A short story by Chris the Cat-Pen-Bearer
(DISCLAIMER: The following is a work of original fiction, and is not intended to infringe on copyright owned by anyone else. Any resemblance to any actual persons or events, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)
Dover didn't know what he expected to achieve from this endeavour.
It seemed, to him, more like a desperate gamble than anything else. But after three years of failed attempt after failed attempt, he figured maybe he'd earned the right to be a desperate gambler, even if he himself thought of it as pathetic. Never mind that it was his best friends who'd put him up to it in the first place because they wanted to help him break his personal drought; he knew from past experience, and he felt he should have taken it into consideration now, that they had never been of good judgement when they had enough liquor in them to fill a car engine.
Nevertheless, here he was, attending Tuesday night's happy hour at the local pub, having signed up for the weekly speed-dating challenge which had been introduced a month prior, as part of the owner's "charitable" aim of pairing up the singles who frequented the place. He hadn't known whether he should knocked back a drink or two prior to taking this on, to steady his nerves; but the desire to make a good first impression with a non-boozed head had won out, and so he'd settled for just a glass of ginger ale. At the very least, whichever woman he ended up impressing tonight (if he was so lucky), he could then say she honestly looked good without having been deceived by the spirit-filled brew beforehand, the kind of deceit that would have left him with many regrets and fears afterward.
He idly fingered his name-tag which had been pinned on his shirt-pocket minutes earlier. He was sitting at the bar with nine other men, some of whom he knew from the area, while the others' faces were new to him, and all of them were wearing name-tags similar to his. One or two of the strangers, he'd noticed, had made some kind of effort to hide the silver bands that they'd been wearing on their left ring fingers. He dryly wondered to himself what excuses these had given their spouses to not be at home tonight.
Well, he at least didn't have to worry about giving transparent stories to a spouse—he no longer had one to give any kind of story to.
Dover's eyes roved over the tables several feet away from the bar. As per the owner's rules for the speed-dating game, ten women were sitting by themselves at the tables. In a moment, when the owner rang the bell, the men would select tables to go to and try to chat up the women for five minutes each, before moving on to the next table and repeating the process. A few of the women at the tables were from the area, and at least three of them Dover had had previous interactions with, but he didn't think he should approach them for an occasion such as this. It would be too awkward, for one thing, and if any attempts at romancing them bombed, he didn't know how he'd be able to look them in the eye afterward.
Better, then, to stick to trying his luck with the women who were present and who he didn't know. At least with them, if he failed in his bid to win any of them over, he could suffer his embarrassment for a brief time and then never have to worry about seeing any of them again.
He fixed a look on one table close toward the back. The woman sitting there was certainly a stunner, he thought, but not someone he'd seen before. Perhaps she was from one of the neighbouring communities, or from out of town. At the moment she was sipping from a wine glass, holding the glass's stem with a firm, steady finger-grip; she likely hadn't drank enough to lose too much inhibition, so whatever conclusions she'd draw about him should he get to talk with her, it would be based more on informed mental clarity and less on the flavour of the vine.
"Gentlemen, select a table for the first five minutes!"
The owner's instruction came forth clearly, and at once the other men began to get up from their bar-stools. Keeping his eyes on the woman with the wine-glass, Dover quickly got up and hurried over to her table—making an effort not to seem like he was moving too fast, hoping he didn't come across as desperate—and carefully sat down across from her. "Hello," he said briefly.
She swirled her wine in her glass and eyed him. "Hello to you, too," she replied.
Dover blinked as the bell was rung; the other men must have already gotten settled at their chosen tables, he realised. "So…ahem…" He steeled himself and fixed his attention on the woman, holding his hand out to her. "My name's Dover. And yours?"
She reached out and shook his hand. "Sitara. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
He cocked his head a little to one side and studied her more closely. She had black shoulder-length hair and olive-coloured skin; Indian descent, he guessed, and the name certainly sounded Indian. She was wearing a light-green suit-jacket over a cream-coloured top—business-casual, he supposed.
"So, are you from around these parts?"Dover asked.
"Not originally, no," Sitara answered. "I just moved into the district next to here last month."
"How do you like it so far?" Dover queried.
"It's nice," said Sitara. "I do still need time to get fully accustomed to the difference in environment." She took a brief sip of her wine. "And you? Are you from here?"
"I've lived here most of my life," Dover answered. "My folks brought us here to live when I was 10, and I've been here for the past 24 years since."
"I see." Sitara took another sip from her glass. "I take it this is your first time speed-dating?"
Dover's eyes widened slightly. "Ah—well—yeah…was I that obvious?"
"Well, you were trying to hide the nervousness, but the more you try to hide it, the more it shows." Sitara smirked. "I have a bit of experience with reading people's body language and facial expressions."
"And how'd you get that experience?" Dover wanted to know.
"I'm a licensed therapist," Sitara said simply.
"…a shrink?" Dover queried.
"Well, officially, I'm a counsellor with the local health department office," Sitara clarified. "Specifically…sex education." She smirked again.
Dover blinked. "Uh…okay…that's a first. I've never met anybody in this kind of environment who worked with the health department before—definitely not in your capacity."
"First time for everything," Sitara replied. "And you? What do you do?"
"Me? Well…I'm a sales rep for our local radio station," Dover answered. "My official job title is 'business development executive'…which I believe suggests a lot more than what it's actually all about."
Sitara cocked an eyebrow. "I take it you don't like your job much?"
"It could be better, but it has its occasional good days," said Dover.
"I suppose most people would say that about their jobs. Me, though—I enjoy mine," and Sitara nodded to affirm her statement. "Being able to educate people about their responsibilities to themselves and their partners…it's my kind of thing."
"How long have you been working there?" Dover wanted to know.
"Hmm…" Sitara thought for a moment. "Next month makes it three years, I think."
"Three years? Wow, you really do like your job," Dover remarked.
"I sure do." Sitara smiled a small smile. "I at least get to make a difference doing something I enjoy. I can't ask for anything more."
"Mmm-hmm." Dover nodded. "So tell me, Sitara, what brings you here to the pub, and participating in this speed-dating thing?"
"I thought I'd come and see what the local night-life is like," Sitara explained. "I've dealt with quite a few men in this kind of setting over the years. Some have been absolutely self-absorbed, others have been pretty dull…and then there've been some who were like you."
"Like me?" Dover cocked his head slightly. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"That depends on the individual, actually." Sitara swirled what was left of her wine in the glass. "Men who aren't too sure of themselves, either it's due to inexperience or utter lack of confidence. The question is…which category are you in?" and she eyed him keenly.
Dover leaned forward slightly, resting his elbows on the table. "How about I let you draw your own conclusions on that? I wouldn't want to give a response too quickly and end up being wrong."
"I see." Sitara nodded. "You seem like a decent guy, Dover…but for all I know, maybe you're putting on a good face to try and make a first impression."
"And you're not?" Dover countered.
One corner of Sitara's mouth curved upward. "Touché."
"How much should I tell you about myself—the real me?" asked Dover. "I wouldn't want to over-share, especially in a setting like this."
"Five minutes of speed-dating isn't nearly enough time to tell all there is to tell," said Sitara. "And I do believe there are some things that shouldn't be told on the first meeting."
"Then how much do you want to know about me—in such a short space of time and in this kind of setting?" Dover inquired.
Sitara leaned forward slightly and looked straight into his eyes. "If you could be anywhere except here right now…where would you be?"
"Realistically?" Dover's expression became thoughtful. "Before three years ago, I'd be at home, sitting at the dinner table with my wife. Since the last three years, though, all I do is mostly go to work and go home, with the odd family visit or office get-together thrown in for good measure."
"And the wife?" Sitara asked, her voice low.
Dover rolled his eyes at that. "Ran off with who I thought was my best friend. Said it just wasn't working for her—even though I'd invested five years into our marriage."
"Hmm." Sitara fingered her glass. "How do you think a woman would feel if she found out at some point that you used to be married, when you didn't disclose it of your own volition?"
"I didn't know I was supposed to mention it upfront without prompting." Dover was trying not to scowl, but he couldn't help the furrowing of his brow that happened anyway. "When I was courting my wife, it was a simpler affair—we met among mutual friends, we took a liking to each other, we hung out, spent more one-on-one time together…"
"And you got married." Sitara set the glass down. "But then something changed."
"Yeah…" Dover unleashed a heavy sigh. "And I don't know what or why."
"Hmm." Sitara tapped the stem of her glass with one finger, but didn't move to pick it up.
Dover shook his head. "Listen to me talk…I must sound pathetic, huh?"
"I wouldn't be so quick to say that." Sitara's eyes narrowed slightly. "True, I'm learning a few little things about you in a few minutes, but there's more to this than what's currently on hand."
"But what you've gotten can't be all that impressive, can it?" asked Dover.
"Look—a little word of advice…" Sitara's expression was grave now. "If you're going to second-guess yourself, you've already failed before you've even tried. It's not exactly what a woman wants to see a man nurturing—whether in a speed-date, a regular date, or any time in general."
"Hmm…" Dover frowned.
He looked up as the bell was rung. "Five minutes already? Wow…" Then he saw the other men preparing to get up from the tables they'd been occupying with the other women. "Well, I guess it's time to make acquaintances with the other ladies now."
"You do that," said Sitara. "But before that…"
A waitress came to their table at that moment and placed two sheets of paper and pens down before them. "I believe this is the part where we write down our thoughts of our speed-date session, and submit our answers," Sitara informed Dover.
"Ah—sure." Dover picked up his pen and quickly scribbled down some information on his paper, before returning both to the waitress. "Here you go, miss."
Sitara submitted her paper with her information a moment later. "Well…time to go to the next table, right?" she asked Dover. "But at the very least, think about what I've said, okay?"
"Mmm…yeah…" Dover nodded slowly even as he got up and scanned the other tables to see which one might now be available. "I'll do that."
An hour later, the bell above the pub's doorway rang lightly as Dover pushed the door open and stepped out into the night, tugging his jacket more snugly around himself. "Sigh…so much for that," he mumbled.
He turned and walked up the street, illuminated here and there by the street-lights spaced thirty feet apart from each other, and idly glanced up at the sky. There were no stars visible; dark grey clouds hovered above instead, and in the distance he could hear a very faint rumble. "Gonna rain soon…better hurry and get home…"
"Hmm?" Dover took his phone out of his pocket and looked at the screen. "A text message…?" He opened it. "Oh, from the pub-owner…having to do with the results of tonight's speed-dating event…yeah, they did say if anybody was interested to exchange contact info, they'd let us know by text…so…"
He read further into the message. "…oh…"
Riiiiiiing! Riiiiiiing! Riiiiiiing!
Footsteps padded from the bathroom and to the bedroom where the cell-phone lay on the mattress, ringing insistently before it was picked up and answered. "Hello?"
"Uh, hi…this is Sitara, right? It's Dover…the pub owner sent your contact details to my phone."
She smiled a little and ran one hand through her hair. "Yeah…so they did."
"I assume they sent you mine, as well?"
"Only because you indicated on that paper that you'd be interested in having a second, more personal date with me…" Sitara twirled a lock of her hair onto her finger. "Like I did for you."
"I'm honestly surprised you'd even consider it on your end, with how our talk turned out…"
"I'm not one to make swift judgements just on the strength of one short conversation. It was only five minutes in a speed-dating session," said Sitara. "Besides…you seem interesting, so why not follow up, right?"
There was a brief pause. "Sooo…when are you available?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, 4:30. There's a fish and chips place here in my area…"
"Oh, yeah, I know of it. 4:30 tomorrow, then."
"Good. So I'll see you then, Dover."
"…okay. Sure thing." Another pause. "Well…good night, Sitara."
The line closed with a click. Sitara slowly set the phone back down on the bed, her smile never wavering once.
On his end, Dover slowly set the phone down. "She...she actually..."
He took a rather long time getting to sleep that night, so focused was he on the memory of Sitara and what she'd said to him.