Mark thought Travis, who had been out since high school, was gorgeous. And when he talked to him - wow! He was witty and shared Mark's affection for sarcasm.
Travis' annoyance at being struck in the head dissolved when Mark smiled at him.
A friendship grew - they made each other laugh until their sides ached.
One day, Mark invited Travis to a gathering at his place. After having another good time together, Travis was tired of guessing what was happening. Later that night, back at his own place, Travis sent Mark a message. "So . . . ?" he wrote.
"Do you want to get breakfast?" Mark replied.
Mark did not make a big coming-out announcement. He just let the world see him with his boyfriend.
"No one ever treated me any differently," Mark said. He and Travis also had the support of their families. They took none of this for granted, they said, because not everyone is so lucky.
Mark, now 29, was born in Germany - his father was in the military. His family eventually settled in Pemberton Township, Burlington County. He earned a law degree at Rutgers University and now works in student affairs at New Jersey Institute of Technology as a residence coordinator.
Travis, 27, grew up in Bloomfield, N.J. After Fairleigh Dickinson, Travis attended med school at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick. He spent his last two years at Cooper University Hospital in Camden and, in 2008, moved to Center City. Mark continued to live in Newark, but spent every weekend in Philly.
Travis told Mark there would be no engagement until after medical school because he wanted a short engagement and it was not financially feasible to pay for both school and a wedding.
Then his heart got in the way.
By fall 2008, "it was to a point in our relationship where it really needed to happen, where I really wanted it to happen," Travis said.
The couple carve a pumpkin together every fall. That year, Travis secretly cut out a little square on the bottom of the squash, put one of the two matching rings he had bought inside, and replaced the hatch. He set his iPod to play "At Last" and placed his cellphone, in video mode, on the mantel.
Mark started jack-o'-lantern procedures. Travis, fake-busy at the sink, tried not to fret. But Mark was very carefully picking out the seeds for roasting, and the pace was driving Travis crazy.
Travis walked over and pulled out a giant glob of pumpkin guts to help the process along. A minute later, he felt around for the little plastic bag the ring was in, and set it on top of the remaining innards.
Finally, Mark made the discovery. For a second, he could not grasp how a ring got into their pumpkin.
Then it dawned on him. "Is this like a Willy Wonka golden ticket?" he asked.
"It is," said Travis. "You get me."
Travis finished medical school in spring 2010 and went to Morristown Medical Center in North Jersey for his internship.
Mark's mother and father, Renate and James, have been married for more than 30 years, and so have Travis', Donna and Steven. The couple look to their parents as marriage models. During the ceremony, Officiant Bob Pileggi shared the story of these enduring marriages with the couple's 116 guests.
The similarities in love and commitment between gay and straight couples was one of the day's themes, Mark said. "That's why we wanted to do things somewhat traditional," he said.
Mark and Travis wrote their own vows.
"One of the best things about our relationship is, outside of being partners, husbands, and all of that, I consider Mark my best friend," Travis told everyone. "And it is the most wonderful feeling to know you are not only going to go through life with the person you love, but with your best friend."
Mark talked about how well Travis knows him. "When you're having a bad day, when you're going through whatever challenge, sometimes you don't want to talk about it. I don't have to. Travis knows," he said. "I can't think of anything better than that."
Mark has scrapbooked the couple's entire relationship.
The two big books, each larger and thicker than a Philadelphia phone book, were on display, and their guests were delighted to see the chronicling of the couple over the last nine years.
Mark is way more prone to tears, but not at the wedding. "I couldn't stop it," Travis said. "I had to take Mark's tissues because I ran out."
When the couple walked to the front of their ceremony space, Travis gave Mark's hand a big squeeze. They were about to make a huge commitment to each other, and those they loved came to witness it. "It was such a powerful feeling," Mark said.
Travis felt that way after the ceremony, when everyone applauded, and smiles and love were apparent on their faces. "To stand up there, and let them know the love I have for him, have them see the love he has for me, it made it final," Travis said. "We had fully committed to each other."
Travis recently started his radiology residency at Jefferson University Hospitals. The couple are in the process of buying a house in Fitler Square.
A bargain: The venue. Le Meridien was newly opened when Travis and Mark booked it. The couple got a 15 percent discount, plus, Mark said, "they upgraded the bar for free, they gave both sets of parents a free upgrade to a suite, and they gave all of our guests a rate that was close to 50 percent off."
Le Meridien also gave the couple enough guest points to cover the hotel costs of their to-be-planned February honeymoon.
The splurge: The couple doubled their flower budget. "I was in awe of our centerpieces," Travis said, "and I would gladly pay what we paid again for them."
Bob Pileggi of Journeys of the Heart, Jenkintown
Le Meridien Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Chris Hensel, Chris Hensel Photography, Media
Sound Sensation DJs, Skippack
Robertson's Flowers, Wyndmoor
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