"Take my hand
"Hold me close
"Don't let go.
"You for me.
"Me for you.
"Together we'll make one."
-- From "You for Me" by Johnny Gill
Curtis McCloud sang those words to Sydney Cameron as she walked down the aisle at their wedding 10 months ago.
He indeed took her hand that spring day in the Columbus Botanical Garden. The video shows their touch was tentative, but their grasp is tight now -- because they persevered against the odds.
So this week, when they celebrate their first Valentine's Day together as a married couple, they can toast each other for what they already have overcome.
They met as reporters from rival TV stations in Columbus. They dated despite the risk of professional pressure and community gossip. They engaged despite different experiences with relationships. They married despite different family backgrounds.
And their young union survived an early test of separation when Curtis left his hometown with his bride's blessing to pursue his career. Yet their faith was rewarded with a reunion six weeks later, when Sydney also landed a job in Richmond, Va. -- again at a rival TV station.
The woman Curtis calls his grandmother raised him in Columbus. She is the mother of the man who dated his mother.
Curtis graduated from Columbus High in 2006. He thought his dream job would be working at one of his hometown's TV stations. He wanted to be a household name like Dick McMichael or Chuck Leonard. But after graduating from Howard University in Washington and completing an internship at CNN, he wanted to see more of the world.
Nonetheless, he was hired back in Columbus at WTVM in 2010. His goal was to get that next job, one that would take him to a larger market, in two years.
Curtis was one year removed from a three-year relationship. He wasn't searching for a woman, but he was open to the possibility.
Sydney was born in Chicago, raised in Texas and graduated from American University in Washington in 2008. She lived for a year in New Zealand, where she was an associate producer and editor for a television series. She thought she found her ideal man there, but she broke off the engagement when she realized they weren't compatible enough.
She returned to Washington and worked as a production assistant and freelance reporter before landing the job at WRBL in December 2011. She broke up with her boyfriend in Washington to avoid having a long-distance romance, and she wanted to completely focus on her career in Columbus, so another beau wasn't on her agenda.
Curtis got a glimpse of Sydney her first week here. While WTVM colleagues monitored WRBL's newscast and critiqued "the new girl" on the newsroom screen, his initial thought was, "Oh, she's pretty."
His second thought: "Wow, she knows what she's doing. She's confident. She has a different air about her."
So he looked up her bio online to learn more about her.
The next time he saw her was the following Tuesday at the Columbus Government Center. She was there to cover the city council; he was there to report on the Moon Road widening project -- "riveting, right?" Curtis said with a laugh. He recognized her but wondered to himself, "Is her first name Sydney or Cameron?"
No problem. She introduced herself.
When she saw Curtis, Sydney thought, "Yes, he's cute, but you can't do that. You need to focus on your work."
After some small talk, they discovered they had a mutual friend in Washington. They exchanged phone numbers to set up a time Curtis could take Sydney on a tour of Columbus. He wondered whether they were about to go on a date.
"I didn't want to be presumptuous," he said. "I was so clueless."
The tour never happened. On that Saturday, they ate lunch at Café Le Rue and ended up talking for hours.
They quickly connected. Their conversation easily flowed.
"That definitely made me more attracted to her," said Curtis, 26.
"I had this sense that he was very familiar, very sincere," said Sydney, 24. "He also had his head on straight."
Curtis excused himself to attend the WTVM Christmas party that night.
"I was crestfallen," Sydney said. "I didn't want the date to end."
It didn't; it was only interrupted. They rendezvoused later that night at The Loft and stayed out until 2 a.m.
The next day, Curtis called Sydney. She teasingly scolded him for keeping her up too late. He made up for it by taking her out for ice cream at Bruster's. She had cookies and cream, he had sherbet; both had another good time.
They dug deeper and shared more of their lives.
"I know a lot of times on the dating scene, there can be a lot of game-playing," Sydney said. "You put them through the hoops to see how much they care. But it wasn't the case with us. Everything was on the table. There were no pretenses. For some reason, I wasn't afraid to share anything with him."
"I have a lot of things with my family that I don't normally talk about," Curtis said. "But I was opening up my life story to her. It just felt comfortable. That told me that I'm with somebody I can go to with pretty much anything."
Their first kiss came a week later. Curtis claimed to be a huge "Harry Potter" fan but admitted to Sydney he hadn't seen the final film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." Sydney invited him over to watch it with her roommates.
After the movie, the roommates left the lovebirds alone. Sydney messed with Curtis as she took his smartphone and scrolled through the videos of him singing.
He didn't want her to look at them -- although 16 months later, he sang to her during their wedding -- and she wanted him to kiss her, so she welcomed him to wrestle her for the phone in her bedroom.
Curtis got his phone back, and Sydney got her kiss.
"I really wanted to kiss her," he said, "but I didn't know if I was crossing the line."
"I got the feeling he was a little nervous," she said. "It wasn't a perfect kiss, but it got better over time."
The next day, Christmas Eve, they held hands on the tram ride through Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens.
Their relationship had gone public by the new year. As reporters at competing TV stations, they were prohibited from disclosing trade secrets. They also were wary of the gossip their dating might spark.
"Some people in my newsroom had issues, some qualms with us," Curtis said. "They would say stuff like, 'Are y'all sharing stories?' There was a lot of jealousy, but management was awesome with it."
"It was harder for Curtis because that community is his hometown," Sydney said. "Folks at my station, some said that we looked so cute together, but another reaction was like, 'Seriously? The competition?'"
As the friendship turned to romance, Curtis continued to feel "un-judged" in the relationship.
"She became more than a lover," he said. "She became my best friend. I saw someone who was very grounded, very focused. She was exactly what I wanted in a mate."
Curtis was the first to say "I love you."
"I'm normally the person who says that first," Sydney said, "but I didn't say it back to him for a week. I didn't know where I stood. I got caught up too much in the time. I just had to sit myself down and stop worrying. Things don't always happen in the time frame you want."
Letter to her father
Curtis threw Sydney a surprise party for her birthday, Jan. 24, 2012. He blindfolded her and drove her to his mother's house. There, he unveiled the computer desk and pair of shoes she casually had yearned for while they were at the mall.
On Valentine's Day, in addition to the roses he sent to her station, Curtis presented Sydney another surprise.
Sydney's father had died around Christmas 2010 from pancreatic cancer and a brain aneurysm. Throughout their courtship, Curtis wondered whether her father would approve. He wanted to make sure Sydney knew he also felt his absence, so he wrote a letter to her father, framed it and gave it to her as a gift.
In the letter, Curtis concluded, "With your blessing, with your consent, I would love for your daughter to be my wife. I leave you with this last thought: No man or woman should spend their life alone, waiting and wondering if the person they seek is behind the next corner, especially when the person they look for is not beyond the corner but walking in tandem side by side."
It wasn't a formal proposal -- Curtis needed another seven months to save enough money for the ring -- but it certainly was a commitment.
"I cried like a baby," Sydney said. "It was the sweetest thing."
Curtis orchestrated a surprise proposal in September. They went to Destin, Fla., where he set up an elaborate scenario with photographer Angie Wagner.
At a beachside restaurant, Curtis excused himself to supposedly go to the restroom, but he snuck away to hand off the engagement ring to Wagner instead. Wagner gave the ring to her best friend, who tied it to her fishing line and pretended to fish off the pier with Wagner's children.
Then after Curtis and Sydney finished lunch, he told her they were going to meet a photographer at the pier. The photographer handed Sydney a bunch of balloons and asked the couple to walk down the pier while she snapped their photos.
"I'm not dumb," Sydney thought. "I know he's going to propose here."
Lo and behold, they came upon this woman fishing with her children and shouting as if they caught something impressive. The photographer suggested the couple walk over to see what they caught.
The line was reeled in with a diamond ring instead of a fish on the hook -- and Sydney was the catch.
Curtis knelt and asked her to marry him.
Her first response: "I really thought there was a fish!"
So he had to ask again. Then she said yes through her tears.
Curtis was terrified that the ring would be lost and was elated that his surprise succeeded.
"It was everything I wanted and more," he said. "It was the perfect reaction from Sydney."
Planning the wedding was stressful.
"He wanted ABC, and I wanted XYZ," Sydney said. "He's much more even-tempered, and I'm much more passionate. I can fly off the handle and be stubborn."
Their spats often were about finances: his spending versus her saving. They also have different arguing styles. Curtis likes to immediately try to resolve disagreements; Sydney prefers a timeout to cool down.
Premarital counseling helped smooth some of the rough spots.
Curtis wondered, "Not growing up with a father, would I have issues like not being a good husband? Once we battled those demons, we were good."
Curtis never figured pursuing that next job in a larger market would be complicated by having to worry about a wife. He had postponed his job search for the April 2013 wedding. By October, he was mulling job offers from stations in three cities: Tulsa, Okla.; Charleston, S.C.; and Richmond, Va.
Richmond appeared to be the best fit, but he didn't feel right about leaving Sydney. She, however, encouraged him. She believed their bond was stronger than the distance. She believed their talent would give them the chance to work in the same city again.
Coworkers, friends and family questioned their judgment.
"They told me I was crazy," Curtis said.
When they visited Richmond to find Curtis an apartment, a friend of Sydney's mentioned a job opening at a rival station there. Sydney scrambled to apply and nailed an interview the next day.
Insecurities plagued Curtis during the month and a half they were apart. He worried when she wouldn't immediately answer her phone.
"I was being ridiculous," he said. "It was tough, way tougher than I thought."
In hindsight, however, the distance provided their relationship fresh air and perspective.
"It was very therapeutic," he said. "It strengthened us. It really gave us that time to breathe, some growing room."
Side by side
In December, Sydney got the job in Richmond and reunited with Curtis. Settling into a new city, they must rely on each other even more. They also must remain professionally independent because they work at rival stations again.
"A part of me wishes we were at the same station," Sydney said, then added with a laugh, "but another part of me knows I probably would get sick of him."
Their whirlwind romance included Curtis helping Sydney adopt her dog in Columbus, which now is their dog in Richmond.
Curtis looks back and finds the key to their prevailing love: They linked their hearts and their heads.
"Know the person you're in the relationship with," he said. "Know that it's what you want and follow your heart. People may say your mind is getting caught up, but my heart never led me astray."
"We haven't always had an easy time," Sydney said. "There were a couple of times I was ready to walk away from it all. But now I understand that marriage is not an easy thing. It definitely is walking side by side."