The next six month flew by fast. With the stores recent expansion and live music on Friday nights, she was staying busy throughout the week and needed help; especially with her new dating life. So when Mark from The Bleeding Books realized his band wasn’t going to instantly find fame and fortune, he asked to help out at the store. Though Michelle was leery after hearing him perform many Friday nights, she agreed with Diana that it was time to add more staff.
He turned out to be a major asset to the store. As the name of the band alluded, Mark was an avid reader. His favorites were biographies of musicians; no surprise, and historically significant battles and crime stories. With a growing male customer base, having Mark there to help the men decide between the modern and classical novelist was beneficial.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think he’d last a week, but he’s actually good at this.” Michelle treated Mark like a little brother, pestering him every chance she got and teasing his girlfriend that he flirted with the customers excessively. And though Mark would have you believe he was rock star material, he was crazy about his girlfriend and always professional.
“You pick on him way too much.” Diana joked.
“It keeps his ego in check. And seriously, what’s with the cult following, are they that good and I just can’t hear it?”
“No my friend, we’re just getting old.” They both laughed and turned as the front door opened.
“Old? I’ve told you I’m not that much older than you.” Aaron kissed Diana without hesitation and continued. “In some cultures older men are considered strong and virile, women prefer them to their weaker and younger counterparts.”
“Yes, but you’re ten years older. You could practically be her older brother.” Mark and Aarons relationship was fun to watch. Mark was fascinated with Aaron’s line of work and Aaron liked Mark’s music; which still baffled both women. Having always wanted to learn to play the guitar, the two would sit down by the stage and Mark would teach him chords while asking him about his latest trip. Diana would leave the two alone to work in the store, but found herself listening intently, hoping to discover all she could about this mysterious man she was quickly falling in love with.
One day, during an impromptu guitar lesson, Aaron reveled that he once worked for the CIA and during an assignment met the man who eventually became a mentor in his current job. “As his protégé it was my task to learn about every known and unknown leader in several countries. His company dealt with people on the phone and trusted them with goods that would be deemed unsafe in civilian hands. It was my job to check these men and women out. Many of these people enjoyed their status and researching them was easy. But others, the more notorious ones, had enough money to hide their past and current misdeeds. My job was to uncover them without them knowing.”
As Mark showed Aaron a new chord he asked; “So what happened to your mentor? Do you still work with him?”
Without hesitating Aaron replied; “He was killed because I didn’t do my research thoroughly. I turn down his position with the company, but he hadn’t trained anyone else. I’ve spent the last decade trying to figure out what I missed and how I can keep it from happening again.”
During Aaron’s explanation Diana and Mark were both looking at him with mouths wide open. Seeing each other from across the room they both shrugged their shoulders. “I think I got it. Does this sound correct?” Mark refocused his attention on Aaron and nodded his head in approval. “Yep, you go it.” The look on his face saying he was more confused about Aaron’s line of work than before the conversation started.
“So you ready for an evening out on the town? I have reservations at your favorite restaurant and tickets to that theater production you’ve been helping the college kids rehearse for. Please explain again why you didn’t get free tickets?”
“They did offer me tickets, but it’s a benefit performance for new props and equipment for the college.”
“Don’t you already donate to them?”
“Yes, but every dollar counts. So thanks for buying the tickets, it’s for a good cause.” She stood on tiptoes and kissed his chin.
“If it makes you happy…” He rolled his eyes at Michelle and Mark. “I’m stealing your boss away. Close the shop early if you like, I bought four more tickets for y’all.” He handed them two tickets a piece and ushered Diana out before she could stop to tidy something or do one more task.
“You really are a softy.” She said when they climbed in his car.
“Only when it comes to you; now buckle up. Or reservation is in ten minutes and we’ve a twenty minute drive ahead of us.”
The moment her seat belt clicked in to place they were off. She wasn’t sure how he managed to drive so fast without breaking the law, but he did; almost as if he could predict the light changes, pedestrians and other vehicles. It was like being inside a video game. Yet she never felt scared; just one more thing to add to her growing list of mysteries.
“How long will he be gone?” Nearly three months had passed since the benefit for the theater. Three months of dating the most fascinating man she’d ever met and this time with no travel. “He said it might take a month.” Michelle exhaled a loud breath. “I did my best not to pout, he’s been home for almost three month now, but I wanted to. He said when he comes back he’ll make up for lost time. I helped him pack and dropped him off at the airport. It gets harder every time.”
Michelle handed her a napkin to catch a tear ready to fall from Diana’s eye. “So have y’all said it? I know you’ve still not had sex, crazy people that you are, but have you at least told him you love him?”
“No. I can’t seem to get the words out. I keep picturing it and my heart stops, thinking he’ll laugh.”
“Laugh?! The guy is patiently waiting for you to be ready and you worry he’ll laugh if you profess your undying love? He’s probably just worried if he says it first you’ll think he’s ready to get things movin’. He’s obviously madly in love with you. Just spit it out so he can admit it back and then maybe y’all can get it on and I can finally hear the sorted details. You really stink at this best friend thing. I’ve had to resort to crappy late night soaps. I want to hear about the real deal. Gah, help your friend out will ya!”
Michelle always knew how to cheer her up. When she spent the day moping about the store she suggested ice cream sundaes at their favorite after work hangout. It’s also where Michelle stole some of her best coffee recipes. “It’s not stealing if you ask for them.” She’d always tell her. But she wasn’t above paying the guys in the back for their secrets.
After another huge spoonful of ice cream, Diana declared that the next time they saw each other she’d tell him. “And not on the phone, when I pick him up at the airport I’ll tell him. No more waiting.” With each word of her declaration she punched the air with her spoon, splattering ice cream on the table.
“Don’t be wasting valuable ice cream. We have a month of moping to do before he comes back. What do you want to do in the meantime?”
Diana’s face flushed, she looked down at her bowl and whispered; “I won’t to learn everything you know about sex.”
“SHUT UP! Are you serious? My baby girl is becoming a woman. I’m so proud.” She leaned over the table and hugged her, not caring that both bowls of half eating ice cream were dangerously tipping over. “Okay, where do you want to start?”
“He’s back! Oh my gosh it’s too soon. I mean, it’s not too soon, but I’m not ready! What do I do?” Diana had no sooner put the phone down when she started walking in circles trying to think what to do next. “You calm down for one.” Michelle said. Mark looked up from the register. “What’s up with boss lady?” “She’s about to have dirty sex with Aaron for the first time.” Diana gasped and smacked Michelle on the arm. “I am not! I’m picking him up from the airport.” “Okay, she’s picking him up from the airport and then she’s going to have dirty sex with him.”
“Ignore her Mark, she’s lost her mind.”
“No way boss lady, I’m going to ask Aaron for details the next time I see him.”
“You two are both fired. Right after you watch the store for me. I might not be back this afternoon.”
Both of them laughed and said, “Yes ma’am” as she rushed out the door.
Thirty minutes later she watched him step through the airport terminal and found herself too nervous to even smile at him. When he was in front of her, he set his bags down and leaned forward for a slow kiss. Her mind was a mess and anything she had thought to say was lost.
“I missed you.” He said.
“I missed you too. A month is too long.”
“I agree. I asked my employer for a month off and no more trips longer than a week. We’re still negotiating but we’ll settle on something soon. I promise.” He leaned in for another kiss. When she was sure she couldn’t stand any longer he pulled back, took her hand and started walking, but not towards the exits. Instead he took her to another terminal. He waved to one of the uniformed officers and walked through a door marked private. On the other side were steps leading down to the tarmac.
“Where are we going?” She looked around and saw a small plane.
“Part of the negotiations included borrowing one of the company planes for a quick trip to Vegas.”
“I’m doing this out of order aren’t I? I had it all planned out. When I saw you, I’d pull this out,” as he said it he pulled out a small leather box, “and tell you how much I loved and missed you. That if I could I’d never be apart from you again and then something about ‘in vain have I struggled’, but I’ll be honest, I don’t get the appeal of Jane Austen; my apologies.” He winked at her just before he dropped to one knee on the runway and opened the box with the most elegant engagement ring she’d ever seen.
“Wait! That’s an engagement ring!”
He laughed, “Yes, I’m trying to ask you to marry me. But somehow I’ve managed to muddle it up.”
“Yes! I mean, yes to your question, not that you’ve muddled it up. It’s perfect. It’s all so perfect!”
She tried to pull him up off his knees, but fell in the process. He caught her before her knees hit the hard ground and kissed her. Before their lips parted he had pulled the ring from its velvet interior and slid it on her finger. A perfect fit.
“You did say yes, correct?”
She smiled at him, down at the ring and bracketed his face with her hands. “I would have said yes without the ring or plane.” Then realization struck her. “I can’t leave the store. I’ve not made any preparations.”
“It’s already done. Mark and Michelle will hold the fort down till we get back in two weeks.”
“It’s not a long honeymoon, but I figured we could spend some of my month off finding a place to live, or moving my stuff to your place or vice versa. I’m open to whatever you want to do.”
“It’s what most people do after they get married.”
As he stood up he pulled her up with him. The pilot stuck his head out the door of the plane. “You two about ready?”
“Be there in a minute. I have to make sure she knows what she’s getting in to.”
The pilot waved his hand and ducked back inside the plane.
“You want to get married now? Like this week?”
She breathed a sigh of relief.
“I want to marry you today. Everything is in order. Your bags are already on the plane. We marry tonight, spend a few days in Vegas if you’d like, then go where ever you want. That is if you want to. Get married today that is.”
Diana’s head was spinning. “Are you sure you want to marry me?”
“I’ve never been surer of anything in my life. The question is do you want to marry me?”
Diana kissed him again and whispered the words she’d planned on saying before all of this happened; “I love you.”
He swung her up in his arms and carried her inside the plane. From the front the pilot called out, “We’re ready when you are sir.”
Aaron looked down at Diana, still in his arms. “You ready for this?”