El was late.
This wasn’t a totally uncommon occurrence for her, especially since she started living in the city. But, usually it was just a couple of minutes here or there. She has to spend extra time looking for her keys, she gets caught up talking to one of her coworkers, the trains are slow coming into the station, small things. And, usually, she tried not to be late to things that were for her.
This was not one of those times.
Because she was supposed to be at the restaurant twenty five minutes ago for her very own one year anniversary dinner.
Mike was never going to let her hear the end of it.
In her defense, it wasn’t all her fault, sure she was the one that couldn’t shut up to Katy about how excited she was for the new campaign that they were starting on Monday. And okay, maybe if she hadn’t stopped at home to change out of her work clothes, she wouldn’t have had to wait as long for the train. But still, if the train hadn’t been late, she probably would have been there sooner.
However, she knew as soon as she walked into the restaurant that Mike had picked out for the night (this super nice new sushi place that they had both been dying to try, but reservations had been backed up for weeks, and both Mike and El weren’t exactly fancy restaurant people and much preferred eating pizza on the couch), and caught sight of Mike sitting in the corner, a slightly bored expression on his face, she knew that he would still tease her endlessly.
He always did , she thought as she smiled, giving the hostess a small wave and pointing over to the two person table. The hostess grinned back, an amused look on her face and El winced. Clearly they had started to think that Mike was being stood up.
“Hi, oh my god, I am so sorry.” She says as soon as Mike is in hearing distance, the words falling out of her mouth as her face turns bright red. Mike, for what it’s worth, looks far more amused by her frazzled, late appearance then he does angry, and not for the first time, does El realize how lucky she is.
He smirked, glancing down at the menu in front of him, raising his eyebrows. “Here I was thinking that I was being stood up.” He teased, shaking his head. “Thought maybe you’d finally decided to run away with Jason.”
El rolled her eyes at the mention of Jason, who had been a target of Mike’s teasing for weeks now. He was the new intern in El’s office and Mike swore he had a crush on her. Of course, Mike only thought that because every single time Mike came to visit El at work, whether it be to meet her for lunch or bring her dinner when she was working late, or even just to stop by and say hi on his way by, Jason was always hovering around El’s desk.
El just thought he was being nice, which is what she told Mike every time he brought it up, but that didn’t stop him from teasing her every chance that he could. “No, not today. Next week, I need to transfer some money and murder you first.”
“Oh that’s a shame, I was planning a game night with the guys next week, but you gotta do what you gotta do.” Mike sighed, going along with El’s act. “Just make sure you get over the state line before they find my body so you can evade the police, if you’re gonna kill me you should at least get away with it.”
Laughing, El shook her head, a relaxed, happy feeling spreading through her body as her and Mike teased and poked fun at her lateness. “Really, I am sorry that I’m late. I spilled my lunch on myself, so I went home to change and the train was late…” El trailed off, letting out a large breath, her shoulders slumping.
Mike shrugged, taking a sip of his water. “It’s alright, I figured that there had to be a reason.” He leaned forward slightly on the table, folding his hands under his chin. “It’s a good thing you showed up when you did though,” he sighs softly, pushing his hair back from his face, “because I was only a couple minutes away from thinking you were dead.”
While his words are said with the same airy, light humor as his previous ones, El can feel and see the genuine fear in his voice. The guilt that she had been feeling earlier returns, this time far stronger than before. She isn’t sure if she has the right words that Mike wants to hear, so instead she smiles and reaches across the table, stroking her thumb against the skin of his cheek.
He grins at her and it sends the all too familiar feeling of butterflies to her stomach.
“Yeah, so, needless to say, I'm glad that you’re alive, because it would have been really hard to propose to you if you were dead.”
The words come out of his mouth so casually that at first El doesn’t even register them. He says the words the same way you say that you’re having a sandwich for lunch, or that you’re going to the laundromat.
“It would have been hard to what?” She says after a moment. The words are still registering in her brain, and she needs to ask him to clarify before she starts thinking she imagined it. Did he really just say he was going to propose ?
Mike looks embarrassed suddenly, his face flush and he clears his throat. Clearly he had been banking on her not hearing him, or maybe he hadn’t even meant to say it at all. The look on his face changes quickly though, and he shakes his head.
“Yeah,” He reaches back and scratches the back of his neck and El’s heart is pounding so loudly she can barely hear him over the sound of the blood in her ears. “And I can’t believe I accidentally revealed that to you in an attempt to make a joke. And not even a good one at that.”
El is still speechless, Mike’s words still processing in her brain. She resisted the urge to reach down and pinch herself, because it doesn’t feel like it can be real. Sure, she had imagined this moment, or something akin to it, multiple times in the last year, but she didn’t think it would become reality. At least not now.
It shouldn’t really surprise her, though. She had known for months now that Mike was the one she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, and she knew he felt the same. But, the fact that the day she had long dreamed about was actually here wasn’t something she had prepared for.
“Should I be worried that you haven’t said anything yet?” Mike asked finally after a couple of moments, or maybe minutes El couldn’t tell, of silence. Her eyes managed to focus on his face and he had worry and concern written all over it. “God, I ruined everything didn’t I? I shouldn’t have even said anything.”
Sensing that now, when Mike is teetering on the edge of a spiral that El was all too familiar with, would be a good time to interject, El lightly clears her throat, capturing Mike’s attention. “What were you going to do?” She asks softly, curious.
“Huh?” He asks, clearly confused by the nature of her question. “What do you mean?”
El shrugs, feeling herself smile. “You sounded like you had this whole plan, what was your plan. I want to hear, since it’s not like it’ll be a surprise now anyway.”
Mike sighs, nodding his head ever so slightly. He looks defeated and El wants to launch herself across the table and pull him into the hug, but she resists. She’s still processing that this entire thing is even happening to begin with, so she hopes that him talking her through everything will give it all time to settle in.
“Well, firstly, I definitely wasn’t going to do it here. I thought about it, doing something cheesy like hiding it in a cupcake or something, which is how Nancy’s boyfriend proposed to her, but I realized very quickly how stupid that is.” El giggled softly, shaking her head. “Also, I definitely remember you saying that public proposals make you uncomfortable.”
El’s heart flutters in her chest, she had secretly hoped that he was filing that information away for later when she had mentioned it a couple months ago. They had been out to dinner with El’s dad when he had come to visit and there had been a proposal a couple tables over. While it had been romantic, hearing the man say he wanted nothing more then to spend the rest of his life with the woman, it was a little awkward hearing him bare his soul like that when she was trying to eat her pasta.
She was just as much of a sucker for romance as any girl her age was, and she always had been, but she wasn’t sure she wanted anyone else getting a front row seat to what would arguably be one of the most romantic moments of her life.
A moment that was speeding at her faster than she had initially realized.
“So, after dinner I would have suggested we go for a walk.” He continues, licking his lips. “It’s a nice night and I know you like to make sure you get a little bit of fresh air every day.” She smiles, a small blush creeping up onto her cheeks. “And then, as we were walking I would have casually started talking about us and when we first met and how we hated each other at first.”
El laughs despite herself. “Sorry, I’m just laughing at the idea of you doing anything casually.” Mike frowns, his lower lip sticking out in a pout.
“Stop making fun of me.”
“Sorry, sorry. Continue.” El’s heart ramps up in her chest, and she takes a deep breath. “I’m listening, I promise.”
Mike smiles, pushing his hair back from his face, his hands curling around his curls. “We would have ended up in front of the first place that we looked at for Lucas and Max’s wedding, you know that one reception hall.” El nods, swallowing. “And I would have tried to act like it was a coincidence, and probably would have totally failed.
“And then I told you that nothing in my life makes sense without you in it. I would have said that it was right there at that very reception hall that I started to feel something and that being there with you was when I realized the impact you had on my life, even if I was trying to hide from those feelings.
“And then, I would have grabbed your hands.” El reaches across the table, grasping his hands tightly in her own, tears welling up in her eyes. “And I would have told you that you’re my best friend, and that you’re the only person in the entire world I could picture spending the rest of my life with.”
El watches through tear filled eyes as Mike takes a deep breath and she feels her own breath syncing up with his. “And then, I would have just told you that I love you. That I love you more than I ever imagined loving anyone and that no matter what happens in my life, as long as I get to keep loving you, I think I can get through anything.
“And then finally, I would have gotten down on one knee, but not before making sure that no one was around, because I would want it to only be between us. I would pull out the ring and I would say, ‘El, will you marry me?’”
“Yes.” El says, before she can stop herself. The word falls so naturally from her mouth, she almost barely even notices that she says it. But she sees the way Mike’s eyes widen, his lips stretching into the smallest of smiles and she can’t help but mirror his expression.
“What did you just say?” He asks softly, his hands squeezing hers nervously. Under the table, she feels his leg bouncing against hers.
El grins, her heart bursting, golden and proud, in her chest. “I said ‘yes’, you asked me to marry you, didn’t you?” Her grin widens into a full blown smile and she almost laughs she’s so happy.
“Wait, are you serious?” Mike asks, his eyes wide, mouth open. “Like, you’re absolutely serious? Because I didn’t actually do any of that, you know that, right?”
Rolling her eyes, El groans teasingly, swatting him with their still intertwined hands. “Yes, Michael, I’m aware that we are not in fact in front of the reception hall and you are not down on one knee but I don’t care, I’m still saying yes.”
“You’re saying yes?”
“Yes!” El practically shouts, luckily they’re near the back of the restaurant and there aren’t many people around, so no one looks their way. El can’t help but smile, they might not be in private like she had always imagined, but it’s still just them, no one else. “I’m saying yes, I will marry you, unless you’re suddenly not asking me.”
There’s a small fear that’s wormed her way into her heart. That tiny piece of anxiety that will always be with her, that someday Mike will realize that he can do better than her. But Mike quickly dispels that fear by pulling a small ring box from his pocket.
“I’m a little disappointed that I don’t get to do my super romantic thing but can I at least get down on one knee and do that part properly, and then I will let you say yes and put the ring on your finger, I promise.”
El playfully sighs, rolling her head back and shaking her head. “Fine, fine, but hurry up, I want to get the free dessert that people in movies always get when they get engaged.” Mike laughs, getting up from his chair and eyeing her skeptically.
“I don’t actually think that’s a real thing, but just be sure to wave the ring around and maybe you’ll get lucky.” El laughs, biting her lip and taking a deep breath as Mike settles down on one knee next to her chair.
She’s in tears before he opens his mouth again.
“I kind of hate myself for doing this at a restaurant when there are plenty of people around, but I guess doing things that neither one of us ever imagined is kind of this relationship started, so maybe it’s perfect for us.” El gives a watery smile, her hands seeking Mike’s shoulders, so she has something to hold onto. “El, I love you so so much, and I can’t imagine doing any of this life stuff, so, even though you could do so much better,” she shakes her head, causing Mike to smile, “will you marry me?”
His words are so soft, they’re almost a whisper and El is so caught up in his eyes and his smile that she doesn’t even notice the ring at first. But when she sees it, she gasps, tears spilling down her cheeks. It’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen, and it’s even more beautiful that Mike loves her enough to want her to be the one to wear it.
She doesn’t think she’s ever loved him as much as she does at that moment.
“Yes, yes Mike I will absolutely marry you.”
And then, before the ring can even make it to her finger, Mike’s lips are on hers and her heart flutters in her chest and she knows deep down that this is only the beginning of all the amazing, life changing moments that her and Mike will share together.
(In just a year, she’ll be the one walking down that aisle at the very same reception hall, and no longer be imagining what it feels like to marry him because it will be her reality. And then will come kids and moving into their first house together, and walking their daughter to her first day of kindergarten and crying when their son breaks his arm trying to play baseball - he’ll inherit Mike’s athletic inability and even worse, El’s awful eyesight. They’ll own a couple animals and watch their kids grow in their own people and it will be everything that El has ever dreamed of.)
But right now, as Mike slips the ring onto her finger and presses a million kisses against every inch of skin he can reach, it doesn’t feel like life can get any better.
And she has Mike Wheeler to thank for that, who would have thought.