[Edited to add pictures]
"Don't worry, we're going to get some time alone together today. Even if we have to duck behind some bushes somewhere and just disappear." Sitting on the bench at the front entrance of the botanic gardens, I remembered Richard's hopeful prediction and accompanying grin. I knew he couldn't possibly want that more than I did, but as I surveyed the group of people I was pretty doubtful about logistics. My birthday party had ended not long ago, and both Richard's family and my family had caravaned to the botanical gardens for a picture shoot. Our families aren't small, and all told we had nearly two dozen people. The likelihood of having any private moments together was pretty slim. I made up my mind not to be upset if it didn't work out.
Much to my surprise, after about an hour of mad picture snapping Richard told me we were going to go on a walk. Again, I was skeptical. His family isn't fond of courting couples being alone. In fact, to my knowledge they had only allowed it twice--both during his sister's courtship. The first time was when his now brother-in-law proposed. The second was just before the wedding. But, Richard was quite determined, and though puzzled, I wasn't inclined to argue.
Richard lead me to a smaller separate garden then steered me down a shaded path off to the side. I'd gotten a bit ahead of him when he called my name. Turning around I saw him leaning down to pick up a piece of paper off to the side of the path. I hadn't noticed it when we passed. Holding it up Richard announced, "This is your birthday present. I wrote you a long letter, and the five parts are hidden around the garden. Here's the first part."
Delighted, I grabbed the first part, unfolded it, and immediately began to read.
"Oh, no!" Richard objected, laughing at my enthusiasm, "You can't read them until you have all of them--then I want to sit down somewhere so I can watch you."
Suddenly the mysterious walk made sense. I'd known things were pretty tight; Richard's car, bought a mere 6 weeks ago, had broken down three times in the past 7 days--and that wasn't even counting repairs in the other 5 weeks. The diamond necklace had startled me until he explained it had been purchased before the car troubles. My man loves giving gifts, so instead of purchasing something else he'd chosen to do something much more valuable to me--give the gift of his time in writing a wonderfully long letter and then presenting it in such a creative way. I was glad his family had been understanding about the idea.
I don't know how long I was looking for the remaining letter parts. I do know that the uncomfortably tall (but adorable) dress shoes were quickly abandoned in my quest, and the next while was filled with love, laughter, and intense searching. I do believe Richard had as much fun in watching me search as I had in the triumph of discovery . The first part I've already mentioned.
The second was hidden by some monkey statues (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil).
The third was on a ledge above a door in a little Japanese house on the water.
The fourth was tucked in the railing around a large pagoda in the middle of the garden.
On the fifth one Richard pointed me toward a shady trail through some tall bamboo. When we got there he confessed that he'd have to hide the last part of the letter--he'd only finished it that morning. I spun around and closed my eyes like he said (well, they were mostly closed. I didn't think he'd mind me looking at the bamboo).
All things considered, I wouldn't have minded seeing the look on my face. I think it would have been pretty comical. In the end I weathered the shock and, of course, said yes.