Jeff Read held a sheet of paper far from his face and squinted his eyes like he was staring into the sun. A fellow teacher at Oak Grove Middle School in Clearwater asked him what the heck he was doing.
"I broke my glasses," he told her.
Jessica Brown, a reading teacher, perked up from behind her computer screen nearby.
"I was in a mosh pit at the Social Distortion concert," Jeff, a language arts teacher, went on.
Jessica spun around in her swivel chair. She liked Social Distortion. And she loved how this teacher was kind of crazy, like her.
"Being a teacher, you have to be so prim and proper, so I was fascinated by how Jeff was different and a little rebellious," Jessica recalls.
At first, they made up excuses to email each other with school-related questions. Soon it evolved into talking about music and how their days were going. They fired off dozens of messages each day, finding any excuse to sneak to the computer during class. Sometimes they would even have their teaching assistants transport hand-written love notes back and forth between rooms.
Like a couple of kids, the duo ditched their school's winter band concert to sit in a pizzeria for two hours and talk about life. Jeff, 42, told her about his teenagers (Bryson, 13, and Kaeley, 17) and how he had been married before. But none of that fazed Jessica, 27. She embraced his kids as if they were her own.
After only six months of dating, from December 2011 to May 2012, Jeff asked her to marry him on a beautiful, twinkly night in New York City — right on top of the Empire State Building — with a ring with a stunning sapphire. The couple standing behind them in line captured it all on camera.
When Jessica thought of her wedding dress, she didn't think of a white ball gown. No veil, no gloves, either: "I love color, bedazzle and ridiculousness!" So she found a designer on Etsy.com who created a chunky-striped, multicolored dress just for her. (She says she'll probably wear it again when she and Jeff host Oak Grove's eighth-grade dance this year.)
As the couple said their vows on March 24 at the Columbia Restaurant in St. Augustine, Bryson stood on Jeff's left and Kaeley stood on Jessica's right.
"I wanted the kids to know we're in this together," Jessica said. "We're a team, we're a unit."
A few weeks after they met, as soon as Jeff knew Jessica was going to be the love of his life, he got his first tattoo. It's of Social Distortion's band logo: a dancing skeleton with a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
But Jeff swapped the martini for a beer bottle ("because I like beer"), the cigarette for a book ("to represent teaching") and underneath the right foot he added a pair of broken glasses ("to represent meeting Jessica").
When asked if he thought twice about getting a tattoo for a woman so soon, Jeff said: "Not even for a second. I knew I would marry her."
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8862.