The Amtrak train was packed that sweltering summer day, sold out for a trip from Tampa to Miami.
Parties of three or more would be seated together that day, and everyone else would have to fill in the gaps. Kisha Robinson was traveling with a girlfriend and they were probably going to be split. It would be a long trip without some company.
They were armed with bags of snacks, drinks and magazines. Surely someone at the train station could be bribed to team up with them for the five-hour ride. They hustled around the station investigating possible seat buddies.
They met travelers with screaming babies, cranky people, party boys who were a little too wild.
They were almost out of options. Then they saw him.
Michael Linebaugh was sitting alone in the shade listening to an iPod, reading a book, minding his own business. Kisha sat down next to him.
"What are you listening to?" she said.
"O.A.R.," he said.
She'd never heard of the band. It didn't sound like her style. She noticed Michael had a Marine Corps tattoo. Kisha's dad was in the Air Force and always playfully told his daughter not to date Marines. But today, she just needed someone she could stand to sit with for five hours. No one was getting married here.
"Would you say you're with us so we can sit together?" she asked.
From Michael's perspective, it was obvious. Why wouldn't he want to sit with two pretty girls? He agreed.
He was quiet at first, absorbed in his reading. But somewhere along that train ride, Kisha and Michael started talking. They talked about their favorite music, their experiences of military life, their travels through Africa and the Caribbean. He teased her for taking so many pictures of the pollution along the train route. They shared snacks. They actually had a lot in common.
He gave her a kiss on the cheek when they got to Miami. She thought about him all weekend.
When they got back home to Tampa, they emailed. Then they talked on the phone. Then they went out for a date at Moon Under Water in St. Petersburg. He arrived nervous and overdressed in a polo shirt, and she arrived calm and laid-back in sandals. At dinner they talked about their love of the Vietnamese food pho and made lots of jokes.
They laughed and laughed, the kind of laughing that makes you want to stay with someone for a really long time.
Two years later, Michael re-enacted their first date. He proposed on the sidewalk along Beach Drive.
Kisha, 36, and Michael, 32, took their engagement photos at the Amtrak station, posing in front of the exact place they met in the shade. They got married April 7 at the Ybor City Museum in front of 100 people.
The next evening, Kisha's friend drove them to the Amtrak station. Kisha and Michael went charging through hand in hand, got on board and headed to Savannah, Ga., for a honeymoon.
This time, they didn't have to fight for seats.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.