ST. PETERSBURG — Their sons played soccer and football together at the Canterbury School of Florida. Nearly 15 years ago, Stephen Trevathan and Matt Ritch were classmates, participating in athletics and hanging out together as friends.
Stephen's mother, Leslie, remembers sitting in the stands supporting the boys and their athletic teams and lots of driveway conversations with Matt's father, Mark, as one or the other parent dropped off a son for the day's activities.
The young men graduated high school in 2007, and their parents occasionally encountered each other in the community. Leslie's marriage ended. So did Mark's. Through her son, Leslie heard that her longtime friend was so upset over the dissolution of his marriage that he was thinking about moving away. She sent Mark an email, telling him that she and another divorcing friend held regular "pity parties" to commiserate about their circumstances.
"You could be an honorary member," she wrote.
Sometime later, she needed an escort for a black-tie event to celebrate a milestone for a Tampa Bay area modeling agency.
"I asked Mark," she recalled, "figuring there would be models there" who might pique his interest and at least keep him entertained for the evening.
Neither was ready to enter into a new relationship.
"Did I really want to try that again?" Leslie recalled.
"That would be like something you put on an open wound," Mark said. "That's why I was going to Wyoming." The St. Petersburg neurologist planned to start over and establish a private practice in the nation's least-populated state.
And Leslie, who sells real estate with St. Petersburg's YES-Homes, worried that the possibility of conflict between them would destroy the friendship their families had forged.
Still, three days after that first outing together in November 2008, they went to dinner.
"Those engaging eyes and that smile" captivated Mark. And her independent spirit. And the fact that while she was waiting for him to pick her up, "She saw some weeds and pulled them up. She has no trouble getting her hands dirty."
Leslie appreciated Mark's intelligence, wit and consistency. "He's so bright," she said. "Everything is thought out. He's always wonderfully kind and calm. A good role model for the kids. We clicked on so many levels. To me, it was amazing. I didn't expect to remarry."
But in the summer of 2012, they bought an engagement ring together and then put it away. That Christmas, Mark reached into their tree, where he had hidden the box.
"It was time for us to get married," he said. "Time for new beginnings."
They chose December 2013, when their children, Matt, Andrea and Joe Ritch, and Stephen, Devon and Ryan Trevathan — "all the main characters, anyway," Leslie said — could have time off from work and school to gather for the ceremony.
All six of their children were attendants, with Devon as Leslie's maid of honor, and Joe as Mark's best man. Their Dec. 20 wedding at the Tampa Bay Watch Marine & Education Center in Tierra Verde included a family unification ceremony in which everyone lit a candle together.