It’s a story straight out of a fairytale, but not even Natalie Crowe Tatman and Austin Tatman could predict how their preschool friendship would develop into a love of a lifetime.
After moving away from Florida and losing contact with her very best childhood friend at age 5, Natalie set out to find Austin on social media. The pair eventually reconnected as teens — realizing after just two dates that not only were they preschool best friends, but they were also soulmates.
When it came time for their wedding this past April, Natalie and Austin, now 24, knew they had to pay homage to the preschool days that originally brought them together.
So as an adorable touch to their serendipitous story, the pair decided to recreate a photo from 1999 that featured Natalie and Austin standing side-by-side in a red Jeep Wrangler — and like their story, the recreation is sure to melt your heart.
Growing up in Ocala, Florida, Natalie says she and Austin were placed in the same preschool class by chance and quickly became inseparable. From school trips to playdates in Austin’s toy Jeep wrangler, they were always together.
“We just automatically became best friends and our parents realized it,” Natalie tells PEOPLE. “It’s strange when you’re that age — you don’t usually hang out with the opposite sex. But from when we were 2 until we were 5, we were constantly together.”
Even before their preschool days, their soulmate status was pretty evident, as Natalie shared that she and Austin were both due on Valentine’s Day, but Austin arrived two weeks earlier, while she came two weeks late.
Though Natalie admits her memories of their childhood are fuzzy, her parents have kept their adorable moments fresh in her mind — in part by telling her about them and also, through their extensive collection of photos.
“I have very faint memories, but our parents have told us many stories,” she says. “Like on Halloween in 1999, Austin held my hand in the car on the way to trick-or-treating. Those are little things that our parents tell us, where they knew, ‘This is insane that they’re interacting like this.'”
“Every picture that we have — even in a group — we were together and then everyone else was on the side,” Natalie recalls. “I just basically have memories of always being with him, regardless of whether I remember the detail of the memory or not, I knew we were always together.”
One day that was rather clear in her mind, however, was the last day she saw Austin.
At just 5 years old, Natalie’s parents got divorced and she moved to Connecticut with her brother, sister, and mother — not knowing at the time that she wouldn’t see her best friend for 12 years.
“I remember the very last day that I saw him, not knowing that I wouldn’t see him for over a decade,” she shares with PEOPLE. “My last memory of him is [when] we made Rice Krispy treats in his parents’ kitchen… and then we were separated.”
Once she moved, Natalie says the pair lost contact — though she would think of her preschool best friend from time to time and wonder what happened to him.
“I briefly remember when I was 8 and 10, I would ask my mom about Austin and she would say, ‘I’m sure if you remember him, he remembers you,'” Natalie recalls. “But I had no way of getting in touch with him at the time.”
Things changed on July 17, 2012, when a 17-year-old Natalie discovered her mom’s old address book in their Connecticut home, with Austin’s name listed in the T section.
“I knew his last name started with a T, but I don’t know why — I still have no idea to this day why — I went to his name out of all the names that were in there. This thing was full,” she explains.
“As soon as I saw [his name and old address], I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I remember him.’ There was this overwhelming feeling of ‘I better go find him on Facebook before I miss out on this opportunity,'” Natalie reveals.
Though they had no mutual friends, Natalie said she instantly recognized Austin’s face in his photos and sent him a message. Like Natalie, Austin also remembered the fun times they shared as toddlers.
As they chatted, the pair discovered that Austin was currently living in Florida, just 10 minutes away from where Natalie’s dad lived — and also where Natalie would soon be for a few weeks.
Knowing that they had to meet up during her visit, Natalie and Austin organized dinner plans with their families and officially reconnected on July 31, 2012.
“Ever since that time, we’ve been together. It was like the second I saw him, it was a friendship that had come back to life instantly,” Natalie tells PEOPLE.
It was their second date, however, where sparks began to fly.
“We both knew we were in love with each other after being on our second date,” Natalie adds. “We rekindled the friendship on the first day of reuniting and then being alone, it was like, ‘Okay, whatever time that may be, I’m gonna marry you.'”
The pair endured one year of long distance, as they finished up their high school senior years in Florida and Connecticut respectively, and then attended different colleges in Florida. (Austin, at the University of Florida, while Natalie went to the University of Central Florida.)
A little over a year after graduating college, Austin popped the question in front of their friends and family in August 2017. On April 13, 2019, Austin and Natalie finally tied the knot at The Mulberry in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Their amazing journey really hit home for Natalie as she planned their wedding.
“After we had picked the place we were gonna get married, that’s when it was like ‘I’m literally marrying my preschool sweetheart.’ This is insanity,” she tells PEOPLE.
As a nod to their sweet story, the couple hung polaroids of their childhood photos around their wedding reception area, used an address book as a guestbook, and brought in a red “getaway” Jeep to recreate their adorable photo as kids.
“We were trying to throw in little details [of our relationship] and when I saw the Jeep in the photos, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to do this,'” Natalie says, adding that she was able to rent one from car sharing marketplace, Turo.
“The Jeep was our favorite thing about the wedding,” she adds of her idea. “It was a perfect recreation of it.”
Though the details of their relationship were special, Natalie says they were also careful not to overdo it.
“We had a storyline and a display of our pictures in order,” she notes. “As amazing as our story is, I didn’t want it to be the focal point of us being together… we have this amazing story but the story isn’t what kept us together for 7 years since we’ve reconnected.”
Now living together with their dog in Fort Lauderdale — Natalie working as an event planner and blogger, and Austin in sales — the couple are blissfully wed and look forward to many more years by each other’s side.
As she looks back on their 22-year friendship that budded into a romance, Natalie says the biggest thing she’s taken away from the experience is how everything happens for a reason.
“There’s a reason that my mom moved us away. At first, she was upset that [we left] Florida where a lot of our family and friends were,” she admits to PEOPLE. “But when I look back on it, if we hadn’t moved and I had grown up with Austin, I think it would have been a lot different… I don’t know if we would’ve been together.”
“There’s a reason I went through my mom’s archives and found an address book. And there’s a reason that we went to separate colleges,” she adds. “It was kinda crazy how everything came together so perfectly, and it still doesn’t make sense to me to this day.”