Melissa Ortaleza and Kenneth Cook

I said ‘I love you’ at Buffalo Joe’s

Melissa Ortaleza and Kenneth Cook
  • Melissa Ortaleza and Kenneth Cook
  • Met: September 13, 2001
  • Engaged: January 20, 2003
  • Projected Wedding Date: September 18, 2004

"We were at Moose’s downtown,” Miss Ortaleza, 25, explains on a breezy July evening at Sunset Cliffs. “I was fanning myself with a coaster. The coaster flew out of my hand.”

“It flew right in front of my face,” Mr. Cook, 24, says.

“I turned to my girlfriend and said, ‘Oh, no. I hope he doesn’t come talk to me,’” Miss Ortaleza continues. “I was thinking, ‘Just another guy at a bar.’”

When Mr. Cook and his friend Gabriel walked over, Melissa, then majoring in liberal studies at SDSU, told them her name was Eve. “I always told guys fake names at bars,” she says.

By the end of the evening, Miss Ortaleza had confessed her fib. She’d also given Mr. Cook, a Navy man then stationed on the U.S.S. Anchorage, her phone number. “I followed the three-day rule,” Mr. Cook says. “When she heard my voice, she said, ‘I didn’t think you were going to call me.’”

The couple spent their first date strolling the boardwalk. “We walked from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach,” Miss Ortaleza recalls.

“Then we went to Trophy’s,” Mr. Cook says. “My friend Gabriel called during dinner. I told him I’d have to call him back.” Mr. Cook smiles.

Neither Miss Ortaleza nor Mr. Cook had been in any previous serious relationships. “Dating was really awkward at first,” Miss Ortaleza explains. “It was scary.”

“We both love the beach, the tropics,” Miss Ortaleza says. “And I love everything about monkeys. Ken has some tattoos. It turns out one of his tattoos is the Chinese zodiac sign of the monkey.”

“That’s my sign,” Mr. Cook confirms.

Mr. Cook said “I love you” first, on New Year’s Eve 2002. “We were downtown at Buffalo Joe’s,” he says. Miss Ortaleza said “I love you” back. The crowd was so loud, Mr. Cook didn’t hear.

When Miss Ortaleza sent a letter soon after signed “Love, Melissa,” Mr. Cook was puzzled. She had been careful never to use the L-word in her missives. Later she told him, “Didn’t you know? I said ‘I love you’ back at Buffalo Joe’s.”

Love continued to bloom when Mr. Cook went on deployment. “We were out for five months,” Mr. Cook says. “I told her she didn’t have to wait for me.”

“I knew I would,” Miss Ortaleza says.

Mr. Cook’s naval maneuvers took him to Singapore, Thailand, Australia, and the Philippines. While on shore leave in Singapore, Mr. Cook purchased Miss Ortaleza’s engagement ring, a marquise-cut diamond in a white-gold cathedral setting.

Back in San Diego, Mr. Cook proposed at Sunset Cliffs in January 2003. “It was right over there,” he says and points to a promontory overlooking the ocean. “I took Melissa out for her birthday. We came down here to the cliffs. We were talking. Melissa got distracted by a bug.”

“It landed on me, and I had to brush it away.”

“I used that opportunity to take the ring out of my pocket. I got down on one knee and said, ‘I love you. Here’s the ring.’”

“I didn’t know he had it. I said ‘Yes’ right away.”

The couple plans to marry September 18 on another cliff over- looking the ocean at Pismo Beach near Miss Ortaleza’s family’s home in Santa Maria. “We’re having a tropical theme,” she explains. “I’m wearing a really simple white-chiffon dress with a chapel-length train and white flip flops. Ken is wearing a black tux. I’m trying to talk him into flip-flops, too. All the groomsmen will wear leis.”

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