Nick noticed Erica, too. "It was open seating, you could sit wherever you want," he said. "I purposely sat next to her."
Nick, who is from Billerica, Mass., and Erica quickly became friends, but fought other feelings. Erica had a boyfriend who she had been dating since high school. The boyfriend was one of Nick's lacrosse teammates.
"I did not want to start anything with a teammate," Nick said.
But he liked Erica more and more. "I loved how smart she was," Nick said. Especially when she helped him with his English and history homework.
The longer Erica knew Nick, the more her first reaction to him was confirmed. In addition to good looks and charm, Nick was kind and thoughtful. Noting her sweet tooth, he would swing by her dorm room and drop off chocolate treats from the school store.
Erica could not stop thinking about Nick, so she broke up with her boyfriend. Nick waited about a month (until the lacrosse season ended) to ask Erica if she would be his girlfriend. "Of course!" she said.
Soon after Erica began college, her mother, Elaine, had been diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. Because the disease runs in her family, Elaine had a double mastectomy as a precaution. She had treatment, and went into remission.
All was well until Erica's junior year. Elaine's shoulder was hurting. Her doctors did exploratory surgery and found that the cancer had metastasized.
"I felt guilty that I was in school" and away from home, Erica said. "But her dream was to see me graduate."
It was a very difficult time, and Erica leaned on Nick for emotional support at school. "When I needed to see my mom, we would drive up and see her," she said. "I honestly would not have made it through school if he wasn't there."
How does forever sound?
In June 2010, Nick and Erica, on the cusp of their last year at college, shared an apartment in Dover. One evening, Nick wanted to watch his favorite show, NCIS. "I hate that show," Erica said.
But Nick had a proposition for her: "If you watch this show with me, you will get a day where we do everything you want to do," he said.
He woke her the next morning at 7 a.m., and took her to breakfast at her favorite place. Then, they took off for Fruitland, Md., where they had lunch at another restaurant they love. "He had his ribs, and I had my pulled pork sandwich," Erica said. "I thought he was just being nice" because she had put up with his TV show.
Back at home, Nick declared a game night. The couple loves playing Jenga, Yahtzee, Clue, and others. But Nick had purchased a new game: Life.
Erica was excited to be playing this old favorite of hers again. When she landed on "elope," she moved her car-shaped game piece to the "get married" spot.
"You can't do that," Nick said.
Erica was pretty sure that her move was correct. "I know this game like the back of my hand," she told him. But she reached for the rules anyway.
When Erica turned back toward Nick, he was kneeling.
"You have to be engaged before you get married," he told her.
"I cried my eyes out," Erica said. "I had no idea that was coming."
Erica, who is now 23, and Nick, now 24, decided to hold the wedding in November 2012. They reasoned that the long engagement would give them time to graduate, find jobs, and plan at a leisurely pace.
It was so them
In fall 2010, Nick's mother, Donna, and father, Peter, called with some bad news. Donna had just been diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. She was scheduled for a double mastectomy, along with chemotherapy and radiation. Donna and Elaine, who were already friends, became each other's support group.
Donna responded very well to treatment, but Elaine's condition worsened in early 2011. Nick and Erica moved their wedding date to December 2011.
As time went on, Elaine got more bad news. The cancer had spread into most of her bones. She called her daughter at school. The doctors were concerned about what her condition would be like in December. "Can we move the wedding up?" she asked.
"Why are you even asking me? Yes! No matter what, you're going to be there!" Erica told her.
The couple were married in a traditional Catholic ceremony before 262 guests.
This didn't happen at rehearsal
The groom joined the band onstage and sang "Your Song" to the bride. "It was just phenomenal," Erica said. "It felt like a dream."
Nick will never forget singing to Erica. "I was extremely nervous before it started," he said. "Once I got the first three words out, all I saw was her."
When the priest introduced the just-married couple as Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Pinto, Erica thought, "My dreams came true. We're really married."
A bargain: The bride's dress, a simple white mermaid-cut gown. "It was in the lower end of our budget," she said.
The splurge: A photo booth.
"We aren't going anywhere until we find jobs," Erica said. She is looking for a job in nursing. Nick hopes to become a physical education teacher.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Father Robert Sinatra, Merchantville
Christ the King Church, Haddonfield;
Lucien's Manor, Berlin
Kathryn Croskey Photography, Mount Holly
Hallmark Videography, Berlin
Masquerade Entertainment, Blackwood
Jay West Bridal, Haddonfield
Family friends Denise Hansberry and Joan Dunn, Haddonfield
DIY with craft-store supplies