A lucky match

A lucky match

Your buddy match! Meet Laura.

A jolt of nervous energy shoots through you as you read the subject line. Laura! A girl!

For some reason, you didn’t expect that. In hindsight it’s obvious – boys and girls hanging out together is a decidedly not college way of thinking. You chide yourself, swearing to try to be cool, for once. College is a chance for a new start. Thank god for the match program, it’s a great excuse to hit the ground running with a friend.

A friend. Signing up for the university’s match program was easy – just click a button and fill out a bio. But now the hard part begins, a match! Time to actually be social.

You take a deep breath and open the email. You find Laura’s profile and are met with her photo. A smiling girl with wavy brown hair. Your match, Laura. Wow.

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You read over her short bio:

"Hi, ‘buddy’! I'm Laura, and I’m from the east coast. I love exploring new cities and going on adventures - whether it's a hike or getting lost in a modern art museum. Speaking of art, I’m thinking of doing an art history major. I also LOVE to work out. Want to check out the campus gym with me? I’m looking for a fellow art and outdoors enthusiast to scope out all the hidden gems around campus with me! Don't be shy, say hi :)"

You smile to yourself as you read. Cute, outdoorsy... Very cute, in fact. Wow. Her enthusiasm is contagious, even through text. You imagine strolling through a museum together or wandering winding trails. And getting dinner afterward, and then… Ok, don’t do the thing where you imagine your entire life with a girl you haven’t even met. Still, maybe she’d be up for something this weekend? Just…be cool.

You start composing a response, nervously choosing words. After agonizing for a few minutes, you finally work up the nerve to hit send:

[2:45 PM] You: Hey Laura! 😊I just got the match email! How's your move-in going?

You drum your fingers nervously as you wait for a reply. Mercifully, it’s soon!

[2:49 PM] Laura: Hi hi hi! Nice to meet you virtually 😊 My move-ins been smooth sailing so far. Still lots of unpacking to do before classes start 😅 What about you?

She seems friendly! You debate how much to reveal about yourself. No need to spill everything on day one. Be mysterious…

[2:52 PM] You: It's going well! Still getting my bearings on campus.

Time to get right to the point; this is about meeting people, right?

[2:53 PM] You: I saw that you like the outdoors! Want to go on a hike this weekend? I know an awesome trail just outside the city. I grew up here so I have the inside scoop 😉

You hold your breath. Please say yes, you think. Your stomach is in knots as you wait for her reply. What if she doesn’t like your picture or profile or something? Now’s when she’d back out… your phone vibrates.

[2:55 PM] Laura: Ooooh, a local! You can show me the spots! 😁 That sounds so fun! I'd love to explore more of the area. Don’t tell me where we’re going, surprise me 🙊 When works for you?

Your face lights up reading her enthusiastic response. She’s down! You suggest meeting up on Saturday morning for the hike and offer to pick her up from her dorm.

After exchanging some more details about the meeting spot, Laura texts again:

[3:02 PM] Laura: I’m glad you suggested a hike. It’s only Wednesday and the week is already dragging me doooown 😩 I need to get out!

[3:02 PM] You: 😢 Yeah, let’s get you outta here and touch grass

[3:04 PM] Laura: 👉🌱 yes please! I’m really looking forward to it. See you on Saturday!

You focus on classes and homework as the week marches on, but your mind keeps drifting back to Laura.

≋ ≋ ≋

After downing some ramen for dinner, you settle down with your laptop on the couch, ready to write some code for a class project. Your phone buzzes and you pick it up to see a text from Laura. Your heart skips a beat and your stomach knots. Is she canceling?

[8:13 PM] Laura: Hey ‘buddy match’! I’m looking forward to our hike tomorrow!

You’re relieved, nervous tension dissipating as you see her typing another message.

[8:13 PM] Laura: Can I get your advice on something?

[8:13 PM] You: yeah of course, what’s up?

[8:14 PM] Laura: … what did you think of my profile picture? 🙈

[8:14 PM] You: Hmm, let me take another look...

A bead of sweat forms on your brow as you flick back to her profile picture. You're acutely aware of the weight behind your words. She's asked for your opinion, is this some sort of test. Your finger hovers over the keyboard. Compliment? Yeah, compliment.

[8:16 PM] You: Honestly, I think it's really nice. You look very attractive in it.

As soon as you hit send, your face heats up. Very attractive? Who says that? You wince, picturing her reading it and deciding you're some kind of creep. A cringe creep.

Then your phone buzzes.

[8:17 PM] Laura: 😂😅🙈 Thank you! I didn't mean it like that haha

[8:18 PM] Laura: It's actually my senior photo, and I'm worried it might be too formal or... I dunno, childish? I just want to make the right first impression on people.

You berate yourself. Of course! She was just asking about the vibe, not fishing for compliments. You scramble to answer.

[8:20 PM] You: Oh, totally get that. It's a great photo though, and you should feel good about it! Everyone's a bit formal in those, right? What else are you supposed to do? You did great!

Rambling. Ok, a step up from earlier, but seriously. Pull it together dude.

[8:21 PM] Laura: Thanks, you're sweet. 😊 Here's a more casual pic so you can see what I "really" look like when you pick me up!

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Wow – she's seriously cute.

You try not to get too far ahead of yourself. You imagine wandering through shaded forests as she stops to stretch – okay, let’s not go too crazy with the imagination here. In any case, she seems nice and has the right amount of self-awareness. At least so far! Maybe you can team up to meet new people, or go on adventures.

[8:23 PM] You: Got it, thanks! That's super helpful. I'll swing by West Hall around 9 AM tomorrow. Looking forward to showing you around!

You lean back, relieved to have salvaged the conversation. As you picture sharing the day with Laura, you feel a spark of optimism. This could be the start of something fun – a new connection in a familiar place.

Hopefully, one that isn’t any more awkward than it’s already been.

≋ ≋ ≋

You pull up to the dorms as the morning sun lazily works its way into the sky. There she is — Laura — in the flesh, just like in the photo, only more vibrant. Her wave stirs a frenzy of butterflies in your stomach. You return the gesture, feeling a current of anticipation buzz through you.

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She slips into the passenger seat, tossing her daypack in the back seat. Her presence suddenly fills the car with an energy that makes the air seem charged. "Thanks for the ride," she says, the seatbelt clicking into place, "I probably would've gotten lost trying to bus there. If you can even do that, is that a thing?"

"Definitely not a thing. There probably won’t be very many people where we’re going! Besides, I’ve got the local roadmap in my head," you reply, tapping the side of your head lamely, but you earn a smile.

You sit in awkward silence for a few moments, the weight of first in-person meetings hanging over you. Laura breaks the tension first, just as you pull away from the curb and begin navigating out of the winding lanes on campus.

"So, um, how's your week been so far? Get all moved in ok?"

"Yeah, it was a little chaotic. I’ve got an apartment, which is super nice! A family friend, you know, because I’m from here. Like, they had an extra spot, and the rent is cheap, so I have that place to myself," you reply. Smooth, dude. Rambling right away.

"Oh nice, an apartment to yourself sounds pretty sweet!" Laura says. "I'm a little jealous – sharing a tiny dorm room has been an adjustment."

You nod. "Yeah, it's great to have my own space."

You rack your brain trying to keep the conversation going. Laura plays with her hair, also seemingly unsure of what to say next.

Classwork—yes, that’s a safe topic. "So...have you started on any classwork yet?" you ask after a few more awkward moments.

Laura laughs, breaking the tension a bit. "Barely! I've been too busy decorating and meeting people. Probably not the most responsible approach. That pre-read list they sent out was long! Is anyone actually going to read it?"

You smile. "Seriously, no way. I’m just going to assume nobody checks. Besides, we should get the fun in while we can."

"My thoughts exactly!" Laura says. "Plenty of time for studying later."

You make some small talk about classes before lapsing into silence again, driving through the city toward the highway and up into the mountains.

Glancing sideways, you catch Laura stealing a peek at you, her gaze quick to flit away. When she's not looking, you return the favor, confirming that yes, she's just as captivating as you remembered from her pictures.

"This hike was a great idea," Laura finally says, looking out the window as suburbs and strip malls turn into forest. "It feels good to get away from campus for a bit. It’s only been a few days but it’s so much, so fast."

You grip the steering wheel a little less firmly, "I think you'll like the views, too!"

"Ooh, I can't wait to see!" Laura says. "I love finding those hidden gems with amazing scenery."

"So do you hike a lot?" you ask, trying to act casual.

"I used to go with my family sometimes, but it's been a while," Laura replies. You notice she's twisting a strand of hair around her finger absently. "There's this beautiful trail along a river that my family would go to in the summer. But I haven't really had a chance to get outdoors at all since moving here."

"Well, in addition to the hiking spots, I also know some other local hits. I could show you around if you’d like," you say, hoping you’re not being too forward.

"That would be amazing! I'd love to see more of what's around campus too. Any good cafés or bookstores you'd recommend? I'd love to explore more and find a good coffee shop to study in. Ooh, or a used bookstore! I love curling up somewhere cozy with a stack of books," Laura says.

You picture yourself with Laura, tucked away in a corner of a quaint bookshop together, sipping tea and chatting quietly. Then you admonish yourself for already romanticizing this practical stranger.

"Yeah, that sounds nice," you say simply, not wanting to reveal how much you'd love to browse books with her.

Laura turns to look out the window then, fidgeting with her hair. You recognize she's also nervous.

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The car becomes a cocoon of shared glances and half-spoken thoughts as you navigate to the trailhead. Each of you is an island of nerves, trying to build a bridge but unsure of the first step.

You both breathe an audible sigh of relief when you pull into the trailhead parking lot, clearly eager to get moving and break the tension. Your nerves feel frayed from trying to make a good impression. You both take a moment to stretch and prepare before hitting the trail.

"So what's at the end of the hike?" Laura asks as she reaches down to touch her toes. "An awesome overlook or something?"

"Hmm, you'll just have to wait and see," you reply with a playful grin.

"Ooh, a surprise?" Laura says, her eyes lighting up. "Well, now I'm really curious!"

You just smile mysteriously in response.

"Alright, keep your secrets!" Laura says in a mock huffy voice, but her eyes are dancing. "I guess I'll find out eventually."

"All good things come to those who wait … and hike," you joke back. Laura laughs.

You feel yourself relaxing – she likes your jokes! That’s a really good sign. Laura seems more at ease out here in the open air, too.

After a good stretch, you shoulder your daypack. "Ready for this?" you ask her.

"Let's do it!" She sets off down the trail with an excited bounce in her step. You follow along, spirits lifted, already enjoying the view.

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≋ ≋ ≋

As you stroll along the shaded trail, the conversation is starting to flow a lot easier between you and Laura. The change of environment and getting moving makes opening up feel much more natural.

"So you've got your own place?" Laura asks. "Man, I'm jealous. Sharing a tiny dorm room has been...an experience."

You sense there's more to that story. "Oh yeah? How's your roomie? Interesting?" you ask.

"That's putting it mildly," Laura replies, rolling her eyes. "Her name's Jo. She's nice, but let's just say she sees the world very differently than me." Laura pauses. “Or anyone else, really.”

"How so?" you prod.

"Well, like, she has no filter at all," Laura explains. "She'll just randomly announce raunchy thoughts that pop into her head, even around strangers. It's nonstop."

You raise your eyebrows, both amused and intrigued.

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"Yeah..." Laura gives an exasperated laugh. "Like, don't be shocked if we see her around and she starts trying to guess, um, how big every guy in sight is." Laura blushes.

"Oh, uh, noted," you reply, feeling a hint of awkwardness.

Laura's cheeks adopt a rosy hue. "Yeah, and when we cross paths with her on campus, just be prepared. She might just give you a... well, a very personal once-over."

"Got it," you say, a mix of laughter and nerves bubbling up. "I'll brace myself for the Jo experience. She sounds a bit…extra."

"Totally. And she's already pressing me to be more wild and impulsive too," Laura adds. She shakes her head but can't hide a bashful smile. "I feel like she’ll either be the best roommate ever or the worst roommate ever. I guess I’ll know soon!"

"Sounds like quite a character," you say diplomatically.

"She means well," Laura says quickly. "But sharing a room is an ongoing lesson in expanding my boundaries, for sure."

≋ ≋ ≋

The day has been warming steadily as you make your way up the trail. Barely half an hour into the hike, Laura's discomfort is palpable; she's a portrait of summer in an outfit meant for fall. She voices her regret with a groan, "Ugh, I can't believe I wore jeans and a sweatshirt! I'm roasting out here."

You can't help but let a teasing remark escape in response. "Seems like someone underestimated the great outdoors. Experienced hiker, huh?"

Laura gives you a playful nudge. "Oh hush! The mountains back east are not nearly this … tall. And I’m getting so thirsty. Oh wait!” she interrupts herself, suddenly distraught. “Oh no! I forgot my pack in your car! It has my water bottle and snacks and everything.”

“I should’ve noticed too. Hey, I’m happy to share my water and split an energy bar if we get hungry.”

“That sounds nice. Thank you. But I also had a change of clothing in the bag, in case I got hot like this.” She pauses, then says, “At least I had the foresight to wear a sports bra under all this."

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She pauses and asks a bit shyly, "Would you mind if I took off my sweatshirt and you stashed it in your bag for a little bit? You won't judge me for improper hiking attire? I mean, more than you already are. I promise it's all in the name of not passing out from heatstroke."

“No problem at all, and no judgment here. Unless like, you have a minions t-shirt on or something, then I will definitely judge you more.”

Laura laughs and swats your arm. "Don't worry, no Minions merch here."

Then, her voice drops a notch, a hint of vulnerability creeping in. "No shirt at all, actually, um, fair warning, it is just a sports bra under this sweatshirt. Is that okay?"

You push down a flush rising in your cheeks with every fiber of your being.

“Hey, sports bras are ‘athletic outerwear’. They were practically made for hikes! Seriously, you’re good.”

"Ok! I mean, the thought of my parents finding out I'm stripping down in the wilderness would give them a fit, even if it is to ‘athletic outerwear.’” She gives you a playful smile as she emphasizes the words. You roll your eyes, which seems to put her at ease.

“... but we're here, living the college dream, right?” She continues. “Alright, no judging then!"

There's a moment where she considers the proposition, her hands gripping the hem of her sweatshirt. With a breath that seems to ready her for the plunge, Laura slowly begins to lift the fabric.

The sweatshirt bundles upward, revealing her midriff. You immediately notice how fit she is, her abs taught and so very attractive, but right now she just seems vulnerable and unsure. As she pulls the garment over her head, a cascade of wavy hair falls around her shoulders, framing the white sports bra that clings to her form. She pauses, the air thick with her hesitation.

For a brief moment, she holds the gray sweatshirt to her chest, a shield against the sudden nakedness. You can see the battle play out across her face—the desire to appear carefree warring with a modesty ingrained deep within. You glance away, giving her a moment.

Then, as if making a pact within herself, Laura lowers the shirt, her arms falling to her sides. She stands in her sports bra, under the open sky, her posture transformed from guarded to bold. Shoulders back, chin lifted, she seems to embrace the sun on her skin, defiant and unashamed.

"There," she says, her voice tinged with a newfound steadiness. "How's that for embracing the wilderness?"

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Your gaze drifts, betraying you for a heartbeat before you manage to redirect it. "Yeah, looks like you can actually breathe now," you manage, the heat on your cheeks not entirely from the sun.

The smile that spreads across her face is radiant. "I know, I know, not the cutest athletic look. But comfort over fashion on the trails, right?"

"Absolutely," you say sincerely. "And hey, I think you pull it off great."

Is it just wishful thinking, or is there a mutual attraction here? You allow yourself a chance to hope.

Her smile certainly helps.

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The story continues in Chapter 2...
Dilemma at the lake
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