It had all been arranged. When she walked across the stage to accept her diploma, they would appear and surprise her.
It had been three years since he last saw her face-to-face; three long years since he last held her in his arms. He remembered the day that he told her he was going into the military and what her response was:
"Okay... I'll just have to wait for you, then. Depending on when you come home, you'll just have to make up for leaving me by asking to marry me. It's only fair, right?"
He hadn't known what to say right then. He still didn't know what he should say right now. All he knew was that his heart was beating a million miles a minute and that the palm of his left hand was sweaty.
He took a deep breath to try and calm his nerves, and that was when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning, he saw the face of the man who had saved him; the face of the man who had been such an imposing figure in his childhood. He was also the man who was the father of the girl he loved, which made him feel more nervous.
"Brace yourself, soldier," the man said in a rumbling voice that spoke of authority and demanded respect at all times. However, for the moment his voice was rather quiet. "Returning home in such a fashion may prove to be a battleground, and this battle won't be won by us."
He gulped, seeing the nervousness in his superior's eyes. He had to remind himself that it had been six months since the man saw his family and that he was the one letting him surprise his daughter. He was willing to share his homecoming with him, and that spurred the thought of marriage once more.
Clearing his throat, he said in a clipped tone, "Major, sir."
"Do you have a question for me, soldier?" The man's eyes were a bright blue, the same as his daughter's. He found it very hard to look into them.
"Well then; what is it, soldier?"
He took a deep breath. Squaring his shoulders, he stared right into the man's eyes and said, "I wish to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage."
He felt a sharp charge of electricity in the air, the same electricity as when he was on the battlefield. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, but he had to remain firm- confident under the scrutinizing glare of the man before him. He wasn't about to back down, and for a moment something in the man's glare changed.
Stretching to his full height, the man's glare turned into a hard look as he said, "You wish to marry my daughter?"
He nodded, his stance taut as he waited for the man's answer. "Yes, sir."
The man's eyes flashed. "Do you know what you are asking your superior, soldier?"
"Yes, sir," he replied and the man let out a low sigh. Standing tall, he continued, "I love your daughter, sir, and I wish to take care of her 'til the end of my days. I can't see myself loving anyone else, sir, so please; will you give me your permission to marry your daughter?"
The man stared down at him with hard eyes. The man didn't look thoughtful; he looked like he wanted to kill him. However, after a time had passed, the man sighed begrudgingly.
"Well... She could marry worse men," the man muttered and he felt his demeanor deflate at the words.
Just then they heard her name being called: "... Joanna Clair Whittsmith."
"Here she comes," the man mumbled and they watched with batted breath as she made her way across the stage.
Her caramel colored hair lay in gentle waves and brushed her shoulders. Her bright blue eyes sparkled as she accepted her diploma and shook hands with a collage of teachers. She walked confidently as she came to the other side of the stage, but before she could walk down the steps two men in uniforms appeared before her.
She stared at them for a moment, her mind taking a moment to realize who she was staring at. It then clicked and she rushed forward, throwing her arms around the first one she came to. She then quickly let them go and hugged the next man, tears blurring her vision as she held onto him tightly. "Daddy, you're home."
She pulled away from him and gave him a giant, watery smile. She could see that his eyes were moist as he stared down at her, and he said in a gentle voice, "Looks like I made it just in time for your graduation."
She laughed at this and nodded, quickly hugging him again. He lifted her off her feet for a moment, and that was when squealing voices made their way towards them.
She let go of her father as to let her mother and sisters attack him with hugs and kisses, and she turned to the first man she had hugged. She felt tears stream down her cheeks as she hugged him again, this time hanging onto him tightly and burying her face in his neck. She couldn't believe that he was here; that he had showed up. She couldn't believe that he was finally home.
"Did yah miss me?" he asked jovially as she pulled away enough for her to see his face. He was still as handsome as ever with a scar above his right eye and a dimple in his left cheek when he smiled. His brown eyes were bright and alight with happiness, but she noticed that he had a few new scars on the right half of his neck and face. They weren't too noticeable, but they were there; a constant reminder that he had seen and witnessed horrors she could only ever imagine.
Smiling, she nodded her head and whispered, "Yes... so much."
"Yeah," he said softly, brushing a strand of her hair behind her ear with his left hand. "I missed you too."
She gave him a watery smile before hugging him again. She felt his left hand splay across her back, but for some reason she couldn't feel his right hand. She didn't know why that was, but for the moment she didn't dwell on it as she heard him say, "Joey?"
"Yes?" she said, pulling away from him and giving him a curious look.
"Do you remember what you said when I told you that I was going into the military?"
Her eyebrows furrowed as she tried to remember, and she said slowly, "I think so... I told you that I would wait for you, right?"
He nodded his head. "Yes... but there was something else."
She blinked. "There was?"
He nodded before taking a step away from her. He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath before saying, "Joanna Clair Whittsmith, it is my humble wish that you would become my wife." He kneeled at this and stared up at her with nervous eyes. "Will you marry me, Joey?"
She stared down at him in complete shock. She had imagined him coming home so many times- had fantasized about this moment so many ways- she had dreamed of this day, but now that it was here... she couldn't speak. She was utterly speechless.
He stared up at her in concern, saying softly, "Joey?" He rose to his feet, but in doing so the sleeves of his uniform fell back to reveal that he was missing his right hand. It was cut off at the wrist, and the only hand he had was his left.
A bout of tears then came and her hands sprang up to cover her mouth. She still couldn't find her voice, but she nodded profusely while tears continued to stream down her cheeks. He moved towards her and hugged her, and she threw her arms around his neck as she choked out, "Yes! Yes, I'll marry you, Mark. Yes!"
He lifted her off her feet at this and there was a roaring applause from the graduates and their families. This was indeed an event they hadn't expected, but it was a precious moment to behold.
The man watched as the young soldier held his daughter, and a slight rumbling sound came from his throat. He didn't approve of this display of affection, but before he could make a move towards them he felt a soft hand touch his shoulder. Looking down, he saw his wife gazing up at him with soft eyes.
Smiling, she shook her head and said, "Leave them be, Baron. You already gave Mark permission to marry Joanna; don't take it back. Besides, you have some explaining to do when we get home."
Under the scrutinizing gaze of his wife, he said, "I wanted to surprise you and the kids, Mary."
"I realize that, but I can't believe you didn't say anything in your letter about coming home soon."
"The letter you sent for our anniversary; on Valentine's Day?"
"Ah, yes. Like I said before, Mary; I wanted to surprise all of you."
"Baron," she shook her head, and the man felt a cold chill run down his spine as she looked up at him, "next time you receive word that you will be coming home early, tell me. Is that understood?"
He had braved many battles and had seen so many awful things, but when it came to the wrath of his wife, he still found himself quaking in his boots.
Nodding his head solemnly, he said, "Yes, Mary; I will make sure to tell you next time."
She smiled and kissed him, saying, "Thank you." She then wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly, whispering in his ear, "Welcome home."
He sighed and smiled, hugging her in return as he said softly, "I'm glad to be home."