Meredith studied the pool table, studying the ways she could make a shot. She was stripes tonight. She had a slight lead, and felt like she could increase the gap, but that stupid blue ball over in the corner… it was too close to call. But if somehow she could avoid it, it would get two of her pieces in the pocket. She didn’t want to, but maybe it was a necessary sacrifice. She lined up her pool cue, slowly eyeing up the pocket….
Only for a paper plate of greasy, shiny pizza to come smacking down right next to her. She looked up to see John giving her a small smile. He folded his own slice by the crust and took a small bite out of it. She had not heard him approach, the continuous sound of bowling balls thundering down their lanes covering up any footsteps he may have made.
She gave him a love tap on the side with the end of her cue, then moved her paper plate to the table so she could make her shot.
“Classic, coming in to save your own ass,” she laughed. He snickered and placed his own pizza down, shooting that bothersome solid ball into the pocket.
“You just didn’t make your move fast enough,” John’s reply was. She gave him a sour face, and went to look at the table for another shot.
“I’m going to win, so just give up now,” she told him. “You enjoy coming here for the neon anyways, you don’t actually care about beating me.”
“I like to think of it as letting you think you have the upper hand,” he cackled. She rolled her eyes, bending down to hit her next shot. It missed, and she cursed, giving a small smack to the table.
“Is she beating you again?” came a voice. The two of them looked around to see a familiar face floating by the pool table, their friend Steve with a pitcher and stack of cups in his hands.
“Hey,” John greeted him. Meredith flashed him a smile, leaning in onto her opponent. John’s arm slid in between her waist and her arm on her hip. “What brings you here tonight?”
“Birthday party,” Steve pointed the pitcher to the room at the end of the alley. “One of Briana’s friends, we’re just here for the fun.”
“How old?” Meredith asked. “I thought maybe we were going for the pony party this year.”
“Oh no, hopefully not,” Steve said. “I’m not ready for that. But it’s Taylor’s kid, we just wanted to enjoy some adult bowling on the side. Party’s not much longer though, kids just wanted some juice before we started packing up.”
“Your yard isn’t ready for the big horse?” John asked. Steve nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, plus I have too many tasty plants for a stupid horse to kick or chew up,” Steve shook his head. “One mess I don’t want to have to clean up afterwards. They make such a mess.”
They exchanged a few more lines of conversation, and then Steve went back to his get together, leaving this couple to their game. Withdrawing his arm from the waist of his girlfriend, John placed his hand in his pocket, feeling for what was there. Meredith was perfectly distracted, looking in the distance for the party room to see any kids in there. He made his way to the other side, dropping the small object into one of the pockets. Meredith looked over at him unsuspecting, and gave a small smile, eyes narrow.
“You’ve had your chance to find a good shot,” she said. “But you’re still going to lose.”
John ended winning the game, due to a lucky shot. He couldn’t stop chuckling, much to her annoyance, and insisted on another game. She agreed, started to empty the pockets on her side. He watched her carefully, having to hide his baited breath when she found what was inside the pocket.
But nothing came of it. All that came out of that pocket were pool balls, and nothing more. The grin slowly disappeared from his face when he realized she didn’t have it. That’s not right, he said, backtracking his memory. He also patted his pocket. I definitely put it in there.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Don’t think you can make it a streak?”
“Just break,” he said, trying to remain humorous as worry set in.
That was their last game, and John did his best to disguise his worry. He let Meredith won, trying his best to show everything was a-ok. He checked the pockets as best as he could. Nothing was in there that game besides whatever ball fell into it, and there were no holes in the leather as best as he could feel. It wasn’t on the floor either, nor any other pocket. Not even his pockets. It was just gone.
Nobody had come and seen the object. He was the only one who knew it went in, or even that it was here.
“I think that’s game,” Meredith said at one point, seeing that her significant other was not as immersed in the game as he once was. “But I think we should play another game. At home.”
“Oh should we now?” he asked her. She smiled with a devilish twinkle in her eye. “I think I can beat your butt at this one too.”
“I think you’ll be sorely mistaken,” she said, giving him a kiss before putting her pool cue away. John watched her go, quickly digging his hand in another pocket. Just to check. But nothing. Where the hell did his ring go?
He handed her the cash to pay for the games, hoping to find it before she would return. But he couldn’t think of anywhere else it could be. Color was draining from John’s face faster than people leaving the bowling alley.
“All set?” she asked him. He shook his head, taking a knee and looking under the table. “What’s wrong, did you lose your wallet? Because I just saw you put it in your pocket.”
“No, it’s not that,” he said.
“Sir, the alley is closing, and I’m going to need to ask you to leave,” an attendant drifting by said. Meredith gave his hand and tugged. He gave her the one minute finger, but she pulled harder.
“Hold up,” John said. He gave her the keys, letting her go to the car to warm it up. “I have to talk to him real quick.”
He came out of the alley twenty minutes later, much to Meredith’s concern. John’s face looked bleak, and for some reason it wasn’t from the cold.
“Is everything ok?” she asked him as he slid into the driver’s seat. He was quiet for a minute. His hands were on 10 and 2 on the steering wheel and he just sat there, watching the neon lights of the alley go dark.
“Be honest,” John said to her. “Did you find something in the pool table tonight?”
“No,” she asked, confused. “Did you lose something?”
“Yes, something important,” he told her. “I asked the people to look for it, but I can’t think of where else it would be.”
“Maybe it’s in the car,” she said, digging through the cupholder. John at this point was certain, she was not playing him.
“It’s not,” he told her with a heavy sigh.
“Well what was it?”
“Mer, I was going to propose to you,” John confessed. The words came out so easily but it was incredibly hard to admit this to her. “I was going to propose. I left the ring in one of the pockets of the pool table, so you would pick it out. But it went into the pocket, and it didn’t come out. I’ve spent four years waiting to propose to you, and I messed it up. And now I’m freaking—-“
She leaned over and kissed him. “You always know how to play it clever,” she said. “And I’m telling you, ring or not, the answer is yes!”
He hugged her close, feeling her warmth underneath her jacket.
“What made you think of it this way?” she asked him.
“I was at dinner with my parents, and one of their friends came by, he said. Then his wife came by, and the way she leaned against him, that’s the way you lean against me, I thought. And I wanted to have that, I already have that. But I wanted it forever. To be able to walk through a restaurant, run into our friends, and be able to talk to someone and have you lean against me like that, and just be a happy couple.”
She leaned over and lightly kissed him on the neck.
“We’ll find it, it’ll be ok,” she said. “Let’s go home for the night, and then we can figure out where it went in the morning.”