"I'm going to marry you." The words left his lips and my brain did not register them as I stared into his eyes. Deep pools of blue shone brightly back at me, smiling. My heart flipped over like a pancake. "I'm serious, Jodi. I've waited my whole life for a woman like you."
If a heart could race at that moment, mine was an Indy car on the final lap. I looked at Corey, trying not to cry. He was nuts. That had to be it. There was no other explanation. He had a history of insanity and I was just learning about it. That could be the only reason he'd said the words I so longed to hear. Marry me?
"Don't look so surprised," he chuckled. Then ran his fingers along my bare arm.
Tingles shot through my body, turning my skin to gooseflesh. Suprised? Of course, I'm surprised. I'm surprised every time he mentions spending the rest of his life with me. This wasn't the first time Corey had spoken of marriage.
In fact, over the past five months, since we'd been dating, he'd mentioned it endlessly. And each time, I had the same reaction. God was playing a cruel trick on me, sending me this amazing man to love. I had no idea how to respond.
"What are you thinking?" He asked, looking at me with that all-knowing smile of his that always seemed to curl my toes whenever he flashed it. I loved the way his eyes crinkled whenever he smiled, showcasing the most adorable crows feet at each corner.
"You're crazy," I said finally.
Corey laughed. It was a hearty chuckle that came deep from within his belly. The kind of sound that when you hear it causes you to smile no matter what mood you're in. "Yeah, but you can handle my kind of crazy." He planted a swift kiss on the tip of my nose. "I'm being serious. Tell me what you're really thinking."
What was I thinking? I pulled the covers up over my bare body as a light breeze filtered in from the bedroom window above my head. The sun was shining brightly outside. Jake was at his father's for the weekend. Looking at the man lying next to me, I drew in a heavy sigh.
I loved these moments spent with him. Moments where I didn't have to work one of the three jobs I had. Where I could just bask in the glowing warmth of love that he'd brought into my life. A feat not easily accomplished when you are the single mother of an overactive five-year-old.
I felt his eyes upon me. I had so many things I wanted to say. Corey waited patiently. He watched me intently. It was something I hadn't quite gotten used to, the way his eyes always seemed to focus on me as though I were the only woman on the planet. He said he loved watching my expressions shift across my face, giving him unlimited guidance to my feelings. "Jodi?"
I shrugged my shoulders. My heart still pounding, I felt my vulnerability sliding upwards as I met his gaze. "I don't know what to say," I admitted honestly. "I hear you tell me that you want to marry me and I just want to cry."
Corey's eyebrows drew together and he frowned. "Baby, why? Why would you want to cry over me saying that I want to marry you? I love you, Jodi. Don't you know that?"
His words spilled over me with warmth. I did know that. Two tears slid from my green eyes and I glanced away, staring at the wall beside me.
Corey always told me how he felt about me. So open and honest. But every time I heard it, was like a truck driving straight through my heart. I didn't believe him. He loved me. He loved me. He'd shown me in so many ways since we'd gotten together. Why was it so hard for me to just let go?
I met Corey online through a dating site. At thirty years old, coming out of an abusive relationship that had lasted half my lifetime, I was ready to move on. But dating had changed. It was different now.
I had tried the club scene, but it was merely a meat market for people looking to hook up for a one-night stand and nothing more. I tried dating through friends of friends. That didn't pan out. That's when I joined an online site where men and women could meet. I felt like a fish out of water.
Corey said he'd seen my photo and read my profile. He had to pay money to obtain my email so we could talk. We began chatting on MSN and after a couple months passed, I finally agreed to go out for coffee with him on a blind date. He knew what I looked like, but I had no clue whom I was meeting. It was a bit unnerving.
I knew it the first moment I saw him that it was crazy. How can you meet any man even remotely worth spending time with after talking on the Internet? Let alone find one to spend the rest of your life loving. But I had nothing to lose.
I wanted marriage and kids. I wanted someone I could talk to who understood how I felt about things. I wanted someone to see me and still love me for all the good and bad, the ups and downs that we all go through in life. Someone to look past my faults and see the good qualities I had inside of me. I wanted someone to hold my hand when we went for a walk. Someone to dance with me in the rain.
I wanted my soulmate.
And I'd found that with Corey.
Corey wasn't perfect, not by any means. But he was my prince charming. He'd suffered a head injury at eighteen after catapulting off his motorcycle while hitting a green light standard with the right side of his skull, crippling his memory. He was lucky to be alive. And in the past several months, I'd witnessed how difficult life must've been for him, overcoming these obstacles he'd tackled in his life. He had to learn to walk and talk again and do simple things that most of us take for granted such as eating with utensils or going to the bathroom without any assistance.
He'd come so far.
"I do love you," I told him suddenly. Reaching out, I brushed a lock of his strawberry blonde hair back from his face. Tears streaming down my cheeks, I smiled. He was perfect for me. A man in every sense of the word, and yet emotional and caring.
"I know you do," he said. "So what's the problem?"
The problem was I was afraid.
"Don't be," Corey said.
My eyes shot wide. I hated it when he did that, and he grinned boyishly at me. It was a trait he'd picked up almost since the moment we'd met. The ability to read my emotions and know what I was thinking.
"I love you, honey. I've already told you that. There is no fear with love. Only trust and respect, hope and understanding. You are my best friend."
"You are mine," I told him.
And he really was.
I loved the fact that I could tell Corey anything. Sure, he might forget what I had told him just moments after me saying the words, but that didn't matter. He always listened. He never tried to fix me or my feelings. He never put me down when I got all crazy and girlie-like. He laughed with me. Hugged me all the time. And yes, he even danced with me in the rain.
But I was still scared.
What if I screwed things up? What if it didn't work out? I don't think my heart could bare another loss of loving someone who didn't love you back. I still wept for my past. What if I couldn't make him happy? Was I willing to take that chance again?
"Listen," Corey said. "I know you worry. I do, too. I know this thing between us happened fast. But it was meant to be. Life is a path made out of pebbled stones," he paused. He picked up my hand in his own and held it to his heart against his chest. "We take a chance when we walk down it. Never knowing if the stones will hurt our feet. Or lead us somewhere we might not want to be. But you have to trust the path. Trust yourself. Trust me."
My tears fell freely now. I glanced down at the blanket and one hand reached up to wipe them off my cheeks. I understood what he was saying. Then I looked at him. "But how can you be so sure I'm the one?" There. I had asked the question I was so afraid to ask. "How do you know you aren't making a big mistake?"
"Because I know," he said. "I feel it. Every time you look at me with those sparkling green eyes of yours filled with so much love my chest can barely take it. I know that you love me. I feel it when you hold my hand, or when you bring me an aspirin because I have another migraine coming on. When you burn my dinner and then apologize," he gave me a wink. "And I tell you that charcoal is good for the soul and watch as you draw in a breath of relief. I know you are scared having me love you. But, I do, love you. And when you release your walls and your spirit long enough, allowing yourself to enjoy those moments that we share. I watch your face light up brighter than the sun and I know. You're the one for me."
I threw my arms around his neck, sobbing. Like a damn waiting to burst, the flood of tears and aching pain I had carried all these years, wishing and hoping, praying and longing that someone could ever love me as much as I love them. It was real. "I do love you!" I cried softly into Corey's neck.
And I knew my answer.
I would marry Corey. I wanted to marry him. I wanted all those things he talked about. To walk that pebbled road and hope that would lead us into the right direction. And if it didn't. That was okay. I had Corey to rub my feet if the stones hurt along the way. But something told me no matter which pebbled road we walked on, it wouldn't matter. As long as we were together.
(Jodi did marry Corey and they will celebrate their 13th wedding anniversary this December. They have three beautiful boys and they are still walking that pebbled road, hand in hand, one foot in front of the other always hoping, dreaming and wishing along the way).