Danny and I are sitting in his mother’s living room on Christmas morning in 2019. The fire crackles behind me as we swap presents with his mother and brothers.
Our pajama-clad bodies pass gifts to each other under the tree. The comfort in the room can only be effected by his brother’s constant attitude and ability to start fights over nothing. His mother smiles at us as we tear the paper off our gifts. Tissue paper lines the floor, creating a game for the dog.
His brother gathers his gifts and runs upstairs, keeping his distance, as usual, attempting to avoid a fight today. We gather our gifts into organized piles to clean up after.
“I’ll leave you two alone to give each other your gifts. Have a good Christmas with your family, and tell them I say merry Christmas!” Linda sweeps across the room and up the three wooden stairs to the kitchen, getting ready for the rest of her family to arrive.
“Merry Christmas, love. I wasn’t sure what to get you cause we’ve only been together for a couple of months, but I know I got you one thing you’re going to love.” Danny reaches to the side of the chair, searching for my gift.
I know he got me a ring, and I know the exact one. Danny spilled the secret. I sent him a screenshot a couple of weeks ago as he had a mental block on what to buy me.
He hands me a small, white dust bag with the jewelry box inside. My hands hold a peach box with the brand name, James Avery, scrawled in gold along the top. Inside the small peach box rests another dust bag, this time beige and less soft.
I flashback to 2016, a time when Danny never existed in my life but, He, did.
His tall, lanky figure rules my life. The ginger hair following my every move through high school halls, restaurants, concerts, even his home. The grease-stained fingers scroll through my Instagram weekly, checking up on what images I have liked, any DMs I may have received, even who I follow.
This week marks our one-year anniversary, and as much as I would like to be excited, I dread it. I spoke to his stepmom the day before about our plans. Nothing extravagant of course, as I am the only one with steady income and money in my account. Dinner is his treat, leaving us with cheap restaurants within twenty minutes of his home. She looks thrilled for this event, making it seem like the biggest deal.
She knows what he bought me and accidentally says, “It’s a gift that made me think it meant something other than what it means. But it’s so pretty! You’re going to love it!”
I thought my fear for the day would fade, but after this conversation, the fear grows. The night goes by in a flash and, before I know it, I realize I made it home.
“Hi, welcome to Friendly’s. Party of two?” the nice hostess asks us as we walk in.
He nods his head and looks at me. My nervous eyes meet his confident and cocky gaze.
“Right this way.”
He towers over me as we follow her to the table. The black and white mural of ice cream cones, french fries, and children at the fair stare back at us. The red and white stripes of the benches shine in the fluorescent light, beaming, showing how clean they are. Streaks glare back at us from the table, chemicals killing germs from whoever sat here last.
The August heat outside causes my bare legs to stick to the cold pleather bench below me. Goosebumps rise over my arms throughout the meal, making me want dessert less and less.
“Enjoy!” the hostess strides away, letting our waitress know she seated a table.
I nervously order the cheapest item off the menu, afraid I have to pay at the end of the night because he realizes his bank account sits at zero. Again. A hair tie fumbles through my fingers while we order.
I stutter out short responses to his questions, keeping conversation on light topics, steering it when it seems to take a turn in a direction that may cause a fight.
Finally, after what feels like two hours, our food arrives. A sense of relief falls over me as I watch my plate meet the table. We eat in almost complete silence. A few words said here and there. Honestly, dinner goes better when we eat quietly. I watch our plates disappear into the kitchen, waiting for the gift to make its way onto the table.
“I hope you had a good dinner.” A forced grin appears in front of me.
I smile back. “Thank you, it was nice.” I know if I fail to compliment this act, there will be hell to pay tonight.
I begin adjusting myself to get up, unsticking my legs for the last time that night. However, he stops me mid-leg peel.
“We can’t leave yet, I have something for you.” The cold air blasts us from a dusty gray vent above. Dreading having to open my gift in the restaurant, I frantically and anxiously look for a pretend item in my purse.
His large steel toe boots knock into my feet as he fumbles around his faded work jeans. His body shifts, allowing him a better angle into the depths of his dirty and ripped jean pockets. Of course, he wears the same everyday clothes for dinner. I feel stupid for thinking anything would be different today.
After much anticipation, he pulls out a small black box.
Unaware of my secret knowledge, he looks at the box and then at me. I question what the ring looks like, but I am aware of what I am receiving. What other gift means two things I think to myself, confirming I am right about what he will hand me.
He slides the box across the counter, giving me an overly-excited look with the widest eyes he can physically make. I reach out, sliding the box the rest of the way.
“It’s our anniversary, so I wanted to get you something meaningful.” I look up across the table and see his cocky grin has returned. It forces me to smile back. I pop the top off the box to finally see my ring.
A shining sterling silver ring with three massive glittering stones stares back at me.
It does look like it means something else. His stepmom’s words race through my head. It looks like an engagement ring. I sit here at sixteen years old, staring at an engagement ring in my hands.
Thoughts run through my foggy mind. I love the ring because of the beauty, but it means too much. Sixteen, such a young age to have this massive ring on my hand. I have to show this to my parents, and people at school are going to ask about it. I am panicking.
I take the ring and shove it onto my hand, suddenly very ready to leave, to go home and hide and figure out a plan to explain this to my parents.
Realization sets in that my mind went elsewhere. I snap back to reality, focusing on the box in my hands, Danny sitting in front of me again. Joy exudes from me, a grin continuously growing across my face. His face mimics mine, a kind smile meets my eyes. His body leans forward with genuine anticipation and excitement, eyes never leaving my hands.
My fingers fumble to open the tiny dust bag, the flap closing over the opening before I can get my fingers inside. Frustrated, I flip the cover over, reach-in, wrap my fingers around the gift, now able to feel that I am correct, and pull out the ring I begged for.
The box and dust bags hit the floor and bounce along the carpet. I throw my hands up and hug him, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” over and over. Both of us forget what size I asked for, so I move the ring from finger to finger on my right hand, each a little too snug. I move to the left hand. It fits like a glove on my left middle finger.
A sterling silver, dainty bumblebee now sits on my hand. Nothing dazzling, shiny, or glittery about it, just a simple and meaningful ring.
My mind wanders once again to the last time a ring had been thrust into my life. The insecure and impressionable sixteen-year-old stares back at me. Memories of the past relationship with my ex flash before my eyes. The yelling, manipulating, and fighting plays in my mind like a movie.
The new ring on my hand brings me joy, not fear, and means genuine care, not manipulation and control.
I’m staring at my hand as he asks, “Did you notice what’s special about it?” Which snaps me back to reality one more time.
“Well yeah, it’s the ring I asked for!”
“No, curly fry,” he laughs, my nickname shooting out of his mouth, as he reaches out to take the ring off my finger.
Gently, he slides the ring off and spins it in his fingers. The inscription reads, “Forever yours.”
“I told you it would be special. I wanted it to mean something more than just being the ring you picked out.” He holds my hand, placing the ring back where it belongs and admiring what he bought me, an innocent smile never leaving his face.
Kissing my hand, he says “I love you.”
Marlee Greenlaw is an incoming senior in the School of Education at CCSU. She enjoys writing in her free time and exploring what life throws at her through this form. This piece was written for her Creative Nonfiction class, where she found a spark to continue to write in this style, and hopes to continue her self-exploration through writing.