TAMPA — There was no wind on Tampa Bay as Christopher Ahern and Abbey Dohring took an evening cruise for their first date.
"There was a full moon. Everything was silver and you couldn't see the horizon because of the reflection on the still water," said Chris, 38, a project manager for Jacobs Engineering.
The slight chill forced the couple to sit closer, and then a family of dolphins surfaced nearby.
"Everything was going my way," Chris laughed. "I thought it had to be a sign from the gods."
Chris followed that sign to a makeshift altar at the TECO Streetcar Line's Greco Plaza on Oct. 19 and pledged his life to Abbey, 31, a principal of the Dohring Group.
"He was beaming from ear to ear," Abbey recalls. "I just kept thinking to myself, 'Smile. Don't cry.' The minute I saw him, it changed everything. A calm, peace and serenity just flowed."
Ease has always been the feeling that best describes Chris and Abbey. "When I met him, I thought we'd known each other for a really long time," she said. "It's always been very comfortable between us."
The couple met as many do these days: through a dating website. Chris' attention to grammar and punctuation impressed Abbey. She replied asking for a phone call, but Chris was on vacation.
"The message came in before Christmas and I didn't see it until Jan. 7," he remembered. Afraid he'd missed his chance at the girl with the great profile, similar interests and a beautiful smile, Chris hurried to schedule a date. He chose coffee — a first for Abbey.
After the date, Chris had an important appointment to visit his grandmother. So Abbey suggested they make their next date for later that night. The duo went out for that fateful boat ride on Jan. 9, 2012.
From there, things progressed quickly. Chris suggested Abbey move into his condo, which sat vacant three weeks a month due to his constant work travel. Abbey's 90-pound Doberman pinscher didn't seem like a good fit for condo life, so she counter-proposed that Chris join her in her house.
Living together, on top of being adored by one another's families, made the next step clear for Chris. "She had already met them in April, but when she visited my family for Thanksgiving, they were rushing right past me to hug her," he said. "That's when I knew, because my family, we read people the same way."
Knowing Abbey was the one didn't make the proposal any easier to orchestrate. Chris planned to pop the question at Abbey's family's annual bonfire, but unseasonably warm weather kept pushing back the event date. Finally, three days before, he got word that the party was on.
Everyone but Abbey seemed to know what was primed to happen. She remained clueless right up until a friend alerted her that Chris was calling for her up by the fire.
Down on one knee, fire blazing behind him, he asked Abbey to be his wife. "I was just in shock," Abbey said. "I still don't think I ever said yes."
Abbey searched the almanacs to find a great day for her outdoor wedding. As a member of the streetcar board, she wanted to have the ceremony in downtown Tampa to show family and friends a part of their identity as a unit.
The logistics of being married in front of 180 guests at Greco Plaza were managed by her good friend, wedding planner Lindsay Seel of Vivant Event Planners.
From getting 100-year-old church pews refurbished for chapel seating at the streetcar stop to officiating to organizing the reception on the Tampa Convention Center's Riverwalk, friends made it happen.
"Seeing her with my family that Thanksgiving made (proposing) important," Chris said. "It's like I enjoyed almost a preview of such an amazing life. It just helped me see Abbey as a formal part of it."