In retrospect, Monica, who grew up in Reading, is certain Beth was just joking around. Especially since at home, James heard about Monica the fabulous intern, then Monica the fabulous employee, but never a peep about a potential romantic match.
But "I take things way too seriously," Monica said. James laughed in agreement, but that propensity would change his life.
In July 2011, Monica was excitedly telling Beth about the U2 concert she was attending that week. Beth said James also was going, gave Monica his seat number, and told her son Monica might say hello.
Monica nearly chickened out, but her sister, Jenna, persuaded her to satisfy her curiosity. They ripped off the wristbands that ID'd them as ground-level and headed up into the stands to say hi.
"She was really cute," James said. "I was not sure why she was talking to me."
Here's why: Intentional or not, Beth had persuaded Monica that her son was a fine catch. "I was already interested when I went to talk to him," Monica said. "I could tell right away he was sweet. I just loved his smile."
The music prevented any meaningful conversation, but they had a good time. The next day, Monica Facebooked James her number, in case he ever wanted to hang out.
A week passed with no phone call.
At work, neither Monica nor Beth mentioned the concert.
James wasn't calling because he thought Monica had given her number just to be friendly. "I thought she was well out of my league," he said.
"Just call her," advised his dad, Jeremy.
James invited Monica to join him and other Philadelphia Union fanatics in the Sons of Ben section.
Those plans did come up at work. "If you survive this as a first date, you're pretty much good to go," Beth said.
James picked Monica up. "I remember in the car ... he had this nervous little giggle-laugh," Monica said. "I do the same thing when I'm really nervous, and it made me like him even more."
James had so much fun that day. And he finally believed Monica liked him. A lot.
"I don't even remember who they were playing, or the result of the game," he said as he and Monica shared their story. "I just remember that you were there."
How does forever sound?
James, who is now 23, spent part of summer 2013 in naval training in Virginia. There, he found a ring, and had it shipped to his mom's house in Plymouth Meeting.
For Monica, now 26, it was the longest workday ever. She could not wait to see James after so many weeks apart. She opened the door to their Fairmount apartment, ran to him, and threw herself in his arms. After the kisses and hugs hello, James started talking about how much he loved her.
"He was giving me a speech, and that's when I knew," Monica said.
She was already crying when James knelt.
The best part was that she said yes, James said. Second best: "She was completely surprised."
It was so them
The couple wed at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, in an informal ceremony led by Maria Odilia Romeu of Journeys of the Heart.
Monica told James he is the most beautiful person she has ever met, and "regardless of who he becomes, I'll always love him for who he is." James told Monica: "I'll always look out for you and be your rock when you need me, and love you forever."
James made all the arrangements to turn the backyard of the house he grew up in into the perfect spot for their reception for 140. His goal was a space that felt like a large, outdoor room.
"We wanted it to feel like a wedding, but relaxed," Monica said. And in the backyard, no one could dictate when the party had to end, she said.
Monica made the table decorations, guest book, and unusual cake topper: a bunny version of her in her dress, and one of James in his Navy dress uniform.
The bride danced not only with her dad, but also with her mom, Joan, to Carrie Underwood's "Mama's Song." "I wanted to ... show her and everyone else there she means a lot to me."
This winter, James and Monica will move to Pensacola, Fla., for at least a year while he attends flight school. And then for a decade, the couple will go wherever the Navy sends him. In addition to her work at Iris, Monica has a portable, freelance graphics business, Monica Lynn Design, that she plans to grow.
The morning of the wedding, James met Monica's dad, Mark, for breakfast and found he couldn't form complete sentences. He paced in the horticulture center greenhouse waiting for the ceremony to start. And then, there was Monica. "When she finally walked in, everything was good," he said. "It was like, 'It's just us, and we're getting married now.' "
After their officiant pronounced them married, James dipped Monica for a big kiss, and then U2's "Beautiful Day" played. Monica remembered hearing that song at the concert where they met. "We were married, and it had all come full circle," she said.
A bargain: Feeling the tightness of the budget, Monica reached out to an old friend who is now in film school. "How about if I give you $400 and you film my wedding?" Sarah agreed, and "not only was it ridiculously cheap, but she did the most beautiful, professional, high-quality job," Monica said.
The splurge: James knew they needed a Porta-Potty, but it would not contribute to the ambience he was going for. He got a Porta-Lisa, which came with air-conditioning and a radio, and was nicer than many actual bathrooms he's been in. They cost four times the basic type - around $2,000.
Four days on Block Island.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: Maria Odilia Romeu of Journeys of the Heart, Jenkintown
Venue: Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, Philadelphia; groom's mom's backyard.
Food: Catering by Rich, Philadelphia
Photography: Jenny Castro Photography, Philadelphia
Flowers: London Creative Floral, Philadelphia
Music: The original DJ bailed weeks before the wedding. The couple rented their own equipment, and the bride's sister's boyfriend, John, volunteered to DJ.
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