Love Stories
Till Life Do Us Part

[Times art: Teresanne Cossetta]

Looking for the perfect wedding gift for Rebecca and Preston Hearn?
How about frequent flier miles?

Times Staff Writer

Rebecca and Preston Hearn, newlyweds, live hundreds of miles apart -- but only because they respect one another so much. "We're doing it for each other," says Rebecca, in their St. Petersburg home.
[Photo: Michael A. Schwarz]
ST. PETERSBURG -- The courtship of Rebecca Nannen and Preston Hearn proceeded in a most traditional way. Chase. Rebuff. Chase. Relent.

When he proposed, he did it traditionally on bended knee, on a mountaintop, with a diamond ring that reflected the light off the fresh-fallen snow.

Their marriage on Nov. 28 was as traditional a ceremony as the Episcopal church can offer. The full solemnity of the Book of Common Prayer tolled through the church: bond and covenant, until death, to have and to hold, by God.

Then, on the morning of the 10th day of their married lives, the new Mr. and Mrs. Hearn kissed each other goodbye.

Mrs. Hearn stayed in St. Petersburg. Mr. Hearn went home to Atlanta.

Preston and Rebecca Hearn have begun their lives together very much apart. They are in love, but most days they are alone. They live on cheap flights, long drives and cellular phones.

So much for tradition.

Reach out and love someone

To pry apart two young newlyweds once required a congressional declaration of war or an economic catastrophe the likes of the Great Depression. But in this age of dual-income families, in which neither career is presumed less worthy than the other, the existence of such a couple shows that togetherness is not the defining characteristic of marriage.

"I read in the New York Times," said Preston, who at 28 already has a dusting of gray in his brown hair, "that our generation's objective is to work as hard as possible for the shortest period of time."

Preston's specific objective, and the one that lured him to Atlanta 20 months ago, is to learn real estate in the booming north Georgia market, turn his knowledge into cash developing Florida land and retire as soon as his bank account permits.

The first casualty of such a dream is enjoying the company of your wife.

First they walked down the aisle; now they walk through the terminal. Rebecca and Preston Hearn, married but living apart, are reunited at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport.
[Photo: Michael A. Schwarz]
This explains why at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night in January, Rebecca and Preston are seated in a nearly empty restaurant in the tony Atlanta area of Buckhead, waiting for the large pizza that will be the first meal they have eaten together in two weeks -- since the last time Rebecca flew up for the weekend.

Over those intervening 14 days (a quarter of their married life), events both great and small have occurred. In Preston's absence, Rebecca has begun to toy with the new cookware they got as wedding presents. Since she was last here, Preston closed a deal and out of the blue bought Rebecca a car, which he plans to unveil in the morning. Rebecca had her bangs trimmed, dyed her hair espresso and wondered if he would notice.

They shared all this and more on the phone. Parceled out in approximately 28 phone conversations. Twice a day. One of them always a good-night call. This is the way it has been since before they were engaged. This is the way it will be for six months. A year. Maybe more.

Their parents fret. Their friends are impatient.

"In a way what we're doing is a selfish thing because it's for the future," said Rebecca, 27. "But it's also the most selfless thing because we're doing it for each other."

I love you, you're perfect, I'm leaving

Rebecca and Preston say they were made to be together. It's just as true that they are built to be apart.

Rebecca, whose sense of style careens from sensible black to silver shantung, is adaptable. She can make herself at home in buttoned-down Japan as well as unbuttoned Spain. She has eaten piranha fished from the Amazon. She would rather take a load of allergy pills than part with even one of her four cats or do something other than run her parents' pet store.

Preston is focused. He could dress in the dark and nine times out of 10 be assured of walking out the front door in a white shirt, khakis and Bass Weejuns. He calls it his "urban assault uniform." It suits a young man so passionate about real estate that he sounds a little evangelical when he says, "I jump out of bed in the morning."

From the start, independence has been a feature of their relationship. At first, maybe indifference would have been a better description.

Preston first spied Rebecca when he came into her pet store looking for dog food, but they didn't get together until weeks later. Somehow Preston weathered the first date, the one where "she might have said two words all night long."

It wasn't that she didn't think he was cute and funny in a sarcastic way. Truth was, Rebecca needed to put some time between her and the end of a seven-year relationship that had carried her through high school and college.

It was forever before they kissed.

"I tried," he said.

"I was a little standoffish," she said.

He introduced her to sport fishing, perhaps the only thing more important to him than making money. Work permitting, they saw each other every day. They ate out almost every night.

They kept their separate apartments; Rebecca's mother had reminded her of the old saw about people not wanting to buy the cow when the milk is free.

Their parents, who knew each other socially, were convinced this relationship was heading for the altar.

First, it was heading for Atlanta.

In August 1997, 16 months into their relationship, Preston took Rebecca to dinner at Hops. He had something important to discuss with her. It was more of a pitch, really, worked out with the confidence of someone who knew what he wanted to do and just needed a formal okay.

"I have an opportunity to make a lot of money," he told her. "It'll only be six months or a year. I'll come back every couple of weeks."

She did not try to dissuade him.

"Of course, I was sad," she said later.

She told him she wouldn't move with him. Atlanta held no appeal for her. Too fast. He didn't try to change her mind. He wouldn't want to stay in Atlanta for long, either. No saltwater.

Till Life Do Us Part: Part 2
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