Alethea Roy and Paul Pawlowski's 23-month-old daughter could someday inherit both properties in the special place where her parents found love
When Alethea Roy started dating the boy next door, Paul Pawlowski, the couple kept it a secret because their families own side-by-side motels on the Jersey Shore.
"We didn't want to create any bad blood on the block," Pawlowski, now 37, tells PEOPLE. "We took it step by step, so if things didn't work out, it wouldn't be scorched earth."
But, happily, it was "true love," says Alethea Roy, 35.
The couple are now married and have a 23-month-old daughter, who someday — if she wants — will inherit both of the family motels.
"We were always good neighbors — and now we're family," adds Alethea's mother, Melissa Roy.
Alethea spent all of her summers at the V.I.P (Vacation In Paradise) Family Motel in Wildwood Crest, which was founded by her great-grandmother in 1964. She lived 10 minutes away, but slept at the motel with her grandparents most nights.
In 2001, Paul's family bought the motel next door on Atlantic Avenue, The Compass Family Resort.
"They're literally back-to-back," Alethea says of the properties.
Over the years, Paul became close friends with Alethea's brother and father, helping each other with repairs or sharing extra towels.
In December 2007, Alethea's beloved grandmother, Joanne Stefanide, died in a "freak accident" when a tree fell while she was raking leaves in her yard.
"She was the No. 1 person in this world that I was closest with," says Alethea.
Devastated, she reached out to Paul, who just weeks before lost his uncle to cancer.
"I really have no idea what came over me to reach out to him, but something just laid him on my mind and on my heart," says Alethea.
They spent the winter talking and texting.
"We were both still grieving and trying to heal at the same time," Paul says. "We had lots of long phone calls…She let me in, and I let her in."
When they saw each other again in person as the motels opened for the season over Mother's Day weekend, everything clicked. They went on their first official date in June 2008, but kept the relationship to themselves at first.
"We were trying to be very cautious, because we didn't want to jump into a relationship or really start dating quickly because we are neighbors and it could just get a little sticky," Alethea says. "So we took it very slow."
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They also worried about upsetting her brother, Roland Roy, since he was best friends with Paul.
"For many years my brother was always like, 'You need to find yourself a guy like Paul,' but he never actually said to date Paul," she recalls.
That summer, the pair took long walks on the beach, went swimming and carved their names in the concrete sidewalk in front of the motels.
"We just talked so much," Alethea says.
Plus, being in the same business, they understood each other, Paul says.
By September, they decided it wasn't just summer love, so they told their families.
"We were happy," says Althea's mother Melissa, who saw something between them years before they started dating.
"You could just tell," adds Melissa, 65. "They're perfect together."
Three years later, they moved into Paul's family's motel together. (Althea's family's motel isn't winterized, although she says they're hoping to build new living quarters there soon.)
Then, in December 2016, they went to Poland to visit Paul's family. On Christmas Day, Paul stood up in his aunt's home in Warsaw and started talking in Polish about the importance of family.
"I didn't really know exactly what he was saying," Alethea admits. "Then at one point, everybody starts cheering and I'm like, 'Okay, I have no idea what they're cheering for.'"
But by the time he got down on one knee and asked if she'd marry him, she was fully up to speed.
"It was literally something that you would see in a Hallmark movie," she says.
They married during the motel's off-season on Dec. 29, 2018.
Growing up, Alethea had always wanted her best friend, her beloved Nana, to be her matron of honor. So on her special day, she carried a picture of her grandmother in her bouquet and decorated the room in her favorite colors: pink and green.
"We knew my mom was just smiling down on the whole thing," Melissa says. "It was absolutely beautiful. It couldn't have been any more perfect — other than if my mom was there. It was a really beautiful, beautiful day."
"It was like a dream. It was a Cinderella wedding," Alethea says. "Everybody was just dancing, having such a great time."
Now, guests who have been coming to the family motels for 35-50 years can watch as a new chapter of the couple's life unfolds: parenthood.
Alethea and Paul's daughter, Julianna Joanne, a.k.a. "Jules," was born Sept. 10, 2021.
"They watched Paul grow up. They watched me grow up," Alethea says. "Now they're seeing her."
After their daughter's arrival, they removed the big desk in the office of Alethea's family motel and created a nursery for the baby. Now they joke with guests that Jules is on the payroll as the motel's official greeter.
“We call her 'The Supervisor' — she has her own little Dyson toy vacuum,” Alethea says.
They even celebrated her first birthday with a "ONE-der the Sea"-themed pool party at the motel.
"It was so much fun," Alethea says. "She is just a ball of energy. She's a professional smiler. She smiles constantly."
Looking back, Alethea says her relationship with Paul was exactly what her late grandmother always envisioned for her.
"We're in love and we're always in awe. Our marriage, our relationship, it takes work. Of course, it does. It always does," says Alethea. "But it's so worth the work. It is true love. And I could never imagine true love until I felt it. And I was in it."
"I don't know if divine intervention was involved, if she was involved, or if it's God that brought us together. But somehow, we were brought together and as more than just neighbors, more than just friends," she shares, explaining that their bond became even richer after welcoming their daughter.
She adds, "Our relationship, our lives together, was beautiful before. And I could never imagine it really getting much better. Then we had her and it's like, 'Whoa, I never even thought a love like this could exist.'"
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