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The Ring

Posted on 21 Sep 2022 @ 5:15pm by Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Watts & Jonathan Demir

Episode: Our Path
Location: Poulsbo, WA
Timeline: June 2020

The bookstore was quiet and dust had started to settle on surfaces. More correctly dust had settled, Jon had cleaned the place, then it had settled again... wash, rinse, repeat. The pandemic had, without a doubt, changed things and about the only good thing he could think of from it was that Liz had done much of her last semester of her degree from their shared apartment. It was an odd and yet somehow delightful thing to spend that much time together. Not that she wasn't working. And of course he was doing all of the things that small business owners were doing--figuring out how to adapt. Calling in favors from creditors or, when necessary, citing injunctions in place to protect businesses like The Libretto. It hadn't been a stress-free time, but it had been a different sort of togetherness.

Bending, Jon pushed the small key into the lock on the bottom drawer of his desk and then pulled it open out to its full length, hanging folders taking up the bulk of the space. At the back, though, was a small bundle of random things and from there he withdrew the small blue velvet box he'd tucked away. He'd had it for months now. Dating back before lock down while he was still planning an elaborate proposal--another thing that the pandemic had interfered with. With a quick tug he flipped the box open, the diamond at the ring's center winked in the fluorescent lighting, while the two paired sapphires on either side seemed to gleam. His heart twisted as he closed the lid, and tucked it away. Today. He was doing this today.




One good thing had come of the arrival of warmer weather in Poulsbo during the pandemic lock down. The parks were open and everyone was happily taking the opportunity to get some fresh air at a safe 6 foot distance from each other. Picnic basket clutched in one hand, Jon led Liz toward an open green spot. Private enough for what he had in mind, but also outside within view of Liberty Bay if you peeked through the trees to get a look. This was about as far as he'd planned, though. The ring box felt like a weight in his pocket and he kept glancing over at her, feeling like she must surely know what he was up to. It felt so intensely obvious to him.

"You get the blanket and I'll pull out the food?" he asked her when they stopped. He'd ordered from Mrs. Zhao who, thankfully, had been able to stay open with curbside orders and the smell from the picnic basket was mouth watering.

"Yeah I can do that," Liz said, pulling the rolled up blanket from the top of the basket that Jon carried. She undid the strap and then she set about lying it out on the grass. They had found a quieter spot in the park which thankfully was an option with the upturn in people turning to the outdoors in the midst of the pandemic. Liz was doing fairly well actually preferring the online methods of college than being in the classroom... and she was a submarine officer being inside with just Jon was fine for her... sure it'd be nice to go out and enjoy being ashore but all-in-all, outside of the stress it put Jon under with his business, things continued fairly like business for her.

She adjusted the original side she placed down to make sure that it was perfectly straight, "ready."

He had already undone the top of the basket and began to pull out the tell tale white cardboard takeout boxes and plastic containers. The ribs that Liz liked, and the lo mein that he liked, egg rolls, and soup, and fried rice all joined the middle of the blanket. Two plastic plates followed along with forks and chop sticks and, lastly, a bottle of wine and two plastic cups. Not the most glamorous of picnics, but it had the things they loved. With a flourish he offered Liz a plate, followed closely by a plastic fork. "Hope you're hungry," he commented with a sheepish grin as he considered the spread.

"Hungry has never been a problem for me," she pointed out. "I'm going to miss Mrs. Zhao's food," she said, quietly, her mind not thinking of the impact the statement would have as she stuck a fork into a rib and began to pull it to her mouth.

Jon stilled, one hand on the lo mein and the other holding his plate. "Why would you miss it?" he asked, keeping his tone level. He knew graduation meant a resumption of her time in the Navy, but he'd hoped the pandemic might slow down any big changes. Mind whirling with possibilities, he made himself pause and wait to see what she said.

"What?" Liz asked, looking to him her fork coming away from her mouth just as she was about to take the bite.

Sitting back on his heels, Jon thought, for a moment, maybe he had misheard her. "You said you would miss Mrs. Zhao's food," he said quietly. His heart felt like it wanted climb up into his throat.

"I didn't say anything," Liz responded, too quickly. The anxiety on her face was pretty obvious, "I must have just mumbled something and you misheard. If anything I just love it..."

"Liz..." He set his plate aside, meeting and holding her gaze, suddenly sure from her reaction that he had not misheard her after all. "What's going on?"

"I got my orders, but I didn't want to tell you about it until later... or tomorrow, probably tomorrow," she said, putting her fork on her plate and then putting it down on the blanket in front of her. She looked up at him and sighed, "I didn't think I'd get orders anytime soon because of the pandemic but this is an operational need so it's getting pushed through anyway."

With a nod Jon took that in and let it settle. His mind spun. He knew she was going to get new orders eventually. It was one of the most fundamental truths in their relationship. Liz was in the Navy and would, eventually, have to be other places. They had been lucky to have as long as they had in one place. "How soon?" He asked.

"Officially July Sixth," she sighed, "but then I have thirty days to move and report..."

Two months. Less than two really even if she left at the last possible moment. He swallowed hard and shifted so he was sitting, knees up. He propped his elbows on his knees, hands dangling out in front of him. Part of his brain wanted to being to plan. If she had to move he had every intention of moving with her. And with the store closed... That part of his brain though kept starting a thought and then stuttering to a stop halfway through and, again, he found himself acutely aware of the box tucked into his pocket. Unconsciously he adjusted position, one hand dipping to tap the spot where the ring box was as if checking to assure himself it was still there.

"Ok," he finally said, look at at her, all of the uncertainty he felt plain on his face. "Ok."

"This is why I didn't want to tell you until after our picnic," Liz said, with a heavy sigh. "I knew this was not going to be a fun conversation and we were looking forward to this..."

Jon shook his head as if to clear it and then, snagged his plate and went back to adding food to it. "No," he said a resigned sort of calm in his tone, "it's ok. I mean. I'd rather know sooner than wait. It just means we should really enjoy this. Right?" The look on his face was more emotional than he would have liked to admit, hope warring with uncertainty. He knew he should ask her where she was being stationed, but he couldn't quite bring himself to do so yet.

The resigned calm was short lived, though, and after getting one bite of his meal in, his hand went to his pocket again, this time dipping in and drawing forth the little box, palming it, hand tightening around it for a moment. He put his plate down again and looked at her, a sudden unmistakable decisiveness in his expression.

"Elizabeth Watts," he said, using her full name to get her attention. "I had something I wanted to say today too." His cheeks flushed as he said it, but his eyes didn't waver. "Ask, actually." Jon felt his gut churn slightly, but he plowed ahead. "This isn't how I planned it. But I love you. I love you more than I ever thought it was going to be possible to love someone. And I don't care where you are stationed or what we have to do to make it work, I know I'm going to keep loving you."

Hand shaking ever so slightly, he held out his hand, the box settled on his palm before he reached up and opened it with his other hand. A round diamond flanked by two deep blue sapphires sat atop a white gold ring, shining in the sunlight. Jon swallowed hard.

"Liz," he said, and the emotion in his voice was unmistakable now, "will you marry me?"

"What?" Liz asked, her expression shocked. She actually felt her heart drop toward her stomach and felt a little queasy. There was what she felt was an agonizing pause as she thought of what to say. She was sure it had to be even worse for him.

"I love you... more than anything... but I don't know, Jon. I don't know what kind of life we would have married... with me always gone."

Jon rarely felt panicked, but as the silence drew on a sort of dread had begun to build and he couldn't help wondering if, somewhere along the years they'd been together, he had completely and utterly misunderstood. When Liz finally did answer he almost missed the first part of it and as it was the most important part that registered was the part, perhaps, that he shouldn't have focused on first. Always gone.

He had been holding the box out to her through that wait, but now his hand dropped to his leg. He made no move to close the box, but there was an almost embarrassed feel to the shift in his posture. Still, even in that moment as he felt sure she was going to turn him down, he wasn't yet ready to give up. "It would be our life," he said, and the hope in his voice was painful. "The same life we'd have if you said no. You're in the Navy. I run a bookstore. I've known from the beginning that it was eventually going to mean time apart. If I had been afraid of that there's no way I could have stuck around through those first months you were away on the Maine. I've done it once, when what I felt wasn't nearly so strong as it is now. I can do it again. I can do it forever if it means the other times I get you. I just want to do it as your husband."

There were tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, she tried to speak but she couldn't make sound come, she just looked down at the ring. She took the box from him and held it in both hands as if they were a tray and looked at the ring. She tried to say something again, wanting to tell him she loved him and it was beautiful, but again the lump in her throat prevented it. Liz swallowed painfully.

He watched her, waited, all but straining for her answer. But no answer was forthcoming. Slowly the hope that had filled him since deciding to finally ask sputtered and finally died. "I think I need a minute," he half mumbled around the mortification he felt. He clambered to his feet, getting one last look at her holding the box with tears in her eyes. Not at all the kind of tears he would have wanted and then he turned and walked away looking for all the world like a man who'd been delivered a mortal blow and just couldn't quite convince his body of the truth of it.

"Where are you going?" she asked panicked.

"I don't know Liz," he called back over his shoulder. "For a walk. To clear my head." But the panic in her voice stopped him and with a heavy sigh he turned around, though he didn't return to the blanket. He stood there for a long moment, silent with his arms crossed over his chest, trying hard and failing miserably to hide the confusion and hurt he felt in that moment. "I'm not going to force you to tell me no," he finally said, voice strained.

"I don't want to tell you no," she said, rushing to catch up with him closing the ring box to keep it safe. She clutched it in one hand and she took his arm with the other. "I was preparing to have to say goodbye to you and readjust to being in the military for like real... and I wasn't expecting this to complicate everything that already has me worried," she said, looking up at him.

Shifting slightly so she could wind her arm through his, he looked down at her, eyes searching. "I get it," he said, though the strain was still clear in his voice. "It's shitty timing." He opened his mouth as if to say more and then shut it, shaking his head. "I love you Liz," he finally said. "Whether you're here or in Hawaii, or..." he shrugged, frustration settling around the edges of his tone. "I love you."

"I love you too, Jon. I always will," she sighed, clutching onto him and the box in her opposite hand at the same time. She wanted to say yes but her brain couldn't wrap herself around what life would be like for them and for him... and she'd blame herself for anything that made him unhappy. Would he grow to resent her for the lack of children or a wife he'd actually see?

 

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