In every discussion of wedding options during their 16-month engagement, Scott Miller and Marcelite Manuel emphasized vows over venue.
Yacht club, church or courthouse? Belize, Italy or Napa? Black tie, cocktail or casual?
They refused to get caught in the nuptial vortex. They hadn't even chosen the date yet.
"We're pretty laid-back," says Miller, a recruiter for Kforce Professional Staffing and certified firefighter and emergency medical technician. "We knew we'd do it the right way eventually."
Manuel, a respiratory pharmaceutical sales rep from Louisiana, did sneak off on a few shopping forays with girlfriends. She found her dream gown, a Vera Wang, and hid it away.
Her running buddy, Zoe Prosser Gallina, knew all about the dress when they met for their morning run on Jan. 20. Gallina, creative director of Botanica International Design Studio, was in the midst of rebranding the South Tampa luxury event and floral design company.
Picture two women running down Bayshore Boulevard. Now imagine idea bubbles floating over their heads.
Gallina: Hey, Marcie, are you superstitious?
Manuel, shouting over the traffic: What did you say?
Gallina: I need a bride and groom to be models for a photo shoot about Botanica's services. Would you mind Scott seeing you in your wedding gown?
Manuel (gasps): Maybe we should just get married for real?
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Dancing to bad '80s music was the initial attraction for the pair, when they met in April 2008 at a party at the Merrymakers Club for men on Davis Islands. Attempting the moves to the Lawnmower and the Shopping Cart, they found they were in step in many ways.
Like their laissez-faire temperaments, says Miller, 28, a Tampa native and graduate of Plant High and the University of South Florida.
One of his rare intense moments was when he proposed in November 2010. Walking along Clearwater Beach, he felt the diamond ring in his pocket. It was the ring his father, Robert, had given his mother, Kathy Miller, who died when he was 14.
He got down on one knee and said, "You will marry me.''
Her giggle lightened the moment, and he rephrased the demand as a question.
At the time, the couple was living in Eunice, La., Manuel's hometown. She was running the family's Goodyear Tire and motorcycle dealership. Miller renovated the house where they expected to settle down.
Six months into the plan, they shifted gears.
"We really missed Tampa," said Manuel, 32, who returned to pharmaceutical sales.
Life moved forward. Wedding planning did not.
Gallina to the rescue.
"The wedding we had pictured basically dropped in our laps," Miller said. "An amazing opportunity."
It wouldn't be Miller's first modeling job. In college, his long, blond curls had gotten him hired as a hair and runway model.
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Miller bought a white dinner jacket and a marriage license.
Manuel bought shoes and took the wedding gown to a tailor to be shortened.
Botanica staff took care of everything else.
Parents, siblings and four special friends — the only people who knew the couple would exchange vows at the Feb. 18 photo session — sat on vintage bentwood chairs under an oak tree overlooking a horse pasture at Lange Farm in Dade City.
Chartreuse green and coral ribbons streamed from the tree branches. A row of hydrangeas, gerbera daisies and bells of Ireland carried the color scheme behind the seats. Fine china and striking tulip and rose arrangements topped mock reception tables in the barn.
The bride's father walked her down a grassy aisle strewn with coral and ivory rose petals. The Rev. Rick Lacore officiated; Miller's friend Brad Birrenkott personalized the "model" service, speaking of his lifelong friendship with the groom.
Then, for the next four or five hours, the newlyweds smiled, kissed and posed for hundreds of photographs.
Guests, meanwhile, headed to the best man's Seminole Heights bungalow. The groom's brother and sister-in-law, David and Ann Miller, had invited 50 close friends and family for a "celebration in honor of Marcie and Scott."
A few suspicious types were glad they brought gifts; others were thrilled to discover a wedding cake.
Cheers erupted when the new Mr. and Mrs. Miller arrived, smiling for real.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.