As of today, I have been engaged to the love of my life a month! And in honor of this auspicious occasion, I’ve decided to tell you the story of how it all happened. I’ll try my very best to be succinct. Pithy. Concise. …oh heavens, this is hopeless. It’s long, and our Moms might be the only people to make it the whole way through-but it’s ours, and I want to remember every sweet-like-candy detail.
On Thursday, July 26th, Kellan and I loaded up his SUV with a rather embarrassing amount of luggage, and headed to Bald Head Island to meet his family for a weekend at the beach. I remember as we arrived at the ferry, my sweet boyfriend pulled an abnormally large duffel bag out of the trunk and began to lug it towards the dock. I teased him at the time-never had he ever out-packed me before! Without missing a beat, he retorted that my bag was still heavier-and in the midst of re-thinking my somewhat suspect decision to bring a curling iron to the beach and dreamily staring at his biceps while he carried all of our bags, I forgot all about it.
I’m sorry, what?
I’d never been to Bald Head before, and stepping off of the ferry and onto the waiting golf cart felt as though we’d slipped into a whole different world. With effortless elegance, beach houses painted in a myriad of Easter egg colors graced sloping sand dunes- and the island itself seemed to be almost deserted. We spent that evening with his family-and after dinner, Kellan and Bryan left for some “guy” time [read: scouting out proposal sites] while Keri and I decided to test the limits of our non-existent navigational skills and drive the golf cart around for hours.
If Keri and I were gazelles, we would be the first two eaten at the watering hole.
Late that evening, Kellan tightly hugged me goodnight. He’d hugged me goodnight a thousand times before of course-but that evening, something was distinctly different. Sweeter. There was a gentleness to the way that he held me that left me wondering where my legs had gone. After one mind-numbingly perfect kiss, he said goodnight and that was that.
The next morning, I woke up in the “wee small hours” as Natalie Cole would say- just as I always do. Now there are not a lot of things in life that I am sure of, but that morning I was sure of one thing: Kellan Dickens was going to sleep in. We were, after all, on vacation-and if there’s one thing that Kellan is committed to on a vacation, it’s sleeping until at least 10:30. [Hence some rather extensive lectures on early morning wake up calls being a sign of the apocalypse that I’ve had the privilege of enduring over the course of our relationship.] I briefly contemplated stumbling out of bed and waking him up in the hopes that he would simply find me cute and endearing-…but wisdom prevailed, and I slowly drifted back to sleep. In no hurry at all, I woke up half an hour later, spent some time reading, and 8:30 AM found an uncaffeinated, curly-haired brunette padding out of her room in pajama shorts and a gray sweat shirt.
As I entered the living room, to my utter astonishment I found my sweet boyfriend sitting in khakis and a polo shirt on the couch. [And trust me friends, that is not vacation attire for Kellan Dickens.] Dressed, fed and in his right mind, he simply looked…well, aside from devastatingly handsome [be still my beating heart!], he looked impatient. I hugged him good morning, and then grabbed a bowl of cereal and sat down beside him. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t seem to want to engage me in conversation-I mean, there I sat with my mad professor hair and cereal-milk dribbling down my chin— and did he really want to miss out on that?
Apparently, he did. I attempted to chat with Kellan, Bryan and Keri to no avail-they seemed much too preoccupied with the speed-walking Olympians to chat. After a bit, I wandered off to take a shower and get ready for the day. [Read: get ready for Kellan to take me to coffee. Yes and amen.]
I took my sweet time. I was, after all, on vacation, and thus under the illusion that we were all on island time-and when else can a girl take half hour showers?
Little did I know that Kellan and his family were DYING of anticipation in the living room. There may have been conversation about shutting off the water so I’d HURRY UP ALREADY.
Blissfully unaware, I was swiping on mascara when Kellan finally came and sat down on my bed, and just stared at me. I [finally] took a hint, grabbed my purse and before I knew it we were puttering away on our little golf cart, past the sand dunes and towards my iced caramel latte.
We waited in line with his arms around me-and goodness, how many times over the course of the last two years had we found ourselves canoodling in line at a local coffee shop? The sheer normalcy of it all distracted me from the wild beating of his heart as my sleepy head lay against his chest. I asked if we could wander the beach store adjacent to the coffee shop-and Kellan told me that we needed to go meet his family on the beach for a walk.
News to me.
And so we found ourselves back on the golf cart-me with my feet propped up, happily sipping my latte as Kellan began to talk about how much he’d loved dating me for two years. I was easily and wholeheartedly swept up into his favorite memories from our relationship-after all, I’m a words girl. I just love listening to him remember out loud.
We parked and walked onto the dreamy white sand, and his family was nowhere to be found. The blue water teasing the shoreline captured my wandering attention as I strolled, only half-listening as Kellan began to talk about how beautiful the sand dunes were. “The dunes are really beautiful.” “Check out those dunes.” “The dunes sure are festive.”
That one caught my attention. Festive?
I do not think that word means what you think it means.
As I contemplated the sorry excuse for an education that Duke had apparently provided him, out of the corner of my eye I saw it.
A Christmas tree, conspicuously nestled in the dunes.
Beaming [because of course, this was it!], I walked over to the tree, and knelt down in the sand to see what he’d done. Strewn amidst roses and every love letter I’ve ever written him [and believe you me-there are many], were what looked like a thousand pictures of us. Standing in front of North Carolina’s spin on the Eiffel Tower on our first date. Stuffing our faces full of lava fudge cupcakes in front of Georgetown Cupcakes. Beaming on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Senegal, riding a lawn mower in the Outer Banks, skiing in Utah, wine tasting at Christmastime, ice skating in July, glaring at each other at a basketball game in our starkly different shades of blue, laughing uncontrollably on a Tuesday…a thousand of the sweetest memories with the man that had slowly, surely, irrevocably captured every piece of my heart over the last two years. I never knew that I could love someone the way that I love Kellan Dickens-I am surprised by it every day.
Sitting beside the tree, he pulled out one of the first letters that I ever wrote him-the letter that documented the first month of our dating relationship. He began to read it, both of us pausing to laugh or comment throughout. He talked how similar our relationship still was to the one I’d described in that letter so many months ago-but also about the ways that it had grown and become something deeper and richer than either of us could have ever imagined.
It was when he finished reading the letter that my heart leapt into my throat and every ounce of blood in my body drained to my feet.
Trying to will my nervous system into latency, I listened as he explained why he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. With a grin, he looked at me gently told me that I had a gift sitting under the tree-just as I’d had the day he asked me to be his girlfriend.
Except this time, my gift was a little box with a bow on it.
I didn’t know what to do. After all, a girl isn’t supposed to open up her own ring! I unwrapped the box, and Kellan promptly took it from me, opened it, knelt down on one knee, took a deep breath and asked the question that would change my life forever: “Ashley Elizabeth Peterson, will you be my wife?”
Never before have the constraints of the English language been so very maddening to me-to say “yes” seemed so small. For the past year, I’d spent the better part of any given day biting my tongue to keep from blurting out the only four words I could seem to remember-I love that man. I had fallen so deeply in love with the man knelt down before me that I could no better picture life without him than I could picture life on the moon. I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him. Wholeheartedly, without reservation or pause, yes. Yes! A thousand times, yes.
Kellan put his arms around me and prayed for us, and then I saw the ring.
My heart skipped a beat. My heart skipped a lot of beats. It was exactly what I would have chosen if I’d had every ring in the world to choose from-and he’d never so much as asked me what I wanted. He slipped it on my finger, and kissed me again-and then pulled me to my feet and yelled, “come on OUT!”
Before I knew what had happened, his [soon to be my!] sister Keri was tackle hugging me and shrieking, and his [soon to be my!] brother Bryan was whirling me around in the air. They’d been taking pictures the entire time [and, I’m certain, wanted to gouge their eyeballs out with a spoon after the aforementioned kissing], and it was incredibly special to have them there. After snapping a picture, Kellan told me that I had another surprise: my family was waiting for us on the dock. :)
My future husband. I just love that man. :)
It was perfect. The rest of the day was spent with both families-elatedly telling the story in the living room, all of the women oohing over my ring in the kitchen, eating lunch together at the club on the island, spending time on the beach, calling sweet friends that have walked with us every step of the way and reveling in the fact that we get to spend the rest of our lives together.
The goodness of what is happening right now is overwhelming. And it is good- so good. So here’s to the future–the thrilling, intimidating, romantic, rocky, hilarious, whirlwind, wonderful, adventurous, unknown future with the man I’ll love every single day for the rest of my life. Here’s to it!