James leant his bicycle across the ornate end of the park bench. The cast-iron handrails held tiny pyramids of snow in the curves and swirls of their pattern. The wooden slats wore a covering of virgin snow. He pushed up the cuff on the sleeve of his black softshell jacket gingerly; the sharp air making the hairs on his wrist stand to attention. His watch said ten fifty-five. He looked up the path towards the park gate. No sign yet.
Squinting into the bright sun, he looked across the lake to where the ducks and geese, slipping and sliding like clowns on the icy surface, performed a circus act for his entertainment. Every leaf and every branch of the trees and bushes that lined the paths sparkled with frost. It brought a smile to his face. Sonia will love this.
He swept the snow from the seat with his arm, leaving a thick stripe clinging, like a flash of white paint, to his coat sleeve. He rubbed at the patches of remaining frost with his palms and stood back. His wet woollen gloves muffled the sound as James clapped his hands together; trying to bring them back to life. Feeling the pain begin to throb in his fingers, he took the gloves off, pulling them free with his teeth, and pushed them into his pocket. A ripple of excitement ran up his body. Not long now. He couldn’t expect her to get here strictly to time. She would have to wait for an opportune moment to sneak away. It was now a quarter past eleven.
An elderly lady, out walking her poodle, acknowledged his presence with a nod and a weak smile as she walked past. James watched her as she tortoised her way tentatively along the path; her snow boots not giving her any sense of security. Eventually, she reached the park gate and disappeared onto the street beyond.
James rechecked his watch. Eleven-twenty. He opened the bag tied to the bike rack and pulled out a waterproof fleece and placed it down on the bench. He sat on it so that he could warm a space for her. Cupping his hands, he brought them to his mouth and blew hot breath into them before closing his eyes and leaning back. His hand slid into his pocket and clenched the tiny box. It felt warm in his grasp and had taken nearly a year to save enough. It was easy to imagine her sitting close beside him, his arm pulling her near as he breathed in the flowery scent of her hair, the feel of her hand on his cheek.
Being rich didn’t turn a person into a loving father or make a happy home. Her father’s stylish furniture had made him a fortune. Everyone always said he was good with his hands. They never talked about his fists.
Lost in thoughts of their new life, James didn’t hear the siren as the ambulance sped past the park gate.