The voices spoke in slow motion as Tobias Fox recorded a transcript of the city council meeting on his steno machine. Politicians droned on about budgets and bylaws for what felt like days, until finally the meeting was adjourned.

Tobias quickly proofread the transcript and submitted it to the council on his way out of the building. The traffic slowed to a crawl as he hurried along the sidewalk, weaving between pedestrians and jaywalking at every intersection.

He climbed the stairs to his apartment a couple minutes later, stashed his gear, and changed into some nicer clothes. Finally, he retrieved the package he’d hidden in his linen closet and shoved it into his pocket.

He picked up a dozen roses at a little flower shop called The Scarlet Pimpernel and made his way to the high-end apartment building where his girlfriend lived. He spent the fifteen-story elevator ride taking several long, deep breaths.

He knocked three times on her door and stepped back. A minute later, Violet Fletcher stood in the doorway wearing a white wrap dress with a matching headband in her short blonde hair. He handed her the roses.

“Happy three-month anniversary,” he said.

“Why, thank you,” she replied. “They’re lovely.”

She turned back into her apartment and motioned for him to enter. He touched his pocket once more and followed her inside. She stepped into the kitchen.

“Dinner’s almost ready,” she said.

A pot of spaghetti was boiling on the stove, and he could smell garlic wafting from the oven. Violet put the roses in a vase and poured a little water in with them.

“Is there anything I can help with?” he asked.

“Actually, yeah,” she said, and pointed to a jar of pasta sauce on the counter. “Could you open…”

She shifted into slow motion. Stepping into the kitchen, he picked up the jar and twisted the lid, but it wouldn’t come off.


He held the jar under his arm and tried again.


He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around the lid. Finally, the jar popped open.


He placed the jar on the counter and the world sped back up. She stared at the jar for a moment, then chuckled.

“My hero,” she said.

She kissed him on the cheek and ushered him out of the kitchen. He waited at the dining room table for a few minutes, until she came out with the spaghetti in a large bowl.

“It’s not as good as yours, of course,” she said, “but I think it turned out pretty decent.”

She popped back into the kitchen for the sauce and the garlic bread. She sat across the table from him and paused in thought for a moment. She snapped her fingers.

“I forgot the…”

He stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of red wine in a fraction of a second.

“…wine,” she said as he filled her glass.

He poured himself some too, and took a seat opposite her.

“To us,” he said, raising his glass. “May we last at least another three months.”

“Practical,” she said. “I like it.”

They clinked glasses and dug into the meal. The sauce was a little spicy for his tastes, but he knew she liked it that way.

“Oh,” she said halfway through her plate, “I got you a gift.”

She reached under the table and handed him an old leather box with a rusty metal latch. He set it on his lap and opened the lid. Inside the box was a stenotype machine, at least sixty years old, maybe more. It was in surprisingly good shape for its age.

“Oh my God,” he said. “Where did you find this?”

“The courthouse,” she said. “It’d been sitting around in a storage room for decades, collecting dust. I persuaded them to let me have it.”

“This is awesome,” he said, tapping the keys. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad you like it,” she said, smiling.

He set it on the table and cleared his throat.

“I, um, have something for you, too,” he said.

He took the little box out of his pocket and slid it slowly across the table. She opened it and her eyes widened. He was down on one knee in front of her before she could even blink. He took a deep breath, collected his thoughts.

“I know we’ve only been together a short while,” he said, “but there is no doubt in my mind that you are the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. Violet Fletcher, will you marry me?”

She said nothing for a full minute. He tried to think of ways he could pass the whole thing off as a joke but came up blank. He could feel sweat beading on his forehead.

“Yeah,” she said finally.

He leaned forward and said, “Really?”

“Yes, really,” she said, laughing. “Come here.”

She grabbed him by the tie and hauled him up to her lips.


Tobias lay back in bed watching Violet sleep. Her hand rested on his chest, the diamond ring twinkling in the early morning sunlight. She stirred and lifted her head.

“Hi,” she said groggily.

“Hey,” he replied.

She sat up and turned the ring between her fingers.

“We’re really doing this, aren’t we?” she said.

He hesitated a moment, then said, “Having second thoughts?”

“No, not at all,” she replied, shaking her head. “I’m completely on board. It’s just… I think it’s time for you to meet my family.”

“Really?” he asked, sitting up beside her. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah,” she said, “I’m ready.”

She climbed out of bed. He watched her walk over to the dresser and slide into a robe.

“I’ll call them now,” she said, and stepped out of the room.

He lay back again and stared at the ceiling. He’d almost had himself convinced last night that she would say no and kick him to the curb, but he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Violet reappeared in the doorway a minute later and leaned against the frame. She held her hand over the bottom of her phone.

“They want to have us over for lunch,” she said.

“Like, today?” he asked.

She nodded. He swallowed hard.

“Okay,” he said. “Sounds good.”

She put the phone back to her ear and said, “We’ll be there.”


Tobias straightened his tie and stared up at the imposing stone facade of the Champion Hotel. He turned to Violet, who almost looked more nervous than he was.

“We’re eating here?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she replied. “There’s a private dining room for special events.”

“Don’t you need to book that kind of thing far in advance?” he asked.

She shrugged and said, “Not if your family owns the place.”

She stepped into the revolving door and he quickly slipped in behind her. They came out into a spacious lobby decorated with plants and marble columns and chandeliers. An ornate staircase rose up to the second floor at the far end of the room.

“Your parents own the Champion?” Tobias asked.

“No,” Violet replied. “My grandmother does. My parents just manage it.”

“Wait, so you’re, like… rich?” Tobias said.

“I was,” she said, “but I haven’t taken a penny from them in almost ten years.”

“Wow,” he said, glancing around the lobby.

She nudged him with her elbow and said, “Don’t get too used to it.”

“Miss Violet!” an older man in a dark suit and a matching hairpiece said. “It’s been a long time!”

“Nice to see you, Jerome,” she replied, shaking his hand. “This is Tobias.”

Jerome looked Tobias up and down and shook his hand.

“Pleasure to meet you,” he said, and turned back to Violet. “Your parents are waiting for you in the dining room.”

“Thank you, Jerome,” she said.

He nodded and returned to the front desk.

“You have a butler?” Tobias whispered.

“Concierge,” she said.

“Gesundheit,” he replied.

He grinned and she elbowed him again. They headed up the stairs and down a hallway to a set of double doors at the end. Violet paused with her hand on the knob.

“I hate to ask this,” she said, “but when we’re in there, could you… not use your power?”

“Would they have a problem with it?” he asked.

“It’s complicated,” she said. “But the best thing right now is just to avoid the topic of superpowers altogether.”

“Religion, politics, superpowers,” he said. “Got it.”

She smiled and turned to the door. She took a long, deep breath and exhaled. She opened the door.

The dining room was bathed in an orange glow, as if lit by candles. A narrow table ran the length of the room, draped with white cloth and lined with floral centrepieces.

A middle-aged couple sat at the centre of the table, facing the door. They were both blond, attractive, and exceptionally well-dressed, the man in a navy blue three-piece suit and the woman in a low-cut red dress.

“Hi, Mom, Dad,” Violet said. “This is Tobias, my fiancée.”

Her parents looked at each other for a long moment, then turned back to Violet.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” her father said, gesturing across the table.

Violet sat opposite him and Tobias sat beside her, facing her mother.

“You’re getting married?” her father said. “I wasn’t even aware you were seeing someone.”

“I don’t tell you everything, Dad,” Violet said.

“You don’t tell us anything,” he said. “Half the time, we have to ask your brother to find out what you’re doing with your life.”

“I tell you what you need to know,” she said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

Her mother rolled her eyes and smiled at Tobias.

“Don’t mind them, they’re always like this,” she said, and extended her arm across the table. “I’m Georgia.”

“Tobias Fox,” he said, shaking her hand.

She smiled again and said, “And what do you do for a living, Mr. Fox?”

“I’m a stenographer,” he said.

“Ah,” she said. “You must have met Violet at work, then.”

Tobias nodded.

“Her firm is one of my clients,” he said. “I mostly do freelance. City council meetings, depositions, sometimes even close-captioning for the local news.”

“Is it a difficult job?” Georgia asked.

“No, I…” he hesitated, glanced at Violet. “I’m a pretty quick typist, so it’s not too bad.”

“That’s good to hear,” she said. “So how long have you two been together?”

Tobias glanced at Violet and muttered, “Um…”

“Three months,” Violet said.

What?!” her father snapped. “You can’t be serious.” He turned to his wife. “She can’t be serious.”

“I’m serious,” Violet said. “We met last year, we went on our first date three months ago, and he proposed last night.”

“This is ridiculous,” her father said.

He stood from his seat and turned to face a marble fireplace, his hands clasped behind his back.

“It’s nothing personal,” Georgia said to Tobias. “It’s just very sudden. Three months is such a short time to get to know someone. How can you be sure you’re making the right decision?”

“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life,” he replied, squeezing Violet’s hand. “I love your daughter, and nothing will ever change that.”

Violet’s father scoffed.

“You’re acting like children,” he said, and glanced back at Violet. “Marriage isn’t something you enter into lightly, and it’s not easy to get out if you change your mind later.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Violet said. “I went to law school, remember?”

“Yes, I do,” he said, “which is why I thought you’d have more sense than to—”

A bell rang, and he dug a phone out of his jacket pocket.

“Hello?” he said. “What? Dammit, I’ll be right there.”

He put the phone away and turned back to the table.

“There’s a problem with one of our guests,” he said. “I have to go deal with it.”

“Can’t it wait?” Georgia asked.

“Sorry, no,” he replied, and glanced at Violet. “We’ll finish this another day.”

Violet rolled her eyes as her father hurried around the table and out the door. A long silence filled the dining room, until Georgia clapped her hands together and smiled.

“So,” she said, “who’s hungry?”


Tobias spent lunch fielding questions from Georgia on various topics: his background, education, hobbies, etc. He did his best to answer everything without mentioning his superpower.

“Well, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation,” she said after dessert, “but now I really must get back to work. I look forward to seeing more of you in the future. I’ll make sure Victor behaves himself next time.”

Violet stood as her mother came around the table, and they exchanged a brief hug. Georgia smiled at Tobias and stepped through the double doors.

“Well, that was awkward,” he said after a moment.

Violet shrugged.

“It’s about as good as it gets with them,” she said.

“Your mother seems nice, at least,” he said.

“Don’t let it fool you,” Violet said. “It’s the classic good cop, bad cop routine. They’re both on exactly the same page.”

“Do you think they’ll come around eventually?” he asked.

“I hope not,” she replied. “Pissing them off is half the fun.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, maybe just a third,” she said with a wink.

She linked arms with him and led him out into the hallway.

“Are you going to give me the grand tour now?” he asked.

“I’d rather just get out of here,” she replied.

“That works, too,” he said.

They headed down the stairs. Violet waved to Jerome on her way across the lobby and quickly ducked outside. She stood on the sidewalk for a long moment, staring up at the building.

“So, I know you’re probably all familied out right now,” Tobias said, “but I was thinking maybe we could swing by the library next.”

Violet squeezed his arm and said, “Sure.”


Tobias stepped into the Victory City Public Library and hurried through a crowd of slow-motion patrons to a section labeled “Family and Relationships.” He grabbed a handful of books on marriage and made his way to the entrance, where Violet was waiting.

“Ready,” he said, returning to normal speed.

She glanced at the books in his hands and chuckled.

“Dork,” she said.

He grinned and headed back inside the library. He tucked the books under his arm and approached the front counter, where his mother, Ava, was helping a teenager check out a young adult novel.

“Hey, kiddos,” she said when the teenager headed out with the book. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Just looking to borrow something,” he said.

He nonchalantly placed the books on the counter and shoved his hands into his pockets. Ava stared down, her eyes darting across the titles several times. She looked up at Tobias and Violet.

“You… you…” she stammered.

Violet raised her hand, showing off the ring. Ava shrieked and sprang from her seat. She hurried out from behind the counter and grabbed both of them into a tight hug.

“Oh my God!” she cried. “Congratulations!”

She released them and stepped back.

“I’ve always had a good feeling about you,” she said, poking Violet in the arm. “The first time he brought you over for dinner, I said to myself, ‘This is it. She’s the one.’”

Violet glanced down at the floor, a touch of red coloring her cheeks.

“You don’t think it’s too soon?” she asked.

“This is nothing,” Ava said. “His father proposed after three weeks.”

“Okay, now that’s crazy,” Violet said.

“Yeah,” Ava said, grinning, “but it worked out all right.”

She patted Tobias on the back. He rolled his eyes.

“So have you set a date yet?” she asked.

“Well, I was thinking maybe sometime this coming spring,” he said, and glanced at Violet, “but I’m okay with waiting, if you’d rather.”

“No, that sounds great,” she said. “Let’s throw caution to the wind.”

“I like your spirit, girl,” Ava said. “If you need any help with the planning, you can call on me anytime. Unless you and your mother want to handle it on your own.”

“I don’t think Mom’s going to be interested in helping,” Violet said.

“Nonsense,” Ava said. “What kind of mother doesn’t want to plan her daughter’s wedding?”

“The kind that thinks I’m making a huge mistake,” Violet said.

“Well, you should ask her anyway,” Ava said. “But if I end up getting you all to myself, I won’t complain.”

She winked. Violet chuckled.

“I’ll be in good hands either way,” she said.

Ava just smiled at them for a long moment, then said, “God, I’m so happy for you two.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Tobias said.

“Now, run along,” Ava said. “I’m sure you’ve got more celebrating to do.”

She kissed them both on the cheek and stepped back around the counter. She made a “call me” gesture to Violet and turned to the line of customers that had gathered in her absence.

On their way out of the building, Violet glanced back at the counter and said, “You’re so lucky.”

“Yeah,” he said, squeezing her hand, “I am.”


Tobias had a shift at Violet’s office the next morning, so they made the announcement to her coworkers together. Her boss threw an impromptu engagement party in the break room, complete with a hastily-purchased cake from a shop around the block

Halfway through the party, Tobias’s phone rang. He glanced at the call display but didn’t recognize the number. Violet peered over his shoulder and sighed.

“You’d better answer that,” she said. “It’s my dad.”

“How’d he get my number?” Tobias asked.

“Probably hired someone to track you down,” she replied.

“Well, that’s creepy,” he muttered, and answered the call. “Hello?”

“Mr. Fox?” her father said. “Victor Fletcher here.”

“Good afternoon, sir,” Tobias replied. “How can I help you?”

“We didn’t have much of a chance to talk yesterday,” Victor said. “I’d like to sit down with you and discuss your future with my daughter.”

“Of course,” Tobias said. “I’d be happy to.”

“Good,” Victor said. “Meet me at the hotel bar, tonight at eight.”

“All right,” Tobias said, “I’ll see you th—”

Victor hung up. Tobias just stared at the phone for a long moment.

“What did he want?” Violet asked.

“He wants to meet tonight,” Tobias replied. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

She glanced away and said, “I’m… not sure.”


Evening came, and Tobias returned to the Champion Hotel without Violet as backup. He paced around the block for a while before heading inside. The concierge, Jerome, approached him as he entered.

“Good evening,” he said. “I’ve been instructed to show you to the bar.”

Tobias followed him through the hotel to a warmly-lit club with wood-panelled walls. It was a little over half full, mostly businessmen in town for a conference of some kind. He spotted Victor sitting at the bar.

“Thanks,” Tobias said to Jerome.

The concierge nodded and headed back to the lobby. Tobias took a deep breath and approached the bar.

“Hello, sir,” he said.

Victor gestured for Tobias to sit and said, “Just call me Victor.”

“Okay,” Tobias replied, and climbed onto the next stool.

“Garrett,” Victor said, flagging down a clean-cut blond bartender, “bring this young man a beer.”

“Sure thing, Dad,” the bartender said.

He popped the cap off a bottle with his thumb and slid it to Tobias.

“You’re Violet’s brother?” Tobias asked.

“Yep,” Garrett replied. “And you must be the fiancée.”

Tobias nodded. Garrett chuckled.

“Good luck,” he said, and strolled off to serve another customer.

“So,” Tobias said, “are you going to try to talk me out of marrying your daughter?”

“No,” Victor said, “I just want to make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into. This family has a lot going on under the surface.”

“Most families do,” Tobias said. “I’m sure it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

“You might be surprised,” Victor said.

“So might you,” Tobias said. “I’m a quick learner.”

Victor chuckled.

“You’re stubborn,” he said. “I can respect that. But there are things you might not have considered. Children, for example.”

“What about them?” Tobias asked.

“Well, raising kids with powers is no easy task,” Victor replied. “You can’t go into that blindly.”

Tobias choked on a gulp of beer.

“How… how did you know I have powers?” he stammered.

“I didn’t,” Victor replied. “I was talking about my daughter.”

Violet has powers?” Tobias muttered.

“We all do,” Victor said. “Well, except Georgia. It comes from my side of the family.”

“What kind of powers?” Tobias asked.

“Just the standard combination: strength, invulnerability, limited flight,” Victor replied. “Hasn’t Violet mentioned any of this to you?”

Tobias stood from his seat.

“Thanks for the beer,” he said. “I have to go.”

“Wait,” Victor said, “what powers do you…?”

Tobias was out of the building before Victor could finish the sentence. He ran all the way to Violet’s building and up the stairs to her floor. He banged on her door until she answered.

“Tobias?” she said. “What are you—”

“He told me,” Tobias blurted out. “About you, about what you can do.”

“Oh God,” she muttered, rubbing her forehead. “I am going to kill him.”

“Don’t blame him,” Tobias said. “He’s not the one who’s been lying to me since the day we met.”

“I wasn’t lying,” she said. “I just… didn’t mention it.”

“A lie of omission is still a lie, Violet,” he said. “You’re a lawyer. You know that.”

“I was going to tell you eventually,” she said. “I was just waiting for the right moment.”

“That’s easy to say now that you’ve been found out,” he said. “How do I know you weren’t planning on keeping it from me forever?”

“Christ, we’ve only been dating a few months,” she said. “If I’d known you were going to propose, I would’ve said something sooner.”

“Well… perhaps that was a mistake,” he said.

“What are you saying?” she asked. “You don’t want to marry me anymore?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Maybe.”

“Tobias, listen to yourself,” she said. “Yes, I have superpowers. No, I didn’t tell you. But what’s the big deal? It’s not like I was cheating on you or something.”

“How can I be sure, though?” he asked. “If you were hiding this, you could be hiding anything.”

“I’m going pretend you didn’t say that,” she said through gritted teeth. “Now, do you want to come inside and discuss this like adults, or should I just give you your ring back right now?”

She reached toward him and he took a step back.

“I need some time to myself,” he said. “I’ll… call you when I’m ready to talk.”

He didn’t wait for her to reply.


Tobias lay back on the grass in Victorious Park at the spot where he and Violet had shared their first date. He stared at the night sky and thought back to the day they met.

Someone at her firm had just retired and Violet was moving to a new office. Tobias had noticed her struggling with a large box so he’d offered to help. That one moment spawned a friendship that eventually grew into something more.

But it was all a lie, wasn’t it? Every time she asked him to open a jar or move some furniture, she was only pretending to be unable to do it herself. She didn’t need his help at all; she was just patronizing him. Mocking him.

He stood up and paced around a bit. No matter what he did, he couldn’t calm himself down. He’d never felt more betrayed in his life. He almost wished she had cheated on him; it would’ve made things so much simpler.

He kept looking at his phone, checking to see if she’d texted or called. A few times he considered phoning her and giving her another earful, but even in his current state, he knew he’d regret it later.

He headed home late in the evening, and spent the night tossing and turning in his bed. He finally drifted off sometime between midnight and dawn.


Tobias could smell Violet’s perfume as he awoke and almost convinced himself he’d dreamt the night before. He opened his eyes and spotted a pair of Violet’s silk pajamas dangling over the edge of the bed right next to his face.

He rolled over and glanced at his alarm clock. If he didn’t get up and get ready soon, he’d be late for work. He was scheduled at Violet’s firm again today. He grabbed his phone and called the office, told them he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t come in.

“It must be contagious,” the secretary said, chuckling. “Have fun, you two.”

He feigned a laugh and said, “Will do.”

He hung up and lay back in bed. He checked his messages. Violet still hadn’t tried to contact him. But he’d be damned if he cracked first. This was all on her. He called his mother instead.

“Hi, honey,” Ava said. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”

“I’m off today,” he replied. “Can I buy you lunch?”

“Oh, sorry, I actually already have plans,” she said. “Rain check?”

“Sure,” he said.

“I have to go,” she said. “Love you, kiddo.”

“Love you, too,” he replied. “Bye.”

She hung up. He sighed and closed his eyes. He dozed for a while, then was reawakened by a knock at his door. He climbed out of bed and stumbled to the living room.

He approached the door and peered through the peephole. Standing on the other side, dressed in a dark red overcoat, was Georgia Fletcher.

In a matter of seconds, Tobias tidied up the apartment and changed into some clean clothes. He opened the door, and Georgia smiled warmly at him.

“Good morning,” she said. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Not really,” he replied.

“Wonderful,” she said. “I was hoping to have a word with you about my daughter. Can I come in?”

She stepped inside without waiting for him to answer. He shut the door behind her and took a deep breath.

“I take it she told you about last night?” he asked.

“No,” Georgia replied, glancing around the room, “but she was yelling loudly enough on the phone with her father that I heard most of it anyway.”

“So I guess you’re here to say, ‘I told you so,’ then,” he said.

Georgia smiled faintly and sat on the couch with her legs crossed.

“On the contrary,” she said. “I want to help make things right.”

“I don’t see how,” he said. “Our entire relationship is built on a lie.”

“Sometimes a lie can tell you more about a person than the truth,” Georgia said.

Tobias opened his mouth to reply, hesitated, then muttered, “Huh?

“My daughter is a very proud woman,” she said. “She values her independence over anything else, and refuses to compromise who she is for anyone. Not her classmates, not her coworkers, not even her parents. So if she’s so worried about what you think of her that she’d pretend to be something she’s not… well, that just means she really cares about you.”

“So… lying is how she shows affection?” he asked.

Georgia chuckled and said, “In a manner of speaking.”

“That’s insane,” he said.

“Perhaps,” she said, “but look at it this way: have you ever done something you didn’t want to do just because you knew it would make her happy?”

“Sure,” he said. “That’s totally different, though.”

“Is it really?” she asked, standing from the couch.

“Yes,” he said.

She flashed that same subtle smile and she strolled across the room to the door.

“Let me ask you this, then,” she said. “If you had known the truth from the beginning, would you still have fallen in love with her?”

“Of course,” he said.

“Then nothing’s changed,” she said.

She stepped out into the hallway and shut the door behind her. Tobias leaned his forehead against the wall and took a deep breath. He smelled perfume again; Georgia and Violet wore the same fragrance, something with a strong hint of lavender.

He rolled Georgia words around in his head. He wasn’t sure he bought the excuse she presented, but it was certainly more appealing than the conclusion he’d come to himself. Was that enough? he wondered.

He glanced down at his phone. Maybe he should have heard Violet out last night instead of rushing off. He probably wouldn’t have believed a word she said anyway, at the time. But now….

He dialed her number.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m not available to take your call right now, but if you leave your name and number, I’ll get back to you. Eventually.”

He sighed. Just hearing her voice again made him want to drop down onto his knees and beg for her forgiveness. He tried to think of how to compress everything going through his head into a concise voicemail, but nothing came out. He hung up after recording several seconds of silence.

He plopped down on the couch and turned on the television. He surfed around a bit, trying to find something to take his mind off things. He wound up passing the time watching a marathon of a local horror series about monster-hunting sisters.

His phone rang. He glanced down, hoping desperately to see Violet’s name in the call display, but it was his mother instead.

“Hey, Mom,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Oh, not much,” she replied. “You still feel like lunch? I seem to have gotten stood up.”

“Sure, I’m free,” he said. “Where are you eating?”

“Remember the place we always went for dim sum back in the day?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Okay, I’ll be right there.”

He stood from the couch, grabbed his coat, and headed out the door.


Tobias stepped into the little Chinese restaurant and looked around. He spotted his mother in the far corner, sitting in a booth across from Violet, who looked up at Tobias in surprise. Ava smiled and stood from the table.

“Well, I should be on my way,” she said. “It’s been lovely talking with you, Violet.”

She headed toward the exit and paused beside Tobias.

“Don’t screw this up,” she said, and continued out the door.

Tobias swallowed hard and approached the table.

“So, um… is this seat taken?” he asked.

Violet shrugged.

“Apparently not,” she said.

He sat across from her and said, “I swear I didn’t put her up to this.”

“Right,” Violet replied. “She just happened to know everything about our fight last night without you telling her. She’s not a psychic, is she? Because that’s probably something you should’ve disclosed earlier in our relationship.”

“Okay, I deserve that,” he said. “But honestly, I didn’t tell her anything. I just….”

He trailed off, then laughed.

“What?” Violet asked.

“Your mother came to visit me this morning,” he said. “I don’t suppose she had something to do with this?”

Violet sighed.

“That sounds about right, actually,” she said. “She’s never been one to mind her own business. What exactly did she tell you?”

“She just explained why you did what you did,” he said. “Or… didn’t do, rather. You know what I mean. Anyway, I realized I was being an idiot. One little secret can’t change the way I feel about you.”

Violet glanced down at the table.

“What… What did my mother say?” he asked.

“She told me you’re an idiot,” Violet said, “but one little secret can’t change the way you feel about me, so I should forgive you.”

“I’ve never known her to be wrong,” he said.

“She also said I should make you work for it,” Violet added, “because you were kind of a dick.”

“Well, almost never,” he added with a wink.

Violet smiled and looked away.

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” she said. “Guys usually run for the hills when they find out I can bench press fifty tons, but I should’ve given you more credit.”

“Based on my recent behavior, I’m not sure I would’ve deserved it,” he said.

“True,” she said, flashing a brief smirk. “So… what do you want to do about this?”

She extended her hand across the table with the engagement ring resting on her palm. He reached out and closed her fingers around it.