The guys Raynier Lamar Hodnett worked with knew he had a crush on Toya Via. There was something about her smile and sunny nature he couldn’t get out of his head.
So whenever the crew from Hodnett’s landscaping company stopped by the lawn mower repair shop where she worked in 2002, they’d force him into her office. “And I’d just sit there for 30 minutes or an hour with nothing to say,” recalls Hodnett, who was 18 at the time. “She never knew I liked her. I never let her know that.”
Via was two years older and in a relationship. She didn’t mind having Hodnett around but thought of him just as a sweet, shy friend.
A year later, Via left her home in Waldorf to attend college in North Carolina. She stayed in the state after graduation and Hodnett’s hope slowly faded. “I wouldn't say I gave up, but after a while it went to the back of my mind because she was never around. There was no thought that she was ever coming back,” he says.
In fact, by 2009 Via had returned to Waldorf. And when Facebook suggested she add Hodnett as a friend that August, she sent him a message.
Excited, he replied, asking how she’d been over the past several years. Both their lives had changed dramatically. Hodnett had been in a series of relationships, become a father to a young son and found success in music, playing bass guitar with artists such as Raheem DeVaughn and appearing on Sean “Diddy” Combs’s MTV reality show, “Making His Band.” Via had broken up with her boyfriend, graduated from college, become an event planner and decided that she was probably going to be single for the rest of her life.
“And I was like, ‘I’m content. If I never get married, if I never have kids, I’m content with that,” recalls Via, now 30. “It was this refreshing feeling, like, ‘I’m fine with being where I am.’ ”
She was happy to reconnect with Hodnett but surprised when he called early the next morning to suggest she take off work to go paintballing with him and a buddy. When she said she had to go to the office, he told her he had an R&B gig that Friday.
But Via already had plans to attend a friend’s birthday celebration at Indulj, a club on U Street. She asked Hodnett where he was playing. “Indulj,” he replied.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? This is perfect,’ ” she recalls. “His party is downstairs. Her party is upstairs. If we don’t hit it off then I can go to my friend’s party. If we do hit it off, I can go back and forth.”
When Hodnett took a break between sets, he saw Via’s giant smile waiting for him in the crowd. After the show finished, he joined Via and her friends upstairs and walked them to their car at the end of the night.
But Via and Hodnett weren’t finished talking, so after she dropped her friend off at home, they met back up and talked until dawn. The next night, they did it all over again.
Hodnett, who had been so reserved in the past, seemed open and confident now. “I was scared back then, but there was no use in being scared now,” he explains.
“It was just so unbelievable,” Via says. “We hit it off, like, immediately. The conversation just continued and continued and continued. It was as if we’d been best friends over the years and never missed a beat.”
A week later he took her on a date to Tryst in Adams Morgan, where they drank chai tea and ate chocolate-covered strawberries. And finally, they kissed. “It was her personality just drawing me in,” Hodnett says. “We had so much in common.” Within a month, he told his best friend that he’d found “the one.”
Via was no longer planning on a single life. “It was really a breath of fresh air,” she says. “Like, ‘Wow, this is just so calm.’ It clicked immediately.”
When they found out Via was pregnant in late 2009, after less than six months of dating, they were ecstatic but worried about how their families would react. To their surprise, their families were happy and supportive.
In April 2010, Hodnett took Via to National Harbor with the intention of proposing. But it was cold and she was tired, so Via spoiled his plan by refusing to walk along the water. Back home, he unlocked the door and with exasperation told her he’d been trying to propose all night.
“Well, you can’t do it now,” she replied. “ ’Cause I’m not going to be surprised.”
He paced back and forth while she went to the bathroom. When she came out, he shouted “Boo!”
“Now you’re surprised,” he said before getting down on one knee. Overcome with emotion, he cried as he asked her to marry him.
In August 2010, their son, Dimuel, was born. They first planned a destination wedding but found that many of their friends and relatives would be unable to attend. On Aug. 18, they were married in front of the pond at the Colonial Charles clubhouse in Waldorf. Dimuel and Hodnett’s 6-year-old son, Raynier Jr., wore suspenders and fedoras and served as his best men.
“It all just flowed so perfectly,” Via says of the relationship. “He was everything that I prayed for and things that I didn’t even know that I wanted.”