Welcome to the next installment of The Growing Season. For previous installments click here.
He grinned in the escaping light, and I wondered for a second if I had fallen asleep and was dreaming. Then he reached out and took my hand, pulling me to my feet.
“You’ve been here the whole time?” I asked confusedly.
He laughed. “Yeah. I’ve been below deck, waiting for Brian to come get me. He looked toward the setting sun, then back at me. “Pretty beautiful, huh?”
I nodded, though my confusion remained. Then he lowered himself to one knee.
“Merritt,” he began, with an endearingly nervous smile. “You’re the one I’ve been looking for. Since the moment I met you, I’ve loved you. Everything about us fits each other, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
He reached into his pocket, pulling out a black velvet box and opening it. The contents sparkled, and my confusion vanished, replaced by shock—then pure joy.
“Will you marry me?”
He looked up at me expectantly, and I could barely believe that one of life’s biggest moments was happening to me, now. I wanted to freeze it all: the sunset, the rocking boat, the look on the face I loved. Then I remembered that I owed him an answer.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Yes!” I leaned down to him and threw my arms around his neck, and he rose, wrapping me in his arms. He pulled back.
Can I put this ring on you now?
“I forgot about the ring! There’s a ring too!” I chattered excitedly, and watched as he slid it onto my finger: an emerald-cut diamond with a platinum band, itself inlaid with tiny diamonds. It winked at me from my finger and fit perfectly.
“How did you know? How did you know exactly what I would have picked myself?” I asked.
“I did some research. Talked to your friends. You girls talk about diamonds more than my friends and I talk about sports, you know that?”
I giggled and bounced around on my feet, incapable of standing still. “I can’t believe you did all this!” I told him.
“Surprised?” he asked.
“Completely,” I answered. “In the best way possible.”
He took my face in his hands and pulled it to his, kissing me gently. “We’re getting married,” he whispered. “What do you say we celebrate?”
He turned toward the lower deck. “Ready!” he called out. Moments later, Brian appeared, captain’s hat in place, with a bottle of champagne and three flutes.
“I take it she said yes?” he asked.
“Yes!” Jack and I answered in unison, and Brian shook his hand, then gave me a hug. “First proposal on my boat. Possibly only. That deserves a toast.”
“Oh, you’ll get another proposal on this boat,” I told him, wanting everyone to feel the happiness that flooded me now. “Or else give one.”
He shook his head as he popped the cork on the champagne. “Please,” he said. “Marriage? No offense, but you can have it. My wild oats will never stop being sown.”
He handed each of us a glass, then filled his own.
“To Merritt and Jack,” he toasted. “True love if I ever saw it.”
We clinked glasses in what was the happiest moment of my life so far. After draining the bottle, Brian stepped behind the wheel. “South, my good man?” he asked Jack.
Jack nodded, then turned to me. “I believe we have a group waiting for us on dry land,” he said. “You up for another celebration?”
“Yes!” I cried, jumping up and down. We sped back to the pier and walked over to the Frying Pan, an old boat serving as a bar and restaurant on the water. I heard applause as we approached the bar, and saw Kennedy, Abby, and Cara waiting with their men. The girls hugged me and gathered around my ring as the guys congratulated Jack. We shared dinner and drinks and laughter well into the night as Manhattan and my ring sparkled around us, gilding the edges of this most important day and preserving it in my memory forever.
Our engagement was short: five months later, Jack and I were married in an October ceremony in the Outer Banks. Throughout the short engagement, I sensed my mom wanting to ask if there was a reason for the hurry, though I doubt that news of a pregnancy would have dampened her spirits. She was thrilled and relieved to finally share a rite of passage that her fellow friends with daughters had already experienced: wedding planning as the mother of the bride.
As I planned our wedding with her, Jack planned our life. Both of us felt that we had maxed out our time in the city; Other than our friendships, we seemed, now that we were an engaged couple, to be outgrowing Manhattan and its club scene and never-ending workdays that went along with being a New York resident, and we had a few long talks about what we wanted our married life together to look like. We planned to stay in the city until after our honeymoon, then start looking for jobs elsewhere. Jack had some friends from business school scattered across the country, with a large contingent in the Southeast—a coincidence I teased him mercilessly about. Then there was the fact that my family lived in Charlotte, which could be a reason to head that way or run in the opposite direction, depending on the day.
A couple of months before the wedding, Jack’s friend Trey in Atlanta called him about an opportunity within his company that fit Jack perfectly. The economy being what it was, the position was bound to be filled quickly, and Jack took a couple of days to fly down and interview. He was offered the job, which put us in decision-making mode: pass up the opportunity because it was earlier than we had planned to leave, or say yes? Much to our friends’ chagrin, we decided he would take the job, and so it happened that within weeks of our wedding, we were packing up our apartments and I was scouring the internet searching for jobs in Atlanta. Not to mention handling the last-minute details that tend to fall apart right before a wedding is meant to happen: catering emergencies, band breakups, bridesmaids’ dresses not fitting.
But miracle of miracles, everything fell back together: I found a job at a pediatric practice north of the city, the caterers got their act together, the wedding band reunited, and I was mercifully omitted from further freak-outs about all dresses that weren’t mine. So Jack and I emptied everything we owned onto moving fans that drove ahead of us to Atlanta, and four weeks before our wedding, we flew down there ourselves—after a goodbye/engagement party filled with laughter and tears.
We both dipped our toes into our jobs for a couple of weeks before taking off for the wedding and honeymoon. At a chapel in Duck (“not quite Provincetown, but beautiful nonetheless” proclaimed Brian), we traded vows, then we held a reception on the deck of a local restaurant beginning at sunset and lasting until almost midnight. Kennedy, Abby, and Cara, all bridesmaids, were still with their respective men, their dates for the wedding. Less than a year after we met, Jack and I were husband and wife, celebrating underneath a much less crowded skyline and heading forward into the rest of our life.