She hurriedly folds shirts and jeans into her suitcase. The 27-year-old still needs to pack for their early-morning flight to California. She frets that the February snowstorm bearing down on Omaha will ruin their weekend getaway.
Jim worries, too. He sits on her couch in her apartment by the Westroads Mall, uncharacteristically quiet, and worries for an entirely different reason.
Jim is a 31-year-old photographer for a business journal who two years ago organized an office party — he typed up a press release and invited dozens of co-workers — for the sole, conspiratorial purpose of hanging around an editor, his sweet and shy co-worker Tiffany, for the first time.
For the past two years he has pulled her by the hand into all sorts of adventures — new bands, new comedians, new food — and she has gladly followed as the quiet girl fell deeply for the force-of-nature boy, and vice versa.
Jim doesn't get scared, or quiet. And yet now he looks tired, and he sits staring at his laptop for minutes before he finally speaks.
Why is his voice trembling?
“Hey, Tiff, do you want to come play this game I'm working on?”
Jim loves video games. He has designed a few simple ones in his spare time.
“No, not right now,” Tiffany says. She doesn't have time for video games.
“Come on, please?” Jim begs.
Tiffany sighs, stops packing and sits down on the couch. Jim kneels behind her so he can see the screen.
He clicks the mouse. The game, and one of the darnedest ways an Omaha man has ever asked The Question, has begun.
Tiffany finds herself on a six-lane road, using the keyboard's arrow keys to steer a car forward.
The objective: Run into as many hearts as possible. The enemy: Avoid the possums crossing the road.
Easy enough. But a Best Coast song is playing as the game's sound track. It's a song Jim and Tiffany both love. It's a band they talked about at the very beginning, when they would sit in Jim's car after work and talk for hours about music and movies and everything but their mutual attraction.
And the possums . . . that's an old inside joke, from when Tiffany nailed one with her car. Jim has given her grief again and again.
“Is this game about me?” Tiffany thinks. “Is this game for me?”
Tiffany's hands start shaking.
The car veers all over the road. She plows into a possum, then another, then another, but strangely she doesn't die.
She doesn't know that Jim spent the last two nights working on this game, until the first streaks of sunlight came through his windows.
He hasn't slept. In the middle of the night he has designed this game so that it's impossible to lose.
She survives the car level. She survives because Jim needs Tiffany to make it to the end.
The video game switches to an interior view of Memorial Stadium.
The music switches to a song by Cursive, a legendary Omaha band.
The objective: Use the mouse to kick three footballs through the goal posts.
She misses a few times before she gets the hang of it.
The first football goes through the goalposts. The word “I” appears on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard.
The second football splits the uprights. The word “Love” appears on the scoreboard.
The third football goes through. “You” flashes onto the scoreboard.
Tiffany's mind flashes and blinks like a computer gone haywire.
She flashes to that day in September 2011, when Jim scored two tickets to the Nebraska football team's season opener. She had been thinking for weeks, and she had decided she needed to tell him after the game.
But she wanted it to be the right time, and she wanted the three words to come out correctly, and so as they walked outside Memorial Stadium she worried about it, and worried about it some more. . .
“I love you!” Jim blurted out suddenly, as they waded through a sea of thousands of red-clad football fans.
“I love you, too,” Tiffany said, and wondered if he had read her mind.
She flashes to the night last year that Jim walked up to Tim Kasher, the lead singer of Cursive, the band now playing on the game's sound track. Tiffany had adored Kasher and Cursive for years, but she is shy, and she had never screwed up the courage to talk to him.
“Hey, I'm the guy who beat you at foosball last night,” Jim said to the lead singer. “You should meet my girlfriend, Tiffany! She's a big fan.”
“Nice to meet you,” Tim Kasher had said.
She flashes to the past and the future, and her mind locks up, and she flashes back to the screen to see red balloons floating to the heavens, her brain can only process one thought.
Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.
Now a tiny Tiffany appears onscreen.
Tiny Tiffany is in Benson, walking past a virtual version of the bars and the restaurants where she and Jim have spent countless nights together.
The objective: Jump and grab the dozen pairs of sunglasses that dot the screen.
She uses the arrow keys to hop up onto awnings and onto cars to try to grab the sunglasses. But her hand-eye coordination is gone now, and so Jim, still on one knee behind her, helps guide her down the virtual street and toward the virtual concert going on at the Waiting Room.
Tiny Tiffany reaches the Omaha music venue, and then real Tiffany sees that the lettering on the Waiting Room marquee reads, “Tonight Satchel Grande!”
Jim and Tiffany saw every Omaha show by Satchel Grande, another local band, in 2011.
Once that year they stood in line, in the mist and the cold, to get into a new Guitar Center in west Omaha. Satchel Grande was playing the store's grand opening.
The line stretched forever. They waited for two hours with hundreds of teen guitarists as it got colder and wetter. They finally reached the front, and only then did Jim and Tiffany realize they were in the wrong line.
Satchel Grande was playing next door.
And it was the darnedest thing: They didn't care. They didn't care because they had been together the whole time.
Jim's game is ending now. Tiffany has won. The screen fades to black, and a message appears.
“You are my best friend and the love I've always dreamed of.
“Will you do me the honor of taking me as your Player 2?”
Tiffany looks back at Jim, and then she realizes: He has been down on one knee the entire time.
The wedding will be April 26, 2014, in Omaha, say Jim Brazda and Tiffany Gann.
I ask Tiffany to tell me why she wants to marry Jim. She answers immediately.
“From the first night, I found it really easy to talk to him,” Tiffany says. “That's kind of unusual for me. I'm introverted and he's extroverted, and we fit together that way.
“Like when he blurted out, 'I love you.' He just blurted it out! He creates things. He makes life fun.”
I ask Jim to tell me why he wants to marry Tiffany. He stares at me like I've just asked him to use the Pythagorean theorem to calculate the cosine of a triangle.
He glances over at Tiffany. He glances back at me. He's tongue tied. Beads of sweat appear on his face.
Realizing that I've violated a Man Commandment — thou shalt not embarrass a brother by making him talk about his feelings — I move the conversation along.
A minute later, Jim stops me. I'd like to answer, he says.
“She may be introverted, but Tiffany is strong,” Jim says. “She will try anything. She will go along on any adventure, any crazy idea I have. She's unfazable. She's unflappable. She is the perfect partner. I'm so, so excited for us to be each other's Player 2.”
He looks at Tiffany then. Tiffany looks at him and smiles.
And if this were a video game, the princess would be saved, the flag would be raised and the fireworks would explode.
Jim Brazda isn't worried anymore. Jim Brazda just won.
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