Short Fiction for Guests of the WordFeeder
Sunday, January 17, 2009
Late Saturday afternoon in the small ballroom of a downtown hotel. Twenty men and women, 25 to 29 years old, are having 5 minute dates. Never married. No children. No religious preference.
Twelve mutually disappointing interviews into the afternoon, “He” pulls out the chair on his side of the circle of small square tables, trying to make eye contact and smiling politely as “She,” the young woman with the small yellow pad and pen sitting across from him, turns over a fresh page.
“What are you drinking?” She thought she would begin with a meaningless question just to make sure her voice was still working.
“Water. ..What about you?” he asked, looking at the pineapple shell on her side of the table. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drink with that many umbrellas.”
“It’s a virgin Pina Colada, extra umbrellas .. for my niece. She collects them. …I think we should be completely honest,” she said abruptly without bothering to introduce herself.
“Is this a trick question?”
“Actually, it’s not even a question.”
“Yes, I agree to be completely honest. ..Are you talking really fast because we only have 5 minutes?”
“Yes,” she blurted back at him.
“Let’s start over..” “She was very pretty, in a mildly quirky way, which was even more perfect than if she were technically beautiful, and he didn’t want to blow the 4 and half minutes they had left. “Hi. My name is ‘Les.’”
“Is that ‘Les’ with one or two esses?”
“You’re kidding ..aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m just a tad nervous. That’s why you couldn’t tell, whether or not I was kidding.”
Awkward pause. “And you are?”
“Sally, with a “y.” She extended her hand to shake his, trying to weave between the two large water glasses, two wine glasses, small carafes of white and red wine that no one was drinking, flowers and the candle that was floating in a blue-green glass bowl – not wanting to ruin the moment by knocking something over. On the first or second date, maybe, but not yet. He was cute, “92% handsome, with killer light brown eyes glowing back at her below eyebrows just heavy enough,” she scribbled, almost without looking down to see what she was writing, certain he’d never be able to read it upside down.
“You’re kidding, again?” Standing slowly, careful not to bump into the table, he reached across to shake her hand. Firm and warm, it felt right to both of them. The usual shaking part had ended, but she wasn’t letting go, waiting for him to break it off. “My hand.”
“What about it?”
“Oh,” she let go and he snapped back, trying to be brave, figuring he’d spray something on it later.
“..No, not really.”
“Not really what?”
“No, I’m not really kidding about my name. I have cousin with the same name who spells hers with an “i.”
She started to laugh, but then caught herself.
“..Yes or no, how old are you?” he asked, sensing he may be on the verge of breakthrough.
This time she did laugh, giving in to the chemistry for a moment, but then regained her composure. “What was your last year’s adjusted gross income?”
“What difference does it make?”
“I thought we were going to be completely honest with each other.”
“I am. It’s honestly none of your business. …My turn. How many times have you had sex in the past 12 months?”
Pause. “I get your point,” she admitted. “There are limits.”
Another awkward silence, broken by them both of them starting to talk at the same time.
“You go.” She was polite.
“No, you.” So was he.
“Do you date often?” she asked, poised to make another note on her pad.
“I’ve been biding my time, waiting for..” He stopped.
“I’m not sure. …You? Do you date a lot?”
“I have trouble taking chances.” And then she paused, gathering her nerve to ask her next question. It had sounded meaningful when she made her list, but now she wasn’t so sure. “Do you believe in sex on the first date?”
“You make it sound like a religion.”
“Do you or don’t you?”
“Define ‘first date.’ Does this count? How about in the taxi on the way to dinner?”
“You’re dodging the question.”
“Okay. No, I don’t.”
“Why not?” She looked up from the last note she had made. “I’m not sure I beli…”
“You could be a psychopath.”
“..believe you. ..Even psychopaths need to have sex.”
This time he laughed. “Then we’d have to do it in public, where there were other people, just in case.”
Looking ahead to the last page in her pad, she was ready with another question. “What is it you like about me most, so far? Please think out loud.”
“No one is this organized,” he thought to himself. “Did you make a list?” he asked, leaning forward to peer at her notes. “Okay. To be honest…”
“It’s important to be honest.”
“I know. We agreed. To be honest, I like the way your sweater fits around your, your,” he started to point, then stopped, “but that’s not what you want to hear.”
“How do you know?”
“That I like the way…””
“That’s it’s not something I want to hear.”
No comment. “..I’m wondering what your legs are like, but I can’t tell without looking under the table. …Can I look under the table?”
“No, but they’re perfect,” she asserted without the least hesitation, impatiently shaking her pen between her thumb and first two fingers.
“Wait. I’ve got it. ..What I like about you most, so far, is your determination. I think you can give me a run for my money, so to speak. …And what is it you like most about me, so far?
“Shouldn’t you be thinking out loud?”
“I don’t know?”
“You don’t know what you like about me most? ..How about what you don’t like about me least?”
“I don’t find your hair too objectionable?” She was lying. It had waves and curls that moved just a bit with his head, but not so much to entirely lose their place. Watching them made her squirm. “Focus,” she advised herself.
She began to really look at him. “And your eyes.”
“What about my eyes?”
“I don’t have any real problem with your eyes.”
“Who’s she kidding,” he thought to himself. “My eyes are my best feature.” He was trying to reassure himself, but it wasn’t working.
“…What is it you like about me the least?” she was bold enough to ask.
“That you couldn’t think of anything you like about me most,” he answered. “That’s what I like about you the least.”
“And if I’d said I thought you were cute?”
“You’re right. I don’t want to be cute. I want to be, ‘Oh, my God! Slam me against the wall, out of control, can’t catch your breath, no time to get our clothes off, try not to knock over the coffee table on the way to the couch, or fall on the cat’ good looking.”
She was blushing, but didn’t think he’d notice.
“You know, I think I like this honesty thing.”
“Ye… ” She cleared her throat. “Yes.”
“Yes, I think you’re more than cute.”
“In that case,” he admitted, “I may have understated my feelings about you physically when I said you seem determined.”
“One minute to go, ladies and gentlemen,” the moderator announced, leaving the two of them staring at each other, running out of time.
He was the one to break the silence. “Would you go out with me?”
“Tonight would be good.”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.”
“What’s your downside?”
“You could be a jerk.”
“Same risk for me.”
“Bzzzzz!” It was entirely too loud, but they barely heard it. “Time’s up, everybody. Next date starts in 60 seconds.”
Before they knew it, #14 was standing to the right of the table, his right, her left, looking at one of them, then the other, waiting for him to stop waiting for her to respond, but she didn’t. A slight sigh, his shoulders drooping in disappointment as he exhaled, he pushed back his chair and stood up, rubbing the tablecloth with the tips of his fingers before looking and walking away toward the next table, a few feet to his left, where a long-legged woman sat dangling one of her red high heel shoes. #14 started to sit down, not wanting to waste any of his time.
She faced the new guy, but her eyes were on him, the one who was about to get away.
Just as he was about to sit down in front of the red-shoed woman, he held up his forefinger to the new she, tapping the air, “One… One second.” Walking quickly back to her side of the previous table, “Excuse me,” he said to #14 with a perfunctory upturn of his mouth. Bending down, he gave her a kiss. Once, then again for a little longer, pulling away slowly, very slowly. Rolling his lips, he swallowed, and said the one word she didn’t realize until just then that she had been waiting to hear, “Please?”
Still nothing, and so he went back to the next table and sat down in front of the woman with the red shoes, who, having witnessed the kiss, began talking to him immediately.
“Hi!” #14 seemed eager to get started.
“Uhhh,” she said, putting down her pen and raising her hand. “I’ll be right back.” Standing up, she reached down to even out the edge of her sweater, straightened her posture, took a breath and walked confidently toward “he” who had stopping talking and was looking up at her. Grabbing the lapels of his sport coat, she pulled him to his feet, slid her hands up and around the back of his head, and kissed him, long and passionately, standing a bit on her toes to do it. When they were done, she slid the few inches down his chest, lowering herself to the carpet, and ironed the front of his jacket with the flat of her hands. Reaching up, she wiped away the tiniest bit of something she’d left on his mouth. “I think… I think I have a thing for polite men,” she said while he caught his breath. “…Meet me in the lobby when we’re done.” And she went back to her table and sat down, pulling her chair back under her and the table to the perfect position, picking up her pen, very deliberately drawing 5 perfect little stars next to his name and turning the page over the top of the pad. Looking up at #14, but then over at him who hadn’t taken his eyes off of her or bothered to sit down, and then back to #14, she said, “Hello.”
“There’s no real point in doing this, is there?” #14 asked.
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