29 Nov Meet-Again-Cute by Hanna Harper
Jane was leaving the convenience store when her romcom was ruined.
What they don’t tell you about meet-cutes is that meeting is never as cute the second time around. In fact, the so-we-meet-again is the most awkward part, and it always happens when you’re not expecting it.
Except, that is, in movies. Destiny reunites people in interesting ways in romantic comedies. The man you spilled coffee all over is your new CEO. The woman you rescued from oncoming traffic is planning your sister’s wedding. The boy who sent sparks flying when he brushed your hand is writing the exposé that could ruin your career forever.
The reunion gives them conflict, but it’s just an obstacle to their love story. It gives their romance the opportunity to evolve. It makes it meaningful.
Real life is rarely so neat.
And, honestly, Jane wasn’t interested in that second part anyway. All she’d wanted was a nice story to tell her friends—a one-that-got-away to mourn who would remain pristine and context-less in her mind.
One afternoon at her local bookstore, she thought she’d gotten it. Her very own meet-cute.
As a fifth-grade English teacher, Jane spent an embarrassing amount of time in the middle-grade section. Her usual companions there were frenzied parents trying desperately to find good birthday gifts and ten-year-old kids spending their allowance money while their parents bought coffee.
Rarely people her own age, though. And certainly not tall, messy-haired young men with killer jawlines skimming through the pages of Narnia.
Naturally, Jane did a bit of a double-take when she spotted him sandwiched between A-F and G-L.
She blinked slowly at him.
He looked sweet, she thought, as she pretended to read the back of a YA novel nearby. His hair was a dark blonde that nearly covered a set of thick eyebrows. Something he read made the corner of his mouth perk up and her pulse skipped in response.
Too young to have a ten-year-old kid, most likely. And no ring. Maybe shopping for a niece or nephew?
Jane grinned to herself at the thought. It had to be that: this guy had “fun uncle” written all over him. The kind who swung kids over his shoulder and snuck them candy when their mom wasn’t looking and wrapped them in that soft jacket he was wearing when they refused to bring their own.
“Can I help you with anything?”
One of the clerks had approached him. The man nodded.
“Book two of the Chronicler series,” he said. There was a charming cockiness to his voice. “Have you got it?”
Maybe Mr. Narnia worked in trades, Jane theorized. The way he held himself was so casual, like he inhabited his body one hundred percent, like he trusted every part of it entirely.
After a minute of searching, the clerk was at a loss. “I’m sorry, sir, I’ll have to check the system—”
“Look under B,” Jane suggested, unthinkingly.
Both their gazes snapped onto her. Mr. Narnia’s was particularly weighted as he considered her for the first time. She took a deep, shaky breath when they made eye contact.
“Sorry,” she said, “it’s just, uh, you’re looking under L, which would make sense for the first book, by Peter Liltwood. But the second is, uh, by a different author. Amy Brent? The series is a collaboration.”
“Huh,” said Mr. Narnia. He pulled a purple cover from an adjacent shelf. “There it is.”
“Thanks, miss,” said the clerk, smiling tightly and moving on.
Jane nodded and went back to fake-reading The Fault in Our Stars.
Mr. Narnia turned the book over in his hands and shot her a much warmer smile. “Expert in kid’s lit, then?”
Jane let out a stuttered laugh, surprised at the continued interaction. “That’s one way to put it.”
“Well, I appreciate your insight, then.” He held out his hand. “I’m Chris.”
His palm was large over hers. The look he leveled at her as they shook hands made her feel like another book he was perusing, like he could read every line of her.
“Let me treat you to coffee, Jane. For coming to my rescue.”
“I don’t know about rescue,” Jane said, “but I do like coffee.”
Jane let Chris lead her to the bookstore café. It was a small place, tucked away in the corner behind the History section, with baristas dashing about behind the counter and coffee machines whirring away in the background. When she ordered her drink with three sugars, Chris gave her a bemused look.
“I almost don’t want to pay for that,” he said. “Can you even taste the coffee?”
They chatted idly once they sat down, mostly about the books they liked as kids, the books they liked now, the books that were way over-hyped. Chris was smart, laughed at her jokes, and made her laugh in return. It was scarily easy to forget that she’d only met him within the past half hour. She’d never felt so comfortable around a near-perfect-stranger before.
Given that previous experience, Jane could tell it was too easy. Which was why it felt like the universe putting itself back into balance when Chris got a phone call.
He paused mid-sentence, glanced at the name on his screen and rolled his eyes.
“Sorry, I really have to take this.” Chris hit the answer button before Jane had even replied.
“No worries,” she said, more to herself than anything.
From what little Jane could hear, the man on the other end of the phone was one wrong word away from an aneurysm. Chris spoke in fragments, trying to calm him down. From how he was tapping on the table impatiently, Jane knew this wouldn’t be a short call.
Chris pursed his lips apologetically as he looked back over to her and covered the microphone with his palm. “This might be a little while.”
“It’s fine.” Jane pushed the café chair back as quietly as she could. “Thanks for the coffee. It was great to meet you.”
Chris nodded with a small smile, then his attention was overtaken once more.
And for a good month or so, that was Jane’s little story. A chance encounter with a handsome stranger. Nothing as fancy as you’d find in your typical summer blockbuster, but enough to fuel a fantasy.
Her friends all lamented that they hadn’t exchanged numbers, that he’d taken the call. Jane appreciated their frustration on her behalf, but she was mostly just grateful that anything as interesting as a pseudo-meet-cute had happened to her at all. Now, she could imagine a hundred different ways that they could see each other again, fall in love, overcome all the usual romcom obstacles. All without any shred of belief that it would actually happen.
An epic romance, all from the safety of her own mind.
And once she decided to start going to a different bookstore, Jane was comfortably certain it would stay that way.
Until her costar smacked into her in the pouring rain in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven.
Jane almost didn’t recognize him: he was wearing a suit, a far cry from the casual t-shirt, jacket, and jeans combo from when they met. The downpour had painted it to his skin. Those shaggy bangs she’d admired were sending water running in rivulets down his nose and cheeks.
All this she took in as Chris swore and grabbed her by the shoulders to right her. She could pinpoint the exact second recognition sparked in his eyes, and it was with belated horror that she realized she hadn’t bothered to change out of her pyjamas for this trip.
At least she’d remembered an umbrella.
“It’s you!” Chris exclaimed.
“In the flesh.”
Chris put his hands on his hips. The rain soaking through his dress shirt didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest.
“I went back to the store a couple times, but I never saw you,” he said. “And now here you are!”
“We must have missed each other,” Jane said. (Guiltily).
“Must have.” He grinned wide. “Knew I’d see you again, though. Eventually.”
“Yep.” He wiped his bangs to the side cheerfully. “Listen, I know you didn’t realize when we first met, but—I’m Christopher Marshall.”
Chris watched her expectantly, as if this should be jaw-dropping information. Jane squinted, trying to place the name. An old classmate, maybe? A neighbour?
After a few seconds of silence, she still had nothing. Chris was starting to frown.
“As in, head editor at Equinox publishing?” he pushed.
“You’re an editor?”
“Well, yeah. I thought it refreshing you didn’t know. Most middle-grade writers wait months to talk to me, and there you were, completely clueless.”
“I- I’m not a writer,” Jane managed, once her brain caught up to what he was saying.
That finally seemed to shake him. Chris blinked. “You’re—what?”
“Not a writer,” she said, more confidently this time.
“But you said…”
“I’m an English teacher. That’s where I got my, uh… Expertise.” At the lost expression on his face, she added, “Sorry?”
“No, no, don’t be, I just—I guess I really built all that up in my head, huh?” He did a self-deprecating little shift that made his shoes squelch.
The rain was still pattering loudly on Jane’s umbrella. Droplets of it bounced off Chris’s hunched shoulders.
She sighed. “You don’t have any nieces or nephews, by any chance, do you?”
Jane squeezed the handle again. “And you were looking for the Chronicler books because you publish them.”
“Our rivals do, actually. I wanted to, uh, see if they were selling.” Chris looked even more confused now.
Jane scuffed one of her rain boots across the pavement. “I… may have thought you were buying something for your niece. And may have imagined you as this really cool uncle, who didn’t know what to get for her birthday, and our little meet-cute thing totally made her year by helping you find her favourite book…”
A lopsided smile broke slowly across Chris’s face.
“Yeah, sorry,” he echoed, slight cockiness back. “I’m an only child.”
“Figures.” Jane laughed. “I guess it wasn’t much of a meet-cute, then.”
“I guess not.”
Jane nudged him with her elbow. “Better luck next time, yeah?”
She took one more look at his handsome face dripping with rainwater, committed it to memory, then turned to go home. It served her right, she supposed. No fantasy could last forever. She’d have to find a way to break the news to her friends.
Except she only got about five steps away before she heard the splashing sound of someone following her.
“Jane!” Chris jogged in front of her, a wild and excited look in his eyes. “This is the meet-cute!”
“This! Right now! This is the meet-cute!”
Jane laughed incredulously. “No, it’s not. It’s the part where two adults realize their lives are not actually romcoms, and that they’re not made for each other just because they met in a fun way.”
“Not true. You and I, Jane, are in the middle of a meet-again-cute. In which we realize that we should definitely go on a date because we’re both the type of romantics who got completely ahead of ourselves, and now we’ve learned our lesson, and we’ll keep changing each other for the better.”
Chris looked extremely proud of himself for having come up with this. Jane kept walking.
“I’m not that romantic,” she said, unable to think of a better rebuttal.
“Don’t lie,” Chris said. “I bet you’re the kind of teacher who puts all the kids next to their crushes.”
Jane glared. She was that kind of teacher.
“You’re just saying this to get my number.”
“True. And you don’t have to give it to me. But admit it, meet-again-cute is pretty good.”
And, damn it, it was good. He already knew which buttons to press.
“All the best romcom scenes happen in the rain, Jane.”Jane bit her lip. Chris was well and truly drenched and couldn’t look happier about it. And here she was, in her PJ’s with her giant umbrella, speaking to a guy she knew even less about than she’d originally thought
“This is a terrible romcom,” she said, pulling out her phone.
But even as Jane said it, she found she didn’t really mind.