Going Home – The Proposal

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We were up early. Gwen was ravenous again at breakfast, though I barely noticed.

The train arrived at 9:45 AM. A porter pushed a cart with our bags to the street. Gwen’s father was waiting for us beside his car. The porter loaded our bags into the car. I slipped a five into his hand. He thanked me and headed off to help other passengers.

Her father was a little taller than Gwen in her heels. He had dark hair and blue eyes, deep-set under bushy black eyebrows. He was clean-shaven but already had the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow. He wore a knee-length, black wool overcoat and rubber galoshes. Under his coat, he wore a suit and tie. He was a couple inches shorter than me but stocky and muscular.

Gwen squealed, ‘Daddy!’ jumped into his arms and wrapped her arms around his chest. Gwen’s father was clearly excited to see his daughter and embraced her affectionately.

After greeting his daughter, he turned his attention to me and extended his hand. He introduced himself and told me to call him Ian. He saw the cast but still took my hand. He held the cast between his and shook cautiously.

‘What happened?’ he asked.

Gwen quickly related our encounter with the rude actor.

Ian wore a concerned expression as she related the events. He shook his head and muttered something about the actor not having the honor of the characters he portrayed.

I hadn’t been particularly nervous up until then, but that ease evaporated now that being among Gwen’s family was a reality.

Understandably, Gwen’s father focused his attention on his daughter as he drove. When he asked me about my studies, I spoke only in general terms. Ian was well-spoken and intelligent with a quick wit, but I was certain he had no more understanding of thermodynamics, the properties of light, wave-particle duality, or Einstein’s theories than I did expressionism, cubism, impressionism, or surrealism.

When we arrived at the house, I felt a strange sense of familiarity, though I remained uneasy. Ian easily carried my trunk. Gwen grabbed her bag and ran into the house to greet her mother. I was led to a large downstairs guest room in its own wing. It had a Franklin stove to provide heat and its own bath. Ian set my trunk down, I dropped my bag and then followed him back to the front of the house.

The house, which I was told was built in the mid-18th century and expanded several times, was warm and inviting. A large fieldstone fireplace featured prominently in the center of the house. Logs burned energetically behind the screen. Gwen came out of the kitchen followed by her mother.

My head swiveled back and forth between Gwen and her mother. Gwen and her mother were the same height with the same trim figure. Their hair had the same large, loose corkscrew curls, though her mother’s hair was now more brown than its red. She had the same green eyes and fair complexion. I wanted to kick myself for wondering if there was a similar spray of freckles across her upper chest. She had a few creases at the sides of her eyes and mouth. I was staring at two versions of the same woman, twenty-five years apart in age.

Gwen’s mother was smiling. She reached out and took my left hand and pulled me into a motherly hug before stepping back to look at me.

‘It’s nice to meet you, Jonas. Gwen has told us all about you,’ she said with a sweet smile. Her voice was completely different. Her mother’s voice was smoky, with a deeper timbre. Gwen’s spoke at a somewhat higher pitch.

Gwen nudged me with her elbow. ‘Aren’t you going say anything, Jonas?’

The jolt to my ribs broke the fog. ‘I’m sorry, it’s nice to meet you Mrs. Kenrick.’ I was taken aback at how much alike they looked.

‘Call me Edith,’ she told me. ‘Or Mom, if you like.’

I just smiled.

‘Lunch will be ready in a few minutes. I hope you’re both hungry. It’s just leftover beef stew and fresh-baked cornbread. But there’s plenty of it,’ she told us. ‘Come, Gwen. Help me set the table and check the cornbread. Let our men get acquainted.’

I turned to face Ian. He looked amused.

‘The resemblance is amazing, isn’t it?’ he said, wearing a barely detectable smile.

‘I’m sorry I stared. Gwen never told me she looked like her mother. The resemblance is uncanny.’

‘I don’t have to worry about you do I?’ he asked.

‘What do you mean?’ I didn’t understand.

‘You won’t try to steal my girl, will you?’ in mock seriousness.

I smiled at him. ‘No, sir. I don’t think that will be a problem.’ We both laughed.

We ate the hearty beef stew and had an animated conversation over lunch. Gwen’s mother was a hoot. She had a devilish sense of humor and teased her husband mercilessly. Ian could hold his own. Instead, he played at being offended. He loved every minute of her ribbing. I ate a big bowl of stew and a generous hunk of cornbread. Gwen ate two bowls of stew and continued to pick at the cornbread after everyone else was done.

After lunch, Gwen and Ian went out to his studio, a ataşehir escort bayan converted barn a short walk away. Edith drafted me to help with lunch clean-up. I wasn’t much help. Edith washed and dried. I put away. It probably would have been easier for Edith if she did everything.

Edith proved to be very perceptive. As we talked, she said things that suggested she already knew my mind. She soon confirmed my suspicions.

‘You came to ask if you can marry our baby.’ It came out of the blue and it wasn’t a question.

‘Why do you think that?’ I asked. I didn’t confirm or deny.

‘I can see, Jonas. The way you two looked at each other during lunch. Your nervousness every time you talk to my husband. You might as well have it flashing lights on your forehead.’

‘I didn’t realize I was that transparent. I do want to ask her to marry me.’ I admitted. ‘I’m sure she’ll say yes. But I wanted to speak with you and your husband first.’

She stopped washing dishes and looked out the window at the snowy landscape. ‘I’m not sure what to say, Jonas. You’re the first young man that Gwen has ever brought home. She dated during high school and college but never once invited one home for dinner. That says something for you. My husband is very attached to Gwen. I don’t think any father is ever ready to let go of his little girl.’ She hesitated before continuing. ‘I’m going to give you a little advice. Be direct when you talk to him. He can be very temperamental. He can be brusque, obstinate, and more than a little intimidating. I can also tell you he loves his daughter deeply and values her happiness.’

Gwen returned shortly after we finished in the kitchen. ‘Daddy asked me to go to the post office to mail a package for him. I’ll only be a few minutes, Jonas. Why don’t you go out and see Daddy’s studio. It’s OK to go into the building. But don’t go into the workshop unless he invites you in. I’ll meet you there.’

She was gone before I managed a word.

Edith smiled at me. ‘No time like the present. Gwen will be at least a half hour. I’ll call Myron, the postmaster. She loves his jokes. He’ll easily keep her there an hour while they laugh their fool heads off,’ she told me. ‘The studio is a short walk. Wear a coat, it’s cold. Turn left out of the back door. There’s a path leads to the studio. It’s about a five-minute walk. Enter through the white door. Do not enter the red one. That goes directly into the work shop. I don’t even go through the red door. Ian gets very angry if someone enters his workshop unbidden.’

I grabbed my coat and headed to Ian’s studio. It was a converted barn, probably a hundred feet long and forty feet wide. It was painted a dull, faded red. Smoke escaped a chimney that pierced the roof just below the peak. I entered the white door as instructed.

The room I entered was a large space converted into a gallery and reception area. One corner of the large room I entered was all window, looking out on a large, frozen pond a short distance away. Cat tails grew at one end. A massive fieldstone fireplace, open on two sides, stood off-center in a large open space that soared to the vaulted ceiling. The space was heated by several long banks of cast iron radiators.

A half dozen massive vertical beams supported the roof. Several large mobiles suspended from the ceiling drifted lazily. The floor around the fireplace was slate. Wide, well-worn pine boards with a patina of age made up the floor in the rest of the space. Numerous paintings hung on the walls. A few sculptures occupied strategic locations. A leather couch, four matching leather wingback chairs and a coffee table were arranged in front of one side of the fireplace.

Most of the ground level was empty floor space. A spiral staircase, just to the left of the door I entered, climbed to a loft that ran along three sides of the room. The short wall served as a library with bookshelves, a desk, a table and a few chairs. The rest of the loft held racks of artwork.

‘Hello. Who’s there?’ Ian called from his workshop.

Before I could answer, Ian appeared from a doorway that I assumed led to his workshop. He had changed. He wore a baggy pair of khaki work pants and a loose-fitting, off-white shirt. Both were stained with a wide array of colors.

‘Come to see the studio?’ he asked.

‘Not exactly, sir.’

He raised an eyebrow briefly and then frowned. ‘Then why are you here?’ he asked.

‘I’d like to talk to you about Gwen, sir.’

‘Twice with the sir? It must be a serious topic. I don’t hold serious discussions in my studio except with other artists, or patrons. You’re neither.’

He went to a small chalkboard and wrote a note, ‘gone to The Elms with Jonas’. He disappeared into his workshop and returned with a jacket.

‘Let’s go someplace where we can talk. Follow me.’

He hustled me through his workshop, out a door to a pickup truck parked in an open bay.

‘Get in. We’ll go someplace more appropriate for serious discussion.’ escort kadıköy

We drove about twenty minutes in silence. He kept looking over at me but didn’t say anything. We parked in a lot beside a large eighteenth-century inn. There were only a few cars in the lot. Ian led me inside to an old pub, The Elms.

He walked straight to a booth at the back, holding up two fingers as he went by the bar. Almost as soon as we sat, a buxom little woman in her early thirties with long, straight, brown hair and a milk-white complexion came by and placed a mug of an amber-colored brew in front of each of us. She leaned toward Ian and whispered something in his ear that I couldn’t hear. He laughed loudly, shook his head, and gave her a hug. She disappeared as quickly as she appeared.

‘Drink up, Jonas. Serious discussion requires a proper means of loosening the tongue.’

I lifted my mug and took a drink. Ian drank about half of his.

‘What’s on your mind, Jonas?’

‘I’d like to talk to you about, Gwen.’ I told him.

‘You’re repeating yourself,’ he said, his expression and tone revealed nothing. He didn’t say more, just waited for me to speak.

His reticence increased my anxiety. I sucked in a deep breath and just went for it. ‘I love your daughter and would like to ask her to marry me.’ I felt better after I got it out. That didn’t last long.

Ian didn’t say anything. He picked up his beer and drained the mug, pointing at mine while he did. I finished mine, too. Ian held a hand high over his head showing two fingers again. Alice arrived a moment later with two more beers, and withdrew.

‘What’s that got to do with me?’ he asked gruffly. The brusque manner Edith had told me about was suddenly on display.

‘You are her father. Isn’t it customary . . ‘

‘Bullshit. Why are you asking me about it? She’s the one that will put up with you. If I don’t like you, I’ll just ignore you,’ he told me.

This wasn’t going anything like I expected. ‘You’re not concerned about who she decides to marry?’ I didn’t understand.

‘My daughter is a smart girl. She can think for herself and has mostly made her own decisions since she was twelve or thirteen. But OK, I’ll play along. Why should I give you permission to marry my daughter?’ he asked.

I wasn’t ready for that one, though I should have been. ‘I love her. And she loves me.’ I tried to say it assertively, confidently. It sounded weak.

‘You’re sure she loves you? How?’

‘She’s told me she does.’ I responded to that confidently.

Ian’s face showed both amusement and annoyance. ‘Women say all kinds of things to get a man to do what they want. And we’re usually stupid enough to go along. You haven’t apparently learned that yet. Can you support her?’ Ian asked.

‘I think so.’

‘You think so? That doesn’t sound promising,’ he responded. ‘If you marry Gwen, I’m not going to support her. And certainly not you.’

‘I can support her. I have some money. More than enough to live on and cover our school expenses. I have a steady income from teaching at school. It’s not much but we won’t have many expenses. I should earn a good salary when I finish my PhD.’

‘You’ve been a couple since sometime after school started?’ he asked.

‘Not exactly.’ I didn’t like that answer and didn’t think he would either.

‘What does not exactly mean?’ He was definitely annoyed now.

‘We met on the train in Milan. We traveled to Paris together and spent a couple of days together there, but then went our separate ways. I never expected to see her again, much as I wanted to. Somehow, we ended up in graduate programs at the same school.’

Ian glared at me, her eyes narrowed and focused on mine. ‘Milan? Paris for a couple of days while Mike was still away? Gwen didn’t mention meeting anyone while she was in Europe.’

I didn’t know what to say to that so I kept my mouth shut.

‘I’m going to ask a serious question now, Jonas. I expect you to tell me the truth. Am I making myself clear?’

I feared what was coming next. My anxiety was now nearly unbearable. ‘Yes, sir.’ /////////// ‘Are you sleeping with my daughter?’ The question came out softly. And it didn’t seem to come out easily.

There it was. I stared into the top of my beer mug. I picked it up and drained half of it. It didn’t help. ‘Yes, sir. We’ve been together.’ I expected an angry response, possibly even a major blow-up.

When I looked up, Ian seemed deflated. The brusque demeanor had evaporated as quickly as it appeared. ‘I can’t say I’m surprised. I sensed a change in Gwen when she came back from Europe.’

He drained his beer and held up his hand. One finger this time. Alice arrived a moment later with another beer. Ian slid over and patted his palm on the bench next to him. Alice sat down.

‘Alice, meet Jonas. I think he’s going to be my son-in-law.’ There was my answer. ‘That is if Gwen will have him. He hasn’t asked her yet.’

‘We’ve talked about the possibility bostancı escort but I haven’t asked.’ I told him. ‘She hasn’t asked me, either.’ I grinned, trying some levity to lessen my continued anxiety.

Ian’s scowl told me he wasn’t amused.

Alice, however, laughed, or rather her whole-body laughed. ‘Don’t be surprised if she does. That girl dances to a tune only she can hear.’

‘Jonas, this is my sister, Alice. When we sat down, she wanted to know if I had finally found a suitable man for her.’

Alice acted annoyed, elbowing Ian in the ribs, hard. ‘He’s my half-brother. But I deny any relationship to this fool if someone gets it in their head to ask,’ she told me. Alice kissed her brother on the forehead, then smacked the back of head with an open hand before huffing off.

‘Have you bought a ring yet?’

‘No, sir. I wanted to wait until after we spoke. I have an appointment in Boston in a couple days. I was hoping to buy one then, but Gwen wants to show me around Boston.’ I told him.

‘What are you doing in Boston?’ he asked.

‘I have an appointment with an attorney.’

‘You in trouble?’ he asked sternly.

‘No’ sir. Just family business.’

‘Any other plans while you’re with us?’ Ian asked.

‘Christmas Eve day, I’m meeting my father in Boston. He’s meeting a friend from England in New York. They’re coming up to Boston for a few days before they go to California. I’m meeting them at their hotel. We’ll spend the day together and have dinner.’

‘Gwen told us a little about your family history. Why don’t you invite your father and his friend for Christmas dinner? There will be plenty of food. Edith likes a crowd on Christmas.’

Thank you, sir. I’ll extend the invitation when he gets here. I’m sure he would enjoy it.’

Ian raised his hand again and waved it in a circle. Alice came almost immediately.

‘Why can’t you be like other customers?’ she asked, contemptuously.

‘Because I know how much it annoys you. And I’m not other customers.’

‘You’re right there. You’re more of a pain in the ass, Ian Kenrick. Here’s your damn check.’

‘Nope. Jonas is buying. You did bring money?’

‘That figures,’ Alice said. ‘I should have known you’d stick your guest with the bill.’

I took the check and peeled some of bills out of my money clip and handed them to Alice.

Alice scooped it up and started away but stopped dead in her tracks after a couple steps. She turned around and came back. ‘You gave me too much,’ she said as she dropped a couple of singles on the table.

‘That’s your tip.’

Alice looked at her brother, patting her chest rapidly to mimic palpitations. ‘Oh, my God! A tip at a table where Ian Kenrick sits? Hell must be frozen over.’ She looked over at me. ‘I hope you’re not expecting Gwen to inherit my brother’s money. This skinflint will have it buried with him.’ Ian was grinning.

I got up. “I’ve got to use the rest room before we go.’

‘I’ll start the truck.” Ian told me. ‘Meet you outside.’

When I came out of the men’s room, Alice gestured to me. ‘It isn’t necessary to tip me, Jonas. I own The Elms. But I put it in the till for my waitresses. Don’t misunderstand our combative exchanges. Ian and I like to torment each other. Neither of us means a thing we say. It’s just our way. He’s really good to me.’

I smiled. ‘The last things you’d ever do if you didn’t like Ian are sit with him or kiss him.’

I got in the truck. Ian drove back to the studio. After parking in the workshop garage, we went straight to the house.

Gwen looked nervous. ‘Why did Daddy take you to the Elms?’ she asked.

But before I could answer, her mother called for Gwen to come out to the kitchen. I went to my room to get unpacked and organized.

We had dinner, then sat in the living room listening to the radio and talking. After Gwen’s parents went to bed, Gwen again asked why we went to the pub.

I told her that her father wanted to get acquainted over a beer or two. Gwen looked skeptical but didn’t question me further about it.

Eventually, we said good night. Gwen went to her upstairs bedroom, I to my assigned quarters.

Two days later, it was time for my appointment with the attorney. Gwen’s father drove us into Boston. When we got to the lawyer’s office building, just before 8:00 AM, Ian gave me the address of his university workshop and the phone number. I told them I’d get a cab there. I promised to get there as soon as possible. After dropping me off, Gwen went with him to his university workshop while I met with the attorney.

When I got to the reception desk, I gave my name and asked for John Perkins. After waiting a few minutes, a man came out to get me, offering his hand. I just held mine up.

‘I’m Ethan Davis.’ he said introducing himself. ‘Mr. Perkins sends his apologies for not being here. He was summoned to court unexpectedly. I’m well-versed on your file and have been instructed to meet with you if you approve.’

‘OK.’ I responded. ‘Will this take long?’

‘There’s quite a bit to go over. It will take several hours but we should be done before lunch,’ he told me as we made our way down a corridor to his office. We must have passed thirty offices, most occupied.

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