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Image by Олександр К

Week #128

​The Last First Time​​


When I first picked up the pen to write this series, I promised it will end in one of two ways… since I have not yet written a thousand ways to meet him but also since I’d wager on my imagination to save my life any day, this series is not ending because I ran out of imagination… which leads to the end of the series in a far more exciting fashion.

This last first-time is the story of when I finally met him in the real world. It was not entirely a coincidence, thanks to Alexis, my friend. But let me take a step back and tell you this last story from the beginning....


Alexis and I became friends in college. She is the “effortlessly beautiful, lights up a room just by being in it” type of person. I am the “happy to fade into the background and be a wallflower” type. One might not expect it, but we fit together - like a lock and key!.. Where she needed all the sunshine to focus on her, I was happy to walk in the shadows… 


Thanks to the thousand different ways to ‘talk’ in the 21st century, we’ve spent about an hour talking every day even when we parted to go to grad school a few hundred miles apart. That is the very reason I noticed when she first met him online. Our usual routine was to call each other before classes in the mornings around 8:30. But a month into the Fall semester this year, she would stop talking half way through a sentence and then be distracted long enough to frustrate me. When it happened a few times over a two week period I finally lost it and asked her what was going on.

“It’s still too early to tell Mish” This might be cryptic by any standard but it was way over the top for Alexis.

“What are you talking about Alex? Are you pregnant or something??”

“Hell no… what gave you that idea?” I could hear her ringing laughter even as she spoke, which is more like the Alex I know.

“Well, what else does anyone refer to with ‘too early’ to tell? Is it to do with Ethan then?”

“Kinda… I’ve been meaning to tell you actually… think Ethan and I are done.”

“What? Weren’t you talking about taking him home for Thanksgiving? What happened?”

“We weren’t really that serious, Mish. It just kinda fizzled out… you know how these things are...”

“Alright… so no boyfriend, but you might be having a baby still?”

“There is NO BABY, Mishka… jeez, how’d you get a baby in the mix?”

“Then what is too early to tell, woman?”

“You are never gonna shut up about it are you? Boundaries, Mish, boundaries!”

“When the hell did we have boundaries? Generally you can’t shut up about every little thing and now suddenly you have secrets you can’t tell me?”

“Ughhhh… you are impossible… he’s gonna kill me if I tell you”


“He?... hold on… so Ethan’s already replaced?”

“Not exactly… we just chat. That’s all”

“So, what’s the big secret then? Is he married or something?”

“No. He is not married. He just can’t date publicly.”

“What? What kind of back-ass-ward world does he live in that he can’t date? Who in this day and age can’t date “publicly”?... hold on, is he underage?? Alex… you are not talking to a kid online, are you?” 

“Of course not. He’s like 10 years older than us, Mish… it’s like you don’t know my taste suddenly.”

“Then why can’t he date publicly? What, is he royalty? Some prince from somewhere or something?” even as I said it, I realized I won’t be really that surprised if Alex was dating a prince.

“Something like that…”

“Really?... you sure it’s not a scam? like all the Nigerian princes online that want to send you money?... Have you met him?”

“It’s not a scam or a prank… but no, I haven’t met him yet… but I will soon” I could hear the nervous excitement in her voice. It was unusual for Alex to be like that about dating, which only made the mystery prince more mysterious.

“Ok… just be careful…”

For the next month Alex barely said anything about the mystery prince and I didn’t pry. Given her normal span of interest ran about 3 weeks, I figured he might have become ancient history by that point. That was until I broached the subject of spring break this year. We’ve spent spring-break together for nearly 5 years now. It was part of our routine to plan the trip about 6 weeks in advance when tickets were reasonable and weather was semi-predictable. We had talked about trying out one of the Bahamas islands or some place warmer than the north during the month of March. Today though, she was unusually quiet when I brought it up. Which surprised me.

“Alex? Did you hear me? Do you still want to do Bahamas or Turks & Caicos for spring break? We need to get things pinned down soon?”

“Umm… I think I want to skip the spring break trip this year, Mish… I’m not entirely positive about the schedule for the next few months” 

“Few months?? What’s going on? Are you having trouble this semester? You didn’t say anything about it before… what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. School’s fine. Really.”

“Oooo… K… then what? Did you sign up for something at school? It’s still spring break week though…” I felt extra dense right then.

“Mish… you remember the guy I mentioned I was chatting with?”

“Who? The mystery prince?”

“Yeah, the mystery prince… he’s coming over in a couple of months and he’s gonna be around for a while. So, I’m kinda keeping the calendar open.”

“OK… do you want to cancel meeting-up then?” I have to admit, it stung a little to think she couldn’t spend a few days with me because of some guy she met online. I’d been looking forward to getting away from the university and sipping margaritas under the sun.

“Actually… would you mind coming over here?”

“Alex, I was hoping for a little more sun than what you get over there.”

“I know but I could use having a friend if things don’t go to plan.” That was Alex asking for help.

“Alright. I’ll get the tickets tonight. But remember, you owe me… and your Prince better be the real deal, Missy.”

“Oh, just wait and see Mishka… just wait.”

The next six weeks went in the normal blur of seminars, papers and labs on my side. Alex on the other hand turned into a squealing teenager in the middle of February and stayed thirteen for a while. First time was during our morning call on a Friday. I was getting tired of her absent-minded mono-syllabel answers that morning again. Figured she was waiting for her mystery prince to show up to chat.

“Alex… you are doing the zombie thing again. I’m gonna hang up now. Call me when you are fr…” I never got to finish the sentence.

“Aaaarrhhhh… HE’S HERE!!!”

“What? What happened? Who’s there? Are you ok?”

“No, I’m definitely NOT ok, MIsh… HE’s here… He’s here… and I’m not ready”

“Hold on… is this your mystery prince we are talking about?”

“YES… He’s here”

“Like at the door ‘here’ ??”

“No… his flight just landed. I was following it on flight tracker through the night and it just landed… oh my god… I can’t breathe… he’s here… I’m really going to see him.”

“Alex… breathe… It's just a guy. Why are you acting like a 13 year old meeting her first crush or something?”

“You don’t understand. He’s the ONE Mishka… and I can’t believe we’ll finally be together.”

“Wow… slow down missy… did you say he’s the ONE??... this guy you’ve never met, you think is the ONE??? Did you hit your head somewhere? Who are you? Where’s Alex?” I felt so disoriented with the silliness of the conversation.

“Trust me… he’s the ONE. Now I need to get ready so when he meets me he’ll know I’m the one too. You know, the first time is everything! I gotta go Mish… I need to get a wax and highlights and well… everything done this morning…”

“Don’t miss class Alex”

“To hell with class Mish… byeeeah… mwah… wish me luck!!”

It was everything I could do to shake my head and sigh. Girl had definitely lost her marbles. On the flip side, Alex never got her heart broken. At least she hadn’t till now. A tiny part of me prayed she will escape unscathed this time too though at the rate she was going, it seemed unlikely. I’ve never seen her like this before.

That night, Alex didn’t make our normal call. Instead, I got a picture of a bouquet of white mums that looked like something from the local supermarket, which a bunch of heart emojis. I wondered for a moment if I should tell her that white mums represent grief and death. Instead I texted back a bouquet of purple roses with a, “next time - these!.” Perhaps I should’ve sent it to the mystery prince with a list of what each flower represents. Like purple roses mean sincere, lasting love…

Saturday evening call was perhaps the loudest I’ve had from Alex the entire time I’ve known her. 

“I met him Mish. I met him at the lakeshore park. he’s better in person than anything I had imagined. and his voice. it was just… I don’t know, he just gave me goosebumps when he said my name. oh... and his eyes, they are like burnt amber (sigh)… oh my god, Mish… he’s everything… everything I could’ve ever wished for…” and just like that she was crying... a veritable emotional rollercoaster!

Other than making shushing noises I didn’t know what else to do. I’d never known this version of Alex before. The confident, saucy, flirty Alex was gone. She’d been replaced with this raving basket-case. 

I was quite curious about the mystery prince though. I couldn’t imagine what kind of a man could turn a woman into this.

Next four weeks were a mixture of highest of highs and lowest of lows for Alex. The mystery prince limited dating to the weekends, which meant Thursdays and Fridays were a build up for her and Sunday to Wednesday was a spiraling down for missing him. All I could do was listen as she worked herself up to the weekend and remind her of the good times when she was spiraling out.

Listening to her, I had to admit he was a master at the dating game. The places he chose to take her went from romantic to playful… fun to intimate… a stroll on the lakeshore during sunset, an evening out in an arcade, an elegant dinner for just the two… things normal people did seem to be magical in his hands, the way Alex described. I secretly thought his real superpower is his ability to make her feel like the world revolves around her… 

I was happy and scared for Alex. She was never going to get over him, but hopefully, she will never have to… but when Alex talked about her dates I felt a tickle in the back of my mind too. Like there was something I was not connecting appropriately. The little details seemed familiar. Like I've seen them somewhere.

When I walked out to the arrival lounge that mid-March Sunday, I fully expected Alex to be there. I imagined a non-stop monologue from her all the way to the apartment about yet another text-book fairytale Saturday with her mystery prince. They've been spending more and more each successive weekend. I scanned the arrivals lounge multiple times before accepting she was not there. Thinking she might be running late, I picked up the phone to realize I hadn’t taken it off airplane mode. Soon as it was back online it pinged to show her text.

“Catch a Uber. I’ll see you soon.”

Then it pinged again.

“He stayed over” followed by two strings of emojis I couldn’t quite decipher as anything other than excitement.

Thinking that my neck is getting a lot of exercise these days with the amount of times I shake my head, I ordered a car and walked out of the airport. Ride to the apartment was quiet, which gave me too much time to worry about being the third wheel. As I knocked on the door, I couldn’t quite decide whether my nerves were from the worry or from the anticipation of finally meeting Alex’s mystery prince. Perhaps a bit of both.

Though muffled, the voices coming from the apartment registered a sense of surprise. His retreating bareback and Alex’s ruffled hair confirmed I was interrupting.

“Oh… I’m sorry, I thought you’d be expecting me.” I couldn’t quite make up my mind whether I was accusing Alex or apologizing to the stranger making a hasty retreat to the bedroom and closing the door.

“I was, of course Mish… I just lost track of time.” The way Alex raised her voice made me think she wasn’t really talking to me. “Come on in. Get settled and make some coffee, will you? Black and strong… he likes it that way.”

None too excited by the welcome, I watched as Alex skipped to the bedroom and closed the door again.

“I didn’t realize I was going to be playing maid to them” grumbling under the breath seemed like my only option as I took my shoes off, put away the bag and made coffee. To be fair, I was trying to make as much noise so I didn’t have to hear the soft conversation behind the closed door. It didn’t sound like he was really upset, but I can’t imagine I was a welcome surprise either. Especially not if he’s still dating in secret!

When the door finally opened I had three mugs of coffee sitting on the coffee table. I had secured myself the armchair with a clear view of the bedroom door. It was high time I met this mystery prince who didn’t know the first thing about flowers but had the best dating etiquette among men.

The man who walked out of the room was wearing the most expensive athleisure wear on the market. But it wasn’t just the clothes that seemed familiar. It was his built and his walk. For a moment I wondered where I might’ve met Alex’s tall, dark mystery prince before. That moment only lasted until he looked up, gave his signature crooked smile and picked up one of the coffee mugs with a soft, “Thank you”. 

Every single piece of the puzzle finally fell into place then. Why he didn’t date publicly, why Alexis had become a hysterical teenager, why he was a master at romance… even why he would have no clue about flowers… Staring at his face, I realized why Alex had never mentioned his name. I would’ve been here a month ago, if I knew it was this particular prince that was coming to visit. 

“Mishka… let me introduce you to...” 

I cut off Alex before she could finish. “Actually Alex, let’s not bother with introductions. I think Mystery Prince is a much better name than what others might call him, don’t you think? In fact, I just remembered I needed a couple of things from the drug store. Let me run out and get them before the day gets away from me. I’ll see you lovebirds in about an hour.”

Jumping up like a jack in the box, I grabbed my phone and walked out. A lakeshore walk in the middle of the day was in my immediate future it seemed. Finding a warm bench at the edge of water I settled to watch the ducks and come to terms with what I had just witnessed.

Alexis was happy. As happy as I’ve ever seen her. Mystery Prince was the best description for the man that made her happy. He is, after all, the prince charming that at least a few million grown women dream of many a night. The tiny voice inside my head chose that moment to point out that when he leaves Alex will never recover. I had to agree. He’s the kind that is easy to fall for, impossible to get over. But maybe he will stay. Maybe he will choose to grow old together and she will never need to get over him. I knew it was hope talking inside my head.


For the next hour as I watched the ducks do lazy circles on blue-green water, I chose to side with hope.

P.S. This has been the single most memorable spring break I’ve ever had, despite the lack of sun and limited number of margaritas and the scarcity of a friend... Alexis and her mystery prince seem inseparable. One night he didn’t show up, was the first night his picture showed up on social media. A random person had posted a blurry photo from his work location showing he was working through the night. His followers went crazy for finally getting to see him after months of no photos. I smiled watching Alex finally calm down that night. It was ingenious how he had managed to get a message to her without letting others know. Maybe this secret dating thing will work out for them after all… at least till they are ready to go public. As I sat in the plane waiting to take off, I wished them the very best…

Now, thanks to Alexis… so ends my quest of imagining the first meet. I've finally met you!

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