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Rated: E · Short Story · Romance/Love · #2108302
A short story for the "Just One Point of View" Contest.
Word Count: 1179
Epilogue to "Kingdom of Illusion (COMPLETE)

Eli watched Nella pull the net up, her dark, dark hair sparkling with beads of water. A warm breeze ruffled her hair as she worked and sent her perfume into Eli’s face. The sun warmed his limbs. He took in a deep lungful of that perfumed air and smiled. Everything was perfect.

“Look!” Nella hauled the net on board and dropped it, sending fish sliding and wriggling across the deck. She pointed to one in particular, and Eli captured it, wrestling it inside of a specially-treated plastic aquarium. Its whiskers and relative bulk gave it away as the catfish she’d been hunting most of the morning.

“Mmm,” he said, patting his stomach. “This one right here would make a good meal.” He had a particular fondness for the taste of catfish.

“Stop that.” Nella swatted his arm, shooting him a playful glare. “And help me get the rest of these fish back in the water.”

“We can’t even save one for a fish fry?” He teased.

She rolled her eyes at him, though one corner of her mouth turned up in a reluctant grin. She was all scientist, absorbed in her research for her dissertation on freshwater catfish. Which was usually why she didn’t bring him along on her boating trips. He could tell his presence was interfering with her otherwise strictly-business demeanor. But he had to come along today. He’d forced the issue, saying he missed her, saying he’d help her with whatever it was she wanted, even if it was just to refill her coffee mug.

She hadn’t been able to refuse. And today was going to be perfect as a result.

He bent and began scooping the tiny fish with a smaller net, tossing them over the side of the boat, back into the murky green river beneath them.

“Oh—ew.” Nella cringed as a particularly feisty fish beat its tail hard against her hands. He helped her maneuver it to the side of the boat without dropping it, and then they headed down to the cabin, Eli letting Nel go in front of him.

“I’m starving,” Eli complained as they sanitized their hands.

Nella snorted. “And you thought I was joking when I said we couldn’t eat until I caught one. I warned you, though. That’s what it’s like being out on a research trip with me.” She turned, opened a large cooler, and began to dig through it.

Eli moved, going to the drawer to find the candle and lighter he’d hidden there earlier that morning. He closed it as quietly as he could and set up the candle on the little table, making sure her attention was focused solely on the cooler.

“Where is that food?” Ice scraped against the plastic. She grunted and pulled out a single sandwich, her arms now buried in the ice. “Eli. Why did you pack our food all the way on the bottom? I can’t find anything in here and now my hands are freezing.”

He lit the candle quickly, then retrieved the flower and the vase he’d brought her earlier and set it close by the candle. He then grabbed the decorative plates from the cabinet where he’d stowed them and laid out two across from each other. Plastic flatware came next, and finally their drink cups, clear and unassuming. Couldn’t do dishes on board a boat, after all.

When he finished arranging the table, he looked up to see her staring. Water dripped from her hands and the sandwiches she held. She eyed the table, then glanced up at him, questioning.

He bowed and unfolded a metal chair for her, beckoning for her to sit.

“What is this all about?” Surprise and laughter mingled in her voice.

He took the sandwiches from her and led her to the chair. She sat, but not without continuing to gaze at him, her emerald eyes curious. As she watched him, he carefully served their sandwiches and gave them both a heaping handful of sour cream and onion chips. It was far from the fancy dinner he’d hoped to provide on this occasion. But it would be perfect.

Once he was finished, he sat, and they recited the blessing Nella had taken to saying over the food, one that her mother used as well.
As they ate, the gentle lapping of the river on the boat’s sides created a pleasant, quiet atmosphere. Whenever their eyes met across the table, Eli caught a trace of pink on Nella’s cheeks, and she’d look down at her plate and smile. He wasn’t one to be overly sentimental. But heavens, did he love her.

He tried to eat slowly. Adrenaline raced through his veins and made his hands shake as he bit into his sandwich. His hunger and anxiety didn’t leave him much of a choice, though. He finished a few minutes before she did and helped himself to a couple more chips to try to calm his racing heart. As he sat back down with the chip bag, he let his hand slide down his pants leg. The squarish lump in his pocket was still there. Everything was perfect so far. The information did nothing for his nerves.

“So,” she said, patting her mouth with a napkin, “did you just want to have a fancy lunch, or what?”

His gaze flicked up to hers. It was time. It was time, and he wasn’t sure if he was ready--

“Eli? You okay?”

He took a deep breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. Listen.” He stood, and she stood too, her brow furrowed in concern. He didn’t want her to be worried. He just wanted everything to be perfect.

He forced himself to take her hands—they were still ice cold from being in the cooler. “We’ve been together a couple years. And ever since that day in the hospital, when I woke up with no memory except you, I knew I couldn’t let you go. You’ve helped me find my place here. I’m gonna be a police officer here in a few weeks, once I’m done with training. I couldn’t have done that without you.”

Her eyes moistened, and she looked away. “Oh, stop it.”

He turned her face toward him. “It’s true, Nella. And you know it. Without you, I wouldn’t even know my own name. And…” He let go of Nella’s hand, cursing himself when he saw his fingers still trembled. Still, he dug in his pocket and pulled out the box, sinking slowly to one knee.

Nella’s gasp was soft, but it filled the whole cabin.

“Now that I know my name, I want you to have it, too.” He opened the box, revealing the prize he’d guarded for weeks—a small but gorgeously-set silver ring, boasting a tiny square diamond with a halo of smaller gems around it. “Will you marry me?”

Her eyes widened. Tears spilled onto her cheeks. “Eli.” She wiped her eyes on her sleeves. “Of course.”

His hands still trembled as he slipped the slender band onto her finger, but his heart sang. Everything was perfect.

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