For the next couple of seconds my mind was empty. This was such an odd experience that I didn’t know how to react or even if to react. Let me recap. Speed dating. Mini me here says he’s Cupid. Not THE Cupid but A Cupid because he’s a cousin. Time stops and now I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life? This was most obviously a dream. At any moment there will be pink elephants in tutus dancing Swan Lake and I’ll turn into a bear. All I had to do was wake up. Wake up, Marty!
Besides, there were plenty of women who lived out their lives by themselves, without getting married. What about those spinsters who have become a cautionary tale to all the rest of us single girls?
“Yeah, you’re not waking up. This is real,” Fred said. “And spinsters don’t exist. Well, not yet anyway.”
“Yes, they do! And stop reading my thoughts!” I yelled at him from my seat.
With another eye roll, Fred began to explain. “See, we in the love business don’t guarantee happily ever afters. We don’t guarantee that you’ll end up with the love of your life. We actually have no guarantees except this one…everyone falls in love. That’s it. What you mortals chose to do with that love is up to you, we just help facilitate the process.”
“Wait a minute, let me get this straight.” I waved my hands in front of me. “So, you don’t make people fall in love and you don’t guarantee they’ll stay together? What the hell are you guys good for?”
“Mortals have free will. You can’t mess with that.”
I was starting to see his point. We chose so many things, places to eat, who to date, who not to date. But love has no rhyme or reason; it’s as unpredictable as the wind and just as fleeting. And in life, there are no guarantees.
This is some sort of sucky deal, this love thing.
“Okay, so let’s say I buy this Popsicle stand you’re selling,” I said. “What’s wrong with what I’m doing? Why do you say I’m going to be the last single girl?”
Fred’s face changed into an ah-ha expression as he pulled a piece of pink paper from his jacket pocket. Unfolding it, he glanced over the words, nodded and placed it back where it came from.
“Oh. My. God. How do you know that name?”
“We all thought he would be the one you would fall for. Two years and nothing.”
Rene was a guy I dated off and on about a year ago. He was my in-between guy and was always available when I called him. A date on short notice? Rene was there waiting by the phone. Didn’t feel like being alone? Rene came running. Wanted to see a movie? Rene bought the popcorn and the Rasinettes. He enjoyed being the bookworm guy and lived up to his role like a beauty pageant winner at a supermarket opening. Rene had this gap between his front two teeth that made him whistle every time he said a word with the letter “s”. Every time he said my last name I thought he was paying me a compliment. He was a simple man with even simpler ambitions: earn a promotion at work, buy a house, live a good life. I admired him for that but it wasn’t what I wanted. So, one late night, after we finished watching the movie, he wanted to move from bookworm to glamour in one conversation. It was the last conversation we had.
“We weren’t on the same page,” I told Fred.
“That happens a lot with you. Not being on the same page with people.”
Fred went through the other near misses: Michael Carranza, Eric McNamara, Gabe Terry, Frank Pozi, and Troy De Leon. My lovely bookworms; all back to haunt me. But why the bookworms?
“It seems that the men you call glamour don’t really like you.”
“Okay, really! Stop doing that!” I yelled at Fred, arms flinging in the air. He jumped back. “Can’t you stop reading my thoughts? It’s creeping me out.”
Fred placed his hand over his heart as if he was having a heart attack. His eyes were manhole covers. “Fine. I’ll stop reading your mind but stop yelling at me. Not even Zeus is that loud.”
I rolled my eyes at him and then stared at the hourglass. It had yet to start and I had a feeling that it would mark down the time to Valentine’s Day. What the hell am I going to do? I was beyond the surreal phase and the gravity of the situation began to sink in quicker than a cheap tequila shot. The thought of being alone for the rest of my life was scarier than facing a lion or a bear; there is an ending to that fright, a certain death. But there is no ending to being single. There’s just single, and more single, and loneliness, and despair, and everything bad in the world. Everything.
Kind of wished I was wrestling a bear now instead of this.
I cupped my face in my hands before running them through my hair. Looking again at the hourglass, a rush of duty, ganas as my mother would call it, washed over me. It’s all or nothing, winner takes all, a roll of the dice at the table. On the line: my life’s happiness. I’ll do what it takes, go where ever to make it happen.
“What’s the plan, Fred?” My voice felt scratchy. I sat up to wait for his instructions. Fred waddled toward me until he was inches from me. He looked in my eyes and smiled.
“Good! That little light of yours is flickering. You understand,” he said. “Here’s the rules. In two weeks, there needs to be a spark. You and him need to feel something. Not a lust thing, that’s too easy. An honest to goodness interest beyond the physical. I’ll be around ready to shoot but how you go about meeting and falling is all up to you.”
“Free will?” I asked.
“Free will,” he answered.
“Okay, when does the clock start?”
“As soon as I touch the hourglass. It stops 12:01 Feb. 15th.”
I sighed and nodded, choking back tears. Fred stepped toward the hourglass.
“Wait, where will you be? What if I have a question?”
“I’ll be around yet out of view. If you need me just yell. By the way, take some Advil in the morning.” And before I could ask another question, Fred’s chubby cherub fingers touched the timepiece and the psychedelic colors turned from reds and oranges to purples and blues but still with that lava lamp effect. With a flash, the sand started to glow and the room turned midnight black. Fred was gone, as were the other daters in the room. Trying to get up from the chair, I felt myself falling into nothingness, half expecting to hit hard ground. But there was none, just me falling faster and deeper than Alice through the rabbit hole. The darkness surrounded me and, except for the hourglass, I would have been disoriented. Further and further I fell but the timepiece did not shrink. Just when the surreal experience was too much to bare it all came to an abrupt halt.
The buzz from my cell phone under my pillow woke me up with a start. Scrambling, I hit the talk button to answer.
“Are you awake?”
Michelle’s chipper Saturday morning voice rang in my ear and made my headache more painful. It felt like a hangover but I didn’t remember drinking last night. In fact, I didn’t remember what I did at all last night.
I checked under my sky blue comforter. My pajamas were on, no problem there. (Thank goodness!) With an exhale, I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and sat up a bit to see where I was. Apparently, I had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room only a couple of feet away from my bed. At first glance everything looked like it was in place: the flatscreen was in one piece, the small stereo stood right next to it in the entertainment center. Over on the next wall, my laptop sat undisturbed on my cherry wood desk. The books on my shelf were lined up like little soldiers. My glass dinette set was as sparkly as I left it. The hourglass looked unharmed. My DVD collection…
“Michelle, let me call you back.”
It all started coming back to me. Speed dating. Danny DeVito in Welcome Back Carter clothes. Feeling desperate. The lava lamp hour glass. Falling. Being the last single girl in the world.
It was a dream. Had to be a dream.
“What a bad start to the rest of your life, Marty.”
Startled, I jumped from the couch, turned toward the voice and saw Fred checking out my book collection. He had changed from his retro style suit to something more contemporary—a pair of jeans and a white button-down shirt.
“It’s you!” My finger pointed at him as if I could wish him away.
“Yup. And something told me to check up on you.” Fred glanced toward the hourglass. “You’ve slept half the day a way. You better get going.”
And with that, he popped out in a blink. With my heart beat drumming against the inside of my ears, I ran to the hourglass. It was just as I remembered, Gods and Goddess adorning the frame, blue and purple sand running from the top to the bottom. Time was running out.
Okay, it’s time for a game plan. I had 13 and a half days to go on and meet as many men as I possibly could. I just needed a spark, a common interest with one of these men and that would stop the prediction from occurring. But I’ve already tapped every resource I had, referrals from family and friends, speed dating, picking up guys in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store, and loud obnoxious clubs. Those didn’t work well. It was time to think outside the box. Desperate times called for unconventional measures.
It took five minutes for me to change into a pair of jeans, a clean blouse, and to slap on some makeup. Within five more minutes, my computer bag at my side, I was in my black Jetta driving to the nearest crowded coffee shop. Coffee shop because I needed coffee, crowded because I hoped that the more people there were, the more men would be around. Two birds with one stone, or, in this case, several men and one arrow.
Zooming up the freeway, the weather was perfect for an early Saturday morning: clear sky, bright, warm sun, and a nice breeze. If it wasn’t for the imminent task in front of me, I’d probably spend the day in the park reading or thinking about the state of world affairs. Please, who am I kidding! I’d probably still be asleep or even shopping with my best friend Michelle.
I fumbled for my cell in my jeans pocket as I used my free hand to steer. Being careful not to run into the slow-as-molasses red Focus in front of me, I scrolled down the list to her number and punched the green button.
“It took you FOREVER to call me back!” Michelle’s tone dripped in annoyance.
“Meet me at Starbucks on Elm. Now.”
I stuffed the phone back in my pocket and changed lanes, honking at the driver as I zoomed past. As I did, I peered into the car to see who the culprit was. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t some 80-year-old grandma barely reaching the dashboard. It was a man who looked like he was in his late 20s or early thirties singing to whatever song he was blasting, thoroughly enjoying himself as if no one was watching. As he moved his head to the beat, his too-long chestnut hair accentuated every head rock like a conductor to a choir. When the spirit moved him or when there was a guitar break, he used the steering wheel as his guitar and drummed the back of it as if it had strings. Rockstar guy was in a world by himself and looked content being there, no matter who was driving behind him.
I continued to drive along side of him, watching this scene of motor vehicular stupidity. I could tell the song was dying down because he did less head rocking and more singing. When it was over, rockstar guy clapped, applauding himself for the best concert by a slow moving jackass in the history of the world. Then suddenly, he turned to look at me. Without embarrassment or even a tinge of blush on his cheek, he waved and smiled at me, looking as happy as he did during his guitar solo. I rolled my eyes, gave him the finger, and gunned the engine. What an idiot!
Starbucks on Elm was wonderfully crowded but the men to women ratio was abysmally small unless, of course, I wanted to fall in love with 60 year-old men in running tights and wife beaters. I grabbed a table, powered up the laptop and instantly went to a matching making website. I was two pages into the online questionnaire when Michelle bounced in, flawless and well-rested.
My girl M was my only friend who was as close to being single as an attached chick could get. She wasn’t married but was dating a football player and was madly in love. They met through a casual meeting set up by mutual friends and they haven’t stopped seeing each other ever since. Even when he’s away at training or at a game, he checks in. I had my doubts at the beginning; a faithful football player was as common as a four-leaf clover next to a horseshoe and a dancing leprechaun. But after two years, everything was as dandy as the first couple of months. More so really. They’re sickening when they’re together and pathetic when they’re apart. True love in its finest form.
M sat down with a Cheshire cat grin painted on her delicate face. She was dressed in a shoulder-less yellow dress that said more garden party than coffee at Starbucks. But paired with the perfect open-toed tan shoes and gold studded earrings, she looked like the perfect example of how a woman should dress. All that was missing was a strand of pearls.
“What?” I asked.
In one smooth movement, she swung her left hand right in front of me.
There it was. Another nail in my coffin. My best almost single girlfriend was tagged with an emerald cut diamond the size of my pupil balanced on a platinum band. Gotta hand it to her ball player future husband, he knew how to pick jewelry. M glowed with excitement and giggled as I glanced at the stone on her manicured finger.
“He proposed last night!” Michelle’s annoyed tone from earlier was gone and was replaced with the tone I had heard a million times before—the upbeat bridal. Now she’ll tell me how he did it, how surprised she was, how much she loves him, my role in the ceremony, and when the wedding will be.
“Wait, what?” I tried to be excited but all I could think about was the running clock back at my apartment. All I could muster was a follow-up question. “Valentine’s Day next year, right?”
“No in two weeks!” Upbeat bridal turned into school-girl glee. Her excitement was written on her face, on in her hands, and in the way she couldn’t stay still in her seat. M was about to erupt, which meant the question was coming up next.
And then like clockwork, it came. “Will you be my maid of honor?”
If it were possible to glow from happiness, then M would be a satellite. She was beaming and happy at a time when I needed her more than ever. If this was last St. Valentine’s Day or even next year’s I’d be jumping up and down with M, celebrating my best friend’s union to the love of her life. If Fred, a Cupid hadn’t visited me last night, given me a deadline to find my life’s happiness, I wouldn’t have to break my best friend’s heart by saying: “I can’t. I’ve got a, uh, commitment that night.”
Michelle’s face went blank in an instant. My comment exterminated her glee and I could tell by the cold stone stare on her face she wasn’t expecting me to sucker puncher like I did. Her hazel eyes burned a hole through me straight into my soul. The guilt from this moment would overwhelm me for a lifetime, I knew it. But there was nothing I could think to do to lessen the blow.
Pinche Fred. I hope you heard THAT!
“Oh.” I could barely hear her gentle exclamation over the whirl of espresso machines and happy go lucky conversations swirling around us. I needed to explain to her that it’s not my fault and under any other circumstances I’d be the best maid of honor in the world. But how do I explain my mission without sounding like I belong in the loony bin? And would she even believe me? I could imagine that conversation now: Yeah, M. I totally met Cupid’s cousin last night and he told me I would be a lonely, shriveled up prune if I didn’t find someone to fall in love with by Valentine’s Day. That’s why I can’t be there for you on the most important day of your life. But have fun with that and tell me where you’re registered. She’d have me committed.
“I thought we were friends?” She closed her eyes and shook her head. Her raven ponytail flipped behind her.
“We are it’s just—”
“You have a date. And that date is more important than our friendship?”
“No. Let me explain—”
With her right palm Michelle hit the table and made a thwack noise. “So because it’s not about you, you’re not excited?”
I opened my mouth to talk but she continued. “What is it? You don’t like Gary. You always thought the worst of him and now you want me to be as pathetic and single as you are. But you have no one to blame but yourself for being the single loser that you are. The way you research them and try to lure them. No man wants that. And no man wants you!”
With that, my best friend stormed out of Starbucks without a chance for me to explain or express how truly happy I was for her.
Maybe M was right. Maybe no man wants me and that’s why I have yet to fall in love. Maybe I was destined to be alone and to be the last single girl on Earth. It would give me more of a chance to focus on my career and my hobbies. My life would be filled with weddings and baby showers and christenings. An uncomplicated life where I did what I pleased and never asked anyone for permission to do anything. If I wanted to go to Jamaica on the spur of the moment, I could. But I’d probably have to go by myself but that’s okay, I have reading to catch up on anyway. I could live a fulfilling life being everyone’s single friend, everyone except Michelle since she thought I was a loveless, selfish, bitch.
But what if I found my man before her wedding? If I could find him before Valentine’s Day, he could be my date to her wedding and all would be well. M wouldn’t be mad at me on her wedding day would she? Well, maybe if I buy a big gift. Michelle will have to forgive me if I show up at the wedding, love of my life in tow, holding a too-expensive wedding gift, wishing her the best on her day. It’d be a stretch but if all I need was a spark….
With the kernel of a plan popping in my brain, I packed up my laptop, grabbed my purse and started toward the door. But then CRASH! Someone barreled into me, knocking me off my feet. It felt like being hit by a car. My butt hit the floor with a thud and all my purse’s contents were scattered around me. I wasn’t sure but there existed the possibility of a danish stuck to my bottom.
“Watch where you’re going—”. I looked up to see a tan face attached to a lean muscular body wearing a plain white t-shirt and baggy khaki pants. Attached to the tan face was a pair of ears with a pair of white ear buds stuffed into them. Topping the masculine package was a wave chestnut locks. He looked familiar but I couldn’t place him.
“Sorry there, love. Let me help you up.”
The stranger stretched out his hand, revealing a black tattoo on his forearm. I took hold and in one swoop he lifted me up. As soon as I was on my feet, he was on his knees picking up all my things and stuffing them in my purse.
He was kinda hot if you like the grown up skater, bookworm type. Totally not for me. Well, not for me now. Had I not had a deadline, stranger boy would be added to my toy box. And I would have had so much fun playing with him. He seemed like the playing type, too. Not afraid to help a damsel in distress but confident enough to pick up her girlie pink lip gloss from the floor and stuff it in her purse so she didn’t have to.
“Here you go, love.” He handed me my purse and computer bag with a smile so charming I smiled back. He touched my arm as he stepped around me and walked toward the counter. Hum. Looked good coming and going. His shoulders were broad enough to write your name across but narrow enough to not be confused with a linebacker. Lean. A grown up man lean like a runner or a swimmer with enough muscle to open the tomato jar with one hand as he pawed the buttons of your dress with the other. Nice. Very nice.
With a sigh, I tucked a piece of hair behind my right ear, turned on my heels, and sauntered toward the door hoping he was watching me walk away.