My boyfriend Emmett and I, both in our late twenties and together for five years, were at a stage in our relationship where engagement was the obvious next step. I hinted at rings, he fielded questions from relatives, and small arguments tended to follow news of a close friend’s engagement. So when we were exchanging gifts together the day after Christmas, I couldn’t help but notice a gift in the shape of a ring box underneath the tree.

But I tried not to get my hopes up, as it had proved fruitless many times before. There was Paris last summer, where I made Emmett promise me several times that he wouldn’t propose on the trip, only to feel sorely disappointed when he didn’t (much to his confusion). Then there was the time my mom and I took a weekend trip to Beacon, NY, and Emmett texted me that he, “had a surprise for me when I got home”. I spent the weekend imagining walking into an apartment filled with balloons and him (finally) popping the question. It would be perfect. Instead, I walked in to find him and his friends on the couch watching football and homemade vegan chili on the stovetop. “I made chili!” he announced with a look that said, aren’t you so excited? That was the surprise — chili.

Needless to say, it was somewhat easy to lower my expectations of the tiny gift under the tree, but I’m still human. So, as Emmett cooked dinner, I poured myself a large glass of wine and graciously sipped it, trying not to imagine how happy I would be when Emmett proposed in our cozy apartment while Christmas music played in the background.

Ok, so maybe I didn’t have my expectations under control.

After dinner, it was finally time to open gifts. Emmett opened all of his first and put on a big show of how I outdid him with presents and how he was so embarrassed to have only gotten me one thing. Surely, then, my gift couldn’t be a ring. Right?

He handed the gift to me with an eager smile.

“What is this?” I questioned, nervously.

“Just open it!”

I ripped the wrapping paper slowly, savoring the moment and preparing myself for this possibly life-altering gift. It was finally happening, wasn’t it? I wonder what the ring looks like? I hope he got the one I had been hinting at. I wonder if our friends and family know about this? They’re probably all waiting anxiously for our call!

Excited now, I tore off the rest of the paper quickly to unveil a small white box.

“What is this?” I asked again. He only smiled in reply.

I opened the box cautiously and my heart dropped.

It was a gift certificate to my new favorite gym. Thoughtful because I had complained about the cost countless times, but it was definitely, definitely not a ring.

“Thank you so much!” I said, forcing myself to sound grateful. “This is way over our spending limit!” I tried to ignore the pit at the bottom of my stomach. I couldn’t believe I had gotten my hopes up yet again. I killed my glass of wine and told myself not to cry. I didn’t want to ruin the night.

“How about I make some popcorn and throw on a movie?” My boyfriend (not fiance) asked cheerfully.

“Sure.”

He began searching for It’s a Wonderful Life on Netflix and with each push of the remote’s buttons, I sank lower and lower into the couch. The reality of what just happened set in. I clutched the now empty wine glass and glared at Emmett as he callously typed the word “Life”.

“That was really mean. I can’t believe you did that,” I said, my voice shaky. He turned to me and could tell I was on the verge of tears from just one look.

“I’m sorry,” he said. He attempted to put his arm around me, but I pushed it away.

Taken aback, he stood up and looked at me with a puzzling smirk. “Can you come with me into the bedroom for a second? I have something I want to show you.”

“No,” I said again. The bedroom? What was he thinking?

“Please…come with me into the bedroom?”

“No.” When I told him no for the third time, he took my hand in an effort to pull me off the couch and I reluctantly let him. What could possibly be so important?

He opened the door to the bedroom, and I followed close behind him, dragging my feet in defiance.

“What are you -” I stopped mid-sentence as I noticed all of the rose petals around the room. In the center of them all was a ring, the ring, without its box.

teacher, reader, writer