"But James, the others are staying –"
"Mae, it's midnight. Imagine what your aunt will think," James said, asserting himself in a rare moment of strength.
"My aunt…" Mae gave this a thought. Perhaps he was right. Ingrid would disapprove of such a late outing.
The couple wouldn't have stayed nearly as long if their mingling hadn't been postponed by, as James shyly called it, their "little session" of kissing on Oliver's desk. Those fifteen or so minutes had been much more interesting to them than anything that could've possibly been happening at the party a few rooms away.
Mae sighed. She was about to speak again when Oliver made his way over, clapping James on the back.
"I expected the two of you to tire out quickly, but here you are," he said. "Then again, I suppose that's the way of you children. You have no use for sleep."
Before his girl could protest once again that they were not children, James replied, "It is getting late, isn't it?"
"I suppose you'll be escorting your young lady home, then," Oliver prodded with a smile.
James nodded and held his hand out to Mae. "…Well? D'you want me to escort you?"
Mae took his hand and smiled.
"Thank you, Mr. Anderson," James called as his redheaded sweetheart yanked him out the door, laughing as she went.
The relationship between James and Mae blossomed over the next year. Mae thought her meek beau to be incredibly grown-up and fascinating, with his own apartment and his love for literature. Even if she couldn't quite get herself as interested and enthusiastic as James was about his intellectual hobbies, a man to hold on to was not to be shooed away.
James was hopelessly and head-over-heels in love. His friends had no idea why, noting that Mae tended to boss him around a bit… that she always had to have her own way… that her Jewish family may clash with his Christian one… that she wasn't as smart as they thought James deserved. But he didn't care what others thought, not even his dear only sister Gertrude, who had not met Mae because "Good Old Gertie" was busy traveling around the world with her new husband and wouldn't be back for another year or so.
Completely under Mae's spell, James sold his late father's gold watch to get the last of the money he'd need in order to buy her something very special. More special than the shoes he'd given her, or the bracelets, or the new armoire for her room, or any other thing for her that he'd spent his average wages from Anderson's store on in the past months.
On the third of September in 1926, he met Mae outside of the Baker boardinghouse, got down on his left knee, and produced from his pocket his latest expenditure – a shimmering little prize of an engagement ring.
Mae looked down at his shaking hand and was uncharacteristically speechless. She'd noticed lately that James was able to bring out her softer, sweeter side in leaps and bounds.
"W-well, Mae?" James gulped and smiled with that adorable, nervous mouth of his. "Would you, erm… give me the pleasure of… of becoming Mrs. James Albert Peterson?"
She snatched the ring, slid it onto her finger in ecstasy, and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him. Under the grip of her embrace, James drooped with relief.
To avoid prodding from both families, the couple married secretly that evening in a courthouse, with Oliver Anderson as their jolly witness.
When Mae came home to the boardinghouse with James and all his worldly possessions (which wasn't much), she braced herself to fend against Aunt Ingrid, who, she thought, would surely be appalled at such a scandalous event.
But, when Mae and James walked into the Baker apartment, Ingrid looked up from the chair she was knitting in, glanced at their rings, smiled, and nodded.
James looked at Mae with a surprised expression that was the kind one would make before fainting.
Mae's new husband remained on his feet, however, and moved in to Mae's room in the upstairs of the two-story dwellings (a perk of living in the landlady's apartment).
One of the many times they passed by the empty room next to Mae's as they moved James's boxes, James gave a little furtive, hopeful glance at his wife. The room had been vacated by Cousin Rebecca when she married her high-flying doctor, and was now open for possibilities. James had those possibilities on his mind. Little did he know that Mae was way ahead of him in planning their future. Now that she was married, she was secretly thrilled at the prospect of one of her dreams coming true – a baby. But, being unaware of James sharing this hope, she set the dream aside for the time being. Children would happen when they were destined to happen… and besides, Mae was sure that their passions for each other would result in plenty of opportunities for that destiny to be fulfilled.
(Aside: Wow, I went a little overboard there. The short version of that paragraph is that they both want kids… and, uh, that last part revealed the inner workings of the gutter in Mae's mind. Ahem… Yeah…