By Ed Brock

Belinda Banegas nee Schall and her husband Francisco Banegas met a year and a half ago at a store.

On Friday they stood, newly married, in the parking lot of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro with 27-year-old Belinda Banegas' two sons and 31-year-old Francisco Banegas' cousin, snapping the first pictures of their new life together.

"We've been talking about it for six months and we decided to go and do it the day before Valentine's Day," Belinda Banegas said.

"I feel good," Francisco Banegas said.

The Banegases, of Forest Park, were one of nearly 30 couples who took advantage of Clayton County Magistrate Court's third year of free Valentine's Day wedding ceremonies, held a day in advance since the lovers' holiday falls on Saturday this year.

Shakeeta Winfrey-Aisida, 28, and 42-year-old Donnie Aisida of Riverdale met at a store, too. At a Wal-Mart, to be more precise.

"I was walking out," Winfrey-Aisida said.

"I was in my car," said Aisida.

"On a date with somebody else," finished Winfrey-Aisida. "Then he saw me and started talking to me."

Like many of the other couples at the courthouse that day the Aisidas were told about the free ceremony when they got their marriage license.

"When they said it was free today we took advantage of that," Aisida said.

It didn't bother them that they were getting married on Friday the 13th. Indeed, that didn't seem to bother any of the couples who came that day, said Margie Vandiver, secretary to Chief Magistrate Judge Michael Baird.

"It's great. Everyone's happy," Vandiver said.

Billy Johnson, 25, and Deleya Brown, 22, of Ellenwood made their five-year relationship official in about 10 minutes. Why?

"We have three kids. Do we really have to explain?" said the bride.

But still, it was no easy thing to take the plunge, said the groom.

"I've been scared of marriage," Johnson said. "I've seen a lot of marriages that just turned to ash. But after five years I thought I'd be stupid not to do it."

Over at Buck's Pizza in McDonough part owner Judy Rawlssaid the number of Valentine parties she was hosting at the restaurant Friday night surprised her. Rawls also owns McDonough Flowers and Gifts and said flower sales were doing well this year.

While she expected Saturday to be busier than usual, Friday was their busiest day for deliveries.

"Especially since Valentine's Day falls on a weekend, because all the ladies want to get their stuff at work," Rawls said. "When you get a dozen roses you want someone other than the dog to see it."

Accordingly, Rawls raised her prices from the usual $60 for a dozen roses to $70 to compensate for the cost of gas. That's still lower than prices in Atlanta which she said were around $95 to $100 a dozen.

And red roses are still the most popular, although different colored roses are earning growing favor, Rawls said.