Beep beep beep. The alarm clock on your bedside table goes off, and your hand shoots out from beneath your mountain of comforters and pillows to smack it into silence. You shoot up in bed, already smiling, and the day begins.
Katy Perry’s “Eye of the Tiger” plays as you roll your morning montage. The steps are always the same: hot shower (don’t forget to shampoo your hair into a tall spike and laugh in that carefree way you do), brush teeth and write your morning affirmations in the steam on the mirror (follow it with a kiss that leaves a perfectly lip-shaped outline), spend too much time on makeup and on picking the outfit that says sexy, but serious, and lastly, realize you’re running late and adorably grab a single apple from the counter as you rush out the door.
The sky is blue and clear. It’s one of those days in which you can’t help but raise your face to the sky, breathe in the fumes, and proclaim, “I love you, New York!” Everyone who walks around you like water flowing around a boulder thinks that you are gorgeously inspired. Someone bumps you roughly - an accident, to be sure. People as charming as you do not get jostled. You walk down the sidewalk to the subway, aware of the way you are turning heads as you hustle (but not hard enough to break a sweat) to make the train. People love a protagonist. The song is now “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles.
You make it to the train just in time, the doors closing just as you squeeze your way through them. Don’t you just love being lucky in New York City? You lean your head back against the seat behind you and let out a wry chuckle. Some women have it all, but you? You know you have something better. You have good fortune and a healthy dose of spunk. You use the train ride to check your social media feeds. Your photo of last night’s solo salmon dinner next to the book you’re currently carrying around to pretend to read in public places, captioned “Just a single girl learning to cook for one, #issalmonanaphrodesiac” is raking in the likes, just as you knew it would. You’re practically an influencer at this point, but that’s not why you do it, not at all. You post in order to give the world the gift of your insight, your unique wit, your fresh take. You regard your two thousand followers with humble (and adorable) gratitude. You even reply to the comments occasionally. Well done, you. They don’t need to know that you have spent over one hundred dollars of much-needed rent money purchasing followers from websites that claim to boost your rise to Insta-stardom.
You are still scrolling as the subway arrives at your destination and you make for the doors. That’s why you don’t see your Meet Cute until you collide with his chest. You expertly drop your bag as you fall (clumsily, perfectly, just as rehearsed) into the arms of….him. Whoever he is. You can’t make him out at first because of all the pieces of paper floating down around you (you always keep your work bag full of important-looking documents for moments like these; they create romantic suspense). The music changes again, now soft and instrumental so you can be heard apologizing. The last paper falls to reveal a very, very handsome man. You stop mid-apology (again, just as practiced) as you meet his green eyes, lensed behind small glasses. You think he looks like a studious Matthew McConaughy. He delicately disentangles himself from you, and you clock tanned forearms with sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
“I’m so sorry,” you say breathlessly again. “I don’t know what happened there.”
“You were on your phone and you ran into me. That’s what happened.” His voice is low, sexy. He looks down at you in what most people would call annoyance, but you know is intrigue. You intrigue him.
You laugh lightly, touching your flushed cheeks. “Well, sorry, again. Of course this happens when I’m already running late, right?” You shoot him a look that says, It’s just us against this crazy old world, huh? He is looking over your shoulder at the train doors. “I’m Claire,” you say, extending your perfectly manicured hand. He doesn’t take it.
“I am also late,” he says, making to step around you. You deploy the Paper Plan, sighing sadly as you bend down to start scooping up the meaningless papers around you. The man looks down at you, back at the train, and then jogs lightly to grab a couple of the papers swirling around in the air from the subway station. He hands them to you, and you take them, brushing his hand as you do.
“Thank you so much,” you beam up at him. He is so, so tall. “I don’t know what I would have done if I lost these, I have a meeting in less than an hour.”
“No problem,” he says, sidestepping. Is he nervous? It’s so cute when they’re too nervous to stay and talk. “I don’t want to miss the train. Excuse me.”
“Thanks again!” you shout at his broad back as it retreats into the subway carriage.
He turns to look back at you, and you know that this is the moment that he will hop back off the train, stride confidently up to you, and ask you if you maybe wanted to grab a coffee sometime, to which you’ll respond, “How about now?” even though you are actually quite late for work at this point. Instead, he gives you a look that you aren’t quite sure how to decipher. Not frustration, definitely not that. Attraction, probably. The instrumental music builds.
“You know all your papers are blank, right?” he says as the train doors shut between you.
You spend the whole day thinking about your mystery Meet Cute. The side characters at your office work around you, sped-up fast motion to your slow-mo, and you spend the day in a haze of newfound love. The montage of your day continues. Filing, faxing, lunch at the deli around the corner where they are definitely starting to recognize you as a regular, you’re sure of it.
The guy at the train station is perfect, and you’re already thinking of how to orchestrate another cinematic run-in. You decide you need backup for this plan and text your Gay Best Friend, Natalia, to see if she’ll grab a drink with you after work. She agrees.
You meet Natalia at a dive bar that you found in college. The song is “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. You walk in, and your friend is sitting at a booth in the corner. You approach her and tell her you want to sit at the bar; your outfit and makeup are too cute to be hidden away in some booth. What if the guy from the subway was to walk in? He probably would, after all - it was just your luck. Plus, he had never even told you his name, so you would need at least one more run-in with him before the whole thing could really get going like it was supposed to.
You order a gin and tonic and immediately dive into the story about the man at the subway. Natalia sips her beer. She is such a great listener; that’s why she’s your best friend. Well, no actually, she’s your Gay Best Friend. Your Actual Best Friend is Kayla, who wears the same dress and shoe size as you, but Kayla doesn’t give boy advice like Natalia, which is ironic because Natalia doesn’t even date men.
“So yeah, it turns out this guy is actually gorgeous, like GOR. GEOUS. And he helped me pick up my papers, and when he looked in my eyes…it was like being struck by lightning. Like, magical. Natalia, I think he might actually be something special.”
“Did you get his number?” Natalia asks.
“Well, no,” you reply. “He was in a rush and had to get on the train, but then he turned back to me and we had this moment. Like I swear to god, he was about to jump back through the doors and come back and just, like, kiss me, but the doors closed and it was too late.”
“But I know we’ll run into each other again because, well, we have to, right? It was just so perfect. The stars aligned so that we could meet each other! It’s fate! So, now I’m thinking all I have to do is make sure I’m at that station at the same time every morning, because clearly that’s his station, right? And then, we’ll get to meet by chance again, and then, I’ll get his phone number. And his name.”
You get lost in the fantasy. First, he sees you again from across the platform and races to get to you, so strong is the force of attraction. He tells you that he couldn’t stop thinking about you, the girl with the papers, that he knows it sounds crazy but he might be falling for you. He kisses you as a train rushes into the station, blowing your hair back in the wind, and it is electric. The kiss is followed by several very cute dates in quick succession, like picnics in the park in which you both get swept away by the whimsy of it all and end up splashing barefoot in the fountain, laughing the whole time. The dates lead to renting a studio apartment together, one that you both jokingly say is the size of a shoebox but somehow fits all your things and all of his things and all the things somehow match to create a perfectly quirky and eclectic little home. Soon enough, you’re getting engaged on a romantic getaway to Paris, getting married in your parents’ church, moving to a sleek apartment in Manhattan, popping out little ones like a Pez dispenser. It all looks so perfect.
“Can I ask you something?” Natalia says, breaking your reverie. You say yes. “Why do you do this to yourself?”
“What do you mean?” you ask, taken aback.
“I mean, why do you get so wrapped up in every chance encounter you have with literally any remotely cute guy? The city is full of guys. I feel like you’ve talked about each and every one of them like they’re your soulmate, even though you only meet them for like, five seconds.”
“Well you never really know, Natalia. Love is all around us, after all.” You sit back, finish your drink, and wonder at what could possibly be bringing up this line of questioning. Natalia always loves your stories, why else would she listen to them all?
Maybe she’s falling in love with me, you think in equal parts annoyance and glee. Why does this always happen to me?
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Claire,” Natalia continues. “But this whole boy-crazy, star-of-the-romcom thing you do is getting a little old. You’re almost thirty, and you never ask me about my love life, but every guy you meet could fill a textbook. Plus, you never want to talk about what’s actually going on in the world. Like, you thought BLM was a new type of butt surgery. You know there’s a war going on in Ukraine, right?”
“Natalia, I don’t read the news on principle. And I would ask you about your love life if there was anything to ask about.”
Natalia finishes her beer in silence. You pay the bill, and then pick up your purse to leave. “I’ve got to run, early morning tomorrow. I’ll text you if I see him at the subway! Don’t lose faith Nat, there’s someone out there for you.” You air kiss Natalia on either cheek, careful not to actually kiss her and give her the wrong idea. You saunter out past all the regulars (most of them are secretly in love with you) and onto the street. The cool night air calls for another moment of head-tipped-back, New York City-fueled bliss. You have a good feeling about tomorrow. As you walk home, the whole of the city wrapped around your little finger, the song playing is Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe”.