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Meet Cute
Author: Helena Hunting




Eight Years Ago

“The key to success is to visualize it.” The soothing voice commands my attention, mostly because I’m wearing earbuds and it blocks everything else out. I resist the urge to check my schedule again—I know exactly where my class is since I walked the route yesterday and focus on the podcast. It’s my first day of law school and I’m determined to go in with a clear mind. “Close your eyes and visualize what your success looks like. Visualize success.”

“Visualize success,” I murmur, and close my eyes as I cut across the open field. It’s a shortcut and also a place where students hang out between classes.

“Exhale your anxiety,” the motivational podcast woman exhales into my ear. “And breathe in success.” Podcast Woman sucks in a windy breath.

“Inhale success.” The fresh scent of grass and trees tickles my nose, and I think maybe someone nearby might be wearing cologne, because I get a whiff of that, too.

I crack a lid, just to make sure I’m not wandering off course.

“What does your success look like? Visualize that success. Say it with me . . .”

I close my eyes and repeat it, visualizing finals and graduation and getting the best possible internships, having the best average in the class, getting the best job. I repeat the mantra as I continue across the open green space, more and more excited for my first class. I’m going to kick all the asses this year. I’m going to beat every single one of my classmates and climb my way to the very top. Like Mount Everest, except not terrifyingly dangerous.

I’m in the middle of visualizing winning my first case when I’m startled by a loud shout. I open my eyes to find a Frisbee hurtling toward me. Worse than the Frisbee, though, is the huge guy jumping to catch it—the air he gets is rather extraordinary—unfortunately, it’s sending him on a collision course, and I’m the object he’s due to hit.

My knapsack slips from my shoulder, and I trip over it as I try to avoid either the Frisbee or the guy. The mantra in my ears silences as the headphones pull free.

“Watch out!” someone yells.

I spin around, disoriented, and am slammed into by the guy with the amazing vertical.

“Oh shit!” he yells.

I grab on to his shoulders as I stumble over my stupid knapsack and pull him down with me. We land on the ground with an oomph. I’m still gripping his shirt, trying to figure out how this happened, and thinking about how much this is not how I visualize success at all.

“I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” He braces himself on his forearms, pretty much doing a push-up on top of me. I’d be impressed if I wasn’t so embarrassed.

“I’d be a lot better if people watched where they were going,” I mutter as I try to extract my limbs from his without doing any damage to either of us. He’s straddling my leg, so any sudden movements and my knee and his man parts will meet in an unfriendly way. I note that he smells like fresh laundry, deodorant, and a hint of cologne, accented by watermelon gum.

His face is only about six inches from mine, so his frown is up close and rather personal. “You walked through the middle of our game.”

I glance toward the group of Frisbee players, realizing he’s right. I was so busy visualizing my own success that I totally screwed up their game.

“I’m so sorry. I was listening to a podca—” I look back up at him, and my explanation gets stuck in my throat when I stop to really take him in.

I recognize his face as one I’ve had endless fantasies about all through my teen years. And into my adult ones. As recently as last week, even.

His slightly annoyed expression shifts into amusement as I stare up at him, slack jawed. I’m still fisting his shirt. He’s still doing a push-up on top of me. Daxton Hughes’s thigh is between my legs.

“Holy crap!” My voice is too high and far too loud, especially considering my face is less than six inches from his. In fact, it’s a full-on shriek. As if I’m an eleven-year-old girl again. “You’re Daxton Hughes! I love you!” I take him totally off guard when I throw my arms around him, setting him off balance so that he lands on top of me. He’s remarkably heavy, but I don’t care because our bodies are flush against each other. I will never forget this moment for as long as I live. Daxton Hughes is lying on top of me! Too bad we’re not at the beach and both in bathing suits. Or in bed. Naked.

I’m still hugging him as he drags me up into a sitting position. It’s super awkward with the way we both have a knee perilously close to each other’s crotch. I also register how stiff he is, and exactly what I’ve just said and what I’m currently doing. We’re in the middle of an open expanse of field, and there are people everywhere.

Horrified, I release him and crabwalk backward, almost kneeing him in the man jewels. I clamber to my feet, taking a step back as he pushes up, rising to his full height. My God he’s tall, taller than I expected, and broad. But I suppose he’s grown into his body since he starred in my favorite TV show. My hands are flapping. Why are my hands flapping? I need to make my body stop doing weird things, but I’m out of control and my nervousness takes over, sending me careening into the land of insanely embarrassing behavior. There are too many witnesses.

His blue-green eyes, the color of a tropical ocean, are wide, and that momentary gorgeous smile falters. Which I understand, because I’m being that girl. I am never that girl. Except in this moment.

I gain semicontrol of my hands, toning down the flap to an uncoordinated wave of dismissal, in an attempt to erase those last words. But it’s too late to take them back. I also seem unable to do anything apart from spew embarrassing, nonsensical word vomit all over him. “I mean, I loved your show. Like, so much. It was my favorite, like, ever. I watched it every Tuesday night for years. All through junior high and then by high school they had these It’s My Life weekend marathons and me and my girlfriends would have sleepovers and stay up all night. You were amazing as Dustin. I think season three was my favorite, or maybe season four. Oh my God. I can’t believe you’re standing here. I can’t believe I’m meeting you.” I can’t believe my mouth keeps running.

With every overly loud admission, his jaw tics. I can’t tell if he’s embarrassed or irritated. Probably both. I wish someone would club me over the head and knock me out so I could stop this train wreck. I’m 100 percent starstruck, and even though I know I’m making an absolute fool out of myself, I’m unable to stop.

“Can I get your autograph? Maybe you can sign my schedule. Or my map. Oh! You can sign me!” I pick my knapsack up, along with my phone and earbuds, shoving those into my jeans pocket. I jam my hand in the front pocket of my knapsack, grasping for any kind of writing implement. I come up with a fistful of options, including a hot-pink highlighter. “Do you think this color will show up on my arm? Oh! How about my shirt? I mean, the pink doesn’t really match but whatevs, right?”

He covers my hand with his. He’s touching me again. On purpose! His eyes dart around, and he leans in close. “I’ll sign anything you want, but as much as I love your enthusiasm, and I really do, I’m trying to go under the radar, and you’ve got some cheerleader lungs on you.” His voice is much lower than mine, and I realize it’s an attempt to get me to quiet down.

I cover my mouth with my palm. “Right. Sorry. Oh my God. I’m so sorry. This is so embarrassing. I just . . . you have no idea. Or you probably do. I didn’t think you’d be so tall. And you’re even better looking up close. I always thought you must wear contacts. Your eyes are so pretty.” I squeeze my eyes shut. “I really need to shut up.”

He chuckles. “Your eyes are pretty, too.”

I crack a lid, and he gives me a lopsided smile as he plucks a Sharpie from my hand and scribbles on my knapsack. I’m never throwing it out, ever.

“Hughes, we gotta roll out,” someone calls.

He holds up a finger, then caps the Sharpie and passes it back. “I gotta get to class, but maybe I’ll see you around.” He winks and turns away, breaking into a jog as he catches a bag from one of his friends.

“I just met Daxton Hughes and he told me I have pretty eyes,” I say as I continue across the quad. A couple of girls sitting under a tree give me a weird look, but I don’t care. This is the best first day of law school ever. Embarrassment hits as I make a quick stop in the bathroom to prevent hyperventilating due to excessive excitement. I fangirled so hard, and he was so nice. And he touched me.

I always imagined that if I met one of my favorite celebrities, I’d act cool, be all casual about it, treat them like a regular person. Obviously I was very wrong about that.

I spend too much time in the bathroom making sure I look half-decent, and I’m forced to speed walk all the way to my building. By the time I arrive I have only two minutes to spare. So much for getting a good seat. It’s fine. Visualize success.

I enter the lecture hall through the back door, so I don’t have to pass the professor on my way in. I’m sweaty and disheveled as I scan the room. Only a few empty seats remain. I murmur excuse me as I shimmy down the aisle, forcing people to move their feet and bags. As I close in on the open seat, I approach a set of outstretched legs and mutter another excuse me. I’m so high on the awesomeness of my morning that I don’t see the messenger bag strap. I trip again, and end up sprawled over the set of legs.

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