Joe and I don't get up to St. Louis as often as we'd like, and we really miss our family and friends. Since we both come from very large families and have a lot of great friends, it makes it difficult to find the time to visit with everyone when we do make it into town. Therefore, we usually organize an event where we can meet with everybody in one place. This December, we agreed that we wanted to meet someplace that was kid-friendly and where everyone could do something a little out of the ordinary. So we planned ahead of time to meet everyone at the St. Louis Mills Mall at the Ice Zone, the skating rink where the Blues practice. We figured it would be a fun opportunity to enjoy a public skating session, followed by a pick-up game where Joe would play some ice hockey with his brother.
Little did I know, Joe also had something else in store. We arrived at the rink at exactly 8 pm, and several family members and friends were already waiting. I was so excited to see that my great friends Megan, Tai and Gina were there with their significant others. I was also a little surprised but so happy that there was such a large turnout of our family members. Joe's mom, sister, nephew and brother were there, and so was my entire immediate family and many of my aunts, uncles and cousins. Even if I'm not the best ice skater, I knew we were going to have a great time.
Joe laced up my skates and I finally started in circles around the ice. It was tough trying to make sure I spent ample time with each person who came out, but I was having a fabulous time and knew everyone else was too. As I glided along, I noticed the cautious balancing act and deep facial concentration of the first-time skaters. Off in the distance, I saw Joe in a conversation with my stepdad as they walked down a hallway together. I caught a glimpse of my mom and dad in some discussion as they sat on the warm benches away from the ice. I heard joyous laughter as people caught each other from collapsing onto their bums, and I observed couples holding hands as they strode in rhythm.
I smiled because it was exactly as I'd imagined the night at its best. About an hour later, things started winding down and people began removing their skates to rub sore, tired ankles. My friends all decided to peruse the mall until the public session was over, and would return for Joe's hockey game at 10 pm. We took a few photos. Then Joe asked me to skate. We hadn't spent much time together at the rink since we were busy visiting with everyone else, so of course I jumped at the chance to have him pull me around the rink at speeds I can't reach on my own.
We circled a few times, and the breeze was invigorating. He asked if I was having a good time, and I told him I was having the best time. I was still preoccupied by making sure everyone else was having fun too, so I told him I wanted to exit the ice for a few moments to look for my dad. He said, "Well... let's just skate over here for a minute." We were already rounding the first corner by the entry to the ice, so I figured he just wanted to go around one last time since we weren't getting to skate together very much.
And just as he started pulling me to the next corner, I noticed all of my friends standing behind the boards of the ice. I thought that was weird since they had just recently said they would be walking around the mall and I thought they'd left. To make things borderline creepy, I also noticed they were all staring at me. They were staring at us.
From the corner of my eye I noticed my mom and some other people, including my sister standing there as if waiting for me to do something. Confused, I turned to Joe. But he was looking at me too, and he had an expression on his face that I had never seen before. Suddenly, it hit me. I knew what was happening. But how did I not know to expect this? How did everyone who was standing here witnessing this know what was about to happen, but I didn't? I was embarrassed to be getting so much attention, shocked that I had no idea he had planned this and impressed that Joe had the fortitude to pull off such a spectacle.
I whispered so only he could hear, "Are you really doing this in front of all of these people?" Joe isn't showy. He doesn't attempt to grab attention and he certainly doesn't plan big surprises that I don't know about. So how could this be happening? But he never answered my questions. He just took my hand and pulled off my little pink glove. He whispered back, "I think I already know what you are going to say, so this is just a formality..." He then got down on one knee and asked, "Will you marry me?"
I covered my face and giggled before saying, "Yes!" He stood up and slid the ring onto my left ring finger. It fit as perfectly as Cinderella's slipper, and sparkled more spectacularly than anything I'd ever laid eyes on. It was the happiest moment of my life.
Camera flashes were going off left and right, and I said thank you as people who I'd never even seen before offered their congratulations. After showing the ring to my family and friends, and posing for tons of pictures, Joe and I took to the ice one last time. This time though, I wasn't wearing gloves. I watched as the ring glistened in the light and we talked about how he pulled it off without me knowing. As it turned out, there was no blockbuster conspiracy. No one knew about the proposal before it happened except my dad, mom and stepdad. My stepdad had traveled all the way from West Palm Beach, Florida with the ring and passed it onto Joe as they were talking earlier that evening in the hall.
It became crystal clear as to what I'd been witnessing as I watched them walking and talking, but I'd had no idea at the time! Joe had also asked my dad for permission to marry me while they were skating, and so my dad had joined my mom on the bench to consult with her and see how she felt about the proposal. It had all really happened right before my eyes without me even knowing it!