“I can follow.” He laughs. “Okay, that’s a lie. I can follow sometimes, when my mood is right.”

“And the waning moon is hung in the winter sky, just to the right of Jupiter—” Sean makes an oof sound as I elbow him.

“Didn’t your mother teach you manners? You seem to say whatever snide remark is floating through your mind.” The memories of my mother’s voice and wintery nights in our warm little house are no longer strangling me now that I’m in his arms.

How am I supposed to reconcile my past with my present? It seems impossible. People told me that one day the memories won’t hurt so much, but each time one pops up, it feels like I’ve been hit over the head with a shovel. One day I’ll smile and the grief won’t be there. Such thoughts seem like fairy tales. I’m more likely to find an alligator wearing a tutu on the subway, than think of my parents and smile without feeling any pain.

Sean’s voice tightens. “My mother taught me many things. She’s a ruthless, cold woman, and not the person who you’d want me to emulate.”

“Oh.” Before I manage to completely mess up the evening, I add, “Then tell me, if you could pattern yourself after someone, who would it be?”

He smiles and the coldness in his eyes melts. “You.”

I think he’s joking, but he stops dancing and takes both my hands in his. “I’m serious. You’re warm and kind. You don’t hide who you are or what you think. You wear your heart on your sleeve even though it’s been fractured. When you care for someone, you do it wholly and not in part. You don’t hold back. You’re not selfish. Not once have you asked me for anything, even though you need everything. You’re borderline destitute and you haven’t asked me for a dime.”

Sean’s lashes lower as he speaks and he continues the slow dance that’s turned into more of a rocking hug. His voice sounds strained, like these things are difficult to say. “You’re lonely and I’m alone. It seemed like a good fit, like we complement each other, but it’s more than that. You saw it and I didn’t. When you said you were going to propose to me, every part of me protested to the idea. Marriage is something that nearly destroyed me before, but since I met you—I don’t know.”

Sean looks down at the floor before glancing up at me with those gem colored eyes. “When you said you wouldn’t ask me to marry you, I didn’t like it. It made me think of the little house and wonder what it would be like to live there with you—to hear your voice echoing through the halls every day. It made me wonder what I could do that would make you think I was worth marrying.”

“And what’d you come up with?” My head is floating off my shoulders. There’s nothing he could have said that would have made me light up more.

Taking a deep breath, Sean replies, “Nothing. There is nothing I can do to make me deserve someone like you. No matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, you’ll always be a better person than I am, which is why I can’t let you go.”

His words make my stomach flip and I stop breathing. We stop moving. I had been thinking that he’s just talking, saying things I want to hear, until he said that part. “What do you mean?”

Sean smiles and tucks a stray hair behind my ear. “I mean exactly that. I can’t let you go. I’ll take you any way I can get you. If I have to buy you from Black, I will. If I have to share you,” his jaw tightens but he manages to say it, “because you want to keep working for her, I will. I will do and be anything you want, as long as I can be near you. Avery, you make me a better man. Without you, well, there’s nothing. I’m lost in darkness and you’re my only ray of light.” Sean lowers himself so he’s on one knee and looks up at me.

The smile I’m wearing falls off and thuds on the floor. What is he doing? I stagger back as he kneels in front of me. My heart slams into my ribs and falls over. This can’t be happening. I’m dreaming, or I’m dead. Is he proposing? He can’t be? But he’s kneeling. A cold chill works its way through my body, tickling my insides, as it passes through my chest and settles in my stomach. My throat tightens as I lock my jaw to keep from speaking. I blink rapidly, trying not to rip my hand away, because I fear this is some cruel joke, but Sean’s not laughing. Not at all.

He’s reaching into his pocket and pulls something out. Lifting it up to me, I can see the perfect little circle with a bright diamond on top. There are two side stones, each one a sapphire as blue as his eyes. Pressing my lips together, I stare at the ring and try to blink the stinging sensation out of my eyes.

Looking up at me, Sean continues, “I wish I were more eloquent, that I had a better way with words, but I’m afraid I’m utterly lacking. There’s no profession that will convince you. There’s no testament of adoration to persuade you. I’m afraid that this is all there is and all I have to offer. I’m a broken man that you brought back from the abyss. I know I don’t deserve you, and it’s selfish for me to ask, but I have to. You’ve lit up my life too brightly, for too long, and made it so I can’t tolerate the shadows anymore. So, I must ask you a question.”

The moment is so unreal that I don’t realize I’ve spoken until I hear my voice. “Ask me…”


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