Anticipation grew as Spencer Shoemaker sat next to her boyfriend, Andrew Lewis, watching the sun set over the Cayucos horizon, its swan song dispersing an array of orange, yellow and red through the clouds.
The two spent the entire day roaming the small coastal town at Andrew’s insistence, which drew suspicion from the intuitive 23-year-old. Her boyfriend was never good at lying and that could only mean he was up to something. Andrew, 25, contended that “Grumpy Spencer” needed a getaway to alleviate some stress as she finished another semester in the educational counseling master’s program at CSUB.
They listened to “Hamilton” during the drive up, explored numerous antique stores and grabbed coffee before settling on the beach to see the sun off.
The situation was nearly perfect. It was just missing one thing: a ring. A finish line to a marathon that began when they first crossed paths in junior high and became friends in high school, that saw them grow up together and mature separately in preparation for the next chapter of their lives where they would no longer be boyfriend and girlfriend but husband and wife.
As the sea swallowed the sun and the crisp December air made its presence known, Andrew turned to Spencer and asked, “All right, you ready to go?”
Spencer hesitated, her disappointment making a brief appearance, before nodding and the two made their way to the car.
“OK, it’s not going to happen today,” Spencer thought to herself.
She’s waited 6 ½ years. What’s a little longer?
The Friend Zone
Spencer and Andrew were acquaintances at Freedom Middle School, but it was at Frontier High School where friendship bloomed.
Spencer’s house was the hangout spot for their group of mutual friends and their participation in the school band and swim team only amplified the time spent in each other’s company.
Spencer’s feelings toward Andrew were undeniable her junior year: She had a crush on him. A huge crush. Andrew, a senior, felt strongly toward Spencer as well: Spencer was a great friend whom he could turn to for advice, especially about other girls.
Giving relationship advice to someone she couldn’t be with took its toll on Spencer and she decided to set her feelings aside for the sake of her sanity.
“He’s always asking me for advice but I’m just going to be his friend and be nice,” she confided to her mom.
However, those feelings came back in the spring during swim season where Spencer, whose house was right around the corner, would give Andrew rides home.
Sitting in the back seat of Spencer’s white Chevy pickup, Andrew noticed something different about his friend sitting in the driver’s seat, a tank top over her swimsuit, hair flowing in the breeze from the open window, skin glowing and vibrant from the golden light of the setting sun, a mushy country song playing on the radio. A serendipitous moment of clarity in which he became fully aware of what’s been in front of him all along.
But the brightest light often casts the darkest shadows and Andrew’s epiphany and whether to disclose his newfound feelings to his longtime friend was a gamble.
“Do I risk making our friendship super awkward and making this circle of friends that I love and cherish weird or do I take the shot?” he wondered.
Deciding it was better to live with the consequences than to be left speculating what if, Andrew opted to take the shot.
This One Time, in the Band Room
Two weeks of band rehearsals preceded Spencer’s senior year of high school.
After practice ended, she started cleaning up so she could go home, only her sister Perri and friend Courtnie wouldn’t let her leave. Spencer’s clairvoyant nature told her something was coming.
The weekend prior, she and Andrew went on their first date – a trip to the movies to see “The Help,” a drama that replaced the action-packed Marvel flick Andrew initially had in mind at the recommendation of his mother. They already talked about having feelings for one another and given the curious behavior of those around her, a single thought popped into Spencer’s head: “Not in the band room.”
Andrew entered through the back door and snuck up on a distracted Spencer. With three different bouquets of pink gerbera daisies in hand, he approached with the intent of asking her to be his girlfriend.
The entire room’s attention was focused on Andrew as he said the words he came to say, but the response caught him off guard: “What?”
With 20 pairs of eyes on him, Andrew’s question came out as a 2-decibel whisper that didn’t quite make it to Spencer’s ears. This was uncharted territory for him, his reticent personality preferring to stay in the back and observe his surroundings away from the spotlight.
Luckily, Spencer knew what Andrew was trying to ask and, more importantly, she knew how to answer.
“If you have a friend that you can see yourself being with, take your shot,” Andrew said in retrospect. “It worked out for me.”
The “Dark Times”
Officially boyfriend and girlfriend, Andrew attended Bakersfield College and worked at Albertson’s while Spencer finished her final year in high school.
But with Spencer attending UCLA after graduation, a long-distance situation was inevitable.
Both were fully aware of the difficulties separation can have on a relationship, so Andrew, thinking he was doing the right thing, decided to set Spencer free.
“Look, you’re going off to college,” he said. “I love you, but you can go in chain free, so you can do your college experience and all that.”
“No!” Spencer said, her response quick and swift.
They were happy together. They loved each other. The road ahead was going to be rough, but they were going to get through it together because, in the end, they didn’t want anyone else.
The two-hour distance made it easier for the two to see one another. Spencer came back home at least once a month so she and Andrew could have date night. Faith and trust kept their relationship strong, as well as keeping busy.
Spencer joined campus clubs and focused on her studies while Andrew focused on work, school and the gym to literally work the bad thoughts out of his head.
“Oh, she’s at this event with all these college guys? Screw it, I’m going to go lift heavy weights,” he said.
But the distance eventually took its toll on the couple and it was clear the two were growing in very different ways. During Spencer’s second year at UCLA, she proposed the two spend some time apart.
The suggestion didn’t come as a surprise, and it wasn’t what he would have liked, but Andrew had to respect Spencer’s decision because he loved her.
Spencer and Andrew grew and matured individually for the first time in two years, talking on occasion. Spencer went home to Bakersfield less that year because she had one fewer reason to do so.
Despite the time apart, neither of them dated anyone else.
Coffee and Conversation
A text message went unanswered. It was an email that warranted a response – a simple request from Spencer to Andrew to meet up for coffee.
The question brought up mixed reactions from Andrew: “Coffee? What are we, friends? I wonder what she has to say for herself.”
He agreed to meet her at the neighborhood Starbucks.
Whatever pettiness still resided in him melted away the second Spencer walked through the door, backlit by the outdoor light, sporting a white jacket, her hair down. It was like seeing her for the first time – truly seeing her – from the back seat of her Chevy pickup three years ago, hair flowing in the breeze from the open window, skin glowing and vibrant from the golden light of the setting sun.
This was the opportunity he’d been waiting for.
During their separation, Andrew was sitting in his room listening to worship music when he came to a conclusion: “Lord, if this is your will, I’m going to wait for her.”
During that summer, Spencer went on a mission trip to East Asia while Andrew was preparing for his first fire season as a seasonal firefighter with Kern County Fire Department Crew 476. That was when she realized she was going to miss him. That she still loved him. That she wanted to give it another shot.
Over coffee and conversation, the two caught up, and in the months that followed, they rekindled their relationship.
Their time apart helped them realize that while they are strong individually, without the other, they are also incomplete. They want each other. They need each other.
Footprints in the Sand
Walking back to the car, confusion still lingered in Spencer’s head.
It’d been three years since they got back together. Andrew was now a full-time firefighter with the Kern County Fire Department and she was back home after graduating from UCLA in 2016, working as a substitute teacher and earning her master’s degree at CSUB – taking the “long distance” out of their long-distance relationship. They just watched a gorgeous sunset after spending the day at Cayucos, one of her favorite beaches. Andrew had been acting strange the entire time, but never proposed.
With the remnants of light from a sun long since set illuminating their way to the parking lot, a question broke the silence.
“Hey, what’s that?” Andrew asked pointing at the ground, slightly hunched over.
“He’s pointing at a footprint,” Spencer thought to herself. “It’s just a person’s footprint.”
In truth, it was actually a diversion drawing Spencer’s attention away from Andrew, who dropped to one knee to look up at his girlfriend’s face as he fumbled with the left pocket of his cargo shorts to present a box containing a ring – a round-cut diamond surrounded by a diamond halo in a diamond-studded platinum setting.
Andrew straightened the ring before saying the words Spencer was waiting for all evening. He successfully tricked her – bragging rights for the rest of their lives.
Just like when he asked her to be his girlfriend, Andrew’s proposal was another 2-decibel whisper.
But this time, his words were heard loud and clear – as was Spencer’s response. ￼