Astoria Characters: Brittany, Will You Marry Me?

 Brittany Kwait knows that her longtime boyfriend, Clay Knobler, is going to propose.

Brittany and Clay have been dating for over five years.

She picked out her engagement ring, an ample pear-shaped diamond, in April, and she’s pretty sure he’s going to pop the question before she starts her residency at Long Island Jewish Medical Center Northwell Health in Manhasset, Long Island, on July 1.

But she hasn’t figured out when or where Clay will do this.

It should be noted that Clay’s not very good at surprising her – she found out about the birthday party he was going to spring on her when he accidentally opened up the invitation on his phone.

“I’ve never gotten anything by her,” he says, adding that he’s doing this clandestine interview while unsuspecting Brittany is getting a haircut. “In fact, she doesn’t really like surprises.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Clay’s popping the question.

So when he got ready to ask her the most important question of their lives, he tried to think of a grand gesture to celebrate their special moment.

Astoria Characters came to mind because he and Brittany have a habit of frequenting Court Square Diner, where every week they read the column in the Long Island City/Astoria Journal.

And, of course, she’d never guess that she’d see his proposal in public, in print.

Clay, a tall 27-year-old with coppery curls who is from Santa Monica, California, and 26-year-old Brittany, who is a native of Oceanside, Long Island, met at Duke University.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Clay met Brittany at Duke University.

“She also got into Harvard,” Clay says, “but I’m really happy that she chose Duke instead.”

Although they didn’t have any classes together – he majored in English and public policy, she was a pre-med student working on a degree in biology – they were part of two groups of friends who spent a lot of time together.

“It’s funny because people ask us how we first met, and we don’t have an answer,” Clay says. “We were around each other a lot, and dating became natural because many of our friends were dating each other.”

Clay: ‘She’s brilliantly smart.’

 They did not, however, go on an official date until the end of their junior year.

“She asked me to a sorority bowling event,” Clay says. “I didn’t think it was a date.”

They kept in touch and dated off and on during their senior year.

“We fell in love quickly,” Clay says, “but neither one of us knew how long it was going to last because I had a job in California, and she was going back East to take a gap year before starting medical school.”

Suffice it to say that they spent a lot of time in airports flying from coast to coast to see each other.

It was while Brittany was attending Hofstra University’s medical school that they began living together in Long Island City nearly two years ago.

By this time, Clay had traded his West Coast tech-sales job for a position on Wall Street as a research analyst on distressed credits so he could be with her.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Clay works on Wall Street.

Clay is very clear about why he wants to marry Brittany.

“She’s brilliantly smart, she’s easy-going, she’s a great friend and a caring person, and her work ethic is incredible,” he says. “She won’t tell you this, but she had a perfect score on the SAT test – I didn’t even know this until her grandmother, who was very proud of this achievement, told me.”

They have been discussing marriage for a while, and Clay knew it was time when he saw her scrolling through photos of engagement rings on her phone.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Clay has a second proposal in mind.

Speaking of the ring, Brittany hasn’t seen it since she picked it up from the jeweler’s.

(Don’t tell her, but Clay has hidden it inside his winter boot in the shoe rack in their apartment. “I tilted the boot at an angle so I could see whether she moved it,” he says, noting that the footwear has remained in position.)

Which brings us to the next question: Clay, why should Brittany marry you?

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
He’s waiting for an answer.

He demurs, saying he’d rather talk about her, but finally says that “we are a perfect match; we get along so well and are really aligned and supportive of each other. And we make time for each other through our two difficult careers, and our families love each other.”

If Brittany does answer in the affirmative, Clay says that it will be a rather long engagement because of their demanding work schedules.

He puts in at least 80 hours a week at the office, and she will be working some overnight shifts at the hospital.

By the way, Brittany, Clay will be making an on-one-knee, in-person proposal when and where you least expect it.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Will Brittany wear his ring?

So what do you say, Brittany?

Will you marry Clay?

Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling