**That’s right. Yet another challenge, this time gold rings and elephants. Enjoy!**
Elliott loved the zoo. He did. Especially this one, because they made a point of keeping up on animal enrichment and it was plain to see that the animals were well cared for and happy. But Elliott was actually quite a frequent visitor at the zoo, what with his boyfriend, Nate, being one of the elephant keepers and all. So he wasn’t exactly opposed to going to the zoo with his entire family in tow, but he would have thought that since they were visiting, they would want to do something a little more exciting.
Elliott’s father, however, insisted on making the trip and exploring every little thing. And what the patriarch wanted, the patriarch got.
Elliott trailed along behind his family, laughing at his nieces and nephews as they oohed and aahed over the animals. His brother and sister, and their spouses, were nearly as bad. Elliott watched as his mother raced around with the children, ramping up their excitement, and found himself smiling almost as indulgently as his father.
Eventually, they worked their way around the perimeter of the zoo and found themselves at the elephant observation area about ten minutes before the scheduled show. Elliott had to wonder if that wasn’t a coincidence. But he was at home here, nearly as much as Nate was, and he knew all the elephants by name. His favorite was the matriarch of the small herd, a forty-seven year old Asian elephant named Indira. He knew elephants were intelligent, but Elliott thought Indira was especially so. She always recognized him when he came to visit, and spent a good deal of time snuffling her trunk in his hair before she was satisfied.
He worked his way close to the low rail that separated the elephants from the general population. A few minutes later, Indira paraded out of the stables, Nate at her side. The elephant had been doing this for a lot of years and she knew the routine. She walked close to the rails so that the gathered guests could touch her rough, wrinkly skin. Indira basked in it, raised her trunk, and let out a bugle. There were general sounds of delight from the crowd. When she reached where Elliott was standing with his family, he stood quietly while she inspected him.
“All right, girl,” Nate said softly. “Leave El alone. We’ve got a show to do.” He touched her side lightly with the hook, but that was all she needed to move along.
Elliott had seen the demonstration too many times to count. He tuned out the words, letting Nate’s voice wash over him as he kept his gaze focused on the few tricks Indira did to demonstrate the facts that Nate related. When Indira picked up the small log and tossed it, the crowd cheered. Elliott couldn’t help the grin.
“Elephants actually have very fine motor control in their trunks. They can pick up things much smaller than a log.” The deviation from the normal script caught Elliott’s attention. He focused and watched in surprise as Nate pulled something from his pocket, and Indira grabbed it with the end of her trunk, using the prehensile tip to hang on. She plodded back in his direction. Elliott’s heart leapt into his throat.
When Nate instructed Indira, she reached out with her trunk. Elliott raised his hand automatically and took the small box from her. He stared at it, not really believing what he was seeing. It was clearly a jeweler’s box. What the hell was Nate up to?
“Open the box, Elliott,” Nate’s voice was soft though it carried to the whole area thanks to the microphone he had strapped to his cheek. Elliott swallowed hard, and his hands were shaking just a little bit as he did as he was told. The hinged lid snapped open to reveal two gold rings, one ever so slightly smaller than the other. They were beautiful brushed gold, thick and heavy-looking. There was no doubt Elliott would feel the pleasant weight of it on his finger.
Everything suddenly became clear; the reason Elliott’s entire family had shown up this weekend, and why his father insisted on going to the zoo. Nate had been planning this and keeping Elliott in the dark while telling everyone else. He must be awfully sure that Elliott would say yes. Well, Elliott was going to the moment he heard an actual question.
Nate went to one knee right there in the soft dirt of the pen. Only his head was visible over the railing, but that didn’t stop Nate from reaching out. Elliott took his hand with the one not holding the jewelery box. Elliott spluttered out a laugh when Indira went down on her front knees too, her trunk reaching out and snuffling over their joined hands.
“Elliott,” Nate said in a clear voice, his gaze never wavering from Elliott’s, his eyes brimming with affection. “I love you more than life itself, more than the air I breathe. More than the elephants.” He paused and gave Elliott a wink, then drew a deep breath and asked, “Will you marry me?”
For the briefest of seconds, Elliott thought about drawing it out and making Nate sweat in retaliation for doing this in such a public way. But he loved this man that was down on his knees, and he honestly couldn’t think of a more perfect way for his elephant keeper boyfriend to propose.
“Yes,” Elliott said, but his voice came out as barely a whisper. He cleared his throat, and tried again. “Yes. Yes. Absolutely.”
The crowd cheered, and that warmed Elliott’s heart more than he could say. Indira gave a loud bugle, and distantly Elliott could hear a response from the other elephants in the stable. Nate surged to his feet, grabbing Elliott tightly in a hug, and then kissing him. Elliott pulled back when he realized the sound of their kiss was carrying through the microphone.
Nate’s grin was so huge it looked like it hurt. Elliott was sure he had a matching one stretching his mouth. Nate squeezed his hand, then stepped back.
“Let me get Indira and the other’s turned out, and then I’m yours for the rest of the afternoon.”
Elliott’s shook his head, his smile turning indulgent. “You’re mine for the rest of your life.”