The call came only a week later. The event was at 7:00, at an Irish pub near the Government Center stop on the Green Line. I was told that being late was not an option.
That gave me just enough time to get home from work and reapply deodorant before heading out again. I arrived at 6:45, but my name badge was the only one remaining on the sign-in table. Number M15, last to arrive. An inauspicious start.
I slouched in a chair and sighed.
“Relax, Eric,” someone said, and patted me on the shoulder.
I looked up. It was Navah.
“Is this how you get for all your dates?” she asked jokingly. “I checked the list, and nobody’s half-bird, so you’re already doing fine.”
“Ah, you’ve struck at the heart of the problem. I psych myself out so much. And that’s even aside from…”
“Aside from what?”
“You know. The predictions –”
“Eric,” Navah interrupted, “I insist, as an official representative of modMatching, that my official position is that I do not know what ‘predictions’ you are referring to.”
“Official, you say?”
“I’d sure like an official cover story. Soap packaging and potato chip bags? Maybe I could say I’m a space archaeologist instead.”
“If you get stuck, remember our motto: You’re meant to be together. So just relax and be yourself. I admit, it’s somewhat clichéd advice, but it’s never been more applicable. The future comes when it comes, and you’re rushing toward it at a rate of one second per second.”
“Knowing that my future is written down on a slip of paper –”
“Which I insist I know nothing about.”
“Yes, OK. If that, then what you said would help me feel a lot better. So, hypothetical thanks. You sure it’s not you I’m here to meet?”
“Nope, sorry.” Navah held up her left hand. “Already engaged. Outside the company and its methods.”
“Is there supposed to be a ring on your finger?”
“Hm? Oh, right. I don’t wear it on the clock; we want the amorologists to seem approachable and available so that, um…”
I picked up where she trailed off.
“Basically, to make what just happened happen.”
She shrugged. “It’s not you in particular. It’s marketing.”
“Hopefully there’s someone here looking for the world’s biggest rube. If a prediction ever comes out as RUBE-RELATED INCIDENT, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”
From a corner of the room, a bell rang. 7:00.
“Just relax,” Navah repeated. “It’ll turn out great. I have to go be official for a while.”
She waved as she disappeared into the crowd. A few moments later, she and a gaggle of lab-coated amorologists addressed the room.
The system was similar to speed dating, they explained. Five minutes per pairing, and those minutes were anything-goes. Talk, wrestle, stare at each other… Whatever it took to decide your compatibility, as long as it was PG-13.
That drew snickers from several members of the crowd.
We all sat down, and the bell rang again.
Dyanne, number F7.
“I didn’t even learn English until I turned 20. But I think I’m adjusting to city life pretty well. I have a job and an apartment, and I haven’t bitten anyone. Mom told me that people don’t do that, and I’m glad I listened. I won’t lie, though. Sometimes I do miss my friends. But I’m sure they’ve all moved on; deforestation is ravaging this country. They’re probably running with new packs, litters by their sides… But I’m monopolizing the conversation, I’m sorry. Usually I have better manners than this. I mean, I wasn’t raised by bears.”
Shannon, number F9.
“I mark that thine eye hath marked my baselard. I assure thee, all meet registrations have been made with the local constabulary. None be in peril or hazard from my blade but for those who would seek to convey my coinage. I shall not leave my liberty be impugned by blackwretches, neither in provincial nor country matters. Some would hold my like as merely touched. However, I hold contrariwise. I say thee, the protector and protectee must be self-similar, else there can be no– Oops! Can we pause here? I have to go feed the meter.”
Amanda, number F11.
“The problem is, even if you work in fashion, you so rarely get to see people dressed up. There are people here in jeans, can you believe it? But I try not to judge. I just love clothes, and I love dressing appropriately for occasions and locations. I wouldn’t have worked so hard to break into the business if I didn’t sweat the details. I even considered checking this place out beforehand, after I got the call from my amorologist. But I decided that an Irish pub would probably have lots of green and dark wood. Totally nailed it. The little touches really make a difference, especially because there’s so much psychology behind color.”
She tilted her head. “Sorry, did you just say pass?”
“I… can’t believe I said that out loud.”
“You seem very excited to pass on me.”
“No, the other – You pass, not I pass… on you. I mean, look, that’s really interesting. I had a color psychology problem at work just yesterday.”
“Oh, really?” she asked. “What do you do?”
“Nothing I consider exciting. I’m a consumer products packaging designer. So, cereal boxes, water bottles, spaghetti sauce labels. That kind of thing.”
“Well, I did win a national award last year for soap packaging. Just look for the box of Ivory with the three swooshes; that’s my handiwork.”
“Thanks. But right now I’m working on potato chip bags, and it’s surprisingly hard.”
“I can imagine. Those bags get manhandled on their way to the shelves.”
“Exactly! The top gets crumpled in, and that’s where the logo is. It’s the classic form-follows-function problem, since they have to be filled with air. There’s no avoiding it.”
“See, it’s the opposite problem in fashion. We have to cover up the function. It has to look effortless, laws of physics be damned. I made this dress –”
“Really? Yourself? It looks great. Is it a prototype for a designer?”
“Ah, I just threw it together in my spare time. But thank you. So, I made this dress, and these straps are just decoration. See?”
She slipped a strap from one shoulder, and waved that arm around.
“I could turn cartwheels like this – or even with both of them loose – and I’d still look this good. Wouldn’t get arrested, either. The trick is down here, in the midriff. I sewed in some boning, and that’s what’s holding everything up. You can’t even tell that I’m not wearing a bra.”
“I’ve been looking for this whole conversation, and I couldn’t tell.”
I’m sure I winced once I realized what I’d said. I must have. I winced on the inside, for sure. If it showed on my face, Amanda didn’t comment. She only raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, you have, have you?”
“I am… just saying so many things out loud tonight…”
“Now, why could that be, I wonder? It couldn’t possibly be the boning, could it?”
“No, it’s definitely something having to do with boning.”
“You say interesting things when you’re not thinking, Eric. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”
“But you have me backwards.”
“I’m saying exactly what I’m thinking.”
“That’s even more interesting.”
I could feel the emotion pouring out of her.
Her eyes and my heartbeat were the entire universe.
But then, all at once, the spell was broken. Everything that was neither her nor me began to exist again. All caused by the worst sound in the world: The ringing of that damnable bell.
Amanda and I both turned back from the bell and stared at each other, wide-eyed.
“Do you think –?”
We grabbed our pencils and scrambled to fill in the “5—Extremely Compatible” columns on our rating sheets as fast as we could. We each saw what the other was doing and laughed.
“Check marks, huh?” she asked.
“Hey, they’re faster than Xs.”
“What? No way! It’s a swooshing motion. I thought you would know all about swooshes, Mr. Award-Winner. I bet, in the time it takes you to make ten check marks, that I can – No, wait, I’m sorry. We have to…”
“Yeah. We have to.”
Neither of us wanted to actually say the words that would end it. But F10 and M12 were standing very close, with crossed arms and dour looks.
“It was great to meet you, Eric.”
“You, too, Amanda.”
And we moved on.
Each of the rest of the women I met with was a blur. By the time our five minutes were up, I’d forgotten her name and anything she’d said to me. They were all perfectly nice people, but…
While the amorologists were thanking us all for our participation, Navah waved frantically to get my attention. She tapped her wrist, made a circle motion with one finger, and pointed out at the bar.
I may have been a rube, but I knew how to take a hint.
After about ten minutes of waiting – or a beer and a half – Navah dropped onto the stool next to mine.
“Buy me a drink, sailor?”
“Aren’t you engaged?”
“You got me.” She held up her left hand again, now adorned with –
“Whoa,” I said. “That is… one big diamond.”
“What, this old thing? It’s pretty big, I guess.”
“All right, I get it. I am officially no threat.”
“So you can buy me a drink because you owe me, not because you’re trying to pick me up.”
“I owe you? For what?”
She cleared her throat. “What did Navah say to do?”
“She said to be myself…”
“And how did Navah say it would turn out?”
“She said it would turn out great…”
“And how did it turn out? I drink appletinis, by the way.”
“So great. There was this one, number F11 –”
“– and she is just coloring all of my thoughts. I don’t even want to leave this stuffy, overdecorated pub because it reminds me of her.”
“Yeah, I bet. If the interviews were six minutes long, I think the two of you would have run out of here looking for a Justice of the Peace. Would you want to see her again?”
“Yes. Definitely, absolutely yes. I cannot wait for you all to crunch the numbers.”
“Eric.” Navah shook her head. “Those numbers are… not the most important thing. We amorologists are supposed to look for when people gravitate toward one another. And there was definitely gravitation.”
“I sure thought so.”
“With a steady hand, I could have put a shot glass in orbit around you. It was like the Jenketts all over again. Would you want to see her again on Saturday at 2:00? Say, at the Boston Public Garden?”
“If she wants to. I think it went well, but there’s no way to know…”
Navah showed me the face of her cell phone, opened to an e-mail program.
Yes. Definitely, absolutely yes.
“You want to thank me? Invite me to the wedding. I’ll have the chicken, my plus-one will have the beef.”