TAMPA — Just another night serving hummus and shawarma, thought Natalie Fulcher, as she ferried Mideastern favorites to diners at Byblos Cafe in South Tampa.
Just another night until it became Some Enchanted Evening when a stranger saw her across the crowded room.
Natalie noticed Kuwaiti native Waleed Al Husain, 47, noticing her that night in April 2013. "But I wasn't his server and we never spoke."
He returned the following night, with 18 other military officers working out of MacDill Air Force Base, and requested Natalie to be their waiter. He came back every night that week.
"I was flattered," said Natalie, 30, admitting to a bit of flirting. "And curious where it would lead."
When Waleed finally mustered the courage to ask her out for dinner, she learned he had been born in Kuwait City and schooled in Egypt, Germany, France, Australia, England and San Diego. He speaks Arabic, English, French, German and Thai, skills honed during three decades in the Kuwait navy.
"He is intelligent, worldly," said Natalie, who left Escanaba, Mich., after high school, trading the chilly Upper Peninsula for Sarasota before winding up in Tampa in 2004.
His personality — funny, energetic and gregarious — balanced her quiet, soft-spoken demeanor. They spent every possible moment together that week and communicated continuously when he left the United States.
"He asked me, 'If I could take you anywhere in the world, where would we go?' " Natalie recalled. They chose Thailand. Two months later, they met at the Bangkok airport to spend nearly two weeks in Pattaya City.
Then it was back to their respective corners of the world. Waleed retired from the military and became a weapons consultant for a company doing business with the Kuwait ministry of defense.
In September, Natalie flew 16 hours to meet his family and friends, sightsee and shop, "which he likes as much as I do," she said. Her adaptation to Kuwaiti culture, "and especially my mother," said Waleed via email, "left no doubt she was the one I'd marry."
Six weeks flew by until they parted again, almost without Mia, the pet lovebird she had traveled with.
"Customs wouldn't allow it on my flight," Natalie said. "It was eventually resolved when Waleed bought Mia a $3,000 ticket to Miami, where it could be quarantined until I could get there."
The next enchanted evening came during a rendezvous on New Year's Eve in Rome. Outside the Colosseum, at the stroke of midnight, Waleed asked Natalie to marry him.
"There were so many people, it was chaos," she said. Friends around the globe found the news on Facebook as the couple proceeded to Venice and Florence.
Back in Tampa, Natalie planned an April 13 wedding, bought a house in the West-shore area and prepped for a real estate license. Bishop Ronald Turcott officiated at the Rusty Pelican, incorporating passages from the Koran and the Bible.
Most of the bridal party were Byblos co-workers who had seen the romance blossom from the beginning. Their husbands and fiances served as groomsmen, since Waleed's brothers could not be there. The 28-year-old flower girl and 18-year-old ringbearer, friends from Byblos, tweaked that tradition.
Belly dancer Sevdije Lika and two male vocalists entertained the 75 guests. The bridesmaids' a capella version of Lean on Me was perfect for the father-daughter dance. Since it happened to be Waleed's birthday, the crowd sang Happy Birthday as the newlyweds cut the cake.
The groom left a few days later on a lengthy business trip that will conclude in London in July. His bride will meet him there to honeymoon as their enchanted life continues.
Contact Amy Scherzer at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332. Follow @amy_scherzer.