Freida lay with tea bags pressed to her eyes. Marshall was at the other end of the couch rubbing his hands together. For ten minutes now he had seemed about to say something. She supposed it was a step forward. He'd spoken hardly at all this past week. His silent treatment began on Sunday, after impressing her with an herbal infusion of licorice and thyme and telling her that he saw great things in their future. Then he had retreated into his thoughts, brooding over something.
He stood, those fireman shoulders leaning down as he solemnly drew a wedding ring from a folded handkerchief.
"It was my grandmother's," he said. "I know you don't like to be traditional, but I thought in this case you could make an exception."
It was true about her not being traditional. "I'll try," she said.
But the thing stared up at her like the glint in his grandmother's eye. The weight of it was a stone in her palm. She told him he needed to go, and he fell into another silence. After he was gone, she stored the thing in a box in her drawer and sat and cried. There seemed to be no path left to her that was livable.
* * * * *
He stopped by later that week. "I think you need to make one of those decisions that are so hard for you," he said, and rested a hand on her bare foot.
Both speaking and touching. He was a forgiver, that one.
"I'll try," she said.
* * * * *
In Freida's closet was a bookshelf. Keeping her novels locked away was one of the prices of living clutter-free in a studio apartment. Leaning against the closet door, she pondered her choices. She took down a Louis L'Amour paperback and thumbed through the marked up pages. There were frontier quotes like "Trust in the Lord, but keep your powder dry" and sentimental statements about nature and men and fighting.
The book was one of Marshall's. She had borrowed it when he was changing from being her friend into being her boyfriend, and she had had to make a decision about that. It might have been the last tough decision she made. And yet it had nothing on the ring, now sitting snugly in her pocket. What she should have done was just gone all the way and married him then, when she was younger, when there was less of herself to lose.
* * * * *
On a street she hadn't been on for a while she stopped at a house with a palm reader sign in the window. She rapped on the glass and gave a shout.
"You can't get a reading this early," a voice called from the back.
"Lorin, it's me, Freida. I'm in deep this time."
Lorin opened up, lovely even in her morning robe and sunglasses, and wrinkled her nose at Freida. The woman seemed to wobble slightly, then, after a moment, gathered herself.
"You've been gone so long, you could be dead, though I knew you weren't as I would have sensed it."
"You don't have to put on a show for me."
Lorin shrugged and turned back inside. Freida followed. "I need to make a choice," Freida said. "If I say no, I lose everything. If I say yes, I lose everything."
"Do I get a few more facts than that?" Lorin said, running her fingertips over the black crystal ball on the stand in the center of her front room. Freida noticed for the first time how her nails were done the exact same shade as that crystal. It was a nice touch.
"As many as you want, but I don't need counseling. Just an answer."
"Fine, say yes. Marry him."
"How'd you know?"
Lorin smiled in a satisfied way.
"I suppose it's obvious," Freida said.
"I didn't have to use my powers to discern your situation," Lorin confessed. "But to give you the right answer I certainly did. I promise you, it is what the fates desire."
"You know how I love to try and thwart the fates."
"And yet you never can."
* * * * *
* * * * *
"I am saying yes," Freida said, "because I have no choice in the matter."
"Neither do I," he said.
She frowned. "Obviously. But the point is that we will marry, have a child--if that is what is required--and then we will be free to take back our lives. I can't promise you anything more that that."
"Go ahead and put it on now," he said. He was all smiles. She supposed he had heard nothing other than the yes. She opened her fist where it had been all morning. She tried to slip the thing on, but it didn't fit. Too small. She looked at Marshall, fear in her eyes. "What does it mean?" she said.
He laughed. "It means I don't know your ring size. It's not a sign."
"I believe you," she said and watched to see if he would shift his mug to the other hand. On purpose she had not given him a plate because she liked how the heat of it didn't seem to bother him. "So what's next?" she said.
"Oh. I suppose we go and say a few words to each other; then it's done."
She nodded, satisfied, and drank her tea.