From This Day: a lemonade toast

Shawna Sundin and Brian Hairston met in St. Augustine. Although she moved away, he soon followed her.

Caroline & Evan Photography

Shawna Sundin and Brian Hairston met in St. Augustine. Although she moved away, he soon followed her.

The way to Shawna Sundin's heart comes in yellowy, puckery, sugary form.

Chick-fil-A lemonade.

So Brian Hairston, a co-worker who was crushing big time, usually brought her a cup of the stuff when he returned from break.

Brian, 29, was "one of the cool stock clerks in the back" at Publix while Shawna, 36, was a cashier. She had worked at the St. Augustine grocery store all through high school and college and remained there even as she was a reporter with the Florida Times-Union.

Shawna and Brian spent their Publix days talking and flirting and flirting some more. But Shawna was always skeptical of taking it further: "I felt like I was robbing the cradle!" she says of their seven-year age difference.

Then Shawna decided to switch careers and become a teacher. She would move to Temple Terrace and commute to Lakeland to teach fourth-graders at Griffin Elementary.

A month later, Labor Day weekend 2005, Shawna visited St. Augustine to see loved ones. She and Brian had their first real date: dinner, drinks, a few rounds of pool.

After that night, it was too hard to be apart. He moved to Temple Terrace three months later. Brian was often a trusty chaperone on Shawna's class field trips.

Each week, Shawna would tear away from grading schoolwork and Brian, a salesman for Nestle, would part with his video games for Date Night. One night in April 2012, they did it up. "We're going to Cheesecake Factory," Brian texted her.

Hmm, a little nicer than usual, she thought. It was always Chili's or something basic.

When Shawna was ready to go, Brian spun her around in her dress. "Is that what you're wearing?" he asked.

"Yeah, what's wrong with this?"

"I think it's missing something."

"Well, I have both my shoes on and I have a sweater . . ."

When she wasn't looking, Brian knelt on one knee. Shawna whipped around to find him with a ring in his hand. He asked her to marry him.

A beach wedding was planned for March 23, a day they envisioned would have a sparkly sun tucked in a powder blue sky.

Instead, it was 60 degrees and the fog hung like sheets.

But the couple didn't care. As long as they had each other, all was well.

Shawna and Brian said the vows they had written. (Shawna swears Brian's vows were much better than hers.) They had a chocolate ceremony in which they each fed the other a piece of dark chocolate, to represent the bitter times in marriage, and a piece of milk chocolate, to represent the sweet times.

Then Shawna's father, Norman "Dino" Sundin, performed the ceremony.

"Her finger had been missing that ring for years," Brian says.

Sabrina Rocco can be reached at srocco@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.

From This Day: a lemonade toast 04/13/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 1:22pm]

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