"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 17"

As the limousine slowly pulled in at Pier #2 on Riverfront Parkway in Chattanooga, in a childlike manner Autumn pressed her entire face against the car window glass. "What's this place, Mister?," she asked Beau. He replied, "Well, Miss Hamilton, we are going on a dinner cruise tonight on the famous 'Southern Belle' - the granddaddy of all Tennessee riverboats." Autumn shrieked with excitement. She had heard about these cruises. Loving the water as she did, this seemed like the perfect surprise - and a very romantic setting for Beau's inevitable popping of the question. "He's gonna' DO it," she whispered. "He's gonna do what?," Beau asked, as he climbed out of the limousine and reached for her hand. "Just you never mind," she playfully mocked - using his same words from earlier.

As Jeffrey conferred with Beau about the ETA for his return with the limousine, Autumn suddenly remembered from where she knew him. This "Jeffrey" was none other than THE State Trooper who had stopped her on the interstate and ticketed her on that first morning visit to the Silver Skillet. "So THAT'S who drove us up here," she murmured sarcastically, "must be moonlighting as a limo driver." She was in no mood to be "Miss Nice Girl" to this hateful specimen of a lawman.

She did not like it one bit that he and Beau were friends. In lieu of having "Jeffrey" return for them in the limo, Autumn came very close to suggesting that they walk all the way back from Chattanooga, or maybe take a cab. "Hang on, girl," she told herself, "no sense in ruining tonight over this." Once she had that engagement ring on her finger, Satan himself could be driving her home and it wouldn't matter.

The "Southern Belle" was wonderful. Beau had reserved a corner table toward the stern of the riverboat. The well-appointed interior featured chandeliers, romantic, candle-lit tables, linen tablecloths, and paintings by well-known, regional artists. Walking aboard the "Southern Belle" was like stepping back in time. Autumn Belle loved it! As the head waiter escorted them to their table, she clutched Beau's coat sleeve - smiling, looking around at the interior of the boat in wide-eyed wonder, and beaming like a little girl in a toy store.

In making the reservations, Beau had taken the liberty of choosing their menu for the evening. After an appetizer course of Mozarella Sticks and fresh, hot, melt-in-your-mouth Yeast Rolls, the main course consisted of Lemon Rosemary Roasted Rock Cornish Game Hen With Applewood Smoked Bacon Lardons, Caramelized Apples, Roasted Vegetable Cous Cous, Marinated Roasted Squash, Mushrooms, Artichokes and Sweet Peppers in a Moroccan Grain Pilaf. The food was hot, well-served, and very elegant. Autumn commented several times that she never would have believed that such fine dining could be found on a riverboat. "How did you know about this?," she asked Beau. He grinned and replied, "I am sailor, remember?"

For dessert they feasted on gigantic slices of
White Chocolate Carrot Layer Cake, along with THE best Colombian coffee that Autumn had ever tasted. As they were enjoying the coffee, Autumn sank back in her chair, patted her overly full tummy, and said, "I feel just like Emily Pig...If I keep hanging out with you, Sailor, I just might have to change my wardrobe to all fat-girl sizes." Beau shook his head and said, "Not a chance, Sis,...As a matter of fact, next week we start P.T. every day after work...Three miles a day, plus stretches and free weights." Autumn groaned and said, "It's gonna take me until next week to digest all the food we just ate."

Beau called the head waiter over and whispered something in his ear. Autumn sat up in her chair. "What?," she asked, "what, what WHAT?" As the waiter walked away Beau patted her hand, "Nothing, babe, I just asked him to bring us a bottle of that sparkling, non-alcoholic grape juice...It's good, you'll really like it." Beau reasoned that they had already had enough champagne. He was not a drinker at all. Throughout his young life, and especially during his time in the Navy, he had witnessed the harm that alcohol can do. He vowed never to allow it to get the best of him. "Best way to never become an alcoholic is to never take that first drink," he reasoned. Autumn had never tried the grape juice before. But, on this incredible night, she was ready to sample just about anything her Beau suggested.

When the grape juice came, and Beau had poured them both a glass, he proposed yet another toast. "To the prettiest girl in all the world...To this scrumptious meal...To this grand old riverboat...And, to many more nights like this in the future," Beau said. Autumn nodded in agreement and said, "Hear, hear." They took the first sip of grape juice. Then, it was Autumn's turn. She wanted to make a toast. As she raised her glass, Beau slid his chair closer to the table, and leaned in her direction. "To the man I thought I'd never find...To these gloriously happy days we have spent together...To this incredible night...And, to a hot little princess in a blue dinner dress that is gonna' bust if she doesn't hurry up and go to the bathroom!" They both laughed, clicked their glasses in agreement, and took another sip of the juice.

Autumn got up and went to the bathroom. Her mind was racing. "I wonder if he'll do it when I get back to the table?," she thought. When she did return, Beau was nowhere to be found. As she looked around for him, the head waiter approached and said, "Please follow me, Miss." Autumn reached for her glass of grape juice, but it was gone, along with Beau's and the ice bucket with the bottle in it. The waiter led her along the inner starboard wall of the riverboat, and up a long flight of stairs. Opening the door, they walked out onto the upper deck of the riverboat. The moon was bright over the Tennessee River that night. She could see Beau standing by one of two lounge chairs toward the bow of the boat. There was a small table between the two chairs, upon which the grape juice and glasses had been placed.

The November night air was much cooler than Autumn had expected, so Beau quickly offered her his jacket. They sat down together and took another few sips of the juice. The moonlight on the river was beautiful. The sound of the water splashing over the paddle wheels was very relaxing. "What a beautiful evening," Autumn said, as she reached across the table and gently kissed Beau. "Thank you for thinking of this," she said, squeezing his hand, "I love it."

They were all alone, and the time was finally right.

Beau leaned toward her and said, "There is something I have wanted to say to you for a long time now, Autumn...There will probably never be a better chance for me to say it than tonight ... Truthfully, this moment, up here on top of this old riverboat, is one of the very reasons why I brought you here tonight." Clearing his throat and tugging at his collar, Autumn could sense almost a boyish nervousness in him. "I've never done this before," he said, "so you're gonna' have to bear with me."

Autumn smiled, winked, and said, "Take your time, Mister."