Rachel and Justin's Surprise Marriage Proposal in Charlotte

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How We Met: Rachel and I were engaged on July 18th, 2014. That’s a day that will stay with me forever, however, our story began a year and a half or so before that day and oddly enough, I think that day sticks out to me even more. Rachel and I were introduced by a mutual friend and were set to go to dinner on a Friday night. It was January 27, 2013. That day, we had one of those “North Carolina” freezing rain episodes where the city shuts down and the Northern transplants are allowed to roam the streets and highways freely without the worry of us Southerners because we’re taking a “Snow Day”. So, being a southern gentleman, I asked Rachel to reschedule to the following day so we didn’t have to be out in the “ice”.

The following day, I picked Rachel up at her apartment. When I arrived outside, I gave her a call and she said she’d be right down. Now, after dating for more than a year, I know that she actually was about 30% ready and made the final push to complete her look in the time it took for her to arrive downstairs. Let me tell you she’s talented because she was (and always is) flawless. Rachel is what I’d call a “fashionista”. She attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. She knows her style and her fur vest, denim shirt, black riding pants and riding boots immediately reminded me that I should have ironed my shirt and that it was probable that my socks didn’t match. It then occurred to me that we were going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It seemed like a great idea until that moment. Long story short, it was a great idea. We had a lot of fun and I made a fool of myself (which Rachel has come to know as me being me).

Our first date was our last first date. We’ve been hand in hand since. We made it through our first twelve hour drive to visit her family in Michigan. We’ve been through the happy, sad and everything in between.

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How He Asked: I can’t quite put my finger on “the moment” when I knew Rachel was the one. It was almost like it was never a question. I didn’t have the “a-ha”. Anyway, when I got it in my head how I wanted to propose I went to Diamonds Direct in Charlotte. Now, obviously I’ve never made this type of purchase before, so I assume that if I need this ring on Friday, then I can go in on Monday and pick it up…negative, Ghost Rider. A wonderful German lady named Lotte (who is one of the most original people I’ve ever met) laughed at me patted me on the back and then told me when the ring could be ready.

My plan had been foiled before the ink had even dried. See, Rachel’s birthday is June 29 and we were going to go to Michigan for a family gathering to celebrate birthdays and my plan was to ask her father, Paul there when we arrived and then propose on Sunday when the family was there to celebrate. Now, that wasn’t going to happen. I needed a plan B and luckily, I specialize in plan B’s. We traveled to Michigan and I talked to her Dad and got his blessing and came home. The day we got back, the ring was in…literally 3 days earlier and plan A would have been a success. Little did I know, plan B was going to be “perfect”! I had the ring for 2 whole weeks before I proposed. That was rough. But I had to wait it out. I had a plan. I chose July 18, 2014 because that was a Friday and in Charlotte our local minor league baseball team has fireworks every Friday night and there’s a nice park right beside the stadium in Uptown. So, on Wednesday I suggested to Rachel that we get sushi takeout from our favorite spot and have a picnic in the park. Sounds legit, huh?

We made our plan and it was set. She had no idea. Now for the next two and a half days I was calm as a cucumber and no one else knew except for my Mom. However, 3:00 pm on Friday came and the nerves hit. Wait, let me back up. So, the morning of, I’m reading self-help articles on “how to not screw up your proposal” and it says, “Don’t forget the photos”. Wait, what? Photos? Oh yeah, she’s going to want photos, who do I call? Do I know any photog…yep, I sure do. The Stewarts. Mark and Kelly. It’s been “Mark and Kelly” for a long time. They’re high school sweethearts and I’ve known Mark so long, that I don’t really even remember when we first became friends. So, I called Mark and of course, he said, “absolutely”. Whew! Crisis averted. I left work at 4:00 pm and met Rachel at my apartment. She had gotten off early that day and came by to relax before dinner.

When I arrived home, it hit me that she had been at my place (with the ring) for a while unsupervised. When I walked through the door, she had a look that just made me believe she knew what was coming (keep it cool, J). She swears she had no clue. She mentions that she’s going to wear something that is casual or along those lines. At any other time, I would say, “absolutely, that sounds great”. But this is “the day”, and she doesn’t know it’s “the day”. I have to intervene, so I suggest a dress or something like that. She obliges. We’re off to the park. As we’re walking, I feel a drip. Then a drip. Another drip. Are you kidding me?!? Rain? We duck into the sushi bar and Rachel suggests we eat inside. NO. I have a plan. It must succeed. So, we get it to-go and the rain subsides to more of an off and on event. We’ll just have to make-do. We get our space picked out and sit down.I can’t tell you how hard it is to pick up sushi with chop sticks while not really having a seat or table. I can tell you that no seat or table plus nervous wreck means you won’t eat, but being the sweetheart she is, Rachel gave me a couple of pieces. She’s the best.

Now, when I spoke to Mark, we made a plan. I had signals and a map layout. It was impeccable. I could have lead an army with the planning of this moment. We finished our meal, and my cue for Mark was for Rachel to get up. See, I needed her up, so that I would be on one knee and have her standing without asking her, randomly, to stand up.

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When we finished eating, I packed the trash into a bag and politely asked Rachel to take the bag to a nearby trashcan. If you could have only seen the look on her face; if looks could kill, I would have needed a plan C. When she was walking back I tried to get on one knee while getting the ring out of that little pocket in your jeans that you don’t ever put anything in because it’s a black hole. It was awkward and painful, but I finally got it out as she was steps away and she knew something was up.

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When she saw the ring, the flood gates opened. I’m not 100% sure of what I said, but we both cried a bit (I do remember asking her not to cry – if she cried, I was going to be crying). She said, “yes” and there were cheers from strangers and then Mark and Kelly revealed themselves and we took more photos.

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It was a lot of fun. We hung out for an hour or so and finally the fireworks began.

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They were awesome and as they ended and we were packing up our things, my final surprise arrived. Family is big for Rachel and I. We want to share all of those special moments with our families and I truly love Rachel’s parents, so earlier in the week, I invited them down to surprise Rachel.

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Our timing was off, but it ended up being perfect. Their 12-hour drive finished at the perfect time to walk up behind Rachel as we were packing up. That was a moment that had everyone in tears. Plan B was a success. We finished the night sharing a bottle of wine at my apartment and planned our Saturday to take in a baseball game with both of our parents. My only hope was that this day would be as good as the day that Rachel had dreamed of and I think I was pretty close. It’s a moment in time that we both will always be able to go back to. That’s how I asked.

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Photos by: Kelly Rae Stewart Photography