It was August tenth, a Sunday, and the city was alive with its various assortment of activities. Local farmer’s markets sold goods from western Michigan fruit farms and favorite Wisconsin dairies. Flowers were in abundance and children could be seen playing in the neighborhood parks; there was a general sense of pleasure about life. The air was warm, but not stagnant, as it had the tendency of being this time of year. Like other great mid-western cities, Chicago had built its reputation on surviving epic snow battles during long winters and freakishly hot bouts of short, oppressive summers.
Despite this, the feature that distinguished Chicago, both practically and aesthetically, was its flawless design around two incredible bodies of water. With Lake Michigan bordering it’s entire eastern shore and the three branches of the Chicago River cutting a y-shaped vein through the heart of downtown, the water created an element of intrigue and romance. Looking into the vastness of Lake Michigan was like staring out to sea, the only difference being the color and wave height. The crystalline waters shone different hues at different times of the year. Summer made the water a glorious emerald green tinged with deep pockets of sapphire blue. There was nothing quite like it.
Leon checked his worn-out watch, leather cracked and face etched, and decided to make his way downtown. He had been making plans to take Elise out on the town to celebrate their tenth month of dating and did not want to risk being late. He knew that Elise was prompt and that she would be expecting something significant. Leon was horrible at keeping excitement far from his eyes. His attempts at surprising her thus far had failed on each occasion, but he was determined tonight to sweep her away. Earlier that week, he had secured two tickets for a sunset cruise from one of his restaurant regulars, who happened to be a tour boat captain. He could hardly contain his excitement. He knew that Elise loved architecture and he knew that she especially loved Lake Michigan, having grown up along its shores in Saugatuck.
He packed a bottle of their favorite wine—a Merlot from Kenwood Winery in Sonoma County—a set of disposable wine glasses, and a few important items he would need for the boat ride. His satchel was now full and he was ready to embark on his quest.
Elise had changed her outfit no less than twelve times as she was getting ready. The assortment of clothes that she had tried on and discarded was piling up on her bed and her nerves were making her sick. She knew that Leon was planning something, but for the first time ever, she had not been able to pry it out of him and the thought of that made her emotions churn. She did not know what to expect, let alone what to wear. He had told her something “casual, but classy” and her attempt not to over-analyze the evening had already been desperately abandoned. At least it was a beautiful day, with blazing sunshine and perfect cotton-ball clouds dotting the sky. Looking in the mirror for the hundredth time, Elise decided on a white tea-length dress with lace eyelets and a canary yellow cardigan, complemented by turquoise ballet flats. Leon loved it when she wore dresses.
With her long golden hair down past her shoulder blades and some bright pink lipstick on, Elise was the absolute picture of beauty. Leon did not have a chance.
She finished packing her purse, placing a last minute item inside to add to the night’s festivities. She could have surprises too. Looking at the clock and realizing she would be late if she did not leave this very minute, she locked up her flat and headed toward the street to hail a cab.
“Wrigley building, please.” Leon had given her very specific instructions to get her where she needed to be. The driver took Lakeshore Drive until he reached the exit for lower Wacker Drive, then wove his way to Michigan Avenue, finally reaching the desired destination. The trip had been quick, thankfully. Elise had not enjoyed taking cab rides since moving to the city the year before. She preferred walking or taking the elevated train if she needed to leave her quaint Lakeview apartment. She paid the cab fare and found her way to the specific spot Leon had instructed, spotting him before he saw her. She lingered for a moment, taking him in. He was handsome, a robustly beautiful man, full of raw energy and charisma. And he was hers.
“Excuse me, can you tell me where I can find—” Elise started saying as she walked toward him. Leon turned and beamed from ear to ear, his eyebrows rising rapidly as he looked her up and down.
“Wow.” He reached for her hand and pulled her closer to his immediate sphere. “You smell incredible.” He inhaled deeply near her neck and she playfully pushed his head back, not wanting to draw attention. Looking around, she noticed that they were standing at the top of a stairwell that led down to a dock. Leon was smirking at her. “How about a sunset cruise?” Elise looked down the stairs and back to Leon, excited and nervous. He took her by the arm and they walked downstairs together.
Leon produced two tickets from his satchel, which Elise noticed was more full than usual, and gave them to the ticket collector. “Watch your step here, kids” the dock man said. They were kids. Two kids, ages twenty and twenty-four, who were madly in love and impractically ready for this new adventure they were diving into.
There was hardly anybody on the boat. With the Cardinals playing the Cubs at Wrigley field and summer break coming to a close, the river was fairly quiet. All the better for enjoying a sunset cruise. Leon and Elise took their seats along a bench toward the back of the upper deck. Leon wanted to enjoy the scenery of the buildings and the lakefront, but not be too close to the other passengers in the front who were more interested in hearing about history than seeing a sunset.
The boat lurched as the captain prepared to take it off the wall. Somewhere downstairs a deckhand shouted, “all clear!” and the boat was underway. The tour guide stepped up to the microphone and began rattling off his script about safety and proper conduct. Leon took the opportunity to reach into his satchel and pull out the wine bottle and two glasses he had smuggled on. Elise saw the label and smiled wide. “You remembered,” she said quietly, just enough so that Leon could hear her over the muffled engines. It was the same bottle of wine that they had shared on their first night together, overlooking the lake at the Adler Planetarium. Though they had only been together for ten months, it felt like a lifetime had passed since they first met.
The tour guide began to talk about the history of the city and the interesting architectural features of the buildings. Leon completely lost interest, but he was content watching Elise, who was very focused on the information. She had always loved design and history, and though she had chosen to go to school for a more practical degree in restaurant management, she still dreamed of working in that field. After about twenty minutes along the river, the boat headed out toward the Chicago Harbor Lock and made its way onto the lake.
The tour guide finished up his set and signaled to the Captain to turn on some music, setting the mood just in time for the glorious sunset. Leon had finished one glass of wine, rather quickly, and was on his second when he excused himself. “Gotta use the loo. I’ll be back soon.” He winked at Elise before handing her his glass and walking downstairs. She turned herself around on the bench so that she could see the skyline more clearly.
The sun was just beginning its descent as the tour boat reached the lighthouse. The water was absolutely perfect tonight, hardly a wave to be found and a magnificent blue-green color. Elise lost herself looking out at the expanse of water and city, back-lit by a fading orange ball of fire. She did not notice that Leon had been gone longer than he should have, when she heard a familiar song play over the speakers. It jarred her from her pensive mood and a smile crept slowly across her face. “Green Eyes” by Coldplay was playing faintly. She looked around her and noticed that none of the other passengers were near. Thinking this odd, she stood up and as she did, saw Leon walking up the stairs on the front of the boat, toward her. He looked nervous, but resolute. She breathed in quickly, sharply, as if trying to remind her body to do something it naturally does.
They met in the middle of the top deck, the fireball descending to their right, casting a golden hue across half their faces. Elise pulled her sweater closer to her, with a shudder. She knew what this was, but could it really be happening? Was this the right time? The right place? Leon took her hands in his. Her heart skipped madly, trying to find its proper rhythm. “Elise. Love. My best friend—” This was it. Elise felt the boat slow down and linger on the lake, almost as if the captain knew what was going on. Leon beamed as bright as the sun that was setting to the west. He knew exactly what he wanted.
Leon got down on one knee, not anticipating the rough surface of the boat deck and jumped up quickly. “Ow!” He rubbed his knee briskly, trying not to ruin the moment. Elise took off her sweater and handed it to him, knowingly. Leon delicately folded it over so that it would provide enough cushion and commenced his posture again. Down on one knee, his declamation prepared, his heart overflowing, he proposed:
“Elise. Beautiful, brilliant, becoming. You have robbed me of my future, punctured my heart into a thousand pieces, thrown me into chaos, and made me a better man because of it. I love you. I love you…I love you. You are the Lily to my Monet, the soprano to my Puccini, the fire to my oven. You are my heart. Say that you will live with me, be my wife. Say that you love me as much as I love you.” Elise just stared at him, unable to speak, unable to move. He began to get nervous, skittish. He tensed and doubted himself. Just as he was about to stand, she stroked a hand through his hair, twisting a curl through her thumb and forefinger.
“How long did it take you to write that speech?” She asked, teasingly. She pulled him up toward her, stroking his stubble. “Thank you. For your words, for your heart. Thank you for loving me, even when I run away scared. It won’t be easy—”
“I don’t care. I want you, only you.”
Overcome with emotion, Elise pulled his face close to hers, cheek to cheek, and whispered into his ear, trying not to cry. “I will.”
Leon looked searchingly into her eyes after he heard her words. He looked for doubt, but found only resolution shining out of the golden-flecked green gems. She was terrified, but she was more sure of being with Leon than she had been about anything in her life. He pulled something out of his pocket. It was a delicate silver ring with the infinity symbol interwoven with one emerald and one sapphire gemstone. “One color for each of our eyes,” he whispered. Elise could no longer resist her propriety, she pulled Leon’s head down to her and kissed him with passion.
People began to emerge from downstairs, cheering and clapping. The Captain blasted the boat whistle in celebration, while the tour guide proclaimed congratulations over the speakers. Elise was flush with excitement and embarrassment and Leon could not have smiled wider if his life depended on it. The sky was now a dusky green color, the sun long gone into sleep, the city settling in for its evening nap. People took their seats again and the boat made its way back to the dock, everyone in good spirits.
Elise pulled something from her purse, her surprise. Leon looked over, intrigued. She was not usually the gift-giver in their relationship. She handed him a small box, wrapped in brown paper. He opened it and discovered a stunning watch, complete with a brown leather band. The face of the watch was Mother of Pearl, with a lunar inlay and a date window. “So you can always remember the night you proposed,” she smiled.
“As if I could ever forget this.” He kissed her forehead and pulled her closer, an arm around her shoulder.
The boat glided gently into the dock and all the passengers disembarked. Leon brought Elise to meet the captain, shaking hands and thanking him graciously. Elise had not known how coordinated Leon had been about this, but now she was fully aware. He had gone out of his way to plan this, to make it just right, and it made her sigh with gratitude and thankfulness that he was so thoughtful. She knew he would be a great husband, an intentional one, and it made her tingle at the thought of having him all to herself. Leon grabbed his satchel and they made their way off the boat.
“Well, future Mrs. Burke, what else would you like to do this fine evening?” Leon asked with cajolement in his voice.
“I think we’ve had enough roller coasters tonight, Leon” Elise laughed as they walked up the stairs, hand in hand. “But you could provide your gallant protection and take me home,” she said with a hint of flirtation. They reached the top of the stairs and looked back down at the boat where everything had just happened. Life was different now and they both felt it, both craved it and feared it. They were going to be married. Even the word sounded odd and exhilarating.
Leon could not contain himself any longer from all his excitement. He swung Elise toward him and kissed her once more. It was a long, sensual kiss. And despite the fact that they were in the middle of the plaza of the Wrigley building on one of the busiest streets in Chicago, Elise did not care. She let him caress her and gave in to his urgent kisses. For at least one night, the world did not matter. It was only them. The Emerald and the Sapphire.