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‘One of the most perfect days of my life. We cried and we laughed.’

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By Anita Debro
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 who would, please send nominations to Erica Wright at ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

ASHLEIGH AND DRAE RUDOLPH

Live: Gardendale

Married: May 13, 2017

Met: Ashleigh and Drae were members of, Rock City Church in Forestdale in 2014.  Drae, a Birmingham native, was the media director and Ashleigh, a native of Atlanta, a member of the dance team.  They saw one another periodically but never really talked. “She was always with a bunch of people,” Drae said. He tried direct messaging her via Facebook, but Ashleigh said she was not having it. When Ashleigh began working on a special project with the dance team, she stopped by Drae’s office at the church looking for help from the sound engineer to make a CD of music for their performance. Drae offered his services instead. So Drae made each team member a CD, but for Ashleigh he gave her a special CD. “It was blank,” he said. He told Ashleigh to call him if she had any problems with the CDs.  Of course she called. “At first I checked with the other girls to see if their CDs were working,” she said. “Their CDs were fine. So I called him.”  Drae said he offered his apologies — but no confession just yet— and offered to bring her a new CD and would get her a meal for her troubles.

First date: They met that night at Buffalo Wild Wings in Leeds. “I felt very comfortable talking to him,” Ashleigh said. “He had good conversation. I wasn’t bored and I thought he was cool enough to be a friend.” Drae said he also enjoyed Ashleigh’s conversations, although he felt she was holding a little back about herself. “She was conversant, but still a mystery,” he said. “I knew I wanted to get to know her.”

Slowly, surely: After the first successful date, Ashleigh and Drae agreed to see one another again.  By the third date at Aldridge Gardens Drae was sure of what he wanted. “I tried to hold her hand while we walked around the lake,” he said. “But she wasn’t having it.” Ashleigh said she liked him, but she was proceeding cautiously. “I had just gotten out of a relationship and it was a bad break-up,” she said. “I wanted to be by myself and I needed to pace myself.”

Drae said the two talked on the phone often during those early days even though Ashleigh was hesitant. “I would call her as soon as I got off from work and we would talk for hours,” he said. Ashleigh said she would stay up past her bedtime to talk to Drae. It was on their fourth date though, that Ashleigh felt like she was ready for a commitment.  They went out to eat at Post Office Pies in Avondale. “I was sure that I liked him,” she said. By around the sixth date— Fourth of July 2014 — Drae finally admitted to Ashleigh that he had made her a blank CD just so that she would call him. “At that point I kind of figured it out,” she laughed.

The proposal: It was two years since they had started dating when Drae popped the question. “It was actually the two-year anniversary of when we became Facebook friends,” he said.  That night of the proposal, he recalled, he and Ashleigh were having a “spat” as they were on the way to Break Out Birmingham, where people have to solve puzzles to successfully get out of a room. The couple enjoyed going to Break Out Birmingham to play the games. Drae had invited Ashleigh’s mother and some of their close friends for a game night that night. “But they knew what I had planned,” he said.  He had already asked Ashleigh’s mom for her hand in marriage several months before. That night Ashleigh worked with the group to win the game and at the end when she was supposed to get the key for solving the puzzles, there was a ring instead and Drae was behind her on bended knee. “I had no clue,” she said about Drae’s plan.

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The wedding: The two were married at The Doubletree Hotel in downtown Birmingham in front of a crowd of 250 friends and family members.  The day was perfect, Ashleigh said. “Everything went so smoothly. I just thought it was one of the most perfect days of my life. We cried and we laughed.”

Drae remembers that day and those leading up to it differently. “It was completely stressful,” he chuckled. “I told everyone to let me know if anything went wrong because I didn’t want her to see any of the issues.” So Drae fielded all of the phone calls about the little hiccups such as Ashleigh forgetting her veil and handling the business including paying the bill during the reception and having to load wedding gifts and take them back to his house on the wedding night.

“I don’t even remember the reception,” he said. “I remember the toast by my best man Pastor Mike (McClure) and I remember the wedding ceremony.”  That night the couple said they didn’t really eat until after the reception because of the whirlwind of activity. “We ate McDonald’s,” Ashleigh said.

Words of Wisdom: Ashleigh and Drae said they were fortunate to have friends and family to serve as examples for healthy marriages. “We have a lot of married friends who were there to give us advice,” she said.  Drae agreed that it was very helpful to have friends who had already experienced being in long-term relationships. “I was the single friend for a long time,” he said. “When we got married we felt like we had people to reach out to.”  Connecting with one another is a priority, said the couple. When they get home from busy days they put the telephones down so that they can talk. “We ask each other questions and have conversations and we make an effort to spend time with one another,” Ashleigh said.

Drae said: “We are big on having conversations and showing each other respect.”

Happily ever after: The couple enjoy date nights that feature food and some fun activity.  Drae is the director of communications at Rock City Church and he also owns video production company Arcadia Productions. Ashleigh is a Pre-K teacher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Child Development Center.  They look forward to starting a family and continuing to grow as a couple financially and spiritually.