Hands had always been important to Caroline. Adam had large, warm, capable hands. Unlined, palms slightly calloused. When they first started dating, she'd never have described his hands as capable, but she'd read that description once in a romance novel and she realized that yes, her Adam, did have capable hands. Sappy, but true.
Now, she looked at their intertwined fingers and wondered exactly what his hands were capable of. Did they harbor the capacity to cheat on her? Had his fingers trailed down the arm of that girl her friend had told her about? When he said he'd been at work, which lately, he'd been doing more of, had he really been out with her? The girl?
She clutched his fingers tightly against her palm, afraid to let go of them. Caroline knew, if she did, she might float away from this world, never to come back.
"Seriously, Caro. Let's go. I want to show you something."
"What is it?" Caroline let go of his fingers and wiped at her eyes, not wanting to let Adam see the tears perched there. She needed to stay strong, to show him that she was still her own person, but if that was the case, she should have been able to call him out on his supposed behavior. On the other hand, though, she didn't have any tangible evidence of wrongdoing. Just a snippet from a friend and a feeling in her gut.
But those feelings in your gut usually spoke the truth. Everyone knew that. It was following up on gut feelings that Caroline had trouble with. She knew what her therapist would say to her about this latest gut feeling and Adam. "Don't hold onto someone just to have someone," Dr. T would tell her. "It's better to be alone then questioning and unhappy. You know this. Trust yourself."
Caroline could hear Dr. T's voice inside her head. She envisioned his kind face and experienced eyes. He had her best interests at heart and had helped her through some trying times in her past. But what about Adam? Over the last several months, she'd questioned Adam's sincerity too many times. Caroline wasn't sure if he had her best interests at heart anymore.
Adam's smooth voice interrupted her thoughts. "I can't tell you until we're there." He tugged on Caroline's sleeve, wrapped his arm around her waist, and led her through the door. "Come on, Caro. Let's go."
The steps of the stone church, damp from the evening mist, glistened under the street lamps. Adam guided Caroline over to the far right corner near the entrance. As she waited, Caroline looked at the doors, old and worn, made of wood that had long ago warped from the elements. She turned around, toward the sounds of cars and people, and realized this church faced River Street. She clenched her fists at her sides and waited as Adam moved toward her.
"Caro, I wanted a place to talk. To speak to you about something important." Adam's eyelid twitched, a tell that Caroline had learned long ago meant he was nervous.
"And we're just going to stand here and talk?" Caroline felt her face wrinkle in confusion. Why couldn't they have chatted in her apartment? She'd prefer a dry space, a safe space. She stood out in the open here.
"Well...no, but..." Adam reached for her hand and moved her over to the small stone wall that encircled the top of the steps. They'd moved into the light. She could see him better now and what she thought was nervousness had been replaced with something more...what? She couldn't quite place it.
"This church...my parents used to take me here," Adam started. "We came here for many years until we moved too far to come here. But when I came back to the city, I knew I'd make my way back. And when I met you, I knew I'd bring you here."
Caroline's heart rate picked up. "But why? Why are we here?" She looked down at her lap as her fingers wrestled with each other. Her hands, small and soft, probably wouldn't have been termed capable, but they'd always served her well.
"My Dad proposed to my mom here. They got married here. We went to church here. This place has history." Adam gestured toward the door. "This place..." He moved toward Caroline and bent at the knee, all the while reaching for something in his pocket.
Caroline's vision began to blur and her ears picked up a wooshing sound. She blinked back tears and breathed in large drafts of air. She knew nothing had changed on the outside: that the spit of the rain still ticked against the pavement and the hiss of tires filled the night air. With eyes partially closed, she clung to the real world in the only way she knew how: she reached for Adam's hand, the one that didn't hold the small cubic jewelry box.
"Caroline, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Caroline squeezed Adam's fingers between hers. She looked at Adam's face, filled with hope. She envisioned the future: a cape cod house, three children, and a part-time job. She saw Adam skip up the walkway that wound from the street to their front porch. She watched as he picked up their littlest child and nuzzled his nose against the baby's naked belly. She looked away, toward the gray night sky. She felt the first tear begin to spill down her cheek. "I don't know," she whispered. "I don't know."
To be continued...