After all, Ray had made reservations for Valentine's Day, so in retrospect it was a good thing that the city got hit with a whole bunch of snow on Wednesday. The restaurant was very apologetic, but the kitchen staff was snowed in and there was going to be a parking ban... But that certainly wound up best for us; it beat drawing attention.
As I mentioned before, Stewart had made plans for Valentine's Day, too. It wasn't too fancy, and the snow made it less so - take the bus across the river, buy something sweet at the chocolatier, coffee at a little neighborhood place, and then back to his place for a lovemaking session that fails to bring me to orgasm.
He's usually pretty nice about it, although I can't blame him for being a little irritated when Liz's cell phone rang and I answered it. It was Ray with the news that our reservations were canceled, and though he was trying to find some other place, it didn't look too likely. "Not happening with Mr. Romantic?"
"Hey," I say, "he can't control the weather."
"Oh, of course not, but it always seems to be something."
"Don't be mean. If there wasn't always something, we wouldn't be here. Besides, I haven't ever heard you complain about the arrangement."
"You've got me there. Maybe I like the secrecy. After all, I"m not usually ready to go again this soon..."
So we ran the streak to 0-21, and I went "home".
I feel a need to shower when I get home; it seems kind of unseemly to meet up with Ray when I've got Stewart all over me. The dress I bought for Ray's big Valentine's Day date is hanging on the inside of the closet door when I open it up (as it should be; I put it there), and I slip it on. I'd opted against red for something in a light purple; it's sleeveless and loose, almost touching the floor before I put on shoes. Somehow it makes me look like a woman rather than a little girl. It occurs to me, not for the first time since the inn rearranged my body, that designing women's clothing is a far more subtle art than I had ever suspected.
I while away the couple hours until Ray gets home watching one of their Korean DVDs with the English subtitles turned on. I must look silly without context - a Korean-American girl laid back in the recliner, the sort-of-pricey dress slipping back to her knees, the matching heels, the can of Cherry Coke. I'm engrossed enough in the movie that I don't hear Ray come in and he laughs at the sight. I hit "stop" when I hear him, and I'm a bit flustered as I bring the seat back to an upright position and stand. "Uh, hi, I guess I sort of figured it would take you a while to get back."
"It did - I left early."
"Are you even allowed to do that?"
"The partners took pity on me, knowing who I'd be keeping waiting." He kisses me, then looks me up and down. "Nice dress."
"It is, I guess. Zoe helped me pick it out. I know our reservations got canceled, but I figured maybe you'd still want to see if there was something we could do nearby."
"Everything I walked past was pretty packed. Besides, even with it calming down out there, I'd hate to expose that dress to the salt and sand they're laying down. Let me see what I can find for take-out."
He makes a few calls and then heads out to pick it up. I have to admit I'm oddly disappointed by this turn of events. I feel bad going on dates or to family functions with Ray - he's a good guy and I know I'm just marking time until Liz gets her life back, at which point things probably won't go well for him. His relationship is a lie on two levels. Afterward, though, I make notes - what was this like, how was it different from the same sort of activity as a guy, what had I learned? Someday, this will all get used in fiction writing that sells, and not necessarily as part of some body-switching story; I figure I'll have a leg up writing from a different point of view. From that perspective, not having a big Valentine's Day date was something I was missing out on.
Ray came back with Chinese food, and served it up so that we weren't eating out of cardboard or styrofoam containers by candlelight. It was a pleasant enough dinner, and left room for the cakes he'd purchased at Finale. And after that...
Ray hadn't looked nervous up until then, because he'd been so busy, but then things changed. "Elizabeth," he said, "this isn't how I'd originally planned it, but now that I'm just here with you, in a place that's ours, it seems much more appropriate than doing it in front of an audience of strangers. We've known each other since we were kids, and been together almost as long, and for the longest time I think we were guilty of taking each other for granted. I know I certainly did, spending so much time on work that I at times just treated you like an extension of that, someone I took to office parties to show I was a serious member of the firm. That was wrong of me.
"I kind of lied to you at New Year's when I said my resolution was to pay more attention to my girl; I was already doing that. This was my resolution, one I should have made long ago, and the last six weeks were just me confirming that it was the right thing to do."
He reached below the table, where he'd left the bag dessert had come in, and I suddenly realized that I was, in fact, going to experience something very few men do. It was confirmed when his hands were back above the table with a little black box with a sliver hinge. He opened it up to display the contents to me. "Elizabeth Eun-jin Lee, will you marry me?"
I couldn't feel my heart beat, even though my body was sending other signals to my brain, like "blink, god damn it!", as I stared open mouthed at the tasteful diamond ring. This... This was wrong. This was not my moment, this moment shouldn't be happening at all, I don't know what Liz would say. I stare so long that Ray starts to interpret my shock as happiness, and starts to smile.
I feel terrible about having to nip that feeling in the bud.
"Ray," I finally say, "you shouldn't have done this."
"What do you mean?"
"You're making a huge decision without all the information. For months now, I've been... This woman you think you know has been..." Something feels very strange about this moment, beyond just the situation. It's a moment that can change the course of someone's life, and if I mishandle it, I could make Ray, Liz, and myself miserale for a long time. "I've been sleeping with another man."
Clearly, that's not what he wants or expects to hear. I can see the muscles in his extended arm tense, like he's not sure whether to pull the ring back or whether that would be more insulting or angry than he wants to appear. "You were just so busy and Stewart showed interest and I..."
"Stewart? Stewart Brown? Your boss?"
"Yes, him. I'm so sorry, you don't deserve this, but you can't ask me to marry you and not know about it. You've got to take some time and think about how knowing this changes things."
He sets the box on the table, closing it, and just slumps in his chair. "I can't blame you. God knows you deserved better than I gave you most of last year. I just wish..."
He doesn't finish that sentence. He just sits there for a while, then says he needs to go out. I tell him it's freezing, and he'll probably break his neck on the ice that the roads and sidewalks have turned into, but he says not to worry.
I don't know if he ever came back that night, because I fell asleep waiting for him on the couch (I tried to call Jake, but she wasn't answering her phone that night). We haven't spoken or slept in the same bed since, though.
The first thing I did was to write the real Elizabeth Lee up in Montreal, but I haven't heard back from her yet. I haven't told anyone at the theater, especially not Stewart or Zoe. I don't think this situation can hold for another three months, but I have no idea what I'm supposed to do now.