Forty years earlier
Carlos stood, mug of coffee in hand, leaning against the door frame of his parents kitchen – his Mama’s kitchen. Papa wasn’t allowed in there, it was her domain. Just like his Papa had his greenhouse to retreat to when he needed some peace.
He had recently moved back home after the rent on his apartment had increased beyond his means. A search for a flat mate had proved fruitless so back to his parents he had to go. He hadn’t been looking forward to it but all in all it had proved to be a wise decision. He paid his Mama housekeeping and was saving towards buying a new car. The one he had was old and starting to cost him money. He found work singing in the Spanish Operettas and was starting to be offered roles in musical theatre productions. He had his beautiful girlfriend Catherine whom he had been with for just over a year, and who was going to turn 21 in a months time. They had met at a party given by a mutual friend. She had the most incredible eyes he had ever seen, an almost luminous green. He hadn’t spoken to anyone else after they had been introduced, and they had been inseparable since that night.
His parents adored her and her father constantly referred to Carlos as “son” something that was not lost on his Mama. She could hear wedding bells but her son was seemingly not interested in doing anything about it despite the number of subtle and unsubtle hints she had dropped. Now with Catherine’s 21st birthday approaching she decided to take a more direct approach.
“So Carlos” she stood with her back to him washing the dishes after a mammoth cooking session but the tone of her voice raised an alarm in Carlos’ head. Here we go he thought “Si Mama” he replied carefully knowing what was coming.
“Have you thought what you will buy Catherine for her birthday? It should be something special since it’s her 21st”
Carlos made a show of sipping his coffee thoughtfully “Well.. flowers obviously, maybe a piece of jewellery. A nice bracelet perhaps”
He saw his Mama’s ears pick up at the word “jewellery” oh no I shouldn’t have said that.
“Si Carlos. Jewellery would be perfect. What about a nice engagement ring?”
He choked on his coffee, he hadn’t expected her to just come out and say it. He thought she would talk around the subject like she always did. “Erm..” was the only response he could utter.
“They have some lovely ones at that place in town. An emerald to match her eyes” his Mama carried on as if she hadn’t heard him.
“Mama” he said firmly “We have only been together for a year! And anyway I can’t afford a ring I am saving for a car. You know that. You told me only last night what a “deathtrap” I’m driving” he hoped the use of her own argument would at least make her drop the subject for a while but he was wrong.
“Carlos” his Mama turned to face him as she dried her hands “Your Papa and I have some money put away, we will help you buy your car, you needn’t let that put you off”
“But Mama I don’t want to ask her to marry me yet! We have nowhere to live for a start”
“You can live here with us, there is plenty of room. Your Papa and I lived with his parents when we first married.”
“That was over 30 years ago Mama and I remember you telling me you hated every minute of it. You and Grandma didn’t speak for 5 years after you moved out!”
“That is beside the point Carlito” now he knew he wouldn’t win. His Mama only called him Carlito when he was in trouble. “This will be different”
“I’m not buying her an engagement ring if I can’t provide a roof over her head. It would not be right” maybe if he displayed some Spanish Pride his Mama would ease up on him.
Before his Mama could reply his Papa called “Carlos! Catherine is here” saved by the bell thought Carlos “I’m going out now Mama, don’t wait up for me” he kissed her cheek, and left. He practically pushed Catherine back out of the door she had just walked in through much to her surprise “I thought we were staying in tonight”
“I had to get out of the house, Mama is driving me mad” he put his arm round her waist and pulled her to him as they walked. “It’s a good job I have you to keep me sane”
They walked, arms around each other till they reached the local park. Finding an empty bench they sat down and finally said a proper hello to each other. Several times. When Carlos finally released her she snuggled into his shoulder.
“So what has your Mama done now?”
“She is just being Mama. That is enough to send anyone mad” Carlos smiled.
“She keeps asking me what I want for my birthday. But I don’t know what to tell her”
“What do you want for your birthday? I thought about getting you a bracelet.”
“Oh” replied Catherine sheepishly “Only my parents are getting me a bracelet”
“Good thing I asked then. Why don’t we walk into town and do some window shopping? See if anything catches your eye?”
They walked into the town and bought coffee. The town was still busy and the shops were still open. Catherine pulled them to a stop at a Jewellers. “Look at that ring” she exclaimed “It’s beautiful. Mind you it should be at that price”
Carlos’ heart stopped had she been talking to his Mama? Did she want to get engaged? His heart nearly fell into his stomach when he saw the price. That would knock quite a hole in the money he had saved for his car. But if that’s what she wanted.. maybe his Mama was right. They didn’t have to marry straight away, they could have a long engagement. He suddenly realised Catherine was staring at him “Are you okay? You’ve gone very pale” she sounded concerned.
Gathering himself together he forced a smile “I’m fine. Yes it’s a very beautiful ring. Very beautiful.”
“Come on” said Catherine brightly “Let’s get something to eat” although she had never felt less like eating. She had only pointed the ring out because it was so stunning. She didn’t expect him to buy or .. Oh God.. he was thinking of proposing wasn’t he? Oh no no no. She loved him but she had no intention of marrying yet. She wanted to live a little first not end up tied to the kitchen sink with a brood of children by the time she was 25.
She took a sideways look at him, he was completely lost in thought. Probably thinking of how he could afford to buy her a ring she didn’t want. Then another idea struck her, what if he asked her at the party? That would be awful, there was no way she would say yes. She’d have to turn him down in front of everyone, it would break his heart. Everybody would hate her, but she couldn’t agree to an engagement. Calm down she told herself, he hasn’t bought it and he hasn’t asked you. Find another shop, point out other things, maybe that will put the idea out of his head.
He took a sideways look at her, she was completely lost in though. Probably thinking about their engagement, and her party. Oh God…did she expect him to propose at the party.. in front of everyone. No No No. He couldn’t do that. Sing in front of a theatre full of people no problem but ask his girl to marry him like that; no way.
Calm down he told himself. You don’t know for certain that’s what she wants. But then why would his Mama suddenly bring the subject up like that, and then Catherine suddenly “sees” the ring in the shop window. You’d better get used to the idea Carlos. It seems you are getting engaged.
“Carlos?” Catherine waved her hand in front of him, “You were miles away”
“Eh? Oh sorry.. what were you saying?”
“Carlos what’s wrong?”
He bent his head and kissed her “Nothing I’m fine. Will here do?”
And they entered the first restaurant they came across, ordered the first thing they saw on the menu and made a point of not mentioning what was on their minds. Neither wanted to hurt the other, so they talked about anything and everything. They didn’t realise how much trouble they would save if only they had spoken their thoughts.