Kathleen's patience was beginning to wear a little thin. And since she was normally a patient and kind-hearted girl, this was very unusual. They only had a few more minutes together, and she opened her mouth to say something – anything – that might hurry him up, make him spit out what was on his mind so they could get back to holding each other and kissing, so she could absorb as many sensory memories as possible before Alex boarded that bus and was taken away from her for the next 18 months by the United States Marine Corps.
But he just stood there holding her at arm's length by her elbows, his eyes on the cold and dirty cement floor of the Buffalo Greyhound station – except for when he flicked his lashes upwards and looked at her face (again), let his mouth drop silently open (again), shifted uneasily from foot to foot (again), and glanced nervously around the crowded waiting room at a few other young men and women in olive drab saying goodbye to their friends and families (for the umpteenth time).
This is what she got for falling for the strong, silent type, she supposed.
And then he spoke.
Well, he cleared his throat, at least, so that was a good sign, and Kathleen bent her neck so she could lever her head downwards and make eye contact the next time he looked at her. She was going for an expression that she hoped Alex would interpret as encouraging, not one that would mirror the impatience that was creeping in and about to turn her mouth into a hard line.
"Kath, I –" Alex croaked out suddenly, his eyes troubled, his manner unsure, "— I wanted it to be so different. You deserve wine and flowers and music. Instead, well, here we are."
Suddenly, all her impatience drained away. Kathleen stopped breathing for a moment while she analyzed what he had just said. Did he mean...
Apparently, he did.
While Kathleen watched in awe, her eyes rounding and her right hand, now released, flying upwards of its own accord to cover her gaping mouth, her gruff, reserved boyfriend, who was uncomfortable showing emotion in private let alone in such a public place, had gone down on one knee and was reaching into a pocket with his left hand, all the while holding onto her left hand as though he wanted to ensure that she wouldn't run away.
And even though Kathleen was aware of the heads turned their way and knew that Alex was aware of them too, their world seemed to shrink to encompass just the two of them. The two of them and a ring box, which Alex snapped open and held up for her to see, his mouth moving again, his eyes locked on hers as she lowered her hand from her mouth and smiled her happiness and excitement.
"Kath, will you be my wife? Will you marry me?" Alex asked with such a tone of hope and trust that Kathleen could feel the prick of tears behind her eyes, and she reached down to pull Alex to his feet while replying, "Yes, Alex, yes, I'll marry you."
And when Alex had risen to his full height again, he pulled the ring from its box, which he put back into his pocket, and lifted Kathleen's right hand, carefully slipping the small but bright diamond past her knuckles and into place. Only then did it register to the two of them that the other people in the bus station were applauding and cheering, and Alex blushed a bit and darted his eyes around again. And this time when he looked back at her, Kathleen could see something in his eyes she had never seen before, something that filled her with a feeling of dread.
But before she could explore the feeling any further, Alex had embraced her tenderly, leaning down to touch his lips to hers, gently but firmly kissing her in a way that made the faces and applause of the strangers around them fade and disappear as though they had never existed. Kathleen forgot her forebodings as she floated on this new emotion, and Alex only broke their kiss when he heard the announcement that his bus was about to depart, something that Kathleen hadn't heard at all.
They smiled at one another again, buffeted a bit by other passengers scrambling to get to the bus as they stood close in the middle of the waiting area. "We'll have to come back here for our honeymoon. Niagara Falls, I mean, not the bus station," Alex suggested, and Kathleen nodded mutely, acknowledging his hasty correction with a brief grin.
Alex released Kathleen for the final time, stooping to pick up his duffel bag and slinging it over his shoulder. Just before he turned to go, he said, "I love you, Kath. I'll make you proud."
Kathleen had to wait a second until her throat cleared before replying. "I love you too," she said, and mustered the brightest smile she could manage, raising a hand to wave at Alex's back after he had turned away and was walking towards his bus.
Whispering to herself in a barely audible voice when he was well out of earshot, she added, "Don't worry about making me proud, Alex. Just come home again and make me your wife."