Natalie walked stiffly over to where Blake was standing. Under her feet were the very boards of the original stage. The lights were shining on her, the crowd cheering. She thought she might pass out.
“Are you enjoying the show?” he asked.
“Absolutely. You’re awesome,” she said.
Blake laughed. “Well, thank you. Do you know who else is awesome? Colin Russell. Colin, why don’t you come on out here, too?”
Natalie turned and watched Colin walk out onstage. What the heck was going on? Her life had suddenly become very surreal. It was one thing for Colin to arrange for her to get to go out onstage with her idol. Both of them onstage changed everything.
Blake slapped Colin on the back. “Now, Colin tells me he has something he wants to ask you.”
The whole crowed started cheering louder. The blood rushed into Natalie’s ears, drowning out everything but her heart’s rapid thump. She barely had time to react, her body moving like it was caught in molasses. She looked over at Colin just in time to see him slip down onto one knee. Oh dear, sweet Jesus. He wasn’t. He couldn’t be. This was not happening.
“Natalie,” Colin began, “I’ve known you since we were teenagers. When you came back into my life, I knew you were someone special. The more time we spend together, the more I realize that I want to spend all my time with you, for the rest of my life. I love you, Natalie Sharpe. Will you marry me?”
Now Natalie was certain she was going to pass out. She could feel the whole concert hall start to spin. Her chest grew tight, her cheeks burned. What was he thinking? All these people were watching. Blake was watching...
Colin held up the ring. It was beautiful—a large oval diamond set in platinum with a pear-shaped diamond flanking it on each side. The cut and clarity were amazing. The stone glittered with the lights on the stage, beckoning her to reach out and take it. All she had to do was say yes, and he would slip it on her finger.
Yes, she loved him, but why did they have to get married? He was ruining everything they’d built together by changing their whole relationship dynamic. Love or no, she couldn’t do it. She just couldn’t get the words out. All she knew was that she had to get out of here. Avoiding his gaze, Natalie shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, I can’t,” she said, before turning and running off the stage.
As she ran, she was only aware of an eerie silence. The entire concert hall had quieted. The crew backstage all stood around in stunned confusion. Apparently no one had expected her to reject his proposal.
“Natalie!” she heard Colin yell, but she couldn’t stop. She weaved in and out of people and equipment, desperately searching for the side door where they’d come in. Just as she found it, she heard the music start playing again. Life went on for everyone else, just as her life started to unravel.
Bursting through the doors, she took in a huge gulp of cool air that she desperately needed. The security guard watched her curiously as she bent over and planted her hands on her knees for support.
Marriage? He’d proposed marriage! He’d taken a perfectly wonderful evening and ruined it with those silly romantic notions. Why did he do that?
“Natalie?” Colin said as he came out the door behind her a moment later.
She turned around to face him, not sure what to say. She felt the prickle of tears start to sting her eyes. “What were you thinking?” she asked. “You know how I feel about marriage!”
“I was thinking that you loved me and wanted to be with me,” he replied, his own face reddening with emotion.
“We had an agreement, Colin. We were not going to fall in love. This was supposed to be fun and easy.”
“That’s how it started, but it changed. For both of us. Tell me you love me, Natalie. Don’t lie about it, not now.”
She took a deep breath, trying to get the words out of her mouth for the first time. “I do love you,” she said. “But that doesn’t change my answer. I don’t want to get married. That just ruins everything that we have going so perfectly right now. I’ve told you before I don’t believe in marriage. Proposing out of the blue makes me think you don’t listen to me at all. If you did, you never would’ve done something like...like...”