TAMPA — Just my luck, thought Rachael McClure. Two days after she met Leon Niedermeyer he was on a plane back to Kenai, Alaska.
Wouldn't you just know it, she fumed? Here's this really interesting guy and he lives nearly 4,000 miles away.
So why was Rachael smiling so confidently at Starbucks the morning he left? Clutching the lilies he brought her, she was certain their fleeting encounter wouldn't be their last. Leon had no doubt whatsoever.
"I told her that night we would be probably be married in three years,'' he said. "I've met many women around the world, some pretty great ones, too, but I've never said that to anyone. Her personality just glowed."
The commercial welding inspector was visiting his mother in Oldsmar in June 2011. Rachael's cousin invited him to join a group of friends at a Primus rock concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall. They struck up a conversation at a bar afterward when Leon punched the song LuzAzul into the jukebox.
Rachael was so excited she jumped up and hugged him. "I never heard of the band" (Aterciopelados from Colombia), she said, "but I love Spanish music." In a minute she was telling him about living in Cuernavaca, Mexico, as an English teacher, and he was describing his snowboarding adventures in Argentina, New Zealand, Canada, the Rockies, Austria "and France where he met my cousin," she said.
Not ready to say goodbye, Rachael, 38, offered him a ride home. Leon, 36, offered to burn a CD of his favorite Spanish songs for the national sales rep, who grew up in Dunedin.
That's when he made his marriage prediction, hopping out of the car to get his laptop. Rushing past his mother, Carol Niedermeyer, Leon announced, "The girl I'm going to marry is in the car."
Recalls Rachael now: "I just laughed and thought, this guy is crazy but I like it."
As it happened, distance made their hearts grow fonder, but also wiser. Some information is absorbed better on nightly phone calls than face to face.
"We came up with the idea of asking each other one new question an evening," Rachael said. Topics ranged from flossing to their longest relationships to their rebellious teen years, which was especially revealing, said Leon.
Just about every call ended with his persistent query: When are you coming to see me?
It wasn't long. About two months later, August 2011, the couple drove off in a rented RV, exploring Alaska from Anchorage to Valdez. They chartered a small plane to fly over Mount St. Elias, rode a ferry through Prince William Sound, walked on a glacier in Seward and ate dinner atop Alyeska Ski Resort.
Leon made it to Tampa for her birthday in October, and again in late November in time to go to North Carolina with her family for Thanksgiving.
By March 2012, Leon was selling his snowmobile and rehearsing his marriage proposal. Again Rachael would fly to Alaska for a road trip. This time, they took a month getting back to her home in South Tampa, stopping at many sights along the way. The most exciting: Laird Hot Springs in upper British Columbia, where Leon proposed April 3. A jeweler friend made the engagement ring using his late mother's diamond.
The couple married Dec. 29 at Sunken Gardens. Friends from Moose Pass, Alaska, were among the 80 guests. A mariachi band played their favorite Spanish music. Pinatas and handmade birch and driftwood candles brightened tables.
The couple are making their home in Hyde Park, for now.
But first, their travels continue: They departed on a seven-week honeymoon, snowboarding, skiing and sightseeing in Italy.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.