“Why am I not surprised to see you here?” Senator Alejandro Cohen stood and offered his hand to Mark. The arena where the graduation ceremony was to be held was filling up with friends and family, but he had strategically chosen seats of honor close to the stage where Hazel and her twin brother, Mateo would be accepting their high school diplomas.
Mark knew Hazel’s mother and father hadn’t intended to save him a seat. Rather, Mark had requested that location when he sent a formal letter to the superintendent of the private school along with a check for the school’s endowment fund.
“Good to finally meet you in person, Sir.” Mark took the senator’s proffered hand and looked the man in the eye. Then he reached around him and took Avellana Cohen’s hand in greeting. “And you as well, Mrs. Cohen.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Avellana said with a kind smile.
“I’ve been meaning to thank you for your generous donation to my re-election campaign,” Senator Cohen said, nodding regally.
“It’s the least I can do seeing as how I’m coming here today to steal your daughter,” Mark said without batting an eye.
“Tell me, Your Highness, is my daughter aware of your intentions?”
“When I sent her a text this morning to wish her a happy eighteenth birthday, at fifteen seconds after Midnight, I’m sure she suspected.”
“This is a convenient day for you, I must say.”
“Quite convenient,” Mark acknowledged. “Two hurdles to our official betrothal eliminated in one day.”
“She’s still too young to marry you.” Senator Cohen raised his eyebrows.
“But of a legal age to make that decision, as of a few hours ago.” Mark made a show of glancing at his watch. “And if I get the sense that she’d rather take a few years to attend a university before we get engaged, I will keep this ring in my pocket until at which time she decides she’s ready to love me, if she so chooses. High school graduation is a pivotal time and I don’t want to put any pressure on her.”
“Considering she and her mother began picking out wedding dresses when she got home from spring break, I have a feeling she’s already accepted your proposal.”
“Her crown awaits,” Mark said, only partially in jest. He winked at Hazel’s mother.
Most people were now seated, and the concert band shifted their tune to a more formal processional march to welcome the faculty and staff of the small, private high school.
After what felt like a lifetime to wait, finally Mark saw Hazel enter the arena in her cap and gown on the arm of her twin brother.
He knew the moment she saw him sitting next to her father because her smile faltered, and her jaw dropped. For a second he thought she was angry he was there. But then her youthful smile lit her face with anticipation and excitement.
Staying in his seat for the entire ceremony was nearly impossible. She kept turning around to glance over at him, as if his presence here wasn’t already creating a firestorm of whispers. He should have known wearing a simple band of gold around his head was a bad idea, but it was required whenever he needed to dress in formal attire.
Besides, if he was going to propose to his future princess, he’d better look like a prince.
The recessional march had barely begun when Hazel pushed through the lines of retreating fellow graduates and ahead to where Mark was sitting.
He stood to greet her just as she leapt into his arms and wrapped both her arms and legs around him like a monkey, pressing her lips to his.
Although he wanted to continue this non-verbal conversation, Mark knew this was neither the time nor place. He pulled back but only slightly, not wasting the first words from his mouth.
“Will you marry me, princess?” he whispered through the din of noise in the bustling arena.
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes, I’ll marry you!” Hazel cried out.
“I’ve taken the liberty of removing your diamond from my leather bag,” Mark said, setting Hazel on her feet. “Would you like to see it?”
“Do we get to go ring shopping?” she asked with excitement.
“No,” he said. Her face faltered until he completed his explanation. “I’ve already done that.”
Mark opened the velvet box to reveal an elegant setting with her two-carat diamond nested in a dozen smaller diamonds that resembled a crown.
He lowered himself to one knee on the floor of the arena, ignoring all the people with their cameras and cell phones raised, and held up the little velvet box. “Hazel Marie Cohen, would you do me the incredible honor of marrying me and accepting the title of Princess of Madain Saleh.”
“Yes, I will.” Her jubilance kept her bouncing on her toes while he attempted to place the ring on her finger.
When he rose to his feet again, she pressed herself into his arms and kissed him long and hard. Mark looked forward to the day when he’d be reunited with his grandfather and gave his full report that they raised beautiful babies and lived happily ever after.