Celeste twisted the promise ring on her finger. She closed her eyes and thought back to when her boyfriend Mark gave it to her.
It was August 27, 2002. After a long after noon studying at the library, the two hungrily moved on to the nearest pizza parlor, Sally’s. It was Celeste’s favorite restaurant, and she loved ordering her pizza and then waiting for it outside on the patio and dining al fresco, every now and then tossing a bit of crust to a hungry bird hopping nearby.
That fateful day, Mark ordered their usual, a hand-tossed pepperoni and sausage with extra cheese and two Cokes. They took their red plastic cups of soda and retired to Celeste’s favorite patio table, the one in the far corner with the cracked umbrella. They sat next to each other, on adjacent sides of the square table.
When the waitress came outside bearing their pie, Mark and Celeste cheered. It was their ritual every time they came to Sally’s. Aside from that one time they scared a brand new waitress and she dropped the entire pizza on the ground, it always went off without a hitch. And a good time was had by all. Today was no different.
They ate in companionable silence, smiling and staring adoringly into each others’ eyes every so often. By the time they’d eaten their fill, though, Celeste was starting to wonder what was wrong with Mark. He was acting differently. Nothing specific that she could put her finger on, just…different. He got up to get a box to put the rest of their pizza in and she watched him with concerned eyes, letting the worry that she’d hidden so well come to the surface.
When Mark came back with the box, he placed the slices into it and closed it up, then walked around to Celeste’s side of the table and got down on one knee before her, pulling a ring box from his jeans pocket. She clapped both hands to her mouth in shock and surprise. So that’s what he’s been planning, she thought.
Mark had a lovely little speech about their youth and how much they loved each other in spite of that and how one day he would ask her to marry him. Celeste began sobbing halfway through, so she didn’t remember the exact words, but she was sure they were perfect. Mark was perfect, and all was well with the world.
When he was done and the ring was on her finger, the one other couple on the patio applauded, and Celeste smiled at them. Mark picked up their pizza and left a tip on the table for the waitress and they left, on their way to Celeste’s house.
They’d gone less than a block when a nosy bar patron leered at them. “What makes you so happy, huh?” she snarled at them. “Give it time, and you’ll find out all your assumptions are wrong, and it’s a rotten world we live in.” Mark tugged Celeste along by the hand, telling her to ignore the woman, that she doesn’t know anything. Celeste nodded, but the seeds of doubt had been planted.
At the next alleyway, the one that Celeste had always, always feared more than any other, without knowing the reason, someone grabbed Mark and pulled him around the corner. Celeste was jerked along behind, refusing to let go of Mark’s hand. She caught a glimpse of someone in a ski mask, and that was all she remembered.
No one ever found hide nor hair of Mark, but Celeste never gave up hope. She lived her entire life knowing that he could be right around the next corner.