She was his best friend's girl. And even though that romance had been over for more than a decade, Christian "Horse" Gohlinghorst wasn't about to let a woman interfere with a longtime friendship.
But Horse didn't realize who he was dealing with. Cari Hicks, 26, is high-spirited, outspoken and determined. She's demanding, she can be frustrating to deal with, and she's never on time. But she also has an infectious laugh and a tender heart.
The story begins 15 years ago when Cari and Brett Butler were growing up in Parkton. First they were friends, and as they grew older, they dated. When their yearlong romantic relationship fizzled, Cari and Brett remained close.
Horse, 24, met Brett when they attended Loyola High School in the early 1990s. Horse didn't meet Cari until 1994. Both he and Cari remember sitting at a restaurant one evening, laughing and talking for hours.
"It was the first time we ever really had a chance to talk," he says. "We could go ... quip for quip, and not too many girls could do that with me."
But their lives were going in separate directions. With work and college schedules never seeming to mesh, Cari and Horse didn't run into each other again for four years.
In 1998, Horse took Cari to his company Christmas party -- at Brett's suggestion. (Horse is a graphic designer for Games Workshop Inc. in Glen Burnie. The firm develops table-top board games.)
Cari, who was working as a rehabilitation counselor at the time, was two hours late meeting Horse. Then the couple got lost on the way to the party. And Cari, who was working a late shift, had to be at work soon after they got there.
Fortunately, their 20 or so minutes at the event were a success. Cari was charming -- and a knockout in her little black dress, Horse says.
The couple didn't run into each other again until the following June. This time, though, their friendship took root, and Cari and Horse began meeting for dinner on a regular basis.
By July, Horse knew he wanted a serious relationship. But he worried about Brett.
"I've been good friends with Brett for so long, and it was status quo that Cari was Brett's girl," he says. "Even though they'd been broken up for about a decade, it wasn't a line you wanted to cross."
It was Cari who finally took Brett to dinner and broke the news.
He was worried about Horse. Cari was an admitted heartbreaker who had a real commitment phobia.
But this time it was different, Cari said. And she was right. She and Horse continued to date, and her love for him continued to grow.
"Horse accepts me 100 percent," she says.
Just before Christmas, Cari got a tattoo on the small of her back with Horse's name on it.
Unable to keep a secret, she showed it to him before the holiday. "That was when I first asked her to marry me," Horse says. The "official" proposal came on Christmas Day.
On June 3, Cari and Horse married at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Overlea. And in an act befitting his longtime friendship with the bride and the groom, it was Brett who escorted Cari down the aisle.