Her ivory chiffon dress swished against her homemade bouquet of coral and cream roses. He wore a black leather jacket and grinned as he clutched her hand. Their "chapel" was a gray cubicle in a government office in Norwalk, but their vows Wednesday brimmed with the joy of the day.
As the first couple to be married on Valentine's Day at the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's headquarters, the Bustamantes' wedding mints were heart-shaped candies of the "Will U Be Mine" variety.
Jorge Bustamante Jr., 27, and his bride, Monica, 33, of Downey, met seven years ago on her first day working at a clothing factory, when he came to pick up an order. Now they stood surrounded by 16 friends and relatives.
"I cried a little," the former Monica Lopez said. "He asked me to be his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, so it's a special date."
Like other couples who tied the knot in government offices, the Bustamantes plan to have a more traditional wedding reception later; many of their family members will fly in from Mexico and New Jersey. Their decision to get married in the clerk's office was about "budget," Jorge said. It cost $75 for a license and $25 for a marriage certificate.
After the brief ceremony, the group conferred in the parking lot and decided to walk two blocks to an IHOP for breakfast. They were among four wedding parties there.
The seven offices of the county registrar/county clerk expected to marry 195 couples who had made Valentine's Day appointments and almost three dozen walk-ins. The unofficial count for the day was 228 marriages.
Before the doors to the Norwalk office opened at 8:30 a.m., a line of 10 couples and their loved ones waited outside.
Usually civil weddings are conducted in the undecorated ground floor of the building. But the expected surge of brides and grooms on Valentine's Day sent the ceremonies to a low-ceiling room on the seventh floor.
Ten commissioners officiated the civil services in partitioned cubicles. Each lasted 10 to 15 minutes.
Dean C. Logan, chief deputy registrar-recorder/county clerk, said he expected the five "cubby chapels" to oversee vow exchanges until the 4:30 p.m. closing, and his office tried to make them special with red and white balloons, candy and staffers wearing red.
"We get a range of people," Logan said. "We had one couple sitting here by themselves who asked a guy sitting next to them to be their witness. We had someone else in full attire with a stretch limo waiting for them. And one time the full wedding party had Dodger jerseys on. Valentine's Day is during basketball season."
Army Sgt. Reynito Blanco of Los Angeles, in green uniform, and his bride-to-be, Jamelle Byrd, 22, in a deep blue blouse, sat waiting to be called for their marriage ceremony.
"I just got back from Iraq and I'm about to go to Germany, and we're about to have a baby," which is due Sept. 11, Reynito Blanco said. "We [were] going to get married on Valentine's Day anyway. If we get married she can go" to Germany too.
Patricia Allen LaFleur, 60, and Rufus LaFleur, 59, of Lakewood, had met in kindergarten but only got to know each other 14 years ago, after she went with his aunt to a family reunion. They married Feb. 14 to mark the years of their romance, said the retired tile contractor. He wore a dark suit; she attracted compliments in a pearl-embroidered ivory dress and matching hat.
"You know," said Patricia, a law firm manager, "I never had a wedding before, and ... if I was a lot younger, I wouldn't appreciate it like I can now."
Said her groom, "I think she's ready for the Oscars runway."