Shannon has no idea how many layers of beauty she has. And that’s exactly why she’s so exquisite.
When I was sixteen, the year before my mother died, Mom took me and my little brother, Andrew, to New York City for a long weekend. Pulled us out of school over the objections of the headmaster at our academy. Mom didn’t care. We spent three nights at the Waldorf Astoria, skated at Rockefeller Center, had the best seats at the top Broadway musicals, and dined on the finest footlongs you could get for $3. Loaded with mustard and sauerkraut, plus a cream soda or two.
(Do you have something against footlongs? Too bad. Two teenagers can only handle so much caviar and lobster.)
What I remember most about that trip, and what Shannon reminds me of every moment I look at her, was our trip to the Museum of Modern Art. Mom insisted we go, and Andrew and I rolled our eyes like sets of dice at a craps table.
And then I got it, right there in front of a Vincent van Gogh masterpiece. In art history class we’d covered this painting in detail. We were taught the biography of Van Gogh, how he came to create the series of paintings, his motivation, and his flaws. We’d dissected the meaning so thoroughly that I felt like I could recreate the art by automation, our elite prep-school instruction clinical and impeccable.
Standing in front of the painting, a few feet away, with my eyes trailing the curve of brush strokes, my mind taking in the nuance of color, my senses dazzled by the sheer essence of the whole, I halted. Froze. Was completely in the painting’s spell.
You can study something in the abstract. Know it’s real somewhere out there in the world, and understand intellectually that what you read in a book or what you’re told by someone else is true.
You have to stand in front of it and have it stare back at you, though, to really know it.
That’s how I feel when I look at Shannon. Every single time my eyes find her. Shannon’s smile is warm and sweet, yet better every time she flashes it at me. Her honey-colored hair shines in the sunlight but looks richer when it’s tangled, in bed, highlighted by the moon and messed by me. Those warm eyes see only me when we’re together. That luscious body craves my touch. My hands. My...all of it.
When I’m with her, the world is more nuanced. Deeper. Authentic. Real.
She’s a work of art, one of a kind. And one I get to hold next to my body, tuck away in my heart, and...grow old with.
I have planned the perfect proposal. No footlongs and sauerkraut, unfortunately, but plenty of lobster, caviar, champagne and—her favorite—tiramisu. (What is it with women and tiramisu? It’s cream, cheese, sugar, cake and rum, not some magic potion that generates mouth orgasms. My Y chromosome scratches its head in confusion, but hey, if it’s her favorite...I give my woman what she wants.)
Dad gave me Mom’s engagement ring, platinum and diamonds galore, a monstrosity he’d bought for her nearly four decades ago as his business took off. The ring is designed to impress. I doubt Shannon would care if I slid a giant hard-candy ring on her finger instead of a three-carat diamond.
And, frankly, I don’t care, either. But the thought of my Shannon sharing such an important part of my mother’s life makes my chest swell. Only Shannon—and my mom—can do that. Only love can do that.
Plus, Marie will pass out when she sets eyes on that rock, and that will give us two minutes of blessed silence. That woman talks more than Kim Kardashian flashes her naked ass on the internet.
“It’s not as if your brothers are planning to tie themselves down to one woman any time soon, if ever,” Dad had said when he gave it to me. He’s about as sentimental as a pet rock. After having it resized to fit my future fiancée, it was ready to rest on yet another McCormick woman’s finger.
It was going to be calculatedly perfect, down to the color of the tablecloth and the freshness of the roses.
And it was perfect.
Until Shannon swallowed the ring.
Why do all our best dates end up at the ER?
And who the hell called her mother?
One week before the proposal...
Grace taps her knuckles on my doorway. For some reason, the door is ajar, the muffled sounds of copiers buzzing and people talking to each other a dull roar in the distance. They all annoy me.
“Declan? The jeweler called. The ring is ready.”
My blank stare is all I can muster.
She smiles. “Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Ready.” Grace looks like she could get into a catfight with Honey Boo Boo’s mom and come out the winner. When she frowns, something deep and primal in me clenches.
That’s why she’s the best damned admin a guy could have. No worries about office sex (Grace is a lesbian married to a rugby player) and in a pinch, she can act as a bodyguard.
“Ready for a meeting?” Based on the look she gives me, I am not with the program this morning. Frankly, I am not on the planet this morning. Between a helicopter ride from New York that was so choppy I might as well have been riding a bucking bronco, and no sex at all from Shannon for three entire days (due to business meetings in NYC), I am lucky I can read a basic stock report and tie my shoes.
“Ready to get married.”
Oh. Yeah. And then there’s that.
Did I mention the no sex part? Because that’s really occupying my addled brain more than the whole pick-one-woman-for-the-rest-of-your-life thing.
And only one woman.
It’s not so hard to pick one woman to be with for all eternity, right? Grace did it, so I can, too. “Yeah. I’m ready.”
“You look sick. Not ‘ready’.” Grace steps in my office all the way and gently closes the door, holding the doorknob like it’s a ticking time bomb, waiting for the gentle click before turning to me with that look.