Poor Jonathan Bale has been in a fever of nervous apprehension all day. Will the table be candle-lit (it is), will there be a single red rose in a tall, slender vase (there is), will lobster be on the menu (Sophie loves lobster and, yes, it is). Now, at last, he is sitting at the table by the window, uncomfortable in his stiff new suit and fiddling with a small leather box in his pocket. Disappointingly, although Sophie is seated opposite him, she is, at the moment, unaware of his existence.
Sadly, the single red rose has failed to delight Sophie. Indeed, her thoughts have drifted back to the lurid floral tributes jockeying for position on the lid of the coffin at the funeral she attended that afternoon.
Gaston (christened Gary) appears at their table, bearing menus and a wine list, just after Sophie has awakened from her reverie. He is in time to hear her telling Jonathan that she went to a funeral today. Jonathan’s bottom lip protrudes in an expression of sympathy but she rushes on with reassurances that it’s OK, she hadn’t known the deceased, she just popped along because she wanted to see what grief looked like. Jonathan glances anxiously at Gaston. Had he heard that? Gaston maintains a professionally impassive countenance as he turns and floats soundlessly back to the kitchen. Best of luck with that one, mate, he thinks.
Gaston has been ferrying preposterously expensive plates of food from kitchen to table for more than thirty years and has never once witnessed a proposal being rejected. And a proposal is definitely on the cards tonight, all the signs are there. Call it a gut feeling, but he thinks Mr Jonathan Bale will be unsuccessful in his bid to secure the fair (if slightly weird) maiden. He is about to return to Table 4 to take their order when he sees that he should give them a minute.
Jonathan has reached across the table to take Sophie’s hands in his. Opening his mouth to speak, to ask the question he has been rehearsing all day, he hesitates. Not for a moment has he contemplated not going ahead but, that business about the funeral…
Sophie assumes he is overcome with nerves. This is cruel, she can’t let him go through with it. Tenderly, she tells him that, during the funeral, she came to the realisation that she could never allow herself to love him - anyone - because she is afraid she would be unable to bear her grief if something happened to him - anyone. Just in case he was about to…
Jonathan laughs what he hopes is a nonchalant laugh, rather than a laugh of maniacal relief, as he tells her he’s not the marrying kind either. What, him? No way!
Gaston is happy; his unblemished proposal accepted record is intact and Mr Jonathan Bale has had a lucky escape. He’ll be happier still if they order the lobster and a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.