ST. PETE BEACH — Just as they had dozens of times before, Christy Miller and Nathan Draus settled into seats near the back corner of the L-shaped bar at their favorite dive on the water to talk.
Nathan, 37, a finance employee at an auto dealership, reached into his pocket, pulled out a small jewelry box and presented it to Christy — checking her face as she opened it to reveal a man's wedding band.
"She knew that I had been shopping for rings," Nathan laughed. "So I showed her this one first."
Nonplussed at the joke, Christy laughed until Nathan dropped to one knee and proposed for real, this time with a ring for her.
"We were off in the corner so nobody in the bar noticed," Christy said. "But then I announced it and we got free shots."
Two years to the day after that night, Nathan and Christy were married in a beach ceremony at the Grand Plaza Hotel in St. Pete Beach. More than 100 family and friends gathered to witness the momentous event on Jan. 4 — some to verify that it was even happening.
"Nobody thought we would ever get married," Christy explained. "I even had an uncle who thought it was a lie right up until the day before the wedding."
People around the couple didn't doubt their feelings, but all who know Nathan and Christy figured they weren't the marrying kind.
In 2009, they both were meeting people online, looking to hang out and make more friends.
Christy, 38, a marketing manager from St. Petersburg, got a message from Nathan that seemed arrogant, but still elicited a smile.
"You're good looking. I'm good looking. Neither of us have any baggage. Let's meet," it read.
Christy spent a week thinking up a snarky reply, and they messaged back and forth for three weeks before setting a date.
The night before they were supposed to meet for the first time, they each went out with their own friends to catch a Tampa Bay Rays game. Nathan spotted a familiar looking girl smoking a cigarette and pulled out his cellphone to call Christy.
She looked at the phone and joked with a friend, "Here goes my future ex-husband," before answering the call. Nathan didn't hear that, but he confirmed that the girl he saw online was as beautiful in person as she was in her picture.
The next night the conversation remained jokey as they drank together at a dive bar on St. Pete Beach. Together they laid out the rules — nothing serious, just good company.
That worked well for six months until Christy decided she'd like to be in a relationship. She told Nathan, but didn't force the issue.
"I don't believe in ultimatums or convincing someone of something because then it doesn't work," she explained. So, they both continued to see other people as their bond grew steadily.
Nathan was still on the fence for another six months, but found it increasingly difficult to relax. He'd call sometimes and Christy would be unavailable.
"I tried not to contact her at all," he said. "But then I would miss her. She's my best friend."
It was while she was out with someone else that Nathan had his epiphany. A week's worth of conversation turned into the first committed relationship either of them had had in a while.
"She's the most beautiful person inside and out," he said. "She's a good egg."
After getting engaged on Jan. 4, 2012, the couple bought a house together in St. Petersburg and adopted a friend's Rottweiler mix named Capone and recognized by his parents as the "best dog ever." The affectionate, playful pet made a good compliment to the warm atmosphere Nathan and Christy had begun to foster.
Christy said her life is idyllic with the guy who resisted settling down at every turn. "He treats me like a queen every day and will always be there for me," she said.
They'll honeymoon in the spring with a trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
But the lag time won't effect their honeymoon period.
"It's Valentine's Day every day," Nathan said.