Jim knew he was jumping the gun. They'd barely been dating six weeks when he bought The Ring. He bought it the day before the Fourth of July, mere hours before picking Pam up to attend his family's big summertime event. He didn't tell anyone about the second largest purchase of his life. (He still couldn't believe this ring cost more than his old Corolla, even if he had bought the car second-hand) He knew everyone would think he was rushing things. But it was perfect - nearly as perfect as she was.
So he bought a symbol of his permanent attachment to her, on the day before the national holiday celebrating independence. He thought the irony was appropriate, because since they'd finally gotten things right, he never felt freer. This was what he had wanted for so long, and damn it if he wasn't going to make sure he finally got it. So he purchased The Ring, tucked it safely away, and celebrated the holiday with his family and his girl, a mysterious little smile appearing every now and then, knowing he just needed the right moment.
The summer wore on, and Jim found himself looking at that ring at nearly every opportunity. As the weeks went by, and their relationship continued to thrive, he spent nearly every free moment brainstorming original ways to propose to her. It didn't have to be grand. In fact he knew her well enough to believe she would probably appreciate it more if he didn't do something that would embarrass her in front of crowd. It should be a quiet but heartfelt gesture, a moment shared between just him and her, in a place they'd remember all their lives. A perfect moment they would both look back on fondly. It didn't seem like much to ask. As autumn approached, Jim thought maybe his chance had finally arrived.
For years Pam's family rented cabins at Lake Henry for the Labor Day weekend, and this time was particularly special in that both of Pam's sisters would be attending. The Beesly girls hadn't shared a holiday at the lake together since Emily graduated from high school some five years ago. With Pam's elaborate descriptions of the stunning sunsets over the mountains, and her whispered promises of stealing him away for afternoons alone on a blanket in the woods, Jim carefully packed The Ring and waited for his chance.
Meeting Pam's sisters was as much fun as Jim had expected. Juliet, the oldest, was a married librarian who arrived with her husband Phillip and their two young children, Stephen and Jon. Emily was the youngest, still finishing up college and working toward becoming a music teacher. She brought along her boyfriend Benjamin, and he and Jim seemed to click immediately, perhaps both aware that they were the only ones not quite yet family, though certainly never treated as anything but.
Jim could see so many similarities between Juliet, Pam, and Emily almost immediately, even if he did think that Pam was noticeably prettier, slightly smarter, and definitely the one with the sharpest sense of humor. He could imagine what their daughters might be like just by watching Pam interact with her sisters.
Come Sunday evening, Pam and Jim were sitting on a wooden swing that overlooked the lake, his arm snugly around her shoulders, enjoying the view and the peace that came from Juliet's children being somewhere on the other side of the property.
“I hope spending this weekend with my crazy family hasn't scared you away,” Pam joked, resting her head against his shoulder.
“I'm still here, aren't I?”
“Well, we drove up in my car, so you are kinda stuck. I was thinking more about when we get back to civilization tomorrow night.”
Jim hugged her a little tighter. “Nah, I'm afraid you haven't rid yourself of me that easily.”
“Good,” she smiled. They sat in comfortable silence for a while, watching the occasional jet skier make their way across the lake.
“This is probably the best summer I've had in a long time,” Pam said.
“Me, too. Definitely beats last year.”
“Don't even go there,” she warned. “Last summer has been stricken from my memory.”
“Fair enough,” he nodded. “As long as we learned something, I guess.”
“I know I did.”
“What did you learn?”
“I learned that it sucks being without you.”
He laughed softly. “What a coincidence. I learned the same exact thing.”
She wrapped her arms around him. “See, it's fate. We are meant to be together.”
As they sat there, the bench gently swaying, it occurred to him that now was the time. He kissed her forehead. “Sit tight,” he told her. “I'll be right back.”
Jim wasted little time in finding The Ring in the hidden compartment of his suitcase, stopping only to take a deep breath and try to think of what in the world he was actually going to say to her. He'd been waiting so long it seemed like he'd automatically know what to say, but now that the time had arrived he was forgetting all the words he'd practiced. He was forgetting his own name, to be honest. The realization was dawning that he was about to change everything. Forever. He took another deep breath and headed back out. Everything would be just fine.
As he approached the swing he saw that Pam was no longer sitting alone. Her sister Emily had joined her, and the two were hugging enthusiastically.
“Hey,” he greeted them, hoping Emily would soon be on her way elsewhere.
“Oh my God, Jim,” Pam exclaimed, “Ben just proposed to Emily! And she said yes!”
“Wow, that's great,” Jim replied, feeling more than a bit deflated. No wonder he and Benjamin had hit it off so well. They both had arrived with similar agendas. But in no mood to steal the spotlight, Jim knew that his chance was just going to have to wait.