CLEARWATER — It was only their third date, but Brandon Golden wanted to make it special. He whipped out his rarely used cookware and invited Christina Chin to his home for a romantic Valentine's night 2012 meal of chicken fettuccine.
"It was terrible," said Christina, 25, a product marketing manager for Greenway Health. "I really tried to eat it, but it was so bad."
Brandon admits he's an awful cook. "I overcooked the noodles and dried out the chicken," said the 29-year-old, who works in sales for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Even a bad meal couldn't sour Christina on Brandon. Nine months after that culinary catastrophe, the couple was engaged to be married. On Jan. 25, they tied the knot in front of family and friends in Sugarland, Texas, at the Marriott Sugarland Town Center.
They made sure someone else catered the food.
"It was really funny that our wedding guests, lots of them bought us cookware and cooking tools like they were telling us 'Now, you've got to learn how to do it,' " Christina said.
Up until now, they've been subsisting on Lean Pockets, frozen food and dining out.
The couple found their initial common ground as spectators to an awkward experience. Christina was new to the area and dragged on a blind date by a friend. Her friend's ex was also there, and not a fan of the guy flirting from across the bar.
"I thought I was going to see my first real live fight," Christina said. "It was Brandon's birthday, so he came to break it up because he was with the guy flirting with my friend."
In a casual conversation, Christina found out that Brandon had recently met with a person she'd been trying to land a business meeting with. She asked Brandon if he could be of help, and he took her number thinking little of the romantic opportunity.
"My friend was the one who told me to call her and ask her out because I didn't even remember what she looked like," he said.
Going out was comfortable, they found. Conversation came easily. Fresh out of college, Christina had her heart set on playing the field, but on an outing to the Hard Rock Casino with a friend and dates she found that she would rather be with Brandon.
"My intention was to fight it, but I realized that I wanted to be with Brandon and that I would be having a much better time if he were there. So I called him, it was like 3 in the morning, and asked him to come pick me up," she said. "He's a really funny guy. He's ambitious and he can always bring light into the room wherever he goes."
Within a few months, they were living together and thinking of the future. Brandon put Christina in touch with a ring designer but then pretended the woman was injured and couldn't complete the project.
He took Christina to the wedding garden at Sunken Gardens on Dec. 21, 2012, and almost proposed there until he realized he hated such places.
"It occurred to me that if I proposed there that she'd always remember that place, and I'd be stuck going to them for the rest of my life," he said. "So I said 'No way' to that idea."
Instead, he took her to the beach and kneeled and asked her a question neither of them can quite remember.
"She grabbed me and said, 'I need to see it in the light,' " Brandon recalled.
The couple trekked back to the car, where Christina got her first look and about a dozen cellphone photos of her new rings to text and post for friends.
"I don't think she ever said yes, but it was implied," he said.
The speed of their romance made them both consider a long engagement before making things official. They'd planned an April 2015 soiree in Florida before receiving the news that Christina's mother, Kelly Kyono, 58, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and wouldn't be able to travel.
"It was easier than we thought to move the wedding to Texas, where I'm from, because we'd already planned another entire wedding. It was just a matter of transferring things," Christina said.
She converted to Judaism, and the rabbi they'd done their premarital counseling with wrote a letter to be read at the wedding. Christina spent the night before the wedding practicing writing her name in Hebrew so she could sign the Ketubah properly.
"I'm half Japanese, half Chinese, so the fact that the rabbi thought I could write in Hebrew was impressive," Christina said.
Brandon is glad he's got that slip of paper.
"Christina is a very compassionate person who believes very much in justice. Once she commits to something or someone, she fully commits to it. She has a sort of tunnel vision," Brandon said.
That's more to Brandon's taste than any home-cooked meal.