Alyson said she was cold, so Dmitrii offered his new hoodie.
They had been talking and texting for more than a month – ever since they spent a weekend persuading strangers in Center City to support Central High School’s 279th graduating class by buying something at Barnes & Noble. The two had been middle school classmates but never spoke to each other before that Saturday. Once they started talking, neither wanted to stop.
“I learned all of these interesting things about her – like she’s half Swedish – and I wanted to continue learning more new things,” Dmitrii said. “By the time it was over and we went ice skating, I was so comfortable with her – I felt like I had known her forever.”
“He was so easy to talk to, and so fun to talk to,” said Alyson. “But what I really liked, and was intrigued by, was how respectable and intelligent he is. He wasn’t embarrassing himself to be the center of attention.”
Their also-fund-raising friends noticed that Dmitrii and Alyson took all their cocoa breaks together, shared hand warmers, and skated side by side.
“Dmitrii likes you!” they told Alyson.
“Alyson likes you!” they told Dmitrii.
“We’re just friends,” both Dmitrii and Alyson told the curious.
Actually, each wanted, more than anything, to believe their friends, but both were terrified to act. “You don’t want to go too far, and then it goes all wrong, and then it’s all over,” Dmitrii said.
Even as he held out his hoodie at the late January 2018 birthday party Alyson had invited him to, Dmitrii worried.
Alyson slipped the sweatshirt over her head and said, “You know I like you, right?”
Dmitrii took a moment to gather his cool. “Yeah, I know,” he said before going quiet again.
Alyson internally freaked out. He knew! But he hadn’t said anything. So did that mean that he didn’t?
“I feel the same,” Dmitrii said. “Do you want to go out?”
Their first date was burgers and shakes and a selfie with the city skyline. From then on, they were together as much as possible – eventually daily and often at Chipotle.
Things got serious quickly.
“Alyson is the most consistent and responsible person I know,” Dmitrii said. “We have this thing where, if we’re ever in a fight, we know we can get out of it easily if we talk about it.”
“He’s loyal and trustworthy, and also funny and fun and likes to do things and hang out with big groups of people,” Alyson said. “He’s everything I could ever ask for.”
They attended junior prom, saw good movies and bad, celebrated holidays and milestones with her family in Somerton and his in Bustleton, and spent two summers frequenting the hammocks at Spruce Street Harbor Park.
What they do has never really mattered that much though, Dmitrii said. Dates are simply “wherever we can be together.”
Come March 2020 it was very hard to be together anywhere. COVID-19 closed their school and, largely, their city. The virus was spreading, and everyone but essential workers were asked to stay home.
Alyson plays alto saxophone in jazz and concert band, but there would be no final spring concert. Dmitrii had tried out for and made the lacrosse team for the first time, but stay-at-home began just days before their first scheduled game. Born in Moldova, he had also hoped to spend more time establishing the club he helped found, the Eastern European Student Association. There would be no prom or senior trip to New York, and graduation would be held virtually.
Alyson’s job in dining services at a retirement community shifted from waiting on the seniors at their tables to delivering meals to their doors while wearing gloves and a mask. Other than people at work, her family members were the only people she saw.
Dmitrii’s usual summer lifeguard job wasn’t happening. In addition to spending time with his family, he biked or went to the park with a few of his friends, always wearing a mask and staying six feet apart even though they were outdoors.
Because of Alyson’s job and her need to be extra careful, they waited two weeks after those excursions to see each other, and would spend a day at one of their homes, watching movies or playing board games. Between those short visits they talked via video chat. The hardest part of the experience: With so much of their lives shut down, this couple that loves to talk had much less to talk about. They began watching movies together virtually with Netflix Party, and learned not to worry if there wasn’t anything important to discuss.
The couple sees that time as a lesson for their future. “When you get older and live together and see each other every day, there might not be things to talk about all the time,” Alyson said. “It was valuable to learn that we can just be in each other’s presence.”
In June, when restrictions were more relaxed, the two went to Alyson’s dad’s house in Wildwood for a full glorious week together. They went to the beach, keeping their distance from others; took masked walks on the boardwalk; and even had what felt like a second first date – pizza enjoyed at a restaurant’s outdoor table.
They plan to continue seeing each other as much as possible through summer. In the fall, in theory, they will be busy at separate college campuses. Alyson will study finance at Penn State – two years in Abington and two at Main. Her goal is to work as a financial analyst, save a tidy sum, then make her living investing for herself.
Dmitrii, who has already turned a hobby into a small business buying, selling, and trading sneakers, plans to earn a bachelor’s in management information systems and an MBA at Drexel. He’ll pursue software development and hopes to also one day launch a start-up.
Their future plans have always included each other, the couple say.
“We’re dating each other to marry each other,” said Alyson.