Ashley Carnes-Carelock and Nicholas Lucente
April 28, 2018, in Stroudsburg, Pa.
In November 2012, Ashley took an account manager job at an advertising and marketing agency in her hometown, Harrisburg. Nick, a senior account manager originally from Hazleton, Pa., helped her adjust to life at the agency.
They liked each other almost instantly. "The first day I met him, I was like, 'This guy is going to be somebody important to me,' " Ashley said.
They had lunch together with coworkers; sometimes the group went to happy hour. Talking to each other — about work or whatnot — was always fun for Nick and Ashley. Before long, the friends realized they were interested in something more.
"I thought about asking her out, but I was a little bit shy," Nick said.
Ashley dropped hints. Nick missed every one. She was reluctant to ask him out directly, because if her hunch that something was there was wrong, things could get awkward.
That February, Nick left to become digital marketing manager at another Harrisburg agency. He and Ashley sometimes got together with mutual friends and kept in touch by phone and text. Their friendship deepened.
In September 2013, Nick's new agency hired Ashley. The collegial atmosphere there meant the two socialized together more than ever, and after two months, Nick found the courage to ask Ashley to join him at Lancaster Brewing Co. — just the two of them. It was fabulously fun, and more dates quickly followed.
"She has this quirky sense of humor," Nick said. Ashley is quieter than extrovert Nick, and she calms and supports him. "All of that, coupled with her intelligence, made me fall for her," he said.
Ashley started falling for Nick during their friendship, when she saw the kindness and respect with which he treats everyone. "He's such a good person in general, such a sweet guy," she said.
In January 2014, Ashley introduced Nick to Aniya, her daughter from a previous relationship. The three went bowling. "At first she was all, 'I can't believe I have to go here and meet some guy!' " Ashley said. "At the end, she looked over at him and said, 'Do you want to come live with us?' I started to fall really hard for him when I saw my daughter fall for him."
Nick liked Aniya, too. "She is not afraid to take a stand and speak her mind and does not care what people think," he said. "She is also very much a protector, and is so kind and sweet to people. It's a really cool thing."
The couple got a place for themselves and Aniya that summer.
Nick encouraged Ashley to pursue her master's degree in strategic communications from American University. She worked full-time and studied online. "He was there to support me, cooking dinner and helping me parent," she said. Nick changed his work schedule for school pick-up and drop-off, and was also on homework duty.
Ashley encouraged Nick to take his talents to a bigger market. In 2016, Nick joined AstraZeneca, where he is now manager of consumer marketing. Ashley is now marketing and communications manager at Drexel University.
Nick, now 30, Ashley, now 33, and Aniya, now 10, live in Spruce Hill with Frank, their Boston terrier.
Nick spent late spring 2017 hiding an engagement ring and wracking his brain for a spectacular way to present it. "I need some advice," he told his dad. "I don't want to propose over dinner — I want to do something huge."
His dad offered a different take: "You don't need to do anything crazy," he said. "No matter where or when you do it, it's the moment that makes it special."
Back at home, Nick showed the ring to Aniya. "I want to propose to your mom. What do you think?" Aniya literally jumped for joy. "Let's do it together," Nick said.
"I knew something was up, because they were whispering and Aniya was acting like something amazing was happening," Ashley said. She had a hunch: Nick likes to surprise them with things like event tickets. But this time, that wasn't it.
"Will you marry me?" Nick asked. Aniya continued to jump up and down. Nick knelt.
"Of course!" said Ashley.
Aniya fell out on the couch, crying. Nick and Ashley hugged their daughter and each other.
Nick and Ashley both have huge families and a large group of friends. Searching for a time and place where everyone could gather was stressful — as was realizing how much a wedding that big would cost. When the stress began to weigh down their joy, they knew they needed to do something else. Ashley discovered the concept of micro-weddings — essentially a full wedding ceremony with a tiny guest list — and celebrant Alisa Tongg online. "We had an epiphany," Nick said. "The stress all lifted, and the wedding became about us."
Nineteen people attended their ceremony, held at Promise Ridge, their celebrant's Poconos mountaintop.
Ashley recently converted to Judaism, and Jewish wedding rituals were woven in. The chuppah, a canopy that symbolizes the home, was held over the couple and Aniya by Ashley's mom, Darmayne, and her sister Keihana, and Nick's mom, Cindy, and brother Eric.
Ashley designed their ketubah, or marriage contract, and the couple wrote it together. One part honors their parents, including Ashley's stepdad, Robby, and Nick's stepdad, Eric, who helped raised them.
Junior bridesmaid Aniya carried her parents' rings and walked Frank the dog down the aisle.
Ashley promised Nick she would unconditionally love the person he is today and the person he will become. She pledged to celebrate his wins, comfort him when he struggles with losses, and welcome him home every day with hugs.
Nick vowed to support Ashley in all that she does and be her equal partner. He pledged that they would travel the world together, and that he would never leave the house without a kiss.
Nick promised Aniya that he will help and support her always and make sure she has fun. He praised her kindness and smartness, and spoke of his amazement at watching her grow up.
Afterward, the couple took everyone to dinner at Peppe's Bistro in East Stroudsburg, where they enjoyed a wedding cake made by Ashley's mom and stepdad, who own a bakery.
The couple plan a celebratory party for more family and friends in July.
The moment this couple will always remember happened just after their ceremony. They stood on the edge of Alisa's property, looking across the Cherry Valley just as a foggy mist settled in. "Everybody either went to another part of the property or inside, and it was just the two of us, overlooking the mountain, holding each other, and we were married," Ashley said. "Nothing else mattered but us."
Looking at the misty sunset over the valley and the other mountains beyond felt a little like a dream, or a living metaphor, Nick said. "It was, 'Look at us, at where we are right now, at how perfect this is as we face the rest of the world and continue our journey together.' "
The bargains: The micro-wedding approach, and the couple's attire. Nick rented a suit; Ashley bought a dress on sale online.
The splurge: The couple rented several suites at Staybridge in East Stroudsburg for themselves and family members.
Ashley, Nick, and Aniya will spend a summer week in Niagara Falls. Toward the end of this year, Nick and Ashley will travel, destination unknown, as a twosome.
Officiant: Alisa Tongg, Stroudsburg, Pa.
Ceremony venue: Promise Ridge, Stroudsburg, Pa.
Post-wedding dinner: Peppe's Bistro, East Stroudsburg, Pa.
Wedding Cake: Sweet Confections Cakes, Harrisburg.
Photography: Swiger Photography, Philadelphia.