Pop the Question Contest Entry
Title: Full of Hot Air
Word Count: 3398
Summary: Carlisle takes Bella on one of their "Monthly Mystery Dates" with a plan to propose. Will the proposal take Bella's breath away, or is Carlisle full of hot air?
Full of Hot Air
"Bella! We're going to be late if you don't step on it!"
"I'm coming! I'm coming!" I called as I tried to place the back of my earring onto its post while my feet flitted down the stairs. "Do you know? Is it warm outside?"
"Yeah, but you might want to grab a jacket anyway!"
I rounded the corner into the kitchen, and smiled when I saw Carlisle standing there, tapping his watch playfully and give me the stink eye.
I sheepishly gave his freshly-shaved cheek a quick kiss as I headed for the closet. "I'm sorry, babe. Are we going to be late?"
"Just depends on traffic."
I eyed the Keurig machine longingly. "No time for coffee, I assume?"
"Sorry," he replied, shaking his head. "You should have said something - I could have made you a cup to go."
"It's okay," I sighed as I slipped on a green jacket over my favorite white eyelet shirt and grabbed my purse. "I'm ready. Let's roll."
Once we were in the car, I asked Carlisle for a hint as to where we were going, but, of course, he remained mum on the subject.
I hadn't really expected him to tell me anything; we had made it a monthly tradition to take each other on "Secret Dates" - the two of us taking turns planning a date without telling the other exactly what was happening until we got there. Sometimes it was something as simple as dinner at nice restaurant followed by a movie or taking a wine & chocolate tasting class. Sometimes the Secret Dates were more elaborate, such as when I arranged backstage passes for Carlisle and I to meet the members of his favorite band.
I could only wonder what kind of date Carlisle had planned that required us to leave at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday.
"Can I at least know how long it's going to take to get where we're going?" I asked, stifling a yawn. "Do I have time to take a nap? I mean, we didn't get to sleep until late last night."
"And whose fault was that?" he replied, smirking at me until I blushed slightly, remembering the wine, the candles, and Marvin Gaye.
"Mine... But in my defense, I hadn't see you for nearly 48 hours! How many more night shifts do you have left?"
"Fair enough. And not very many - Dr. Gerandy starts next Wednesday, so he'll take over the crap shifts. We'll be back to a normal schedule then."
"Good. The house is too lonely without you - even if I know you're just upstairs sleeping."
He reached over and squeezed my leg affectionately. "I know what you mean, but hang in there. It's only a little while longer."
I sighed and nodded at him. "So...about that nap...?"
"Get some rest, sleepyhead," he said with a chuckle. "We've got at least an hour of driving ahead. I'll wake you when we get close."
I grinned at him before taking off my jacket and arranging it into a makeshift pillow against the center console. I closed my eyes and felt Carlisle's fingers comb lightly through my hair. "Mmmm," I moaned softy. "Keep doing that."
Carlisle and I had been together for nearly 4 years now. We met when my father, a police officer, was injured on duty. Dad had been embarrassed about it, because it's not like Forks, Washington was the danger capital of the world. Poor Charlie had slipped on a patch of ice while giving someone a speeding ticket, and broken the arm he used to try to catch himself.
While Carlisle hadn't been the doctor who put my dad's radius back together, he was the fresh-out-of-med-school doctor I ran into at the hospital coffee shop while my dad got his cast put on. We'd clicked right away, despite his intimidating movie-star good looks and a nearly ten-year age gap. We had our first date a week later, and moved in together almost two years ago after I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Ethics and Public Policy. Life was good.
"Wake up, Sleeping Beauty," I heard Carlisle saying gently as he gave my shoulder a slight shake. "We're almost there."
I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and looked around me. "Where the hell are we?" I asked, taking in the barren fields peppered with isolated trees and the occasional dilapidated building. What kind of date was this?
"Look straight ahead, silly."
I squinted at the small colorful blobs taking shape on the horizon - some of them appeared to be floating in midair. As we got closer, I recognized what the blobs actually were.
"Hot air balloons!" I squealed, clamping a hand on his upper arm. "Are we going up in one?"
"Yep! What do you think? You wanna take a ride in the sky?"
"I do! Oh, this is awesome! Whatever made you think of this?"
"I saw an online ad for it and thought it might be fun." His eyes twinkled as he spoke.
As we got closer to the airfield, the balloons got brighter and bigger - much, much bigger. I could see Carlisle's eyes widening just as much as my own.
"Wow," he whispered, echoing my own awe as he craned his neck to look up through the windshield as he pulled the car into the parking lot.
We checked in at the small office building where a nice receptionist instructed us to wait for our pilot. I took in the amazing photographs lining the wall of the office, each one making me more excited to get my own bird's-eye view of the world. I hoped Carlisle thought to bring a camera.
"Hey, babe - you wanna to try balloon-walking?" I laughed, pointing to a photo of man perched atop one of the giant globes.
"Looks fun," he mused, walking over to me. "But only if you join me."
I wrapped my arms around his waist and furrowed my brows at him playfully. He was well aware of my less-than-graceful tendencies. "Mmmm, I'll pass. Let's just stay in the basket."
"Gondola," said a voice from behind us. "It's called a gondola." We turned around to find a tall man with sandy-blond hair smiling at us. "Hi, I'm Mike Newton. I'll be your pilot today."
"Hi, Mike," Carlisle said, extending his hand to him. "Nice to meet you."
"You must be Carlisle," he replied, shaking his hand. "And you," he continued, turning to me, "must be Bella. Pleasure to have you both today."
"Thanks," I said. "I can't believe we're actually going to do this!"
"You're gonna love it. Your first ride is always the best. Why don't you folks follow me, and we'll get started filling the balloon. You can help if you want."
Carlisle squeezed me excitedly. "Sounds awesome."
Mike led the way to an open area with a positively ginormous, multi-colored nylon bag - or as he called it, the envelope - lying on the ground. After giving us a few instructions, the balloon began to come to life, slowly but surely. We went over all the equipment as well as the safety procedures as we waited, and my nervous excitement continued to grow. Before I knew it, Carlisle was helping me climb into the gondola, and we were ready to lift off.
The boys laughed at me when I gave a high-pitched squeal as we left the ground, clinging desperately to both Carlisle and the railing. Kissing my forehead gently, Carlisle assured me that all was as it should be, and I had nothing to fear.
As the earth got further and further away, I began to relax and enjoy the sensation. What I once saw as desolate fields was now a patchwork quilt of greens and browns with toy-sized cars traveling along the seams. I wondered if they could they see us. Were they just as awe-struck as I was, or were they accustomed to seeing the balloons taking flight across the morning sky?
Mike turned out to be a pretty funny guy as he did his duty as both pilot and tour guide. I appreciated his knowledge as he pointed out different landmarks as they passed. I found myself leaning over the railing a bit, marveling as we floated over a winding river that disappeared and reappeared through clumps of trees huddled together like high school cheerleaders.
Wanting to share this with him, I turned to beckon Carlisle to my side. To my surprise, he was watching me, seemingly oblivious to the 360 degrees of beauty surrounding us. When my eyes met his, he gave me a goofy grin that made me laugh.
"You're missing the show, babe," I accused. "And what's that look about?"
"Well, then come take a look at this," I replied, gesturing toward the river. "I think there's some skinny-dippers down there."
"You don't say."
"I'm telling you, come look at this!" I repeated.
The smile disappeared from his face as Carlisle cleared his throat. "Bella...I..." he started, but couldn't seem to finish whatever it was he was trying to say.
Concerned, I turned away from the scenery to face him. He looked...almost nervous. "Are you okay, babe? What's wrong?" Out of the corner of my eye, I swore I saw Mike smirking at us.
"Nothing. I'm...I'm fine. Just...I just want this to be perfect."
Sighing with relief, I smiled. "It all ready IS perfect. I couldn't imagine a more perfect date," I assured him.
"No. I mean, yes, but that's not what I'm trying to say." He took a deep breath. "Bella, I love you - you know that. And I know that you love me. No one else could love me the way that you do - put up with my schedule at the hospital or my penchant for drinking milk straight out of the carton. You even laugh at my terrible jokes."
I could feel tears beginning to well up in my eyes. Was he doing what I thought he was doing - was he...proposing? Sure, we had talked about marriage before, but I had not been expecting this - not today, anyway.
"My life changed for the better the day that we met," he continued. "I'm a better man because of you. Your beauty, your kindness, your sparkle - everything about you brings out the best in me. You're the most amazing person I've ever known, and I want to take care of you, provide for you, and love you for the rest of our lives." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a ring, and held it up for me to see. "Isabella Swan, will you marry me?"
I gasped. It had to be the biggest diamond I had ever seen - almost comical in its size. He had been carrying that rock around in his pocket all morning? I was amazed he didn't have a limp!
He took a few steps toward me, the ring held between his thumb and forefinger, and I knew he was going to get down on one knee. But that never happened.
Everything was in slow motion: Carlisle stumbled over his own feet, his whole body pitching forward. He grimaced, and instinctively reached for the railing of the gondola to steady himself. "NO!" I screamed as I watched the ring - MY ring - slip from his fingers and disappear over the side. "Nooooooo!"
Carlisle didn't move - his face was frozen in horror; his mouth a perfectly round 'O'. I scrambled to the railing and leaned over, but the ring was long gone - I couldn't even see it. Mike must have thought I was ready jump overboard and follow it, because he grabbed the back of my jacket and yanked me back into the gondola. "Whoa, there!"
I jerked myself away from him and covered my mouth and cheeks with my hands. The tears of joy that had been welling up turned to tears of disbelief. No way did this just happen! "We have to stop!" I begged to Mike. "We have to go down there and find it! Please!"
"Bella," he replied gently. "We're over a river."
I slumped to my knees as realization sunk in. That ring must have cost him a fortune, and now it was at the bottom of a river. "I think I'm going to be sick," I announced, clutching my stomach.
Then Carlisle was at my side, his strong arms wrapping around my shoulders. "Shhhh...it's okay. It's okay, sweetheart," he said soothingly, trying to wipe away my tears.
"How can you possibly say that? Does insurance cover accidental dropping from a hot air balloon?" I heard Mike snicker, and I glared up at him, suddenly angry. "Is this funny to you?"
"I'm sorry," he shrugged helplessly. "It just sounds funny: 'accidental dropping from a hot air balloon.' I can't help it. A little help here, Carlisle?"
I turned back to Carlisle who was doing his best to hide the smirk on his face. "Bella, I have a confession to make. And from the looks of it, I don't think you're gonna take it well."
"Okay," I said flatly, even though my heart was thumping hard inside my chest. What possible confession could he make after all of this?
"That wasn't your ring. I planned the whole thing."
"That ring was fake - I got it at a Claire's Boutique Store. Mike was in on the whole thing. I'm sorry, I thought it would be funny."
"You thought a fake proposal with a fake ring would be funny to me? Are you fucking kidding me?"
Carlisle shook his head. "No! The proposal was real, I swear! Just the ring part, that was a joke. You always said you wanted a proposal you could tell our grand kids about!" His hands dug into his pocket and pulled out a dark blue, velvet box and snapped open the lid. "THIS is the real ring!"
I didn't know what to say. The ring - the real one - was absolutely gorgeous. Not as big as the one that was now at the bottom of the river, but it was beautiful nonetheless. I stared at the princess-cut diamond flanked by two trillions in awe. Carlisle's humor had always been a bit off-kilter, and this whole fake engagement really took the cake for bad jokes, but he was right: this would make one hell of a story.
But I didn't feel like letting him off the hook so easily. A million ideas went through my head: should I fake a pregnancy and see how he liked being faked out? Pretend to toss the real ring over the side? I didn't have much faith in myself to pull that one off - with my luck, I'd actually drop it. So I decided to use what men fear most in women: tears.
They weren't difficult to summon; I had already worked myself into an emotional frenzy in the past two minutes alone, so I just let them flow, tossing in a few sobs here and there for good measure.
Carlisle reached for my left hand to place the ring on my finger, but I shook my head and folded my arms. I imagined I looked like a toddler refusing to eat their broccoli, but the bewildered look on Carlisle's face told me that it was working.
"Ummm, Bella...can I have your hand now?"
I didn't respond, just cried harder. He reached for my hand again, but I swatted him away.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't think you'd take it this hard. C'mon, it was stupid of me, but please, stop crying and put on the ring."
"I haven't said yes yet!" I spat at him, suddenly finding my voice.
Carlisle stared at me and his jaw dropped a little. "Oh."
"Honestly, I think this is the most despicable thing anyone has ever done to me. That fake ring wasn't funny - it was cruel. You don't treat a proposal like a damn practical joke! A proposal meant something special to me, and you ruined it! Ruined it! And now - well now, I'm questioning whether or not I even want to be with someone who doesn't take it as seriously as I do!"
He was really sweating now, and I was glad for it. He should know that I could give as good as I get.
"Bella, I meant every word I said. The ring didn't change any of that. I made a stupid decision, that's all. Please don't throw all of this away because I'm an idiot."
"I don't know. You said that you're a better man now because of me," I countered. "But this doesn't seem like something a better man would do. This seems like something a college frat boy being egged on by his moron friends would do to his knocked-up girlfriend. How can I be with someone who treats me like that?"
He nodded his head slowly, taking in all I said, and I could see that it was making sense to him. Maybe it was time to let him off the hook.
"You're right. You're completely right. I don't blame you for being angry, but please, don't break up with me over this. Give me time to make it up to you. I swear, I can make this right."
I snuck a peak at Mike, who appeared terribly uncomfortable - no doubt sorry he had ever agreed to this debacle in the first place. I made eye contact with him, and he gave me a look that clearly said, 'I'm sorry.' So I winked at him. He blinked in confusion, so I winked again and turned back to Carlisle.
"Don't waste your time," I said solemnly. "It's no use."
"No. You can't be serious - because of this?"
"Yes, because of this." I took the ring from between his fingertips and slid it on. I held my hand out in front of my, studying how it sparkled in the bright sunshine. He watched me warily, probably afraid this would be his only change to see me wear it. "Carlisle, I have only two things to say to you..." I heard his breath catch in his throat, and I smirked to myself.
"Ok," he replied tentatively.
"GOTCHA! And YES!" I threw my arms around his neck and pulled him into passionate kiss. He was completely taken aback - I could feel it in the tightness of his lips. But the moment he realized that he had been played, they softened with relief.
Laughing, he broke away from me. "You little minx!" he accused. "That wasn't very nice!"
"And yet I can't bring myself to regret it," I snickered back.
"Does this mean I'm forgiven?"
I pretended to think about it for a moment before answering. "Yes, I'd say we're even now. But I have to admit, I'm impressed that you managed to pull all of this off. I didn't doubt that you really dropped the ring - I thought I was gonna die."
"Yeah, I was afraid you were going to jump out after it," Mike cut in. "You scared the bejesus out of me."
I gave Carlisle a quick squeeze. "I thought about it!"
"Thank God for Mike!" he replied, squeezing me back.
"Well, congratulations to the two of you. We don't get a whole lot of proposals in these things, but yours - yours is definitely the most memorable!"
"Thanks! Couldn't have done it without you," Carlisle said, slapping Mike on the back affectionately.
"No problem. So what do you say folks? Ready for a little more sailing?"
I gave Carlisle another kiss and then smiled at Mike. "After this, I'd say I'm ready for anything."