Everyone in school knew her as the matchmaker. It was a reputation she had earned over the years. It all started when she was fourteen - a freshman - and it was Valentine's day.
Several of her friends had told her who they liked, and she had sneakily discovered which guys liked her friends. By Valentine's day, there were five happy couples, all grateful to her.
The years went by, and those friends told other friends about her magic gifts. People she didn't even know were confessing their deepest desires and asking for her advice. She didn't only get boys and girls together for romance, but she helped solve friend problems, sibling problems, and teacher problems. It was her gift, I suppose, to think things through about twenty steps ahead. She could see where a stupid decision would end up four months from now, and her skills were invaluable.
Besides that, she was trustworthy. You could bribe her with money, hold her down and tickle her, offer to do her homework, but she would never tell you any of the things that she knew. Occassionally she would let it slip to certain people that so-and-so liked that one guy, but only if it was in their best interest, and it always led to happiness.
Strangely enough - she didn't have a boyfriend.
It was her senior year, and she had never been kissed, never even been asked to a dance. She could provide happiness to everyone except herself.
No one knew it, of course, but she was in love with Eric. He had been coming to her for years, telling her just how much he was in love with this girl (whose name was Tricia) and how he would give anything if she could work her magic and bring them together.
Believe me, she tried. With all her heart and soul, she tried. Tricia just was not interested in dating. She believed that school came first, then work, then family, then friends, then community... the list went on, covering possibly everything until finally arriving at guys. "College," she said, "Is when the boys start becoming interested in a girl they want to marry. There's no point in dating until then, now is there?"
The matchmaker was completely confounded by Tricia. She had always prided herself in saying, "Show me a guy who loves a girl, and I can make her love him", and often times it was true. In this case, however, it was not.
Eric's lovesick pleadings had struck a tone with the matchmaker, and she had felt sorry for him, at first. She had wanted him to be happy so badly, that she would come up with elaborate plans for them, and would get thoroughly involved in them. When she had planned for them to meet at the homecoming game ("accidentally") and he could tell her how he felt, the game had (of course) been cancelled. When she had arranged for him to send her a dozen roses on Valentine's day, of course Tricia picked that day to be sick at home. Years of plans had been completely wasted, but the matchmaker refused to give up.
"But I thought you said she loved him," you're thinking, I think. "Why is she trying so hard to get them together?"
Well, she didn't love him yet.
Through their endless meetings, phone calls, emails, and notes, the two of them had become friends. She had begun to share things about her life that she never told anyone before. Eric was someone who cared about her, and listened to her, and gave her advice. No one had ever done that before. They took from her, and demanded from her, and begged for her help, but they never offered any kindness to her in return. Finally, she had found someone who wanted to share her burdens, and she drank in the friendship with greed.
As a rule, they didn't talk at school. She had Tricia's trust, and she didn't her to ever worry that what she told the matchmaker would somehow get back to Eric's ears.
Weeks went by, with only phone calls and emails exchanged between herself and Eric, and she began to get nervous and worried anytime she passed him in the hall. For some reason, one that she couldn't place at first, she was afraid of him. Eventually she talked through the logic and realized that it was because he knew so much about her. He knew her secrets, and her problems, and her past. She was afraid of him because he could see into her heart the way no one else ever could.
So one day, she decided she was going to get over her stupid fear. There was no reason to be afraid of him, because he was trustworthy and wouldn't hurt her. She decided she was going to talk to him at school and finally be over it. Right after lunch, she saw her opportunity. Eric was standing with two or three people who the matchmaker would often talk to. The plan was to go up and talk to them, then speak to him as if part of the normal conversation.
The matchmaker headed towards the group, her feet feeling heavy with every fall, and her heart trying to beat its way out of her chest. When she was within six feet of the group, Eric turned away to talk to someone else. The others in the group smiled at her, and she talked with them awhile. He hadn't seen her yet, but she kept sending nervous glances at the back of his head.
Eventually he turned around, and saw her there. He smiled and said hey. A simple "Hey!"
Her world began to spin and her cheeks burned red and her heart beat harder and her arms went weak. She nearly dropped her books, but caught them just in time. "Are you okay?" Eric asked, concern written on his face.
"Oh, uhm, of course! I just... remembered... something..." Without so much as a goodbye, the matchmaker turned on her heels and fled.
She didn't stop running until she was outside, on the school's steps. Sinking to the ground, she tried to still her racing heart. I like him, she caught herself thinking. I have a crush. On him of all people!
This was bad - very bad. His heart belonged to someone else, and she had already sworn to bring them together. When had this happenned? How had this happenned? How could she have let her guard down?
She squeezed her eyes shut and banged her head on her knees. Curses filled her head and she was angry at herself for ever allowing herself to get that close to someone. One of the keys to her success as a matchmaker had always been that she was impartial. Arranging dates and dropping hints and advising guys to send girls flowers and cards had always been so easy because she wasn't emotionally attached to any of them. She could steer certain people to like other people because she didn't care that much.
Random story - One time, she had been on a class field trip to a far away place, and it had been a ten hour bus ride. Ten hours on a school bus in the heat. On the way there, she had noticed one of the boys was taking special interest in one of her friends. During the field trip, she had told her friend what she had seen and whispered, all alight with giggles, "I think he likes you!"
Her friend had rolled her eyes, "Yes, I know. He told me."
"So do you like him?"
The question was the object of their discussion for the rest of the trip, and they sat by each other for the ten hour bus ride back. When her friend stepped off that bus, she had a crush on the boy who liked her, and within a week they were dating.
Back to the matchmaker, face burning and mind racing at the prospect of having a crush of her own - something she had carefully, carefully avoided these past years. She thought through why she liked him. Why him? The real answer is that love strikes certain hearts for almost no reason whatsoever, and if you could rationally explain it away, than it's love not worth having.
The matchmaker thought this out to a logical conclusion - Eric loved Tricia. He had told her about this hundreds of times, and she had been subconciously jealous of Tricia, because the things Eric said about her were things the matchmaker had always wanted a guy to say about her. Over time, she had begun to take Eric's love for Tricia, and project it onto herself, thinking "Oh, if only it were me instead of her! He would love me just the same!"
So, she decided, she really didn't like Eric. She liked how Eric loved Tricia and wanted it for herself. The matter settled, she knew it would be easy not to like him anymore.
Of course, that was followed by more phone calls, emails, and meetings. It was followed by having to sit through classes with him, and going places with him, and talking to him. No matter how she tried to guard her heart, it fled to thoughts of him anyway.
Then the most horrible, wonderful thing happened.
Tricia got a boyfriend, and did it without the matchmaker's help. Eric was completely crushed, his heart broken into hundreds of thousands of pieces. The obstacle had always been that Tricia wasn't interested in ever having a boyfriend - but now she had one. It seemed that the real reason they never got together, was because she simply didn't want him.
The matchmaker tried not to be happy about this. She really did. It wasn't good to rejoice when the guy you love has his heart broken, but she did it anyway. Secretly, when she heard Tricia talking about how great her boyfriend was, or heard Eric complain about how depressed he was, she was throwing confetti and shouting "YES!" - all in her mind.
She didn't make a move, however. Twenty steps down the road, she saw that it would be best if she waited a while, making sure she didn't become a (horror of horrors!) rebound girl. Instead, she continued being his faithful friend - always there to help in times of need. Day by day, hour by hour, she waited for the moment when it would be right to share her feelings.
Happily, yet strangely, she was taken by surprise.
One day, she and he were sitting on the steps of an ice cream store, licking vanilla cones, when he asked what she was doing on Friday. This didn't surprise her - they did stuff all the time. She shrugged and said "Nothin', why?"
Here was the surprise. He wanted to take her out. As in - out out. For a minute, she choked on her ice cream. Yes, it is possibly to choke on ice cream - but only in rare, quite unusal circumstances. Of course, she agreed to go, making sure to sheepishly ask, "I did hear you right, though. This is like a... date.... date. Right?"
Eric had laughed, and said, "Yes. It is a date date."
Of course, the rest of that week she barely ate and didn't sleep. Every single moment was spent in a strange mixture of excitement and panic. Her closet was ransacked, and declared unsuitable. Shopping commenced. Friends were called in for makeup tips and the traditionally borrowing of the perfect hair pin, nailpolish, pair of shoes - you know how it is.
Finally, Friday came. Right after school, she ran home to shower and dress and make herself absolutely perfect. She was running a pretty pink lipstick over her lips when the phone rang. Her heart lept about six feet out of her chest at the sound, and she fell back on her bed and held it to her ear. "Hellooooo?" She let her playful excitement flood out of her.
"Hey," a girl's voice said on the other end.
The matchmaker frowned. "Who is this?"
"It's Tricia." Her heart went cold and she couldn't come up with anything to say. "Hello?" called the other end of the line. "Are you there?"
Rational logic calmed her down. She's a friend - a friend who doesn't even know Eric and I are going out tonight. There's no way this is even about him. Calm down. You're going to freak her out if you keep this up. She doesn't even like Eric, she's got a boyfriend, she-
"Me and Sam broke up... you heard about that, right?" The sound of her laugh came electronic-sounding through the phone. "Right. The whole school heard about that one."
The matchmaker hadn't. She had been too busy being flustered all week. "I'm sorry," concern filled her voice by force.
"Oh don't be, he was a loser," that creepy electronic laugh again, "Anyway, I'm calling to ask a favor. I know you do this all the time, so I figure you could work your magic for me."
"Sure. I'm kinda busy right now, but-"
"It won't be very long," Tricia was nervous, it was obvious. Her voice jumped up an octave, as if it was taking a lot of nerve just to be on the phone. "You remember that guy who had a crush on me for so long?"
The matchmaker stopped moving. She stoppd breathing. "Yeah?"
"Well... I broke up with Sam because I realized... I know this is going to sound really stupid, knowing how much crap I gave you for trying to put us together but-"
"You like him." The matchmaker's voice was quivering, and she cleared her throat to try and get rid of it.
Tricia giggled on the other end. "I know, it's crazy, but it's true. I think I've liked him for a really long time, and I'm just now noticing it."
"No," She sat up in anger, fear, jealousy - emotions she had never experienced before were immediately before her. "No," she said softer. "It's... it's not crazy. He's..." The guards went up around her heart. They didn't help much, but they kept her steady. "He's a great guy."
"I know it! So I was wondering... could you maybe... help set something up? Anne told me all about how you helped her and Scott, and so I was hoping-"
The doorbell rang. The matchmaker's makeup was running with streaks of black tears, eyeliner and salt and grief running down her face in lines. Her dress was rumpled from sitting on the bed, and she had been too distracted to do anything with her hair. "Hey, Tricia?" Sorrow was in her voice and she didn't try to hide it. "I gotta go. I'll call you later, okay?"
"Okay. But-" An uncompassionate Click! resounded across the wire and the matchmaker dropped the phone into its cradle. Barefoot and hideous, she tromped down the stairs and flung open the door.
Eric smiled at her until he saw her tears. "Woah, what's wrong?"
The matchmaker bit her lip angrily as hot tears spilled over her cheeks. "Do you have Tricia's phone number?" She asked loudly, almost angrily.
Her eyes rolled up towards the ceiling in an attempt to stop the tears. "She likes you."
"Really!" Eric's eyebrows shot up and he let out a snorting kind of laugh. "That's kinda funny, I mean-"
"So you should call her and go out with her and be happy." She reached back to grab the door and slam it in his face. "Goodbye."
"Woah, wait." He wedged his body into the doorway and mashed both his feet inside. "What about tonight?"
"What about it?" The words came out in a kind of sob and she swiped at her face to get rid of the tears. She was ashamed of herself for showing so much emotion. "Tricia likes you. You've been waiting for this moment for years. So why hang around me?"
He looked at her tear-stained cheeks for a moment, than looked down at his own feet. For a few seconds that seemed quite a bit longer, neither of them spoke. The sound of her sniffling was the only thing to be heard. "You know, this is all kind of funny," Eric said at last, chuckling a little.
The matchmaker swallowed hard and knit her brow together. "I don't see why-"
"She has some timing, huh?" He laughed louder, bolder, this time. "I mean, if you had told me this maybe four months ago, I would have run back to my car with my phone halfway to my ear." His eyes shifted from the ground back to her face. "But..." A smile lit his face. "I got over her when she started dating Sam. I realized that all my stupid hopes had been for nothing, and I didn't really care about her anymore."
Sniff. "So what are you-"
"Once I let go of her, I realized that for a good long time, other hopes had replaced the ones I had of her. I mean... I liked somebody else."
Sniff again. "I don't understa-"
"Why do you think I asked you to go out with me tonight?" Eric tilted his head to the side in his playful way.
"I dunno," The matchmaker mumbled, wanting to run back to her room, lock the door, and cry.
He laughed. "Are you sure you're the matchmaker who's so observant and gets all these couples together? You seem pretty crappy at it to me."
She glared at him. First, Tricia calls. Next, he starts babbling about hopes and whatnot. Now he's mocking her. "Maybe you should just get out-"
"I like you. Can't you tell?"
Eyes widened, mouth opened, she stared through her tears at his grinning face. "What?"
He laughed and pushed the door the rest of the way open. "Screw Tricia," he took a step towards her. "I don't want her. I want you."
A new wave of tears slipped down her face, but for an entirely different reason. They stared at each other for a good long time, until Eric started laughing again. "So are we gonna go or not?"
With a nod and a dash up the stairs to fix her makeup, the matchmaker's heart lit up with a glow she had never known before. She grabbed her things and slipped on her shoes and combed out her hair, and flew down the stairs in a rush.
"So where are we going?" She asked, taking his arm on the way to the car.
"I dunno. I was thinking ice cream."
A smile broke onto her face. "Sounds good." Anywhere would have been perfect, as long as she was with him.