At 6 feet 5, Brian Credito towered over the scene at Mangroves restaurant. Where'd he come from, cooed Melissa Meier, gulping some vodka courage before approaching. Such boldness was a stretch, even for an extrovert like her. "But he was so tall,'' Meier said. And she's 5-10. "Dating is difficult enough, but to find someone who I can reach up and kiss in 3-inch heels?"
Credito was polite but unavailable. He was there with a date.
Opportunity knocked and passed, but left a lasting impression. Six months later came a second chance.
• • •
Remember me, asked Credito?
Of course, said Meier, out loud.
(To herself: It's him!)
"Where's your girlfriend?" she asked, out loud.
(To herself: Please let her be history.)
She wasn't his girlfriend, just a date, and she was long gone. In fact, Credito had been stopping by the bar every Friday for weeks, hoping to rewind the encounter with Meier.
"Ask Mario," he said with a nod to the bartender for confirmation.
He took her to dinner the next week, in late November 2007, but learned he might be too late.
Meier was considering a move back to Pennsylvania, where her mother was fighting breast cancer.
But Maryland native Credito wasn't about to let her slip away again. A former wide receiver for the University of Georgia, he is used to completing the play.
"So we took it slow,'' Meier said, "hanging out at the beach and going to the gym."
Things heated up when Meier got the chicken pox.
"We'd only been dating two months," she said.
Reporting the diagnosis to Credito, Meier mentioned that her roommate had never been exposed.
You'll stay with me, he insisted. For two weeks he dotted her with calamine lotion, filled the bathtub with soothing oatmeal and administered TLC (Tender Loving Credito).
"I looked hideous, and he said I was beautiful. He saw me at my absolute worst.''
Meier's mom regained her health, and so did Meier. Soon the couple shared her townhouse south of Gandy Boulevard. Both initially worked in pharmaceutical sales and logged thousands of miles a year on the road. Meier, now 36, became a rabid Georgia Bulldog fan. Credito, 31, agreed to be more of a moviegoer. They subsequently changed jobs — he sells surgical instruments; she is now in diagnostic sales.
One unbearably hot day in September 2008, Credito zipped a diamond engagement ring in a plastic bag before they left for Fort De Soto beach. But no romantic moment materialized.
"It was so hot and there were some undesirables there. I just wanted to leave," Meier said. Credito stalled, desperate for inspiration, then gave up and drove home.
Meier showered off the sand, put on pajamas and came downstairs to thank him for ordering some protein powder she wanted and a new T-shirt for tailgating.
"I'm a lucky girl," she said. "Two gifts in one day."
But aren't things supposed to come in threes? Credito asked, staring at his laptop.
On the screen was a picture of the gray T-shirt. Next he clicked on a website for the powder.
"But I'm not so sure about this one,'' he said, clicking on a jeweler's photo of her dream diamond ring.
With that, he reached behind a pillow to find the ring box. He dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. She cried when she saw that the ring was the one on the screen.
They rushed off to Capital Grille, arriving minutes before closing. When they announced their cause for celebration, the restaurant showered them with confetti, champagne and roses.
Mr. and Mrs. Credito married March 26 on the beach at Carlouel Yacht Club in Clearwater. A two-week honeymoon in Australia followed.
Friends and family members teased them about a genetic-based early retirement plan.
How does that work? Their super tall kids grow up, become professional athletes and take care of them.
Heart Beat is a summer series that features recent intriguing stories of love and marriage. Amy Scherzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 226-3332.