At 10 a.m. Friday, Dylan Kohlman got to make good on a promise he had made seven years earlier. Standing inside the cramped wedding chapel on the third floor of the Hernando County Government Center, he slipped a small silver ring onto Tonya Johnson's left hand and repeated the vows given to him by deputy clerk of court Tracey Merry.
Tonya looked into her husband-to-be's eyes with a smile.
"Are you sure?" she asked playfully.
It had taken a long time for the moment to come. So long, that it seemed to both of them at times that it might not ever happen at all.
Dylan and Tonya met in 2005 in a reading class at Powell Middle School. Although they seldom sat near each other, their teacher, Laura Hill, seemed to think there was a special chemistry between them and assigned them to work together on a book report.
As Tonya recalled, the two 11-year-olds did indeed become good friends. And that seemed a little weird to her. She was outgoing, funny and had lots of friends. Dylan was shy and reserved — "a little dorky."
Nonetheless, they soon found themselves hanging out together nearly every day after school. Then one day, Tonya heard words from Dylan she never expected to hear.
"Someday, I'm going to marry you," he told her.
Tonya told him she thought he was a little crazy.
The next year, things changed when Dylan announced he was moving with his family to North Carolina. The teens' friendship, however, never wavered. Through emails and late-night phone calls they kept in touch, often consoling each other when their respective dating relationships fell apart.
Tonya and Dylan's own romance didn't really begin in earnest until after he moved to Marion, Ohio, during his sophomore year of high school. Hundreds of miles away, they hoped that somehow they could make it work.
Said Tonya: "It was so tough for both of us. There wasn't any physical contact, just photos. I would look at him and fall more and more in love."
In December, with high school graduation approaching, the 18-year-olds began planning their nuptials. This spring, Tonya flew to Ohio to attend Dylan's graduation from Elgin High School, and in return, he went to hers at Nature Coast Technical High School.
With Dylan starting Army training this fall, and Tonya about to enter Pasco-Hernando Community College to study criminal justice, both felt it was best to get married as soon as possible.
Tonya's mom, Judy Johnson, said she immediately dismissed any thought that Dylan and her daughter were too young to get married.
"If you were to see them together and enjoying each other's company so much, you wouldn't need convincing," Johnson said. "They have such a deep love and understanding for each other. I don't worry about them at all."
Tonya said that while such a youthful marriage may appear to be something of a fairy tale to others, she and Dylan have a measure of devotion that proves otherwise.
"If people knew how long we waited to be with each other, they would understand," she said. "I don't think you can endure something like that if you don't believe in it."
Staff writer Jean Hayes contributed to this report. Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.