Look Before You Leap
There was only one person who could embarrass me more then my mother, and that was her sister, my aunt Madeleine. I was named after aunt Madeleine but since I was a young girl my friends all called me Maddie - as in Mad, because of all the crazy antics I got up to. But I had to do something to alleviate the boredom of our prissy, all girl boarding school in Sussex, didn’t I?
When I left school I ran all the way to London to escape the boredom of my little village in Sussex and continued a similarly mad and crazy existence. Even after all the late nights, weird dates, crappy jobs and having lived in some of the worst areas in London, I managed to survive.
So here I was, this twenty-seven year old fashion buyer in a fabulous studio flat in Victoria with great friends, a boss to die for and I was still reduced to a blubbering idiot when I was asked the age old question by my relatives: So when are you getting married?
This time it was Aunt Madeleine who asked it. I was at Sunday lunch at mum’s and aunt M had just announced that her beloved, Katia, was engaged. Every one of my sisters and female cousins were married, engaged or living with someone, except me. Katia was the last of the youngest of them to ‘get her man,’ as Mum called it.
‘Yes, Maddie, darling?’ Mum chimed in as she went to put a slice of roast beef onto my plate. ‘I thought James would have gotten down on one knee on Valentine’s Day.’ She scrutinised my ring finger as if I could have forgotten to tell her the one thing I’d hoped would happen since I first realised I was on love with James.
‘I guess we were all wrong about James,’ I said pouring too much gravy, especially when I knew how much Mum’s gravy sucked.
My mind drifted back to the day I met James; I threw a whole cocktail over him. I was aiming at the lunatic at the bar in Mayfair who had just asked me to perform obscene acts on him back at his place. What a cheek – I’d never even laid eyes on him before. So of course he needed a Cosmo dowsing down. He was fast, stepped out of the splash of sticky cocktail while James managed to step right into it – luckily for me as it turned out.
James was the most romantic man I knew. He’d already said he loved me, so when on Valentine’s night he produced absolutely nothing in a little velvet box, you can understand why I lost it completely. I didn’t mean to push him into that puddle outside the restaurant but when he waved a taxi down for me to get into without even a good night’s kiss, I lost it big time and just pushed him.
It wasn’t only the push into a puddle (which almost meant him falling in front of the taxi) but I told him we needed a break. He was crest fallen, he didn’t know what hit him. But I leapt into the taxi and told the driver to put his foot down. I couldn’t bear to see James’ face. For over a week I didn’t take his calls and I made the girl on reception lie and say I was in Paris when he came to my office at the department store in Regent Street.
I left mum’s and drove back to London with the radio on full, doing my worst rendition of All By Myself, a la Bridget Jones Diary. You know the deal?
But as I got closer to my Victoria flat, all I could do was look at my naked ring finger and think about how badly I treated James. So he didn’t want to marry me but no one deserves to be shoved into a puddle and ignored. We’d been dating for two years for goodness’ sake.
There was nothing for it – I had to drive straight over and say I was sorry. He’d probably slam the door in my face, especially at this time of night.
At eleven pm I pulled up in front of James’ building. It was pouring with rain but I saw a light on in his living room window.
‘Thank goodness,’ I whispered and went ahead and rang his intercom. I pressed and pressed that buzzer for fifteen minutes. Nothing. Had he put his head out the window, seen me and decided to ignore me? What if he had another woman up there? Whatever the reason he had for not answering the door, I was standing out on the pavement, dripping wet and James didn’t want to know, and it was all my fault.
I drove home dejected, hurt, angry at myself for being such an idiot and really, really sad I couldn’t see James.
I pulled up into my cul de sac. It was quiet, the rain was streaking down my windscreen and tears ran down my face. I parked and walked with my head down to the door.
‘Maddie?’ I knew that voice. It was James. I looked up. He’d been outside my place, equally soaked and with a crooked, expectant grin on his face.
‘I called your mum’s. I knew you’d be there today and I knew you weren’t picking up my calls,’ he said. The rain got suddenly heavier. I put my fingers on James’ lips.
‘Before you say anything,’ I said, ‘please let me apologise for the way I treated you, James. That’s all I wanted to say.’
He took both of my rain soaked hands in his.
‘And I wanted to apologise, too,’ he said. ‘That night … at the restaurant …’
‘I know I was like a crazy-’
‘Shh. Shut up and listen. You always fly off the handle. I know you thought I was going to propose, and I was. I bought a ring and had it engraved. I was picking it up on the Saturday for our meal the next day but I got held up in the tube. Remember I told you? Three hours in the tunnel?’ I nodded. ‘Well they were closed. I was so disappointed but I wanted to pick it up the next day, meet you for lunch and try again. I messed up.’
‘James, it wasn’t your fault.’ I reached up and hugged him to me. I didn’t want to let go.
In the distance the clock in the little church on the river began to chime. It was strange. It usually only chimed during the day. Neighbours had complained it disturbed their sleep.
With my arms wrapped around James’ neck I took a peak at my watch. Midnight. It was Monday 29th February and I was due in to work in nine hours.
Then it hit me. It was a leap year! I pulled away from our embrace and looked at James.
‘James, will you marry me?’
He grinned. ‘Didn’t I just tell you I was going to propose? Why do you have to be so full on?’
‘Because it’s leap year James and I couldn’t resist.’ I got onto my toes and stared deep into his eyes. They were smiling, he was smiling too.
‘Yes, you mad, crazy girl. God help me but yes, I’ll marry you.’
I couldn’t wait to see my ring but right then, all that mattered was James in my arms, the rain pouring down our faces and that he’d said ‘yes’ to me. I was drenched and happy - really happy and I had James’ proposal to me to look forward to as well.