By Josette Keelor
When Oakli Wright of Woodstock arrived at the Woodstock Theater on her day off from work, it wasn't to meet with friends or have fun. Her mother drove her after Wright's boss at the theater, Shawn Garman, called saying the letters from the marquee were lying on the sidewalk outside and he needed her to put them back up.
She thought nothing of it. She'd done it plenty of times for her after-school job.
She also didn't think much of her mother's reaction when the 17-year-old needed a ride to the theater.
"She jumped right up," Wright said. "She's like 'these things just happen, so let's just go.'"
When they arrived at the theater, Wright didn't need to look at the marquee to know which movies were missing their letters. The letters on the sidewalk were clue enough.
But then she noticed her friend Michael Rees next door in the office space her parents use at Kodi Wright Photography.
"I still hadn't realized it yet," she said. She saw Rees and his mother through the glass but thought they were only visiting with her father. He saw her look at him, and thought she'd already seen what he'd spelled out on the marquee. He was coming out to meet her.
Then it clicked for her.
"I was like marquee, letters, Michael, his mom. Yeah," Wright said. She looked at the marquee and read the message he'd left her: "Oakli will you go to prom with me."
Rees stepped out onto the sidewalk carrying a plastic flower he said accidentally broke off a tree inside the theater lobby, Wright remembered recently.
"It was so awesome," she said.
Her friend Elise Sager, 16, had a similar tale to tell.
Sager's date to the prom conspired with the announcer at his Central High soccer game to call Sager out onto the field before the game and ask her to the prom.
She said Taylor LaFever's intentions were good, but she caught on to the plan before he wanted her to.
"I kind of figured it out but I played along pretty well I think," she said. If it wasn't for the texts coming through on a friend's phone and the sneaky, suspicious smiles her friend cast her throughout the day, LaFever's plan might have worked.
But Sager said yes. How could she not?
"I came out there, and Taylor came out with pink roses," she said, "and so I said yes."
Later he asked her on his own, "'cause I never asked you. I had Mr. Walter ask you," she remembered him saying.
The four friends know others who also have been on opposite ends of a prom proposal, a trend becoming more popular around the country. To the Central High students, though, it was just a way to be different.
Tyler Ferrero asked his prom date Marlena Ramirez with puzzle pieces he had her teachers hand her throughout the day.
"In the beginning of the day, I gave her an envelope," he said. "Which basically started a mystery-solving puzzle during the day."
He said he got the idea from watching "Scooby Doo" the night before.
"Shaggy and Scooby were putting together a puzzle," he said. On various pieces of paper that combined to ask Ramirez the ultimate question, Ferrero said he wrote short poems to her.
"I am in creative writing, so the writing part was much easier, thankfully," he said.
Ramirez said once she started receiving the puzzle pieces, she guessed what they would lead to. After school, Ferrero met her to hear the answer.
But their friends already knew the question was coming -- he'd told them all the day before, in front of Ramirez.
Sager said, "Tyler was like, I'm going to ask you tomorrow, so get prepared."
"Yeah," Wright agreed, "he put it on Twitter."
Wright said she gives her date credit for the pains he took in making his prom proposal special. After posing together for pictures, the two teens still had to put the movie listings back on the theater's marquee. Wright's used to it, but Rees, who works at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester, uses a digital marquee.
"Oh," Wright said. "I made him do it."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org