“Rob, sweetie? Why are you still looking at the bill of fare?”
“Hope springs eternal,” Rob replied, glancing away from the bill to smile at Dannie. “Maybe if I look at it look enough, we’ll get a better selection.” He pushed the menu aside with a smile. “Never said it was particularly rational.”
“Rational? Rationality’s overrated. I should know, I live with the four most rational … er … the three most rational girls on campus.” Dannie leaned forward, elbows on the counter, slowly and appreciatively draining her bitter. She glanced at Rob with one eyebrow raised. “Isn’t that your cue to claim you live with the three — soon to be four — most irrational guys on campus?”
“Nah. There are a lot of irrational guys on campus. I think even Tom, Milo and Lamorak would be beaten out by somebody … though who’s supposed to be fourth? Sir Galahad or Freddy?”
“Sir Galahad. I mean, I know Freddy, and while he can be an idiot at times, there are lot of guys on campus worse than he is. And as for Sir Galahad … well, I figured since Will is so calm and bloody stolid, he’s probably as crazy as his twin.”
“Clearly you have never met Sir Galahad.”
“Ah, he’s like Will then?”
“Not in the least … ask your brother about him sometime. I’m sure he’ll have some good stories.”
“They’ve only lived in the same dormitory for a semester,” Dannie chuckled. “You think he’d have ‘stories’ already?”
“I’ll just have to ask him, then, since you insist on being cagey.”
“And I do insist.” The barkeeper lumbered over to their end of the counter and asked for their orders. Rob and Dannie placed them (greasy portions of meat that were supposed to be chicken for Rob, and a far safer cake for Dannie — far safer because the pub ordered it from a bakery down the street, and thus was unable to screw it up or contaminate it). Then Rob turned to Dannie. “Dannie?”
“Hmm?” She took another sip of her bitter and raised an eyebrow in invitation.
“Do you remember when we first met?”
“No. Do you?”
“I guess it’s inevitable,” Dannie mused. “I mean — we were what, two?”
“That’s assuming our parents didn’t know each other in Glasonland.”
“Eh, probably not … I’ve listened to Granny’s stories about Mum and Dad back in Glasonland. They didn’t seem like the type to mix with your parents … I mean, their version of ‘sweet nothings’ were exchange rates and profit margins.”
“Makes you wonder how they talked dirty.”
“Ugh, ROB! I don’t even want to think about that!” Dannie shuddered. “How would you like it if I suggested ways that your parents talked dirty?”
Rob shrugged. “I think it’s been so long since they talked dirty, they don’t even remember how they did it.”
“Whereas in, oh, eight months or so, I’m going to get indisputable proof that my parents still talk dirty — and beyond — on a regular basis.” Dannie pretended to sigh. “It’s just cruel, I tell you. Cruel. What’s going to happen to all of my preciously held illusions when I meet that new baby?”
“Dunno,” Rob chortled. If he had been anyone else, he knew, Dannie would have made a remark about him being lucky — lucky his parents didn’t give him mental scars when he was least expecting it, lucky he didn’t have to think, or avoid thinking, about that sort of thing. But because of who he was, because she knew what his family was like, she wouldn’t. And he was grateful.
He put his hand on the counter, inching closer to Dannie’s. She saw and rested her hand on top of his. They smiled.
Dannie’s fingers traced patterns on the back of his hand as she continued to talk. “Anyway — no, I don’t think our respective sets of parents would have met back in Glasonland — or if they did, it wasn’t until after they decided to move — because, to be honest, your parents strike me as the kind of people who had lives outside of their business.”
“But if your parents had lives, who would put you into those silks and velvets?”
“An excellent question, my good Rob! I do not know.” Dannie chuckled. “So why did you ask?”
Rob shrugged. “Just wondering … I figured your Granny might have told you about when we met … she’d remember if anyone would.”
“She’s never told me that … told me about how I used to drive you crazy when we were toddlers, but never how we met.”
“You used to drive me crazy?”
“Oh, aye. Apparently you’d be sitting in your corner with your blocks or something, minding your own business, and I’d decide that, you know, that just wouldn’t do.”
“Because you didn’t want to be all by yourself.”
“And Josh wouldn’t go near me.”
Rob nodded; he’d heard that story many a time — often from Josh’s lips. It was soon after their move to Albion, and for some reason they had been at Dannie’s house or Dannie had been at their house; Josh could never remember which. In any case, sensing fresh meat, Josh had moved in to tease the toddler — pulling her hair, making scary faces, taking her doll and holding it up above her head.
This teasing ended rather abruptly when Dannie grabbed one of Rob’s blocks and threw it at Josh, somehow managing to catch Josh straight in the eye. Josh still told the story because, as he said, such an excellent demonstration of aim from a female should go down in the history books. He also still told the story, Rob suspected, because whenever Heloise heard it, she would try to throw something at him, and invariably miss — which gave Josh an opportunity to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies, teasing his sister.
“So, you would come over to bug me,” Rob continued, inviting Dannie to continue the story.
“Exactly. And — I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about yourself, Rob — but when you don’t want to bother with somebody, you’re damn good at ignoring them.”
“Me? Ignore you? Never. Your beauty must have just so stunned my young brain, I didn’t know how to possibly cope with it without making a fool out of myself.”
“Uh-huh. Sure thing, Rob. Sure thing.”
Rob chuckled. “But anyway — continue?”
“All right. So I’d come over to you, with my toys and — oh, thank you,” Dannie said as one of the tavern servers came up and deposited their plates in front of them, then scurried off without a word. “So — where was I?”
“You’d come to me with your toys.”
“Ah, yes! I’d come over to you, and at first I’d just kind of play by your side, but you’d ignore me. So, naturally, I had to take more drastic measures.”
“I’d start by edging closer and closer to you, until we were practically touching. And you’d still ignore me.”
“I was a fool. A fool, I say!”
“Yes, Rob, you were. Well, when you wouldn’t pay attention to me, I’d take one of your blocks.”
“The plot thickens.”
“It would, except you’d ignore that too. So I’d take some more of your blocks. You’d still ignore me.”
“I was a stubborn boy.”
“Very stubborn. Eventually it would get to the point where I’d taken all your blocks but the ones you’d already built into something.”
“And what would I do then?”
“What any reasonable three-year-old boy would do. Knock ’em down and start again!”
“Still ignoring you?”
“Still ignoring me. Honestly, Rob, you were practically hopeless, back then.” Dannie shook her head and mock-sighed.
“I hope I’ve improved since.”
“Oh, you’ve very much improved. But when you knocked your blocks down, I’d have an opportunity to steal some more.”
“And then what would happen?”
“Well, according to Granny … eventually, you’d see the huge pile of blocks on the other side of me, and move over to where the blocks were and start building again. Still ignoring me!”
“What was I thinking?”
“I don’t know — but Granny said that we went through that three times, once, before she couldn’t hold in her laughter anymore and we left off that to stare at her. Every other time, she said, she’d take pity on you and figure out some way to keep me entertained.”
“I see,” Rob chuckled. He grabbed his glass. “A toast?” he asked, holding it up.
“To us, of course. The stubbornest pair of toddlers in Albion.”
“I’ll drink to that!”
They raised their glasses, clinked them together, and drained them.
After a few minutes — long enough for Dannie to begin to do justice to her cake, and for Rob to begin to sate his appetite with the he-thought-it-was-chicken — Rob remarked, “I do remember when we first got together, though.”
“I should hope so. I don’t give flowers to boys that often, you know.”
“I’m merely leaving open the possibility of providing another lovely bouquet to you, should the mood strike me.”
“Well, you know I’d never say no to a bouquet from you.” Rob felt the corner of his mouth begin to twitch. “I promise not to take three weeks to figure out how to properly reciprocate next time, too.”
“Aww, thank you, Rob. It’s always nice to get gratitude in a timely manner.”
“Maybe I was just trying to think of a way to top your … unique declaration of interest.”
Dannie glanced at him, eyebrows raised in a silent spectacle of skepticism.
“Or I was just getting up the courage to ask you out.”
“Thought so.” Dannie snickered — and then her eyes grew softer. “That … that was one heck of a first date, though. I wouldn’t have thought just walking around at night would be … but it was. I still look for the Pleasant Gemini* whenever I’m out at at night.”
“Then you often look in vain — it only shows up in late spring, early summer.”
“Well, drat. That would explain why I almost never find the darn thing.”
“Indeed,” Rob chuckled as he tried to make further progress with his chicken. “Indeed.”
“All right,” Dannie said a little later, as they were dancing. “I give up.”
“Aye. Tonight’s some kind of anniversary, isn’t it?”
“Now why,” Rob asked as he spun her, “would you say that?”
“You keep asking me if I remember this, if I remember that. Well, I’ve been wracking my brains, but I don’t remember.”
“No,” Dannie replied. “It’s not when I gave you the flowers, because I couldn’t have picked flowers in winter.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t have bought me flowers?”
“And overpay for them? Sorry Rob, I’m too much my parents’ daughter for that. I’d have still done something, don’t you worry — just not something that would cost me two weeks’ allowance and then just shrivel up and die in three days.”
“Well, when you put it like that …”
“Indeed,” Dannie chortled. “But anyway, today couldn’t be the anniversary of our first date, because I remember that day, and it wasn’t today.”
“No, no, it wasn’t.”
“With our faces.”
“With our faces, yes. Even if it did take me three days to figure out that it was us. I mean, his helmet covered up half your face, and as for me … I still can’t believe you painted me as a blonde!”
“All the romances say she was a blonde.”
“Aye, but I’m not! Anyway, it wasn’t the day you gave me the painting, because that was my birthday; and it wasn’t the day I finally figured out that you were trying to tell me that you loved me, because that would be three days after my birthday. Which today is not.”
“I should hope not. That would make me three days overdue on a present.”
“Indeed. So, spill. What’s today?”
“What makes you so sure that today,” Rob asked, dipping her suddenly, “is anything special?”
“You’re acting like it is.”
“Well,” Rob replied, his lips brushing her cheek, “if it is that special … you’ll just have to wait to find out what it is.”
“Very.” Rob let her up again. “And you like it.”
“Well,” Dannie chortled, “I can’t argue with that.”
Rob only smiled, and spun her once more.
It is perhaps a cliché, but time is said to fly when one his having fun. Dannie and Rob danced, they tried their hands at the instruments upon the stage, used the money thrown to them to get them to shut up to play cards with. When they lost all that, they retreated to the hard sofa by the fireplace to snuggle for a while, listening to the hubbub around them ebb and flow.
But eventually the time came to go home. Dannie was the first to rise, and Rob followed her. But before Dannie could do more than go around to the back of the sofa, Rob stopped her. “Wait. Before we go, I have to ask you something.”
“I still haven’t remembered what today is supposed to be the anniversary of.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to — and that wasn’t what I was going to ask you.”
“Oh?” Dannie asked, tilting her head a little to one side, nothing but mild curiosity evident on her face.
Just as Rob had planned.
Without further ado, he dropped to one knee and brought out a box. He opened the box.
“Danielle Maria Ferreira, will you marry me?”
It was the first time he had ever seen her speechless — but Rob trusted that, over the course of their lives together, it would not be the last.