AN UNLIKELY ENGAGEMENT
By: Deanne Wilsted
St. Valentine stood in the doorway of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum and blew on his bare fingers. Though cold weather would never affect a saint, especially one who’d been dead for two-thousand years, give or take a few, he enjoyed looking the part of a normal person going about his everyday business. And while his official business vexed him, his unofficial cover as Marketing Director for the museum fit him like a well-worn Roman robe. After all, what else was he but the ultimate marketing manager, albeit of love?
When God had directed him to lead Mandy and Ryan toward the alter St. Valentine had been more than a little confused. Having the ability to hear the thoughts of those in love was a distinct advantage when arranging unions. And, over the time he had been studying this couple Mandy, the sophisticated brunette’s, thoughts had clearly been very centered on marriage. But try as St. Valentine might, all he’d been able to read from Ryan, the tall athletic looking guy, had only ever been stress. He hoped today, of all days that would change and he might understand God’s plan in this union.
From his spot behind the cracked open door, he watched Ryan take Mandy’s hand and lead her toward him. St. Valentine put aside his doubts and waited for his perfectly orchestrated scene to unfold, ready to step in if needed.
“Ryan honey,” the woman said through gritted teeth and a pasted on smile, “I’m pretty sure the museum closes at five-thirty.”
“Huh!” Ryan shot her a puzzled frown. “I could swear the brochure said six-thirty.”
Normally St. Valentine would have loved the intrigue and the excitement of what was about to unfold, but Mandy’s thoughts disrupted him: Some make-up date. Her disappointment was tangible.
Ignoring her, Ryan pushed open the door where and led the way into the center atrium of the museum. St. Valentine stepped back, into the shadows of a nearby alcove.
Behind them St. Valentine heard Mandy’s gasp, and like a prism, her vision of the atrium was superimposed over his own and Ryan’s.
They were alone in the Italianate courtyard since, as Mandy had assumed, visiting hours were technically over. As a newly platinum sponsor of the museum though, Ryan had been given special consideration. Around them white sculpted columns rose three stories up to the metal and glass roof. Every season in the atrium garden was different. Although the choice of design was entirely up to the museum, Ryan could not have chosen a better theme had he created it himself.
It was the time of year for the white garden; when every plant shone in either a shade of green or a perfectly pure white. Adding to the luminescence, white votive candles shimmered in the arched, indoor window openings and led the way along pebbled pathways. And in the center of the garden, a table covered in a lacey white tablecloth flaunted a candelabra which illuminated and reflected light off Royal Daulton china, leaded Waterford crystal, and sterling silver flatware.
St. Valentine raised one long fingertip and a pianist on the balcony overhead began to play Rachmaninoff. Silently Ryan led Mandy across the entry and over to the table.
“I’m so glad I could surprise you,” Ryan said softly. “I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. You’re usually too clever for me.”
Mandy, eyes sparkling, looked up at him and laughed. St. Valentine noted her elation as the full import of the occasion hit her. “Hmmm,” she said. Only by biting her lip did she hold back the smile which threatened to bloom larger than the white peonies bending over the nearby stone fountain. “This is an awful lot of work to go to just to apologize for standing me up the other night.”
“See what I mean,” Ryan said with a mock frown on his face. “You are impossible to surprise… though you’ll hopefully forgive me if I keep trying.” He glanced at St. Valentine and nodded. The undercover saint gave the go-ahead to a tuxedoed waiter who stood waiting, hidden in a darkened hallway at the rear of the museum. Hand held high in the air, like one of the waiters on the Polar Express, he carried over two champagne glasses on a silver tray. With an old fashioned bow, he allowed Mandy and Ryan to each take their glass of bubbly before spinning on his heels and disappearing again.
St. Valentine followed the departing waiter into the shadows and observed the traditional dance of a marriage proposal. Mandy’s thoughts flowed freely into his mind and he listened intently to see if he could decipher God’s intent in the union.
“Mandy,” Ryan began, reaching across the table and capturing her smaller hand with his own. “You know, I never could have imagined my life would lead in this direction again.”
But I did, or at least hoped… Mandy’s thought held courage for both of them.
His swallow was as audible as the light melodies flowing from the pianist in the background. He continued in a forceful rush, pushing the words out like heavy equipment digging a trench.
“You’ve brought such fun back into my, and the children’s life. I know we come with some baggage, but I hope you’ll take us anyway. I love you. I promise to always do my best to make you happy.”
Setting his champagne glass down on the table near them, Mandy watched Ryan pull a small velvet case out of his pocket. He opened the lid as he went down onto one knee. “Will you marry me?”
Mandy’s hand, still holding onto her own champagne glass, automatically went to her mouth almost spilling the sparkly liquid on her blue, silk blouse. She had waited what seemed like forever for this moment, and she wanted to do it just right, not drenched in alcohol. She set her glass on the table next to his and smiled down at him as she had practiced a million times in her mirror at home.
“Oh Ryan,” she said. “It’s perfect.” It was true. The lovely 3 carat diamond ring shimmered from within the satin box. “You’re perfect. And I’m far too clever to let you get away.” Now where had that come from?
Before Ryan might question the same thing she went on, “Yes! To you and the children, yes!” There! That was more like what she had planned to say. “I just hope I can be a wonderful wife to you, and mother to them. After what you three have been through you deserve someone to love you and care for you all.”
Ryan’s shoulders visibly relaxed and he stood up.
“May I?” he asked, removing the ring from the case.
“Oh, yes please.” She tried to still her shaky hand while he slid the platinum band onto her finger.
Mandy stared at the extravagant ring, already eager to show it off to her mom.
* * *
St. Valentine saw Ryan clasp Mandy’s hand in his. As if a dam had broken, a flood of thoughts finally came streaming from him.
Thank God; St. Valentine heard as if it had been spoken aloud. Yet the emotion behind it was laced with sadness and stress and… something else. He tried to identify the feelings coming from Ryan. Images floated alongside the emotion: a woman with one hand in Ryan’s and the other holding the small hand of a little girl; Ryan and the little girl playing checkers while the woman, holding a baby in her lap, looked on; and finally, Ryan and the two kids at the side of a grave, a storm of emotion on their faces.
Being responsible for passionate love had introduced St. Valentine to plenty of heartache, but this was new. This devastation shook him and he turned away from the scene, as if that could stop the thoughts and feelings which still bombarded him from Ryan. He finally identified the emotion which had eluded him: guilt. He waited to see if Ryan could help him understand the relationship between his guilt and this new love.
“Mandy, seriously. I know things might not be easy with all of us. I’m worried about Chloe and never have enough time to give her. But I hope I’m not asking too much of you.”
Mandy put her finger up to his lips to silence him. “I know what I am taking on, Ryan. You don’t have to worry. Chloe and I may have to work a little to connect, but I think she is ready to have a woman in her life again. And I think you are too. We’ll all be fine, I promise.” She held up her champagne glass. “Now, shall we make a toast?”
Like a door slamming shut, Ryan’s thoughts were again blocked from St. Valentine. It was unusual for him to be so stymied and he found he didn’t like it one bit. He had half a mind to break up the moment and get his questions answered directly.
“To us,” St. Valentine heard Ryan say.
“To all of us,” Mandy returned his toast and once again St. Valentine could hear her thoughts loud and clear. She had known that Ryan would struggle with the decision to remarry, and she would not give him any reason to doubt that she would become a positive part of the whole family.
“Have you…. Um, have you told the children yet?” she asked.
“Not really. Not in so many words,” said Ryan. “I wanted to make sure of your answer first.”
Time to change the tone a little, St. Valentine heard her think. Even through her joy she was still very much in charge of the moment. “And speaking of,” Mandy said, “for tonight we should focus on that. After all, it’s not every day a girl gets such a beautiful, romantic proposal.” Mandy waved her hand to remind them of the perfectly set scene.
As if the moment had shaken loose one rogue thought, St. Valentine suddenly saw Mandy as Ryan must see her…. beautiful, yes, but also safe and in charge. He finally understood the love that Ryan felt for her.
Like the seasons of the year, love could be many things; warm and passionate like summer, gentle and full of promise like spring, colorful and traditional like autumn; or like winter, the season in which St. Valentine himself was celebrated, solid and stripped down to its most essential.
“So, what happens now, Romeo? Or hadn’t you gotten that far?” Mandy’s question intruded into St. Valentine’s reverie.
“Oh ye of little faith,” Ryan said. His chuckle was deep and low and sexy. “First a dance, of course.”
“Of course.” They swayed to the music for a moment.
“And then,” Ryan continued, “A lovely dinner?”
“Oh yes,” Mandy whispered. “But then back to my place to celebrate with dessert.”
St. Valentine saw her admire the new ring as it sparkled on her finger. He felt her heart overflow with confidence and happiness. Yes, she had a lot to celebrate.
With one last check that their evening was as romantic as he could make it St. Valentine turned away and left them in private. He moved toward the Cloisters exhibition, keen to check in on one of the pieces there. He hoped the Revelers Gathering Grapes sarcophagus was as he remembered from his childhood; it had been thousands of years since he’d seen it.