In late August 2005, Susan, a native of Marple Township, was a new master's of business administration student at Vanderbilt University. At a 30th-birthday gathering hosted by second-year students, she felt remarkably like a high school freshman who had scored an invitation to a senior party - thrilled, but nervous.
Then she saw the dark-haired, blue-eyed birthday boy taking swigs from a boot-shaped mug behind the bar. Peter, a second-year student who grew up on Hilton Head Island, S.C., has a remarkable gift to draw anyone, even a nervous partygoer, out of her shell.
Susan jokingly whispered to a friend that she might have to break up with the guy she'd been seeing for a few weeks.
"He was so genuinely interested in what we had to say," she remembered.
She didn't know Peter had his eye on someone else in the group.
A few weeks of group outings ensued. Susan and Peter learned that their upbringings were very different.
She was a public school graduate and proponent. He graduated from a private boarding high school. She was a liberal Democrat. He was a conservative Republican.
They had lots to talk about. Peter forgot he had once been interested in someone else.
Susan's computer went haywire just as the deadline for her book, The Right Job Right Now: The Complete Toolkit for Finding Your Perfect Career, was due to St. Martin's Press.
Peter volunteered to fix it.
It was the first time they were ever alone. Nothing happened. But everything happened.
Susan broke up with her boyfriend.
In mid-October, Peter and Susan went to dinner at P.F. Chang's. "We had our own private Civil War," Susan said.
"Right out of the gate, I realized that Susan was . . . not a pushover. She was not afraid to express her opinions. She was a very strong woman," Peter said.
"She was very captivating."
Susan felt captivated herself. "For me, part of the reason I left home . . . was I needed to see differences. What was so intriguing about Peter is he was interested in different intellectual things than me, and his personality was different. It was refreshing to me."
By the end of the academic year, Peter and Susan knew they never wanted their conversations to stop. Each made a list of places they'd be willing to live, and there was one place in common: Washington, D.C.
Peter moved to Washington and joined a consulting business. A year later, Susan also moved to Washington and became corporate director of talent acquisitions for a major hotel chain.
Then Peter's father, a physician who had been team doctor for the New York Mets and chief of surgery for a New York hospital before starting a hospital on Hilton Head, had a massive heart attack. The father, also named Peter, survived. The son went south to help his mother, Beryl, care for him.
"He did not think about his career or money at all. He just went," Susan said with pride in her voice.
Six weeks later, Peter's father fell, went into a coma, and never recovered.
When Peter returned to D.C., he moved in with Susan and began looking for work. It was a struggle, but in July 2008 he found a job with a small tech start-up, GeniusRocket. Two and a half years ago, he took over the company, which now provides clients with video for television and the Web.
Last year, Susan left her job to start exaqueo, a firm that helps companies develop their culture and brand so they are attractive to prospective employees.
How does forever sound?
Years of listening to each other's viewpoints had led to some changes.
Susan no longer makes "I would never" statements.
Peter's politics have gone from right to middle.
And after one fateful night in early January 2012, the couple realized they would not decide what type of school their future children would attend until they examined all options after the kids arrive.
That January night, Peter suggested dinner in Alexandria, Va., where the couple live, preceded by a walk along the Potomac.
"It's freezing!" Susan protested. But Peter persuaded her.
After they had walked a while, Peter suggested they head back to the restaurant. No sooner had they changed direction than he was down on one knee.
"Let's do this," he said. "We've been through so much already. Will you marry me?"
"Yes!" Susan said. She was crying - until Peter opened up the jewelry box and revealed it was empty. "Oh no!" he joked. "Where's the ring?"
They both laughed really hard, and Peter took the ring out of his pocket and put it on her finger.
It was so them
As Susan got ready, her parents, John and Joan, came with cards and notes, and her father gave her a necklace that had been her grandmother's.
The couple were married beneath live oaks and Spanish moss on Hilton Head by two officiants: Susan's family pastor, the Rev. Ed Shiley, and Peter's godfather, William Bethea, a lawyer and South Carolina notary public.
Susan entered the ceremony to Kina Grannis' "Valentine." The newlyweds walked together to Amos Lee's "Sweet Pea."
Even the invitations were a nod to their love of music. They looked like concert posters and were made by a letterpress printer that once made posters for Johnny Cash concerts.
Susan wanted to bring a little Philly to the Low Country. The gift boxes given to the 120 guests contained Tastykakes, pretzels, and family recipes including her grandma's tomato gravy, her mother's meatballs, and her great-aunt's biscotti.
This was unexpected
Susan surprised Peter with a tribute to his father. After sunset, the guests lit 75 huge Chinese wish lanterns, filling the bulbous 3-foot lanterns with hot air, and they floated into the sky. "It was wonderful," Peter said.
There was a moment when the words of the officiants faded, and the guests faded, and all Peter could see was the water of the marsh, the live oaks and the moss, and Susan. "I had this serenity and this appreciation for what was happening . . . and that Susan and I were doing this together," he said.
Family and friends had frequently peppered Susan and Peter with "When are you getting married already?" So the couple's first dance started with "At Last." The laughter meant everyone got the joke, but Susan also felt gratitude that everything had happened when it was supposed to. Halfway through, the music changed to a traditional high-energy Low Country dance. It was pure joy, Susan said.
A bargain: The ceremony musicians, Oh Valentino. "We paid a few hundred bucks and our guests raved about them," Susan said.
The splurge: The music-poster invitations, which were mailed in brown poster tubes.
Two and a half weeks in Argentina.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The Rev. Ed Shiley,
Church of the Redeemer, Springfield, Delaware County, and William Bethea, Esq.
and notary public
of South Carolina
Colleton River Plantation,
Hilton Head, S.C.
Colleton River Plantation
Leigh Webber Photography, Charleston
James Ryan Films,
Ceremony: Oh Valentino; Reception: Heart and Soul, Charleston
Flowers by Sue,
Hatch Show Print, Nashville
Christine Hall, Colleton River Plantation, Hilton Head, S.C.