This is my 200th post since I started blogging seriously last September, and I’d like to finally share the second part of my short story, An Aromantic Romance.
On March 31st last year, Nina went on a date with Andy, having agreed in advance that he would be allowed to kiss her – once. Her account of the event is given in An Aromantic Kiss. Here she recounts another date with Andy the following September.
I watch Andy with amusement as he sips his wine nervously, avoiding eye contact. When we started dating, almost six months ago now, I was the nervous one. I’m coping a lot better now. I don’t tense up when he touches me, so long as I’m prepared for it, and so long as I’m in a good mood. We’ve rescheduled more than one of our Saturday dates simply because I was irritable at the start of it. That never bodes well.
He’s nervous because he wants to ask me something, and I think I know what. It started at the end of August when we spent the bank holiday weekend at his parents’ place, a converted farmhouse in the Cotswolds. He persuaded me to be his girlfriend for the whole time, which meant we shared a bed but felt too awkward to have sex (apart from a bit of finger action, which doesn’t really count). By the end of it I was biting my lip to keep from snapping at everyone, and Andy’s mother was giving me advice on pain relief for PMS – which I didn’t have, thankfully, or I really would have been tearing people’s heads off.
Andy’s sister Jamie was there too, sans girlfriend, grumpily putting up with sniping remarks from her mother about her lifestyle and the consequent lack of grandchildren. And although nothing was said to me, or even within my earshot, I could sense that I was being evaluated as potential daughter-in-law material.
He looks at me finally and reaches over to take my hand. ‘Nina,’ he says. ‘How do you feel about children?’
Ah. Well. That was my second guess. ‘I love children,’ I start.
‘But you couldn’t eat a whole one,’ he finishes, making me smile. ‘But seriously?’
‘Do you want children, or is it just your mother putting on pressure?’
‘Actually I do. It’s always been one of those things in the distant future, but we’re in our thirties now, Nina. If we are going to have children it should be soon.’
‘I might be able to fit something in next week.’
He rolls his eyes in despair. ‘Look, please at least think about it. Okay? Please?’
‘Right, look, I have been thinking about it. I want to get married.’
His eyebrows shoot up in surprise. ‘You! You want to get married? You hate everything about marriage.’
‘Okay, true, I don’t want to get married. But I insist on it nonetheless.’
He sits back, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘Why?’
‘Because if I’m going to have children – I say if! If I have children, I need real commitment to this relationship.’
‘You’re the one who’s always saying to keep it open.’
‘I know, but to tell the truth it bothers me that you’re seeing Jenny. I may not want you with me as much as you’d like, but I do want you to be all mine.’
‘I’ll gladly give up Jenny if you’ll give up all your fuck-friends.’
‘I know, I know.’ I raise my hands in surrender. ‘How about one night a week we go to a swingers’ club, but otherwise we’re completely exclusive?’ It’s not that sex with Andy isn’t great – it is, he’s the best lover I’ve ever had – but I have a recurring itch for something rougher, something divorced from romantic affection.
He watches me, silent and thoughtful for a while, before saying, ‘I can live with that, as long as we still go on one romantic date each week and –’ he holds up a finger strictly ‘– and I get one proper kiss from you every day, not just date night.’
I scowl at him. ‘I don’t see why you’re so obsessed with kissing.’
‘That’s my condition, take it or leave it.’
It could be worse. He could insist that we slept in the same bed every night. Kissing is bad enough, but when it comes to sleep I need my own space. ‘Fine,’ I say, ‘so long as you stop complaining when I wake you up during the night.’
‘You know, I’d perform a lot better during the day if you actually let me get some sleep.’
‘Well, I sleep a lot better when you perform during the night.’ I know it’s selfish, but what’s the point of having a man in the next room if you can’t use him when you’re horny?
He sits there smiling at me mischievously for a minute while I flick through the menu. ‘So, you really want to get married?’
I really don’t, but: ‘No wedding ceremony! Let’s just go to the registry office, Jamie and Sarah can be witnesses.’
‘Oh, come on. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life listening to my mum complaining to us and everyone she meets about how none of her children care about her?’
‘At least she’s not going to call you a slut and kick you out of the house.’
‘Maybe you could use the wedding as a way to make up with your mum.’
I sigh. ‘I have no intention of ever speaking to her again. Any of them. That’s one reason I don’t want a wedding. Half the church will be empty.’
‘Oh, come on. Seating arrangements is not a reason to avoid a wedding. Haven’t you ever dreamed of a white wedding? A beautiful dress, a cake, lots of flowers, an old church in the country? Sarah says she’d love to be your Maid of Honour.’
‘You’re already planning my wedding with Sarah?’
He has the grace to look embarrassed. ‘Actually, I think she just wants to get you into a corset.’
That makes me smile. Sarah loves her corsets. ‘Actually, I did used to plan my wedding in great detail, it’s just that a husband and in-laws were never part of it.’
‘So you’ll do it?’
I’m suddenly feeling very claustrophobic, and pull my hand away from his. ‘I don’t know,’ I mutter uncomfortably. What I really want to do is hide in my bedroom with my books. Part of me thinks that I’d be perfectly happy living by myself, conveniently forgetting how miserable I was before Sarah took me under her wing. Another part worries that I’m getting older and finding lovers who can fulfill my sexual needs will be harder and harder.
‘What if I can’t handle it all?’ I ask. ‘Not just the wedding, but marriage, children, the lot. What if I panic and run off one night, leaving you to look after four screaming kids by yourself?’
I’m suddenly blushing. ‘Well, why not?’ There was a period in my life when I was seriously considering adopting lots of children and raising them as a single mother – until I started doing research and learned just how difficult and disruptive one child could be.
‘Maybe we could just start with one?’ he says, eyes twinkling. ‘And if you ever did leave, I know Jamie would love to help me look after them.’ He reaches over and gently pulls my hand away from my chest. ‘I promise you I’ll give you all the space you need, okay?’
I take a deep breath and try to let go of the tension. ‘Okay,’ I whisper.
‘Okay,’ he echoes. After a moment’s hesitation he stands up, then goes down on one knee before me, fumbling for something in his pocket.
‘What are you doing!’ I hiss at him.
He grins nervously. ‘It’s date night, remember? I’m allowed to be romantic.’ He takes a black velvet box from his pocket. It’s a ring – has to be. Oh God. ‘Nina Walker,’ he says solemnly, ‘love of my life,’ – I could kick him, I really could – ‘will you marry me?’
He’s completely taking advantage of our arrangement with this stupidity! I grab my handbag, ready to storm out of the restaurant, when I see it. The ring. I’m stunned. Not by the size of the diamond, because there isn’t one. It’s a white gold ring with no precious or semi-precious stones glittering expensively. But it’s perfect – a delicate arrow coiled to form a ring. An arrow for an aro.
Forgetting my anger, I bend down to kiss him. He deserves it. ‘I will,’ I say.
An Aromantic Proposal is published in the charity anthology Pic ’N’ Mix – see this post for details.