In early September 2007, Lora was invited to a Jack-and-Jill wedding shower - the kind attended by women and men. Her friend Tara was there, too, as was Tara's boyfriend, Anthony.
As the evening was winding down, Anthony got a phone call. It was his brother, Carmen, who was home from the Army on a two-week, pre-deployment leave. Carmen had been at another couple's rehearsal dinner, but it ended early, and he wanted to know what his bro was up to.
"Why don't you come over here and meet me, and we will go out in the city afterward?" Anthony said.
Tara leaned closer to Lora and whispered, "Oh my gosh! You have got to meet Carmen."
"Oh, God, not again," thought Lora. Then 24, she was an Eagles cheerleader and a catering company sales manager. When it came to relationships, she believed it would happen when it happened. Why wouldn't her friends leave it alone?
Lora, who grew up in Skippack, hadn't even known that Anthony had a brother. He was also 24 - 10 days older than her, in fact. But he had been away from home for seven years, going from Garnet Valley High School to West Point, and then right into the Army. Soon after his leave was over, he'd be heading to Iraq.
"I'm OK. I'm fine. You don't have to introduce us," Lora told Tara.
Still, when Carmen walked in, she couldn't help but notice him. "And I thought he was cute," she said. Tara introduced them, but they didn't start talking until the group hit a city bar. Then, neither wanted to stop. "I was just tapping into his life, learning about that. And it was intriguing," she said.
They squeezed in some dates before Carmen had to return to Georgia: dinner and a Phillies game, twice - both double dates with Tara and Anthony. And then some time just hanging out as a duo. Lora also went to a combination party celebrating Carmen's going-away and Anthony's birthday. Before he left the country, "I let him know where my heart and head were," Lora said. "I wanted to continue with him, and I wasn't interested in talking to anyone else." Carmen said he felt the same way.
As an Army Ranger, Carmen deploys frequently, but for shorter periods of time than most soldiers. He has deployed three times since meeting Lora.
In October 2008, Lora moved to Georgia. In November, she and Carmen came north to visit family. In the kitchen were Carmen, Lora, Lora's sister Karly, and her mother, Sandy. "Are you guys hungry?" Sandy asked. "I didn't make dinner, but we have leftover Chinese."
Chinese food had never sounded so good to Carmen - he was especially delighted by the pile of fortune cookies on the counter. While the food was heating, Carmen went upstairs to get a fortune cookie of his own from his bag. He rejoined the gathering, and when no one was looking, surreptitiously placed his fortune cookie among the pile.
After Lora and Carmen had eaten, he picked out two fortune cookies, and placed one in front of Lora. She thanked him, and cracked it open. The fortune was a question: Lora, will you marry me? Lora was confused for a second. Then she looked at Carmen. "He was on his knee with the ring."
Carmen had the special fortune cookies made, and brought them and the ring on the trip in case the right moment arose - the Chinese leftovers were an auspicious coincidence.
The group was still in the kitchen when Lora's father, Tom, and sister Aimee returned from the train station. It only took Aimee about a minute to notice her sister was wearing a ring.
The couple lives in Columbus, Ga.
Carmen's current commitment to the Army will expire in 3 1/2 years, but he expects to have a career in the military. In January, Lora will begin working as a nanny - a job that will allow her to return to college, where she plans to earn a master's degree in education and get her teaching certificate.
Lora and Carmen walked into the reception through an arch of sabers held by his military buddies. Lora was so happy to have her friends from the Eagles cheer squad all together again that they did one of their old routines together. The reunion routine was almost as funny as it was meaningful, she said. "Some of us hadn't been on the team for a really long time, and there was me, in my dress."
This couple loves Philadelphia, and they chose many Philly-centric items to get their friends and family from out of town acquainted with their city. There was an ice sculpture modeled after the LOVE sculpture, and out-of-towners received welcome bags with Tastykakes and Peanut Chews.
Lora asked her mother to handle the flowers and decor, and when she saw the romantic mood her mom had set with large chandeliers, candelabras, white and green flowers, and soft purple lighting, "It totally floored me," she said.
Rather than sitting alone or with the bridal party, the couple sat with Carmen's parents, Mike and Leesa Bucci, and Lora's parents.
After living through the anxiety of Carmen going off to war three times, standing next to him at the altar felt almost miraculous, Lora said.
"I knew from the day I met Lora that she was the one," Carmen said. When the doors at the back of the church opened and Carmen saw Lora walking toward him with her father, his stomach filled with butterflies. "I got goosebumps," he said.
Lora was amazed at how much Carmen's serious-minded Army pals like to party. "They were dancing with grandmas at some points," she said. Also, Lora and Carmen had no clue that her uncle, John Pecoraio, submitted their wedding story to the "Love" column.
The bargain: Lora bought stationery online; she found her save-the-date and thank-you cards on Vistaprint and purchased the programs through Invitations by Emily on etsy.com. She estimates it would have cost her twice as much to buy them from a typical stationery store.
The splurge: Her dress. Lora looked through many magazines and tried on many dresses. She chose a strapless ivory dress with a beaded lace overlay and trumpet skirt from Priscilla of Boston. At retail, it would have doubled the dress budget. Lora saved some money by buying it at a sample sale. "To me, there is only one dress," she said. And when she saw the tears in her mother's eyes, Lora knew she had found it.
Five days on Kauai, five on Maui.
Father James McBurney of Saint Augustine Catholic Church, Philadelphia
Cescaphe Atrium at the Curtis Center, Philadelphia
Cescaphe Atrium at the Curtis Center
Vincent James Band, Lower Gwynedd
Alison Conklin Photography, Allentown
Designed by Lora's cousin, Adriana Raby