"Those are really cool tattoos," Kerry Siddell told Garrett McVaney, complimenting his Ace of Spades and King of Hearts. "He ignored me," never turning his head, she remembers of that day in 2002.
"I was playing an intense game of Trivia," a video game, at the Half Door pub in Hartford's West End, Garrett says.
When the game was over, the 22-year-old told his friends, "That girl said she really liked my tattoos. What should I do?"
His friends told him to go talk to her, "But I turned around and she was gone," Garrett says. "I was disappointed because I let her go. I hoped I'd see her again."
He did, several times a week.
Kerry worked as a waitress at the Half Door, a pub known for its selection of more than 100 beers from around the world. As a newcomer in the neighborhood that summer, Garrett ate dinner with friends at the Half Door "a couple of nights a week because it was air conditioned" and within walking distance of their apartment.
"I was not trying to pick him up," Kerry says. She was dating someone else, but Garrett "started becoming a regular."
Kerry was friendly "in a waitress-patron way," she says. "I always knew what he wanted for dinner … Rattlin' Bird, toasted and with mashed potatoes and gravy. And I would order him a Carlsberg as soon as I saw him walk through the door."
"Over the next few months I developed a huge crush on her without having any idea it was the same girl that liked my tattoos," Garrett says. "I had no idea at all."
"I knew he had a crush on me," Kerry says, but when he invited her to parties or other events, she declined.
"She turned me down," Garrett says, but she agreed to go to a Halloween Party at his house. When Garrett stopped by to get her for the party, he was shocked to see her in a Catwoman outfit instead of her work clothes.
Kerry, age 28, was surprised to discover Garrett was so young. But she had broken up with her boyfriend and knew his friends would be at the party. "It was the first time we hung out outside of the Half Door," she says.
"I had a great time, and after that we started dating," Garrett says.
"I thought he was sweet, but I was still a little skeptical" about the age difference, Kerry says.
The following summer, Garrett, a drummer, went with band members to Boston to record a CD. Kerry drove up with the girlfriend of another band member and mentioned her first encounter with Garrett. The woman told Kerry that no one realized she was the woman who had commented on his tattoos.
"I was dumbfounded," Garrett says. "We'd known each other for a year."
"I never knew that he didn't know," Kerry said.
In 2004, Kerry went to school for a year in New Haven to become a hairdresser. She was not thinking about marriage because she felt Garrett needed to be older to make that decision.
"I was working crazy hours," often commuting 60-80 miles to work sites, says Garrett, who builds bridges with Cianbro Corp. of Bloomfield. "I think we were always so busy."
But when Halloween rolled around each year, Garrett created "crazy pumpkin carvings," Kerry says. "He was so skilled." When he showed her his 2006 masterpiece glowing in the dark, it said: "Will you marry me?"
"I wasn't expecting that," Kerry responded, laughing.
Knowing that meant "Yes," Garrett gave her an engagement ring he was holding in his hand.
"We were at a good point financially. The two of us are fiscally responsible and were ready to move forward," Kerry says.
At 3 p.m. on Aug. 25, 2007, with temperatures reaching 97, they were married at Wrights Mill Farm in Canterbury. Entertainment included a horseshoe pit and a bonfire, and the DJ from Half Door supplied the music, freeing Garrett's bandmates to be his groomsmen.
The newlyweds went to Maui for their honeymoon, and a year later bought "a fixer-upper," in Hartford's West End. Garrett worked three weeks of night shift to get time off to gut and remodel the house. "After building bridges, everything else is easy," he says.
With Kerry managing Ulta, a salon and beauty product shop in Manchester, they only have Sundays off together, and hope to get out in the warm weather in the powerboat they bought this winter.
"We're in love with it now," Kerry says, but they remain loyal customers of the Half Door, where they have a dinner date every Friday.
It is time with each other that matters most to Kerry and Garrett as they approach their sixth anniversary. "I just look so forward to the end of the day when we can be together," Kerry says. "It is the best part of the day."