After I bought the ring I went through a lot of anguish thinking about the right way to present it to her, to Pop the question.
Pick a romantic spot or announce it on a billboard? Send it via courier or a St.Bernard. Maybe strap the ring to one of the ducks at the Peabody? I could think of a million ideas, but none seemed right.

Finally I called my cousin Joellen, from Nashville, who has always been my common sense monitor. This is what she said:

"Well, she don't sound like an extravagent kind of girl to me, right? And you're so clumsy you 'like ta mess it up and lose the blasted ring and THEN where would you be? I think you just pick the spot where you met and just give it to her-tell her you love her and you can't live without her, OK? You can't, right? The live without thang, ain't that right?"

She was right, of course. So I just set up a Friday afternoon meeting of my friends at the Help desk-told them it was a surprise. The females in the group just gave me that head shake-little grin, you are so precious look, but promised to keep hush.

At five I met everyone at Melinda's help counter as she was finishing her day-spraying Pledge on the counter and squinting at a water stain left by a teenager with a Big Gulp. Irritated and weary, she looked up at us with more exhaustion than surprise:

"No way, I am too tired to go anywhere tonight, maybe next week...what are you staring at?"

She adjusted her glasses and looked down at her blouse self consciously, probably thinking she had forgotten a button or spilled salad dressing.

I walked forward, put the small red velvet box in front of her can of polish and took her hands in mine-mine were the ones shaking.

I can't live without you Melinda, I want you to marry me. (It was the last line of a five line speech I couldn't recall the rest of at the time).

She grabbed the box, teared up and the crowd roared.

Later, after everyone had left and the last bit of kleenex was tossed, we locked up her desk and headed for the door. We had gotten to the doors when she stopped suddenly and grabbed her chest with an Oh my look. "Wait a sec, I just remembered something..." She turned and skipped (no lie, skipped, it's hard to forget such a thing) back inside. When she greeted me on the steps outside the library she had her right hand behind her back and a big grin on her face. Eyes bright and mascara more than a little blurry.

"I've kept this for a while, but I won't be needing this anymore-it's for you."

It was a little book, only about 6 by 8 inches. One of those little cardboard books you give to small children. Sturdy enough to withstand punishment. I looked at it for a moment, then grabbed her and squeezed her hard pushing her into me, trying to hold onto the moment as fiercely as I could.

We were on the steps for a long time, I'm not sure how long, but it was dark when we started for the car. If they noticed at all, passersby must have wondered what was so romantic about The Ugly duckling.

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