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‘Keep the Love first’

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By Je’Don Holloway-Talley
Special to The Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Ariel Worthy at aworthy@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

Riko and Aquilla Harris. (Reginald Allen Photos, for The Birmingham Times)

RIKO AND AQUILLA HARRIS

Live: Pleasant Grove

Married: October 10, 2008

Met: Riko and Aquilla met in 2003 at a Birmingham area Biolife Plasma Center while working as phlebotomists. At the time both were in separate relationships, but enjoyed the jovial time they spent when paired as a team. Riko recalled, “I actually thought she [Aquilla] was probably out of my league anyway, so I didn’t even try… I just played the ‘friend.’” Aquilla added, “plus we were both already in relationships. He had a girlfriend, and I had a boyfriend.”

Riko remembered something else from that time. “There was a [deputy] sheriff that worked there [Biolife] that used to tell me, ‘that’s going to be your wife one day.” Both Riko and Aquilla left their jobs at Biolife; only to reconnect a year later.

“I was having a house party,” Aquilla said, “and I told a mutual friend of ours to invite Riko because I wanted to see what he was up to… I always enjoyed his friendship.”  Riko put it this way: “She pursued me hard at the party, I got all her attention that night.” Aquilla didn’t disagree. “Yeah, I gave him a lot of attention … he walked in looking fly, and I was like …’Ok, let me see what he’s talking about … and if he’s still with his girlfriend,” she laughed.

They caught up over drinks and ended up going on their first official date the next morning.

Riko and Aquilla Harris

First date: Riko called and asked Aquilla to breakfast. They met for waffles at the Waffle House in Hoover. “It felt like old times,” he said. “It was like we’d never spent any time away from each other.” Aquilla said, “I was thrilled that he called.”

“The vibe was fun,” Riko said. “It was reuniting with someone that you used to have fun with at work, so there was a lot of jokes and reminiscing on old times. We flourished pretty fast.”

The pair began spending a lot of time together, and all the “flourishing” did not automatically lead to a long-term relationship. Even though they were doing all the things together that couples do — Sunday dinners at grandma’s, long movie nights on the sofa, and even planning for the future — Aquilla recalled her confusion at Riko’s run from commitment. “He needed to stop running around and playing games,” she said.

So, she, too, began dating other people, and it became a game of cat and mouse.

“She started making me chase her,” Riko said. “And you know, women mature faster than men, she was ready to settle down, and I wasn’t…but we had a strong attraction for one another, and couldn’t leave each other alone.”

The proposal: “The proposal was nothing traditional. I felt like the proposal wasn’t planned. I didn’t plan it, I just felt it. I felt like it was the right time to do it,” he said. “The stability that she brought to my life…I didn’t have that at first. We had purchased our first home (in Pleasant Grove) started raising our family, and the first home was a major step towards progression in life because it took us out of (Ensley).

Aquilla was shocked by the proposal.

“I was happy he came to his senses,” she said. Even though we had already bought a house together, it [the proposal] was still a total shock because nothing is traditional about our life and marriage,” Aquilla said.

The wedding: Jefferson County courthouse in downtown Birmingham. The pair wore jeans and T-shirts. “It was on a Friday, and it was so pretty outside because the city was getting ready to do the Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, so the fountain and that whole area were set up so nice and pink,” Aquilla said.

“We didn’t want a big traditional wedding because she had already had one … family is big to us, so to have my father and immediate family here from Georgia was a big deal,” Riko said.

As for the wedding reception, “I cooked,” Aquilla said. “We set up downstairs, had everyone over and you might as well say we had a small reception. We were just happy everyone was there to celebrate our love.”

Words of wisdom: After nearly 10 years of marriage, the couple lives by the principle of  “always give your partner the benefit of the doubt.”

“You gotta keep the communication open, and we always give each other the benefit of the doubt,” Aquilla said.  “You gotta keep talking, dialogue is a must.”

Riko said, “Keep the love first, despite all the trials and tribulations you encounter, always remember that you love that person for a reason.”

“We also don’t go to sleep upset with one another… even if we have to hash it out, fuss it out, we’re going to get it together before we go to sleep,” Aquilla said.

Riko says that it’s important to stay focused on the bigger picture. “Time goes by fast…but it always important to look at the bigger picture of the marriage so you can keep in line with the vision,” he said.

Riko and Aquilla Harris

“Life happens, and you will lose it [your marriage] if you put everything before your relationship and your lover. Plan the dates, go on those outings, they’re important.”

Happily ever after: Riko and Aquilla live in Pleasant Grove and work as partners in his multimedia business. Riko is creator and founder of the Birmingham based lifestyle magazine, IPush Magazine. “We’re looking to incorporate more travel in to our lives and business now that the kids are older,” he said. But, “becoming the role the man of the house, husband, father, entrepreneur, provider is the biggest joy of my life,” he said.

Raising their three kids, Javier, 21, Ashia, 17, and Madison, 10, has been a treasure in life, she said.. “Seeing the kids grow up, and being able to help my husband take care of his mother is a blessing,” Aquilla said. “Seeing how blessed we are, and having that stable, unconditional love is great.”

Riko added, “you don’t have to worry or wonder if its (the love) real or not, because it’s already established, it’s already built.”

The Harris’s are caretakers for Riko’s mother.