RJ & Brittani

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RJ and Brittani won our runner-up prize with RJ's idea to surprise Brittani with a short film starring all her friends and family based on her favorite TV show, The Office. The couple met at a college football game, where RJ says, "There were thousands of people around us, but it was like it was just me and her." The timing, however, couldn't have been worse. Just a week later, RJ was scheduled to have spinal surgery for an injury he'd sustained in the Marine Corps years before. He thought there was no chance Brittani would stick around. But Brittani stayed by his side for the weeks-long recovery, taking care of him like she'd known him his whole life. To thank her for being there for him, RJ wants to make his proposal an event to remember—bringing her to a movie theater to screen the film, where he'll propose to her surrounded by their loved ones.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Sylvia Day wrote this story about their inspiring love, accompanied by an original illustration by Alessandra Olanow.

He sets down the ordered drink and flashes a warm smile. Tall with broad shoulders, the bartender is built like the warrior he once was and blessed with the kind of handsomeness that turns heads. With a Crimson Tide celebration in full-force, there are a lot of heads to turn.

The crowd is a sea of red, the atmosphere electric. Drinks flow and the dark-haired man behind the bar easily keeps up, betraying neither the wounds he carries that are yet to heal nor the distraction of his thoughts, which linger on the statuesque brunette with mile-long legs he met just before the night kicked off.

His grin widens at the thought of her and the spark she ignited, the little jolt that tells him he needs to find her again. She’s got a great smile. Wide and bright. Genuine. He wants to see it again, see her again.

In a crowd of two thousand people, they make it happen. It hardly seems possible, but in a matter of hours she’s become even more beautiful. Everything fades but her. Their friends, the music, the revelry of the gathering. Their drinks are superfluous, the attraction between them heady enough. Hours pass. Three, then more. It feels like they could talk endlessly, that there’s so much to catch up on and share.

It may take a lifetime. And, for both of them, that night is just the beginning.

* * *

They call me Time. For some, I move too quickly, like grains of sand through grasping fingers. For others, I’m too slow. There are those who try and hold me off (like the wounded warrior whose stubbornness could only delay the inevitable), but I stride forward with a steadfast tempo and pull the strings that tug events—and people—into place.

If you’d asked him then, he might have told you my timing was terrible. It was only days before his surgery when he found her, the fashionable girl from Houston who was miles from home and the family she adored. Surrounded by thousands, she stood out to him. They talked for hours, as if no one else existed, as if I’d suddenly decided to stand still.

But alas, I moved forward as ever, and his time of convalescence arrived. He might’ve cursed me then. At that point in time he wanted to prove his strength and worthiness but was disabled instead. Even warriors must heal and he needn’t have feared. The beautiful girl was strong enough for both of them and as committed to him as she was to her family.

My timing, if I say so myself, was as perfect as the two of them are together.

Which brings us here, the three of us; one ready to take the next step, one still planning that step, and me marching along. It will all happen as it should, at just the right moment. There’s a lifetime ahead for them. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do with it.


 Alessandra Olanow
Alessandra Olanow