People come into our lives for a reason, and people leave our lives for a reason.
Vienna has been my reason for everything for so long that I don't even remember a time when she wasn't the reason for the things I did, the things I've done, and for who I am now.
Where I stand right now, the sun is about to disappear behind the trees that line the old vacant lot near Addison's Campground just outside of Garrison—this place is practically sacred when it comes to who Vienna and I once were, and what made us who we are today.
And that's exactly why everything between Vienna Anderson and I is about to change. It should have happened a long time ago, and hell knows a series of downfalls, lies, and drama was hell-bent to keep us from ever becoming more than Vienna and Cohen, high school sweethearts. But we made it through it, rose above it, and still managed to be together.
To be us.
To be Vienna & Cohen, twenty-something adults with jobs and a house and a life that we’re proud of. Not to mention a love that goes beyond the mere puppy love so many people thought we were only capable of as high school students.
Now, I'm standing here beside the driver’s side door of my cherry red Mustang, and I'm watching as Vienna climbs out of the passenger side. She's wide-eyed, staring around the clearing like something is going to pop out from behind the bushes at any given moment.
That might have something to do with the fact that I told her I had a surprise for her, something she's gotten used to hearing sporadically in the past year since we rekindled our relationship and found out the truth about our breakup back in high school.
It still makes me a mix of sad and infuriated to think about the ten years that went by without Vienna by my side, especially now that I know it was because of nothing more than petty jealousy and typical teenage politics. But the thing I continue to remind myself is that we're here now, and here together is exactly where we're supposed to be.
“You want to tell me why we're out here at Garrison's good ole’ make-out point on a Wednesday night?” Vienna laughs. “Good Lord, are we so old that we can't even remember what night of the week Addison's clearing is the happenin’ place to be anymore?” She giggles again, though at me for bringing us here, or at the fact that there isn't another vehicle or person to be seen, I'm not sure.
I make my way around the side of the vehicle and hold my hand out to her, a smile playing on my lips. “Well, seeing as I teach at the community college, I guess the teacher in me would like to believe that teenagers are growing more mature and less mischievous around town, and maybe that's why there's no one else here on a warm, clear Wednesday night.” I take her hand in mine and pull her in close to me, relishing in the sound of her light laughter as she falls against my chest, her eyes gleaming in the pale moonlight that illuminates the clearing. “But unfortunately, I fear that's not the case, and it's probably more likely that either the good kids are at home studying and doing homework, and the kids with a little more rebellion in their blood are probably holed up at either the Richards’ house, or the Lopez residence, if I had to take a guess.”
“Oh,” Vienna chuckles. “So, you keep tabs on all the cool places for the next generation to hang out at, do you? That kind of makes you sound a bit uncool, Cohen.” She starts to laugh again, and this time, it’s definitely at me.
I pull her playfully along with me toward the path that both of us know will lead to a dilapidated old shed, one that our teenage generation once dubbed The Liquor Cabinet.
While I'm sure there are still kids that frequent the path for God knows what reasons, whether it be to smoke somewhere where their parents won't see them, or cop a feel with their girlfriend somewhere where their awkward and tentative movements won't be the subject of ridicule on Monday morning in the halls of Garrison High, I also know that it was a guy in our senior year whose father—who just happened to be a cop—found out about The Liquor Cabinet and put an end to the shabby building being used as a hangout by rounding up a few other parents and having the building monitored nightly in a bid to keep his pot smoking son and friends from flunking out of high school any more than they already were.
“Are you taking me to The Liquor Cabinet?” Vienna asks suddenly. Her laughter had just begun to die down, and this realization only makes it start up again, bubbling low in her throat.
“If this was ten years ago, maybe that's exactly what I would be doing. Sneaking you out here for a little one-on-one rendezvous.” I continue to tug her along. “But, seeing as Jack's dad had that building practically put on police watch for our entire senior year, The Liquor Cabinet isn't what it once was. In fact, I'm not sure you'll recognize it at all.”
Vienna surprisingly stays silent the rest of the way while I lead her toward the little clearing in the middle of the woods where the well-known building once stood, in much better condition. But if she is expecting the gray, weather-worn shed with curled asphalt shingles and a crooked door on rusted hinges, that isn't what’s left of our teenage hangout.
What does remain is the four walls of the building with a dark blue tarp someone had strung over part of the roof in order to keep the leaking to a minimum, and multiple sporadic boards missing from each wall, allowing the pale moonlight to illuminate the cracks and make the building look almost translucent in places.
Vienna stops and stands still, her hand squeezing mine gently and her eyes set firmly on the building in front of her. “Wow, it looks like there are candles lighting it up from the inside out.”
“That's because there are candles lighting it up inside, Vienna.” I slide my arm gently around her waist and push her gently forward, causing her to fall into step with me while I guide her toward the building. “Don't worry, they’re battery operated candles. Not even I am brave or stupid enough to light open flames in a building that is so dry and so old it would go up like a matchbook.”
I open the door, revealing the flickering candle flames that are strewn about the boarded floor, not to mention the rose petals and wine glasses with a bottle of strawberry wine set off to one corner in a basket.
Earlier that day, it had taken me hours to come out to this place, sweep out the leaves and trash that covered the boarded floor, and set the inside of the shed up to look like something that might remotely resemble the place we’d once known in our youth.
“Cohen...” She’s not looking at me though, instead focused on the illuminated setup before her. “You did this?”
“Nope, the romance fairies. I could never think of this all by my lowly self.”
The corners of her mouth turn up, but she says nothing. I come up behind her and gently ease her into the building, careful to avoid kicking over any of the strategically placed candles. If I screw this up now, I’ll never forgive myself.
Vienna takes a seat on the red plaid blanket I’ve spread on the floorboards, gingerly picking up one of the flickering candles. The grin on her face is stuck in place, which only heightens my nervousness. But at least she’s not outright laughing at me, and she seems to be enjoying the ambiance.
“This is so neat,” she says, raising her head to look around the shed. “Pretty romantic, too, I might add. Those fairies seem to know what they’re doing.”
I take a seat across from her on the blanket, the basket with the glasses and wine in between us. “What if I told you it wasn’t fairies?” I gave her a wry grin.
“I’d say I’m thoroughly impressed, and that I want proof these fairies you speak of don’t actually exist.”
She’s joking, but that doesn’t stop me from pushing the basket out of the way and crawling up onto my knees. I move toward her, close enough that she has to lean back, our faces dangerously close together. “If you call me a fairy once more, pretty Vienna, I’m going to be forced do things—very, very delectable and dirty things—to prove to you just how far from a fairy I actually am.”
I swear I can hear her heart beating, and the candlelight is flickering back at me in her eyes.
“If that’s a threat, it’s a poor one. Because it only makes me want to encourage this, Cohen. Not refrain from it.”
“You’re a naughty girl, Vienna Anderson.” I lean in and kiss across her jawline, purely because I can’t help myself.
“I could prove that, too,” she says, and I’m aware of just how breathless she already sounds.
“You’re distracting me,” I say. My voice has changed as well, now with a hint of hoarseness in it.
“From what?” The question is lost on a sigh as my teeth rake down the tender skin of her throat.
“The reason I brought you here.”
Vienna’s hand has come up between us, and she’s fumbling blindly with the top button of my shirt.
It takes every ounce of restraint I have within me to cover her hand with my own and squeeze it gently, halting her movements.
Instead of responding immediately, I hold her small hand within mine and pull away from her in order to focus on it. “From this.” With my free hand, I reach over and fish around in the basket, revealing a small square box that had been hidden under the rose petals. I use my thumb to push the top of the box upward, revealing a solitaire diamond ring with a textured band.
Vienna is wide-eyed once again, her mouth slightly agape. She’s also not moving. If I only thought I could hear her heartbeat before, I’m sure of it now. “Cohen?” It’s almost inaudible and sounds more like a question than anything else.
I just give her a soft smile and continue, afraid I’ll lose my nerve and mess up what I’m about to say.
“Vienna Anderson, you and I have been through more as a couple in our teenage and adult years than some people ever endure in an entire lifetime. We lost each other, and we were lucky enough to find each other again, too. When you came back into my life, Vi, I found the other piece of myself that I hadn’t completely realized was missing. We’ve seen the good and the bad together, and we’re still here. Still us. You’ve done more for me than I can ever thank you for, but I want to spend the rest of my life trying to. You’ve tamed me, reined me in, and held me exactly where I need to be...where I want to be...with you.” I pause just long enough to set the box down and pluck the ring from it, holding it between my fingers of one hand while my other hand holds her hand within it. “Vienna Janine Anderson, will you be my wife?”
Vienna can barely get words out. She’s choking back tears and sobs and attempting to wipe away the tears as they fall onto the checkered blanket beneath us. Then suddenly, I realize she’s nodding, slowly at first, then more furiously when she realizes that the words she’s trying to utter are coming out as incoherent.
A light chuckle comes from my own throat; not because anything is particularly humorous, but because I’m honestly shocked, and perplexed, and relieved—Vienna Anderson has just agreed to marry me after I pulled off a truly romantic proposal...
Something I first promised her I would do almost half our lifetime ago.