Evelina walked into the hotel, put her hands on her hips, and looked around her.
I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought. I’m going to strangle that sister of mine and Lucy, too, for good measure. It was really Lucy who put the idea into Barbara’s head.
She followed the signs leading to Event Room 3 and walked in to find small tables arranged in two rows on the left and a bar to the right, with many people milling around it with drinks in their hands. Most of the participants looked as nervous as she felt, except for a few men trying to look cocky and failing and a few women looking openly ravenous and appearing desperate. Evelina walked over to the bar and ordered mineral water with a lime wedge.
As she sipped her drink and waited for the event to begin, she enumerated all the ways she could get her sister, Barbara, back for this. She had several thoughts about what she would do to Lucy, too.
I could send Lucy those tropical flowers that she hates that give her a headache, but she’d probably just throw them out or give them to someone who likes that sort of thing. I could give Barb chocolate covered grasshoppers. That would freak her out. I could simply smack them both upside the head, I suppose, but that would be outright mean. The punishment must fit the crime. I need to give Barbara something that looks like a gift, but is really a trick. Just like the ticket to this speed dating event she gave me. But, Lucy is Lucy. I’m never going to change her and I don’t suppose I want to.
Evelina’s sister was married and had three lively children. Her life was everything she wanted it to be, and she wanted the same for Evelina. It had never occurred to her that Evelina liked her life as it was and she had no desire to change it.
Evelina traveled around the world, teaching English. She got to visit exciting places and live like a local for a while before moving on to the next place. Sure, she would love to find a guy, but she wasn’t ready to settle down in one place and she wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready for that. Any guy she found would have to be really special.
When Barbara gave her the ticket to Live-Life-Love’s speed dating party, Evelina had taken it, smiled, and decided that she would make sure she was busy on the day in question. But, the next afternoon, when Evelina had told her best friend about it, Lucy had thought that the gift was a hoot. Lucy had laughed out loud and had told Evelina that she should have fun with it.
“How?” Evelina had asked. “In what way could this ever be fun?”
Lucy had sat back in her chair and enumerated on her fingers as she reeled off one crazy idea after another. “Say nothing to any of the men. Just stare at them. Or give insane answers to their questions. Say your favorite color is seven. Ask them insane questions. Ask them what their third favorite tree is. There are so many things you could do!”
Lucy and Evelina had spent the afternoon thinking up crazier and crazier plans for the event. It was fun, but Evelina knew that she’d never do those things. Lucy left for home, disappointed.
As Lucy shrugged into her jacket. “Evvy, you just don’t know how to have fun.”
Evelina spent the week preparing for her next teaching gig in Spain. She sent emails, worked out the flight details, and perused maps and travel guides to find the most convenient and economical place to stay during her six-month stint in Barcelona. Between these tasks, she kept returning to her conversation with Lucy. Without deciding to do so, she thought of questions to ask the men at the event. They had to seem like innocuous or oddball questions, but hide the fact that they would reveal things about the person who answered them. Even how someone responded to a strange question could tell you what that person was like. By the end of the week, the day before the speed dating event, Evelina had a list of what she felt were perfect questions. Of course, she would not go to the event. It was just a fun experiment. She wouldn’t go through with it.
Evelina told herself that she would not attend. She kept telling herself this as she picked out an outfit, showered, dressed and curled her hair. As she drove to the hotel and parked in the lot, she knew she wouldn’t do it. Any second now, she was going to turn around and go home.
And, now, here she was, sipping mineral water and staring at the door, wondering what was stopping her from leaving.
At that moment, Lucy walked in and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Evelina. For five full seconds, she stood there blinking, and then she hurried over to Evelina.
They both spoke at once.
“What are you doing here?!”
“No clue,” said Evelina.
“I figured you wouldn’t do it, so I decided to,” said Lucy. “I’m going to pretend that I’m meeting a fellow spy, but I don’t know which guy it is. I’ll say odd things like, ‘The mockingbird sings outside the window’ and look mysterious.”
Evelina laughed. “What are you drinking? My treat.”
“Champagne, of course. Isn’t that what all the cool spies drink?”
“I thought it was a vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.”
“You know I don’t drink spirits. What is that you’re drinking?”
“That’ll never do,” said Lucy, taking Evelina by the hand and pulling her toward the bar.
Lucy aimed her 1000-watt smile at the bartender. “May we have two glasses of Prosecco, please?”
Taking the glasses from the bartender, she said, “My generous friend is paying.” She leaned close to him and whispered, “The train leaves Katmandu at dawn.”
The bartender turned to Evelina. “Is your friend okay?”
“She’s just a spy. They all talk like that.”
As the two women moved toward an empty table, a bell rang and the organizer of the event walked to the middle of the room with a microphone to start the event. As the woman explained the rules, three other people scuttled around, passing out pads and pencils to everyone and giving each male participant a lanyard with a number on it. The organizer instructed the women to sit at a table, each table also having a number on it. Every three minutes, the timer on the wall would buzz and the men would switch tables.
Lucy and Evelina sat at tables next to each other.
Evelina found it difficult to concentrate on her dates because Lucy was having entirely too much fun freaking out her dates. She was asking them if they knew the password. She was looking around furtively before answering any question, and she told one poor guy that she couldn’t tell him her favorite flower because it was a matter of national security.
Evelina asked the first candidate if his socks matched. He looked so shocked at the thought of wearing mismatched socks she dismissed him immediately and spent the rest of their time asking boring questions like how many siblings he had and if he had any hobbies.
Most of the other people were asking the siblings and hobbies questions, but Evelina only asked questions like that when she had already decided that the man before her had failed the interview. She had designed her questions more for the reaction to them than for the actual answer given, although sometimes the answers were interesting. One guy said in answer to, “What did you think was magic when you were a kid?” that he thought elevators were magic. She liked that answer.
But, most of the candidates gave uninspired answers or acted confused or shocked by the questions. Evelina immediately disqualified one man when he said that he didn’t like funny women and then amended his statement to, “Well, I don’t actually dislike funny women, I just don’t think there are any funny women.” Evelina looked over at Lucy, who winked and chuckled. The man was due to sit with Lucy next. Evelina almost felt sorry for the poor guy. Almost.
No one yet had answered, “If money were no object, what kind of vacation would you take?” with any kind of interesting answer. It was all skiing trips and names of common vacation spots.
The bell rang for the umpteenth time and a man sat down opposite Evelina. He was nice-enough-looking and smiled gently at her. He seemed slightly amused by the entire process. Not haughty about it, or that it was beneath him, just an air of genuine amusement.
Evelina dove right in with her first question.
“Do your socks match?” she asked.
His smile broadened. “Am I allowed to look?”
“Don’t you know if they match?”
“No. It’s hit or miss with socks. It’s unlikely that they match, but it happens sometimes by accident.”
“Do your socks match?” he asked.
“No,” said Evelina, “Never.”
“Huh. There’s a story behind that I’d love to hear, but we’ve only got three minutes. Ask me another question. Yours was the first interesting question all day.”
“Okay. If money were no object, what kind of vacation would you take?”
“Good question. Two different things spring to mind. Can I tell you both of them?”
“Sure,” said Evelina. She was enjoying herself for the first time.
“Well, I’d like to take a trip around the world. A nice long one, since money is no object. And I’d like to do it with no airplanes. Trains, buses, boats, even hot air balloons! I want the transportation to be slow and connected. You don’t get that with planes. And the second thing I’d like to do is to eat my way through a country. Go from city to town to village, eating the local specialty.”
Evelina’s smile lit up her face. “You know you could combine those two vacations. Take an entire year off and go around the world eating. I did a version of that when I lived in France, by the way. I worked in Paris all week and then took a bus to a different town almost every weekend and spent the time eating and walking around.”
The man smiled back. “That sounds delicious. May I ask you a question now?”
“Cake or pie?” he asked.
“Excellent question. Cake to eat and pie to bake.”
“Wow! That would work out well for us. I like to bake cakes, but eat pie.”
Evelina looked skeptical. “Really?”
The man held his right hand up. “I swear to Martha Stewart.”
Evelina thought she couldn’t have picked a better date if she had ordered him online. She looked at the huge timer on the wall. Time for one more question. She hadn’t asked this question yet today. None of the men had deserved it.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asked.
“Not until today,” he said.
© 2019 Liza Cameron Wasser