I Think This Might Be What They Call A Plot Twist

The funniest thing about the day is that it starts out badly. Having finally mastered the stovetop espresso pot in our tiny kitchen, I pour inky liquid into two tiny cups and hold them up proudly for Sean. On my first sip, I realize I've mistaken the salt for the sugar. There are two ways to realize that you've mistaken the salt for the sugar and this way is the worst one. As I'm spitting the briny mouthful back into the sink, the toast pops up, black and smoldering. Just like that, our first breakfast in Rome is ruined.


And it gets worse. A fruitless morning of searching for a bank and then a place for lunch culminates in a terrible argument in a sun-dappled piazza in Trastevere. It's awful because it shouldn't be awful: couples are smooching on benches, kids are frolicking on warmed flagstones, and there we are in the world's most romantic city, shouting at each other. Why wasn't that restaurant good enough? Why couldn't we just have gone there? We're in Rome, for god's sake, just choose a damn place to eat.  After all the time and all the money and all the anticipation, there is an almost suffocating pressure for every moment of this vacation to be perfect. We're like pots, boiling, and something has to give. Seething, I threaten to go back to the apartment. Sean throws the keys after me as I stride away.


We find each other at a fountain, perch on the edge and talk our way back to loving each other. It takes a while, but we align ourselves again. It's a relief, we agree, for this to have happened. Finally, we can stop trying to pretend we're in some stupid film about a couple on vacation in Rome.


The cafe is dark and dim as we bite into warm panini. We sip grapefruit soda poured into small cloudy glasses and split a pastry we have to point to; we've ventured off the tourist track now and the woman behind the counter speaks no English. She smiles, we smile, she smiles again: it's refreshing, actually, to be smiled at so much.

Afterwards, we follow a group of nuns down a narrow alley until we see the pale blue dome of St. Peter's Basilica rising in the distance. Something between us has changed now: an easiness exists where it didn't exist before. We've done the worst thing we can thing of, marred our perfect trip with the black smudge of a hideous fight, and now that we've done it---now that we've done it and survived it---things seem suddenly clean and bright and new again. Whitewashed and gleaming, the day opens up before us like a dream.


He almost doesn't bring his camera to dinner. No, bring it, I say, you might want it, you never know. Here, you can put it in my purse.

He doesn't have a bag as we leave the apartment, you see. His hands are empty, his pockets look flat. The wonderful thing is that I have no idea.


It's as though the two halves of the day are mirror images of each other: nothing goes right at first, and then afterwards, things go almost comically right. We find the restaurant we've been looking for and take the last outdoor table. The night is warm, the wine is cheap, the moon glimmers overhead, and on either side of us, couples are chattering in rapid-fire Italian. The girl to our left orders a steak the size of her head and we all laugh when it arrives. Our grinning waiter places a plate of arugula, prosciutto, and craggy shavings of parmesan on the checkered tablecloth in front of us, then follows it up with steaming bowls of pasta that make our eyes roll back in our head. We share a bowl of tiramisu for dessert, and although I manage to stop short of dipping my head into it and licking the edges when it's finished, I do actually run my finger along the sides and lick that instead.

I'm not proud of that, of course. But then you didn't taste that tiramisu.


It's a ten minute walk back to our apartment, and when he grabs me in a bear hug on the narrow cobblestoned street, it's nothing unusual. He's good at hugging, this boy; he hugs like he never wants to let go.

But this time he doesn't. This time he doesn't let go.


The thing I will remember later when I'm thinking back on it is that I am wearing these stupid skin-colored socks from Target, socks that are meant to be worn with ballet flats and only cover your toes, except they don't just cover your toes, they peek out just a little bit, and the effect is wholly unflattering. There we are, embracing in a tiny cobblestoned alley in the middle of Rome, and it's almost midnight, and I'm wearing these stupid socks and I kind of have to pee, and even despite this---even despite the fact that I'm wearing these stupid socks and that I kind of have to pee---he still looks at me and he says it.

He says I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to marry you.

I look up at him and I say seriously?, and afterwards we will laugh about how I kept saying that---seriously? seriously? is this for real?---and he pulls something from his pocket, and even in the lamp-lit street, I can tell that it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life.

He puts it on my finger, and my hands are shaking, and later we will have to sit in a doorway for half an hour to recover, but right there on that street in Rome, all I can think is that this is actually happening to me, that this is my life. And there we are, just looking at each other, just laughing, and then I say wait, you know what? I don't think you even asked me!

And he says Oh! I guess I didn't! and we laugh some more, and he says well, will you? Will you marry me? And I say the only thing I can think of. I say of course.

Oct 15, 2008


Congrats to you two.

Oct 15, 2008

How perfectly wonderful. Congrats Holly. My best to you & Sean

Oct 15, 2008


Oct 15, 2008

Man--that is the best plot twist EVER! A million congratulations to you both. This is going to be so fun!

Oct 15, 2008

Congratulations Holly and Sean!

A lovely story and how fitting for to get engaged abroad! Ah-mazing!

Oct 15, 2008

Newish reader delurking to wish you and Sean congratulations! I've read your blog since Maggie Mason's Mighty Girl referral and love your writing. This entry is just magic.

Oct 15, 2008

That is definitely a BEST! THING! EVER! Congratulations! I already said it in my twitter reply to you, but congratulations!

Dr. Maureen
Oct 15, 2008

Oh, yay! Congratulations!

Oct 15, 2008

Wow. I never thought of myself as a tearing-up-at-engagement-stories kind of girl, but from the moment you wrote "His hands are empty..." that's exactly what I've been doing.

Congratulations you two!

Oct 15, 2008

I think I speak for all long-time readers when I say...it's about time, missy. We've all known for *ages* that you were meant to be together. Glad you two finally realized it. ;)


Oct 15, 2008

Oh, Holly! This made my week! Congratulations! If any two people were meant to be, it's you two.

Oct 15, 2008

Delurking to say A Very Happy Congratulations!


Oct 15, 2008

as someone who was married 4 days ago....I'M SO EXCITED FOR YOU! That was a beautiful story followed by what will be no doubt a beautiful marriage.

thank you for sharing the story!

Someone Being Me
Oct 15, 2008

OMG! Congratulations! You know what is so odd? I was actually thinking about this today. I was specifically thinking why hasn't Sean proposed yet? I know I don't even know you but it just popped in my head today as I was fixing lunch. Apparently I am a little more in tune with your life than I realized. I can't wait to see pictures of the ring!

Oct 15, 2008

Hooray! Congratulations!!!

Oct 15, 2008

This is the most beautiful thing I've read in a long time! Let me offer my sincere congratulations as well.
Thank you for sharing this amazing part of your trip with us.

Oct 15, 2008

What a great story you will have to tell for the rest of your life.

I have been reading your blog for a long time... you are a wonderful writer, with a very positive energy and such a happy nature. You make me happy... even on a bad day... even when you are talking about your bad day!!

I had to write a comment for the 1st time... to say congratulations!!!
I am very happy for you both... but even happier that we will get to hear all about you planning your wedding!!!!

Best wishes to you both!
~ Mia

Oct 15, 2008

I'm smiling ear to ear and I've never even met you two! Congratulations to you both - wishing you love and happiness and those excellent make-up talks as long as you live!

Oct 15, 2008

Congratulations!! I've thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures for a while and I hoped this day would come. You and Sean sound like a wonderfully matched couple and I couldn't be happier for you. And your lovely post brought back memories of the kooky start to my own engagement day. Okay- enough weeping on the laptop :) Have a blast in Rome and savor this uniquely awesome time in your life!

Oct 15, 2008

gah!! loyal reader, rare commenter, but de-lurking to say CONGRATULATIONS! it is strange to feel such happiness for someone you've never met, but I am extremely happy for you nonetheless. YAY for you guys. and in Rome! way to beat Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' story.

Oct 15, 2008

Holly - I am late to the game here but I welled up with happiness for both of you. I love love love that Sean hugs like he never wants to let go because that is the sign of a good man. This I know because mine hugs me like he has missed me more than anything when he hugs me at the end of everyday and it makes me so glad that I asked him to marry me.

May you have a lifetime of happiness, love and travelling escapades together.

Oct 15, 2008

Oh, I'm so happy for you!!!! I'm a long time reader and it makes me so happy. I feel as though its my best friend got engaged even though we don't know each other. I was screaming when I saw your pictures on flickr!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!

Oct 15, 2008

Amazing story. Congratulations!

Oct 15, 2008

Congratulations! What a fabulous first trip to Italy!

Sarah Marie
Oct 15, 2008

Best! Entry! Ever!

Congrats to you both.

Oct 15, 2008

Oh man, I'm totally crying. Isn't that silly, when you don't even know me? Huge congrats... it's just so perfect.

Oct 15, 2008

I know this is weird since I don't actually know you (sorry! I just read your blog!) but as soon as I found out that you and Sean were going to Rome I somehow KNEW this was going to happen. Congratulations to both of you!

Oct 15, 2008

I saw it on Flickr before I read it here, and Holly! I am so delighted for the two of you, and my eyes are a little wet, but not overbearingly so, and honestly: I can't imagine another person that is more perfect for either one of you. Congratulations!

Oct 15, 2008

That's completely perfect. Congratulations to you both!

Oct 15, 2008

YAY! Such wonderful news! Congrats to you and Sean!

Oct 15, 2008

this is so, so sweet...and perfect! congratulations!!!

Oct 15, 2008

Oh, Holly! I've been rooting for you and Sean. Congratulations!

Oct 16, 2008

Congrats Holly. For you and your love:


A quick glance, a loving sigh,
laying close under an onyx sky
Hands grasping, blushing cheeks,
the brief moment before our lips meet.
Holding, loving, and dreaming begins,
forever will be bliss with you in the end.

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations! Squeeeeeeeeeeeeee how exciting!!
And what an awesome proposal story, Sean is definitely a keeper!

aBd libbing
Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations!!! That is absolutely wonderful!

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations to both of you! Thank you for sharing your story with us. Like others, I teared up reading it, and I'm so happy for you two!

Oct 16, 2008

What a romantic story! You got engaged in Italy! I got a little teary at the end there. Congratulations!

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations! What an exciting time... and such an exciting (and romantic) place to start it all!

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations!!! What a wonderful story.

Oct 16, 2008

Oh so excited!

Oct 16, 2008

Ok, just looked at flickr, and now I'm officially jealous!
It's a novo isn't it?!
Lucky. Girl.

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations to you both!

Oct 16, 2008

So awesome! Congratulations to both of you!

Oct 16, 2008

YAY! Congrats!

Oct 16, 2008

Oh my god! I don't think I've ever been so happy for someone I've never met! Congratulations to you both!

Oct 16, 2008

Whoopie!!! Congratulations. [btw, I bet you any money the reason for the fight in the morning was nerves about the happenings of the evening... my husband and I had our biggest fights in the months before we got engaged!]

Oct 16, 2008

Like so many other readers, I read the story and have been smiling ever since. Even though people don't know you in person, the strength of your writing is such that we all feel we do! My boyfriend and I had our first holiday in Rome and I can't think of a more romantic place to get engaged. Congratulations!

Oct 16, 2008

Many, many congratulations to both you & Sean.

Funny how irrationally excited I am for someone I've never met in person!

The ring is beautiful, the story simply perfect.

Oct 16, 2008

You gave me goosebumps, what a great story. Now I want to bear hug the both of you. Congratulations!!

I was sitting on the couch, taking off my boots at the moment my husband came in the room to propose to me and the whole wonderful time I was thinking, "I only have one boot on. He's proposing to me with only one boot on." So I completely understand the sock thing.

Oct 16, 2008

CONGRATULATIONS! to you both. It seems strange to feel so happy (and emotional) for strangers, but whatever - last night I read this post and I cried, today I came back to comment and I'm now sitting at my desk crying again!

Oct 16, 2008


Oct 16, 2008

*happy sigh* What a beautiful story...it brought tears to my eyes! I'm so excited for you both! Awww...a proposal in Rome...it couldn't get any better than that.

Oct 16, 2008

Sweet! Congratulations.

I presume that, since it occurred after midnight, this was not a "bad-decision Tuesday".

Operation Pink Herring
Oct 16, 2008

Oh, congratulations! I particularly love your story because I had the exact same reaction when my fiance proposed. Seriously? Really? Is this a joke? Are you sure? Is that real? Afterwards, no one could understand how, after 5 years of dating, I could really have been so surprised, but... I was. I hardly remember the rest of the day; I just could not wrap my head around what had just happened!

Congrats again to you and Sean!

Liberal Banana
Oct 16, 2008

How sweet! Congratulations. I just got engaged to my bf of the last 5+ years 2 months ago, and got back from Europe on Sunday!

Oct 16, 2008

Delurking to say Congrats!

And that only you would succeed in that "couple in a film on vacation in Rome" moment after you had already moved past it.

Oct 16, 2008

Oh Holly! Congratulations! You're story was so sweet, I'm sitting at my desk at work, crying. I totally laughed out loud at your "Seriously?" response, because when my husband asked me, I made him say it twice, just to make sure I was hearing him correctly. I look forward to all the wedding planning posts!

Oct 16, 2008

This is the best of Best! Things! Ever! I love you guys and am so glad to know you as you're making this committment to each other. You are both so beautiful, talented, funny, and amazing, and I think you're perfect perfect perfect together. Congratulations, dear friends!

Anne in SC
Oct 16, 2008

At first I was thinking, oh, I'm glad we're not the only ones that fought on the minute our feet touched the shores of a foreign land - glad we're normal. Then I picked up on the "pockets were flat" foreshadowing and then thought to myself, "Self, stop it - you always think people are going to be getting engaged". What an exciting ending.

Congratulations and Best Wishes to you both. I can't wait to read the adventures of the engagement and ceremony.

Oct 16, 2008

This is wonderful news! Best wishes to you! Congratulations to Sean!

Oct 16, 2008

...and now I'm crying. Many, many congratulations to you both. You're an absolutely stunning couple.

Oct 16, 2008

omg holly! i am in tears here at work. congrats to you both!

will someone plesae pass some kleenex my way?

Oct 16, 2008

Well, way to go! Congratulations!

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations! I started to cry when i read your post! What a happy thing to happen in such a wonderful city!

Oct 16, 2008

I have been wondering for some time when this was going to happen. And I have to say I was hoping for it. I also always hoped you would share it with us. I hope you won't be one of those bloggers that gives it all up and leaves us hanging.

Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but I have even thought (long before this post) about you and Sean getting married and having kids and hoping that you will blog all the way through it all.

Congratulations to Sean and best wishes to you.

Oct 16, 2008

You are beautiful, on your own and together. This is the way it should be. So many congratulations.

Oct 16, 2008


So happy for you both!

Oct 16, 2008

i am so rediculously happy for you i have tears... like watching a movie you have become incredibly personally invested in even though the characters are fictional...

La Petite Chic
Oct 16, 2008

Oh my gosh, biggest congrats to you!! 'Of course!' was the only logical answer I had to that very same question. :) Ohh, and Rome...how romantic!!

Oct 16, 2008

OH MY GOD!! Congratulations, I am so happy for you!! God, you are going to be the most freaking gorgeous bride. I wish I knew you better (at all, really) so that I could finagle an invitation to the weddding. : )
How freaking movie-perfect that whole story was - even the fight and the burnt toast just go and make it all even more gorgeous. Congratulations, you two - you are beautiful together.

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations a million times over!! What a wonderful and romantic story! Can't wait to hear about more of your trip...and wedding plans!

Oct 16, 2008

ACk! So sweet!

You know, you're like the 4th or 5th couple I know of that has gotten into an argument directly before becoming engaged. I'm not even joking. Perhaps I need to start picking fights ;-)

So, so cute! How exciting!

Oct 16, 2008

So I started skimming this entry and I got to the part where you say, "And he almost didn't bring his camera, and then I said, eh, bring it," and I thought, Oh no! Camera's gonna get stolen!

Glad to see I was *totally* wrong. Also, congratulations!

Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations!! I'm so happy for you both.

Oct 16, 2008

That was a great day! What a plot twist! Congrats!!

Oct 16, 2008

Just lovely.

Oct 16, 2008

The whole time I've been reading your blog, I've been wondering when I would read the post about your engagement. Turns out it was today!

Such a beautiful story, and so well written.

Oct 16, 2008

Oh man, I'm so excited for you, and I don't even know you. A million points for Sean for how he did it! And of course, your retelling was masterful.

Liz Montgomery
Oct 16, 2008

CONGRATS TO YOU BOTH!! That's wonderful news and a beautiful ring :-) how perfect..

Oct 16, 2008

CONGRATULATIONS!!! That's so wonderful, and what a wonderful story of your day, fight and all.

Robin Howell
Oct 16, 2008

Holly! Even though I don't know you, I feel as if I do and I am so so happy and excited for you! I love that your proposal day wasn't perfect, because nothing in this life ever is! Marriage is AWESOME! and you'll love it! Congratulations, Congratulations, Congratulations!!!!

Rachael W
Oct 16, 2008


Oct 16, 2008

Congrats! What a wonderfully written post. I am so happy for you.

I loved the part about the Target socks, as I can totally relate. When my husband proposed to me on Christmas Eve we had just gotten home from a party, and I had just changed into my fleece pj's to relax. Fleece PJ'S!

It was one of the happiest moments in my life and obviously totally unexpected because never would I have been wearing unflattering fleece pj's for such an occasion.

Heather M
Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations. What a beautiful story for you both. Holly, I could feel the love pouring out of you when I read this entry. Best wishes for you both - forever.

Oct 16, 2008

Good Lord, Holly-- I'm all teary eyed over here. You two have to be the cutest, most perfect couple in history. I have to tell you, what made this post so great for me is that I can hear you speaking it, with your adorable accent and it makes it all the sweeter to read.

Congratulations to you both.


Finn Reeds
Oct 16, 2008

Well, that little bugger, Sean, surprised us all now didn't he?! Congratulations to you and enjoy the rest of your trip.

Oct 16, 2008

*beam* You are never going to forget those socklets. I will never forget the wholly indelicate wool gloves I had to shakily remove before he could place my ring on my finger. We're celebrating 5 years this weekend :)

Oct 16, 2008

I am so happy for you!! Congratulations girly!


Oct 16, 2008


Oct 16, 2008

I have been waiting to read this ever since I saw your blog. Congrats! Its the coolest road.