Which jewelry store did you see me in?”
“How much are we spending on our gifts, Ali?” I asked, mortified.
He laughed again.
“I know what I want from you, but you never asked?” he said, flashing a sexy dimple.
“Well, what do you want?” I asked and turned to face him.
“I need some new boxing gloves and a nice gym bag.” he answered earnestly.
I pursed my lips and squinted.
“Seriously! Let’s go eat. I’m starving. Maggiano’s?”, he said changing the subject.
He got to his feet and helped me to mine. “Let’s go, Ms. Lady. I hate the mall.”
I spent most of the ride home from the restaurant lost in my thoughts about that gift from the jewelry store. When we reached my house and unloaded the bags, Ali headed to the restroom for a shower and I laid out on the chaise lounge to look over some budget reports for work, but my mind was back at the mall. I picked up the phone and called Oliver. When he answered it sounded like he was whispering.
“Why are you whispering?”
“Lacey’s in the kitchen, on the phone with her dad. What’s up?”
“Is she still hiding you?” I said, reprimanding him for going along with her deceit.
“Cam, don’t start.” he groaned, pushing back, so I left it alone. “Did you find out why Mr. Perfect was in that jewelry store?”
He continued unphased by my jeer.
“No.” I answered, “Did Lacey see him?”
“I don’t think she did.” Oliver whispered into the phone.
“He straight up told me he was buying something for me.”
“Yooooo. You don’t think it’s a ring. Do you?”
“Of course not. He was so casual about it. It must be non-bridal. Right? I mean it’s got to be something thoughtful, like a pair of earrings or a bracelet or something.”
“Then why are you sweating it?” Oliver asked, noting the undercurrent of panic in my voice.
“I’m not sweating anything!” I snapped at him. “I’m just calling you!”
“Hmmmm hm.” he mumbled, taunting me like a little brother. “I guess we’ll all find out in about two weeks,” he said. “I gotta go, Boss Lady,” he whisper yelled and hung up in my face.
I lay against the chaise, kicking around non-threatening pieces of jewelry, that Ali could have bought for me for another few minutes, then logged on to the internet to find him a pair of boxing gloves and a nice gym bag. I considered buying him a watch or a pair of cufflinks, and giggled. The thought tickled. Who’d have thought in a million years, I’d have a man to buy cufflinks? Certainly not me.
The remaining days before Christmas drifted by quickly. Ali and I were wrapping gifts in my bedroom, when he casually announced that he’d be going home for Christmas.
“I’m driving down Christmas eve morning. So, I want to get you in a dress again for a nice dinner. And finally get that ride on the Skyview Ferris wheel in Centennial Park. With no Lacey!” he said with a chuckle.
I didn’t know why, but I expected him to be with me on Christmas morning. His announcement broke my heart, and it showed in the tears that flooded my eyes. Surprise crossed his face, and he pulled me into his arms.
“Ba-by, don’t cry. Please don’t cry.” he said, rocking me atop a pile of wrapping paper.
“I didn’t think you’d mind. Do you want to come with me?”
“I can’t leave Camilla here alone on Christmas and where would Oliver go to open gifts and have Christmas breakfast?” I said among uncontrollable sobs.
I fought hard to pull myself together, but my sobs were more formidable.
I didn’t know who I was turning into! I eventually regained control over my emotions and moved from Ali’s lap. I went into the bathroom to put some cold water on my face and when I came out, Ali was on one knee holding a navy blue, velvet box. I rubbed my eyes because I couldn’t trust what they were seeing, I mean I had been crying like a baby only seconds ago.
“Ali, what are you doing?” I stuttered.
“I had a whole romantic night planned to do this, but this moment feels right,” he explained as cool as a cucumber. “Cami, I know the short amount of time we’ve been together scares you. But, I know me. I know that I’ve never felt like this for anyone else. I know I’ve never felt so deeply connected to anyone outside of my own blood. I also know that I’m terrified to think of my future without you in it. Will you please do me the honor of being my wife? Will you marry me?”
My voice left me first and then my wits left me. I stumbled backwards, into the bathroom and closed the door, locking it behind me. I sat on the floor and stayed there until Ali stopped knocking on the door and until I heard his car drive down the driveway hours later. I stayed locked in the bathroom until my hunger pangs got the best of me and I had to come out for food. I found Oliver asleep on the couch in the family room when I reached the kitchen. He jumped up at the sound of the coffee pot’s buzzer. He yawned wiped his eyes.
“Cami, what the fuck is wrong with you?”
Oliver’s tone took me aback. He never spoke to me that way. Even offended, I couldn’t find my voice.
“Hello,” he persisted.
But, I could only stare at him, then the tears roared back. He came over and hugged me tight.
“Cami, you have to know you deserve this. All of it. That dude loves you. There’s no trick to it. Nothing more to figure out. He’s been right here. He’s never let you down. Let somebody love you, Sis. Let somebody take care of you.”
He was right and I knew he was. And God knows I loved Ali, despite my deepest fears, I loved him dearly. I tried to speak, but only little squeaks escaped. Oliver held on to me to my trembling frame.
“It’s OK. Save your words to fix this shitstorm you’ve ignited. Save them for begging Ali to come back to your crazy ass.”
The banging in my head was relentless and we ate breakfast in silence.
I woke up on Christmas Eve and thought of Ali driving to Alabama. Would he get there and tell his mom all about the way I humiliated him? Would she be disappointed with me or pissed at me? Would Lacey gloat and say how she knew I wasn’t good enough for her brother? I picked up my phone and dialed his number. When his voicemail picked up,
“I’m sorry. I love you. Please call me back. It’s Cami.”
Was all I could think to say. I tried calling him at least four more times, and I left messages each time.
“Ali, I’m sorry. Please, call me.”
“It’s me, Cami. Please call me.”
“I’m an idiot, I know. But, I love you. Please call me, Babe. Please.”
“I don’t know if you’re getting these messages, but if you are, we need to talk. Babe, I’m so sorry. Please call me back. It’s Cami.”
He didn’t answer or return my calls.
When Oliver came over, I asked if he’d talked with Lacey. He said he had and she hadn’t mentioned anything about Ali’s proposal. He said he didn’t think she knew about it. It struck me odd that Oliver didn’t seem surprised about Ali’s proposal.
“Oliver, how did you know I needed you?” I asked.
He rubbed his hands over his hair and sat beside me on the couch. I felt a knot tie itself in my tummy.
“Ali called me,” he said evenly without looking at me.
I knew there was more so I sat as still as possible and let him form his next words.
“Cam, he’s been planning this for a while.”
He chuckled nervously and twisted at the roots of his dreadlocks. “A few weeks ago he came by the shop and said he wanted to talk to me, so we went down the block to TapOut to shoot pool.”
TapOut was a neighborhood bar and pool hall that catered to upwardly mobile, young professionals. Oliver and I were always laughing at those pompous, self-important pretenders with their sky-high rents, bottom of the line luxury cars and astronomical student loan debt--I couldn’t even picture him being there, but Ali was probably a regular, those were his people. I let it slide and let him continue.
“He asked for my blessing to ask you for your hand in marriage--his words, not mine.” he added with a belly laugh. “That dude is super lame, Cam.”
We both laughed at his addendum, because it was true. “He showed me the ring and everything. So when he called and told me that he’d proposed early and that your crazy ass locked yourself in the bathroom, I was like, ‘What the hell?’”
I’m sure Oliver watered down what Ali said to him, but he’d told Oliver he couldn’t look at me and asked for him to be here whenever I came up for air. I wondered what Oliver meant when he said that Ali had proposed, “early” but Camilla came into the room yelling and screaming.
“You did what, Camisha Ann Robbins! I know I ain’t hearing this shit correctly.”
She shouted, cussed and raged for the next few minutes.
“Did I fuck you up that bad? Are you completely crazy? Do you think men like Ali just come along like city buses?”
I stood, mouth agape and turned to Oliver. He raised his hands showing me his palms and looked away.
“Camisha Ann, you’d better get on your knees and pray he’s half as crazy as you are and gives yo’ simple ass another shot.”
The entire time she was cooking dinner she’d randomly exploded.
“Stupid ass girl.” Or, “I’on know who the hell you think you are.” Or, “Must think men like that grow on trees.”
She was right and I couldn’t argue. I just kept trying to reach him, until his phone started going straight to voicemail.
Waking up to my reality on Christmas morning physically ached, deep inside of me. I lay in bed with the curtains drawn and the covers over my head. I’d committed to spending Christmas day in bed, replaying the biggest mistake of my life over and over again.
“Open this damned door, Girl!” Camilla yelled and banged on my bedroom door.
I tried ignoring her but she wouldn’t go away. I heard something scratching at the door and shortly after Oliver was lifting my door off it’s hinges!
“What the heck are you doing?” I protested, struggling to sit up.
“Get out of this damned bed, Camisha. Get up!”
Camilla charged through the door and snatched the bedcovers from my grip.
“This is Christmas and you will get up and be thankful for all you haven’t loss.”
Her pep talk wasn’t exactly uplifting and inspiring and I laughed. For the first time in days, I laughed. My hysterics were disrupted by the slamming of car doors -- several car doors. I couldn’t see the cars on the driveway, which meant they’d pulled around to the rear parking pad. I jumped up and ran to the bathroom. I washed my face, brushed my teeth and twisted my hair into a messy bun. I heard several voices and then the one I needed to hear came through clearly -- it was Ali! He was here! I ran down the hall and flung myself into his arms, I held on to him as if my heartbeat depended solely on feeling his.
“I’m so sorry! I messed up, but I love you. I love you so much!” I cried, clinging to him.
“I am such an idiot. Please forgive me. Please don’t ever leave me again!”
He held me tight and twirled me around, which is when I noticed his family filling the room. They looked on, confused by my incoherent rant. I wiped the tears from my eyes and fingered at my hair, then coyly dropped from Ali’s arms. I moved to stand behind him, covering my highly, inappropriate attire. I was wearing short pajama shorts and a midriff baring, cut-off Stanford t-shirt I’d taken from Ali and claimed as my own. I stammered out a shaky hello.
“What’s going on?” I whispered to Ali.
They all stood, smiling at me. All but my mom and Oliver whose faces looked as confused as I mine. Ali turned around to face me and got down on one knee again, but this time I didn’t even wait to hear the question, I fell to my knees too and wrapped my arms around his neck.
“Yes! Yes! I will! I will,” I cried.
He laughed and hugged me, when I let him go he had tears in his eyes, too and he kissed me passionately.
“I love you, you crazy ass woman. Now, do you want to at least see the ring?”
“I don’t care what the ring looks like, I only care that you’re back. Back here, with me.” We sat in the middle of the floor on our knees for far too long, but I didn’t want anything in that moment to end, and I didn’t want to let him go. I didn’t care who was watching.
“Um, can we see the ring?” Lacey asked, tapping me on the shoulder.
Without completely, letting me go Ali tossed her the ring box. They all laughed as Ali and I stayed locked in each other’s arms. He moved to stand first, so I stood too, but I didn’t let him go. He lifted me in his arms and carried me to the couch, where he sat me in his lap and kissed me again.
“Babe, we bought all of the gifts here, from Alabama. I should probably get them.”
“Let Oliver get them,” I said against his neck.
Mr. Robinson laughed and offered to help Oliver with the packages. Of course, Lacey went along to help too. Ms. Tess, came to sit beside us on the couch and offered her congratulations.
“I’ve never seen such a beautiful proposal. Such a beautiful expression of love,” she quietly declared.
“Thank you, Ms. Tess. For everything.” I said and kissed Ali again.
“I hate to break up this love fest,” Camilla said. “But you should probably go make myself presentable for breakfast. Go on, let her go. She’ll come back, I promise.”
Camilla prepared a fantastic buffet of breakfast foods, that included her homemade orange glazed cinnamon rolls, spinach and parmesan eggs and crispy applewood bacon, fried up only the way she could fry it up. Oliver had ground Lacey’s favorite blend of coffee beans and Ms. Tess was whipping up fresh cream for her kids favorite, spiced hot cocoa. Ali, Lacey and Mr. Robinson were sitting on the couch watching, The Christmas Story, when I walked in. Ali stood up to meet me and presented the ring box to me again. He opened the box, took the ring out and placed it on my finger with a kiss. It was beautiful. It was a simple round solitaire surrounded by other smaller round stones, on a dainty, twisted gold band.
“It’s beautiful, Ali. I can’t believe you picked this out in an hour.”
I said staring down at the sparkler on my ring finger.
“I didn’t,” he said, his brow furrowed. “I started looking for it the day after Thanksgiving. I knew that I wanted to spend every other Thanksgiving of my life, just like that, with you.”
His proclamation rendered me speechless, and turned my smile into a perfect pout. He really loved me and I was going to receive it. I thanked him with another kiss, and fervently wished for everyone here to disappear so I could thank him generously and horizontally, in the nude, body to body. After breakfast we opened gifts, Ali loved his Andrew Marc leather gym bag and the monogrammed cufflinks. We’d brought his mom a cashmere pashmina and a Christmas ornament, his dad got a knit hat and scarf, which Ali insisted he’d need when he went fishing on cold mornings. I picked out forest green, leather elbow length, cashmere lined gloves for Lacey, which she loved and thanked me for with a hug.
“I know my brother would never pick out something so nice for me on his own.” she admitted.
Ali picked out a sweater with suede elbow patches for Oliver and we’d bought Camilla a pair of black, stiletto heeled boots and a pashmina like the one we’d bought for Ms. Tess. His parents gave me an engraved framed picture of Ali and I the night we’d spent sitting out on their boat dock in the moonlight. It was beautiful with the moonlight on the water and the dark silhouette of tall trees on the other side of the lake, my head was laying on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around my waist. I couldn’t believe they’d captured and preserved that moment for us to see. It was a thoughtful gift, and I thanked them with hugs and more happy tears. I don’t think I’d ever cried as much as I had since I’d met Ali Robinson. I opened more gifts from Camilla and Oliver and lastly another box from Ali.
“Really, Babe? You didn’t have to get anything else. You’re going to spoil me.”
“I hope so.” He retorted and released his sexy dimples, “This gift is for later. I’ll put it away.”
He took it from me, and took it to our bedroom. Everyone snickered and speculated about what was in the big box.
Ali had reserved seats for all of us at the Skyview Ferris wheel and it was the first time we were alone all day. He and Lacey packed blankets and bottles of champagne and glasses for all of us. Camilla had invited her latest beau who met us there at six p.m. Ali and I covered up and cuddled in our own private cart. Ali poured us champagne and snuggled closer to me. He kissed me, softly at first, and then he touched me between my thighs. Before I knew what was happening, he unzipped my pants and slipped his fingers inside of my panties. His thumb ran between my throbbing, wet slit and I closed my eyes. I laid my head against the cushioned head rest and bit down hard on my bottom lip. He kissed me while he rubbed me to climax. When the Ferris wheel came to a stop, we were the last ones to exit our cart.
He’d thought of everything, he’d made reservations at McCormick & Schmick’s for everyone, including Carl, Camilla’s new friend. He had them bring out a slice of beautifully presented cheesecake, with the word, “Congratulations,” scripted on the plate in dark chocolate. He fed me a piece of cake and I leaned into his embrace. “How’d you know I’d say, Yes?”
He laughed and scratched his chin.
“I had a hunch, although you’d already thrown me for a loop with that crazy bathroom scene.”
My heart was full and I was grateful for every face I saw sitting around that table.
Ali hailed a cab to take Lacey and his parents back to his apartment and arranged to meet them in the morning for breakfast. Camilla left with Carl and Oliver went home, to hook up with Lacey after her parents drifted off to sleep, I’m sure. Ali must have driven a hundred miles per hour down I-85 back to the house and we barely made it through the back door before we undressed, and climbed all over each other. As I breathlessly laid atop Ali’s sweaty, bare chest he asked me to open my gift.
“Right now?” I asked.
A sexy grin turned up the corners of his mouth.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m tapped out. So, now seems like a good time.”
I rolled over and reached for the huge box. I dragged it to the edge of the bed and carefully unwrapped the layers of delicate tissues.
“One night you told me that you didn’t consider yourself sexy,” he said while I explored the contents of the box. “And ever since that conversation, I’ve been working to gather irrefutable, photographic evidence to the contrary,” he said chuckling.
He helped me pull out the tissue paper, and watched my eyes.
The box held four chrome shadowboxes with black and white pictures of me: One was of my nude back, while I slept, another of my silhouette while I was in the shower, a third of me with a bowl of popcorn holding one leg, watching a roaring fire from my beloved sectional and lastly, one of me at the kitchen sink wearing cutoff shorts, furry boots and the cutoff Stanford t-shirt, that showed my lower back. There was also a handwritten love letter to me from Ali.
“I had the shadowboxes made for our bedroom,” he said and wiped a tear that was rolling down my cheek. “Babe, I hope these pictures help you to see yourself, the way I see you. Sexy. Desirable. And loved.”
I put the pictures down and took him between my legs and wept. The day had completely overwhelmed me and I felt secure enough to openly weep on my husband-to-be’s bare chest. I felt, loved. We made love all night and slept in the next morning.