TAMPA — We were just kids, flashbacked Jesenia Collins, her mind picturing a teenage Corderro Cosby slipping love poems to her on the bus to Freedom High School.
When they first met, Corderro was 13 going on 30. Tall for his age, athletic . . . in love. Their apartment complexes faced each other on 127th Street, behind University Square Mall, where they walked to movies, bought Nelly and Destiny's Child CDs, hung out with friends.
But passing algebra eclipsed poetry for Jesenia. "I thought he was getting a little bit too serious," she said.
Rather than work a boyfriend into the equation, she broke up with him.
"In a note, in American government class," said Jesenia, now 24, an apartment leasing manager in North Tampa.
"That was painful," said Corderro. "I thought I could be myself around her. I trusted her more than anyone else I knew." His seven siblings included.
Teen heartache faded when another girl stepped up. But a solid friendship formed, continuing after Corderro moved to Chicago with his mother and stepfather in 11th grade.
"Anything that was going on, I called and told him," Jesenia said. They counseled each other on their love lives. Sometimes she mentioned how much she missed his jokes.
"I always had feelings for him." His youthful love notes are still tucked away in a memory box, she said.
When Corderro realized he could graduate with fewer credits in Tampa than in Chicago, he returned to live with an older sister and finish at Gary Adult High School.
Jesenia welcomed that news more eagerly than his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.
"We were locked in from then," she said. Most nights, her mom expected him for dinner. He got a driver's license just in time to get them to her prom. They danced to Beyoncé and Luther Vandross' The Closer I Get to You.
Their graduations, class of 2006, fell on the same day, at the same time. They celebrated together later that night, thrilled to close the book on high school and embark on studies at Hillsborough Community College.
Since 2010, the couple has lived in downtown Tampa. "We're kind of known for our Halloween costume parties, ugly sweater Christmas parties and New Year's Eve masquerades," said Corderro, 25, a plumbing designer for a Hyde Park engineering firm.
Their Sunday routine revolved around breakfast at First Watch, a stroll to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and, often, a visit to the Tampa Museum of Art. One morning in June 2012, Corderro proposed they go to a bridal show.
"That's crazy, we're not even engaged," said Jesenia. She was still jawing about it back at the apartment, when he slammed the bedroom door.
"Hey . . ." her wail trailed off. She swung the door wide, finding Corderro, on one knee, holding a sparkling marquise diamond solitaire.
They married a year later, June 2, on the terrace of the art museum. Inside, they descended the atrium staircase to join 75 guests for dinner by Mise en Place and dancing.
"My grandmother's arrival from Panama the day before was the best surprise," said the bride.
The first dance: their prom favorite.
Holding tight, the newlyweds thought of challenges met and of tests yet to come.
And they didn't mean algebra.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.