“Thanks for the lift,” I smile at Rueben as we stop outside the Spring Festival grounds and he returns my expression.
“It’s no problem,” he says, green eyes sparkling, “Have a great afternoon, May.”
I’m about to get out of the vehicle but something causes me to pause.
Glancing out through the window I take in the happy scene before me, children playing – screaming as they run and jump, obliviously.
Young lovers hold hands, staring with adoration into each other’s eyes and oh how I wish I was one of them.
“You OK?” I jump as Rueben lightly touches my shoulder.
“Oh, sorry,” I shake my head, “I’m fine, I just find it… so weird how everything is so normal.”
“I find it comforting,” Rueben smiles kindly, “we’re doing our job properly, all these people are safe.”
I nod but I don’t feel comforted, I just want this entire case to be done with, so I can feel normal again.
“Yves has a surprise for me,” I say suddenly, I’m not sure where the words came from, all I know is that I need to talk to someone and Rueben is all I have.
I nod, “I’m scared, scared he’s going to propose.”
“Would that be such a bad thing?”
“No… I… I don’t know.”
“What’s wrong Maya? Talk to me…”
I stare at my lap, my eyes are drawn to my ring finger.
“I’m not ready,” I whisper, “It’s two years, but I don’t think I’m ready.”
“Two years? Today is your anniversary?”
“Congrats,” Rueben smiles, “Do you think he will propose?”
I shrug, “I’m not sure, I really hope not…”
“You don’t think he’s the one?”
“It’s not that… I just don’t think I can say yes whilst this case is going on…”
“You feel like you can’t be happy whilst you know something this horrific is happening?”
I nod. That’s exactly it. How could I possibly be happy knowing that my friend’s child is missing and that my ex- partner has been brutally murdered? This case needs to be over with before I even consider getting married.
“Then just explain that you’re happy he’s ready, but that you need more time, if he loves you he’ll understand. Try not to worry about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet – it’s not good for you.”
“Come on,” Rueben gives my hand a gentle squeeze, “I’ll wait with you whilst Yves arrives.
“I can’t imagine you married,” Rueben smiles at me as we wait beside the concession stand, “Maya Black sounds… weird.”
I laugh, “Thanks a lot! I don’t know, it sounds nice to me, maybe. I guess I just have to wait and see.”
“Evie!” Rueben calls, a smile on his lips and I see my boyfriend approach us smiling in his lazy lopsided way.
“Hi Ruby,” Yves says and Rueben gives him a friendly pat on the back.
“You got a new car sorted yet?” Rueben asks, “Maya’s Beetle is looking a little… worse for wear…”
Yves shakes his head and there’s a deafening silence which follows, it can’t be for more than 5 seconds but they way the two men stare at each other is enough to make me deeply uncomfortable.
It’s almost as though the men believe my little volksy isn’t good enough… sure she’s not all that reliable but I love her and she gets me from A to B.
“So, Maya’s just been telling me…2 years…” Rueben crosses his arms and smiles, “That’s quite a long time…”
“Sure is,” Yves puts a protective arm around me and I cringe, sometimes he it’s like I’m more of an object that his girlfriend. Rueben catches my expression so I quickly transform my grimace into a loving smile and look up at Yves who kisses my forehead.
“So, when’s the big day?” Rueben asks and my heart almost stops. I can’t believe he’s just asked him that, his eyes flick over to meet mine for just a second but he quickly turns back to Yves, he knows if he looks at me I’ll give the game away.
I laugh uncertainly and give him a rough push, “Shh!” I frown, Jesus, Rueben, just wait!
“We haven’t even discussed it,” Yves says, “We may have been together 2 years but we’re nowhere near ready for that…”
I feel a wave of relief wash over me. Thank goodness. This means he’s not going to propose.
Rueben smiles, “I see, well, see you later May May…” he gives me a small salute and nods at Yves before walking away.
I feel a sense of gratitude as I watch him cross the park, I know he brought up the marriage thing on purpose, and not to cause friction but to make me feel better. It worked.
I spend the afternoon in the shade of a cherry tree, it’s pink blossom flutters around us like snowflakes on a winter’s day. Yves has brought me hot cross buns and we share miniature Easter eggs as well as tangy rosé wine in the spring sunshine.
It’s the perfect afternoon, or at least it should be.
I find my mind wondering on countless occasions. Yves chatters obliviously as I stare out over the park, watching the children play with their parents, their laughter and screams of joviality sounding hollow to my ears. I wonder if their families would let them be so carefree if they knew the horrifying secret I kept.
“Maya?” Yves touches my shoulder lightly and I stir , “You ready to go home?”
“Yeah, sorry, I was miles away.”
I nod, swiping a lock of brown hair away from my face.
Shivering, I help Yves gather up our picnic and we begin our walk home.
As we approach the house I notice the vacant drive and wonder where Curtis and Becky have got to, they’ve been out all day.
Yves lets go of my hand and steps out in front of me.
“Maya Hart…” he begins and in a flash my heart is pounding as he begins fumbling in his pockets, I know my eyes are wide in terror but I can’t conceal the horror I feel. I feel my gut contort – I thought he’d said he wasn’t going to propose…
“Yves,” I manage, my voice is hoarse, my throat rough, “What are you doing?”
“I want to give you something-” Yves continues to fumble around and I feel like I want to run, I can’t marry him – I’m not ready for this and it will break his fragile heart – what am I going to do?
As he finds the item which resists his touch he glances up at me, his slate grey eyes are full of hope but I see something flash across his gaze – doubt- and in that moment I feel a glimmer of hope stirring within me, he’s not going to propose.
Then I see the box.