Nicole and Paul

How We Met

Paul and I met back in 2004 through mutual friends at my high school homecoming. I (Nicole) was a freshman, and Paul was a sophomore. At age 14, I didn’t know I had a “type” yet… but he was cute, sweet, athletic (captain of his soccer team)… and nerdy like me :-) Like most budding high school relationships in the early 2000’s, our courtship started on…. AOL Instant Messenger (RIP). We started going on dates shortly after, and he quickly became my best friend. Our relationship survived Soccer seasons (Paul), Basketball seasons (Me and Paul), Track & Field seasons (me and Paul), Varsity Badminton (he actually played in the county championship lol), 2 junior proms, and 2 senior proms (we went to neighboring high schools). Then after a year of distance… I followed him to college at the University of Delaware.

We continued to date through most of college with minimal hiccups until the end of summer 2009. At that point, we made a decision that in hindsight was extremely mature for our age. We realized that before moving forward into our adult lives, it was important to take a break and experience life independently… and to try dating other people. Our lives moved forward accordingly, and our “break” took a nosedive into a separation. Paul went on after college to play Arena Football and was following his dream of trying to make the NFL as a kicker. He eventually moved to South Florida. And me… I moved to New Jersey, where I was getting my Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Rutgers.

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Before we knew it… years had passed. Not a sight. Not a word. But in the back of our minds… there was always a thought of ‘what if.’ And then… at 11:23 pm on a Sunday… I couldn’t take it anymore… so I did it. I texted him. And he texted back. On June 6th, 2014 I landed at the West Palm Beach Airport. I got my bags and nervously walked outside the terminal…

And there he was. This familiar looking man. Cute, Athletic, Sweet and Nerdy — with the same sweet eyes of the boy I fell in love with 10 years ago… If I told you that was happily ever after, I would be lying. The distance was brutal. I was a full-time student and working part-time to support my student loans. And Paul started a full-time job that had him constantly traveling.

It wasn’t until the Fall of 2016 that the opportunity finally presented itself… and he gave me the best gift I could ever ask for. Paul sacrificed everything he had built for himself in Florida — family, friends, work and a lifestyle he loved… and moved up to New Jersey to be with me.

A year and a half later… Paul tactfully lured me to the exact spot at my high school where we first met. He got down on one knee and said the words I had wanted to hear since I was 14….

“Nicole. After All This Time….. Will you Marry Me?”

How He Asked

Having been high school sweethearts, I couldn’t understand why it took him so long into 2018 to propose…It was an overcast Sunday. September 9, 2018. My sister, Sam, and I had been looking forward to the Brooklyn Yoga Festival for months. We shared a very relaxing morning together and had an awesome time. After the event, we both went to Penn Station. My sister boarded a train west to Hoboken, NJ… and I took the Long Island Railroad east back to Smithtown to shower and then attend Rosh Hashanah dinner with Paul’s family. On the train, I ran into one of Paul’s closest friends (Lance), who was also going back to Smithtown for Rosh Hashana dinner with his parents. We sat together and chatted for a bit.

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My dad picked me up at the station and drove me back to my parents’ house so I could shower before dinner. I didn’t bring a nice change of clothes or makeup since dinner at Paul’s house is very casual…. so I just threw together an old outfit from my closet. Once I got ready, I walked downstairs into the kitchen. On the counter was half a page cut out from a book. It was pasted on old parchment. On it was one of the last sections of the 7th Harry Potter Book.
(Disclaimer: Paul and I are Harry Potter Nerds)
The cut-out excerpt was a small paragraph leading into a one question Q&A between 2 main characters.

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Regarding the unconditional love for his childhood friend…. One character poses the question:
“After All this Time?”
And promptly the other character confirms…
“Always”

At this point, I was a bit puzzled. Why was this here?

And into the kitchen walked my parents.

My Dad handed me 2 things. A Golden Snitch that read “I open at the close.” And a map of my high school football field — “X marks the spot.”

My Mom then handed me a handwritten note on old parchment…. and I instantly recognized Paul’s handwriting.

Nicole Marie,

I love you now more than Ever.

After All This Time.

and Always.

-Paul

P.S. I hope you like traveling back through time. Follow The Path.

In hindsight, I think I knew at that point. But my mind was racing too fast to comprehend.

My feet were walking for me, as I exited my front door. A sign awaited me with a lyric from one of our favorite Goo Goo Dolls songs. “Come to me my Sweetest Friend” (Listen to it if you don’t know it :-))

We entered the car, and immediately that song was playing on the radio. And so we started driving…

Now, it is important to note that my parents house is on a cul de sac. The end of a street about half a mile long, that leads to a main road which takes us to my high school (3-5 minute drive).

We exited the cul de sac, and went up the hill. To my absolute disbelief… there waiting at the top of the hill was my sister… who I had just left 2 hours prior. She was holding up a sign that read “After All This Time?”

She first handed me a blank scrapbook. Inscribed on the cover was: “Happily ever after.” She then handed me a 2 sided collage that got inserted on the back page. The collage had pictures, cheesy notes, cards and ticket stubs from events we had been to in the past year and a half since he moved here.

We drove down the street a little further, and waiting there with a sign that read “After All This Time?” was Paul’s best friend since he was 2 years old (Nolan). Nolan handed me a collage of our next most recent phase — when we reconnected and Paul lived in Florida.

Next in line down the street holding a Black and White sign…. Lance… who I just spent 90 minutes with on the train back here. And so it continued. 6 of them. My sister, Nolan, Lance, Sam’s boyfriend AJ, Paul’s friend Anthony. Each one; holding up the same sign, posing the open-ended question “After All This Time?” Each one; handing me a new collage that took me further back in time to different eras of our relationship.

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Finally on the corner was Paul’s sister Leah. Leah had 2 things for me:
The first… A collage of year 1 — important memories and relics from our relationship dating back 14 years to 2004.

And the 2nd item she handed me absolutely blew my mind. It was a movie ticket dated March 13, 2004… the actual stub from the day and movie in which he first asked me to be his girlfriend. He saved it (After All This Time). To give to me at this moment. And so that left only 1 place further back in time that we could go. We pulled into the parking lot at my high school, where his little cousin was holding up a matching sign to the 6 questions I saw on my way there….. only this one… it was an answer.

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“Always”

Paul’s parents were waiting at the guardrail just before the field. I hugged them and exchanged some tears with his Mom. And then. I looked down towards the side of the field. There he was. Waiting for me. At the exact spot, we met 15 years prior. I took 1 step onto the grass…. and heard our favorite artist Andy Grammer blasting as I started walking towards him.

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The name of the song playing?

“Always”

The walk was probably about 60 yards… but felt like a mile. Every emotion was swollen. I was smiling, crying, and running the last 20 minutes of my life on a constant loop.

My feet finally walked me there… and we were face to face.

“How are you?” He asked in a coy manner.

“jlkjfasdhfhiusdf” (I have ZERO recollection of what I said back)

“Well, I just have 1 more question for you….”

And it was like a dream. Before I knew it… Paul was down on 1 knee with a ring box opening.

“Nicole. After All This Time…. will you marry me?”

I blacked out.

Epilogue for Harry Potter Fans:

I finally came to after a little bit, and remember some cheering as we started walking back up to the parking lot. P.S. it was drizzling, so he was carrying an umbrella for us!

After we took a few steps… he stopped me and said. “So… it opens at the close”

It was finally time to open the snitch I had been clutching so tight. It opened…

In it was a diamond in a pendant necklace. It was my grandma’s diamond — one of the most treasured relics I inherited when she passed away. “In your final walk… I wanted your grandma to be with you at your most important moment,” he said.

(HP fans will remember his final walk in which Harry finally got to open the snitch he carried with him throughout his journey. Inside his was the resurrection stone — the stone that brought the spirit of his deceased parents to Harry for a short time as he approached the most important moment of his life)

And so. There is still one last question. Why did it take Paul so long… he could have proposed ANY day this year…..

And so he told me.

67 years ago on September 9th, 1951… Paul’s Grandparents got married.

34 years ago on September 9th, 1984… Paul’s Parents got married.

The next September 9th weekend wasn’t for another 5 years… so he wanted to bring me into his family in the most traditional way he knew how… on September 9th.

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Special Thanks

Chris Rivera | 
Photographer