“You make the sweater?” I asked. The white little shrug that covered her shoulders had a lot of intricate stitching that I had come to associate with her work.
“I did, like it? The bad thing about San Diego is that there aren’t many times I can wear sweaters.”
“I like my beanie.” She’d knitted me about a dozen wool caps over the winter, and I’d needed them all because they kept getting filched. The guys in my platoon were totally f**king brazen about it too, wearing them around me and not giving a good goddamn. “And my socks. You knit some damn fine socks.” Those she didn’t whip out by the bushel, and I was careful to lock them up. Sam had made me several pairs of socks, all of them carefully constructed to fit my foot personally, and I swore if any one of those socks went missing, my boot would be up the ass of every man in my platoon until they were returned.
“Hamilton emailed me about your socks, you know. He wants a pair.”
“Hamilton can go suck his thumb.”
Sam didn’t respond; she just continued to knit.
“What’re you working on?” I asked.
“I got another order for a layette, so I’m making this little sweater. The booties and hat are done. I’m getting fast enough that I might break even.” She laughed. “Maybe someday I’ll be able to quit waiting tables to pay the rent.”
I shifted in my chair, wondering if now was the time to bring up a subject that had simmered at the top of my head the entire time I was gone. It was a risky topic, and I didn’t relish putting myself out there, but for once I wanted to beat Sam to the punch. She’d been the one to hit on me first. She came to see me after our rock climbing fiasco. She came out to San Diego. This one time, I wanted to be the one to make the gesture.
“You could marry me.”
The sound of the needles stopped abruptly. I was hesitant to look at Sam, a little nervous about what expression she’d be wearing. Would it be astonishment? Or maybe chagrin? I tipped my head slightly so I could glance at her in my periphery. Her mouth was hanging open and her knitting had fallen unnoticed to her lap. That wasn’t quite the response I was hoping for.
“Gray Phillips, did you just propose to me by the pool in front of all these people?”
It was like a trick question. I had to make sure I gave the right answer. “Yes?”
“I should stab you with one of my needles.”
“That’s not the answer I was hoping for.” I got down on one knee, in front of the avid gazes of the sailors and Marines who lived in this apartment complex. Pulling out the ring box, I flipped it open so that the sun shown down on the pink diamond in the platinum setting. It was very different than what she’d worn before and I held my breath waiting for her answer.
The sound of her wild laugh, the one she let out when we rappelled down the cliff together that very first time, rang out in the courtyard. It was pure, unadultered joy. Goddamn, I loved her. Shoving the ring on her finger, I picked her up and twirled her around and around until we were both dizzy.
“Yes, I’ll marry you.” She placed a hand on either side of my face and we kissed, hungrily and lovingly and for a very long time but we didn’t leave right away. Too many people came over to look at the ring, congratulate Sam and I, and generally give us the business—in jest. But it felt great. I wanted everyone to know I’d fallen irrevocably in love with this woman whose courage in life blew me away.