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How a game of darts at Gene's Haufbrau led to lasting love

Arrow to the Heart

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Couple: Tia Clark and Katie Kellham
Met at: Gene's Haufbrau in 2006
Years together: Married seven years

City Paper: Tell me about the night you first met.

Katie Kellham: I was having girls' night out with my coworkers, and I didn't know that they were conspiring to hook me up with someone. My new friend Kim (who is now one of my best friends) knew Tia and introduced us while we were playing darts.

Tia Clark: It was just another night at work for me, managing at Gene's Haufbrau. And then my friend Kim came in with a group of coworkers — it turned into Whole Foods gone wild. Just kidding. I found out later it was all just a ploy to hook Katie up. The group sat at one of the front booths, and I ended up interacting with them a lot, even though I wasn't waiting on them. Then they went to play in the game room and that's when Katie was flirting with me — she was really flirting with me. I couldn't get over that this beautiful woman was hitting on me.

KK: I remember when we all decided to move on to another bar, and I invited her to come with us. She said "well, I'm working," and I said "I thought you were the manager. Can't you do what you want?"

TC: I took this as a challenge.

KK: It doesn't take much for her to take something as a challenge.

TC: So I went to my friend Cat, who was bartending, and asked her to cover my shift, and I left and went bar-hopping with the group.

KK: I immediately liked Tia because she was just so genuine and so much fun. She was like a wild animal — totally fascinating and different from me. I was a wallflower from out of town, and she was a party girl; it seemed like she knew every single person in this town. I have moved around a lot — I grew up in Maine, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. I went to college in North Carolina and then moved to Charleston a little over 11 years ago. I met Tia six months after I moved back to South Carolina. She definitely knew half of the food and bev workers in town.

TC: Well, because it's my hometown. That's why I knew everybody. That's how Charleston is.

KK: We would walk through a bar, like Cumberland's or Upper Deck, and it would take 45 minutes just walking from one end to the other because of all of the people stopping Tia. I didn't know anyone here yet, and I felt like I was dating a celebrity. I felt like people were looking at me like "who is this tall, silent woman shadowing Tia."

TC: She was very nervous. I could tell. But she did fine. Then I remember the next day when she called me. I was very surprised. I am so glad that she did because I don't know if I would have.

KK: I actually only called her the next day because at work my friend Rita said I should. She said "Girls like to be called."

TC: I didn't really spend as much time with anybody as I did with her, not even my closest friends. For me, it was experiencing something I've never experienced in my life because I've never met anyone like her. A lot of our experiences together have been first time things for me because I've never been as close to another person or let anyone else as close to me. I remember thinking that somehow this wasn't real, almost like I was living in a dream, and I still had that "too good to be true" feeling.

CP: So when did you officially start dating?

KK: Haha, we're both getting a chuckle out of this question. We met and we were basically dating that instant. Tia will say "hanging out" because she still can't admit it! Despite the fact that we were basically attached at the hip, it took Tia months to call me her girlfriend. It never bothered me and was even a bit of an inside joke, but when people called me her girlfriend she would say "she's not my girlfriend" immediately. Then one day she started saying it and her best friend Jimmy called her out, and she finally said "Yeah, okay, she's my girlfriend" in this really mopey Eeyore tone.

TC: It was like she had won — she had worn me down. But what's funny is that we were completely inseparable, [with or without the label]. There's just something about that label. It was like that meant it our relationship changed forever. And it did.

KK: It seems really strange to me now that I wasn't insulted, but I just knew that was who she was.

CP: Would you change anything about where or how you met?

TC: I don't think there's anything bad about meeting someone in a dive bar. I never thought about it until now, but I guess being in a dive bar did help because we were able to just be ourselves and be relaxed. I imagine if we were someplace that was a little fancier or a little stiffer maybe we wouldn't have spoken. Because I already felt like she was out of my league. And I look like I belong in a dive bar 24/7. But I think when you're lucky enough to find what I found it doesn't matter where you are because you can't deny it. The setting of where we were seems so irrelevant now. I think we met then because of Kim, because she knew enough about both of us to think our paths should cross. I never imagined being married. I also never imagined being in this relationship and being Katie's best friend. It really is like having the best of both worlds. We're celebrating our seven-year wedding anniversary on March 9.

KK: I think it doesn't matter at all where you meet someone. I see friends go through multiple crummy relationships, and I went through that, too, and I have no idea why I met Tia when I did or what makes us so perfect for each other except that we are both genuinely kind people who want to take care of each other. It totally makes sense to me that I met Tia in a bar because that's where she's always worked and hung out as long as I've known her. Sometimes I fantasize about going back in time and starting my life over, and I always have to work in a way I would still meet Tia even if my life took a different path. I imagine going to meet her at Gene's at that exact time.

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