I had recently moved to South Tampa in March 2012 for my new job. In May, one of my best friends, Montana, was getting married and through all of her wedding festivities over the year, I became good friends with Lauren (Ryan's sister) who was also in Montana's wedding.
Lauren and Montana had suggested setting me up with Ryan, but it wasn't until a year later that we actually went on our first date. Ryan at the time was still living in Orlando, but he drove up to Tampa to take me out on our first date to Grille One Sixteen. Four hours of conversations and bonding over donuts for dessert, we became inseparable. After our first year of dating long distance, we decided to take a big step and move in together: Ryan became a South Tampa resident!
Fast forward a year and a half after we moved in: December 2015..... This marks 2.5 years of love, adventure, two dogs, bike rides, vacations, travels, laughter, family and friends - we had built a wonderful life together. We traveled up to Atlanta, GA to spend the holidays with my family. My parents, my older brother, sister in law, my sister in law's parents and her sister all vacationed over the Christmas holidays at my big brother's house.
On Christmas Eve morning, my brother, stepmom and I decided to do some last minute shopping. We left around 10am to grab a few outstanding Christmas gifts, when I got a phone call from Ryan asking me if I could be home around 3pm so he could give me one of my Christmas presents before Christmas Eve dinner. I said no problem and continued my shopping daze. About 15 minutes later, my brother got a call from his wife, and when he hung up he just mentioned to me that my sister in law needed us to be home around 3pm to help wrap some gifts. Again, I responded with no problem, completely oblivious to what was about to happen. (I blame this on my complete immersion in shopping - my favorite hobby).
Once we got back to the house, Ryan immediately asked me to get back in the car because he wanted to go somewhere - just the two of us - to give me one of my Christmas gifts. I started getting a bit skeptical but obliged. My brother and sister in law just moved into a new home and neighborhood in Atlanta, so as we drove on the winding hills/roads to our unknown destination, I admired out the window the beautiful neighborhood and the winter season in Georgia that we unfortunately never see in Florida. I was very distracted this Christmas Eve day which is very unlike me - I'm usually the one person that is difficult to surprise.
After 10 minutes in the car, I started to snap back to reality and started asking Ryan the typical questions, "Wait - where are we going? Are we almost there?" Just as I asked him, we pulled into the Big Trees Forest Preserve. Ryan and I often love biking on trails, taking our dogs to the park, and every year with our family always do a family trail hike over the holidays. As we got out of the car I thought to myself, "Ok - something is up." I was 98% certain I knew he was going to propose. As I got out of the car, Ryan grabbed my hand and we walked into the preserve. I saw a large gift bag and immediately thought - oh forget it, he's not proposing. We walked into the preserve to a bench that overlooked the cliff, and Ryan gave me my gift. I turned and opened the bag and pulled out 2 champagne glasses and a bottle of champagne, when I turned back around to Ryan getting down on one knee.
I flipped out! All I could hear outside of my internal freak out was, "I love you - will you marry me?" And we both started crying as I said yes. He slid the most beautiful engagement ring on finger and the rest is history.
I immediately called Ryan's parents to tell them good news; FaceTimed my best friend, Christian, as well as Ryan's sister and brother in law. To my surprise - the biggest surprise of all - our families all knew!!! Ryan had spent the night before going through his plans with my family after I went to sleep, and picked out my ring with his mom and sister a few months before he proposed. When we walked back into the house, my entire family was there - cameras up, snapping photos, and popping a bottle of champagne! It was the most special and unforgettable day of my life!!
We celebrated our engagement at an amazing Italian restaurant up the road from my brother's house, and haven't stopped smiling since.
Photos by Life Long Studios and courtesy of Veena.