7.

"Oh Michael..." Catherine bowed her head and tried to keep her voice from quivering. Michael put his hand on her face. She looked up at him.

"Catherine. Listen. I... my life has been full of... bad things, bad thoughts and feelings and deeds, for a long time. You are the first good thing that has happened to me since... then, and I know I don't deserve you and, no, let me finish, please. I know this isn't how it's supposed to go. We're supposed to flirt, and act as if we're not noticing, and then one day after work go out for a drink, strictly as friends, only the one drink turns to three or four, and we end up at my place. Then we feel a bit guilty and confused, and after a few more days of beating around the bush, we go on a real date and have a great time, and that's when we decide to give it a shot, and you invite me home for dinner with your mom and Lindsey. Am I about right?

"Well, yes. That's the general idea." Though her eyes were still brimming with tears, Catherine couldn't help smiling.

"Instead, it turns out I am a guy with a dirty past who kills the son of a bitch who abused my high school girlfriend until she committed suicide, I get myself shot, and am awaiting trial for murder and an handful of assorted other charges at the end of the month."

"If you put it that way..."

"I never expected this. And I am glad. There was a time when I didn't want to be alive, but now I do. I want to thank you for that."

"I..."

"I'm sorry that you're feeling bad about this."

"Bad? You think I'm feeling bad?"

"Or - insecure, maybe."

"I am not insecure, Michael. I haven't been so sure about anything in my whole life! That's what's so scary, don't you see."

"I don't..."

"I will wait for you."

"Catherine, no! You can't..."

"Oh, yes I can, and no one is going to tell me different, not even you. This is it, Michael, don't you see? Don't you know it?. So this is what's going to happen: a week more of hospital with nurses and doctors shoving stuff into your ass, a long trial with lawyers and judges shoving stuff up your ass, and then you're probably going to spend some years in jail. I'll go visit you and bring you books and clean underwear. And when you get out, I'll be fifty years old, and just as stupidly in love with you as I am now. And then you'll decide if you want to take me out for that drink or not."

She was incensed, standing now, arms akimbo. Defying him to deny, laugh, dismiss. Deeply afraid, but standing tall.

"Catherine..."

"Yes."

"It's going to be a long time to wait for one drink."

"Yes." Praying for the ability to hold back her tears, because she knew that if she felt even one sliding down her cheek, she would break down, and they'd probably have to lock her in the closed ward.

"Do you think I'll qualify for conjugal visit?"

"Conjugal?" For a moment, she was too confused to remember she was in the process of going mad.

"Yes. In prison. You know, if you show good behavior, they allow your wife to come and visit for a night, they give you a private room, clean sheets, condoms - it's like a government sponsored roadside motel."

"Michael."

"Yes?"

"Conjugal visits are for legal spouses."

"I know." He took a deep breath. The pain in his chest made him cringe. "If you want me, I'm yours."

"I..." Catherine opened her mouth and closed it again.

"I'm a murder, a dirty cop. I am unemployed. I am going to jail. I have nothing to offer you. Will you marry me?"

Suddenly, all the tension seemed to rush out of Catherine's body, like air out of a balloon. She looked at him, and she looked at herself: her job, her child, her house, her life; the wrinkles around her mouth and eyes that time would only deepen; the sadness in her bones that was so familiar; and the joy exploding in her heart, shining over everything like a sun; she looked at all this, and forgot her tears, forgot how to doubt, how to hold back, how to deny herself, how to regret. She took a step forward, and all that was left, from that moment on, was "yes."