For Nicki, it was love at first sight; the Chewbacca beer koozie even had fur!

“I’m going to steal this,” she joked to the other party goers as she lifted it from the kitchen table.

“Oh, no you’re not!” said a voice in the crowd.

The koozie that caught Nicki’s eye belonged to a man who had previously done so. Earlier that May 2017 day, she had asked her brother Eric who he was. “That’s Alex Marlys,” he said, incredulous that she didn’t know. “He was in the band 3 J’s in the A.M.”

Alex and the J’s were locally famous back in high school, when they played gigs around town. Nicki, who was in middle school when Alex graduated, hadn’t a clue who he was — but she wanted to.

Alex also had a good feeling about this woman who appreciated Chewie, and a conversation started during the Flip Cup portion of the festivities.

Both grew up in Stratford, N.J., around the corner from each other, Alex notes. The two had also worked at the same CVS, but never at the same time. There was a spark and flirting that first day, but no exchange of numbers.

“I messaged her on Facebook , but she didn’t respond,” Alex remembers. “I thought, ‘That stinks.’”

Nicki was delighted when she finally checked her messages and wrote back right away. About a week later, they had dinner, then drinks, then saw “Guardians of the Galaxy II.”

“During the opening previews, there was a trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie, ‘The Last Jedi,’” Alex said. “That’s when I leaned over and kissed her.”

That night, Nicki told Alex that she didn’t want a boyfriend because she liked being single and doing whatever she wanted. The next day, she left for a four-day girls trip to Vegas. “All I did was talk about him the entire time,” she said. “I got home at 2 in the morning, and Alex had waited up for me. I told him he didn’t have to —he should go to bed. But he said he wanted to.” She went straight to his place from the airport.

When they met, Nicki, who is now 29, was in nursing school, and Alex, now 34, managed restaurants.

Nicki is now a medical surgical nurse at Virtua. One week when she and everyone on the floor was very stressed, Alex sent her flowers with a card that said: “Have a great day! You’ll get through this. See you when you get home. I love you.”

“He is really caring, just the sweetest person. He truly cares about me and puts my interests first,” said Nicki.

Once she was settled in her career, it was Alex’s turn. He was not meant to work at restaurants, he said. “It wasn’t stable and I hated it. She encouraged me to do something else.” In August 2018, he became a Camden County 911 Dispatcher. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and I’d probably still be managing restaurants if it weren’t for Nicki,” he said. “She’s smarter than me. She’s prettier than me. She gets things done.”

The couple knew they were heading for marriage. Talking about it one day, they agreed that a simple wedding in someone’s backyard would be meaningful and also allow them to buy a house right away. They bought one in their hometown – just five doors down from Alex’s brother and walking distance to both sets of parents – in April 2019.

That July, they invited everyone over for a housewarming. The night before, Alex told Nicki he was making her pancakes for breakfast the next morning, and that usually welcome news was a little stressful — she had too much to do to eat breakfast! When she woke up, Alex was already downstairs. Nicki heard music and followed it to find him strumming his guitar.

He played “I Wanna Grow Old With You” from “The Wedding Singer” but sang his own version of the words, which included the line, “I love you, all of you, even more than our Death Star disco ball.”

Alex put down his guitar, knelt, and sang the last phrase, “Will you marry me?”

There were indeed pancakes, and then a housewarming-turned-engagement-party.

They planned to hold both wedding and reception in the backyard of Alex’s brother, Pete, on May 23, the third anniversary of their first date. Then COVID-19 changed those plans.

Nicki McCoach and Alex Marlys
Jean Ramierz Photography
Nicki McCoach and Alex Marlys

“Since we can’t have a wedding, let’s get a dog,” Nicki suggested. That’s when Jedi, a corgi/beagle mix rescue, joined the family.

As essential workers, Nicki and Alex kept working, as usual, but with temperature checks and more stress. When Nicki returns from the hospital, Alex meets her in the garage with a change of clothes and a can of Lysol. They continued seeing family — outdoors and at a distance — but for months, attended only virtual events with friends.

The couple channeled time that would have been spent socializing into cleaning up, seeding, and landscaping their backyard.

By fall, an outdoor wedding felt safe. It was almost like the original one they had planned, with some additions. Attendees were seated by COVID-pod. Masks and hand sanitizer were provided. And there was an additional venue: The ceremony took place in Nicki and Alex’s newly groomed backyard.

Brother Pete was Alex’s best man. Best friend Rachel was Nicki’s maid of honor. Six nieces and nephews made up the rest of the wedding party.

Nicki McCoach and Alex Marlys with their bridal party. Left to right: Luka, Niko, Pete, Alex, Me, Rachel, Max, Logan, Gracie, Maddie
Jean Ramierz Photography
Nicki McCoach and Alex Marlys with their bridal party. Left to right: Luka, Niko, Pete, Alex, Me, Rachel, Max, Logan, Gracie, Maddie

Friend John — one of the 3 J’s — was ordained online to perform the very personal ceremony. Nicki promised Alex she would frequently resurface the band’s YouTube videos and would always love him more than Blink 182′s Tom Delonge. Alex told Nicky she was out of his league, but he would spend the rest of his life trying to deserve her.

The couple and their 110 guests then paraded down the street to the home of Pete and Sandy, the couple’s sister-in-law.

The dual wedding theme was tie-dye and “Star Wars.” The tie-dye part showed up at the ceremony, in Nicki’s multi-color bouquet, the former prom dress the bride lent to her maid of honor, and the groom’s pocket square. “Star Wars” emerged at the reception, through a cake topper that quoted Han and Leia and the Jedi-rita and Dark Side of Rum Punch signature drinks designed by Alex’s sister Kate.

The couple purchased food from three of their favorite places — pizza, stuffed shells and chicken parm, buffalo chicken dip and wings.

After dinner, Mr. Softee pulled up.

From the wedding of Nicki McCoach and Alex Marlys The bride enjoys a Mr. Softee soft serve.
Jean Ramierz Photography
From the wedding of Nicki McCoach and Alex Marlys The bride enjoys a Mr. Softee soft serve.

Alex wrote another set of lyrics for “I Wanna Grow Old With You” for the couple’s first dance. “I love you more than our Jedi dog,” sang DJ Josh — also one of the 3 J’s — while he and Josh played guitar.

The rest of the dancing was to a giant playlist of songs Alex had groomzilla’d over for months.

During his welcome to their guests, Alex noted that being cooped up had been hard. “We all deserve to have a little fun, and that’s our wish for today,” he said. “Let’s have fun. Let’s dance our (butts) off!”

Everyone did just that. At the end of the night, the bottom of the bride’s dress was dirty from mopping the floor.

The nurse and the emergency dispatcher kept in close contact with each of their guests for two weeks afterward. Their mitigations worked. “It was the first time we got to see everyone after being apart for so long, and nobody got COVID at our wedding” said Nicki.