New paint, hydrangeas, shrubs and jasmine distinguish the house that brought together Lauren Wilkins and Anthony Morejon.
It had once been abandoned in its Northdale enclave — windows, doors and lawn showing signs of neglect.
"The neighbors were sure happy I bought it," said Anthony, 25, a firefighter and paramedic with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. "They were about to start cutting the grass themselves."
He had no idea purchasing his first home would put him on a path that led to the altar of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Tampa on Oct. 6.
But he was glad to take the trip.
"I got the house and the girl," he laughed.
The couple had more than 200 guests — mostly family — 14 bridesmaids and groomsmen, two flower girls and a ring bearer attend their big day. After the 7:30 p.m. ceremony, Anthony and Lauren were swept up in a whirlwind of well wishes and celebration at the Italian Club in Ybor City.
Family is important to Lauren and Anthony, and both have a lot of it. Lauren can trace her roots from Palm Harbor all the way back to Sicily. Her family emigrated from there and came to own a macaroni factory in Ybor generations ago. Anthony grew up in Tampa and has a large Cuban extended family in the area. To honor their heritage, the couple took engagement photos in the wine cellar of the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa and had cigars with their names on the wrappers as wedding favors.
It was a long way from the spilled coffee, apologies and innocent invitations that changed their lives.
In February 2010, Lauren was having an off day.
"You know, one of those days where you're late to work. I didn't have on any makeup," said the 27-year-old mortgage firm employee.
She went to get Anthony a cup of coffee and accidentally spilled it all over the counter. It wasn't their first meeting. Anthony had been in several times as he prepared to close on a house he found through his parents' real estate agent. Lauren's co-workers hinted to him that she might be interested. And they hinted to her that he might be, too. But that day, her bad day got the best of her.
"She rushed to get a rag, and I had come in with a friend. My friend tried to get it from her but she wouldn't give it. She gave it only to me," Anthony said.
His friend played hurt and told jokes as the mess was wiped away. Anthony said he'd brought him to the office to show him Lauren, the girl he was interested in.
"He was like our ice breaker," Lauren remembered.
They met later that week for happy hour with her friends and decided to date from there. After Anthony closed on the house, he took Lauren to see what would eventually become her home.
"It definitely needed a woman's touch," she said. "It needed work."
She moved in months later in January 2011 and they began making changes. Planting things. Gutting doors. Replacing siding. Painting the exterior. Turning Anthony's house into their home.
Three months before he proposed in December 2011, Anthony asked Lauren's father for his permission while on a shotgun shooting outing. Lauren's dad did one better. He gave Anthony Lauren's late grandmother's ring. Anthony took the diamond and put it in a new setting.
On Dec. 20, 2011, he had the ring wheeled out in a glass box on a dessert cart at Bern's Steak House. "He asked 'Will you spend your life with me?' " Lauren said.
She said yes and tried to grab the ring. Anthony insisted he be the one to put it on her finger.
"He's very giving. He's very good-natured. I love his sense of humor and he's very family oriented. So am I," she said.
And they have just the home in which to build a family.