The Proposal

By Laury A. Egan

Dean removed the black velvet box from his pocket, flipped open the lid, and admired the ring. White gold with a tiny, Asscher-cut diamond. Simple, elegant, and expensive. It had cost over $2,000, which was more than he could afford, yet nothing was too good for Rafael, his lover for the last nine years. Engraved inside was an inscription: para siempre. Forever was his intention.

He and Rafa were celebrating Dean’s fiftieth birthday in Port Isaac, Cornwall, at a secluded, romantic hotel set high above the ocean. The cuisine was excellent, which mattered to both of them, but especially to Rafa, who owned a café that featured international fare, including dishes influenced by his native Puerto Rico. For Dean, the hotel’s attraction was the panoramic view of the ocean and sharing the beauty with Rafa.

Dean closed the box and returned it to the pocket of his tan chinos. Where should he propose? In their room? Outside, facing the water? He had already reserved two bottles of Perrier-Jouët and ordered a platter of Irish smoked salmon, truffle mousse pâté, and assorted cheeses: Blue Stilton and local Cheddars, all arranged via email with the hotel before departure from their home in New Hope, Pennsylvania. On arrival, Dean had slipped away from Rafa and confirmed with the staff that tonight was the night. Before dinner and before Dean’s birthday tomorrow.

“I’ll ask him on the deck overlooking the ocean,” he whispered to himself, smiling.

The afternoon had been special for Dean. They had driven to nearby St. Ives, where he had revered in the closeness to Virginia Woolf, the subject of his doctoral thesis many years ago. He and Rafa viewed Godrevy Lighthouse, the inspiration for To the Lighthouse, and walked along the beach, imagining Woolf writing The Waves and Jacob’s Room. After an excellent pub lunch, they had returned to the hotel, made love on their queen-sized bed, showered, and dressed. Dean was wearing a blue blazer and crisp, white, button-down shirt, and Rafa had chosen a cream linen jacket, matching slacks, and an olive-green shirt.

“You’re looking sharp.” Dean straightened Rafa’s collar.

And Rafa did. With his tan skin, large brown eyes, and jet-black curly hair, Dean thought Rafa could have been a model. Not just because of his handsome face, but also because of his toned body and pumped chest that delighted Dean every time he ran his hand over Rafa’s sculpted pectoral muscles. Dean knew he should also lift weights and do reps, but at least he ran several miles a week to stay trim.

Rafa reached over and straightened a blond curl falling on Dean’s forehead. “You’re not bad yourself,” he replied, smiling. “So, should we eat inside or out tonight?”


“A little chilly, but okay.”

“A drink first?” Dean asked.


The two men left their room and headed for the bar. Dean lifted his chin as a signal to the bartender. “Can you bring our drinks to the deck?”

Rafa raised his eyebrows. “What are you up to?”

Dean led the way through the narrow dining area to the L-shaped deck and selected a table at the end overlooking the ocean and a huge expanse of sky. “How’s this?”


Rafa took a seat beside Dean. A few minutes later, the bartender and a waitress carried an ice bucket, a bottle of Perrier-Jouët, two flute glasses, and the platter of appetizers to the table.

“Wow! It isn’t your birthday until tomorrow, or did I make a mistake?” Rafa asked.

“No, you’re right, but this is a special evening.”

He watched as the bottle was opened and the Champagne poured. “I’d like to make a toast. To all of our happy years together.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Rafa clinked his glass against Dean’s.

They took long, appreciative swallows, and then Dean inhaled an unsteady breath, set down his glass, and perched on the edge of his chair. Removing the black velvet box from his pocket, he looked deeply into Rafa’s dark eyes and cleared his throat. After opening the box and angling the ring toward his lover, he took Rafa’s hand.

“Rafa, would you do me the greatest honor and be my husband?”

Rafa’s smile disappeared. “What?”

Dean inched backward, momentarily perplexed, but then continued. “I love you. We’ve been together for nine happy years, and I want us to be legally married.”

Rafa shrugged his shoulders, as if suddenly cold, and withdrew his hand. Then he grabbed his glass and took a large gulp of Champagne. “Dean, we’ve never discussed this.”

“We did once. At the beginning. We agreed it was too soon.”

“You said that. I didn’t.”

“But I thought—”

“You thought about what you wanted.” Rafa glanced at the diamond ring. “It’s very beautiful, Dean.” He shook his head slowly. “I can’t. I just can’t.”


“My family. What would they say? Marriage between two men is not accepted by the Catholic Church. My parents and my brothers wouldn’t approve. In fact, I’d be ostracized. They would never speak to me again.”

“But they know you’re gay. That we’re together,” Dean protested.

“No, I’ve never told them that.” Rafa avoided looking at Dean. “Don’t forget that we’ve maintained a separate bedroom in the house for when they visit, which is where they assume you sleep. Since they always stay at a B&B, my parents think we’re only close friends. But if I agree to marry you and wear this ring, my family can no longer ignore the true nature of our relationship.”

“So your parents are more important than I am?” Dean felt tears fill his eyes. He turned away so Rafa wouldn’t see the tears rolling down his cheeks. He swiped at them with his fingers and finally focused on Rafa again. “Or don’t you love me enough to get married?”

Rafa sighed. “How much I love you isn’t the issue. I just don’t see why we have to do this. You probably expect to have a ceremony and everything. Invite my parents and brothers and your mother and all of our friends, right?”

Dean nodded. “What’s wrong with that?”

Rafa closed the lid and pushed the box toward Dean. “Nothing, but I’m not the guy to stand at an altar and say ‘I do.’ Just because we’re now able to marry, that doesn’t mean we should . . . that marriage is for everyone. I’m sorry.”

He stood, drank the last swallow of Champagne, and set the glass down. “I’m taking a walk.” With that, Rafa hurried down the steps from the deck and disappeared around the corner of the hotel.

Dean sat still, his chest so tight that he could scarcely breathe. Tears continued to fall. He glanced at the untouched appetizers on the silver tray and the bottle in the ice bucket and then at the window, where several staff members were watching from inside the dining room. Quickly, he removed his handkerchief to dry his tears and hide the humiliation that had reddened his cheeks. When everyone saw Rafa leave and realized Dean had been rejected, they scurried away.

Without thinking, he poured more Perrier-Jouët into his glass, drank, and then ate a cracker topped with smoked salmon, even though he couldn’t taste either. Collapsing against his chair, Dean stared at the sun as it was beginning to set, its gold rays burnishing the blue water and inflaming the hurt that burned in his heart.

Had he misjudged Rafa’s feelings? Had Rafa been considering an end to their relationship so that Dean’s proposal gave him an excuse to leave? Dean couldn’t believe this was true, but neither did he understand how Rafa’s parents could influence a grown man’s decisions. Rafa was forty-eight. Financially independent, a successful business owner, who no longer attended church or seemed to hold the strong religious beliefs that his parents did.

Whatever had just happened, Dean was drowning in fear, disappointment, and embarrassment, and laid on top of these emotions was a thick layer of confusion. What should he do? The idea of facing Rafa was unimaginable. He was too ashamed, too upset, with a small ember of anger firing up, though at the same time, Dean worried that he should have anticipated Rafa’s reaction to his proposal. Was this all his fault? Should he apologize to Rafa?

Dean finished the Champagne and ate some cheese so the alcohol wouldn’t go to his head and cloud his judgment. “Too late for that,” he muttered to himself. “Your judgment is already clouded.”

After pocketing the box, signing the hotel chit, and placing a tip under his glass, Dean came to his feet and descended the steps, rounded the hotel, and walked to the front entrance. Their rental car was still parked in the driveway, which was a relief until Dean remembered the keys were in his possession because he had driven them from St. Ives. He continued on, scanning the lush garden and the mini-pond encircled by stone. No sign of Rafa. Had he returned to their room, packed, and headed for the harbor? It was about a half-hour walk into Port Isaac. Longer if one was pulling a suitcase. But would Rafa really abandon him?

Dean hurried inside, ran upstairs, and unlocked the door. Rafa’s clothes were still in the closet. He exhaled a tight breath, though the instant he did this, he realized another confrontation was unavoidable. Sitting in an armchair, he waited, consumed with worry about losing Rafa and thinking how sad his mother had been these last years, living alone after the death of Dean’s father. If he and Rafa split, he would never find anyone so perfect and would grow old alone.

The room grew dark as night settled over the hotel. Finally, the door opened and Rafa entered. He came to a stop beside the bed.
Neither spoke. The silence acquired an unbearable brittleness that Dean had never experienced before with Rafa.

Dean rose and stepped toward him. “I’m sorry. I guess I really screwed up.”

Rafa placed his hands on Dean’s arms. “No, you didn’t. I’m the one who’s sorry.”

They stared at one another. Dean had no idea what Rafa’s apology meant. As he was about to ask, Rafa smiled.

“Do they have a second ring at the jeweler’s?”

For a second, Dean was baffled. “Was there something wrong with—”

Rafa laughed. “Nothing wrong with the ring. It’s lovely. I just want to buy the same one for you. For our wedding.”

Dean blinked. “What?”

Rafa pulled Dean into his arms and whispered, “Will you marry me?”

“But your parents?”

“I’ll send them a wedding invitation. They’ll either come or they won’t. Now, answer me.”

Dean swallowed hard. “Yes! Oh, my love, yes.”

They exchanged a long kiss. When they broke apart, Rafa said, “So, are you going to put it on my finger?”

Dean pulled the box from his pocket and removed the ring. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” Rafa replied. He turned on the light by the bed.

Dean slipped the diamond ring onto Rafa’s finger. It fit, just as Dean hoped it would.

Rafa displayed his hand and admired the sparkle of the stone. Then he kissed and hugged Dean. “How about we show this off at dinner?”

“There’s a second bottle of Perrier-Jouët on ice.”

“Good, because we need to make an official toast.”

Dean hesitated, afraid to ask. “So what changed your mind?”

Rafa smiled. “Well, you’re here. You’re my future. My parents are in Miami, and as much as I love them, they’re the past. I want a life together with you.”

“I’m so happy!”

“Good. Now I’m thirsty.”

“You always are,” Dean said, laughing.

After leaving their room, they descended the stairs and made an entrance into the lobby, holding hands, which they never did in public. When the bartender saw them, Rafa raised his hand to exhibit the ring. The bartender cheered, and everyone began clapping.

“Kiss! Kiss!” someone shouted.

Rafa and Dean happily obliged.

Laury A. Egan

Laury A. Egan is the author of Fog and Other Stories and fourteen novels, including The Black Leopard’s Kiss & The Writer RemembersThe Psychologist’s Shadow, The Swimmer, and Once, Upon an Island. Four poetry volumes have been published: Snow, Shadows, a StrangerBeneath the Lion’s PawThe Sea & Beyond, and Presence & Absence. Eighty-five of her stories and poems have appeared in literary journals. Her website:

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