Nicole Boston & Keith Horne

Keith first saw Nicole’s smile in a mutual friend’s Facebook post after an April 2012 Philadelphia charity ball.

“Wow, she’s pretty,” he thought, and sent a friend request and an invitation to an upcoming Mason’s charity ball he and his committee were planning.

Nicole accepted Keith’s friend request, but could not fit his event into her schedule: She was a single mother raising Xavier and also caring for her mother, Ruth, who had cancer. A DHS social worker with plans to start her own therapy practice, the Olney native was also finishing her second master’s degree — this one in clinical counseling and psychology from La Salle. She was then a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic-adjacent organization, and remains active in her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta.

Keith understood her busy life. He had been raising daughter Kalisse and son KJ on his own since 2006, when his wife, Tiffiny, was killed in a car accident. Keith, a songwriter and music producer who has worked with 50 Cent, Anthony Hamilton, and Rage Against the Machine, was also working toward an associate’s degree in applied science with the goal of becoming a nurse anesthetist. In addition to the Masons, he is active with his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi.

The more they messaged and texted, the more Nicole and Keith found in common, and the more their mutual admiration grew.

When he couldn’t make it to her graduation party, she understood. They met in person about a month later, when she invited him to hang out at her place. They talked. They watched TV. From then on, they were together at least once a week. At first, it was not a romance.

“We became very close friends,” said Keith. “We have so much in common — Nik is literally the only woman who I have ever gone window shopping with.”

“I looked at Keith as my male bestie who happened to be attractive,” said Nicole.

By the time spring turned to summer, their “just friends” resolve was starting to crack. At an August photo shoot where Nicole was modeling, Keith introduced himself as her boyfriend. That was news to Nicole — but very good news.

A month later, they were so sure of what they had, they introduced each other to their children. “The boys were 10 and 11 at the time, and right away, they just started playing video games together,” Nicole said.

Keith fell for Nicole’s sweet spirit. “She is so patient — abnormally patient! I felt like I could trust her, and I felt like I had somebody who was actually listening to me.”

Early in their first fall together, she asked him to get her something from the closet. He opened it to find a Native Instruments Maschine. He had told her that he wanted one — almost in passing — but she clearly heard how much it would mean to him. Soon after, he won the Maschine Experience beat battle in New York.

Nicole loves that Keith is “very caring, very honest, and very protective,” she said. She knew he was “the one” when she introduced him to her mother, who had never liked previous partners. “She said, ‘I really, really love him. That’s my son,’ ” Nicole remembers. When Ruth’s cancer made her too sick to walk, Keith carried her down the stairs and placed her in the car to go to chemo.

In 2013, after receiving the blessing of Kalisse and KJ, Nicole and Xavier moved from Olney to Willingboro. “It was definitely an adjustment for all of us,” Nicole said. “We got through it by communicating, just like any family.”

How does forever sound?

Nicole, who is now 43, worked as a therapist for various organizations until 2017, when she opened her own therapy practice focused on children and young adults ages 3 through 21. Keith, who is now 48, was so inspired by her work that he changed his academic focus. He holds a master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis from Capella University and is now clinical director of organizational behavioral management for Amazing Transformations. He also continues to produce music.

Nicole is now vice president of her local Zeta Phi Beta graduate chapter. In 2017, her chapter was hosting an annual luncheon, where Keith’s Masonic Lodge, Hyram Lodge #5, would be honored for its community service in Camden County. The week before, Keith was acting a little strange — why, for example, had he invited Nicole’s brother? Then, during the luncheon’s charity raffle, someone told Nicole her number had been called. This made no sense to Nicole — she had obviously not bought a ticket for her own raffle. But when a second person insisted she won, Nicole made her way to the stage and received an old scarf. “I did not want to make a big deal about why are we giving away a used scarf, so I just went with it. I put it on, and someone took my picture,” Nicole said.

The next thing she knew, Keith was next to her, kneeling on the stage, and saying things she couldn’t hear over 300 guests cheering. She did hear “will you marry me?” and he heard her “yes.”

In July 2019, the couple bought a home in Sicklerville, where they and Xavier, who is now 18, KJ, now 19, and Kalisse, now 23, all live.

It was so them — twice

The couple had planned to marry on April 19, 2020, but by March, the pandemic led them to postpone until July. By mid-May, the couple — and their wedding planner Zupenda Davis-Shine, who is also director of health education for Burlington County — realized that no big wedding would happen then, either. “We just decided we’re going to get married, anyway,” Nicole said. “I called one of my sorority sisters who is a judge, ordered a dress on Amazon, and on May 16, 2020, we got married at the park down the street.”

It was just the couple and Circuit Judge Demetrica Todd-Ruiz at the top of a small hill. One of Keith’s two best men and the matron of honor were witnesses, but they, Nicole’s brother, Reuben, and Xavier, KJ, and Kalisse, stood socially distanced and masked at the bottom of the hill. “No one heard our vows or anything,” said Nicole.

They were glad to be married in a beautiful and intimate ceremony but still wanted the wedding and celebration with more family and friends that they had planned. Exactly a year later, on May 16, 2021, they did.

Reuben walked Nicole halfway down the aisle at Brigalias, and then Xavier walked her the rest of the way.

The couple wrote their own vows this time and were amazed that each had chosen to emphasize the same promises — to listen to each other, talk to each other, cherish each other. This time, their 120 guests could hear, too.

Their children joined the couple for a ceremony in which all five of them poured their own distinct color of sand into a bottle, symbolizing that they had become a single family.

To honor Nicole’s mother, who died in 2014, the couple were escorted into the reception by Soca Sakita Fitness soca dancers, who performed to calypso music — traditional in Antigua, where Ruth was born and raised.

Nicole’s sorority sisters surrounded her and sang their sorority hymn, and then Keith and some of his fraternity brothers marched in and sang their fraternity hymn.

The couple’s first dance began slowly with Anthony Hamilton’s “The Point of It All,” but then Nicole and Keith gave a nod to their sorority and fraternity with a party walk to “Up” by Cardi B. The crowd went wild.

Nicole danced with her father, George, her brother, and Xavier. “The whole day was such an emotional high,” she said.

Keith danced with his mother, Earlece, and then with Kalisse. Dancing with his daughter was one of the most meaningful parts of the day, Keith said. “She was my very first unconditional love,” he said. “It was through being her father that I became a man, and through being a single father to her and my son that I became a better man.”