Karson Williams laughed at a joke on top of the Ironworks Building in downtown Jackson. She and J.J. Luther had come up to the roof to look at the stars and talk. The tall blonde girl and the red-headed boy looked down at the sidewalk at their tattooed friends from The Ink Spot.
"Can I take you out?" Luther asked her.
That was three years ago. The first date led to romance. Karson, 24, and J.J., 25, got married in the late afternoon of Oct. 16, 2010 by Lake Lorman. She looked as if she had stepped out of a Jane Austen novel in her empire-waisted, cap-sleeved white gown. His black tuxedo covered his countless tattoos, although a couple tried to peek out.
"I never thought to count them," he says a couple of weeks before the wedding. "I like the Indian head," he says, crooking his elbow and examining his forearm. Both his arms are covered with colors and images, some seeming to overlap. Most have funny stories.
Karson only has a single tattoo, a small heart she got inked on her 18th birthday. She met J.J. when she was a student at Mississippi College studying public relations. He was a tattoo artist at The Ink Spot. They had mutual friends who enlisted Karson's PR skills in promoting art exhibits at the versatile tattoo parlor. J.J. caught her attention. He always had a funny story or quirky observation.
"What did J.J. say today?" she started asking her friends.
Time with J.J. was a welcome break to a heavy class load. After graduation, Karson got a job in social services. She now helps administer programs for the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, and volunteers with Community Animal Rescue and Adoptions.
J.J. is working part-time at Cups in the Quarter while he attends Hinds Community College. "When I was 18, my dream job was to be a tattoo artist," he says. The dream started to change. "The outside world started coming in. People started asking for weirder and weirder tattoos."
Sometimes they would even ask for the same tattoo the last two or three clients had gotten. Then the Ink Spot closed this summer.
Now, he's planning a career in social services just like Karson has.
"I feel like we've known each other forever," he says. "I take my cues from Karson."
"We make a good couple," she says. "He comes off mild. He's my rock."
About a year ago, J.J. decided to propose. It was just after dinner, and Karson was loading the dishwasher. J.J. sent their puppy into the kitchen. "Karson, look at Penny," he said.
She mumbled something like "yeah," but kept her mind on her task.
"No," he said louder, getting her mind out of the dishwasher. "Look at Penny."
Karson looked at the copper-colored puppy and noticed a trinket dangling from the dog collar. It was her engagement ring.
At first, the wedding was going to be very small and intimate. They talked about inviting about 50 people, but over the year the list grew to 150 names. "It grew into a big, southern affair," J.J. says.
Karson, the opposite of a bridezilla, let her mother and others make many of the decisions for the actual ceremony and reception. "We don't really care," J.J says.
"We will be married, anyway," she says, finishing his sentence. She had no problem turning over the stress and details to others. She wasn't even sure what flowers would be in her bouquet. "Sometimes it's just easier," she says.
Friends and family collaborated to create a relaxed yet classy wedding for the young couple. They held the ceremony at the Madison home of family friends Richard and Beth Dean on the shore of Lake Lorman. Kendall Poole and Bette Poole--family friends--were the wedding planners. Eggplant purple, artichoke green and coppery orange were the autumn colors for the lake-side ceremony.
Charles Hooker, who officiated the ceremony, also officiated the wedding of Karson's mother and step-father. Hooker is her mother's former boss. Six bridesmaids and six groomsmen stood with the couple. Groomsmen wore beards and hid tattoos under tuxedos.
When the bride walked down the aisle and stood with J.J., she took his arm and gently guided him to face the officiator. As they began their vows, a bug buzzed in Karson's bouquet.
"I love John Jeffrey, and I ..." she said as the bug flew in her face. J.J. swatted the pest away from her even as the officiator was saying the next line for Karson to repeat. "... rejoice that he will be my husband."
After the wedding and reception, the couple drove away in her stepfather's 1991 black Cadillac. Their honeymoon in the city of Townsend, Tenn., in the Smoky Mountains was wonderful, Karson reports. They spent one week in a cabin with no Internet access and their cell phones turned off.
"He's an easy-going jokester," says Karley Williams, maid of honor and cousin of the bride. "She keeps them organized and keeps them grounded."
Groomsman Clay Fitzpatrick agrees.
"They are a lovely couple," he says. "Their personalities may be different, but they balance each other out."
Planning a cool wedding? Write [e-mail missing]. No charge, of course.
Wedding Cake: That Special Touch Cakes (2769 Old Brandon Road, Pearl, 601-932-5223)
Bridal Registry: Belk (150 Dogwood Boulevard, Flowood, 601-919-5000, http://www.belk.com)
Everyday Gourmet (1625 E County Line Road, Suite 500, 601-977-9258); Stein Jewelry (1896 Main St., Suite E, Madison, 601-605-8648)
Bride's Hair: Griff Howard at Ritz Salon (775 Lake Harbour Drive, Suite H, Ridgeland, 601-856-4330)
Photographer: Justin Rives ([e-mail missing], http://www.justinrives.com)