After a long week studying sign language interpretation at Philadelphia Community College and waiting tables at Sabrina's, Maria couldn't wait to get back to Audubon, grab a meal at the diner, and crawl into bed.
Then, her cell vibrated.
"He's here!" her friend Tyler texted. "Come meet him."
"He" was Eddie, a heating and air-conditioning technician from Barrington, whom Maria had spotted on an earlier night out and declared gorgeous. "Here" was the Top Dog bar in Cherry Hill.
What Maria didn't know: Eddie had noticed her, too. That night in early 2008, "I was bugging Tyler to bug Maria" to come to the bar.
Maria arrived, still in her work clothes. Eddie greeted her with a lemon drop - the kind that comes in a glass. They flirted all night.
"Can I have a kiss?" Eddie asked.
"No," said Maria.
"How about on the cheek?" he suggested, leaning toward her. Maria leaned in to kiss his face, but Eddie turned his head.
Lips met lips.
They exchanged numbers, and a few days later, had dinner at TGIFriday's.
From the start, the two jokesters made a sport of busting each other's chops.
He teases her about her bad memory. Maria teases Eddie that most movies he watches are from the 1980s.
How does forever sound?
Maria did sign language interpretation for about nine months, then became a waitress, then an assistant manager at her uncle's gastropub, Molly Malloy's at the Reading Terminal Market.
Eddie, who is now 28, moved into the Audubon house Maria, now 25, shared with three roommates in fall 2011.
In February 2012, their roommates were quick to spot the jewelry store bag Eddie brought home. He swore them to secrecy, and planned something special for that Saturday.
But Eddie woke up Thursday with terrrible abdominal pain. He tried to make himself throw up so he could feel better and go to work.
Maria asked him not to go to work. Then she yelled at him not to go. Her concern and the mounting pain won, and Eddie went to the hospital, where he had an emergency appendectomy.
(While Maria was worried sick at the time, she now tells people, "He was so excited, he was about to burst!")
After the surgery, from his hospital bed, Eddie called in some favors: Their friend Rob picked up flowers. Maria's cousin Holly set things up at the house.
Saturday morning, Eddie and Maria went to a friend's daughter's birthday party. "I'll help you clean up," Maria told the hosts. "My stomach hurts," Eddie fibbed. "We need to go home."
"I opened the door, and there were rose petals on the floor and on the table. And there were flowers," Maria said. Valentine's Day had just passed, and she was confused.
"What the [expletive] is this?" she asked.
Maria turned around to see her still-sore-from-surgery boyfriend slowly easing onto one knee.
"Oh my God! Oh my God! I can't believe this!" she said.
"Are you saying yes?" Eddie asked.
"Oh my God, yes!"
After they hugged and kissed and basked in engagement for a few minutes, Maria began calling their friends, only to learn that everybody already knew. Eddie suggested they go to Holly's place, and - surprise! - everyone was waiting to celebrate.
It was so them
Eddie now works for Core Mechanical in Pennsauken, and Maria works with her mother, Marion, better known as Tootsie, at Tootsie's Salad Express at the Reading Terminal Market. They married in a traditional Catholic ceremony at St. John the Evangelist.
Tootsie played the guitar and sang "I Wish You Jesus." This was the favorite song of Maria's grandmother, Molly Malloy - the woman her uncle's bar is named for. Maria has some of the lyrics tattooed on her foot.
The cocktail reception for 500 was held at the Reading Market, where 40 merchants provided "every food imaginable," Maria said.
Almost everyone in Center Court opened their stores, and guests ordered and ate whatever they wanted. Those whose stores are elsewhere in the building brought the foods they are known for to Tootsie's space.
"It was just like the Terminal was open," Eddie said.
Flying Monkey Bakery decorated the wedding cake before the guests' eyes.
The kiss after the vows was like none before, Eddie said. "We kiss each other all the time, but to do it up on stage like that, in front of all those people, it just kind of meant a whole lot more," Eddie said. "It was the moment I felt married."
"It was the moment I knew things were different, in a good way," Maria agreed. "I thought, 'This is real.' "
This was unexpected
During the reception, Maria asked Eddie to close his eyes. He opened them to find a scaled-down model of his 1993 blue Mustang, made of cake. Little versions of Eddie and Maria waved from the seats.
"I would have never expected her to have even a thought of that," he said. "It was really cool." No guest wanted to cut it, they just took pictures. The bride and groom ate it the next day.
A bargain: The market vendors, friends of Maria and her family, gave the couple a discount.
The splurge: A huge ice luge in the shape of a letter G. Guests poured alcohol in the top of the G, and it came out cold into their glasses. That G was the same design that appeared on their napkins and wedding stationery. Eddie created it.
Seven days in Cancun.
Behind the Scenes
Rev. Christopher Redcay of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Malvern
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and the Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia
Multiple Reading Terminal Market merchants
Eric Neduchin, E-Sound DJ Entertainment, email@example.com
Eddy Marenco, Marenco Photo, Philadelphia
Jake Robbins Videography, vimeo.com/jakerobbins
Frank Olive and Tim Forbes of Events With the Gents, Philadelphia
Kleinfeld's, New York
Paper Rock Scissors, Conshohocken
Sarah Morrison of All About Events, www.allaboutevents.us
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