Mini-Story: Austin

“Austin, I love you.”

Oh no.

“I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.”

Oh no, oh no.

“Will you… marry me?”

Clarence pulled out a small, black velvet box from the pocket of his lab coat. Austin looked on in open-mouthed shock as he opened it to reveal a modest, glistening diamond set on a rough, hammered band of silver. Clarence smiled up at her. She attempted to rearrange her face into something approximating happy surprise.

“Oh… Clarence…” She paused. Clarence’s face began to fall.

“...Of course, yes, I’ll marry you. Yes!”

Well, that’s it, then. I sort of expected something to happen. Isn’t something supposed to happen? Lightning, butterflies? That’s what Coby said. But maybe this is fine. This is fine. This is normal.

Clarence jumped up and threw his arms around her, nearly dropping the box. “Can I put the ring on your finger? I’ve wanted to do that for so long.” He was positively vibrating with excitement.

“Sure. Yes!”

He slid the ring over her finger, struggling to fit it over her knuckles and laughing nervously.

Is this supposed to feel easy and obvious?

“It looks lovely on you. I was so worried! I looked for rings for ages, and, well, I couldn’t find one that was as unique as you.” He looked up from the ring to her eyes and she could almost feel the love radiating towards her.

I wonder if he feels cold when he looks at me.

“So, here’s the secret… I made this one myself. I know how much you love science - as much as I do! - so I went to the lab, and I asked them if it would be possible to trap a droplet of pure water, somehow. It’s encased in synthetic glass - it’s unbreakable. I wanted some kind of symbol to show you how precious you are to me.”

He really loves me, doesn’t he.

Clarence kissed her lightly on the forehead, then took her face into his hands, gently, and kissed her on the lips. “Austin, I can’t believe we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together. I’m so lucky. I love you, and I can’t wait to call you my wife!” He kissed her again, more passionately this time. She darted her tongue into his mouth. It was like a mechanical reaction now, because she knew he liked it. She didn’t really get it. It was wet, and slimy; like eating a slug. Still, she wanted to make him happy, she just didn’t really know how.

“I should take the ring off, though, while I’m at work,” she said.

I don’t want to get it dirty. Or get it caught. It could rip off my finger.

Clarence looked hurt, but quickly changed his expression to one of understanding. “Yes. Of course!” He laughed nervously. “That’s… that makes sense, yeah. Should I just…?” He gestured to the box.

“Oh. Uh, yes. That’s probably the safest place for it.”

Was she being cold? No. Clarence was a scientist too, experienced in experiments. He knew the lab could be a dangerous place. She shouldn’t keep jewellery on just to save his feelings if it meant potentially losing a finger. That was illogical.

Clarence tugged the ring back off her finger and placed it back in the box. “I hope this doesn’t mean my proposal was a failure,” he laughed. “Engagement duration: five minutes, 23 seconds. Engagement time of death: 3:35pm.” Austin laughed.

He does make me feel good. That’s enough. That’s all I want.

“Do you want to go out? Celebrate? I’ve been saving up rations, actually, and I thought maybe we could go for a picnic, or something, out in the biodome… I asked Hayao, and he said we weren’t really supposed to, but he could look the other way for an hour or so, as long as we don’t hurt the plants!”

This was all buzzing in Austin’s ears. Should I be thinking so hard about what to feel? Should I just let myself… feel? It’s ok that I’m not crying or anything. I’m not a crier. I didn’t even cry when Abril…

“...Austin?”

Maybe I’m no good for him. I’m not what he needs. Can I keep this up for the rest of my life? Letting him down?

“Austin, is everything okay?”

“Oh. Yes. Sorry. I could eat. Let me just finish up my work, and then we can go. Okay?”

Clarence smiled. “I’d love to know what you’re thinking when you go quiet like that. I’ll go wait outside.” He put a hand on her shoulder and kissed her cheek tenderly. “Love you, Droplet.”

She smiled back. “I love you, too.”

Probably.