Braden Reeves and Mollie Racioppa met in middle school in southern Illinois, and she moved with her family to Middle Tennessee only about a year later.
For the next four years, they talked on the phone for hours almost every night, exchanged countless texts and visited each other whenever possible. Even so, the miles between them were an agonizing barrier, and eventually they remade their lives without each other.
Braden got a girlfriend in Illinois. In 2013 Mollie got a boyfriend and would stay with him for over five years. Braden got engaged.
But deep down, during those years they were with others, Braden and Mollie both knew something wasn’t right.
Last year, he ended his engagement — as painful as that was to do — and she ended her relationship as well. At first, neither knew the other was single again — but they found out soon enough.
It’s all so simple, they say now. Braden and Mollie were in love with each other all along, and nothing — not time, not distance, not other people — was going to stop them from their destiny together.
The first wedding gift
This Valentine’s Day is going to be a special one indeed for the couple. Mostly, that’s because they have each other, and that’s all they need.
But they’re also celebrating the free wedding they won from Firefly Lane Weddings & Events near Charlotte, and can look forward to exchanging vows Aug. 23 at the company’s 70-acre property.
Their prize includes use of one of Firefly Lane’s two venues on the property, along with photographs and a cake, altogether worth several thousand dollars.
They won Firefly Lane’s annual contest in which grooms-to-be and brides-to-be submit written entries telling their love stories. Braden and Mollie learned of the contest on Instagram and decided each of them would submit a separate entry, thereby sharing the same story in two voices, Braden said.
Their entries, shared with the Dickson Post, were selected from 18 as the most compelling, said Cory Williams, who owns Firefly Lane with his wife, Jessica.
“They just couldn’t do without each other,” Cory said of Braden and Mollie. “They tried to do it. It just couldn’t be done.”
Braden, 23, still lives in Illinois, working as a physical therapist assistant. Mollie, 22, is finishing college in Tennessee with a major in elementary school education.
Both credit God for being with each other today, and they’re all the more grateful because it appeared at times it might not have worked out this way.
“God’s timing is the best timing and I have never been so sure of something in my life,” Mollie wrote in her entry.
She recalled the pain of living without Braden, including the years she was with someone else.
Braden, Mollie wrote, “was always on my mind. ‘Why God? Why am I still thinking about him after all this time? I have a serious boyfriend. I’m happy right? Why is he still in my head?’ ”
In his entry, Braden wrote about his desire, from a very young age, to have a strong, healthy marriage when he grew up.
“Growing up, I never had that example of my parents being happily married, being anchored in Christ and having Him as their foundation,” he wrote. “It was something that I wanted extremely bad, but never received.”
Mollie recalled the day when, shortly after she ended her relationship of five-plus years, Brandon’s name popped up on her phone.
She learned he, too, was now single.
“And it was in that moment that I said, literally said to myself out loud, ‘OK God, this is it!!,’ ” Mollie wrote.
Braden recalled the exchange this way:
“To my surprise and exhilaration, Mollie answered me and I came to find out that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of five years. When she told me that, an instant smile was put on my face and I was fist-pumping the air out of excitement.”
Not long after, Braden drove down from Illinois, and the two were reunited. He recalled:
“I pulled up to her apartment parking lot and called her and told her to come outside. She saw my car from 50 yards out and ran to me. I will always remember the black tank top and lavender shorts she wore on the first day she saw me. We picked up right where we left off. She ran into my arms and I have not been so happy since the last time that I kissed her.”
There was a lot of catching up to do in that meeting — and a lot of reminiscing, too.
Mollie wrote: “All of the sudden, I’m in 6th grade again, talking on the phone to Braden Reeves and falling asleep on video chats with him. ... (W)hen we were together again, for the first time in 6 years, I knew that was it for me. He was the one all along. There was never anyone but him. Suddenly, everything made sense.”