When I looked up, it felt like the floor had come out from under my feet.
I took a deep breath and opened my mouth, and from the torrent of words and speeches that rolled around in my head, only a single one managed to make its way out.
When I was sixteen, I was picking up some groceries from the corner market on my way home from school, grumbling about the Mums, and how much homework I have to do, and don’t they realize how busy and important I am? How dare they ask me to do the grocery shopping! when I looked up from the carton of eggs in my hand directly into the face of Justin Timberlake as he reached for . . . God knows what.
Apparently, Google told me later, he was in town for a show. To this day, I have no idea what he was picking up at our tiny corner shop.
In the moment, my brain did this stalling thing where everything just shut down. It’s happened to my computer before—the monitor makes a faint popping noise just before everything goes black, and I have to boot it up all over again. Whenever it happens to my dinosaur desktop in my bedroom, I now call it Justin Timberlaking because that’s exactly how it felt in that moment.
Justin had smiled over at me and then ducked his head to meet my eyes, his expression growing more concerned.
I shook my head, and he took the carton of eggs from my hand and put it in the basket hanging from my arm, smiling again. “Don’t want you to drop your eggs.”
Now, I will never stop laughing about that, by the way, because when Justin Timberlake told me not to drop my eggs, the tiny, still-beating part of my brain started cracking up at the multitude of ovulation jokes.
Not that I would have been brave enough to make any of them.
So, it’s my cross to bear, really, that during the biggest celebrity sighting I will likely ever have, I was completely mute, to the extent that the celebrity in question was genuinely unsure whether I would survive the encounter without dropping a dozen eggs.
And this is exactly how I felt looking up at Jensen Bergstrom, standing in front of me on the plane.
In the time it took my system to reboot, Jensen had stepped out of the aisle, asked the man walking in behind him and looking at my row with intent if he wouldn’t mind trading places with him, and then lowered himself into the seat beside me.
Thank God this time I’d been sitting. And not holding any eggs.
“What—?” My question was cut off by a choking sensation in my throat.
He let out another breathless “Hi.”
When he swallowed, my eyes moved to his throat. He wore a dress shirt, open at the collar. No suit coat, no tie. And where my eyes were glued to his neck, I could see his pulse, and I suddenly felt sunbaked, too warm.
I looked back up at his face, and it was like filing through all of my favorite memories. I remembered the tiny scar beneath his left eye, the solitary freckle on his right cheekbone. I remembered the way his front incisor just very slightly overlapped the tooth beside it, making what would be a perfect smile just a tiny bit easier to digest. All of these minor imperfections had once made Jensen less of a god to me, but seeing them now made his my favorite face in the entire world.
Our eyes met, and there it was: that unbelievable friction of chemistry.
We had that, didn’t we?
But then, I supposed—maybe too late—that every woman would have the friction of chemistry with a man like Jensen. I mean, fuck. How could she not? Look at him.
And look I did. He wasn’t wearing dress trousers, either. Instead, he had on dark jeans that hugged his muscular thighs, dark green Adidas trainers . . . and my brain tripped on his casual attire for a second before it passed over, trying to work out the greater question of him being here.
“Hi?” I answered, shaking my head before blurting nonsensically, “I didn’t ring you back.” My words sounded jagged, like little bits of torn paper. “Oh God. And you were here? In London?”
“Yes,” he said, frowning a little. “And no, you didn’t call me back. Why?”
Instead of an answer, another question tumbled out of me: “Are you seriously flying home on the same flight taking me to Boston? What are the odds?”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. I simply felt so many competing things about it and wasn’t sure which one was winning the battle for dominance.
First: Elation. It was reflexive, like the jerk of my knee. He looked good, and happy, and there was some frantic energy in his eyes that felt like a life preserver thrown overboard, directly to me. No matter what else, I’d loved my time with him. I’d begun to love him.
But also: Wariness. For obvious reasons.
And anger. Also for obvious reasons.
And maybe, just a tiny flicker of hope.
“What are the odds indeed,” he said quietly, and then smiled in a cascade that worked its way down his face: from his eyes to his cheeks and finally his perfect lips. “You’re coming to Boston?”
I tried to translate the hopeful twitch of his brow, the way he searched my eyes.
“I have three interviews,” I said, nodding.
Happiness seemed to drain from his face. “Oh.”
I nodded, turning my face away and biting back the words Don’t worry, I won’t ring you unsolicited, which were making a tight loop in my throat.
“And they got you a first-class ticket?” he murmured. “Wow.”
I was officially done with this conversation. This was what he found interesting? That I was worthy of their expensive ticket? Turning my face to the window, I laughed to myself without humor.