ZEPHYRHILLS — Kelly Irish had never been fired. But here it was, November 2007, and the boss she barely knew was telling her she was terminated. She had left a full-time job for this one, as activities director for the not-yet-built West Winds Assisted Living Facility. But construction was behind and no residents meant no activities.
And no job for Irish, who was crushed. But, being an irrepressible sort, she continued on. She stayed terribly busy, volunteering and spending time with her mother and her friends and her dogs. She was in her early 30s and believed in love, that there was someone out there just for her. But she had no idea where that man was, as she lived in a small town and didn't go to bars and mostly knew married men.
So one night, nearly a year after she had been fired, she typed in her name on a dating site. She took a personality test and waited for the site to find her perfect match. When she saw her results, she was horrified.
At the top of the list was the man who fired her.
Tonight, they're getting married.
• • •
Casey O'Keefe was just following orders when he fired Irish, though he did find her annoying. She was too hyper and bubbly. He was mellow, a trained chef and massage therapist who, until his father asked him to come home and run the family-owned facility, had been living a rambling bachelor life in the Midwest.
"Whatever," Irish thought, as she got over the shock of seeing the face of her nemesis smiling on the screen.
She struggled with the rage she felt toward O'Keefe. She was applying to work in dispatch for the Zephyrhills Police Department and a lie detector test was part of the process. "What if they ask me about being fired and how I felt?" she asked herself. "I need to forgive this guy and get over it."
So she sent O'Keefe an instant message on the PlentyOfFish.com dating site. He replied right away. Their chatting was natural and smooth, shocking to both.
"Hey, wait a minute. I fired you. Why are you being so nice to me?" O'Keefe wrote.
"Well, this is a really small town and we are going to have to end up bumping into each other or one of us is going to have to move. And I've lived here longer," she wrote.
He asked her on a date.
• • •
Irish waited several weeks before telling anyone they were dating. She wasn't sure how to say, "Remember that guy who fired me? The one I hated? Um, yeah. Well, he's my boyfriend."
They are opposites in many ways — he's a homebody, she's on the board of several organizations — but they balanced each other. Things were going well, but they were stressed in their jobs. She was at the Police Department. He basically lived at West Winds.
They broke up.
During their time apart, Irish's former job opened up again at West Winds. She applied for it.
"You know this means we can never date again," O'Keefe told her. Irish understood.
She got the job, which she loved. She could bring her dogs — trained in therapy — to work. She spent her day trying to make people happy. She and O'Keefe remained professional and tried to avoid each other, until he called her one day and said he still loved her. She still loved him, too.
They got back together but tried to keep their relationship secret. It was a poorly hidden secret, as some residents noted O'Keefe bringing Irish's chihuahua, Bubbles, to work with him in the mornings.
On May 27, Irish hosted a Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce breakfast mixer at West Winds. She talked of the company being family owned and operated.
"Hey Kelly," O'Keefe shouted from the crowd. "Since we're family owned and operated, will you marry me?"
She felt faint. When Irish found her voice, she said:
"Are you serious?"
• • •
They never considered having their wedding at any place other than West Winds. This is where they celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, not because they have to, but because they think of their 50 residents as family.
O'Keefe, 38, is the executive director. Irish, 34, is the marketing and business director. Their five dogs, dressed in gowns and tuxedos, will be in the 6:30 p.m. ceremony, which will be under an oak canopy by the side door, so the residents don't have to walk far.
The DJ will play Sinatra and there will be a table of old fashioned candies, Mary Janes, Sugar Babies, Necco Wafers — all for the seniors. Irish will wear flat shoes, as she fears tripping in heels when dancing with the older gentlemen. O'Keefe will wear a kilt, because residents demanded it after they heard the wedding officiant — Cliff McDuffie, who is also the town's mayor — would be wearing his kilt. The ladies at West Winds have had their dresses hanging in their rooms for days. The in-house hair stylist was booked solid.
Irish and O'Keefe wrote their own vows. The groom will offer his love, friendship and loyalty, as will the bride.
"I will love you for richer or poorer," she'll say, "so long as you don't fire me again."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.