Dakota was rummaging through some boxes in her closet, and came across an old middle school yearbook. Oh, middle school. She chuckled to herself. She used to attend Jefferson Junior High School. The Patriots were their mascot, something that always confused her, since there was another much more famous team that used the Patriots as their mascot. She used to be so awkward back in middle school. But then again, who was not? It was like a chrysalis phase for everyone, where they look unattractive because of puberty. Back then, Dakota would wear her hair in two large braids, wore braces, and large glasses that covered the upper half of her face. Back then, she did not understand the importance of looking presentable. She just wore whatever she wanted. Back then, she definitely did not think that she was going to wound up dating Phillip. She laughed to herself. Their first encounter was far from the ideal “love at first sight” scenario. But how people can change in the most unexpected way.
“Dakota, you don’t have a partner?” It was 7th grade. Dakota was sitting alone in her life sciences class. “Well, there’s an even number of students, so you should have a partner. Who doesn’t have a partner?” Her teacher shouted into the crowd of middle schoolers. “Uh, I don’t.” A boy with black hair raised his hand. “Oh, there you go.” The teacher ushered the brunette away from her and towards the boy, as if she was a zoo animal being introduced to her new home. “Hi, Dakota, right?” The boy looked at her. “Yeah. What’s your name?” “I’m Phillip. Phillip Hopkins. Nice to meet you!” The two of them were partnered together for labs in this class. Things did not go well initially. Phillip was a very rambunctious 12 year-old, often breaking equipment or spilling chemicals. He was clumsy and unreliable in any aspect other than failing to properly perform their labs. Dakota would have to be the one cleaning up after him. After that first year of being acquainted with Phillip, she wanted to never see or work with him again. He stressed her out a lot with his reckless behavior, and she barely passed life science with a C.
Dakota’s first impression of Phillip was nothing short of a horrible nightmare. She had so little interest in talking to the boy after that class. The brunette laughed to herself as she closed the middle school yearbook and replaced it with the one from her junior year of high school. Opening the book, she found her own photo. The brunette still remembered ninth grade, where she was made fun of in Intro Dance when she came in to practice with her glasses and braids. It was after that first day in “girl world” as they would call it in Mean Girls, that she realized how much she needed to change her image. By the end of freshman year, she ditched the braids, got her braces removed, started wearing her hair just past shoulder length, and got contacts. All of those changes were noticeable in her junior year photo. But Dakota did not mind. Looking not-ugly was always good for her. She was unashamed of it. It was not being narcissistic, but rather honest. No girl wants to look ugly. But 11th year held a very specific memory for her. That was when she realized that people do change and that maturity was not some fictional concept. People can mature over time.
The next time Dakota met Phillip was in Biology AP, their junior year in high school. The two of them both attended Neuqua Valley High School, in Naperville. Shit. She thought to herself, seeing him enter the room. She had been avoiding Phillip until now, mostly because she was traumatized by working with him. And much to her luck, she was stuck in a group with him, yet again. “Hey, I haven’t seen you since like 7th grade!” Phillip laughed. “Fancy seeing you in Bio AP!” Why me? She thought to herself, that first day of class. But that attitude quickly changed. Phillip was incredibly smart, reliable, he matured considerably since 7th grade. Dakota was not quite sure what sparked the change. She then was told it rather blatantlyå on December 12th, when they were studying for finals. “Oh, wait. I have to cut our study session short today. It’s the third anniversary of my mom’s death, and I need to see her grave.” Dakota went silent. “I’m so sorry.” She gave him a hug. “She’s watching over you, and she raised a really amazing son.”
“SATs are the worst!” Dakota threw her study book at a wall. It was the summer and she did not feel like studying for that dreaded four hour test. “Come on, it’s not that bad.” Phillip chuckled. “Shut up, you got a 2200 on your first try!” “See, it’s not that bad.” He insisted. Dakota hated math and for an entire third of the test to be devoted to that very subject was frustrating for her. “You have a calculator, so it should be easy.” He looked like he was trying to hold back laughter. “Says Mr. Took-Every-AP-Test.” She rolled her eyes. The biggest shock to her, working with Phillip in Bio AP in the past year, was that he managed to take every AP test that the school districts had to offer, and had the second highest weighted GPA in their class. She was in disbelief that the same boy who almost set fire to their classroom in the 7th grade could get his act together in just five years.
Their first kiss was a complete accident. Philip was walking Dakota back home from the library, one afternoon while they were studying for the SAT. The gravel on the sidewalk was uneven because it was going under construction. The tip of her foot hitting a concrete tile, Dakota felt herself losing balance, as her arm dragged Phillip down with her. She expected the landing to be hard. But it was soft. And warm. She had landed directly on Phillip, their lips locked. Flustered, she quickly got off of him, and offered to help him back up. “Well, that was weird.” He chuckled, brushing the dust off of his clothes. “Are you hurt?” She looked at him, worried and feeling guilty for pulling him down. “Nah, my backpack broke my fall!” He chuckled. Even though they had kissed, it did not feel awkward. It felt right. Neither of them were put off from doing it, even though it was not intentional on either side. They continued their walk back home, unashamed of what just happened.
The first time the two actually went on a date was a lot of fun. Phillip took Dakota to the Skydeck in Willis Tower first. It was equal parts exciting and terrifying for the brunette to step onto the glass, suspending almost 1,500 feet above the ground. “Come on! Trust me, the view is worth it!” He encouraged, hand outstretched. “Screw it, I’m going on!” Ignoring the voices in her head screaming at her to not be stupid, she climbed onto the glass and joined him. “See, that wasn’t so bad, wasn’t it?” He smiled at her, as she gasped in awe of the view. Seeing the entire city of Chicago unfold before her, it was inspirational. “Thanks for taking me. I had a lot of fun.” The two were walking back to the car, as the brunette planted a kiss on his cheek. “I’m glad I convinced you to just go for it. Life is only worth living when you take chances and risks.” Phillip gave her a hug.
“I got into UChicago!” Dakota beamed proudly. “How about you, Philly cheesesteak?” She looked to Phillip. It was their senior year, second semester. College acceptances were rolling out, and everyone was finding out where they were going. Nervously, Phillip clicked on the email. There was a pause and silence as the raven haired boy scanned through the contents of the message. “Ducky, I got in too!” He grinned back at her. The two had just started their relationship, and upon hearing that they were going to the same college, it was wonderful news for the young couple. They can continue dating without having to worry about dealing with long distance. They can go into graduation not feeling sad that their time together would be limited. The two kissed excitedly, as they readied themselves for the next chapter of their lives.
College was fun, but for Phillip, short-lived. He had so many AP credits that he was able to complete the pre-med and biomedical engineering programs in two and a half years. He took the MCATs, applied for medical schools in what would have been the spring semester of his junior year, and was quickly accepted into Northwestern University at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Dakota finished her four years in the University of Illinois, Chicago, with a BS in Marketing and two minors in Computational Neuroscience and Visual Arts. The two of them were still dating through the entire period. There were occasional fights, with Philip getting stressed about medical school applications, and then again with Dakota and job applications, but the two managed to stay together and be strong as a couple. They lived their lives, knowing that if it was either of their problems, it became both of their concerns.