Chapter One one
The minute the cab door slams shut behind me at JFK, the hair on my arms stands on end and my heart beats double-time. My palms are coated in sweat, and not just because it’s a sweltering day in late June. I wipe my hands on my vintage white Levi’s, grip the handle of my suitcase, and take in the travelers pulling luggage out of taxis and steering kids through the airport’s revolving door. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but I’m banking on the hope that I’ll know it when I see it.
I take my sweet time entering my name and flight number into the kiosk’s touch screen, hoping to meet someone, until I feel someone’s presence a polite few feet behind me. As the machine prints out my boarding pass, I sneak a glance over my shoulder. I was right—there is a man there. Holding hands with another man. I offer a self-conscious smile.
“Sorry, almost done,” I promise.
Going through security takes ten times longer than the Zara checkout line on a Saturday afternoon. But I don’t mind the wait today. My flight isn’t for another two hours, and I can use this idle time to scope out attractive people who happen to be passing through Terminal 5 on the morning of Friday, June 24, 2022.
My eyes skim over the couples and families ahead of me, pausing at the men who appear to be alone or traveling with friends. Near the front, there’s a group of bleary-eyed frat bros. Too young. Further down the line, a man in a tie-dyed tank top and bun totes a hiking backpack (not my type), and another in a T-shirt and headphones nods vacantly along to a beat. I watch him for a moment until he reaches up to adjust an earbud, revealing a wedding band. Everyone shuffles through the line until, eventually, I make it to the TSA officer. He looks like he’s my age. Crooked nose, white teeth, no ring. I hand him my boarding pass and driver’s license. He studies my picture—taken around the time I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, in the thick of my retro phase: heavy on the eyeliner, hair teased sky-high—and flicks his dark eyes up to meet mine. I wait for a spark, a sign, something.
“You’re all set.” He hands the materials back to me, gesturing for the person behind me to step forward. “Next!”
None of this is my typical experience. I usually skid into the airport with less than an hour to spare, late from packing, overthinking, and re-packing. But this is the day. My day. I’ve been fantasizing about it for nearly half my life.
I heave a sigh. For all the countless times I’ve imagined today, I never considered how it would test my patience. I’ve waited thirteen years for my life to change, but a minute longer might break me.
My nerves are thanks to my grandmother Gloria. She always insisted that my twin sister, Rae, and I call her Gloria, not Grandma, because she refuses to feel old. (Two technicalities: One, her real name is actually Gladys, but nobody’s dared call her that since she was old enough to jettison that clunker. And two, she is ninety years old.) In 1955, straight out of secretarial school, she got a splashy job working at an ad agency in Manhattan. She adored it—not only the gig, which gave her work assisting important people and a salary of $92 per week, but the lifestyle: date nights with ad men at shows on Broadway, beautiful restaurants and boutiques on Madison Avenue, pocket money to buy pearls at Fortunoff, cigarettes on Central Park benches, city air. A life completely different from the one she grew up with across the East River in Brooklyn. If she got married, she’d be expected to get pregnant and give up working. So, she broke off one engagement to a nice but boring lawyer, then broke off a second one to a handsome but bland doctor. And then it happened.
The vision came to her on a lunch break with her fellow secretaries. She was enjoying a pastrami sandwich on rye and listening to Annette Lyons gossip when her vision blurred. She felt dizzy and warm, like she was floating in a hot bath: disorienting, but not unpleasant. She saw herself—not as she was, sitting in the red vinyl deli booth in her favorite cardigan trimmed with rhinestone buttons—but holding hands with a man, looking deliriously happy. She couldn’t see his face. Then the voice came, soft at first, then loud and full of static, like a blaring radio tuned to the wrong frequency. June 1, 1958. She didn’t know why, but she was certain that was the date she would meet the man she was meant to be with. As quickly as the feeling came on, it vanished.
Sure enough, three months later on June 1, she met Raymond Meyer at her friend Janet Weisberger’s dinner party. They were married within the year. He was a man worth giving up a job for, Gloria said. They bought an apartment on the Upper East Side within walking distance of Central Park, and he truly didn’t mind that she preferred to spend her days strolling Museum Mile and reading in cafés to keeping the house and preparing hot dinners. She felt vindicated that she had held out for a husband who was smitten with her exactly the way she was. He never wanted to tamp down her sharp tongue or her creative mind.
If the vision had only happened once, she might have written it off as a coincidence. But the images kept coming: she forecasted her brothers and sister meeting their matches, and then a handful of cousins, and her own daughter and son, and then my sister, Rae, and then me.
Gloria has seen it all coming: Her sixty-four-year-old aunt finding true romance with the woman who moved in next door after decades of an unhappy marriage to a man; my cousin Evan kissing a girl on the playground in preschool and marrying her twenty years later; even Rae meeting her boyfriend—soon-to-be fiancé—during her freshman year of college. She’s never been wrong.
Today, Friday, June 24, 2022, is my day. Gloria has known the date since I was a little girl, but didn’t reveal it until I was sixteen and completely crushed that Kyle Washington asked Michaela Francis to homecoming instead of me. She wanted me to know life had more in store for me than just a date to a high school dance. I’ve imagined this day in countless ways over the years: At sixteen, I fantasized about bumping into a beautiful French man on the Pont des Arts, the love lock bridge in Paris; at twenty-two, I dreamed about styling a cover shoot for a magazine and falling for whichever heartthrob celebrity’s pants I was cuffing; at twenty-five, I got honest with myself and figured I’d probably swipe across my future husband on a dating app. But now, at twenty-nine, it seems none of those scenarios was right.
It was only last month that Rae’s boyfriend, Max, asked our family to secretly fly to Maine to watch him propose. He wanted to ask on Clifton College’s campus, where they first met, in front of both their families. (He’s a sap like that.) But his choice of today means half my day will be spent traveling. I doubt he realized his proposal would overlap with the biggest day of my life, and I didn’t want to put a damper on his plans, especially given how long they’d been in motion—he and my twin sister have been together for eleven years, after all. And anyway, fate doesn’t care if I’m in an airport or 30,000 feet up: it’ll find me no matter what.
After I run my baggage through the scanners and slip my purple, block-heeled sandals back on, I take a long, slow stroll toward Gate 53, stopping every chance I get. I dip into Starbucks to order a cappuccino, buy Vogue and New York magazine at Hudson News, browse the racks of “I NY” T-shirts at a gift shop. I scan for eligible bachelors, but each store is frustratingly empty. It turns out, 9 a.m. on a weekday isn’t a popular time to travel. I briefly consider sitting down at the darkened bar to order a drink. Don’t people always hit on each other at airport bars? But I’d hope my destined date doesn’t imbibe before noon.
I futz with my cuticles—a nervous habit I have no right to indulge in, considering what portion of my income I spend on maintaining a flawless red manicure. I need to relax. But I can’t.
I duck into a restroom to touch up my hair and face. The heat has made my hot roller curls fall flat. I revive them with a mini comb and a travel-sized bottle of hairspray I keep tucked in my purse. It’s moments like these that make me grateful to be a stylist who’s picked up a few tips and tricks from hair gurus and makeup artists on photoshoots over the years.
I swipe on a heavy coat of lip balm and reapply red lipstick on top of it. (All you need to know about MAC’s Ruby Woo red is that Rihanna swears by it, and I hope that explains why I’ve worn it every day for the past ten years.) I dab a rollerball of Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille on my inner wrists. Gloria would approve. She’s always reminiscing about the days when air travel was considered the height of glamour.
I took great care in choosing my outfit today. Since I didn’t know what kind of person I’d meet—what he’d like best—I had no choice but to dress to my own tastes. I knew this would be the right move: Grandpa Ray loved Gloria exactly as she was, too. I have on my favorite jeans, a sweetly feminine blouse, my black leather jacket that feels like a second skin, a printed silk scarf swirled with red to match my lips and nails, and Gloria’s own pearl bracelet, the one she had given me on my eighteenth birthday.
The woman washing her hands in the adjacent sink eyes me curiously. She’s dressed casually in leggings and a T-shirt; her face is bare and her hair is in a lopsided ponytail.
“Hot date?” she asks, grinning.
I can’t help but beam. “Something like that, yeah.”
I finally take a seat at Gate 53. My knee bounces as I open the family group text, catching up on the chatter. Our parents secretly traveled from Westchester and New York City to Maine already. Rae thinks she’s there to visit friends who settled down in Portland.
Has it happened yet???? Rae wrote in our group chat with Shireen, our best friend since we were babies in playgroup together.
As inseparable kids, we called ourselves the triplets. Shireen always felt more like family than a friend; we were constantly helping ourselves to snacks straight out of each other’s kitchens. Even after we scattered to different colleges, the three of us reunited for a study abroad semester in Paris (Rae had wanted to go to Buenos Aires, but Shireen wanted to practice her French and I wanted to live in the fashion capital of the world—we out-voted her two to one). These days, Shireen works in the New York office of a French executive search company. She’s the only friend we’ve told about Gloria’s gift.
Wishing you good luck, not that you need it. Whoever this man is doesn’t know how ridiculously lucky he is to have you in his life.
How are you feeling?!
Nervous. No sightings yet.
He’ll show up. And if not, *I’ll* marry you.
We’ve had this contingency plan in place ever since the Kyle Washington fiasco. She was dumped by Isaac Berman the same week.
She shoots back a flurry of heart emojis as the gate agent makes an announcement that passengers in my section of the plane can begin boarding. I take a final look around the waiting area. There are families who look like they’re heading off to summer camp, couples with sunglasses perched atop their heads for vacation, and a smattering of women (not for me) and older men (again, no). If there are no real prospects for me here, maybe that means my match lives in Maine. Wouldn’t it be awful if I bumped into a coed at Clifton and found out that is supposed to be my match? I don’t have the patience to date a college student. I’d like kids in five years; we’d be on different time lines. And anyway, I like my outfit too much to risk splattering beer all over it.
There’s another flicker of fear that’s more painful to consider. Maybe there’s nobody coming for me because I already met the love of my life—not earlier today, but three years ago, when I bumped into Jonah at The Strand, the famed bookstore near Union Square. We were both browsing for photography books: I was hunting down fashion photographer Richard Avedon’s work and he was looking for inspiration for his own photography. Back then, I had a strict “no relationships” rule. What was the point of getting too involved when I knew my soulmate was waiting just a few years down the road? But when he asked for my number, I gave it to him. I never meant to fall in love, but it happened anyway, in tantalizing increments: at the West Village wine bar where we had our first date; then outside that night, huddled under the awning of a bodega to kiss as rainwater soaked his oversized wool sweater; on long walks with his camera slung around his neck; in diners on Sundays as we split hefty omelets stuffed with lox. I couldn’t tell Jonah about Gloria’s prophecy. How was I supposed to tell my ultra-logical, atheist boyfriend who scoffed when I read my horoscope that I was destined to want someone else even more?
I forced myself to break up with him six months ago, thinking I’d have just enough time to heal before my date rolled around. If only I knew then how raw and shattered I’d still feel now. At my lowest points, I worry I was too superstitious, too quick to blindly believe in something close to magic. Too hasty in my decision to leave Jonah.
So, I have to have faith in the prophecy. I’ve given up too much not to believe in it. Gloria has never been wrong. I cling to her guidance even more closely than our other family members do. We’re kindred spirits. My favorite childhood memories are of playing dress-up in her closet while she told stories about each piece: trying on long strands of turquoise beads that Grandpa Raymond bought her in Hawaii, shrugging on the fabulous sequined jacket she wore to Mom’s second wedding, stepping into the too-big slingback pumps she wears to the ballet. She trusted me with the secret ingredient that makes her dirty martinis so spectacular (I’ll never tell) and took me to Paris for a week in high school when Rae was busy with soccer camp. Gloria wouldn’t mess up—not ever, and certainly not for me.
“This is the final boarding call for flight 1224 to Portland, Maine,” the agent announces.
My chest feels tight as I roll my suitcase toward the gangway. The flight attendant scans my boarding pass. I walk down the narrow passage, step over the threshold onto the plane, and find my seat, 11A. The New York–Portland shuttle is small enough that there are only four seats per row. If nothing else is in my favor today so far, I’m grateful to at least have a window seat. Seeing my city from above always reminds me of how many joyful experiences I’ve crammed into a few small square miles.
I stow my carry-on in the overhead compartment, pull out a magazine, and rest my purse on the aisle seat next to me. Flipping through the pages will calm me down. I’ve barely made it past the ads and the editor’s letter when I hear a deep voice.
“Excuse me, do you mind moving your purse? I believe this is my seat.”
Ocean-blue eyes. High cheekbones. A mess of dark blond hair. I look up to find the most handsome man I’ve ever seen in my life—right on schedule.