Holding her hand between the candles and a stout vase cluttering the table, Carl squeezed her fingers. “Are you ready?”
Wendy dabbed her lips, hiding evidence of her last bite of tiramisu. “You make it sound so ominous.”
“You can’t think I’d let Valentine’s Day end with dessert, could you?”
Although drawing her mouth into a curt pout, Wendy couldn’t prevent the expression of disdain from melting into a broad smile. Her cheeks tinged, matching the remaining Pinot in her glass. “What have you done?”
“You’ll have to find out.” The flames and a mischievous sparkle glinted in Carl’s gaze.
Wendy narrowed hers into threatening slits, but returned the squeeze. “Let me just use the little girl’s room first.”
“Sure, I’ll meet you in the entryway.”
With a totter in her step from the extra glasses of wine, Wendy sauntered passed the other tables, enjoying the sway in her hips, the rustle of her claret skirt, and the feeling of Carl’s gaze following her through the velvet-lined and candlelit restaurant. The same hushed conversations over decadent meals seem to cluster around every couple, each holding hands, exchanging knowing smiles, and in a world unto themselves.
She took the two steps out of the dining area, hand braced on the wall. Turning toward the exit, she halted and spun back the other way. The corridor quivered like an amusement park’s fun house.
“Are you looking for the restroom, Ms?” The waiter paused, a tray of chocolate flecked desserts held at his shoulder.
Wendy blushed. “Yes.”
“That way,” he said, tilting his head down an opposite corridor.
With a nod, he stepped onto the dining floor and delivered the contents of his tray to a waiting pair.
After a few deep breaths, physics reclaimed control of the hallway and Wendy’s legs steadied. Gliding her fingertips along the stucco, she passed the opening into the kitchen, where scrubbing and the clatter of dishes dominated. At the end of the corridor, the artful circles denoting each bathroom retained the fresco style dominating the rest of the restaurant. She knocked on the women’s, but no one replied.
Opening up the door, she found a quaint bathroom: toilet, pedestal sink, and wrought iron stand with two baskets, one with folded hand towels, while the other held those previously used. Attending her business, Wendy washed her hands and soaked one of the towels. She dotted her face, letting the chilled water temper the heat of the wine, and investigated her features in the gild-lined mirror. Finding her makeup and curls holding up, she tossed the hand towel into the used basket.
“Let’s see what he’s up to tonight,” she said to her beaming reflection.
Grabbing the door knob, she pulled.
The lock failed to budge, the door to open. She rattled the latch, and yanked again. Her heart began beating faster.
“Oh come on,” she said. She gave another hearty yank.
A knock rapped on the door. “Is everything okay?”
Wendy leaned forward, pressing her forehead on the wooden panel. “I’m afraid I’m locked inside.”
“Oh no. Not again,” said the woman on the opposite side.
Wendy scowled. “Again?”
“Hold on,” said the woman. “Were you here with someone?”
“My boyfriend, Carl. He’s in the black pinstripe.” A vision of all the other men wearing suits sprang into her thoughts, and she shook her head. “He’s got dark hair. We were by the window.”
“I’ll find him, Ms.”
“My name’s Wendy.”
Rushing footsteps dwindled off. Wendy stared at the door, unsure the other woman had collected her name.
Oh Carl, you’re going to kill me, she thought as she leaned against the wall. She met her ruffled reflection and matched its scowl. “How can you always do this? Everything’s going incredibly, and you have to get yourself locked in the damn bathroom.”
“Wendy?” Carl’s voice cut through her debate. “Are you okay?”
“I’m stuck,” said Wendy, “but I’m fine. Not like there are alligators coming out of the toilet or anything.”
“Yeah. Can they get me out?”
“They’re calling the Fire Department.”
“Oh God. Why?”
“Apparently, when this happened last time, they had to take the whole door down. They said it might be a while.”
Wendy cast her gaze over the bathroom supplies, looking for anything that might aid the endeavor. A cleaning brush and decorative assortment of soaps stared back.
She drifted against the door again. “I’m so sorry.”
“Ruining tonight. It’s been great.”
“You haven’t ruined anything,” said Carl.
“But you had plans. You know, whatever we were going to do after this.”
“So? The important part is still happening.”
“No, really.” He released a long sigh. The door thudded as his weight pressed upon the paneling.
Wendy frowned. “Are you all right?”
“I am, in fact. Well, no I guess I’m not.”
“Carl? You’re scaring me.”
“Sorry. I was going to do this later, but Hell; I don’t want to wait anymore. Wendy, would you marry me?”
She pressed her hand to her chest. “You’re asking me now?”
“Well, I’m standing outside a ladies room in my best suit looking like I’m speaking to a door. And even though I had tickets for us to go on a moonlight cruise where I was supposed to do this up at the bow with music and everything, I can’t think anywhere else I’d rather be. And well, I guess I want to keep it that way. So, yeah, I’m asking now.”
“A moonlight cruise?”
“Out on the harbor.”
“You have a ring?”
“I’m staring at it right now.”
He laughed, and then the mirth dwindled into a nervous tremble. “I’m serious.”
“So am I.”
Wendy smirked at the door’s paneling, the image of Carl’s furrowed brow and the worried dimples at his quirked smile as clear as the wood grain. “Are you going to keep the Fire Department from rescuing me unless I answer?”
“Maybe. You know how jealous I can get. There could be some good looking guys with axes.”
“Not as good as you.”
“You don’t know that,” said Carl, his voice dipping low.
“I do,” said Wendy.
He drew a sharp inhale, and the door shimmied with his hand pressed against the surface. “You sure?”
Wendy’s smile spread until her cheeks felt like bursting. “Yeah, I’m sure.”