This is a saga — I’ll apologize in advance for the length. I have shortened it in every way I can, but like any story worth telling, our lives and love were formed in the details. Our story is one of repeated near misses, bad timing, and conveniently crossed paths that could give any decent Rom-Com a run for its money. So buckle up and enjoy!
Bryce and I first met when we were little Freshman babies at Appalachian State University back in the fall of 2014. He started talking to this girl who lived on my dorm floor, and once they began officially dating, he became a regular “lobby kid” (which is what those of us who bummed in the public space on the 5th floor of Coltrane unofficially called ourselves). I very vividly remember the day Bryce asked my floormate out because I bumped into him in the elevator just before he did it. He had bought her a box of gourmet cookies and written an adorable pun in the lid of the box. My friend and I wished him good luck and went on our way. Once Bryce was out of earshot I told her, “Man, if someone asked me out with a pun like that I would say yes in a heartbeat!”
This, of course, was some pretty crazy cosmic foreshadowing.
Fast forward a little and Bryce and I happened to join the same campus ministry (he joined because a friend from high school was already a part of CCF and had spoken highly of it. I joined about a semester later because this girl who lived on my floor — and would later become my roommate, one of my best friends, and eventually a bridesmaid — kept nagging me about trying it and I wanted her to leave me alone).
Through the mutual space of our campus ministry, he and I kept in touch and began to become friends. When Bryce returned Sophomore year freshly single, my interest was officially piqued. I didn’t realize it though until he started talking to someone else and I became outrageously jealous. Not being much of a seductress, I settled into the comfortable distance of casual friendship and continued to admire the man of character that he is from afar.
Then, in the spring of Sophomore year, fate threw me a bone by sending me Hannah (Bryce’s sister) who transferred from ECU. When Bryce first told us his sister was transferring to App, I decided I wasn’t going to like her on principle (aren’t I evil? I had grown up with a dear friend who got regularly befriended by girls who were crushing on her older brothers. I knew how much it hurt her to be a tactical vantage point instead of a person with friends, and since I am nothing if not a woman of delusions and extremes, I decided to spare Hannah that fate by simply not liking her at all).
This, of course, went very poorly. I think I managed to dislike Hannah for roughly 2 hours? Maybe less… Her vivacious personality and raw endearing humor quickly flagged her as a kindred spirit and someone who I was incapable of avoiding. As our friendship blossomed, I remained determined to never ask about Bryce or bring him into our friendship. And yet, there he was. She would mention an endearing detail about him from their childhood, or would invite me over to his apartment where she was hanging out with him (since I lived across town and she still lived in a dorm with a somewhat weird and unnerving roommate, his place was the easiest meeting point). I found out from her that he was once again single and I tried to not get excited about it. But the more time I spent with her, the more time I seemed to end up spending with him, and the harder I fell.
I started to send out flirtatious probes (yes, probes. What an un-sexy word… once again, seduction is not my strong suit). I pulled out all the stops that my sheltered self could think of: the occasional brushed arm or bumped knee, regular texting, teasing, deliberate eye contact… I even tried the age old eye contact bounce between his eyes and lips when he spoke. Nothing. I couldn’t tell if he was picking up on any of it.
Then, at the end of Sophomore year, I drove him back to his apartment on the last day before the summer. It was just the two of us in the car and I thought maybe this would be the moment something finally happened. All my hopes were dashed in one cruel moment, however, when he reached out and gave me a goodbye fist-bump (not even an awkward in-the-car side hug). It was then that I was sure he didn’t like me.
Momma didn’t raise no quitter though, so I gave it another try over the summer when I texted him to see how he was doing. Despite my best efforts to keep it alive, the conversation quickly died. It was the final nail in my fragile ego’s coffin. Now I was sure that not only did he not like me, but maybe he didn’t even want to be my friend. I was Hannah’s friend who was around sometimes. That was all.
So I started dating someone else.
Little did I know, Hannah had been name dropping for me over the summer (even though Bryce had never picked up on my interest in him, she certainly did). She even went so far as to ask him if he would consider me as someone viable to date. That off-handed question managed to plant a seed in his head that all of my best attempts at flirting had never been able to do: Bryce started to notice me, to think about me, and to consider me as an option. As the summer wound to a close and we headed back to Boone for Junior year, Bryce began, for the first time, to really like me.
Just a few days into the fall semester, Bryce and I both volunteered to work the CCF table for the club expo (where new students could learn about/join clubs) and we found out that we had been assigned to work the same shift at our ministry’s table — just the two of us. He was elated when he found out. This would be the perfect chance to spend some time one-on-one with me. I, on the other hand, was devastated — I hadn’t stopped liking Bryce, I had just given up on being liked back. I couldn’t spend time with him like that. It would be awkward, not to mention unfair to my new boyfriend.
I told myself to put on my big girl panties and do it — we were in the same small ministry. It’s not like I could avoid him. Besides, we were there to do a job. I went in planning to be cordial but distant and instead ended up having a wonderful time. Our table had been placed in a back corner that didn’t get a ton of foot traffic so we spent most of the time talking, and Bryce proved to be a wonderful conversationalist.
He went home and told Hannah (his now roommate) that he was going to ask me on a date — and she told him that I had a boyfriend. Crushed, he resigned himself to our sudden role reversal and decided to continue to be my friend and like me from afar as I had done the year prior. With these intentions, he and Hannah invited me over a few nights later to see their new apartment and watch a movie. Once again I had a lovely time so naturally I decided by the end of the night that I would need to avoid Bryce in order to remain emotionally faithful to the guy that I was dating.
Despite my best efforts, he and I kept getting thrown in together — we joined the same support group, ended up at the same table for our campus ministry’s Thanksgiving (it was the first and only year they enforced assigned seating for the meal and I bet you can just guess who I got seated next to), and we often times ended up in our friend group’s hangout spots on campus at the same time. Even with all of our elbow bumping, we spent very little meaningful time together that semester and he was far removed from my mind when I ended my relationship during finals week that fall.
In fact, I really didn’t give Bryce a ton of thought at all until I returned to school for my spring semester Junior year and we started chatting at our campus ministry’s kick-off meeting. The conversation spilled over into text and we began to banter flirtatiously. All of my feelings from the last several years came rushing back out of the deep dark corner that I had hidden them in, and for the first time in a long time, I started to have hope that maybe he liked me. It all came to a screeching halt (again) when I jokingly threatened to hold him to a promise that he was making and he responded with,
“10-4, good buddy.”
I died on the inside. Absolutely died. Good buddy?? The stinging shame of being blatantly friend zoned burned so hot in my chest that I couldn’t stand to bear it alone. I took a screenshot of it, blacked out his name, and sent the picture to several of my nearest and dearest friends (one of whom was obviously Hannah). I captioned the image with something along the lines of, “When you’re trying to flirt and you get friend-zoned so hard you get whiplash.”
In a matter of minutes she responded with, “who friend-zoned you?”
This was a question I wasn’t ready for (because I’m an idiot) so I said the most incriminating thing possible — “Don’t worry about it.”
She then did the most low-down dirty thing that I will forever be grateful for: she screenshotted my message and asked Bryce, “Did you recently tell Sierra ’10-4, good buddy’?” He admitted that he had and she showed him the message in which I confessed to feeling friend-zoned. He insisted that that wasn’t his intention, that he had been joking.
Sometimes I wonder how long Bryce and I would have been trapped in our cycle of missed opportunities and bad communication if Hannah had never intervened. Because even though I didn’t know at the time that she had shown my text to him, it changed Bryce’s intentions. He had confirmation that I did, in fact, like him. That I had been flirting with him. It gave him the final push he needed to make his first move — he invited me over to watch Futurama. After a few episodes we switched to Stranger Things (because I had said that I was too afraid to watch it by myself and he kindly offered to watch it with me and protect me from the scary bits). This, of course, led to some low-key cuddling which led to another planned date to finish the show later that week, and this time some unashamed high-key cuddling.
Then, on February 13th, 2017 I asked him if he would like to join me at the library where I was writing a paper. To my surprise, he said yes! It was already pretty late and Bryce didn’t tend to prefer the library as a study space, but he said he had a test to study for and could use somewhere quiet to work on it. Unbeknownst to me, at the time of my invitation, he was furiously drawing a Stranger Things themed Valentine’s Day card to give me. On the front was a drawing of Eleven holding a box of Eggo waffles along with the pun, “Leggo out?” written above it. Inside the card were several more ST-themed puns asking me to be his girlfriend. He brought it with him to the library and as the clock struck midnight he slid it across the table and whispered, “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Naturally, finally, inevitably, I said yes! Or rather, I nodded yes to being his girlfriend. I had, unfortunately, not known I was going to be asked out that night and had set up to study on the “no talking” floor in the library (my favorite place to get work done). So, having lots of things to say to one another in a space where we weren’t allowed to talk (and me still having a paper due in 6 hours), we continued to work in silence. However, I could barely stop smiling and I can say with confidence that that was probably the worst paper I have ever turned in.
As it got late, Bryce finally stood up to go. It had been my intention to stay later than him to finish, so I figured I would walk out to the car with him so I could finally say something and kiss him goodnight. Much to my surprise, he hugged me goodbye and before I could think to say anything, he walked away. I stood there torn for almost 30 seconds before frantically texting him not to leave yet because he had forgotten something and then raced down the stairs after him. I caught him in the lobby and (before I could have time to think through how much I hate PDA) I reached up and planted a big, breathless kiss on his mouth right there in front of God and the library staff and every procrastinating student on the first floor. “There” I said, “You forgot to kiss me.”
And from there, things were always pretty simple. Our relationship style has always been quirky and a little out of sync, but I have learned to love us that way.
The first time we said “I love you” I sat in silence for a long time trying to build up the courage to get the words out. Finally, feeling like I would burst, I managed to force out the question, “Guess what?” as an awkward transition from silence to professing my undying love for him. Instead of responding with your conventional “What?” my precious man didn’t miss a beat before replying “Chicken butt!” I spluttered for a minute, my brain unsure how to proceed before sheepishly saying, “Noooo… I love you.” Shocked, he hugged me fiercely and whispered in my ear, “OH! I love you too!”
Our off-beat style continued through the ups and downs of dating and almost a year after our first “I love you” we began to discuss marriage in earnest. We had talked about a lot of different timelines to get engaged, but never set something in stone. Unfortunately, I’m not a terribly patient person, so when each of the mile markers I had suggested came and went without a ring, I bought an engagement ring of my own. It was a simple wooden ring (because Bryce has such a deep love for all things rustic and wood grain) and I began to lay plans to ask him to marry me. He and I planned a picnic for the weekend after I got home from my study abroad and I figured that would be the perfect time to ask him. I’ll never forget telling my brother my plans and him cutting me off, “Wait, did you plan the picnic or did he?” he demanded.
I thought for a second, “Well, he did” I finally said.
“You stupid idiot!” he shouted, “He’s planning to propose to you that day!“
“Not if I beat him to it” I said.
But as the picnic drew nearer, I decided to give Bryce the chance to ask first — it was his picnic after all. Then, if by the end of the day, he didn’t ask me, I would give him my ring instead.
On the day of the picnic we drove up to Boone and headed for Howard’s Knob — an overlook of the mountains that also gives a stunning view of App’s campus. We set up our blanket on a nearby rock and enjoyed a delicious lunch (unsubtle plug — it was from Kindly Kitchen on King Street. It is one of my all-time favorite restaurants and everyone should go eat there). The day was gorgeous so there were a lot of people around us, also enjoying the view. Bryce kept commenting how he wished everyone would go away. Finally, they did.
“Everyone’s finally gone,” he said, “Let’s go look at the view from closer up while it’s just us.”
“Okay” I said, pretty sure I knew what was going to follow, but giddy nonetheless. We walked over to the edge and surveyed the little kingdom that had contained the entire length of our love story so far.
“Look,” he said, “You can see Coltrane from here. I can’t believe we met there four years ago. It’s so cool how we’ve come full circle becau–” he cut himself short. Just behind us a hiker had come over the ridge and was making his way down to the edge of the overlook where we were standing. Bryce let out a nervous and exasperated sigh. He turned back to me and reached into his pocket, “Before that guy gets over here” he said, pulling out the ring box, “Will you marry me?”
“YES!” I gushed as he put the most beautiful ring I have ever seen on my finger. “As it happens” I chuckled, reaching into my own pocket and producing the ring, “I have a ring for you too.”
He agreed to marry me back.
“I hope it’s okay that I didn’t kneel” he said, as we stood admiring our new bling and all the promises they held, “I wanted to ask you to marry me while I was standing beside you. You know, to ask you as my equal.”
This, of course, earned him a kiss. If I hadn’t been sure that I wanted to marry him before that statement, I was now. And I continue to be. Every day since then — good, bad, and ugly (and there have been some very ugly days) I have become more and more certain that despite our rocky start, Bryce is my perfect match. I continue to realize that I could never have asked for or even imagined a better happily ever after than the one I’m living with him. And in 144 days, I get to become his wife.
Until next time,
2 thoughts on “Love in the High Country: In Which Two of the World’s Most Awkward People Stumbled Their Way Into an Epic Romance”
I love, love, love the awkward little mishaps; the strange and silly details that make you two, you two. I’m so grateful to know and love you both and grateful you have found each other in your own weird, perfect timing. XO
WOW!!! I love this. LL