You step out of the diner and immediately regret it, the cold hitting you like a slap in the face, quick and sharp. Snow falls gently, silently piling up at the curb. It’s dark. The street is cast in a grayscale of shadow and suspicion, lit only by the occasional gritty streetlamp.
Scanning the road, you hunt for a taxi and shiver. Not much longer and you’ll be frozen so thoroughly Jack Frost will have to quit his job. Just as you’re about to give up and take the subway, a pair of headlights illuminates the night, slicing through the inky atmosphere like a knife through butter. Following the beams comes an unmistakable canary yellow taxi car. You hail the cab, but there is almost no need. You’re the only person on the street. The cab pulls over and you get inside, grateful to be at last out of Chicago’s personal and fairly accurate rendition of the Arctic Circle.
“358 Oakridge Drive, please,” you tell the cab driver. Without a word, he
pulls away from the curb and glides down the street. On further inspection, you realise it is indeed a him, a middle-aged nondescript man with dark hair and a cap pulled over his head. Remembering you should text your boyfriend to tell him you’re coming home, you pat your pockets looking for your phone. It is then you realise with a frustrated sigh that your phone is on the kitchen counter of your tiny apartment. He’ll just have to be surprised. It’s a long drive home, so you decide to strike up a conversation with your gracious cabbie.
“How’s your day been?” you ask, startling the man out of his silent stupor.
“Good, thanks for asking. Exhausted though, after sitting in a car all day” he replies dryly. You smile, even though he can’t see you. But then, he adjusts the rearview mirror so that he can. You notice immediately his astonishing blue eyes. They seem to look straight through your soul, and it sends a shiver down your spine. Averting your gaze, you look out the window. Unfamiliar buildings fly past, blurring together into a stream of browns and greys.
“I don’t think this is the way to Oakridge Drive, Mr-,” you look at his nametag, hanging off the back of his seat. “-Westwood, sir.” He says nothing, focusing instead on the road, which is becoming more and more unknown to you.
“Sir,” you say, an edge of panic creeping into your voice. “Please take me where I asked to go!” He looks in the mirror again, fixing you with his frost-coated gaze.
“I don’t take people where they want to go,” he replies slowly, taking his time, as if he is thinking hard about every syllable that comes out of his mouth. You start to sweat, nervousness clouding your thoughts. How did this happen? “I take them where they need to go.” and with that chilling statement, the taxi rolls to a stop. The cab driver gets out of the car and opens the passenger door for you. Not knowing what else to do, you get out once more into the frigid night.
Looking around, you see an empty plain, save for a gigantic warehouse surrounded by smaller concrete buildings. How this big of a space exists in Chicago, you have no idea, You have nowhere to go.
“He’s waiting for you,” the cabbie says, jolting you out of your fatalistic observations.
“Who? Who could possibly be out here in the middle of god knows where?” you’re unable to keep the tremor out of your voice.
“Well, I suppose you’ll just have to find out, now won’t you?” is the cabbie’s retort, accompanied by a sadistic smile showing far too many teeth. “Head into the warehouse across the way, you won’t want to be late.” he urges you on, gesturing to the steel behemoth of a building a few yards away from where you parked. It was then your last shred of common sense returned to you, and you blatantly refused to be ushered into what was essentially a grossly oversized metal box by a strange man you’d never met.
“Relax, I’m not going to hurt you,” the cabbie chuckles and raises his hands the universal sign for calm the heck down. “Look,” he takes off his cap and runs his hands through his hair. “I can’t leave until you go in there, and neither can you. Let’s just get this over and we can all go home, okay?” you sigh, realizing he’s right. You have no way to get back, and the only answers to be found are in that titanium barn. Disappointed, you realize you’re not going to catch the late-night special of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The doors to the warehouse look anything but sturdy, spotted with rust and grime. They scream in protest as the cabbie opens them and ushers you through. At first, it’s too dark to see anything, but as your eyes adjust to the light (or lack thereof) you see just a small table set with two chairs standing alone in the vast space. The cab driver walks toward them, and you follow. He motions for you to sit in one of the chairs, and you do so. Now that you’re at the table, you can see it has one lone candle sitting on its surface, accompanied by a single rose.
“What is this?” you ask the cabbie. When there is no reply, you turn around to see that he’s gone. Disappeared. Your anxiety increases, and you are left with no choice but to wait and see who this mysterious person is you’re supposed to meet. Sitting in the uncomfortable wooden chair, alone in the dark, it strikes you just how much trouble you’re in. Seconds feel like hours, with nothing to occupy your mind other than a room, a candle and a rose. A long, long time later, you hear footsteps echoing from the distance to the rafters high above. The realization that whoever you were brought here to meet has finally arrived sends spikes of fear through your head.
Looking down, your hands start to shake. The footsteps stop, and you raise your eyes to see a shadowy figure emerging from the darkness.
“Tom? Is that you?” You stand up so suddenly, your chair falls backwards and crashes against the floor. Running around the side of the table, you leap into the arms of your boyfriend. “What are you doing here? How did you find me?” you stutter, happiness and relief flooding your senses.
“Find you? I brought you here!” he smiles, and takes the other chair at the table. You frown, confused.
“What? I don’t understand, I was kidnapped by this creepy taxi driver then forced in here! Did you did this?” Tom laughs, unperturbed by your accusations.
“That creepy taxi driver,-” Tom makes air quotes around the words “creepy taxi driver” “-Was a friend I asked to make sure you got here without letting on as to who brought you or why you’re here.” He smiles, and gestures for you to sit down. Picking up the fallen chair, you take a seat.
“But why?” You ask, still unsure of his motives, “Why all this secrecy and subterfuge?”
“I just wanted to make sure tonight was perfect.” He takes out a box of matches and lights one, bringing the flame to he wick of the candle until it, too, lights. Illumination fills the small space, and the breath you didn’t realise you were holding escapes with a whoosh from your lips. Tom picks up the rose and hands it to you, the petals ever so slightly brushing your fingertips.
“Careful,” he says, a hint of a smirk playing across his face, “There’s still a few thorns on there somewhere.” you take the rose and lift it to your nose, a sweet floral scent emanating from the vermillion flower. “I brought you here tonight to ask you-” he stumbles over his words, a small blush tingeing his cheeks. “-To ask you a question, something I’ve wanted to say for a very long time.”
“You brought me all the way here to ask me a question?” you say teasingly. He laughs nervously, a sound like bells and warmth. Tom stands up, his chair scraping along the ground as it’s pushed backward. You feel your pulse quickening, a rapid staccato against your rib cage. He bends down, getting on one knee as he faces you from the floor. Your heart is really racing now, trying its darndest to escape from your chest. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a small velvet box, but fumbles and drops it. Tom picks it up and finally opens it, revealing a brilliant ring, the diamond set in the center reflecting the candlelight and sending sparkling refractions bouncing off the walls.
Your hands fly to your mouth, covering the broad smile stretching as far as possible across your face.
“From the day I met you, I knew you were the only girl I would ever truly love,” he begins. “I’m sorry you were scared, I guess I thought an air of mystery would create an atmosphere, or something. Clearly, I have no idea what I’m doing.” you laugh, and he seems to relax a little. “I’ll cut right to the chase; Will you do me the pleasure of making me the happiest man alive? Will you marry me?” Tom asks simply. You’re crying too hard to reply, and for the first time you truly understand what it means to be speechless. Tears are streaming down your face, and you barely manage to squeeze out a feeble “yes” as you embrace him, glowing with joy and happiness. Tom slips the ring on your finger and you admire it, the intricate swirls of silver and gold fitting perfectly on your hand. You walk hand in hand out of the warehouse, where a solitary taxi is waiting to take you home.