Two brides, two grooms, two flower girls, nine bridesmaids, 20 groomsmen, seven parents. Identical twins Amber and Ashlee Moore are two women of a single mind. Two bachelorette parties, four bachelors' parties, thousands of texts, hundreds of emails preceded their walk down the aisle July 14. Of course, they wore identical wedding gowns, one white, one ivory. They stepped apart to face Mike McManamey and Matt Beaulieu, but they couldn't separate: Their beaded trains caught in a grip of lace.
"Everyone thought it was intentional," said Amber.
• • •
Mike met them first, in a South Tampa bar Thanksgiving weekend 2004. He and some friends rescued them from a harassing creep that night. The twins' appreciative followup texts led to drinks and a game of pool that, for Mike and Ashlee, sparked romance.
In four years, they were engaged and buying a condo in downtown Tampa. Ashlee, now 31 and assistant principal at Lee Elementary, was getting a master's in education. Mike, 35, sold real estate and founded Southeast Basketball Academy. Amber didn't mind being the third wheel.
Suddenly, Ashlee slammed on the brakes. "He was my first boyfriend and I had to be sure," she said. Amber was just as heartbroken when her sister asked her to return Mike's ring for her.
• • •
Matt, 34, walked down the hall on Gasparilla morning in February 2009, and right into Amber's life. He'd been in his Harbour Island neighbor's apartment a million times and never seen the tall blond before. Later that night, the employee benefits sales rep angled to learn everything about her.
Within a few weeks, Matt and Amber, now a psychology teacher and cheerleading coach at Leto High, were a couple. Ashlee took a turn as the third wheel.
That is why, says Matt, he approached a tall, redheaded man nursing a beer at MacDinton's bar one afternoon. He'd seen enough pictures to be fairly certain the man was Ashlee's ex. He was.
Their conversation sent Mike into a tailspin. He fled home to write Ashlee, including her parents on the email. She'd been out of his life for nearly a year, and he wanted her back. Many tears later, recalled Ashlee, they were happily back on track.
The foursome was formed.
"Mike and I had to like each other," said Matt. "Good thing we do."
In February 2011, Matt turned to his future in-laws for help pulling off his master plan, a seven-hour proposal modeled after the reality shows they all love to watch.
It started with Amber dropping him off at the airport, "so she'd think I was out of town," Matt said. As soon as she drove off, he jumped in a taxi, heading to the hotel where his parents had just arrived from Ames, Iowa.
So, a bit later, when a limo pulled up at their home, Amber's excited first thought was that her twin was about to get engaged. When they made their first stop at a friend's house, though, it dawned on her that this party might be all about her when a posse of girlfriends emerged with a pitcher of sangria and a clue to the next stop.
Back in the limo, now filled with friends, subsequent clues led the group to four favorite bars, with more people joining up at each stop. A clothing item, purchased for Amber by Matt, accompanied each clue.
"I cried when I saw his parents at the sushi bar where we went on our first date," said Amber. Next stop, the Hard Rock Cafe, brought their four parents together. By that time, she was dressed in her accumulated gifts — dress, jewelry, purse, shoes.
The theatrical conclusion came when the limo pulled up to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. There, on an empty stage, Matt stepped out. Holding a rose, he asked Bachelorette Amber to marry him.
Conclusion? Not yet.
"We said goodbyes,'' said Matt, telling his fiancee that it was time to be alone. So she was stunned to find 70 friends waiting at their condo, popping Champagne to celebrate the engagement.
Six months later, Mike proposed again to Ashlee, surprising her with a spa day, a clean apartment and a romantic dinner. Just the two of them . . . and a diamond ring.
The newlyweds are back from overlapping honeymoons in Europe: two weeks for the McManameys, three weeks for the Beaulieus, sometimes staying in the same hotels, but with separate date nights in each city.
"Anybody know a good deal on a duplex?" asked Mike.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3332.