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If Your Life Depended on It
Lost. That’s what we were. We were lost in the twisting, sloping forest surrounding Lake Superior. Mason and I had wandered off the trail a mile back without knowing it because the sign was covered in moss. I knew something was wrong when the path we were on became steeper with every step. We were supposed to be on the beginners trail, the one where it took you out to a camping site by the lake, but we must have stumbled onto the path for the advanced hikers. I did not know where this would lead, but Mason seemed so sure of himself that I could not help but trust him. The path twisted along for about another 500 feet and then massive boulders blocked the rest of the way. He wanted to climb over them, but something about how they were resting on each other didn’t seem right, as if they could shift at any second.
Mason began the dangerous climb and made it safely to the top. Just as he was leaning over to give me a hand, the boulder he stood upon rolled out from underneath him and threw the other boulders into domino effect. I jumped back; fearing that one of those boulders could sweep me away. They kept coming, and I could not see Mason anywhere. Finally there was a break in the landslide and I could see Mason’s bag now buried in the dirt. I frantically looked down the path of the boulders, searching the area for a glimpse of his dark brown hair, but my view was blocked by one last boulder. When it passed, I snatched his bag from the ground and sprinted down the path of the boulders, screaming for him to answer me. It felt like I ran one hundred miles before I finally found him. He was curled in a ball at the foot of a massive pine tree, bruises evident on his fair skin. I rushed to his side and knelt beside him. I lowered the bag and pulled out his first aid kit then gently rolled him over. His face was a roadmap of gashes and wounds, both of his eyes bruised and shut. I cleaned his wounds and covered them the best I could, thankful for those two months of Red Cross training I had over the winter. His arm looked funny to me, so I investigated it further. He had broken his arm in two places and it was spun completely backwards. I held my breath as I twisted and pushed it back into place, and then I used my jacket as a sling. He was still unconscious, so I lifted his head and put the bag underneath it to provide some cushion. I waited anxiously and watched as the sky turned from bright and sunny to dark and eerie. I had never been hiking before and this was all Mason’s idea. He thought it would be good for me to experience the great outdoors, and look where that got him. I noticed him twitch out of the corner of my eye and I cannot describe the relief I felt when I saw that he was alive. He slowly opened his eyes and tried to lift his arm, but he stifled a scream from the intense pain and slowly lowered it back down. I waited until he was fully alert before I told him what was going on.
“Mason?” I asked, “What do you remember?”
He looked at me with confused eyes, and then he glanced at the rest of his body. His face went from confusion to shock, then back to confusion as he tried to remember.
“I remember,” he began, “I was standing on a huge rock, looking down at you. I was bending over to help you up but suddenly the rock moved and I was on the ground. I was rolling down the path and I kept getting hit by the rocks, but after that I don’t remember.”
“After that,” I said, “I came running after you and I found you under this tree, curled up and unconscious. I did my best to help you, so I covered all of you cuts and I had to put your arm in a sling because you broke it. Honestly, I didn’t know if you would wake up.”
He smiled a weak, reassuring smile while trying his best to hide the pain. I repeatedly asked him if he needed water, food, or a blanket, but he always replied with a smile and a shake of his head. I knew we would have to spend the night in the woods, so I told Mason I needed to gather fire wood and that I would be right back. I hustled through the woods and picked up as many branches and sticks as I could find. When I entered the clearing, I caught a glimpse of relief on Mason’s face even though he tried to hide it. I didn’t want him to act tough; I wanted him to tell me what was wrong so I could help. I busied myself with building the fire and retrieving the food from the backpack then preparing it. Mason insisted that we bring this bulky backpack because it was full of survival stuff like a first aid kit, matches, a blanket, dry food, and water.
I could barely hear his faint breathing, but I didn’t want to make my worrying obvious by checking on him every five minutes. Instead I let my mind wander to how we would get out of this mess. I knew he would still need plenty of rest the next day, but I needed to get him to a hospital.
I tried to think back to where we lost our path, but all I remembered was Mason giving me nature lectures on the different birds and what animals made the markings on the ground. I didn’t know anything about camping because my family never went. My mom was always too busy with work and my dad left my family when I was six years old. My older brother had gotten into drugs, and a gang in downtown Saint Paul murdered him three years ago. Since then I have not had a male role in my life, but then God blessed me with Mason. Somehow he found something good worth reviving in my shattered life. I will be forever grateful to him for being my shoulder to cry on in the toughest of times. He was a good kid, always looking out for me and making sure I was safe. I was his top priority and he was mine. Mason is the only good thing I have, and I’m not about to let some stupid landslide take him from me.
I decided to lock away my thoughts and tend to Mason. I brought the food to him and I helped him eat since he was unable to use one of his arms. I knew he didn’t like to be coddled, but he was going to have to suck it up because I would coddle him day in and day out if I had to. My mind wandered again back to my first aid training. I should look for signs of a concussion, and I should replace the gauze every few hours to keep things clean and free of infection. I would need to keep the fire going as long as I can, and that meant leaving him again for more firewood. I decided that I would go back out when he was asleep so that he would’t notice my absence. If I went for longer periods of time and gathered more, I wouldn’t have to leave as often.
I must have looked pretty spaced out because when I glanced in his direction he was giggling slightly. I was happy to see signs of my Mason peeking through the broken shell that consumed him, so I couldn’t help but laugh along. Why was I worrying so much? Mason is a completely healthy and normal boy, without a trace of any injury or disease on his record. Of course he would heal, and that’s what I needed to believe in order to do my best for him. I cautiously approached him, trying not to bump any injuries, and I laid down next to him. I rested my head on his good shoulder, which seemed to be the only unharmed part of his body, and I let out the breath I had been holding since he climbed up onto that rock. I felt him sigh with relief that I was finally calming down, and in turn he rested his head on top of mine.
I don’t know how long we slept like that, but when I woke up the sun was just coming up over the trees. It’s rays danced around the clearing, providing an odd comfort to me. For some reason, I felt this was God telling me that Mason was going to be okay. I carefully laid his head against that bag and quietly snuck out of the clearing for more firewood. I only jogged this time, thinking that Mason was going to be out for a while. I found a fallen tree in a smaller clearing, and it seemed light enough for me to be able to drag back to the clearing. Boy was I wrong. That thing must have weighed close to 500 pounds! And worst of all, it was covered in little black beetles! I screamed and sprinted from the scene, shaking the menacing little bugs out of my hair as I ran. Mason must have heard me because when I neared the clearing, I heard him calling my name, terror heavy in his voice. I ran faster, wanting to comfort him. But I also wanted to kick myself for being so stupid. They were just bugs, and I scared him for nothing!
Out of breath, I entered the clearing and I plunked down next to him. His face was still creased with concern, but I just shook my head. He waited patiently until I caught my breath, then he asked me what happened.
“Well, I ran out to get more firewood because we were low. I was running along and I found this tree that looked like it was light enough for me to bring back. When I tried to pick it up, little black bugs came flying off of the bark and attacked me!” I exclaimed.
He sat there expressionless for quite a while. I watched him curiously, wondering why he didn’t respond. All of a sudden, he burst out laughing.
“What is so funny?” I demanded.
“Oh my gosh, Kylie, really?” he asked, “You were afraid of little, harmless bugs when out in the woods there are huge bears and wolves? That is hilarious!” he chuckled. By now tears were streaming down him face and his whole body shook with laughter. That’s my Mason, I thought. He can go from being completely serious and calm to having his gut bursting from laughing so hard. I still hadn’t found humor in my situation, so instead I looked at the joy that glittered in his emerald green eyes.
I couldn’t believe I had found this perfect guy in the first place. I was the average nerd, my long black hair always pulled away from my face so it wouldn’t fall on my book. My ocean blue eyes were always glued to one book or another, so I don’t know how he ever noticed me or me notice him. Since then I have worn my hair down more often, and I try not to bring books on dates.
“Earth to Kylie!” Mason snickered. I looked over at his smiling face. Wow, I really do get distracted easily. Thank God he is here to bring me back to earth when my head’s in the sky, or I’d never get anything accomplished.
I really didn’t want to go back into the woods again, but we were out of firewood and we need fire to cook. I bucked up and put on a courageous face, which he smirked at, then I trotted off into the dim forest. I didn’t like the forest in general, because when it’s dark in there I feel like I’ll never make it back out. I stumbled along with my usual clumsiness until I found a pile of logs. I scooped them up, on the look out for the demon bugs, and hurried back to Mason. When I got there, he was trying to rifle through his bag without much success due to his bad arm. I gently laid the logs down and went to help him.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“I’m looking for the map!” he exclaimed, obviously frustrated. He was having a hard time doing things single-handedly, and I felt horrible. I know I would be upset if I couldn’t do things for myself. I gently pulled the bag away from him and set it out of his sight, so he wouldn’t think about it so much. I sat next to him and took his good hand in mine, then I gave him the calmest look I could muster up, because in all reality I was far from calm. Although I didn’t believe myself, he seemed too. My boyfriend and I were stuck in the middle of the woods for God knows how long, and he needed medical attention. His face relaxed, and he laid his head back against the tree behind him. I pulled away and went to start the fire. Mason gave me instructions on how to build it properly, like a teepee, since apparently I did it wrong the first time.
When the fire was ready I began to walk over to him. Just before I sat down, I heard a twig snap in the woods surrounding us. I frantically looked around me, trying to figure out the direction of the noise. Mason slowly turned his head to the left, then his face went pale. I followed his gaze, and my eyes rested upon a massive beast. I screamed bloody Mary, even though I knew you were supposed to be calm in front of wild animals. The massive grey wolf took its first steps into our clearing, only ten feet from where I stood paralyzed. It was as tall as my 5’ 1” figure, and at least three times my weight. My mind raced, not knowing what to do. I didn’t even see Mason struggle his way to his feet and limp over to the fire. The wolf sniffed the air around its head and licked its muzzle, its eerie yellow eyes resting on my face. Our gazes were locked, the wolf anticipating its next move, and me preparing for my next scream. As it tensed to lunge, Mason roared and charged at the beast, a flaming log from the fire in his hand. He swung at its face and shoulders, trying to hit it. The wolf yelped in fear and dashed from sight. We heard it crash over fallen trees and kick up leaves in its hurry to get away from the burning ball of flame. Mason tossed the wood he had been holding back in to the fire, then proceeded to slump to the ground in exhaustion. I could not believe my eyes. Mason, my injured, fragile Mason, had saved my life.
“Mason!” I cried. I caught him in my arms just before he hit on the ground. As I cradled his head, I noticed a purplish splotch above his right ear. It was about three inches wide, and it covered almost the whole right side of his neck. Now I really needed to get him to a hospital. I began to sob, fearing that this might be the end of him, that his courageous act might have been to much for his frail body. I had to do something. There was no way I was letting him stay in this forest for one more night. I laid him down by the fire, then I paced the clearing while trying to think of a way out of this mess. Come on, Kylie! I thought. God made you a nerd for a reason, and that reason is not to sit here and wait until he dies! I paced faster, my heels digging into the dirt, leaving my footprints behind. Footprints. Oh my gosh, that’s it!
I would follow my footprints all the way up the path that the boulders took him down, and from there we could find our path! I was starting to get excited, then I stopped dead in my tracks. Mason can’t walk, he’s too weak, I reminded myself, and there was no way I would leave him here undefended. I would just have to carry him somehow. I resumed my pacing, this time thinking of a way that I could carry him without too much strain on my body. I couldn’t think of anything besides the piggy-back, if he could manage that. When he was on my back, I would then tie a rope around him and I to help him stay on my back. I just hoped that wouldn’t be uncomfortable for him.
Mason made a long, low groan as he opened his eyes. I quickly knelt down beside him, checking to see if he was fully alert. He smiled at me, and it was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. It was the smile that signified how strong he really was, and that he would do anything to protect me. I smiled back, and my heart filled with happiness. I laid down next to him, never breaking away from his gaze, and I gently put my arms around him. We scooted closer to the fire for warmth, never letting go of each other, and he just kept smiling. I was exhausted, but I hated to miss one moment of his happy face.
“Kylie, it’s ok. Go to sleep.” he whispered. I nodded and slowly let my eyes shut, the image of him playing like a movie over and over in my mind, and slowly I fell asleep.
I dreamt I was running. I was out in a field, with grass as tall as my knees. Mason was running beside me, no more bruises, no more pain. We were holding hands, something we had done a million times before. But something was different this time. There was a light in the distance, almost like the headlights of a car. It flashed before my eyes, and then I woke up.
“Kylie! Mason!” I heard a voice calling. This voice was familiar, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. The voice kept calling, then I recognized it. The voice was my mom.
“Mom?” I mumbled. I felt half asleep still, not sure that I had really heard the voice. Suddenly I could see light in the distance, followed by crunching leaves and sticks.
“Kylie! Mason!” the voice called again. Now I was sure it wasn’t a dream.
“Mom!” I screamed, “Mom help!”
“Kylie! I’m coming, baby, I’m coming!” she promised. I shook Mason awake and gently pulled him into a sitting position. I couldn’t believe it. My mom had come for me!
“Kylie!” my mother called again, this time much closer.
“Mom! Down here!” I cried. I desperately wanted her to find us, so I kept calling to her. Finally I saw her emerge from the trees at the top of the hill.
“Kylie!” she cried, “Kylie, honey, I have the ranger with me. We are going to get you and Mason to safety, ok?”
“Ok, but hurry mom! I think he may have some bleeding in his brain!” I called up to her. I sat there as patiently as I could while her and the park ranger rushed down the hill, followed by a forest patrol Jeep. My mother ran to me when she reached the bottom of the hill, throwing her arms around both Mason and I. I could feel her tears soaking into my shirt, but I didn’t care. My mom had come for me.
The ranger and the driver of the car pulled out a stretcher and wheeled it over to Mason. I nervously watched as they lifted Mason from my arms and onto the stretcher. They strapped him down and put a neck brace on him. He looked around in terror, searching for my face. My mother helped me to my feet and together we walked back to the Jeep, one of my hands in Mason’s and one in my mom’s.
On the way back they let me sit next to Mason so I could comfort him. The ranger drilled me with questions about how we got on the trail, what happened to Mason, why we didn’t have cell phones, and why we didn’t come find help. I answered each question without taking my eyes off of Mason. I relaxed a little, knowing that Mason was going to get the help he needed. All he did was smile up at me, and that was enough to keep me sane. My mother took care of answering the more personal questions for me, since I obviously was too wrapped up in Mason. The ranger advised us to take a nap since we had a long ride ahead of us. I looked at Mason, and he nodded in agreement. I took hold of Mason’s hand, then I rested my head on my mother’s shoulder and fell into the calmest sleep I had had in days.
I awoke in a hospital bed, surrounded by nurses bustling around my bed and the one next to me. Someone was holding my hand, but I wasn’t awake enough to register who. I blinked a few times to wake myself up, then I rolled my head to the left to see who was sitting with me. My mother sat in a chair, one hand on her phone, the other in mine. Typical mom, I thought. The poor woman never gets a break from work. She looked up and saw me watching her, then she looked back at her phone. She quickly put it away, as to show me that I had her full and undivided attention, which was good because I had just about a million questions.
“Now sweetie,” she began, “I know you want to know all about where Mason is, but it’s very important right now that you eat and try to gain your strength back.” I nodded reluctantly and swallowed my questions, waiting for her cue to ask them. A small, gentle-looking nurse walked in and when she saw that I was awake, she smiled.
“Oh good, you’re awake.” she said. She wrote some stuff down on her clipboard, probably recording my blood pressure, then she pulled up a chair on the other side of my bed.
“Alright Kylie, how do you feel?” she asked.
“I feel fine,” I answered honestly, “Just a little hungry, that’s all.”
“Well good, that means your improving. You were dehydrated when you got here, so we ran some tests and got you back up to standards. We can order you some food right now, or you and your mother can take a walk down to the cafeteria.” she offered. I definitely did not want to sit in this bed for one more minute, and I thought sleeping on the ground made my muscles stiff.
“I think a walk would be nice.” I answered.
“Alright, I’ll let them know you’re coming.” she said. With that she smiled and left our room. I started to get up from my bed, but the room started spinning. I laid back down and waited a minute before trying again. This time the room stayed still and I was on my feet. I stretched my arms, cracked my back, and touched my toes before I began to walk. It felt amazing to be free from that bed. I slowly made my way to the door with my mother close behind, of course. We made our way down the brightly light hallway, glancing to the side every now and then to sneak a peek into someone else’s life, whether it be the blessing of a new baby or the tragedy of a death. I tried not to look to long, for fear that they would catch my intrusion, so I moved my eyes to the doors that lay ahead at the end of the hallway.
When we opened the doors to the cafeteria, we really opened the doors to another world. Inside this world there was pain and suffering, longing and loneliness, sadness and depression. Many families sat at the long tables, their eyes glued to their food. One father was trying to calm his son down, for he was upset about his grandfather’s passing. At another table a young mother was suffering the diagnosis of cancer for one of her children. And at the end, there sat the one family that stood out from all the rest. They sat at a round table, nobody eating and nobody talking. They only looked at each other with concern, as if one of them was going to let their mask of indifference slide at any moment to show their true pain. I knew this family, and I knew their suffering. We both had almost lost the one person who brought joy to our lives, and that was Mason.
My mother and I walked over to the family, and as we walked I prepared myself for the questions I knew they would ask: What happened? Why did you let him climb those rocks? How could you not have a map? They had every right to know, as long as in return they gave me the update on Mason. When we got to their table, my mother sat down next to Mason’s mother and took her hand. One look at each other and they broke into tears, those masks of theirs dissolving away like chalk on pavement during a rain storm. I watched them hold and try to console one another, bearing not only their own pain but the pain of the woman they held. I could no longer stand to watch them in such distress, so I glanced at the face of Mason’s youngest sibling, Ava. She was only seven years old, and already she had to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders. She shouldn’t have to suffer such great pain and sadness, and neither should the rest of his family. I went and sat next to her, then I gently pulled her into my lap. She rested her head on my shoulder and she left a soft whimper escape her lips. I held her closer, trying to smother the pain she held deep within her, but I knew it was useless. She had almost lost her big brother, her protector, and there was nothing I could do to help. His younger brother Tyler came over be me, and I put my arm around him too. I held both of the children while their father was busy calling family members and telling them about Mason. I heard many gasps from the other line, and I watched his father nod his head sadly, always repeating the same thing. Each time he said that Mason had almost died, it looked as if he was being stabbed in the chest. He continued to wound himself, and the mothers cried in pain and despair. The children only made soft whimpers, but those seemed louder than words.
Finally a nurse came looking for the family, and Mason’s father raised his hand to call her over. She hurried over, a smile on her face. That smile seemed so out of place in such a painful environment. Mason’s mother looked up to see her approach, then she glanced in my direction.
“Thank you” she whispered. I gave her a small smile and a slight nod of my head, then I turned to face the nurse.
“Well you guys,” she began, “Mason is doing well. He does not have any sign of infection, his wounds are healing, his bruises are beginning to fade, and his arm is healing as well. But he did have some bleeding in his head, and the doctor was able to take care of that. You should be very thankful to that young lady over there. She was able to give your son immediate medical attention and she did very well.” Mason’s family turned to face me, their faces slowly starting to brighten up at the news that he was doing good. I could feel my own face begin to smile, and my mother seemed content that I was feeling better, too. We all exchanged looks of relief before we turned back to the nurse.
“Mason is accepting visitors, but he really would like to see Kylie alone for a while, if that’s okay with the family,” she said. I looked at his parents, and they both nodded to me. His father pulled Ava into his lap, and Tyler went to sit with his mother. As I got up to leave, I felt my mother’s hand on my wrist. I turned to look at her, wondering what was on her mind.
“If this becomes too much for you, Kylie, make sure you come and find me,” she warned. I knew she wanted to protect me, and I was beyond grateful. I kissed her cheek then proceeded to follow the nurse back into the busy hallway.
She led me through each corridor, explaining what each one contained. This one was for expecting mothers, and the one to the left was for young children with diseases. I nodded to show her I understood, but my mind was too busy racing to give her even a one word reply. I thought about how Mason would feel, if he would be in shock that something so tragic had happened to him, or if he would be calm and serene, not wanting to remember the accident at all. These thoughts filled my head until we reached room 195B, Mason’s room for the next week. The nurse entered the room, but I lingered in the hallway. My breathing became shallow as I began to panic. Would he be angry that I couldn’t get him to a hospital sooner? Would he be too understanding, making me feel even more guilty? I slid down the wall and put my head between my knees to try and calm my breathing. This is how the nurse found me a moment later when she came to get me.
“Oh sweetie, are you sure you can do this?” she asked. I really didn’t know, but Mason wanted me in there so I knew I had to pull it together. I nodded and she helped me to my feet. She then led me cautiously into the room, not sure if I would have a panic attack again. I looked up and saw Mason’s face watching me. He looked concerned, his eyes following me all the way to the chair next to his bed. She gave us one last smile, then left us alone to talk.
“So,” I began. I looked around to room, not letting my eyes rest on his patient gaze.
“Kylie I know this is hard for you. Believe me, I get it,” he said earnestly, “ That was a scary incident, but I think we can forget it for a while. I want to ask you some questions, and I need you to give me your honest answers.” Against my wishes, my lower lip began to tremble and hot tears escaped through the corners of my eyes. I looked away quickly so he wouldn’t see, but he saw it.
“Kylie, come here,” he soothed. I laid down on the bed next to him and cuddled into his waiting arms. I buried my head in his shoulder and I let the tears roll freely, not even bothering to wipe them away. I sobbed and blubbered like a baby while he stroked my hair and muttered soothing words in my ears. When I finally regained my composure, he kissed my forehead and gave me a gentle squeeze. Being with him again felt like a lost piece of my should returning to me. I felt complete for the first time since that boulder swept him away.
“Why are you crying?” he asked.
“Mason, for the past few days I have been worrying about keeping you alive,” I said. He nodded, encouraging me to continue.
“Well, it’s not exactly easy to talk about. I almost lost you Mason, and that really shook me up. I have been an emotional wreck on the inside, but I can’t hold it in anymore.” I said. I did feel a little better getting that off my chest, but I had a lot more venting to do before I would completely heal.
“Kylie, I know how you feel. I almost lost my life, my family, and I almost lost you, too. I prayed to God every day that he would keep me alive. I had some bleeding in my head from the rocks hitting it so hard, but I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But everyday it made me feel dizzy and I had a hard time remembering some things. It got so bad that after I scared off the wolf, I thought my head was going to explode. It’s better now, but it’s still sore.” he explained. I knew exactly what he meant. I thought my head was going to explode that first night from being so full of thoughts and concerns. I may not have had internal bleeding, but it sure felt like it.
“Kylie?” he asked.
“Yeah?” I replied
“Will you help me off of the bed? I need to stretch my legs.” he said, sounding a little restless.
“Sure.” I said. I got up off the bed then turned to help him up. I put my arm around him for support and he gently slid off of the bed. Once he was on two feet, he walked around his room. He would stop every few feet to stretch, then he would resume walking.
“Kylie?” he asked again.
“What’s up?” I replied.
“Will you go out to the vending machine and get me a bottle of water?” he asked.
“Sure, but isn’t that your water over there?” I asked, pointing to the water on his table.
“Oh that, well that’s really old and I like bottled water better.” he said quickly.
“Ok, I’ll go get a bottle.” I said cautiously, wondering why he was being weird.
I left the room and went in search of a vending machine. There weren’t many on the floor, just one at the far end of the hallway. When I approached the machine, I was disappointed to see that it only had sparkling water or juice. What hospital doesn’t sell regular water? Oh well, I’ll just get him one of each and he can choose. After buying the drinks I began the long walk back to his room, walking a little slower than usual. Why did he want me to go get him water when he had some right there? I wondered. He seemed kind of anxious, as if he wanted me to leave the room. He was acting pretty weird. I quickened my pace, wanting to make sure everything was okay. When I reached his room I found the door shut and the lights off. That’s really weird, I thought. I opened the door quickly and found myself surrounded by flower petals. There were candles everywhere, providing a light with a warm glow. I looked around, astonished, and my eyes rested upon Mason standing at the foot of his bed facing me.
“Mason, what’s going on?” I asked.
“Kylie, there’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.” he said, his voice very calm but confident.
“What?” I asked, dumbfounded. I watched him slowly get down on one knee, pulling a small, red box from his pocket.
“Mason, what are you doing?” I asked him, a smile slowly spreading onto my face.
“Kylie, being out in those woods with you really changed my perspective on things. You saved my life, and you did everything for me. It made me realize that you were the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.” he declared.
“Mason...” I began, but he held a finger to my lips to quiet me.
“Kylie, I promise to love you forever. Will you marry me?” And with that, he opened the box to a little diamond ring.