“Oh, Justin.” The way that Peggy said that wasn’t in the sense of “Oh, yes, Justin, I will gladly spend the rest of my life with you, kiss me you fool,” but it sounded more like “Oh, Justin, I think you put a red sock in with the sheets again, so it’s more pink bedding for us all.” She reached out and held his hand steady for a second she could get a better look at the ring, but then snapped the little velvet box shut.
“Is the ring not good enough?” Justin asked, pulling himself up off his knee, “Because I can get you a better ring.”
Peggy gave him a look. “You’d think I say no because of a ring?”
“Well, no. But–”
“Besides, the ring is perfect. I couldn’t ask for something better.”
“Then what is it? It’s not because of Sarah, is it? Because I talked to her, and she’s a little weirded out, yes, but she gave me her blessing to ask because she sees how happy you make me. Or Shelby? Because, yeah, Shelby’s not going to like it but tough shit for her, she doesn’t get a say.”
Peggy took Justin’s hands in hers, the little box trapped between two layers of their hands. “No, it’s not Sarah, although it is good to know that she approved. And you’re right, Shelby can go fuck herself. But no. It’s–” Peggy looked up at him, looked him in the eye, and almost lost her nerve.
“It’s what? Give me something, Peg.”
“Fourteen years old.” Peggy answered, pulling her hands free of his and turning away from him.
“Fourteen years old. I’d just started high school. My primary concerns were getting into a higher level math class because the one I was in was a joke, trying to decide whether or not going to the homecoming dance was worth my while, and if I’d ever be able to convince James Tilea to kiss me. I was fourteen. That same year, about the same time as that homecoming dance I was so concerned with, Sarah was born. You were happily married to a woman a year older than you and you had a beautiful baby girl who you loved with all your heart, still love with all your heart.” Peggy turned back to face him, wrapping her arms around herself. “I don’t know. That time line isn’t going to change, and I just–I’m not sure that I’ll be able to push past that.”
“But–you knew about our age gap from the beginning? You’ve always known that you were only fourteen years older than Sarah. You know that I think you’re wise beyond your years, and you have been just what I needed over the last two years. You’ve been fine with it the whole time we’ve been dating.” Justin insisted, rushing forward, holding Peggy gently by her elbows, the box pressed to her left arm, “Why now? What’s the problem now?”
“There is a big difference between dating and married, Justin. You should know that. You are the one who has been married before.” She blinked, and a tear rolled down her cheek. He pulled her in for a hug, it was automatic. It was what he always did when she was crying. “You are always saying I’m wise beyond years when people mention my age. Can you accept the fact that I’m wise enough to know this is going to be a hang up for me? That, at least right now, I don’t think I can say yes?”
He kissed the top of her head, and realized that he was crying too. “I don’t know. I think you’re wrong. I think that if we got married it could only be better than what we have now. I think it’s a big commitment and you’re scared and you’re using the timeline as an excuse to not do it. Maybe its just ego, but I want to convince you that what we’ve got is something special.” He kissed the top of her head again, and she squeezed him a little tighter.
“Well,” he could feel her swallow hard as she thought, ‘Where do we go from here, Justin? Do we–are we breaking up?”
“No, I don’t want to break up. Please don’t dump me because I asked you to marry me.”
Peggy laughed, and it was just about the best thing he’d heard all day. “I don’t want to dump you. I am perfectly willing to stay in this relationship until you get frustrated that we’ve hit a wall and decide to jump ship.”
“And I am perfectly willing to wait for you to get over your fears for a more permanent relationship.” It was going to be a stubborn off–they could both feel it in their bones. He decided to cave first, because he knew that would mean something to her. “Peggy. I am happy to be with you. If you want me to be your boyfriend, I’m glad to do that. If you want me to be your husband, I’m glad to do that too. I just want you in my life, okay?”
“I’m not going anywhere, Justin. You’ve still got me–I’m just not going to be your wife.”
“Alright.” They stood in silence for a little while, waiting for some of the tension to ebb, wondering if they could find their footing again after this. “Peggy?”
“Can I just ask you again every now and then–just to see if you’ve changed your mind? I mean, I’ve already got the ring–It’ll just be a good excuse to take you out somewhere really nice and spend a whole day pampering you. Win, win for you really.”
It had the effect he hoped it would, Peggy laughed again, and hit him lightly on the side. “As long as you are okay with my answer being no every time, sure. Besides, it will give me visiting rights with that ring every once and a while. Beautiful. Good choice, Justin.”
“Thanks.” He’d save the fact that he had it custom made for her for the day she said yes, if it ever came.