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We bobbed in our seats during the drive up the mountain. The trail was rugged, and cobblestones chipped my fender. We stepped out of the car to absorb the crisp air and look at the clouds, only a stone’s throw away. The verdant valleys spanned for kilometres, and the stream was purer than bottled water. The mountain slopes were tucked behind each other and looked like they had laid a path to the end of the rainbow.

Mandelin looked at me and smiled for the first time in weeks. She laid a blanket on the grass and sat down. Her white dress reached just above her knees, and the sandals revealed her shiny nails. I loved that she always dressed elegantly.

I took a basket out of the boot and saw her jaw lower before she hugged me. The mountain drive and the picnic were a surprise.

“Oh, my God. Look at the bear over there!” I said, pointing over her shoulder.

She jerked her head, scanned the perimeter and frowned. “Where? I can’t see it. Show me where -.”

The rest of the sentence evaporated as she turned around and gawked at the diamond ring. I chuckled, then got on my knee. “Will you marry me?”

Her eyes glistened, and a hand covered her mouth. “I’ve waited my whole life for this moment,” she said as tears coursed down her cheeks.

Seeing her joy made me smile, so I stood up, pulled her into me and then pressed my lips against her forehead. She wiped the tears and looked up at me, her cheeks flushed. “Yes, of course I’ll marry you.”

I picked her up and spun her around with our lips pressed together. As her feet touched the ground, I bit her neck, and she raised her chin. She squeezed my shoulders and closed her eyes as I ran my hands up her back while kissing her jawline.

On the way home, we stopped at a petrol station. As I opened the door to step out, Mandelin tugged my arm. Her pouty face begged me not to leave her, so I squeezed her hand to assure her that I would return soon.

We got home at night and cuddled in bed. “No, sweetie,” whispered Mandelin after I slipped the gown strap off her shoulders.

“What’s wrong? We’re getting married soon.”

“I told you that I want to wait.”

“We’re almost there. Let’s practise for the big day.” I smiled and flashed my eyebrows. She frowned. “What’s the big deal?”

“It’s a big deal to me. I’ve waited this long, so I can wait a bit longer.”

It dawned on me. “Are you a virgin?” Her eyes lowered, and she nodded. “I had no idea.”

I pulled her into me and kissed her forehead, then softly stroked her cheek. After she dozed off, I looked at her and thought about the events that led to my engagement.

Being shy prevented me from interacting with girls as a teenager and confined me to a bench between classes at university. Single women had saturated the campus, yet I spent my youth with loneliness. My turning point happened two years after graduation when I was alone on a couch in a nightclub.

“Hey, Warren. Is that you?” I sat up and frowned. “It’s James from school,” he added.

“Oh, yeah.”

Looking at his smart dress code, fit body and thick black hair reminded me of the reasons we called him Bond in high school.

“Who’re you here with?” he asked. I kept looking at him, embarrassed to answer. He slapped my chest. “Come. Let’s go.”

James walked up to a beautiful woman, smiled, looked her in the eyes and shook her hand for longer than usual. They locked eyes, and she flicked her hair back to expose her neck, then leaned into him and touched his shoulder. He put her number in his phone and then came back to me.

“Your turn,” he said, jolting my elbow.

“Um, maybe another time. I’m a bit tired.” James pushed me, and I knocked a woman’s drink onto her chest. “I’m really sorry about this. Let me get that for you,” I said and snatched a serviette off the bar.

She frowned as I dabbed the serviette on her tits, barely wobbling. My dick rose, straining against my trousers.

“You’re quite cheeky to do that,” she said. Uh-oh. Here comes a slap. “I like that. Most men don’t have the guts.”

She bit her lip, circled the tip of the glass with her finger and waited for a response. My eyes lowered to her chest, and I gulped. I took a quick sip to wet my drying mouth and saw her eyebrow raise. As my palms moistened, I knew that my anxiety would spiral out of control. My ego couldn’t accept embarrassing myself in front of a stunner, so I walked away.

James smacked the back of my head when I returned to him. “What are you doing? That girl was into you.”

“I don’t know. I froze and panicked.”

“Because you were worried about what she was going to think.”

“Pretty much.”

He smiled. “Look, Warren. You’re a good-looking guy. The only thing you’re missing is self-confidence. Without it, you can forget about getting women. The only way to come out of your shell is to keep putting yourself in those awkward situations and persist. Promise me that you’re not going to back out, regardless of how weird you might feel.”

“I promise.”

“Good.” He pointed over my shoulder. “There’s a nice girl who’s got your name all over her.”

It took only one approach to crack my shell, but his continued mentorship helped me shatter it.

I spent the following few weeks as his wingman. He boosted my confidence by commending me on every interaction, especially when it was catastrophic. For the first time, I felt I had somebody who would stick by my side. How wrong I was.

“My company is transferring me to their UK branch,” said James.

I frowned. “What? When?”

“This has been in the making for the last two months. I’m leaving next week.” He put his hand on my shoulder and stared at me. “Sorry, buddy. We had a lot of fun.”

I met many women after James’s departure, but only a few were worth remembering. There was nothing wrong with most of them, but they were not going to be the mother of my child. I spoke to all types of women, even the ones I didn’t find attractive. James taught me to approach everyone because it helped to build social momentum. I was picky about the ones I kissed and slept with because the quality was more important to me than quantity.

A few months into his UK residence, James called. I burst out laughing when he told me that he’d gotten engaged to an Eastern European woman. Picturing him at the altar after seeing him with numerous women was impossible.

Two weeks before the wedding, James and his fiancé died in a car accident. All of the energy drained from my body, leaving me miserable and hopeless.

I hit the snooze button at least three times every morning for the following week. Getting out of bed meant I had to face the reality that James wasn’t alive. My routine consisted of going home after work, watching TV and going to bed on an empty stomach, resulting in a three-kilogram weight loss in one week. The only positive thing I gained from that experience was realising that life was short, and nobody could guarantee me the following day.

Mandelin kissed and handed me a lunchbox with a note that said she loved me. “What time are you coming back?” she asked, standing beside my car.

“Same time.” I smiled and blew a kiss, then pulled off.

That weekend, we went to a family gathering. Mandelin paraded the engagement ring for her family and friends, who flashed an approval smile at me.

I walked out to the garden, sat by the pool and thought about marriage. I recalled reuniting with many of my high school mates a few years after graduation. Their sour facial expressions, because of a dull marriage, were the vivid images in my mind. Some of the female classmates were just as miserable because they had succumbed to the family pressure of marrying before turning thirty. Most had married a mediocre partner to conform, so I respected Mandelin’s decision to withhold marriage until she met her ideal partner.

I flinched as Peter tapped my shoulder from behind, and he shifted a chair close to me. I saw that Mandelin had inherited an elegant dress code from her father, who always looked neat but had a carrot up his bum. He was clean-shaven, had short hair, tucked his shirt into his pants and wore a drill sergeant’s facial expression.

“Warren, in marriage, you can either be right or happy.” I chuckled. “Women are not logical beings like men, and they function on emotions. Some of the woman’s decisions will not make sense to us, and that is not its purpose. We have to understand that abiding by her wishes will avoid us a lot of drama.” I nodded. “How do you feel about getting married?” I looked at the ground for a few seconds. “I’m sensing some reluctancy,” he added.

“Just a bit of nerves.”

He patted me on the back. “As long as you give them what they want, you’ll get what you want. They’re waiting for you. Let’s go back inside.”

We walked into the lounge. “Ah, here he is,” said Mandelin’s friend. The rest of the group turned to look at me, and I smiled with clenched teeth. What the hell do they want from me? “Where are you taking my friend on a honeymoon?”

“I’m still deciding,” I said.

“You better take care of my precious Mandelin,” said another.

My eyes drifted right. “Will do.”

“Mandelin said you want a boy. What if it’s a girl?” asked another friend.

My eyes dragged left. “Let’s cross that bridge when we get there, shall we?”

“Oh, my God. What if they’re twins?” asked the third friend to the group.

I squeezed my fiancé’s hand and looked at her. “Sorry, ladies. We have to get going,” she said.

“Awww,” they said in unison.

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