Mario Pacheco had ice cream every day simply because he was sweet on Jenny Cisneros.
Jenny was 14 when Mario, one year older, moved to her neighborhood in San Salvador, El Salvador, in 2005 and started walking his dog past her house.
It was common for families in that area to have mini markets at their homes, says Jenny, though most were bakeries. Jenny's family, though, bought three or four ice cream machines.
"That's the first time in my life that I saw an ice cream shop in a residential area," Mario says.
Jenny was helping her mother in the shop the first time Mario stopped by. His interest in her quickly surpassed his interest in vanilla soft-serve.
"I basically started getting ice cream every single day," he says. "I don't really like sweet stuff. I was just going because I really liked her."
Jenny wasn't always there to take the $1.50 or $2 in coins he had found in the sofa at his house in exchange for the ice cream.
"My sisters had already noticed that he would be there every day," Jenny says. "One time my friends kind of told me about it."
On one visit, Mario noticed three little girls giggling as they peeked at him from the doorway, wanting a look at the boy who had a crush on Jenny.
By about the fourth time he saw Jenny in the shop, she wrote down her email address for him on a napkin.
"After that, I would go to a coffee shop where there were computers, just to write to her," he says. "But the first time I asked her to be my girlfriend she told me no."
Her father was protective, Jenny explains, and she knew he would insist she focus on her studies.
"Then I moved," he says. "I remember when I went to college to study architecture one my classmates was her friend."
That connection led him back to Jenny.
"One day I just went to her house again and just started talking to her," he says. "We started talking through Messenger again and this time I was like, 'I've always liked you. Is there something that's going to happen between us?' and she was like, 'Oh, yeah. I've always liked you, too.'"
They started dating then, part of the time long-distance because Jenny moved to Arkansas to attend Harding University in Searcy.
"We did that for one year and a half, but then we broke up because it was too hard to be long-distance," Mario says.
Jenny graduated with a degree in advertising in 2013 and moved back to El Salvador, and eventually they started dating again after seeing each other at church.
"It's a very tangled story, but it's weird because every time I had an opportunity to meet someone else the first thing that came to my mind was, 'What about Jenny?'" Mario says. "I could never have anything serious with anybody else."
He ordered an engagement ring about a year and a half after they reunited, and he waited six long months for it to arrive.
Mario's boss and some friends were complicit in a plan to get Jenny to a beautiful setting so he could propose.
"I told her my boss was getting married, in a restaurant in a volcano in El Salvador," he says.
He even created a mock invitation about his boss' pretend wedding to convince Jenny they were invited to be guests.
Jenny dressed up for the occasion, and he took her to the restaurant.
"I had all my friends there. They had been hiding in trees and they put flowers along the way, and music," he says.
Jenny was familiar with the restaurant and was puzzled about where he was leading her.
"I saw the flowers there and that's when he proposed," Jenny says.
They were married on Jan. 26, 2019, in El Salvador, at a lake house they rented for the occasion.
Jenny and Mario were together as newlyweds for four months before she moved back to Arkansas to establish residency, in hopes that Mario would be able to follow soon after.
Then the covid-19 pandemic hit.
"I had told Mario, 'I'm going to go there first and that way I can find a job and make things a little easier while you are in the process of immigration, but then with covid everything slowed down," Jenny says.
They kept in touch most days through video chats.
"Basically instead of being separated for six months like we thought, we were apart for two years and a half because of covid," Mario says.
Living together when he finally arrived in Arkansas was an adjustment but it's one they welcomed.
Mario is an architectural designer with Cromwell Architects Engineers. Jenny is responsible for multicultural marketing and social media at Baptist Health Medical Center.
They enjoy bike riding and hiking together, and they love to travel.
"We love seeing new places together," Mario says. "But sometimes I am driving and I'm just looking around and I'm not really sure it's real. It was a learning process of now I'm here and you're not alone anymore."
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The first time I saw my future spouse:
She says: "I thought he was friendly because he was really smiling that day."
He says: "I was nervous. She had a kind smile, an honest smile."
On our wedding day:
She says: "I feel like he gave me peace."
He says: "I was very nervous. I was thinking that when were together it feels like home."
My advice for a long happy marriage:
She says: "Learn more about forgiveness and acceptance."
He says: "Learn from the past, from your experiences, and try to be better. Be willing to change. People always say this is the way I am, but I think you have to always evolve and grow. You can always be better."