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Eric tapped his foot nervously as the conversation swirled around him. His gaze shifted from Alyssa, to her mom, and finally to her dad, who looked as excited as a six-year-old kid in church. It was fortuitous that Alyssa’s parents had decided to visit this weekend, as it solved the big conundrum he had been pondering for the last few weeks – how was he going to ask for her father’s blessing in person without tipping her off?
When she had come home last week and told him that her parents were going to be in town this weekend, he had breathed a huge sigh of relief. Unfortunately, his exhale was misinterpreted as a sign of annoyance and had led to a fight, something which had been occurring more and more recently. It seemed as though the closer they got to their big vacation, the more frequent their squabbles became. Eric knew this was just due to stress, however, and the second he dropped to one knee, all their troubles would melt away. Alyssa would finally understand why he had been acting so secretive the last few months.
Seeing eyes on him. Eric offered a fake smile to the group. He was vaguely aware that they were telling a story from Alyssa’s childhood, but his mind was elsewhere. “How the fuck am I going to separate Alyssa from her dad in a natural way that gives me a chance to ask him for his blessing?”
His eyes darted around their apartment, looking for an excuse, a solution, a way to get five minutes alone with Paul. They had been relaxing at Eric and Alyssa’s apartment in a post-dinner glow for the last half hour, and he still couldn’t think of a way. His first thought had been to offer the man a cigar, giving them the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time on the balcony, but that had quickly been rejected when Alyssa had mentioned her dad hated smoking. Personally, Eric thought “hated” was a strong word, just because he wasn’t sure if her dad was capable of feeling such emotions. He had met the man a handful of times, and as best as he could tell, the only thing Paul had true affection for was his daughter and his sweatpants.
Eric stifled a chuckle as he glanced down at those sweatpants. He appreciated that Paul had worn his “nicest” pair for dinner, black ones that, unlike many of his other ones, didn’t have any holes in them. “I wonder how many pairs he has?” Eric wondered, not for the first time. “Does he have one for every day of the week? Will he wear them to the wedding?” He couldn’t help but grin as he thought of Paul walking Alyssa down the aisle, her beautiful white dress brushing up against a pair of black Champion sweatpants. Judging from the lack of reaction at his dinner attire, he honestly didn’t think anyone would put up a fuss. Separating Paul from his sweatpants seemed like a battle that had been fought, and lost, too many times. If he was being honest, Eric respected the man for it.
“What are you chuckling about over there?” Alyssa’s mom said with a teasing lilt to her voice, snapping him out of his reverie. Both her and her daughter had been drinking steadily since dinner, and Eric looked over to see two pairs of semi-glazed eyes smiling at him. “Hah, nothing.” Eric said with an easy grin. “Just enjoying having everyone together.”
“Awwww,” Alyssa and her mom said in unison. “I told you he’s a good catch.” Her mom continued in a fake stage whisper, leaning into her daughter while winking saucily at Eric. Alyssa playfully shoved her mom before focusing her attention on the bottle of wine that stood, empty, on their coffee table. “Uh-oh, we’re out of vino!” She exclaimed. “Eric, can you be a dear and open another bottle for us? Dad’s glass is empty too.”
“Actually, do you have any bourbon? I could do with a change of pace.” Everyone in the room paused as Alyssa’s dad spoke, mostly because it was the first thing he had said since asking for check at dinner. To say the man was quiet was an understatement. As soon as the words left Paul’s mouth, a lightbulb went off in Eric’s brain, as though it was attached to one of those Amazon Alexa voice-command smart lamps. Eric didn’t realize the connection between his brilliant idea and a voice-command smart lamp, of course. That was merely a hauntingly beautiful metaphor the author came up with.
But back to Eric. With Paul’s simple request, he knew he finally had his chance. In the kitchen, he uncorked a bottle of wine and struggled to keep his voice calm as he called back to the living room. “Hey Paul, I do have a bottle of Buffalo Trace. I was thinking about pouring myself a glass as well. Do you want to drink it out on the balcony?”
Eric avoided Alyssa’s gaze as he returned to the living room and topped off her and her mom’s wine glasses. He looked at Paul, who gave him his signature blank stare before responding. “Sure. It is a nice night.” Gleefully, Eric poured up two glasses of bourbon neat, handing one to Paul, who raised himself off the couch with a heavy grunt and followed Eric onto the balcony. Eric shut the door behind them, muttering something about the bugs, but he needn’t have bothered. Alyssa and her mom were already laughing over a new story and completely ignoring the men.
Leaning his forearms against the railing, Eric took a deep sip from his glass to slow his beating heart. He gazed out into the lights of the city below him, focusing his peripherals on Paul, who leaned against the railing next to him. He breathed out slowly, knowing it was now or never. He was surprised at how nervous he was.
“Get a grip, Eric.” He told himself. “it’s not like you’re asking for permission. You’re just asking for his blessing. You’re proposing to Alyssa no matter what he says. This is just a courtesy. A talk between men. You guys are on equal footing.” His internal pep talk complete, he turned to look at Paul.
“Hey Paul, I actually wanted to ask you something – well, talk to you about something. I…uh, Alyssa and I have been dating for a good time now, and I think – I mean, I know I want to marry her. I’m planning on proposing when we go to Italy next month, and it would mean a lot to both of us if we had your blessing. What…” Eric’s voice trailed off, unsure of how to finish his statement that was a question that was a statement. He swallowed hard as he watched Paul take a slow sip of his bourbon before looking into the swirling glass.
They made a frozen tableau for several long seconds, Eric looking anxiously up at Paul, Paul pensively swirling his glass. Finally, when the silence became unbearable, Paul spoke.
“You guys are going to Italy?”
“Uhh, yeah.” Eric said, unable to halt the puzzled scowl that formed on his face. “In about six weeks. We planned it – “ He was cut off as Paul chuckled, the first sign of a personality Eric had ever seen from him. “I’m just fucking with you,” Paul continued, clearly enjoying the look on Eric’s face. “I figured that’s why you were acting weird about the bourbon. Yeah, you have my blessing. You’re a good kid and she loves you. Just don’t tell Cheryl until after you do it. As you may have picked up, keeping quiet is not her strong suite.”
Eric’s face broke into a wide grin. His skin felt flush and his body flooded with adrenaline. He knew he had been big-timed, but he didn’t care. He had gotten Paul’s blessing. “Great! I, uh, thank you. She – Alyssa, she’s great. I – I won’t tell Cheryl, that’s a good call.” Realizing he was stammering, he stopped talking and silently extended a hand.
Paul shook it with what felt like a bear paw. “Congrats. Don’t fuck it up. Now let’s get inside before the girls realize something’s up. I hate drinking whiskey outside, anyway.”