Brian nervously ran his fingers over the ring box in his pocket for at least the fifteenth time during the meal and he realised Cassie was looking at him worriedly.
'Are you sure you're OK Brian?' asked Cassie 'you look like you might be coming down with something. I'm sure if we just ask for the bill now th-'
'No no' Brian interrupted 'I'm fine, I'm good, I'm really good. The meal is lovely and you look beautiful tonight Cassie, really beautiful'. He looked at Cassie like he did when they'd first met and he saw all her kindness and warmth radiating from that smile. Then the butterflies did another somersault in his stomach. He never thought he could feel so nervous with Cassie, she'd felt like his soulmate from the moment they'd met and although her parents made him a nervous wreck he was always at his most relaxed when he was with Cassie.
But he'd made his decision, tonight was the night. He'd made the meal out seem less suspicious by timing it for their 3 year anniversary of their first date. They usually went out for a nice meal to mark the occasion every year so Cassie shouldn't think anything extra is going on by him taking her out for a nice meal tonight of all nights. He ran his fingers over the ring box again, paranoid it wouldn't be there each time he did, checking he wasn't imagining it all every time.
They'd been together for 3 years now and although they'd talked a little about moving the relationship to the next stage, they hadn't talked about it in depth and Cassie didn't even want to live together until they were engaged. There was only so long Brian could carry on with overnight visits and he knew he never wanted to be without her so it was time he got down on one knee and popped the question. He just had no idea what the answer was going to be.
Cassie had never seen Brian acting so awkwardly with her. He didn't seem to be listening to anything she said as they talked. She'd managed to get a few sentences from him over the starter but all through the main course his mind is clearly elsewhere and she could swear she even saw some sweat on his forehead. She asked him if he's ill though and he started looking at her all dreamily. Now Brian is a great guy, salt-of-the-earth type, really treats her well, but he doesn't usually get all soppy. It might just be because it's their anniversary but something tonight seemed to be wrong. Cassie started to wonder if he was thinking about leaving her but decided that was preposterous, there's no way Brian, who hates public speaking or making a scene at all, would take her out to a restaurant to talk about splitting up. Maybe he is ill, or maybe he's thinking about work.
They finished their main courses, the waiter came and cleared the plates and brought them the dessert menu. Brian fondled the ring box yet again and looked around the restaurant to see if he could accost a waiter out of Cassie's line of sight.
'I'm not sure I fancy a dessert to be honest' Cassie said 'That lamb was pretty filling, I'm not sure I can manage it' Brian panicked, the plan was ruined if she didn't have dessert. He should have done it over the starter, then he wouldn't have spent the whole meal worrying. But then what if he had asked her during the starter and she'd said no? They would have had to eat the whole meal with that hanging over them. No, no, during the dessert was the best time, and it's traditional too, though Brian wasn't sure where the line between traditional and cheesy was. He was just trying his best to be romantic but he hadn't managed to think of anything more creative than the tried and tested way.
'It doesn't matter if you don't eat it all, you should get something. I'm going to have a dessert so you should get one too' said Brian, trying to steer Cassie not to ruin his plan.
'Maybe I should just share yours then?' asked Cassie.
'No!' snapped Brian, sharply enough to make Cassie recoil a little 'I mean, I'm really looking forward to dessert so I'd love to have a whole portion. You just order what you're wanting and eat as much as you feel like' he said, much calmer.
'Oh alright then, the chocolate fudge cake does sound good' said Cassie with a grin, the dimples in her cheeks making Brian's stomach turn again as he felt like he was falling in love with her all over again. Brian glanced down at the menu to arbitrarily choose something for himself though he doubted he'd be eating any of it, no matter what her answer was.
'Crème Brûlée for me' said Brian, closing his menu and anxiously looking round for the waiter. He just wanted to ask her and know what the answer was now, he couldn't stand the tension and the not knowing.
Cassie saw Brian looking around almost desperately for the waiter and wondered why he wanted to stay for dessert if he's seemingly in such a hurry.
Brian caught their waiter's eye and young man came over to them.
'Would you like to order dessert?' he asked them. Brian gestured to Cassie for her to order first like he usually did, a rather sweet but small gesture of chivalry.
'I'll have the chocolate fudge cake please, but without the ice cream' said Cassie.
'We can offer you whipped cream or crème anglais if you would prefer madam?' asked the waiter. Cassie shot a quizzical look at Brian and he said back quietly 'It's like runny custard, you'll probably like it'. Cassie was still learning a lot about the muggle world, though she integrated a lot better than most other purebloods, but Brian was used to explaining these little things to her, if only he could know that she didn't know them because she's a witch.
'Crème anglais then please' she replied with a smile to the waiter.
'I'll have the, what did I say I'd have again?' said Brian looking down at the menu again. He'd completely forgotten as all he could think about was the proposal and he wasn't even expecting to eat the pudding.
'Crème Brûlée' chimed in Cassie for him. She always seemed to take pleasure in looking after him in this small ways, although she never seemed to get the hang of things like cooking or washing up which he found endearing though he realised he might change his mind about that when they eventually were living together.
'Very good sir' said the waiter as he collected the menus and headed off to the kitchen.
Brian practically leapt out of his chair as soon as the waiter left.
'I need to, I'm just, I'm popping to the toilet Cassie' he said, tripping over his own words.
'Are you sure you're ok?' asked Cassie again. He was so distracted, she was starting to think maybe he had bad news for her. Maybe he was sick and was worried about telling her.
'I'm fine, really' Brian said as he hurried away from the table.
Brian hurried round the corner just in time to see the waiter disappearing into the 'staff only' door into the kitchens. He was so desperate to catch him that he'd burst through the door after him before he realised just what he was doing! The waiter turned round and looked at him stunned.
'Excuse me sir' he said and he recovered from the surprise 'This area isn't for the dining guests'
'I'm sorry' said Brian, 'I just, I need, I…' He was tripping over his words again so he stopped, took a deep breath and drew out the ring box from his pocket.
'Could you please get this ring into my girlfriend's dessert?' he asked, a smile of relief creeping onto his face as he felt the responsibility of the proposal lift from his shoulders.
'Oh sir!' exclaimed the waiter, 'This is very exciting! Yes, we would love to do this for you!' he said almost cheering. It seemed to have made the waiter's night and Brian realised then why, he would of course have to tip generously for extra effort they were putting in so of course the waiter was happy.
'It's the chocolate fudge cake which is hers' he said. Brian had seen enough sitcoms to know he should make sure it goes into the right dessert and he just hoped the classic sitcom gag of another couple in the restaurant being given their desserts wasn't something that happened in real life!
'I know sir, leave it with us' the waiter said 'but you really must leave this area sir'
'Oh yes, of course, sorry, sorry' said Brian, hurrying back out into the restaurant with a smile on his face now and his pocket no longer bulging.
'You're looking better' said Cassie as Brian sat down. 'Were you a bit peaky because you needed to pop to the toilet?'
Brian had almost forgotten the excuse he'd used to follow the waiter but he recovered quickly and without dropping the smile which he found was now stuck on his face. 'Yes, sorry, I should have just gone there sooner shouldn't I. All good now though, all good' he said a little excitedly.
Something still seemed a bit off with Brian but Cassie was just glad he seemed happier now. Maybe there wasn't bad news afterall or maybe he'd done some pee-on-a-stick test or something in the toilets and the result was good, though she couldn't think of anything he could have been doing that for. She didn't really want to ask him about this in a restaurant so she decided she'd leave him to his odd behaviour and ask him when they got home.
The desserts came out quickly, which made Cassie feel guilty as she knew there was another table nearby that had ordered their dessert before they had and they hadn't been served theirs yet. Maybe Brian asked them to be really quick serving when he practically ran after the waiter when they ordered desserts, though that didn't seem like a very Brian thing to do. Cassie decided she'd just appreciate the quick service and hope the other couple had just ordered something that took more cooking perhaps.
'Chocolate fudge cake for Madam' said the waiter as he put Cassie's dessert down in front of her. He was grinning at her which seemed like really odd behaviour and Cassie remembered horror stories about waiters spitting in the food of people they don't like and her full stomach suddenly gave a slight turn as she looked at the rich chocolate cake in front of her.
'Thanks' she replied, slightly hesitantly and with a half smile.
'And crème brûlée for sir' said the waiter, putting Brian's dessert down on the table. He didn't give the same grin to Brian he had to Cassie but instead started grinning at Cassie again. He lingered at the table a little longer, looking like he'd forgotten something, or maybe waiting to see Cassie eat the spit cake so that he could laugh about it!
'Is there anything else I can get you?' he finally asked, still grinning at Cassie. She shook her head and mumbled 'No thank you,' as she turned back to the cake to see if she could see any spit.
Maybe it was in the crème anglais, she wasn't sure what that was meant to look like, maybe he'd spat in that. What on earth had she done to offend him to make him want to spit in her food? Cassie wished she hadn't ordered dessert after all; she wouldn't have done if it wasn't for Brian insisting and not even saying she could share his, but now he seemed to be looking at her as well rather than eating his own dessert. Maybe he wanted the chocolate fudge cake instead of the crème brûlée now he saw them. She couldn't let him have some spit cake, she had to say something.
The tension was killing Brian; somewhere in that chocolate fudge cake was Cassie's engagement ring and she didn't have a clue yet. He wanted her to tear the cake apart and find the ring and just get it over with either way, the waiting and the not knowing was all getting too much for him now. But she wasn't eating it, she was looking at it like it was something that repulsed her even! Oh no, he thought, she knows and she doesn't want to marry me, she doesn't want to get to the ring in the cake because she doesn't want to have to say no.
'Did you see the way that waiter was looking at me?' Cassie asked Brian in an almost whisper.
'What?' said Brian, confused by this topic change.
'Did you see the way he looked at me?' Cassie asked again, sideways glancing to the other side of the restaurant where the waiter was now, who glanced over and caught Brian's eye and grinned.
'The way he looked at you?' asked Brian again, still a bit confused. Maybe she doesn't know after all he thought.
'Yeah, he kind of… grinned' said Cassie, realising how silly it sounded when she said it out loud. She leant forward to say in a dramatic whisper to Brian 'I think he spat in my cake!'
Brian burst out laughing, the tension he was feeling being broken delightfully by this idea. People at nearby tables looked round at the pair and Brian realised that he was the only one laughing and Cassie didn't look too happy with his reaction.
'Oh no, he really hasn't, he's just being friendly, I promise you' said Brian, trying to stop laughing but still chuckling a little. Cassie frowned.
'How can you be so sure?' she asked. 'He was grinning at me and seemed to be waiting for me to start eating when he'd served us and I swear he keeps looking back over at me.'
This waiter had all the subtlety of a brick it seemed, and he was in danger of ruining everything. Brian stopped laughing, frowned at the waiter but he was serving someone else and couldn't see.
'This is too nice a place for that kind of thing' said Brian, trying to reason with Cassie. 'And why would he want to do that anyway? You've not done anything to offend him. I think you're just being a little paranoid'
Cassie thought about it and decided she probably was being quite silly, it was Brian's odd behaviour which had thrown her off and now she's coming up with wild theories. She still didn't fancy eating the cake though, she was imagining the crème anglais was actually made up of half spittle and it was turning her stomach to think about it. 'Maybe we could swap desserts then?' she asked hopefully, since Brian hadn't touched his crème brûlée yet and he seemed keen on the chocolate fudge cake.
'No!' Brian snapped, taking Cassie aback. 'I mean, no thank you' he followed up quickly. 'I really fancy crème brûlée, I've been craving it all day, sorry' he said as then proceeded to start shovelling the dessert into his mouth to make the point. A rather strange point, thought Cassie, since five minutes ago he couldn't remember what he wanted to order for dessert.
She looked down at her chocolate cake again and decided she just couldn't eat it. She was full already and her accusatory thoughts had completely put her off, whether she was right or not. She pushed the plate away from her towards the middle of the table.
'I'm sorry' said Cassie. 'I just can't eat it, not now I've been imagining what he's done to it, even if I'm wrong. I shouldn't have ordered it.'
Brian could not believe what he was hearing. How had it gone so wrong? He swallowed the big mouthful of crème brûlée and looked at the cake, up at Cassie and back to the cake, wondering how he could fix this.
'If I have some then you'll know it's ok' he offered hopefully.
'If you want some then you're more than welcome to it' replied Cassie 'but I just won't have any myself'
'But…' said Brian, trying in vain to think of a reason which didn't involve giving the game away.
He grabbed his dessert fork and sliced off the end of the point of the piece of cake and ate it. 'Oh my god' he said 'that's delicious!' He held out his fork to Cassie 'Try some, really!'
'No no' said Cassie 'I'm glad it's so nice, you can enjoy it at least then.'
Brian seemed to only have two options left to him, one was to tell her what was going on, which wasn't an option as far as he was concerned, and two was to try and reveal the ring and let her see it.
He took the plate of cake, pushed the remains of his crème brûlée to one side and started digging around in the cake.
He'd broken it mostly apart when a metallic glint caught his eye in the fudge filling near the back of the cake. Of course, thought Brian, why didn't he think of that, they'd have slid the ring in where it was easiest and that was at the widest end of the cake.
He scraped the cake away a bit more from the ring so that it was just protruding from the cake and excitedly looked back up at Cassie who was staring at him like he'd gone a bit mad.
'I thought you said it was delicious and you've destroyed it rather than eat it' she said, more questioningly than accusingly. 'Are you sure you're alright?'
'Never better' said Brian, triumphantly returning the cake to her side of the table and turning the plate around so that she would be able to see the ring.
Cassie however, was just looking at him with that concerned expression he often saw her with at the hospital.
'You're acting really strangely Bri' she said. 'Is it freaking you out that we've been together for three years now or something?'
'Freaking me out?' he asked with a smile. 'I think three years isn't nearly long enough. Ten years still sounds short to me, twenty, fifty? I'd like a lifetime.' He smiled his biggest and happiest smile at the thought of a lifetime with this caring, sweet, funny and (though he felt superficial for thinking it) sexy woman.
Cassie blushed but grinned hugely back at Brian. 'I love you Bri' she said to him and leant over to the table to kiss him.
As soon as they separated from their quick kiss, which Cassie had hoped no-one would notice, three waiters rushed over to the table cheering, one of them was carrying a bottle of champagne and another was carrying an ice bucket.
'Congratulations!' they were saying to her. This must have been what Brian was doing when he supposedly went to the toilet thought Cassie, organising a bottle of champagne to celebrate their anniversary, and he probably asked them to bring it over once they'd finished dessert as that would explain the waiter grinning at her and Brian's odd dessert eating.
'She said yes!' one of the waiters yelled out in amongst the congratulations and suddenly the whole restaurant burst into polite applause and a couple more cheers.
Brian's belly felt like it had sunk into the floor as he realised how the waiters had misinterpreted their kiss and now one of them was announcing her answer when he hadn't been able to ask her yet!
'What?' asked Cassie, suddenly very confused. 'It's our anniversary, not out engagement' she tried to explain to the waiter who had made the proclamation, but he didn't seem to be paying her any attention. She looked over at Brian to see that he didn't look so much confused as disappointed. What was going on?
'Look in the cake' said Brian sheepishly and Cassie looked down at the cake which was turning her stomach just a few minutes before and saw a glinting pair of owl eyes staring at her from inside the cake. Her jaw dropped open and she looked up at Brian who smiled and nodded encouragingly. The waiters were still making a big racket and fuss around them but they'd all disappeared as far as Cassie and Brian were both concerned.
Cassie pulled the ring out of the cake; it was a beautiful silver ring which depicted an owl face with yellow jewels in the eyes. It was exactly the ring that Cassie would have chosen for herself if she'd ever thought about what ring she'd want for an engagement ring, it was so beautiful and so perfect.
Brian was kneeling on one knee next to her now, and the waiters seemed to have quietened down, Cassie now knew that they were realising that they had jumped the gun. Brian took her hand, the one which wasn't holding the ring and fixed her with his beautiful green eyes.
'Cassandra Hepzibah Crescent, will you spend your lifetime with me? Will you marry me?'
All her apprehensions of being in a relationship with a muggle had completely left her at that point, all thoughts on how her parents would react and what having a family with a muggle would mean had evaporated completely from her being, and she just saw this man she loved so much, asking her to be his wife.
She grinned so much that her cheeks squeezed the tears that were forming out of her eyes and she said, loudly so that all the people who had stopped eating their food to watch could hear. 'With all my heart, yes, of course I will!'
The restaurant burst into much louder applause now with noticeably more cheers and the waiters resumed their cheering and popped open the bottle of champagne. Brian wished they hadn't assumed they'd have champagne as that was a lot for the two of them to try and drink but then he thought you have to celebrate things like this with champagne don't you, it's just how things are done.