Dana and Branden

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How We Met

Branden and I first met in high school. I was in the 10th grade; he was in the 9th. (And, this is the part of the story that takes a really sharp left turn). I actually had a friend who was interested in him and she knew that he and I attended middle school together. Of course, my teenage brain gave me the grand idea to play matchmaker and hook the two of them up. So I got his number and we began our initial set of exchanges.

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I started “getting to know him for her” and I would relay little things to them both about each other. Very quickly, our texting turned into talking. One hour turned into two and two turned into staying up the whole night till we met at school again the next day. We would do our homework together. He would help me with math. We started having lunch together and I even began skipping class just to be with him (confession is good for the soul, guys). Then he kissed me for the first time at a school banquet. There was no denying that we had feelings for each other. I for one was completely invested and totally hooked.

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In my 11th grade year, I sat with administration and had them switch my schedule just so that we could be in the same Spanish class. We would literally join our desks together while all the others were in rows, just so that we could be closer to each other. We would hang out after school and the minute one of us would leave, one would call the other on the drive home. It felt like we were inseparable. During all of this, Branden and I were also attending the same church on Sunday mornings and we would serve in the kid’s ministry on Saturday nights. I literally saw him every single day and we talked all the time.

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My dad would watch us interact and describe us as “magnet and steel”. It just all snowballed to the point it seemed like I was with him, all the time! And honestly, I couldn’t get enough of him. To this day, I don’t think he realizes how much I loved it! And me, being the great matchmaking friend that I was, totally fell for him, hard. Spoiler alert: she and I are no longer friends. In my defense, he didn’t even bat an eye all that I told him about her. We were completely vested in each other.

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Branden and I formulated a great friendship at an early age. It was an organic type of chemistry, not much different than the one we have now. Being with each other was fun and refreshing. It was and still is, so carefree. He was the person who I could be myself around and who was just there, quite literally, all the time. The real kicker to this story is that we never dated in high school at all. Our friendship was just the truest kind. When we got a little older, my mom would tell me “the only two people in this world who don’t realize that you love each other is the two of you.” The truth is, I knew. And I wanted nothing less than to spend the rest of my life with him.

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How They Asked

Every year on our dating anniversary, we take a trip. Since our entire relationship has been long-distance, it’s always nice to break away from our individual lives to spend some good, quality time together. So for the past three years, we’ve done this every September. Each year, we have alternated the planning, so 2020 was my year to plan our extended weekend getaway. But, I was stuck because COVID-19 severely limited our options and neither of us (him more than I) found it safe to get on a plane.

In July, Branden just totally took over the planning and let me know that he had a surprise for me. I was okay with this because since he was the one that was COVID-19 squeamish in the first place, I figured he’d do a great job at planning something that would make him most comfortable. The kicker for me though was that he planned the whole thing as a surprise. He wouldn’t tell me ANYTHING other than we were scheduled to leave on September 10th and we would be returning home on September 14th. So for months, I sat in total anxiety, waiting for his plan to unfold.

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On about September 9th, he told me that I needed to leave home around noon. At this point, I assumed I’d be driving somewhere because he never sent information to indicate otherwise. So the next morning, I literally packed two suitcases worth of stuff, to cover all possibilities, of course, sat in my car, and called him to find out where we were going. And he said, “guess”. I had a gut feeling that it was Savannah, GA for some time but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Turns out, I was right. So I began to drive and when I was about 30 minutes out, he sent me the location that he wanted us to meet.

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He booked the cutest boutique hotel for us to stay and our first night there proceeded as normal. We ate, talked, watched tv, showered, and went to sleep. Other than the fact that I had Jason Derulo’s “Marry Me” on repeat the whole morning, our morning was pretty normal too. Since he made all the plans, I deferred to him for what to wear and what to bring for our first day in Savannah. So he took me on a hop-on-hop-off trolly tour of Savannah and told me that we were going to get off at stop number 4, Forsyth Park, I didn’t think anything of it. So we got off, he led me towards the fountain and he asked me if I wanted to take a picture (which he seldom does). So we put our things on the park bench, and as I proceeded to open my camera app, he dropped to his knee. My heart and jaw dropped to the floor. He looked right into my eyes, pulled the little box out of his pocket, and asked me to marry him. I WAS SHOCKED. I don’t think I could have said “YES” loud enough. I couldn’t believe it! He totally sideswiped me – I never saw it coming!

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Special Thanks

Victor Billups
 | Photographer