Chapter Six: "She Said 'Yes!'"

Charlie walked the busy night streets of downtown Meadow Brook lost in thought. The spruce and pine trees smelled of sap as their needles ground under his leather soles. The autumn sun glittered weakly through the gray, brooding clouds.

He'd practiced for this tensely exciting day and rehearsed his role for this critical moment, nearly his whole life. Charlie was cautiously confident in the hearing he would get, and he had no doubt as to Violet's answer. But Charlie knew enough about women, especially this particular woman, to know that the moment had to be exquisitely perfect, and he only had one chance to do it right. Violet would remember the fervid sight of the perilous ring, her eager beloved on his burdened knee, and the thrilling rush of feelings in her own heart, for the rest of her life. It had to come off without a single hitch. Charlie had but one shot to pull it off, and for her sake he didn't want to blow it.

The pressure he felt was enormous.

"Violet," he said, as he came through the door of her apartment and into the room, "I'm back."

The apartment for him glowed with her presence, a magnetic warmth he was only recently able to feel without reservation.

"Did you have a nice visit?" she asked, after running into the room at the sound of the door. "How was Linus?"

He smiled, remembering the pleasure of his agreeable appointment.

"He's fine, and we're okay now. How are you?" he asked, coming to her and kissing her. She studied him, frowning at what she saw.

"What's the matter?" she asked, concerned.

Charlie made a face.

I'm not inscrutable to anyone!

"Oh, nothing," he said, his wavering voice belying this. "Listen Violet, I'm sorry you didn't come with me. Linus will be over tomorrow, and you can visit with him then."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," she said, with casual indifference. "I hardly knew him in school, anyway. I'll see him when I see him." She turned away and began straightening the room, leaving Charlie to fiddle with the great weight in his jacket pocket.

Charlie couldn't help recalling Linus' unrequited crush on Violet, a hopeless infatuation of which she had been totally unaware. It put Linus in near-universal company, as the roll of that club continued to expand.

Charlie cleared his anxious throat, surprised at its dryness and his nervous tremor.

"Violet, do you have a minute?"

She stopped what she was doing and turned to him.

"What is it, Charlie?"

"Do you have that music box handy?" he asked, trying to steady his quavering voice. "Could you get it, please?" Mystified, Violet went into the bedroom, leaving Charlie alone for a moment. The effort to remain nonchalant became excruciating.

Violet returned presently, holding in one hand the music box he had given her on her eighth birthday.

"This one?" she asked, holding it out to him.

"Yes, that's the one," he croaked, his amiable voice tightened by his secret.

"What's this about, Charlie?" She gave him a searching, suspicious look. "What are you up to?"

"Come here," he said, stretching out with urgency his arms, beckoning her to him. She came and stood close, so close he inhaled her delicate perfume, and heard her luxurious breathing. He took the antique box from her with trembling hands, wound it and set it on the table, where the merry tinkling melody of "Sing a Song of Six-pence," served as background.

Violet glanced over to where he'd set the box, and then she turned back to him.

"Charlie, what-"

He came closer.

"Do you remember, Violet? When we were kids, that was 'our song.'"

The look in his eyes terrified her.

"Charlie!" she said softly, barely able to speak.

"Violet, I told you weeks ago that we were close, that we were almost there, and that I would know when it was time to do this.

"I'm ready now."

He sank to one knee and drew the small jewelry box from his warm jacket pocket.

Violet, realizing what was happening, eagerly took his hands, her heart racing and a deep blush of sudden elation coloring her cheeks.

"Oh, Charlie! What are you-?"

Charlie, thrown off, didn't want to be sidetracked.

"Violet," he said, turning his blond head, mildly impatient, "I've been waiting for twenty years to say this, so please let me get through it."

"All right, Charlie. I'm sorry."

She gave Charlie her full attention and stood before him, waiting.

"Violet, I've been in love with you since the first time I saw you," he began.

"I've loved you my whole life, but I had to wait a long time for you to love me back. It's been worth the wait, because I didn't deserve you then, and now I think maybe I do. You've been my playmate, my friend, my girl, and now I want you to be my wife. Give me your heart, Violet, and I will be rich beyond measure, for your heart is a priceless treasure."

Violet's stunned, overwhelmed expression allowed him continue.

"I don't know where I'm going, Violet, where my life will take me, but if you're with me, I'll be satisfied with it. I promise you, Violet, that I'll do whatever it takes to be worthy of you.

"Violet Gray, will you marry me?"

Charlie could see "yes!" screaming in her dark, exultant eyes, but he couldn't let himself believe it until he heard it in her voice.

"Violet?"

"My goodness, Charlie, I'm shaking!" she whispered, overwhelmed. She put a trembling hand to her face. "Mercy! I didn't think this moment would move me so much, but it does!"

"I knew what you were going to say, and I know what my answer is, but my heart is so full, Charlie, so full of love for you that I can barely breathe! I can hardly say the words! And so I say 'Yes!' I say 'Yes, Charlie!' I'll be your wife!"

He rose from the floor and they embraced and kissed. For Charlie it was like kissing Violet for the first time, because for the first time she was now his and his alone. He took her trembling hand in his own trembling hand and slipped the ring on her finger. It fit perfectly. They smiled, looking at it where it would remain forever, and they embraced again.

"A year ago, I couldn't believe this moment was possible," Charlie said, stroking Violet's dark, curly hair. "And now, I wonder why it took me so long!"

"You knew a month ago when we met again that it was too soon, and you were right," Violet said, pressing her cheek against his chest.

"Yes, I thought I was ready then," he admitted, "but I didn't want to jump into it. It could have all fallen apart, and I didn't want to hurt you."

Violet looked into Charlie's eyes.

"Even though I've hurt you, Charlie?" she said, sadly. He squeezed her slim hand, and kissed it.

"That was a long time ago," he said seriously, "and we were different people. I wasn't ready for you then, Violet. I didn't think I was good enough for you until about ten minutes ago. It had to happen when it did."

"Things do have to happen in their own time, Charlie," she agreed. "It had to take this long for us to be together. I needed time to know that I loved you, and you needed time to feel that you deserved me. You know, you really didn't have to think that way, Charlie. All along, it was I who didn't deserve you!"

They kissed again.

"We've got to start making plans for the wedding," Charlie said, his eagerness growing. "I'll get another few weeks off in the near future, in a few months maybe, and we can get married then. It's going to be hard for us, though. I don't know where I'll be stationed. Could you stand to move with me?"

"Charlie, my husband, wherever you go, I'll go with you," she said, her eyes lustrous. "Whatever happens to you happens to me. Our lives are bound together, and nothing can separate them. Do you doubt it?"

"Not any more, Violet," he said smiling. "My wife."

Linus watched Frieda's curly, carrot-red hair bounce as she walked beside him, holding his hand while they strolled through the park. Her hair had always held a particular fascination for him, ever since they were little. Although the years and their disappointments had diminished many of his other childish interests, Frieda and her singular appeal to Linus had endured.

Wearing an updated version of his youthful striped pullover, Linus took in the gentle chill of the morning breeze, complimenting Frieda on her attractive blue skirt and blouse. Comp-liments came easily to Linus, and he often amused himself by employing sarcasm and satire along with them, to measure whether his targets could tell when he was mocking them. When caught, he would often grin disarmingly to escape reproach.

"This morning is so lovely!" Frieda exclaimed. She stretched out her arms and twirled playfully on the grass, coming to a stop to face Linus. "Thanks for calling and asking me to walk with you, Linus."

He kissed her lightly, touching her pale face.

"I'm happy to do it. I've been cooped up in my house for so long writing, and trying to write. I needed some female companionship."

"I'm glad I could provide it," she smiled. "I'm available for whatever you might be up for!" The expression in her gray eyes said the rest.

"That's an astonishing proposal!" Linus said, feigning surprise. He'd been hoping she would say that. "But, you should never end a proposition with a preposition!"

She smiled, somewhat tolerantly.

Sensing her mood, Linus felt a correction was in order.

"I don't want to press, Frieda," he added with care. "I like things the way they are. I'm open to new developments, but I don't want you to think-"

"Think what?" she asked, pretending to be coy. "That you like me, Linus? I already think that!"

"I'm glad to hear it!" Linus slipped his arm around her waist, relieved when she sighed her approval. "It's what I hoped you would think."

A moment of awkward silence allowed Linus to collect his thoughts.

"Can I speak candidly to you, Frieda?"

She stopped walking and turned to him, floating away from his embrace.

"Please do; after what I went through with my first husband, with his lies, his evasions and deceit, I could use some candor."

"That's just what I wanted to talk to you about," he began. "I knew you'd just come off of a bad relationship, Frieda. 'Pig-Pen' told me."

"Who?" Frieda's questioning look prompted Linus.

"You know, Peter."

She nodded, more familiar with Peter's actual name.

"That's why I kept my distance for awhile, to give you some space," Linus continued, his boyish face serious. "But, you're a little stronger now, a little less vulnerable, so now maybe I can tell you what I'm thinking."

Her affectionate expression encouraged Linus to continue, and they resumed walking.

"Frieda," he began, flustered, "I'm twenty-two and single, and I've enjoyed my freedom up to now. Being able to do what I wanted, to work when it pleased me and enjoy my days and nights-"

"-especially your nights!"

Linus looked sad, and shook his head.

"No, not my nights, and that's my point. It may seem so, but I'm finding that sort of life is quite empty.

"Seeing Shermy and Patty happily married made me glad for them, that's true. And when Charlie proposed to Violet after all they'd gone through, I was happy for them, too. But it made me think of my own life, Frieda, my own missed opportunities. So when Lucy married Schroeder after all of their baggage, I suppose I started to think about marriage as an eventuality rather than just a possibility, and a dreaded one at that."

Linus looked as serious as his words.

Frieda frowned, her fair features wrinkling, Linus had to admit, appealingly.

"What do you mean, Linus? What are you trying to say?"

Linus spread his hands, and his eyes widened.

"My own single lifestyle is beginning to lose its luster, Frieda. When I was little, all the other kids were older than I. They always treated me like a little kid, and I didn't like it. Now, with so many of the people I grew up with settling down, living adult lives, I'm starting to see myself as a little kid among adults again, and I'm not feeling very comfortable about it."

"You lost me," Frieda said. She shook her head, eyeing him doubtfully. "Your friends are married, so you think you should, or shouldn't get married yourself? That doesn't make sense!"

Linus shook his head too, causing his plastered hair to splay and become tousled.

"No, it doesn't, but that's not what I meant," he said, nervously brushing his hair back with his hand. It fell incorrigibly out of place again.

"I guess I must not have expressed myself very well. I just meant that they've made me see marriage and my own frivolous life in context. It used to seem unthinkable to me. Commitment, I mean." He shook his head. "Maybe it still is, I don't know. But I think I'm going to have to get serious soon, and I want you to be a part of it, Frieda."

He looked deeply into her eyes, and took a breath. Linus meant to give Frieda a chance to take in all he had just told her.

"I don't want to hurt you, either by pressing you, or putting you off, but I want you with me."

Frieda smiled, relieved and confident.

"So, are you saying that we're a couple, now?"

"Yes, but a couple of what, I don't know." Linus grinned, but quickly became serious again.

"Really though, I'd like to keep seeing you, Frieda. But don't press me, and I'll try not to lead you on. Let's find out together if we have something, and if so, what it is, and what it might lead to. Do you understand?"

Frieda looked as if she had understood Linus' line of reasoning all along and had gone ahead of him, waiting patiently for him to catch up to her.

"I think so," she said, measuring her understanding by his expression. "You're offering me a relationship that might get serious, or it might not. We should take it slowly, step by step, and see where we can find a comfort level. Is that it?"

"Something like that." Linus smiled. "I like you, Frieda, I like you a lot, but I'm going to have to like you a lot more than this if we're going to make this work the way I want it to, before we can talk about a future. It may take some time; can you wait for that?"

"I can wait for that," she said happily, "as long as I can wait by your side."

"Linus, I like you, too," she said, smiling and taking his clammy hand. "And, I feel the same way that you do about where we are. After what I've been through, I'm in no hurry to leap into another serious, impulsive relationship."

"I was too young when I married Len," she explained, her soft gray eyes clouded with regret. "He wasn't ready, but he went along with it." Frieda sighed, and took Linus' hand again.

"We were both at fault, Linus," she said, shaking her head.

"I expected too much from him, I suppose," she said wistfully. "He had been a hound, chasing every girl in sight. I expected him to change from a hound into a man. I expected him to grow up, Linus, and he wasn't ready to do that. Maybe it was unfair of me to ask that of him."

"I don't think it was unfair, Frieda."

Frieda smiled at Linus, and he smiled back, kissing her lightly and holding her close.

"I like walking with you," she continued, "going out together, our nice conversations, everything. When we made love, I knew it didn't imply any commitment from you; or from me, for that matter. I needed companionship just then, and you gave it to me, that's all. I'm grateful for that, Linus, but I didn't expect any more from you than that."

"And the future?"

She sighed.

"It's too far ahead, Linus. I can't see it, yet. Let's just enjoy today, okay?"

"That's enough for you, Frieda?"

"For now."

Linus took her hand again, and they continued walking in the cool breeze.