Andre was pleasantly surprised that there were women he didn't know at his friend's fall 2009 birthday party. Since he was single, he figured he'd mingle.
"The first thing he asked me was if I was half-Japanese," Liana said. Asking such a question could have gone very, very badly for Andre, but Liana rolled with it. "I just said, oh, you're almost right. I'm half-Chinese." She's also 100 percent Jersey Girl, from Medford.
Andre was born in Philadelphia, but raised in the Philippines, where he lived with his father, the late Pol, and his grandmother Felicitas. He left Manilla in 1991 to live with his mother, Salud, in Philadelphia's Olney neighborhood, he said. An account manager at Conshohocken's Lamb Financial Group, Andre earned his degree in risk management from Temple.
Liana, a financial assistant at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, had recently graduated with an accounting degree from Holy Family University. Liana also had just begun work on her master's in human-resource management.
There was a bit more small talk, but nothing came of it.
"I tried," said Andre.
Some mutual friends had noticed the two talking. They knew Liana was also single, and they offered her some advice: Get to know Andre better. He's a really nice guy.
The chance came a month later, on a group outing to Atlantic City. He was glad to see her again. "It was cool to talk to her. She's friendly, and I thought she was very cute - very hot," Andre said.
Liana confirmed that her friends were right - Andre is a really nice guy. "I thought he was really, really funny," Liana said. "He has a great sense of humor."
They exchanged numbers and began texting regularly. "Then he called me one night. We were talking on the phone for an hour, and it felt like that hour went by so fast," Liana said, "because we had so many things to talk about."
They hung out as a twosome for the first time at P.J. Whelihan's in Maple Shade to watch the Phillies in the World Series. Following that success, they met for what they consider their first real date, at the Cherry Hill Cheesecake Factory.
The couple took things slowly, in part because Liana was working full time while working on her master's degree. Little by little, they fell in love.
"As I got to know her more, I could see how caring she is," said Andre, who is now 38. "She would always text me, just to keep in contact with me and ask how my day is going. That kind of stuff. It's the small things that add up."
Liana, who is now 27, appreciated that Andre didn't care much about the superficial or spendy. "I didn't need to impress him by wearing makeup or having nice things. He is very laid-back and down-to-earth."
How does forever sound?
The couple planned to join Liana's parents, Heidi and Hee, on a July 2014 family trip to the Catskills to celebrate Heidi's birthday. Andre thought it would be the perfect time to ask Liana a very important question. He already had Hee's blessing.
But Liana had corrective eye surgery shortly before the trip, and the day they were supposed to leave, her eyes felt really dry. She reluctantly decided she should stay closer to their Upper Roxborough home. To ease their disappointment, Andre and Liana planned an outing to Tyler Arboretum. As she got ready, he hid something in the coat closet.
"Will you get me my hat?" he asked her. She brought him one of his baseball caps. "Not that one," he said. She put it back and got another. "Not that one, either," said Andre. Liana rolled her eyes. Why couldn't he just get his own hat?
She chose a third one, and by her expression, Andre knew it was the right one.
"There's something in here!" she said. "Keep going, look what's inside," he said.
She opened the small box, and Andre took out the ring and placed it on her finger.
"Do you want to marry me?" he asked.
"Yes!" she said, jumping up and down.
It was so them
The majority of their 75 guests received an invitation to an engagement party.
When Andre first suggested a surprise wedding, Liana didn't think they could pull it off. But she became enamored with the thought of their friends' and families' faces when they realized the day would be much more important than a party.
A sign outside Braddock's Tavern informed guests they were in the right place for Liana and Andre's engagement party. But once guests got inside, a second sign revealed the secret:
"Surprise! Welcome to our wedding! Love, Liana and Andre." Their photographer captured a montage of guests' reactions.
After cocktails, everyone went up the stairs to a second room, where a wreath and two huge poinsettias highlighted the spot where they said their vows, in front of two floor-to-ceiling windows. An acoustic guitarist played during the procession. The bride's brother and groom's sister read a poem together. Their nondenominational officiant led a simple, 15-minute ceremony.
Candle lanterns provided warm lighting at the reception. The guitarist played and sang "At Last," for the couple's first dance, then as DJ played top-40 tunes the rest of the night.
The couple had photos taken before the ceremony at Camp Ockanickon. Andre stood on a bridge, waiting to see Liana for the first time. "I tapped his shoulder, and when he turned around, he had the biggest smile on his face," she said. "He looked so happy, and so excited about our day. It was a look I'll never forget."
The moment when Liana reached the end of the aisle and stood next to Andre was "the highlight of the whole night," he said. "It was just like, 'Finally! We're here. We're going to be together, officially. Everything is beginning with this new chapter, this next step, after dating for almost five years.' "
A bargain: Liana found her dress at a wedding consignment store for just 20 percent of its original cost.
The splurge: Liana is a vegan who wanted a wedding cake that looked and tasted amazing. After samplings from several bakeries, they chose Carley Cakes. It was about double the price of the others, they said, but was by far the most delicious.
A long weekend in Charleston, S.C., to be followed this summer by 10 days in Hawaii.
Love: BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiant: The Rev. Kenneth Denski of Somers Point, N.J.
Venue: Braddock's Tavern, Medford, N.J.
Catering: Braddock's Tavern.
Photography: Sarah Elizabeth Photography, Mount Laurel, N.J.
Flowers: Medford Florist & Gift Shop, Medford, N.J.
Dress: Kimana Bridal Consignment Boutique, Willow Grove
Music: Acoustic Guitarist and DJ Kevin Williams, Pennsauken, N.J.
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