50. BenchHe had asked her to marry him. People do that, he figured, so why shouldn’t he?

One of his father’s favorite phrases has been, “Never ask a question you don’t want to hear answered.” Now, sitting on a park bench waiting for her, he had a much better grasp on that line’s meaning.

She hadn’t said “no,” but it hadn’t been a storybook or movie “Yes!” either. She was surprised — that much had been obvious —  but after the shock wore off, he couldn’t read her expression. Pity? Sadness? Confusion? He didn’t know.

She had asked to meet him at the park the next day, a place where they had enjoyed sitting in the sunshine, feeding stray ducks that wandered up to them. It was a happy place for them, but he didn’t know what that meant, either. Would it be the place of another happy memory, or was it her way of softening a blow?

He regretted asking the question, but now that it was out, there was no calling it back. Things had been going well between them, better than he had ever known. Was he brave to take the next step, or did he just upend the boat?

He looked at his watch. She was 10 minutes late. Good sign or bad?

He heard footsteps coming up behind him. He knew that once he turned around, once he saw the expression on her face — whatever it was — things would never be the same for either of them again.