The flames crackled and twisted upward as Ryan threw another log on the campfire. Marci watched absently as the orange and blue shoots curled into smoky tendrils before vanishing into the night sky.
The day had been close to perfect. After she watched the guys finish their game of volleyball, Marci joined in a game of ultimate Frisbee on the beach. She couldn’t think of a better way to spend the last day of the year. Surrounded by friends, looking ahead to the dreams she had for the New Year.
Marci thoughts turned to the Houston Marathon. In a little over three weeks, she would be running, keeping a promise she made to herself five years ago.
As she stood on the cusp of realizing the long-held goal, Marci’s heart swelled with gratitude. God’s blessings were abundant. She had a supportive family, awesome friends, great job prospects after graduation, and an extremely cute boyfriend, who was stoking the fire at the moment.
Satisfied with the blaze, Ryan took a seat next to Marci on a piece of driftwood. She felt Ryan’s warm hand take hers, weaving his fingers between hers. Leaning against him, Marci let out a sigh.
“Happy?” Ryan’s voice was low and close to her ear.
Marci tilted her face to meet his eyes.
“This night, it just feels magical.” Her eyes danced in the firelight. Ryan felt the warmth of the fire wash over them as he leaned down to plant a gentle kiss on her lips.
Marci surrendered to the moment. Ryan’s lips melted into hers, and for a moment, the crashing of the surf echoed the beating of her heart.
“Hey now, none of that.” Smitty’s voice was teasing as took the seat next to Ryan. He had his guitar in his hand and began to strum a few chords. “Who wants to sing?”
Ryan broke the kiss long enough to glare at his friend. When he turned back to Marci, the hint of a smile played on her lips.
“We should try to get Smitty and Lindsey together.” She smiled across the circle at her best friend, who was talking at supersonic speed, as usual. “They’re both the life of the party.”
More people drew near to the fire as Smitty played the first few notes of a popular Michael W. Smith song. Marci knew that Smitty grew up in a Pentacostal church. While she didn’t come from the same tradition, Marci appreciated the way Smitty was passionate about worship.
The chorus had a catchy beat, and even those who didn’t know the words soon caught on. As she looked around the circle, Marci felt the truth of the words in the deepest places of her soul. No matter what may come, God never lets go. He’s the anchor through every storm. Beside her, Ryan’s voice gained momentum. Whatever grievance he had against Smitty a moment ago was forgotten.
Marci loved this. She knew several people in the group didn’t have a relationship with God, but she also recognized the power of music to penetrate the hardest places. She offered a silent prayer that the music would kindle a yearning for God in the hearts of those who didn’t know Him.
As the last few strains of the song faded away, Ryan whispered in her ear once again.
“Want to go for a walk?”
Marci glanced up at him, torn between the campfire and spending time alone with Ryan.
The pleading look in his eyes was more than she could resist.
“Sure,” she whispered back. “Let my grab my jacket.”
Ryan waited at the base of the steps as Marci ran into the beach house to retrieve her lightweight jacket. He checked the pocket of his cargo shorts for the third time in as many minutes. His grandmother’s ring was still there.
Fingering the delicate gold band, Ryan’s thoughts drifted back to his grandparents’ home in the Texas hill country. As a child, Ryan spent countless hours on the front porch listening to his grandfather’s stories. One of his favorites was the tale of how his grandparents met at a roller skating rink when she was 15 and he was 16. His grandfather always ended the story with a loving glance at his bride.
“Happy wife, happy life. Remember that, Ryan, when you’re going with a girl. Choose wisely and you’ll experience a lifetime of blessings.”
His grandfather’s words echoed in his mind as Marci skipped back down the stairs.
Ryan released the band and reached for Marci’s hand. If all went well, she would be wearing his grandmother’s ring by the end of the evening.
“Which way do you want to walk?” Marci’s voice broke into his thoughts.
Ryan grinned. “This way. I know just the place.”
Smitty watched Ryan and Marci walk away from the campfire hand in hand. He was in the middle of the Newsboys anthem We Believe, and normally the music absorbed him so he didn’t notice anything else. But this was different.
He’d been privy to Ryan’s plan, even helping him scout out locations on the beach early this morning.
“I want everything to be just right.” Ryan’s insistence on finding the perfect spot to propose took them two miles from the beach house until they found a sandy cove surrounded by beach grass.
“Well, if this isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is.” Smitty clapped his hand on his friend’s back. “There’s no way Marci could turn you down in a place like this.”
Now Ryan and Marci were headed in the direction of the cove, and Smitty couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealously. Ryan had it all – star athlete, face of a GQ model, and now this, a shot at lasting love. Some guys got all the breaks.
Underneath the jealousy, Smitty felt a twinge of remorse. Shouldn’t friends be happy for each other? Ryan had stood by him on more than one occasion. He’d pulled his friend from more than one sticky situation when Smitty had gotten in over his head.
Marci savored the feel of Ryan’s hand grasping hers. She stole a sideways glance to admire his profile, the way his features traced a striking silhouette outlined by darkness.
They approached the cove as the moon cast a net of diamonds over the water.
Marci took in the scene with a full heart. She rested her head on Ryan’s shoulder, content to breathe in their picture-perfect surroundings without words.
They stood together, surveying God’s handiwork, for what felt like an eternity. When Ryan couldn’t wait another moment, he slipped down to one knee in front of Marci.
Gazing up at her face, Ryan observed Marci’s startled expression. He reached for her left hand without breaking eye contact. Her eyes softened as the moonlight’s soft glow bathed her in loveliness.
After the space of several heartbeats, Ryan spoke.
“Marci,” he began, but no words followed. In this magical moment, it felt like his heart and mind and soul were knit with hers. He couldn’t think of a single word to convey the depth of his feelings for her.
Marci’s smile started at the corner of her mouth as she lowered herself to her knees and clasped Ryan’s free hand with her own.
Face to face in the sand, with the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide behind them, Ryan finally gave voice to the words that had been straining inside him for the past several weeks.
“Marci, he began again, “I’ve thought about this moment for a long time, and this is beyond anything I could have pictured.”
Ryan noticed a small stream of tears trailing down Marci’s face and was surprised to feel wetness on his own cheeks. He reached up and ran his thumb over Marci’s cheeks before dragging the back of his hand across his face.
Marci squeezed Ryan’s hand as he found the words to go on.
“You meet me in the deepest places of my soul. I can’t imagine living without you. Will you marry me?”
Marci nodded as she threw her arms around Ryan’s broad shoulders.
“Yes, Ryan, I’ll marry you.”
Ryan lifted Marci from her knees and spun her around as a happy laugh escaped her lips.
“This is it, Marci-girl, the first moment of our forever.”
Ryan suddenly remembered the ring in his pocket. Releasing Marci and dropping back to down one knee, he pulled his grandmother’s gold band from his pocket and slid it on Marci’s left hand.
Marci giggled. “You don’t have to get on your knee twice, you turkey.”
Then, clasping her hand over her mouth, she drew back with an astonished expression.
“I can’t believe I called you a turkey right after you proposed,” she exclaimed. “How unromantic.”
Ryan laughed a deep hearty laugh and held Marci’s left hand up to the moonlight.
“Do you like it?” He searched Marci’s eyes. “It was my grandmother’s ring. I thought about buying you a fancy diamond ring, something we could pick out together, but my grandparents had a simple, enduring love for each other. This ring feels like their blessing on our marriage.”
Marci’s eyes misted over once more.
“It’s perfect. It does feel a little weird to have a ring on this finger. I’ve never worn anything on it before. I know a lot of girls wear promise rings on their left ring finger, but I’ve always wanted to wait until my future husband gave me a ring. Now you’re here, standing in front of me, and I can hardly believe it.”
Marci stared at the gold band and twirled it around her finger, just to make sure it was real.
Lifting her face to his ever so slightly, Ryan bent down and planted a gentle kiss on her lips, one that held the promise of forever.
“You know what this means, don’t you?”
Even in the moonlight, Marci could make out the teasing glint in Ryan’s eyes. She decided to play along.
“No, what does it mean?”
“It means you get to go shopping. For a wedding dress.”
“I do.” Marci feigned surprise. “I wonder where I can get one of those?”
Ryan laughed and pulled Marci down next to him on the sand. They talked about their future, of wedding plans and where they wanted to live after they were married. They talked of starting a family and how many kids they wanted. Ryan held his ground at two, but Marci dreamed of a large number.
“Think about grandkids, Ryan. Don’t you want a whole houseful of them?” Marci wasn’t giving in easily. “I picture them all running around our house at Christmas, filling our house with noise and laughter.”
“Well, maybe,” Ryan conceded. “But I don’t think we have to decide tonight.”
He reached for her hand as a silence fell over them. Lulled by the steady rhythm of the waves, Marci leaned her head on Ryan’s shoulder. The future could wait as they savored this moment, one she knew she’d never forget.
They sat on the beach, hands entwined, for a long time, watching the cover of night give way to a glorious sunrise. Specks of orange and pink and gold grew until the whole sky was glowing with the brilliance of God’s handiwork.
“Mmm, we better get back.” Ryan murmured as Marci lifted her head from his shoulder.
Breaking the quiet reverence of the moment, Marci leapt up.
“Lindsey,” she slapped her hand against her forehead. “I can’t believe she hasn’t come looking for us. She’s probably in panic mode by now.”
Ryan placed both hands on her shoulder.
“Relax, Smitty knew my plan. I’m sure he’s filled Lindsey in by now.”
“She’ll be so excited.” Marci’s words came out faster now. “I’ll ask her to be my maid of honor, of course. And I want your sisters to be bridesmaids.”
“Whoa, slow down there, wedding planner. First things first. Let’s go tell our friends we’re getting married.”
Ryan bent down to collect his sandals, which he’d slipped off sometime during the night. Marci did the same, and they walked barefoot in the sand toward the beach house.
Suddenly, Marci couldn’t wait any longer. She wanted to see Lindsey’s face when she showed her the ring.
Dropping Ryan’s hand, Marci broke into a run.
“Let’s go,” she called over her shoulder.
Ryan’s smile stretched across his face as he watched her for a moment, then sprinted along the shore with his sandals still clasped in his hands. He caught up to Marci just as the beach house came into view.
Lindsey was sitting on a porch swing on the wrap-around deck of the beach house, a cup of coffee in her hand. As soon as she caught sight of Marci and Ryan, she rushed toward them and let out a happy squeal.
“Oooohh, let me see it.” She grabbed Marci’s hand and help up the ring for inspection.
“It’s perfect for you, Marci. Simple, classic, timeless. You did good, Ryan.”
Lindsey turned to Ryan and punched him lightly in the arm.
“But I’m still mad at you for not telling me ahead of time. C’mon, you told Smitty and not me that my best friend was about to get engaged? I don’t know if I can ever forgive you.”
Marci smiled. Lindsey could be a bit melodramatic at times, but she had one of the biggest hearts Marci knew.
“You’ll be my maid of honor, won’t you?”
A note from the author:
This story is part of a larger novel I’ve been working on for quite some time (as in, several years). I work on it for a while and then life happens. I get busy being wife and mom and this work languishes a while longer. But today, for some reason, I feel compelled to share this piece of the story. I don’t know why, exactly, except to say that I’ve known these characters for a long time, and I feel almost selfish keeping them to myself. I want you to meet them, too. They’re human, they make mistakes, and they’re learning about God’s grace, just like you and I.
You won’t read about their trials or mistakes in this excerpt, because this is a happy part. Dark moments are ahead, but this is a time for joy. Maybe one of these days I’ll finish it up and you can read the whole story. In the meantime, blessings to you and yours.