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     Daniel sat slumped on the couch, stewing in his irritation by the light of the fish tank. It cast a greenish-blue hue on the room, shifting with the motion of the water and providing a small source of light in the otherwise dark house.
     He stared blankly at the fish darting back and forth, up and down. He could hear the seconds ticking by from a clock somewhere in the house, keeping time with his pulse.

     Mary-Sue was late. Too late. The hour of their dinner reservation had come and gone and here he was: waiting in the dark, the sun having set around sat around him.
     She'd left a not this morning saying that she was at the library working on her dissertation. She promised to be back in the afternoon, but he hadn't had so much as a phone call since then. At first he thought she'd got stuck in traffic, but then fifteen minutes slid into half an hour and then into an hour and on from there. He reasoned that she must have forgotten. He didn't have the heart to entertain darker possibilities. 

     Stretching out his arm, he grasped on to the sleeve of his dinner jacket and dragged closer. He rooted around the inside pockets for a few moments before locating and extracting the ring box. He popped it open, letting the diamond catch and refract the light of the fish tank.
     They'd had such a night planned. Dinner downtown, dancing, and finally a walk through Lost in Love Hedge Maze. One of teammates had suggested the park to him as an excellent place to spark a little romance. An excellent place to propose, he'd thought.

     But apparently his plans were not to come to fruition. Again.
     By now, he'd lost track of all the time he'd planned out his proposal only to have it go awry. A mix of disappointment, frustration, and apprehension had settled in the pit of his stomach, persistent and unending. He snapped the box closed and turned it over in his hand, examining the charmingly-painted exterior.
     Where is she?

     The tiny hinges were beginning to squeak: a result of over-use. He sighed. Perhaps it was time to take a break. He could hide the ring away in his duffel again. It could sit a while, waiting until the time was right. Obviously he shouldn't be trying right now. The universe had certainly made that point clear.

     A car engine rattled in the distance. He paid no attention to it until it got significantly louder and then cut right in front of the house. After a minute more he heard footsteps on the porch. Slipping the ring back into an inner pocket, he threw it into a heap on the floor and kicked it halfway under the couch.
     Mary-Sue came through the door juggling her keys, purse, and a small stack of books. She grunted, lifting it all over the threshold and flipping the light-switch with her elbow.

     Upon seeing him standing there she jumped back and brought her hand to her throat in surprise, dropping her armload of books in the process. "Daniel, you startled me!" The spines scraped against the wall and landed in a heap on the floor. She took a second to straighten them into a neat stack with her heel. "Why is it so dark in here?"

     "Where have you been?"  Daniel asked, his voice raising despite his efforts to keep it level. The relief that he'd felt at seeing her come through the door had was fading quickly, anger taking its place.
     "At the library," she answered with a concerned glance. She slipped past him into the kitchen. "Didn't you see the note I left this morning?"

     "It's almost eight-thirty, Mary-Sue."
     "Yeah, so?" She flipped her purse onto the counter none too gracefully. It landed with a loud thunk, punctuating her question. "I wanted to get some work done today, and I did. I don't see why it's made you so upset."

     "You honestly have no idea?" he asked, his tone still heated. "I've been sitting on that couch for two hours," he gestured wildly out to the living room, "wondering what could have possibly happened to make you forget about our dinner. I don't even want to tell you what kind of thoughts ran through my head."
     Mary-Sue paled and her expression changed instantly. "Oh, Daniel," she said, shaking her head sadly. "Dinner. I'm so sorry! I completely forgot."

     "How could you possibly forget?! We've had this night circled on the calendar for two weeks!" By now, he'd begun shouting.
     "I'm so sorry, Daniel. I was working all morning and I got on a roll. I didn't even stop for lunch! It just slipped my mind."
     "I just don't get it Mary-Sue," he said in an exasperated tone, flinging his arms out wide. "I don't get how you could just forget."

     "I said I'm sorry, Daniel. I really didn't mean to. And we can go out to dinner next weekend, if you want, she conceded once she saw the crestfallen look that had come over his face. "Same restaurant, even. I don't see how this is the end of the world."

     His face fell further. "It's not-" he said, turning away. "It's not about the restaurant."
     "Then what is it about?" she asked, placing a palm against his back.
     He tensed at her touch, his nerves tingling where he could feel the heat of her skin through his shirt. Everything; it's about everything he wanted to say. He fought the urge to throw it all out into the open. To tell her about the ring, about all his botched proposals, about his desire to prove his love, about his need to keep her at his side. But he just stood there, silent.
     "You can tell me, Daniel," she said, rubbing her hand up and down his back.

     "Look, I'm sorry I yelled," he said, turning back around. "I know we're both busy. We both have things going on - exciting things! - but I had been looking forward to just...spending time with you tonight." He took a deep breath, trying to let his anger go. None of this was really her fault. "I'd planned our evening as a gesture to show you how much I love you. I'm just disappointed for the, uh, missed opportunity."

     "Oh, Daniel," she murmured, stepping closer. She wound one hand around his waist and pushed on his stomach with the other. She pushed with just enough force to propel him backwards into the couch, his knees buckling when they hit the cushions. She locked eyes with him and slid on to his lap. "I don't need a grand gesture to know how you feel. I know how much you love me."
     "You do?"
     "I do." She snaked her arms around his neck. "I see it every day. I see it when you stay up late helping me grade papers. When you start dinner because my class ran late. When you call me before and after every soccer game. When you kiss me goodnight. You show me all the time. How could I ever doubt that you love me?"
     "I do love you. So much."

     "I know, Daniel. Trust me, I have no doubts." With a coy smile, she tipped off his lap and leaned back onto the arm of the couch. She ran her hand across the front of his shirt, pausing a second to finger his top button before continuing up to his hair, twisting his short, orange locks around her fingers. "But if you still wanted to...spend some time together..."
     He leaned in, smiling, and kissed her.

     Proposing was hard, but this he could do. No problem.

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