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Utopia. I wasn't sure how I got there, but there was no question that Utopia is where I ended up.
No one around but the brown-haired, green-eyed Adonis who brought me here. The stars were twinkling above the Golden Gate Bridge, the Legion of Honor glowing behind us. The night was relatively mild (which in and of itself was a small miracle considering the fall season), the champagne was Cristal and the caviar beluga. I felt Tad's fingers thread themselves through my mane of wavy dark-brown hair as he cuddled closer to me on our little bench on the cliffs.
"God, you've got to be the most exotic and beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on."
I squeezed his hand and leaned in a little closer. I'm not so conceited as to think of myself as beautiful, but exotic is a good word.
I'm probably black. Maybe part Native American—that would explain my hair. My father was a one-night stand who my mother describes as being gorgeous and ethnic, so on the college applications I just checked all the boxes, and let affirmative action do its thing.
"April, you know how much I love you, don't you?"
"Mmm, hmm, right back at ya." I wasn't very good at mushy so I tried to push my chest out a little more to compensate for my lack of poetry.
"I want to fill my life with moments like this. I want you by my side holding my hand, telling me your funny stories, smiling at me with your beautiful mouth." Tad gently took hold of my chin and guided it up in his direction. "I want that every day of my life. And I want to do the same for you. I want to make you laugh. I want to protect you and support you in your struggles and ambitions. I want to be there day after day, year after year, so that I can remind you of how incredible you are."
There was something practiced about that speech. I shivered a little. Was it getting colder?
"April..." He moved off the bench and bent his long legs so that he was balancing on one knee. "April, I want you to marry me." He pulled a ring box out of his leather jacket and carefully opened it, revealing a rock that was a little smaller than the Hope Diamond. "Will you marry me?"
Not so perfect.
I stared at the ring and tried to force my heart to rise out of my stomach. Tad and I had been dating for three months. Only three months. That wasn't long enough. I knew that. It was in every Cosmo, Vogue and Mademoiselle I had ever read. Never get engaged before dating for a year. Dr. Laura said three years was the ideal. I'm not a big Dr. Laura fan but in this case she might be on to something.
"April, did you hear me?" The lilting romanticism that had affected his tone was being ebbed out by a note of tension.
I nodded, not quite ready to speak. He was a wonderful guy. I had never loved anyone like this before. Hell, I had never loved any man, period. I was twenty-six years old and while I had lusted, craved and to a lesser extent obsessed, I had never loved until Tad.
"April, this isn't the most comfortable position in the world... Do you think you can give me an answer this year?"
"I thought I was going to get to change my last name."
"All my life I've dreamt of getting married and changing my last name from Silverperson. No one should be forced to have the last name Silverperson."
"April, your mom could have changed your name to Silver-woman." Oh yeah, that was definitely tension in his voice. This was not a topic he wanted to reexplore now, but I needed to stall for time so I could think. He was just going to have to suck it up and deal.
"It should have stayed Silverman. I don't see why I should have to suffer just because she has a thing for Gloria Steinem."
"So, I've offered you the ideal solution. Marry me and take my name. Say yes, April."
"Showers. You want me to change my name to April Showers? That's your ideal solution?"
"Fine, keep your name. Better yet, go down to city hall and have it legally changed back to Silverman. Change it to Beelzebub. I don't really care, just say yes so I can get up—I think my knee's in a gopher hole."
I lifted my eyes upward and located Venus shining steadily in the sky. That was Tad, vibrant, constant and secure in his place in the universe. He could be my Venus. I should just do it. What the hell, we could have a long engagement. I'd never heard Dr. Laura say anything about long engagements. I struggled to find my voice. Come on, April, you can say it. "I...um... Yeah, okay, let's do it."
"Let's do it?" Tad raised a thick beautiful eyebrow. I thought I saw a flicker of amusement dance across his features. It's a good thing he found this funny because I was scared shitless.
I swallowed hard. "Let's get married."
Before I could brace myself for his reaction I found myself being pulled down to the ground. I felt his pectorals press against my breasts and his mouth close around mine. Oh yeah, I had definitely made the right decision. When Tad finally allowed me to catch my breath, I giggled and caressed his five o'clock stubble. "I thought you wanted to get up."
"I changed my mind."
"Hmm, I'm not up on my prewedding etiquette, but I think you're supposed to put the ring on my finger before you ravish me."
Tad laughed and raised up enough to slip the diamond onto my hand. He held it above us so that the clear stone seemed to become one with the constellations. "We're getting married."
The first person I had to tell was my grandmother. I desperately wanted to be able to tell her in person but I simply couldn't wait until I had time to travel down to Carmel. I called her at seven the next morning, which would be early for some people but not for a woman who made her living as a baker. I sat on the couch, my feet tucked underneath me, the phone pressed tightly against my ear, and waited for her to pick up. "Hello?"
"Bobe? It's me." Tad strolled into the living room and handed me a cup of coffee. How could you not love a man who went out of his way to feed your addictions?
"Mummala! You remembered my birthday."
"Oh, well yeah, like I'd forget your birthday." It's amazing how big of a loser I could be. "Your gift is coming, it's just that it was... It was out of stock, so it's going to be a little late." Tad shot me a scornful look, just in case I wasn't already drowning in shame.
"Pfft! What do I need presents for? I have everything I need, a nice apartment, a nice cat and a granddaughter who never forgets to call."
"Well, I do have a birthday surprise of sorts. I was thinking that maybe you'd like a grandson who remembers to call, too, or at least a grandson-in-law."
"April!" I could practically see her stormy eyes twinkling as her wrinkled face bunched up into a grin.
"He proposed last night. So I guess I'm not going to be an old maid after all, huh?"
"Hmmph, an old maid. That Tad should be thanking his lucky stars for landing such a catch. So when's the wedding?"
"Bobe, he just proposed yesterday. We haven't set a date. But when we do, you have to promise to make the cake. You know I can't get married without one of your famous wedding cakes."
"For you I'll make it extra fancy. So where is the groom-to-be?"
I handed the phone to Tad, who tucked it between his face and shoulder as he warmed his hands over his coffee. "Bobe—can I call you that? I've always wanted a bobe."
I'm not sure what Bobe's response was, but Tad seemed to think it amusing. "Well, I promise that I will take good care of her. I'll make it my mission in life to see that she wants for nothing and that she'll always be safe and well."
He knew how much power the word safe held for Bobe, and I was touched that he would think to use it. Tad had such a knack for pinpointing the words people needed to hear. He chatted with her for another few minutes before handing the phone back to me.
"He's a good boy, a real mensch," she said. I could hear a tea-kettle whistling in the background. "So when will I get to congratulate you in person?"
"Soon, Bobe, I just have to arrange to get two days off in a row so I can drive down there."
"It's been so long, mummala. I miss you."
"I miss you, too, Bobe. It'll be soon, I promise."
I placed the phone back in its cradle and grinned at Tad. "She really likes you. I think you might be her favorite goy."
"I thought that honor went to Cary Grant."
"Cary Grant isn't a goy, he's a god. Big difference." I leaned over and brushed my lips against his. "I've gotta go to work."
"Sure you can't be a few minutes late? I think this relationship needs a little more consummating."
"Since when have you ever been able to consummate anything in a few minutes?"
"Good point." He gave me another, more lingering kiss. "After tonight's dinner then?"
I wrinkled my nose. "God, I wish you hadn't insisted on having my mother over. Wait a second. Did you plan it this way?" I asked as Tad was guiding me out the door.
"It'll be the perfect time to tell her. Now, off you go, you don't want to keep the shopaholics waiting." He gave me one more kiss goodbye before closing the door.
I took the bus to Union Square and went in the employee entrance of Dawson's, the high-end department store where I worked as the Sassy department manager. Normally I find the narrow hallway leading to the employee elevator rather stark and claustrophobic, but today it was kind of comforting. Last night my entire life had changed, but Dawson's would always be my one constant. If an archangel descended from heaven to announce that the end of the world was coming in twelve months, the main concern among the staff at Dawson's would be what impact this would have on next season's skirt length. Not that it would be an unimportant issue; I mean, if you can't put a little effort into looking good for the apocalypse, then what the hell's the point?
When the elevator got to the top floor I waved my smaller-than-a-breadbox handbag in front of the guys in security so that they could see I wasn't bringing down anything large enough to stuff a lot of merchandise into. The handbag was actually a privilege reserved for managers and those above them. The sales staff was required to keep their possessions in a clear plastic bag. Everyone was guilty at Dawson's until proven otherwise.
People who don't work retail always assume that security checks and all of that stuff happens on the first floor of a building, but in large specialty stores that's rarely the case, at least not in cities like San Francisco. The ground floor is prime real-estate and thus too important to waste on employees. It's where all the foot traffic is. That's why the bulk of it is always devoted to everyone's top money maker, cosmetics. So us worker bees were forced to enter through the employee entrance on the bottom floor that had nothing other than a pathway to one employee elevator; go up to the very top floor, which was devoted to things like offices and break rooms; get checked in and then take another employee elevator down to the sales floors. Security was a big deal at Dawson's. Convenience wasn't.
I nodded to a few of the other managers on my way to my department and immediately started in on my routine, which consisted of recording new merchandise, setting the floor, checking my selling cost, coaching Dorita and Laura—the two employees I had scheduled for the first shift—and trying to stay present and cheerful, despite the fact that in the hours before my lunch break there were only five sales that were offset by two rather large returns. When I came back from lunch, the department was completely devoid of customers and Dorita and Laura were standing in the front looking like Swiss soldiers guarding the Vatican.
"Still slow, huh? If you need a project..."
"We could straighten and size the Versus jeans on the back shelf?" Laura finished for me. "Yeah...Dorita started that."
"Great, did you finish it?"
Dorita's chiseled features scrunched up into a grimace. "I didn't have a chance. Liz showed up. She's waiting for you in the back room."
"Shit." So not what I needed at the moment. I regarded the door leading to the stockroom that doubled as my office with a mixture of trepidation and annoyance. Liz was the store manager and one of the several people I reported to. Last I checked, all of my buyers were pretty happy with me, so it was inevitable that Liz would think I was doing something horribly wrong. I pushed my way past the untouched racks of clothes and entered Dante's Inferno.
"Hi, April, sorry to hit you with this just as you're getting in from lunch, but I came onto your floor a few minutes ago and there were only two salespeople out and one of them was in the back section."
I forced myself to smile at the anorexic blonde glaring at me from my office chair. "Yeah, I just talked to her about that. Was she neglecting any customers?"
"That's not the point! She's supposed to be in the front of the department greeting people."
I never understood this strategy. How was one supposed to greet invisible people? And in a retail setting, how could the absence of customers not be the point? "I'll work with her on it. It won't happen again."
"Good, when traffic is bad like this we need to be at our best. Has your staff been calling their personal customers?"
Probably not. "Absolutely."