Leigh Best wasn't shopping for shades but she found herself stopping by the Sunglass Hut every day around lunchtime anyway. It was Aaron Austin she was scoping out.
Leigh, then 16, worked in McCain Mall in North Little Rock during spring 1994.
The first time I saw my future spouse again:
She says: “I remember just thinking, ‘Thank you. Just thank you because he’s back. There he is again.’”
He says: “I was like, ‘Oh, no, what do I do?’”
On our wedding day:
She says: “It was the most beautiful day.”
He says: “It was mass craziness. I remember when she was coming up the front walk with her dad and I knew I was doing the right thing. There was no hesitation at all.”
My advice for a happy marriage is:
She says: “Lower your expectations and put more importance into being honest with each other and communicating with each other, especially now, in the age of social media, when so many people have these expectations about what marriage is supposed to look like and sound like and be. Marriage is not like the pretty, perfect, polished insta-post. It’s dirty, nitty-gritty in the trenches together.”
He says: “Communicate. It’s fine to be mad at each other as long as you can talk about it. You’re not going to be able to work things out unless you do.”
"I would go down the escalator and go to Chick-fil-A and get my lunch and go talk to my friend who worked at Gadzooks," Leigh says. "It was on the other side of the escalator. Well, in the process of doing that I would have to walk in front the Sunglass Hut because it was underneath the escalator and that's where Aaron worked."
She almost always stopped to chat with him for a few minutes.
"I thought he was cute and he was really sweet -- very nice and talkative," she says. "I just developed a mall relationship with him. I know I talk a lot, I don't have any problem talking to people and making friends."
She had an on-again, off-again boyfriend, but she enjoyed the friendly banter with Aaron until summer ended and she left her job in the mall to go back to school. After graduation she went to Hendrix College, but financial stress brought her back home soon after.
She went to work at her father's catering company, and she helped him serve Thanksgiving dinner to families and children living at Centers for Youth and Families.
"That's where I met this guy, Chris, and he was like, 'Are you doing anything? Do you want to come out with us?' I was like, 'Yeah, sure.' I got my roommate and we met them at Pizza D'Action. I walked in Pizza D's and I turned the corner and Aaron Austin was standing at the bar," she says. "I hadn't seen him in a year, plus."
Leigh, eager to reconnect, asked Aaron what he was doing there.
"Well, it turns out he was this guy Chris' roommate," she says.
Of course Aaron remembered Leigh.
"But I was kind of your typical guy," he says. "I didn't really pick up on the fact that she liked me from before. And, of course, she was with my friend and roommate so I was kind of standoffish anyway."
Leigh dated Chris for about six months.
"The whole time I was dating Chris, I got to know Aaron better. We would hang out, we would eat, drink, go to movies, go to Memphis and go to Club 616 together. It was me and Aaron and Chris, obviously, who was my boyfriend, and another friend," she says. "I got to know Aaron better and I really started liking him."
When they realized they both felt the same way, Leigh did the honorable thing and broke up with Chris.
"Chris was a really nice guy but there was something that was clicking. There was something that was there with Aaron and I knew really early on," Leigh says. "I guess it was because we had had a few months to develop a friendship and gotten to know each other."
Aaron's proposal was low-key, following an afternoon of grocery shopping.
"He was just kind of sitting there looking at me with this sweet, dopey look on his face and he said, 'Do you want to get married?'" she says. "I just said, 'Sure! But it's not like you have a ring or anything.' And he just kind of smiled, and I was like, 'You've got a ring?'"
Aaron had asked Leigh's father for his blessing and had bought a ring, which he had hidden in the pocket of his uncle's World War II coat -- somewhere he knew Leigh would never look.
They exchanged their vows on April 25, 1998, on the front steps of Trapnall Hall in downtown Little Rock.
"You know in Miss Congeniality when [William] Shatner asks the contestant to describe her perfect date and she says, 'April 25, because the weather's just great,' and that wasn't what he was asking her -- but it's true because in Arkansas that's just the most beautiful weather," Leigh says. "We had the wedding at 6:30 and there was this golden sunlight as the sun was just starting to set."
Their families and friends were there -- including Chris, with whom they had made peace long before.
Leigh and Aaron live in Little Rock. Aaron owns a historic home renovation company, URBNRSTR; Leigh works as resident coordinator at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine.
They have a son, Nate, 12. Nate was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when he was 7, and Leigh is grateful to have Aaron as a partner as they work together to manage the disease.
Leigh had just turned 21 and Aaron was 23 when they married.
"We were really young. I mean, you're still growing up when you're 21. You're still figuring life out," Leigh says. "I look back at some of the things that he and I have gone through together and I think other people would have fallen apart, other people would have been broken by it, and I'm just so grateful that we've made it through."
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Aaron Austin and Leigh Best were married on April 25, 1998, four years after meeting through their jobs at McCain Mall. “I thought he was cute and he was really sweet — very nice and talkative,” Leigh says.
High Profile on 05/13/2018
Print Headline: She was dating his roommate but wanted him