He had a really, really bad day. The kind of day that makes a man get up from his desk and go to the bar.
Zack Leonard sold life insurance, and all his appointments that Tuesday had fallen through. Bummed with bleak professional prospects and a vacant schedule, he headed to Horse Feathers Grill and Lounge down the street in Sarasota. The place was almost empty. Zack trudged to the bar and ordered a beer.
Nikki Baxley handed over the beer. When she tended bar on weekends, she wore a corset, miniskirt and lots of makeup. But that day she was fresh-scrubbed in a black tank top, blond hair gathered in a loose ponytail.
Wow, he thought. She's pretty.
Nikki was used to older guys hitting on her when the bar was jammed. But Zack was different, younger, friendlier. It was a treat to have someone her age to talk to, so she listened while he unloaded his bad day. Zack thanked her and left, but didn't stop thinking about her.
He came back the next Tuesday with a group of friends. They played Trivial Pursuit, and Nikki noticed how smart Zack was. The movie Star Wars played in the background, and Zack started quoting it.
"What's this?" Nikki said.
"Are you serious?" Zack said. "You've never seen Star Wars?"
"You should give me your phone number," Zack said. "You can come over and watch it."
Nikki was flattered, but she had a boyfriend. Zack was polite, but not ready to give up. He came back to the bar every Tuesday and every weekend. He never asked Nikki to dump her boyfriend, always insisting he wanted to be her friend.
Then, finally, she was single.
Nikki and Zack's first official date was at Siesta Key. They pretended they were going to take it slow, but they were never apart after that.
She was a high-strung planner. He was laid back and helped her mellow. They both loved football. He rooted for her Indianapolis Colts and she rooted for his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They recorded Jeopardy every week and competed. Together they ruled bar trivia nights. Nikki, 24, took the English and history questions. Zack, 26, handled math and science.
They watched all six Star Wars movies.
They got a house in Brandon and jobs in Tampa — she at a law office and he at a consulting firm. In February 2011, Zack sent Nikki out to get a pedicure. When he heard her pull in the driveway, he grabbed the ring and went on the back deck with their pet spaniels, Socrates and Caesar. Oblivious, Nikki took her time. She put some clothes in the dryer, put her purse away. She went outside and saw Zack balancing patiently on one knee.
They planned their Sarasota wedding from Brandon, running errands on the weekend and paying for almost everything themselves. They married Feb. 25 at Palm-Aire Country Club surrounded by 175 guests at a sparkling pink affair.
On top of the cake stood a miniature Han Solo and Princess Leia from Star Wars.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.