by Marissa K. Lingen
Kirsten concentrated on the little card. Yes, no, maybe? The last guy had been a yes. Definitely a yes. He was kind of overweight and shy, but he had a sweet smile, and he was so enthusiastic when he talked about his World War I historians' club. They weren't supposed to talk about their work, but she bet he was an engineer. Engineers were good to date, safe, not too flaky.
Maybe, she thought, maybe this speed dating thing isn't as crazy as I thought.
Her best friend Kara had convinced her to try speed dating with her. "Come on," Kara begged. "What could it hurt?"
"Would you rather have dignity or a date? No, don't answer that. Consider my feelings for a minute. I can't do this alone!"
"And if you don't like anybody, you don't have to spend more than three minutes with them ever again."
"Come on, it's better than blind dates. It's like picking out your own blind dates."
Kirsten had given in with a sigh. Speed dating: three minutes with each of twenty guys, and then they could each mark on a card whether they would want to get the other person's phone number. And there was no talking about work. Kirsten had thought that it would be a waste of an evening, but at least she and Kara could go out afterwards and compare notes. But then the fat guy had been nice. Maybe there was hope after all.
The next guy who sat down in front of her was good-looking in a way she couldn't place. His skin was an even toffee brown, but she couldn't tell whether he had gotten that way in the sun or not. His hair was dark, and his features regular, but in no way distinctive. He could have been Portuguese, Pakistani, or anything in between.
She smiled, and with a moment's hesitation, he returned the smile. The people in charge of the event signaled for them to begin.
"Do you like jazz?" she asked.
He nodded curtly. "Do you like to travel?"
"Near or far?"
Kirsten hesitated. "It doesn't matter to me, I guess. I think there are all kinds of interesting things close to home, and we just miss out on them. But I'd like to experience different cultures, too."
"Good, good. Do you eat much?"
Her jaw dropped. She carefully closed her mouth again, willing herself to be patient and polite. "Do you mean, do I eat out much, in restaurants?"
"No, no. Do you eat much. Daily caloric intake."
There was no way she was taking that one sitting down. "You don't get thighs like these at the salad bar, buddy. What the hell is wrong with you? What kind of sexist bullshit is that, do I eat much?"
"Well, do you?"
"Yes!" she hissed. "I eat like a brooding sow, vats and mountains of food every day. Satisfied?"
"Thank you," he said with a quick nod. "I will be moving on, I think."
"You're damn right you will," she muttered. She filled in the box for "No" so hard she almost snapped her pencil lead. "I thought they screened these things."
When she looked up, she thought for a minute that the same guy had sat down again. But then there were slight differences -- the new one had a narrower face, more intense eyes.
"Do, um, do you like dogs?" she asked him.
He smiled carefully. "Oh, yes. I have a dog. I bought him this week. He is a mutt. They were going to put him to death, and now he is my friend."
"That's great," she said. Much better than the last guy, even if he sounded a little odd. "I got my dog at the pound, too. She's three years old and her name is Lulu."
"My dog is Fido."
"Go with the classics," she said. "Do you like jazz music?"
"I have started to listen to it. I think Billie Holiday is brilliant, but I do not yet understand Dave Brubeck."
"He's one of my favorites, but sometimes the time signature stuff takes some getting used to."
"Yes! He does not know what time he uses."
"Oh, he knows. It's just that we don't always know."
The man leaned forward. "Do you like this area?"
Kirsten cocked her head. "Yeah, I guess so. I grew up here, and my parents still live here. I went to college on the East Coast, but I really couldn't stand it there."
"So you want to stay here?"
"I think so, yes."
"I just moved here."
"Well, welcome to the area."
Again, he smiled carefully. "Thank you."
She wanted to ask where he had lived before, but the bell rang again, and it was time for a new guy. The rest of the evening passed more or less in boredom, and Kirsten couldn't wait to tell Kara about the guy who asked how much she ate. Maybe she'd gotten him, too. When it was all over, she started looking around for her friend, but couldn't see her anywhere.
"Kara?" Kirsten stopped the nearest passerby. "Hey, have you seen my friend around here? Black hair, short, skinny, bubbly...wearing a blue shirt and white pants. Her name's Kara."
"I saw her." Kirsten turned to see her fellow jazz-loving dog-owner. "She left with my friend."
"Oh, shit," Kirsten said. "Damn it, Kara! I thought she had gotten too old for that."
"Too old for what?"
"Too old to ditch me for whatever guy she could hook up with for the night.
She did this all the time in college."
"For the night?" He shook his head. "No, no. They will be gone much longer than that."
Kirsten narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"She liked to travel, did not eat much, was clearly portable, and showed an interest in space."
"An interest in --"
He smiled, and she noticed again how careful his smile was. Practiced. Not natural. And all human beings, no matter where they were from, knew how to smile. Instinctively.
"Whereas I will stay here and study the native interactions of your people.
With your help, please?"
An alien study group. She paused, considering. He did like dogs and jazz, and he was trying like crazy to be polite. And if he didn't know human mores, he was less likely to push her buttons on purpose.
What the hell, she thought, if it didn't work out, she'd have the phone number of the fat guy with the nice smile. Either way, she'd have something to show for the night, and some stories to tell when Kara got back.
If Kara got back. She smiled at the alien. "Sure. I'll help you learn.
As long as you promise that my friend will come home safely."
"As much as I can control her safety, it will be so."
"Okay, then it's a deal." She put her hand out to shake, and he took it enthusiastically, wringing it like a sponge and peeling his lips as far back from his teeth as he could manage.
Maybe she'd call the fat guy right away.