Meant to Be

Call it luck, fate, or whatever you want. A Detroit couple brought together by chance celebrates a surprise engagement in the city of Savannah. | Photography by Wendy Norman of Apt. B Photography
Had Esii Perez gone to school in her favorite city, Savannah, as planned, she never would have met her fiancé, Aaron Rush.

ESII PEREZ WAS NEVER SUPPOSED to be a student at Oakland University. After studying interior design at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, she was planning to spend her final year of college in an art program in her favorite city, Savannah, Ga. “I always joke that I must have lived there in a past life because I feel so at home,” says the 28-year-old retail assistant manager. She loves the haunted feel and the unique architecture. “The Spanish moss makes everything seem so romantic,” she says.

Perez was ready to pack her bags and head south, but her financial aid fell through at the last minute. “I had to then find a new school and new classes within a week,” she says. As such, Perez was never supposed to be in the classroom where she met Aaron Rush, 25. But she was.

After a guided tour of the city, Aaron Rush led his unknowing bride-to-be, Esii Perez, to a Savannah park where a photographer was waiting to capture the moment. The couple is planning to tie the knot on October 10, 2020.

Rush remembers making quite the first impression on their first day of logic class. He was running late and couldn’t find any place to park except at a meter — but he didn’t have coins. “I was super-frazzled,” says Rush, a cybersecurity account manager. “I went to the nearest gas station and just asked for $20 in quarters to pay for parking. So I was late for class, and I also walked in jingling like a Christmas elf.”

Rush noticed Perez, and Perez definitely noticed him, and he chose a seat right next to her. After chatting a bit on the first day, Rush mentioned he’d taken a similar class in high school; when they had their first homework assignment, Perez saw an opportunity. “I said, ‘You should definitely give me your phone number, because I need to double or triple check these problems,’ ” Perez recalls. Yes, she needed help — but they were obviously interested in each other. The pair began meeting an hour before class to check answers in the hallway, and flirt. Rush asked Perez out within weeks, and they became a couple soon after.

In June 2019, Rush decided to propose to Perez in her beloved city, Savannah; they’d been together five years, and he had zero doubt. “I wish I could say I labored over it,” he says. “But I just knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew this was who I wanted to be engaged to and spend the rest of my life with.”

Rush booked an Airbnb in Savannah under the guise of a fun weekend trip, where they could also make a stop in South Carolina to see his family. Meanwhile, he plotted the engagement, scoping out the perfect, picturesque spot for the proposal. He also contacted a local photographer, Wendy Norman, to capture the moment. She sent Rush a list of directions to help him get to the park and find the right place to stand.

Rush and Perez explored Savannah all day on a guided tour, as he planned to propose just before dinner — but unfortunately, when the tour ended, they were close to the restaurant but a 20-minute walk from the park where Norman was waiting to photograph them. “I had to make up a contrived excuse to walk the other direction,” Rush says. “At this point, I thought she already knew.” Perez says she can’t believe she didn’t figure it out.

Norman had also taped an “X” on the spot Rush was supposed to stand to get the photos. When he arrived at the square, he saw Norman, but he did not see the “X.” After walking around the square again and again — in the rain, no less — he gave up. “I was getting flustered, but I thought, ‘You know what, forget about it,’ ” he says. “I threw down the umbrella. I just remember saying, ‘I’ve loved you for so long,’ and then it was just a blackout of emotion.” They were so caught up in the moment that Rush slid the engagement ring on the wrong hand. Norman was a pro, though; she informed them of the mix-up and captured some treasured moments from the proposal.

Being highly organized, Perez immediately went to work planning the wedding. “A month after we got engaged, I had the photographer, the florist, the venue — we had already gone on a venue tour,” she says.

“The Pinterest board was in full effect,” Rush says.

They thought about exchanging vows in Savannah, but decided to stay local to be more hands-on with the details of the decision-making process. The pair has now finalized all the details of their vintage-style, “moody” wedding, and will tie the knot at Loft 310 in Kalamazoo on October 10, 2020 — or 10/10/2020, a mathematically-perfect date for Rush to remember, says Perez. They are hopeful they won’t have to change plans due to the coronavirus. But ultimately, they’re just glad to be together.

To think how easily their lives could have been changed had Perez gone to her dream school in Savannah instead of Oakland University. “Had that happened, we never would have met,” Rush says.

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