Ashley and Riley

Image 1 of Ashley and Riley

How We Met

I was sitting at a table with some friends and one of those friends was dating one of Riley’s best friends who was there as well. Riley sat down to eat with his friend and proceeded to awkwardly create conversation. Riley was dating someone at the time whom I, through my best friend and her boyfriend, knew were not good for each other, because they told me he should be dating me instead. While at dinner, meeting for the first time, Riley told us that he was going to surprise his girlfriend for Valentines day and he did not know if he should bring flowers or not. The hopeless romantic in me was furious. HOW COULD YOU NOT BRING FLOWERS?! After he left my friends and I talked about how insane it was that he questioned buying is girlfriend flowers for Valentines day.

Riley and I continued to hang out with one another due to our mutual friends dating and as much as I hated it I really began to like him. His awkward conversations and sarcasm continued to crack me up and I learned quickly that the discussion on flowers was him just trying to make conversation he knew girls would care about. The more we hung out the more I would hear from my friends that they really wanted him to break up with the on and off girlfriend and just date me already. Each time they told me this I was dying on the inside because I completely agreed.

Riley was really good at shoving me away. As a loyal boyfriend to the other girl anytime I said something nice he would shut it down. I have to give him props because now I know he is that loyal to me. However, they broke up for the last time and it was finally my chance to make a move. I noticed that for the first time Riley was laughing at my jokes, picking on me, looking me in the eyes and trying to get to know me. After a few months and nothing happening I gave up. I thought that he liked another girl and I was crushed. However, around that same time he had to go somewhere downtown and our mutual friends insisted that I had to come. After a lot of reluctance I went with them and on the way home Riley told me that he wanted to plan a surprise date for our friends that were dating because she was transferring and we knew they were stressed about it. I agreed oblivious the whole set up was to get my number and get closer to me. I quickly found out this is how Riley works: he has a motivation, keeps a bunch of secrets, jokes about them in front of you, then hits you with a surprise.

Riley and I continued to talk and meet up to “plan” their surprise date which consisted of us making them pizza. The plan was to set it up in an Amphitheater downtown in Worlds Fair Park, Knoxville, TN and tell the friends we were on a date and wanted them to meet up with us because we were so nervous. Due to their eagerness for us to date, they agreed and awaiting their arrival was a pizza picnic with a disposable camera for them to take pictures with that Riley and I had spent all day shopping, making, and creating for them. Riley and I told them we would walk around and then come back in an hour to hang out with them and walk around World’s Fair. Little did I know that Riley had other plans. He had his friend waiting at a monument near the fountains in World’s Fair, standing stoic with a shoebox in hand. He saw us, placed the shoebox down, and ran off which was strange considering I didn’t know he was Riley’s friend. Naturally, Riley suggested we walk up and look into the shoebox. Upon first glance, I knew something was different. Inside it were pizza lunchables and sweet tea for our own date to pass time with while our friends ate their homemade pizza we had made them. When I sat down and opened the box, my eyes scanned around, curious of what could be inside. Pudding cups. Airheads. And then I saw another disposable camera that he had for us. Riley caught on that I had seen the camera he began to tell me that he bought this camera for us to use on our first date together, if we ever got to go on one. After the complete and total shock that he planned this all along for us as well, he stood waiting, looking into my eyes. I told him I would love that. And it’s has been the most beautiful adventure ever since.

Image 2 of Ashley and Riley

how they asked

“After 5 months of planning for one moment with a dirty knee in Market Square, Knoxville, Tennessee some random church decides to have a revival in the spot I’m planning on proposing.” These were my thoughts the morning of August 20th when I learned what was happening on the Square that night. On the list proposing using soda bottles, a crowd of our friends attending, mother and friends from out of town, and of course a fake promotional event to give people an excuse to be downtown. I’ve lied to Ashley throughout our relationship, but the true beauty of this was the scale of how many people worked to make this moment special for her… by lying.

On less a scavenger hunt, but more a aimless walk Ashley and I strolled around Market Square. It had taken months of planning and organizing where people stood in a secret Facebook group, ordering soda bottles, and 12 minute YouTube video complete with whiteboard. As we walked, it was unavoidable to see that the original plan of proposing in the pavilion on the Square could not work because of the unplanned Revival argument happening across the Square. Luckily, plan B the forrest area had not been taken, a quick Facebook post later, text to a scrambler and we were set.

Walking from State Street parking garage we ran into the first batch of friends raving about Market House Café and the limited edition sodas with the Sunsphere on them. A peak at Ash, instant interest and intrigue hidden under a stomach craving Tupelo Honey after two years of waiting. Some minutes of small talk and we move to Tupelo Honey to find our reservation was “delayed” until 8:30. With time to kill in Market Square, having run into another set of friends frenzied about Market House Café’s soda event, Ashley suggested we go and check it out. On the way there we ran into another group of friends “randomly standing there,” then another, another, another and another. Each group comprised of individuals who chose to be there, chose to lie to her, and chose to support us.

Image 3 of Ashley and Riley

Image 4 of Ashley and Riley

We arrived in front of the Pavilion and the time had come 7:43 PM for the Scrambler to come and create the excuse for us to go near the forest area of the Square. A dejected Ashley was bummed we didn’t go straight to Market House Café because we were missing out on the soda bottles. My friend Jack had driven up for the proposal and the Scrambler came running in to say that he was in town and people (who we all had run into) wanted to get a picture. A reluctant Ashley agreed to walk toward Tupelo Honey where Jack was standing. At this point, all our friends had left and gathered in a secluded area to view and another friend had placed a six-pack of bottles in the middle of the forest path. We wandered down and I decided to check if our reservation was ready early, but it “wasn’t.” Knowing all was set we strolled into the center of the forest area of Market Square, the scenic epicenter of a thriving downtown community.

Image 5 of Ashley and Riley

We approached a couple of bottles sitting precariously alone in a flourishing crowd. I asked Ash, “We should look at these bottles, we have seen Jones Soda’s all night, and I want to see these ones too.” She rapidly responded as I slowed my walk to bend and look pulling me back, “Riley, we can’t look at those, clearly they are there for a reason. Something looks like it’s happening for someone.” Pausing, I glanced around, eyeing the bottles and bending down to look. Being pulled forward and away from a proposal by the one whom I was trying to propose to. I lowered myself to a knee and looked up at her and smiled, “Something is happening for someone.” I took off my sling from my right shoulder concealing a diamond ring and bent.

Image 6 of Ashley and Riley

Image 7 of Ashley and Riley

Image 8 of Ashley and Riley

Image 9 of Ashley and Riley

Image 10 of Ashley and Riley

Image 11 of Ashley and Riley

Instantly her hand went to her mouth, covering it as she said “Riley… you better not be joking me..” likely referencing my fake proposal in Cape Cod this summer. “I’m not joking, this is real.” Smiles became tears as silence became cheers to those who caught on in the Square. I started to speak when an eruption of noise sparked from behind me as supporters and on lookers rallied. I paused, soaking in the moment, but wanting her to see and hear all I had hoped to say. I said.. words—– (I will write them in if you want me too) and then held out to her a disposable camera that I had given her on her first date together that we had used to take pictures of our adventures.

Image 12 of Ashley and Riley

Image 13 of Ashley and Riley

Image 14 of Ashley and Riley

I asked her to go on more adventures with me and to make memories with me that would last a lifetime. I pulled out the ring and hoped. The moment froze and what I remember most is how she was looking me the whole time I spoke, the woman I am now going to marry stood shaking and smiling… and then said “yes.”

Image 15 of Ashley and Riley

Image 16 of Ashley and Riley

I stood and almost put the ring on her wrong and the whole Square erupted, over the sounds of unplanned Revival the Square hollered in recognition of our moment, her moment. We hugged, I stood and held her until her mom, who she did not know was there came running out to surprise her. Followed by out of town best friends and Skyped in besties. Then she turned for a final embrace from me, I held her just long enough for all our friends who had gathered in the Square on an evening in August, to support her and to support us, stood arm in arm wearing shirts that said “She said yes.” She had said yes, just as I’ll say I do.

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Special Thanks

Tyler Warner
 | Photographer
Market House Cafè
 | Promotional Permissions