As the dinner bell rings and everyone files in, I keep checking my pocket obsessively, feeling for the ring. I grab a burger and sit with Charlotte.
“Are you sure the speech is okay?” I ask nervously.
“It’s fine. You’re gonna be fine,” Charlotte says, patting my shoulder.
“Should I do it now? Everyone’s here. But they’re not sitting.”
“No, you should wait until people are sitting and eating,” says Charlotte, looking around.
I take a bite of my burger and immediately feel nauseous. I can’t eat. I’m too nervous. God, my hands are shaking. What if she hates it? What if she says no? Santiago catches my eye from the table where she’s sitting with her Literary Circle friends and smiles at me. Oh my god. I can’t do this.
I look around. “Now?” I ask Charlotte.
She glances around the room. “Yes. Now.”
I take a deep breath, stand up, and stand on a chair. “Excuse me! May I have everyone’s attention, please?” A few people have glanced up and begin hushing each other. “Could we turn the music off for a few minutes, please?” I call over to Tony. He complies.
I take another deep breath and begin to speak. “As you all know, it’s been a rough couple of years. We’ve all lost people who are dear to us: Simon, Leon, Trevor, Abner, and of course, Kimberly.” I pause. You could hear a pin drop.
“But with tragedy comes change,” I continue, “and rebellion, and friendship… and love.” I look around the room at the familiar faces, of friends I’ve known for years and years. “I’ve given each of you a sticker to remind you that we are not friends.” I pause for emphasis. “We’re family.”
I rush into my next line, sensing applause and not wanting to lose my flow. “Speaking of family… Artie and Charlotte have been my rocks for as long as I can remember.” I smile at each of them in turn, holding a hand over my heart. “But I couldn’t have gotten through the last year without Santiago.” My voice shakes slightly as I let my eyes finally land on her. “Can you come up here, please?” I watch her expression change from one of pride, to surprise.
I hop down from the chair as she stands up and makes her way over to me. “Katherine, what are you–” she whispers. I step backwards before she can finish, reaching into my pocket.
“I love you,” I say clearly, my voice surprisingly steady and confident. “And I can’t imagine life without you.” All traces of doubt gone now that Santiago is finally in front of me, I get down on one knee. “Will you marry me?”
Her eyes widen and her hands fly to her mouth as the crowd erupts into chaos. I can’t make anything out; all I hear is noise and the rush of blood in my ears.
She says something, but I don’t hear her over the sound of my own heart pumping. I look at her blankly. She steps forward and pulls me to my feet. “Yes! Katherine, yes!” She pulls my face to hers, and I wrap my arms around her. I’m dimly aware of people hooting and hollering around us as our lips meet. When she finally pulls away, I take her hand and slip the ring onto her finger.