Stephanie tucked her freezing hands into her father’s jacket which barely hung onto her shoulders. The iron stairwell tested her strength and balance even more than usual, with high heels she had yet to break in making her tipsy and adding to her pain. The shoes and the dress were the only formal attire she owned, and even the latter was bought just for the occasion. She didn’t even try to put on make-up, certainly not out of disrespect or because she didn’t know how, but because she didn’t want eyeliner to highlight her tears.
Before she was even halfway up the steps, Bucky rushed in from behind her, better-dressed and more composed, as usual.
“We looked for you after. My folks wanted to give you a ride to the cemetery.” He quickly caught up to her and kept his arm directly behind her on the rails.
“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…I needed to be alone.” She wiped her cheeks dry, but failing to swallow properly only brought the tears back.
Bucky slowed down a bit, giving her more space and pausing like he was trying to rewrite a script in his mind, “…How was it?”
“Okay…” Stephanie smoothed out the bang strands that her hair clip failed to keep back, “…She’s with dad now.”
It wasn’t until she said that that it finally sunk in that she was an orphan. She wasn’t a child anymore, but losing your parents is never easy, no matter how old you are, or how close you were. She wasn’t old enough to remember her father’s death, but she remembered the effect it had on her mother. Things got so much harder, and it wasn’t just the money. Even when her mother miraculously paid the rent and food bill in the same month, it didn’t stop the way people looked at her. She was poor, Irish, and now a widow.
Once Stephanie was old enough to realize how hard her mother was working just to support the two of them, she wondered how much had changed because her father had passed away. With her husband gone, her mother had to work double shifts at the garment factory. She had to fight off even more lecherous dogs, only some of which had waited until she was no longer “spoken for.” Now that she was gone, it was Stephanie’s turn to feel the waves of change envelope her from behind and pull her away from shore.
As she tightened her shoulders like she was anticipating a hard slap on the back, Bucky had been carefully watching his distance from her, close enough to talk, but far enough as if he’d have to turn and run any second, “Steph, I wanted to ask-“
“I know what you’re going to say, Buck,” Stephanie knew that from the minute she saw him at the church with his hand tucked in his pocket that he was going to ask her to marry him. Yes, they had been best friends for years, and yes, they knew they were in love and she didn’t want anyone else, but something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. A proposal after her mother’s funeral? How was she supposed to react to that? Why did he wait until her weakest hour?
“But Steph, it’ll be great! We’ll get our own place. We’ll put the couch cushions on the floor like when we were kids. It’ll be fun! I’ll take out the trash, you shine the shoes...” Bucky pleaded with her like he had this whole new life for them already set up and as soon as she said yes, he was going to immediately whisk her off to this new apartment with this couch fort waiting for them, “Stephanie…please.”
“Thank you, Buck…” She finally turned around to face him once they reached the door of her apartment, and it was so hard to look into his desperate blue eyes and turn him down, that she finally started to question if she should, “That’s very sweet, but I can get by on…”
Before she could finish, he was already down on one knee, with the biggest surprise of her life. The proposal was expected, but what she didn’t anticipate was the ring. The aged brass band was decorated with only a small smooth speck of glass where a rich man would have a diamond. It was her mother’s wedding ring! She had wanted to bury it with her, but it mysteriously went missing about two weeks ago. She thought someone had stolen it, but her mother didn’t seem bothered, claiming it would “turn up eventually.” If Bucky had it, then that meant that she wanted…
“On your own? I know. She knew it, too. The thing is, you don’t have to…” He took her hand, which no longer hesitated, “…because I’m with you til’ the end of the line.”