- Juliette Hyland
Speed Date - A Short Story
“No need for the desperate bar scene!” the Groupon she’d ordered proclaimed. After her fourth glass of chardonnay the night her ex-husband married his secretary, it had seemed too good to pass up. Now sober, and annoyed, Libby strode through the hotel lobby, regretting letting her friends’ talk her into “checking it out.”
She hadn’t enjoyed the bar scene at twenty-one but at thirty-nine that seemed like a better option than this. Plastering on her best fake smile she tried to get comfortable in the hard plastic seat. Perhaps she’d meet someone or at least have a few funny stories to tell her girlfriends in the teacher’s lounge tomorrow.
A bell sounded and her first would-be suitor slid into his seat while pushing his toupee back on his head. “It’s still a little crooked,” Libby offered and immediately regretted saying anything as he raised an eyebrow.
“What’s crooked?” Brown eyes drilled into her, daring her to call out his absurdity. Covering her lips in a failed attempt to hide smile, she tried to make small talk. Her eyes refused to cooperate, continually drifting to the lumpy monstrosity sitting on his head. As the bell tolled, he nodded, pushing it back a final time.
Not bothering to smother a small chuckle, she greeted her next gentleman caller. Launching into his script he pulled a few cards from his pocket. “Do you still want children?”
“I have no desire to have little urchins running around my house. I understand that some women your age still think having a child is a good idea. I need to weed those individuals from my list.”
Leaning in, Libby smirked as she whispered, “I actually have eighteen children.” At his startled expression, she added “I’m a third grade teacher.”
“You must bring home a ton of germs.” His fingers recoiled as his cards went back into his pocket. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask if his previous partner had made it to question two but she kept the question to herself, counting the uncomfortable minutes until the bell released her once more.
“You seem to be having a good time.” The man’s name tag was scrawled with something that started with a J. Perhaps James? Libby wondered if he was being polite, or if her acting skills had improved with five years of pretending not to notice Felipe’s marital indiscretions.
“So tell me your favorite book?” She cringed as the textbook first date question fell from J’s mouth. Does anyone bother to answer honestly – especially at a speed dating event?
“I have always liked classic literature,” She lied.
J’s, light brown hair floated over his left eye as he nodded. “I love Shakespeare!” His explanation just a little to forced, and Libby was tempted to ask him his favorite. However, if his answer was anything other than Hamlet or Romeo and Juliette, she feared she might show her own ignorance. Just once it would be nice to meet someone who would call bullshit and demand the truth. Unconcerned when she revealed her preference for reading trashy romance novels, preferably while lounging in an old t-shirt, drinking box wine.
Still when the bell rang, she was relieved to watch J move to his next target. “You don’t look old enough to be here,” a craggy voice seeped from the ancient man leaning in the chair across from her.
“Thanks; you don’t look old enough to be here either.” Libby chimed.
“With that sweetness my dentures might fall out.” Libby hooted as Charles, according to his name tag, winked at her.
“What are you looking for in a partner?” Libby asked.
Charles smiled, reaching into his pocket, producing a hard candy. He offered it to her before dropping it between his lips after she refused. “Two good hips.” He chuckled before adding, “Honestly, I only come because on Wednesday the home serves liver and onions. I got my son to buy tickets to this event for a year as my Christmas present. Not sure he even checked the email link I sent him.” He winked at her but Libby saw the frustration settle behind his eyes.
Grabbing his wrinkled hand Libby asked, “met anyone interesting?”
“No one that holds a candle to my May. No offense, young lady.” Charles added sheepishly.
“None taken. How long were you married?”
Charles shifted sitting a little straighter, “Fifty-two years. We met at an event like this one.”
“A speed dating event?” Libby quipped, stunned.
“Oh we called it something different. A group date or church night, the intent was the same, throw some food on the counter, make small talk, and see if sparks fly.” The bell rang and Libby refused to let go, motioning for the next man, to move on.
“Tell me about her.” For the next hour Charles waxed on the love of his life. The home they’d built, the children they’d raised and the disease that had stolen her away.
As the bell tolled again, Charles stood. “I have taken more than enough of your time, perhaps the final gentleman will be your May.” He winked as he started to hobble towards the next table.
`A short man with badge reading Elias slid into Charles’ empty seat and smiled at her, “that was kind.”
Libby shrugged, “I loved listening to him talk. He really loved his wife.”
Elias followed her gaze to the old man offering the “you don’t look old enough” line to a woman well into her sixties and Libby grinned as she returned her attention to the man in front of her. “What should we talk about Elias?”
Offering her a weak smile, Elias rested his head on his elbows. “How about you tell me your favorite book.”
Motioning for him to lean closer, Libby smiled as she whispered, “The Twilight Saga.”
Elias laughed, “the movies were horrible.”
“Agreed,” Libby winked as the final bell tolled.