Love: Deneen Marcel Jackson & Chris Toney

September 20, 2013, in Miami Beach

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Deneen Marcel Jackson and Chris Toney (Photo by Susie Rodriguez)

Hello there

 

Chris mostly makes his living with computers, but by 2011, his love for the camera had grown into both "a paying hobby" and a passion he wanted to share.

"I started to hold these photo contests," he said. Each week, Chris explained a photography concept and the submission that best illustrated the concept won.

Theresa, a friend of Chris' and his siblings' from their days at Pemberton Township High, was a frequent entrant. She had so much fun she persuaded her friend Deneen, owner of Deneen Marcel Lashes in Society Hill, to take a shot.

Deneen had fun, too. Until food photo week.

"My picture was of a red strawberry on an electric blue plate, with a turquoise blue pashmina behind it," said Deneen, who then lived in the North Philadelphia neighborhood where she grew up. "It was vibrant. And there was a hidden strawberry behind the first one that was holding it up."

Chris and the other judges didn't get the "levitating strawberry," he said.

Deneen did not win. That did not make her happy.

But that June, when Theresa was visiting from Studio City, Calif., she persuaded Deneen to join her, Chris, and Chris' sister Yulanda for lunch.

The four had so much fun that lunch stretched until 8 p.m. Yulanda was intrigued by the lash extension technique Deneen uses. Chris, who then lived in La Plata, Md., told Deneen if Yulanda ever stopped by her salon, the bill was on him.

Yulanda began having her lashes done, and when Chris made monthly trips to the area to photograph boxing matches, he would pay Deneen.

Then in September 2012, Deneen asked Chris to shoot photos of her customers for a new website.

He came on a Sunday to test the light levels. "After we got rid of the technical part, we just started talking, and I started to see something in her," Chris said.

"I really want to get to know you better," he told her. "Would that be OK?"

They made dinner plans. When Chris arrived at Deneen's salon to pick her up, he heard her talking in the back. "I'm here. I'll wait," he texted.

Deneen told her client she had a date after they were finished, and she was going to say hello to him. "He was smiling, and so warm," Deneen remembers. "I came back and said, 'Samantha, I'm going to marry him. He's going to be my husband.' And she said, 'Deneen, shut the hell up!' and I said, 'No, I'm telling you!' "

Dinner was at Alma de Cuba. "We ended up shutting the place down. We laughed the entire night," Chris said. "For me, it was like a lightning bolt. I knew then. I just knew."

 

How does forever sound?

Deneen, 49, and Chris, 48, had both been previously married. Chris has two sons, Christopher II, 21, and Jared, 17. Deneen has a son, Antoine, 26, and a daughter, Leigh-Amber, 24.

Both felt what was happening between them was something entirely new.

"He was just very kind, very attentive. He held my hand, which I wasn't used to. Everything seemed just right," she said.

"Deneen will talk to you - she expresses herself, she has an opinion. And she has an honest laugh, and I love to laugh," he said. "Whatever her secret sauce is that makes her who she is as a person, it's exactly what I need, exactly what I want."

By the time they were dating, Chris had moved just outside Princeton, where the couple now live, to take his job in computer operations with Bank of New York Mellon.

"Two weeks after we went on our first date, I told her, 'This is probably going to sound weird, but I think that I don't ever want to be without you.' "

Deneen said she felt the same way.

Emboldened, Chris went further. "Do you want to get married?"

 

It was so them

That was the easy part.

They set four wedding dates. The first was changed to make guests' scheduling easier, the second because it seemed too long to wait, and the third because the dress Deneen ordered didn't show up on time.

They craved something small and casual, but their tentative guest list just kept growing. Deneen was over the scheduling, the rescheduling, and the stress. "Chris, you set the date, and just let me know and I'll be there," she said.

"When I see a dress hanging in the closet, I'll set the date," he told her.

She found the perfect dress - for $150 secondhand at South Street's Impact Boutique.

He did the research and planning. They married on Miami Beach at sunset, with Deneen's daughter as maid of honor.

Chris promised Deneen he'd rub her feet on demand, Deneen promised Chris she'd always support his love for photography, and they vowed to love each other forever.

The couple and nine guests celebrated at 10 Ocean on South Beach, then took in a Tina Turner tribute concert.

 

Awestruck

Deneen will never forget Chris' smile when they faced each other to read their vows. "It was so pleasant and so warm. He was just so pleased, and that made me so happy. I felt like I found what I had been looking for my entire life."

Chris wasn't prepared for Deneen to talk about his sons, and bringing their families together. "It really made me feel like I was making the right decision, like I had picked the right person. I had found this gem," he said.

 

Discretionary spending

A bargain: Deneen assembled swag bags of organic bubble bath, flavored olive oil, and handmade frames from Etsy. It cost no more than a chain-store purchase, but the quality far surpassed that, she said.

The splurge: Deneen bought her daughter's maid-of-honor pantsuit. "It was hot, and it cost more than my dress," she said.

 

A bit of advice

"Listen to your gut, and listen to your heart," Chris said. "People can either be on board or not. We're all responsible for our own happiness."

 

The getaway

The couple plan to go somewhere warm in early spring, when things are slower at the salon.

 


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