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Collared(8)
Nicole Williams

Torrin has to scrub at his crooked smile before he can reply. He’s practically gloating from my compliment about his nicely functioning manhood. Guys . . .

“I’m not letting you walk home in the dark by yourself. Nice try.” He tries moving down the sidewalk again.

I stay where I am. I’m a pain in the ass as far as girlfriends go, but he puts up with me. He’s a pain in the ass as far as boyfriends go, but I put up with him. I guess that’s the way it is with love. Everyone’s a pain in the ass in their own way. The goal’s to find the person whose pain-in-the-ass is worth putting up with. I’ve found mine.

“It’s ten o’clock,” I say, blinking. “I live half a block away. We live in one of the safest cities in the country. What are you afraid’s going to happen?”

He scans the neighborhood around us like there are things I can’t see. “What I’ve been afraid of from the first day I knew I loved you.” His hand tightens around mine. “That I was going to lose you.”

The breath I’d been taking gets stuck in my lungs. As misguided as his fear of losing me is, I know where it comes from. I guess most kids who lose a parent at a young age probably feel the same way. They’ve experienced firsthand the fragility of life and how quickly it can be extinguished. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve told him I’m not going to leave him; my words never seems to take root.

Instead of trying for the hundredth time to convince him, I go with something else. “Here. Take this.” I pull the chain I’ve worn around my neck for ten years out of my shirt. I don’t even take it off when I shower. It’s become as much a part of me as my ears and toes.

When I slip off the necklace and hold it out for him, Torrin steps back. “I can’t take your grandma’s ring.”

“Yes, you can.” When he doesn’t reach out for the necklace, I slip it over his head. “Hold on to it for me. As long as you have it, you have a part of me. And as long as you have a part of me, you can never really lose me.”

The necklace is shorter on him. The ring falls just below my chest, but on Torrin, it swings just above his heart.

He looks down at where it hangs. His forehead creases. “It’s a family heirloom. I can’t take it.”

I study it on him too. My grandma specifically wanted me to have it. She picked me over my five girl cousins, and I’m not sure why. Now that she’s dead, I guess I never will. But I love that ring something fierce, and I love this person something fierce, so it’s right where it needs to be.

“You can give it back to me one day,” I say, shifting. It takes a lot to make me shift, but I guess hinting at exchanging rings one day is up to the task. “You know, when the time’s right.”

I hear the screen door at my place whine open again. I’ve already earned myself a weeklong grounding by being what I guess is fifteen minutes late. I don’t want to tack another week on by being another minute late. “Good night. And thank you.”

I pop up onto my tiptoes and press a quick kiss onto his mouth before jogging down the sidewalk toward my house. After tonight, I feel more like I’m floating though. Run-in with Caden aside, this has been the best night of my life. It always will be. I know it.

He cups his hands around his mouth and shouts at me, “Wave at me when you get to your house, ‘kay?”

I flash a salute back at him. “Yes, sir.”

I’m in front of the vacant house beside mine when his voice rolls over me again. “Jade?”

“Yep?” I spin around, continuing to back down the sidewalk.

The look on his face stops me.

“Will you marry me?” Hands stuffed in his front pockets, barefoot, and his dark hair shining in the moonlight, he smiles at me. It almost looks apologetic. Almost but not quite.

“What?” My voice breaks over that one syllable.

He doesn’t blink. “You heard me.”

My heart starts firing like it’s trying to escape. “We’re seventeen. I must have misheard you.”

Right? I can’t have heard what I think I did. Right?

He shakes his head once. “You didn’t. I’m asking you to marry me.”

My throat runs dry. I’m not sure I can reply. “Torrin . . .”

“Not today. Not tomorrow.” His voice is so calm, like he’s been planning this for years and has been certain of this for decades. “But someday. I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

A breeze rushes over me, playing with the hem of my skirt and the ends of my hair. I know my answer. I know I want him. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to know this at this stage in my life, but I do. I want to spend the rest of my life with him too.

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