Ask Her Today

By Laura Schiller

Fanfiction for the Hermux Tantamoq Adventures

Copyright: Michael Hoeye

Hermux Tantamoq had had his marriage proposal all planned out. Saturday night reservations at the Choo Choo Cheeserie, a bottle of vintage Thorny End red, a heartfelt speech on bended knee and, of course, the ring in its velvet box which he'd already purchased. The advertising poster in the jewelry store – 'Why not ask her today?' – had seemed like such a good omen at the time. However, one look at Linka sitting in the booth – lavender cocktail dress, pearl necklace, brown fur tinted gold by the candle on the table – and his memorized speech shrank into something corny and silly which he couldn't possibly say to her.

He shouldn't have been surprised. She had such a way of overturning his plans.

"Hi," she said, beaming as she put down the menu. "Perfect timing, as usual."

He smiled and sat down opposite her, catching sight of the golden watch gleaming on her wrist.

"They've got imported truffles all the way from Ville-Souris," she said, watching the model train with its cheese, fruit, vegetable and cracker compartments as it puffed towards them. The motto was 'all you can eat', with the bill paid on exit.

"Truffles. Excellent. Have you ever been there?"

"Once or twice." Of course. On her plane, Linka had been almost everywhere.

They made small talk as they ate, keeping an eye out for the train and snatching up whatever looked good. Hermux wondered what Linka was thinking behind those smiling brown eyes, whether she was enjoying this as much as he was. They knew each other fairly well as friends by now, but were still not used to being lovers. He wondered if she would have preferred something more exciting – rock climbing or motorcycle rides.

And besides, it seemed as if the opportunity to pop the question was never going to come. Whenever a pause occurred in the conversation, he would open his mouth only to be interrupted by her, changing the subject, or else lose his nerve and change the subject himself. He couldn't decide if he wanted the evening to speed up, to get it over with, or slow down so it would never end. If it never ended, he would never have to take her saying no.

" … a shame," she was saying, shaking her head. He caught his wandering mind and directed it back at her. "In my parents' time, it used to be a decent place, but now … with these new immigrant rats and birds moving in, most of them unemployed, some of them pretty messed up … it's getting so I don't feel safe walking home alone. I mean, nothing's happened," holding up her paw placatingly, "And even if it did, I'm hardly defenseless. But you saw the sign, right? 'Pickdorndle Lane, real friendly place, real friendly neighbors'? Yeah. That was sarcasm right there."

"You could always move out, you know," Hermux pointed out, already alarmed over the idea of Linka living in an unsafe area.

"If I had the money. Adventuring isn't exactly the most stable of jobs."

He didn't mean to say it. It simply slipped out.

"If you and I were married, you could move in with me."

The train rattled by and Linka, stunned, didn't even reach for the imported truffles. She blinked her long eyelashes in confusion, staring at Hermux. Then she giggled.

"You – wait, you're not serious, are you?" she said, her laugh breaking off as abruptly as it had come.

There was nothing else to do. Mirrin had been encouraging him for months. Terfle was waiting up at home, wanting to know Linka's answer almost as badly as he did. His silent answer to Linka's question – Yes, I am serious – was to take the ring box out of his blazer pocket, open it, and slide it toward her.

She picked up the ring, hesitantly, and turned it over so it glittered in the candlelight. When she looked back up at him across the table, her eyes were wet.

"But we've only been dating for … what, three weeks?"

"We've known each other for over two years now," said Hermux, reasonable as always despite the fact that his heart was sinking into his patent-leather shoes. "And, well, I don't know about you … but I've loved you since the day we met."

She smiled again, looking more wistful than amused. "Back then? Oh my gosh, I was so rude to you."

"You were in a hurry, that's all."

She slid the ring on her finger and held it up. The stone was a garnet, with a red gold band.

"I'm sorry it's not a diamond," said Hermux, rambling as usual when he got nervous. "I know it's traditional. It's just, you never seemed like the diamond type to me. I wanted to get you something simple, something that wouldn't get in your way. I kept the receipt in case you want to return it."

Linka looked at the ring. Then back at Hermux. She shook her head, still smiling.

"It's … perfect."

"Really?" Hermux could feel his whiskers lifting and his tail curling up with happiness.

"Really. Did I ever tell you when I realized how I felt about you?"

"No, I don't believe you did." Hermux wondered if this was all a beautiful dream, and if he would wake up to his shrilling alarm clock the next morning and find that Linka had never existed.

"It was the day of the cat kingdom exhibition. You were so proud. And so passionate about that mechanical mouse dancer you restored. I wanted you to look at me that way. For a while there, I thought you only saw me as a friend. So when Brinx came along – Mr. Hotshot Movie Director – I guess I thought he could cure me. Big mistake."

Linka shuddered. Hermux remembered her description of 'slimy lips', and decided he didn't want to know the details. Instead he focused on what she had said first. He looked deeply into her eyes.

"And by the way, I'd be honored to marry you."

She reached across the table and took his paw. He did not speak; he was too brim-full of happiness to have any room for words. But in his heart was a silent prayer.

Thank you for trains and truffles and lavender silk. Thank you for garnet rings. Thank you for a clean, safe apartment to share with her. Thank you for museums, unsuitable suitors, and for the wrong words that come out right. Thank you for the way the light shines through her ears and the way she smiles at me.

Thank you for love.