Brittany and Austen

How We Met: Austen and I met while we were both attending undergraduate school at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY. He was two years ahead of me and good friends with my brother Matt, who was a senior at Hartwick when I was a freshman. When I was entering my first year in 2007, my brother warned his friends (Austen included) to “stay away from his little sister.” Luckily Austen didn’t listen and later asked Matt if it would be okay to date me. Seven years later and we still joke that Austen didn’t listen, but we’re so happy he didn’t!

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How He Asked: The morning of Monday, March 5th came much too early.  I had just had the longest day of work to date on Sunday, photographing 10 babies in one day!  I was exhausted, and the thought of getting up and doing it all over again seemed almost tortuous. As I sat up in bed, I noticed an envelope at my feet.  It had a pretty peach and yellow paisley design over it, with my name and a heart on the front.

My mind immediately began spinning–what was today’s date?  What did I forget?  I turned the envelope around to find “List One” written on the back.  Excited to see what was inside, my morning brightened immensely.  There were two letters written on the same stationery as the envelope.

The first was Austen explaining the many ways he could express his love for me and how none seemed adequate enough.  He decided to write out lists with reasons to try to encapsulate his feelings for me.  On the second page were a list of 10 reasons.  Each one made me smile and suddenly going to work didn’t seem so bad anymore.

I began telling my friends immediately about the lists.  Each one gave guesses as to when the next would come or how long they’d last.  For the next 4 days, I received a list at the foot of the bed each morning when I woke up.  There were 50 reasons total and I was beginning to wonder how many more there could possibly be to write down.

That Friday night, Austen was telling me since I had Sunday off from work (I had been given the day for my boss to train new workers) I should try to get done as early as I could on Saturday so we’d have the weekend to spend together.  The thing is, with this job, it’s not a 9-5 thing.  I’m emailed the “numbers” the day before–how many babies were on the list that day, how many were done, how many were saved for tomorrow, and how many are in labor/delivered.  That Friday night I received an email saying that there were 10 new deliveries.  As great as it sounded to get done work early and spend the weekend with him, I told him it probably wouldn’t happen.

On Saturday, I woke up expecting another list (c’mon, who wouldn’t get used to waking up to such a sweet thing?!) but instead, the envelope that was there only had hearts on the back…no “List Six” to be found.  I opened it up to find another proclamation of his love for me and a request to get done work as early as humanly possible.

Again, I had my doubts–what was I supposed to do, tell every eager mom I wouldn’t be able to take their new baby’s pictures?  He had specific instructions to text me when I left work and when I got back to the apartment as well.  I knew something was up because that’s not something he ever asks me to do.  To my surprise, the day went by much faster than I had expected.  My stomach was in knots and I could barely eat any food though because I sensed a looming proposal.

As instructed, I texted him when I left work and when I got to the apartment.  As soon as I opened the door, I could see a production in the making.  The two kitchen chairs were turned facing the doorway.  On one was a rose and a letter and on the other were two letters.  Of the two on the chair closest to the doorway, one said to open if it was after 2:30pm and the other if it was before.

I opened the one for after and was excited to find that I was at the beginning of a scavenger or treasure hunt.  I was told to dress up (quickly) into something nice but not to wear heels (guess I’d be doing some walking!).  The second letter was the first clue.  It was the place where we spent the day after “Desperation Day” (for all you How I Met Your Mother Fans, you’ll understand!).  Easy!  The Smile Cafe was a Thai restaurant we had been many times, a local favorite of ours.

Trying to get ready as fast as I could (and believe me, I had a hunch I was picking out the outfit I would soon be getting engaged in and if any lady’s been through that before, you understand how stressful it is!) I accidentally locked my bus pass and keys to the apartment inside upon my exit.  Slightly panicking, I ran to CVS to get a bunch of ones to ride the bus.

When I got to the cafe, I saw a single rose (identical to the one that was on my kitchen chair) and an envelope.  It said that I had found clue one and some great times we’d had there.  I was hot on his trail and I knew all these clues would lead me straight to Austen.  In the midst of my trying to figure out where the next clue was, I was greeted by Vishal and Bhawna, a fellow graduate student and his wife.  They were there to make sure I received the clue and knew where I was going next.  When I told them the clue was sending me to Morimoto, they sent me on my way and wished me luck.

In the middle of being a nervous/excited detective, I was texting my friends about the hunt.  How excited they were for me and wanted me to keep them informed at every stop.  My battery was quickly dying and I made sure to let them know (just in case I wouldn’t be able to tell them how it all ended).  Morimoto is a very nice restaurant founded by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.  We spent our 3-year anniversary there enjoying amazing food and even more amazing dessert.

Again, his fellow graduate students Allison and Sam met me (a little late because I tricked them and took a cab…sorry guys!) with a second rose and envelope.  Once I knew I was headed to the Reading Terminal Market for the next clue, they sent me on my way.  I ended up walking because it’s only about 10 minutes away and when I got there, I was surprised to see more graduate students.  This time, there were Crystal, Joey and Frank waiting with a rose and envelope.

I was starting to wonder how many stops there were to this hunt and where it would end up.  Before I could fine out though, I had to figure out the clue and get to the next spot.  I was headed to the Franklin Museum where we had been a few times before with friends and to see a movie or two.  Waiting on the sidewalk out front were Ned and Jeremy, a fourth rose and envelope in hand.

The letter stated that there was only one clue remaining and where it took me would be where he was waiting.  My stomach was a tangled mess and my hands were shaking (luckily it was a bit on the colder side and I forgot gloves, so I could just pretend it was the weather) but I hopped in the last cab and told him where I was going: the Philadelphia Art Museum.  When I got out of the cab with my roses and envelopes secured inside my purse, I saw Austen waiting at the top of the stairs.

Making my way to where he was, I wondered how I would react and what he would say.  Reaching him seemed surreal and I could tell he was nervous.  He explained that I had found him, told me he would love me for the rest of his life, and got down on one knee.  I was slightly in shock at first because of all the strangers around to see such a personal moment, but of course, I was thrilled!  I said yes and put the beautiful ring on my finger.  I couldn’t stop looking at it!

Austen told me that my mom wanted me to call her immediately.  In addition to texting my friends all day, I had been talking to her as well, thinking she knew and was just pretending not to.  And boy, was I right.  No “hello” was exchanged by me when she answered, but rather “YOU KNEW!”.  I could tell she was so happy for me by her voice I told her she’d have to start helping me plan the wedding.  When she said she couldn’t wait, I realized her voice sounded as if it was in person rather than through the phone.  Turing around, my mom was standing in front of me with a bouquet of flowers.

I was overwhelmed with emotions and cried when I saw her.  I couldn’t believe she had come all the way from Maine to be here for this day.  She then pointed out to a secret spot higher up the steps where my dad stood waiving, video camera in hand.  As if I wasn’t happy enough, some of my friends who I had been texting all day (not to mention all week about this…) came walking down the steps towards me.

Also there was my Matante Debbie and my brother’s girlfriend, Lexy!  All I could manage to say was, “No”!  How was it that they had been IN Philadelphia all day when I was talking them on this adventure with me VIA text.  It was hands down the most surprised I have ever been in my entire life.  It meant the world to me that they had all taken time out of their busy lives to come here to be with me on such an amazing day.

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I had always known I had great friends, but this really opened my eyes up to how lucky I really am.  I got to say I’d marry my best friend and love of my life and be able to spend time with my family and friends all in one day.  It was the scavenger hunt of my life and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

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Photos: Colleen Stepanian