I first saw Ian backstage for his high school fall musical: curly brown hair, mascara-enhanced beard, and a brilliant white smile that lit up his eyes as he marched down the locker-lined hallway in a pirate costume.
I was there because my best friend Britni was dating a guy in the small town an hour away from ours. Since her boyfriend was in their musical along with a number of our other friends, we couldn't miss it. Before the curtain call, we snuck around to the hallway that served as their backstage to say hello. Ian's smile caught my eye before he disappeared, and Britni and I made our way to our seats.
I soon realized the cute guy backstage with the captivating smile was one of the leads, and I was smitten by the time he started singing "I am I pirate king." As soon as the lights came on for intermission I was flipping through the program to find out his name. Ian. I realized this must be the same Ian who our friends had mentioned earlier in the afternoon. The Ian who had just started dating another girl in the cast. It was better this way, I thought. It would save me inevitable heartache. By the next song, I was enjoying his good looks and amazing voice with no attachment whatsoever.
I put Ian out of my mind until the spring, when their show choir toured the area. For one song, Britni's boyfriend was one of two guys tasked with selecting a lucky girl from the audience. I was near the aisle, and I was a familiar face. They picked me. I walked on stage in a giant blue hoodie and sat down on an old band room folding chair surrounded by guys in sparkling gold vests. They were providing backup for the soloist—that same cute pirate king I had noticed and then put our of my mind months before. This will be an amazing page in my scrapbook I thought to myself as he held my hand and crooned "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." The rest of the day, girls kept coming up to me in the hallway during passing periods and gushing. "I want to marry that curly haired guy!" one of my friends exclaimed. I laughed and told them he had a girlfriend.
Late that summer, after the joint youth group mission trip with two nearby towns (including Ian's), a group of us made our annual hour pilgrimage to the Sherman County fair to see our friends. We ran into Ian working the putt-putt booth, and Britni and I gave him a hard time about skipping the mission trip for football camp after he and his girlfriend had planned to go. When he assured us he wouldn't miss it the next summer, we reminded him this had been Britni and I's last trip since we had graduated in May, then said goodbye with a laugh.
In August, I left for K-State, met my new roommate, and started classes. But Britni and I stayed in touch with our friends back home and discovered the cute, curly-haired boy was driving a wedge between two of them: he was newly single and they were both interested. We received regular updates through the fall. They were in the musical with him; one was the lead opposite him, and the other seemed to be holding his interest off stage. We shared her mixed feelings: excitement at the possibility of a relationship and sadness that her joy came at her best friend's expense. We learned in January she heard he was going to ask her to Snoball, but as the dance approached, she began to doubt he would. She said yes to someone else, and then hours later had to turn down a date with Ian, who did ask after all.
Just before Valentine's Day as I was working on a paper, I was surprised to get an IM from Britni's now ex-boyfriend, who I hadn't heard from since shortly after their breakup. "What would you say if I told you a guy I know likes you?" I was sure it wasn't him, but mild panic still hit. A few months ago, I had learned a guy from our friend's floor had a crush on me. I was not interested whatsoever, and still hid behind the potted trees in the dining hall whenever I saw him. But curiosity got the better of me.
"You remember that curly-haired guy who sang to you?" I didn't believe him. Ian and I had barely ever spoken, serenade notwithstanding, and what about Laurie? I gave permission to put us in contact after vague assurances it wouldn't ruin friendships.
Ian and I chatted online the next day for a few minutes. A few days later I talked to Laurie, who assured me she was in a blossoming romance with her Snoball date, and gave her blessing for whatever might happen. I finally indulged the feelings I had reined in more than a year before.
Over the spring, we chatted online almost every night. We stayed up later and later as the conversations grew longer. Back home in time for graduations in May, I managed to squeeze in his reception on our itinerary, which spanned two towns. He introduced me to his mom as Anna "from the internet" and I met the man who I assumed was his dad. Was he a funeral home director?
Ian had the opportunity to meet my parents a month later at my big birthday bash. The ladies who stayed for the slumber party informed me Ian seemed keen to impress my parents, and gushed with excitement at the possibility of my first boyfriend.
A few days after the party I woke up to a big box from Eli's Cheesecake, the present Ian had informed me was on it's way. He remembered I had mentioned how good Eli's was, and ordered me a box of cheesecake dippers. My dad, for the first time dealing with a boy interested in his only little girl, said in shock, "wow, he's serious."
We managed to see each other a few times over the summer (including a Third String show in Nebraska—our friends' band which I loved even before Ian joined), and made plans to spend more time together once we were both at K-State.
The first week of classes, I discovered I could earn extra credit for my Shakespeare class if I attended the local production of The Winter's Tale. Not wanting to go alone I posed the offer to our group of friends, and was thrilled Ian was the only one who took me up on it. After the show as we walked to the car, an elderly couple behind us commented on what a lovely couple we made. Ian smiled and said he agreed, and held my hand for the first time.
A few days later, he took me on an official us-only date and we ended up on Manhattan Hill. Sitting on the first poured concrete T, we finally admitted to each other what we had danced around for months. We made it official and started on the journey to find out if we had what it takes to make it forever.