Florence Bernardy pulled her Saturn into the deserted mall parking lot at 3:45 a.m., shuffled through pitch black and waited.
She got to the Pub first, settling into the British-theme restaurant before the women in cloche hats and sparkling tiaras gulped alcohol and fantasized about the next available prince.
Bernardy came to the wedding watch party alone. Her husband had pressed money into her hand and told her to have fun.
She wore a dusty black jacket, pants, and platform sneakers with a swipe of silver glitter. She sipped ginger ale. She set her eyes on the television.
"I believe there's somebody for everybody," she said. "Love is love. To find that one person . . . there has to be."
• • •
Two billion people were expected to watch Friday's royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Hundreds gathered at local restaurants and bars here to do it with fanfare. The occasion brought out all types. Pop culture junkies. Rouge anthropologists. Women playing dress-up. Cynics and dissenters.
In the cracks, there remained a few true believers. Eternal optimists who genuinely believe that princesses are beautiful and princes are charming and everyone has a soulmate.
Bernardy lives in Lutz and works at a health food store. She owns every Cinderella movie, plus Camelot and Somewhere in Time and The Notebook.
She collects wedding figurines — 254, so far. Snoopy, Tasmanian Devil, Bugs Bunny clad in formals and posed beside their cartoon spouses.
Her second daughter was born three weeks after the 1981 royal wedding.
Bernardy named the baby Sapphire, like the ring on Diana's finger.
She dressed as a princess last Halloween. She is 50.
• • •
"I knew she was going to wear yellow," said Bernardy, admiring Queen Elizabeth's outfit. "I knew it. Don't her legs look great?"
Prince Charles and Camilla appeared. Bernardy pondered Diana, and the grand failure of it all. She decided it happened for a reason.
"I think he was supposed to have those two kids by Diana, and that's why they were together," she said. "You just have to believe."
Bernardy's phone lit up, and she beamed. It was her husband, Richard.
Hope you are enjoying it. Love you.
She had 100 other text messages from him saved.
She couldn't bear to delete them. She wrote back, plunking the letters with the end of a wedding bubble wand the Pub staff handed out to everyone.
I miss U Love U
• • •
First marriage, she was too young. Second marriage, she was rebounding.
She prayed for a third man, she said, with exact specifications. Someone tall with good manners, someone who would let her skydive and offer her the newer car and love her children.
She met Richard in a restaurant, and months later, they bought Kmart wedding bands. People called her family "baggage," but he called them "bonus packages."
She wore lace sleeves at her wedding, just like Kate Middleton.
"I knew she was going to have lace," she said, watching Middleton on TV. "I knew it."
She made her own cake, three tiers with daisies. During the cake feeding, she hid Richard's favorite sour cream doughnut behind her back and surprised him.
She collected their photos in an album and had the back engraved.
A never ending love story.
• • •
"He looks so tired," Bernardy said of Prince William.
"Probably out all night partying with Harry!" yelled Jules Mull, who sat nearby wearing a tiara, sunglasses and a corset gown.
Bernardy squirmed. She didn't like that idea.
"Or . . . he's thinking about his mother," she decided. "Yeah, that's what it is. I believe that's what it is."
Prince William shimmied the ring on his bride's finger, giving it an extra shove past the knuckle.
"He had to force it," said Bernardy. "She won't be able to take it off."
After the vows, William and Kate rode for miles in a carriage. Commentators rambled and reporters interviewed spectators dressed in union jack flags. Inside the Pub, people got antsy. They drank Irish Car Bomb shots and took photos of their hats. Waiters added up tabs. People left.
Bernardy wouldn't budge. The couple had to kiss on the balcony or it wasn't official.
"I can't believe they left," she said. "That's like walking out of the movie during the credits."
Five hours after Bernardy arrived, the royal couple shared a kiss. She smiled wide, gripped her bubbles and left to take a nap.
Later that afternoon, she would make a small cake, and go to a teahouse alone to toast the couple.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.