Sparks the Matchmaker (Aaron Sparks Series)

BOOK: Sparks the Matchmaker (Aaron Sparks Series)
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Sparks the Matchmaker

by Russell Elkins

Chapter 1

A few months’ salary was a lot to pay for an item so small, but Ollie felt it was exactly the right prescription for their ailing relationship. He stuffed the little black box into his pocket and rehearsed once again the words he’d say after going down on a knee in front of Anne. He had spent all morning going over the details of his plan to make sure everything was just right. With their relationship as delicate as it was, there was no room for error. Having watched the minutes tick down to when he would pick her up, he smiled when he saw that the minutes had dwindled down to just ten.

“You sure you don’t want us to help?” Keith asked. “You’ve got a couple of roommates who play guitar— you’re not gonna take advantage of that?”

“Yeah, and I could sing,” Richie added. “Keith and D play guitar, and I sing. There’s no way she could say no.”

“No thanks, Richie,” Ollie said. “I’m proposing, not trying to freak her out.”

“Whatever. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a good singer.”

Keith laughed. “Richie, you don’t want to be responsible if she says no. C’mon, Ollie, picture it. You’ll be walking down the pathway through the canyon and when you come around the corner… surprise! D and I are playing guitar. She’ll melt for you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean— ‘
if
she says no?’” Ollie asked.

“I was just making a point. That’s not what I meant,” Keith said.

“She’s gonna say yes,” Ollie said, but Keith and Richie looked blankly at him, obviously hoping the other would say something. “Right? Come on here. You’re my roommates. You’re not doin’ a lot for my confidence right now.”

“Yeah yeah, we know she’s gonna say yes,” Keith said.

“What do ya mean we know she’s gonna say yes? You didn’t sound so sure about it yesterday,” Richie said to Keith. “Maybe she wanted platinum. I told you to let her pick out her own ring. Yellow gold is so—”

“Shut up, Richie,” Keith said.

“I’m serious,” Richie said, “he—”

“Richie! Shut up!” Keith said.

“No, no, Keith. Let’s talk,” Ollie said. “I wanna hear this. What did you say yesterday about Anne and me? You don’t think she’ll say yes?”

“I’m your best friend. I wasn’t saying anything like that,” Keith said. “Don’t listen to Richie.”

“Yeah, well, Richie may not have a filter between his brain and his mouth,” Ollie said, “but at least he’s straightforward. If you’ve got something to say, say it.”

“Help me out here, D.” Keith turned toward the largest of the roommates, the one with his nose buried in a textbook. “Did I ever say anything like that?”

“Leave me out of this,” D said. “I hardly know her.”

“Hardly know her?” Ollie was a little confused. “We’ve been dating for, like, a year and a half.”

“Yeah, but she’s never over here,” D said. “You’re always over there at her place.”

“I guess that’s true,” Ollie said.

“I know something for sure, though,” D said. “It won’t help your chances if you’re late.”

Ollie looked at his watch and then ran out the door.

His car was meticulously cleaned inside and out, to make sure everything was perfect for the day. Halfway to Anne’s apartment he realized his detailed planning had left something out: the gas gauge was pinned by the letter E on the dashboard. His confidence was spilling over, though, and because he was certain nothing could possibly go wrong on a day like this, he wasn’t willing to stop and risk being even a couple minutes late.

Before long he found himself parked outside Anne’s apartment.
This is it. Wait till she sees the ring I picked out.
He strutted up the sidewalk and grinned as he knocked right under the number nine on her front door.

“Come in, come in, come in.” Anne’s roommate seemed over-excited to see him, especially since she usually didn’t give him the time of day. “Anne’s back in her room on the phone. What are you guys planning to do today? Anything romantic?”

“Romantic? I guess so, yeah. We’re just gonna take a walk up through the canyon. Should be great,” he said.

“That’s it? Nothing else? It’s a little chilly out there just for a walk, don’t ya think? What else are you doing?”

“It’s not too cold. It’s barely even sweater weather right now.”

“Here maybe, but in the canyon you can bet it’s colder.”

“We’ll be fine. We’ve been up there lots of times.”

She kept her eyes fixed on him, but he wasn’t spilling any more information. Finally unnerved by her intense interest, he turned to look out the window.

She counteracted by quickly relocating to the sofa in front of the window. “I’m just trying to help, ya know; make your evening perfect. I think you should bring coats.”

“I think you should—” Ollie paused, carefully considering his words, and then decided to change the subject all together. “Who’s Anne back there talking to anyway? Is she gonna be long?”

“I dunno. She’s been on the phone for about an hour. Why? You in a hurry? Why are you really going up the canyon?”

She seemed to know a lot about his plans, but how could she? He had only lightly brushed on the conversation of marriage with Anne, never wanting to go too deeply into it, because he wanted his proposal to be a surprise. That, and their relationship had become a little too delicate for him to be able to bring it up, really. It was too risky. Surprising her near the mouth of the canyon was the best way to re-spark the excitement. He was sure of that.

“One of the girls next door just got engaged,” Anne’s nosy roommate said. “Her ring is amazing, and the way her fiancé proposed was so romantic. She’s so lucky.”

Yep. She knows.
It didn’t really surprise him that she knew. After all, the girls shared everything. They borrowed each other’s clothes and split up the chores. They ate each other’s food and split up the gas bill. And since Anne was the only girl with a boyfriend, they all shared in the romance and split up the jealousy.

But it didn’t really matter if any of them knew. The ring he had picked out was perfect, and so was the location. Their day wouldn’t be overshadowed by anybody, not even the newly engaged girl next door in apartment eight.

“Hi,” Anne said. Her eyes, slightly red, were fixed on the floor as she emerged from the room down the hall.

“Everything okay? Who were you talking to?” Ollie asked.

“I’ll be fine,” Anne said as she stuck her arms into the sleeves of her jacket. “Let’s just go.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“What?”

“Sandwiches?” He paused, hoping she would at least make eye contact with him. “You said you were going to bring some sandwiches. Did you forget?”

“I guess I forgot. I’m not hungry, though. Let’s just go.”

“You sure you’re all right?”

“I’ll be fine.”

He reached down to hold her hand like he’d always done, but she kept it buried in the pocket of her jacket.
Oh well. Next time I hold that hand there will be a ring on it.
He grinned at the thought, and then rehearsed his proposal again in his mind.

Once at the car, right as he was about to open the passenger side door for her, she wrapped her arms around him. The right side of her face buried into his chest as she held him. It wasn’t an embrace of affection, nor did it feel like any other embrace she had ever given him. He didn’t know what it meant. She pulled away slowly, not quite making eye contact. As he leaned in to kiss her she turned away, opened the car door for herself, and stepped in.

What was that about?
Whatever it was, it was soon to be forgotten once they reached their destination. He was sure of it. He had been there numerous times in his mind throughout the day, but the seven miles to the canyon seemed so much farther once they were actually en route.

“Remember that night we met?” Ollie began filling the silence with reminiscence. “You were out on a date at the bowling alley with that guy, and my roommates and I were all there at the same time. I couldn’t keep my eyes off you, and that guy you were with, he started to notice.” He watched her out of the corner of his eye, waiting for a response.

Nothing.

“Then he wouldn’t let you even sit down without putting his arm around you, like he was staking his claim or something. Even when you went to the bathroom, he followed you and waited outside the door.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“I really put myself out on a limb that night, you know. It’s not usually like me to do something like that— slipping a girl my phone number while her date is taking his turn bowling. I probably wouldn’t have done it, but Richie noticed me staring at you, which I knew meant that it was either him or me.”

He waited in vain for a laugh, or even a tiny smile. She’d always laughed at the memory before, but not today.
She’ll laugh about it later. After. When she’s in a better mood.

“I mean, if I didn’t ask you out he probably would have. Anyway, what did I have to lose, right? If you never called me, then no big deal, right? Plus, it saved you from Richie asking you out, which he probably would have done right there in front of your date.”

“Mmm hmm.”

“I’m glad you did call me, though. I mean, who knows where we’d be today if you didn’t.”

Ollie admired the many colors of autumn as he slowed to a stop near the beginning of the canyon trail. He jumped out the driver’s side and rushed to Anne’s door, but before he could get there she had not only already let herself out, but started to make her own way toward the trail without him, hands in her jacket pockets, eyes fixed on the ground.

At first he couldn’t imagine why she was trying to skip ahead of him on the trail, but then it hit him:
She knows where we’re going.
If her roommate suspected what he was planning to do, she probably did too. The sun was going to go down at about six, and if they didn’t hurry it might get dark before they were ready to leave.

Ollie quickened his pace, trying to catch up with her. “You know, we’ve been together for a long time now, Anne, and I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking a lot.”

“I have too, and I think—”

“Hold on, let me go first. I’ve been thinking about the time we first met, and everything that’s gone on since then, and, well, I love you, Anne. I’ve been madly in love with you for a long time.”

“Oliver—”

“And the more I—” He paused when his mind registered that she had used his full name.
She’s never done that before.
“The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I can’t imagine my life without you, and stopping by your apartment every day is starting to come up short. We need more than that.”

Ollie stopped walking and, although they hadn’t yet reached the location he had previously chosen, he dropped to his right knee. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the little black box. He hesitated to open it up, though, because Anne, who had stopped a few steps in front of him, still hadn’t turned around to face him.

Having precisely laid out beforehand every word he was now saying, he couldn’t continue until he at least had eye contact. So he waited. The longer she stood with her back to him, the more excited he got, anxious to see the look on her face when she realized her life was about to change forever.

When she finally did turn around, her red eyes brimmed with tears. Surprised and confused, Ollie picked up where he’d left off and blurted out, “Anne, will you marry me?” He had originally planned to say more than just those words, but when he saw her eyes swimming he abandoned the rest of what he had rehearsed and skipped directly to those five.

“Well? What do you think, Anne? Will you?”

“Oh, Oliver. The ring is beautiful, but I just…”

“We don’t have to keep this ring. The guy who sold it to me said I could bring it back if you didn’t like it. That was part of the reason I went with this jeweler, because I wasn’t quite sure what you’d like. I almost asked you, but I wanted to surprise you. If you don’t like it… no hurt feelings. We can pick out a different ring together.”

“It’s not that.” Anne reached out her hand and closed the box in Ollie’s open hand, leaving the ring still inside.

Ollie’s mind shut off. The meaning of her words rang in his mind, but their sounds jumbled together as he watched her mouth move, a tear sliding down her left cheek.
It’s over.
The worst part was that he’d known for a long time it was over. He just hadn’t been willing to face it. He made no attempt to change her mind.

Numb, he stood up, tucked the little box back into his pocket, and turned back toward the car. Anne allowed him to walk for a few seconds before she began following. Even though his pace was painfully slow, she matched his speed and kept her distance. He wanted desperately to run from the spot on the trail where everything finally came to an end, but his slow moving feet had a difficult time propelling him forward.

He wanted nothing more than to be alone, but he couldn’t have his solitude until after he drove Anne home. And with four other people making their way toward him on the trail, his world felt very crowded.

“Oliver, you said that you’ve been thinking about this lately, and I’ve gotta tell you… so have I,” she said. “I mean, I spent the last hour talking to my mom and she wasn’t about to tell me what I should do or anything, but… ya know. She left it all up to me. She told me I needed to make this decision for myself.”

BOOK: Sparks the Matchmaker (Aaron Sparks Series)
11.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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