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Secret Origins: Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Paper Mario: Sticker StarHow I wound up with Nintendo's Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the Nintendo 3DS is rather unremarkable.  My family asked me to put together an wish list for the 2012 holidays, I wanted Paper Mario, I put it on the aforementioned list, my parents bought it and sent it to me as a gift, the end.  The real story here is not so much how I acquired the game, but what I did with it once I had it and when I finally found the time to play it.  See, while I received the game in early December, I didn't have the chance to finally open the box and play the game until the middle of January.  I had been planning a long weekend getaway with my girlfriend Nicole after the holidays, and since every good vacation needs a game to go with it, I made it a point to finally start playing the game just prior to the trip.  Our destination?  Historic St. Augustine, Florida for four days of relaxation.  Paper Mario was along for the ride, but this trip was secretly about more than just getting away for a few days and certainly about more than saving the Mushroom Kingdom.

This was the weekend that I asked Nicole to marry me.

We breezed into the scenic Butler Beach region of St. John's County on the afternoon of Friday, January 18.  We'd rented a condo for the long weekend and used the evening to unpack, stock it with food, and generally unwind.  Nicole had her Kindle for reading at night and I had Paper Mario to explore.  I played quietly, but my mind wasn't on the game.  I was thinking ahead to Saturday night when I planned to propose.  I had it all planned out: a romantic dinner at an Internet-recommended beach-side restaurant in a ritzy hotel followed by a quiet stroll on the boardwalk under the stars where, ring in pocket, I'd pop the big question.  I'd been planning it all for months and couldn't wait for the moment to arrive.

Matt and Nicole at the lighthouseWe spent the next day in the historic district of the old town doing the tourist thing: visiting little shops, buying souvenirs, touring scenic vistas like the old lighthouse with its two-hundred nineteen step climb to the top (which we accomplished), and watching the strange and unusual people go by.  As the day slipped away, we returned to the condo to prepare for dinner.

I've learned a lot of things from video games over the years, and one of the most important lessons involves staying a few steps ahead of people.  In this case, I didn't want Nicole to stumble upon the ring before I had the chance to give it to her, so I'd hidden it in my dress shoes, tucked socks into the shoe in front of it, and stashed them in the bathroom closet.  As soon as we walked in the door, I kicked off my day shoes, moved the ring to them, and hid them back in the closet.  

The restaurant that I'd found online was a thirty mile drive from the condo down a long two-lane road without street lights or signs of civilization.  Driving in the endless dark, we finally reached the place.  Nicole can describe what we found better than I can:

We drove, and drove, and drove some more, until we hit Flagler Beach. The GPS told us it would be coming up, and indeed, we saw a sign for it, but didn't see a restaurant. We didn't see a hotel, either, just a fleabag motel. Matt pulled into the lot and looked on his phone to locate it. Then I said, "Wait, didn't the website talk about dining on the wraparound porch?" We looked, and sure enough, this restaurant was inside the fleabag place. There wasn't a sign or anything next to it, but we could vaguely see people eating. Now, perhaps they have good food, and maybe we're a little elitist, but it misrepresented itself on the internet. (Since I typed this, I looked it up on Google StreetView, and the building looks much better during the day. It's a very poorly-lit area, and that might have had something to do with our naysaying eating there).

I always like to have a Plan B for this kind of thing, and in this case, Plan B was to find another restaurant nearby.  In this case, there was nothing else nearby.  Absolutely nothing but sea, sand, dunes, and the dark road.  I turned us back to the highway and we drove all the way back to the condo past overcrowded and closed-for-the-season restaurants.  We ended up eating at the small pub where we'd stopped for lunch on Friday, but the only available table was right next to the musician belting out the greatest hits of the '70s, '80s' and '90s through the speaker system. We couldn't even hear each other talk!  Instead our attention gravitated to the televisions mounted on the wall; she was perversely fascinated by some sort of ultimate fighting match and I was curious what Jon Lovitz was doing on some program I'd never heard of called Mr. Box Office (answer: paycheck, probably).

So things never quite go as planned.  Back at the condo, we were both exhausted from the day and the drive and I could tell that Nicole was ready to call it a night.  I needed to get her out on that boardwalk though!  She started to take off her jacket, to which I said "Before you take that off... we didn't really get a chance to talk in the restaurant. You want to walk down to the gazebo near the beach and talk for a bit?"  She hesitated and shot me a surprised look before agreeing.  I slipped back to the closet and retrieved the hidden ring, pocketing it.  We strolled through the condo complex.  By now it was past nine o'clock and; there wasn't another soul around.  We seemed to have the world to ourselves.  It only took a few minutes to reach the gazebo.  The sound of the waves crashing against the shore provided a little atmosphere, as did the stars in the night sky.

"Come on, what did you really bring me out here for?" she asked.  I smiled.  The cold wind swirled around the area, causing Nicole to do a little cold dance to keep warm.  I told her that I love her very much and that I want us to spend the rest of our lives together.  "I know you're cold, so I won't keep you out here much longer," I added as I pulled the ring box from my jacket pocket.  "Will you marry me?"

Nicole shows off the ringI hadn't even finished the question before she let out an enthusiastic "Yes!" and launched herself at me, clamping on in a tight hug.  We kissed, and she put the ring on her finger.  We stood together for a while more, peering into the dark towards the sea, and then headed back up the boardwalk.  As it turns out, she'd suspected that this weekend was all about the proposal and when I wasn't in the room, she raided the suitcases looking for the ring.  I knew I was right to hide it in my shoe.

Overnight, the pub dinner didn't agree with my stomach.  I was up for a while around three o'clock, and while I waited for my medication to kick in, I sat in the living room chair and went back into the world of Paper Mario. There was important work to be done in Decalburg and now that Nicole and I were engaged, I had time to help Mario with his mission.  I had my princess now, so it was only fair that I help him find his.

UPDATE: Sadly, the relationship came to an end a year later amidst medical drama and a difference between where we each needed to be.