Clinking the ice in my drink, I glanced around the nightclub. It was packed with people like me – all eager to relax at the end of a working week. I was with friends, but there was a man heading straight for me.
“I’m Danny Sanico,” he said, smiling. We started talking and even though he’d made a bold move to come up to me, I could see he was nervous. I found his shyness attractive.
With his dark eyes and olive skin he was pretty easy on the eye too. So when he asked me to dance I accepted, and at the end of the night he walked me to my car and took my number. Danny, 30, seemed different – kind and genuine. I hoped he would call.
Two days later he did, inviting me to his house for dinner. He told me he wanted to be a chef, and it was a treat to be spoilt. His food was amazing, and his company even better.
On our second date we went to a karaoke restaurant. I love to sing and – while Danny was pretty dreadful – we laughed all night. I knew he didn’t have much money as was working as a server in a restaurant, so the fact he’d planned such a fun evening made it even more special.
From then on we were inseparable and I quickly realised I had met ‘the one’. Nothing was too much trouble for him as far as I was concerned. He was so open I confided in him that I had endometriosis, a condition that can cause infertility.
“I’ll come with you,” he said when I had my next check-up. Right from the get-go we talked about getting married and starting a family and Danny brought these subjects up as much as I did.
When I said I wanted to freeze my eggs to give us the best chance of having a family, Danny was right beside me. He even learnt how to inject me with the hormones I needed. Soon, Christmas was approaching. Before meeting him, I’d bought a ticket to London to celebrate, but now the thought of going on the trip on my own didn’t seem quite so appealing.
“Why don’t we cash in your plane ticket and go to Chicago instead?” he suggested. “Great idea,” I said. We had a brilliant time, seeing the sights, going for romantic dinners and walks. And then one night, Danny suddenly got up from the table and dropped to one knee.
I stared at him, my chest thudding.
“Dee, I love you,” he said. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
We’d only been together three months but I didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” I grinned. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents, Joe and Therese, and even though it was a whirlwind romance, they were thrilled.
When we got back to California from Chicago, Danny moved into my apartment and we agreed he would pay half the rent and bills, which came to around $800 (Dh2,938) per month. I was working as a literature teacher and not making a great deal of money, so it was nice to have someone to split the bills with.
We decided to get married July 5, 2008, which didn’t leave a lot of time especially as we’d decided on a big white wedding, with 200 guests. My parents wanted to pay for it and we agreed – luckily Dad is a lawyer and could afford it. But I hadn’t realised how much planning and organising it would involve – the list was never-ending. Luckily, Danny was happy to help with the planning: “It’s our day, let’s make it perfect.”
He came to look at locations, tasted cakes, and even agreed to go to private dance classes so our first dance was special.
For eight weeks Danny and I learned the steps to Cherish by Madonna. It was frustrating as well as funny as Danny wasn’t a natural dancer but, like everything else, he did his best to make me happy. In the end it was brilliant and I couldn’t wait to show it off at the wedding.
My parents were excited about the wedding and insisted that no expense was spared. We booked a luxury hotel in Studio City, Los Angeles, for the wedding and reception, and a five-star menu, all of which came to $12,000.
The extra expense like parking services, balloons, DJ, flowers, photographer and the minister came to an additional $11,700. My dress was $3,500 and with the bridesmaids’ outfits and tuxedos for the groom and his groomsmen, it all came to $31,162 (Dh114,451). It was a lot but my parents were happy. “We want you to have your dream day,” they told us.
The only thing that was causing problems was Danny’s inability to pay the rent.
Since moving in in January he had only managed to pay me his share twice and while I tried to not let it bother me, it did. “Sorry, my truck needs repairing,” he said one month. “Some bills have come in,” another. He always had an excuse, but he seemed so genuinely apologetic that I forgave him. He was going to train as a chef, so he’d make more money – these problems wouldn’t be forever, I told myself.
So I agreed to take out the credit agreement on my solitaire diamond engagement ring. Danny had a poor credit score but he promised to pay the instalments on the $1,000 ring. I used my savings to pay for a cruise around Mexico as a wedding gift for him.
I loved him and we were about to share our lives together so I didn’t want money issues to stand in the way of our happiness.
But four days before the wedding we had a huge argument when once more Danny didn’t have his rent money. “I’m sorry, I’m broke right now,” he said, adding he couldn’t afford a wedding gift for me. And I blew my top, I was just so upset and hurt.
Just like always though Danny looked at me with those big eyes and pleaded with me to give him time. “I’ll pay my way soon,” he promised, taking me into his arms. I melted. He loved me as much as I loved him, there was no point rowing over money.
The night before the wedding, nerves and excitement coursed through me. I was spending the night at Mum and Dad’s while Danny was at our place with his groomsmen. I woke early and lazed around as the wedding wasn’t until 6pm. My phone rang. It was Danny. “Love you,” he said. “See you soon.”
I hung up, happy. I couldn’t wait to become Mrs Sanico. All day I was pampered, having my hair, nails and make-up done. Finally, I put on my dress. “You look
beautiful,” everyone told me and I felt it. Everything was perfect.
At 5.30pm I stepped into the wedding car – Dad’s black Mercedes – with Dad and my bridesmaids and we made our way to the venue. We giggled as the photographer took photos of me posing before my big moment. “Not long now,” I thought. I couldn’t wait to see Danny’s face as I walked down the aisle. It was almost time and Mum went to greet our guests.
A few minutes later she was back. I glanced up from arranging my flowers and paused. Her face was white. “Nobody on Danny’s side is here, Dee,” she said. There was no sign of him or any of his family.
I felt the room sway, trying to take in what she was saying. I couldn’t speak. My bridesmaids were all around me, trying to calm me down. They kept saying, “Everything will be fine, they’re just delayed.”
I clung on to the hope that they were right.
But a gut-wrenching dread started to seep through my body. Something was wrong. I reached for my keys and, shaking, handed them to my maid of honour. “Go to my apartment and try to find Danny,” I told her. I paced in my wedding dress as I waited for her call. “Dee, he’s gone,” she said. “And he’s taken the TV and some furniture too.”
I was trembling with shock. Right there and then every bride’s nightmare came true. Danny had jilted me at the altar and hadn’t even had the guts to warn me.
Humiliated, I hunched over, shock making me tremble. Dad was amazing and took control of the situation. At that moment he was not worried about all his hard-earned money going to waste, but the fact that his daughter was sitting crying in her wedding dress, while all the guests who had travelled thousands of miles were waiting outside.
He very calmly went outside, stood at the front of the venue and told everyone what Danny had done to me.
He then asked everyone to help me put the horror of the day behind me and said that as all the food and drink was paid for, to stay and enjoy the best of a very bad situation. Then he came back to support me.
“You have to face your guests,” he said gently. I didn’t want to, but there was no point hiding.
So I went out, sobbing. And I am glad I did as I was surrounded by loved ones who were horrified by what Danny had done to me. The evening dragged and, of course, I called Danny but he didn’t answer the phone. I rang every number I had for him and his family but no one would take my calls.
I decided to go on the honeymoon by myself. And it was then, three days into the Mexican cruise, it hit me properly and I totally fell apart. I cried and cried. I didn’t know how I was ever going to get over the hurt and disappointment.
As soon as I came back, Dad and I went to the restaurant where Danny worked. I didn’t think he’d be there, but there he was, serving, looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He was happy, while I was a mess. Dad took my arm and pulled me away before he saw us.
“We will sue him,” he said as I broke down. Dad helped put the case together. I not only wanted revenge but more importantly justice.
I tried one last time to confront him, when I went back to the restaurant with some friends and sat down at a table in his area. He just nonchalantly came to wait on us and said, “Oh, hi,” as if nothing was wrong. Furious, I glared at him. “You owe me an apology,” I snapped.
He just shrugged. “Are you not over it yet?” he said. Biting back tears, I fled. He’d callously broken my heart and didn’t care. So I put all my energy into preparing the law suits with Dad – for the rent Danny owed me and the possessions he took on the wedding day and Dad sued for breach of contract and the wedding expenses.
Slowly I grew stronger and I realised I liked helping Dad getting all the documents ready and looking up other cases. I was fascinated by the law and I began to get more and more involved.
Nine months later we went to court. Danny didn’t turn up but the judge ruled in our favour. Dad was awarded $30,000 and I was given $25,000. I knew we would be waiting forever to ever see a penny of it from Danny, as he hasn’t got any money.
But it was the principle we were fighting for and if he ever starts to earn a decent salary it will be docked by the court to pay us. It was justice being served but it also gave me something even more important, a wonderful new start in life.
For suddenly I realised I loved the legal process so much I wanted to follow it as a career. I studied law and graduated last summer. Now I don’t cry over the day I was jilted; I’m glad it happened. It meant I’m following my dream to be a trial lawyer.
Four years ago I thought I would never ever want to date a man again. You never know, some day I might want to get married, but for now I’m just grateful Danny didn’t turn up. I had a lucky escape.
Dee Diamond, 39, lives in Los Angeles