(This is flash fiction I wrote and posted at my old blog at blogger.com. Occasionally I’ll be taking posts I made there and reposting them here to get more eyes on them and so that, eventually, the majority of my online writing work can be found in one place. This short actually won me $100 in a contest! Thanks for reading.)
He stepped forward and opened the door for her.
She gave him a look. “What are you doing?”
He shrugged. “Sorry, it’s something my grandpa told me about. It’s dumb, right?”
“No, it’s fine, just…odd,” she said and walked into the restaurant.
The host was an elderly man and smiled to see them. He greeted them and bade them sit anywhere they wanted.
They were the only two in the place. They sat near the window.
She looked at the menus in wonder. Tentatively, she poked hers with her finger.
He laughed, looking at his own. “Pretty wild, isn’t it? My grandpa says these used to be all there was, No touchscreens at all.”
“You read about it in old digitexts and see it in old movies,” she said. “But still.” She picked up the menu and turned the pages, sliding her fingers across the glossy plastic.
He took another drink of water.
She looked at him over the menu. “I was surprised, you know, when you came over and spoke to me. My friends suggested I ignore you.”
He grinned, looking sheepish. “I could tell they weren’t fans before I was halfway across the dance floor.” He shrugged. “But I wanted to talk to you. I know people these days don’t stray outside their Sets much.”
The host came over and asked if they’d like anything to drink.
He ordered a carafe of wine.
He nearly choked on his water and chuckled. “That’s the first mistake everyone makes. We’re not a Set.”
Her eyes widened. “You weren’t Matched?”
He shook his head. “My grandparents opted out.”
She shook her head. “But that’s…crazy. I know parents can do that but…” Her voice trailed off as the host brought the wine and filled glasses for them. “I don’t know what I would have done without my Set. We’ll be friends for life.”
He took a sip of wine. “You would have found other friends. It’s how they used to do it all the time, back in the day.”
“So all of you are just…natural friends? What’s that like?” She asked, sipping her own wine, looking hungry with curiosity.
“I’m sure it’s the same as you with your friends. You find things you like, things you have in common, you hang out together, get to know each other, you know. We’re just not like, chosen and put together by some computer formula.”
“An algorithm that produces life-long friends 97% of the time,” she replied, giving him a look.
He leaned back. “I’m not attacking it or saying it’s wrong. I just wasn’t a part of it.”
She shook her head, taking another sip of wine. “UnMatched, in this day and age.”
The host came again and asked their order.
They hemmed and hawed over menu options they couldn’t really read before pointing to different things that sounded like they might taste delicious.
Something in her pocket buzzed and she pulled out her phone. She checked something on it.
He leaned forward. “It’s generally considered impolite to use your phone at dinner,” he whispered, conspiratorially.
“Really?” she asked and put the phone away. “No wonder nobody goes to these places. Everyone I know is plugged in 24/7.”
“That’s why I approached you,” he said, smiling. “You were one of the few with your eyes not on a screen.” He nodded to her. “Is it something important? I was just joking, didn’t mean to make you put it away or anything.”
She laughed and he thought that sounded nice. “Trust me, it’s nothing.” She took another sip of wine, looking mischievous. “If you must know, it’s my friends making sure I’m okay.”
“They really don’t like me, do they?”
“Well, what you did is rather unusual. They all told me not to come and one or two suggested you might….kill me.”
He laughed. “What? Do they think I’m a serial killer because I asked you out on a date?”
She giggled, putting her hand to her mouth. “Well, it’s not really done that way anymore.”
“I know. Everyone just finds their Perfect Match.”
“That’s how my sister did it. She found her Perfect Match and set a wedding date for a month later, before even meeting the guy in person.”
“And I’m sure you’ll tell me the algorithm is perfect 94.5% of the time.”
She smirked and shook her head. “I did check out our Compatibility, you know,” she said slyly.
“Uh oh,” he said, taking a sip of wine. “Let me guess, we’re about as compatible as a beautiful vase and a wrench.”
She laughed again. “Am I the vase or the wrench?”
He grinned. “Don’t know yet,” he said. “Let me hear the bad news, that we’re doomed to be incompatible forever because 2+2=4.”
She shook her head. “I’m not telling, yet.”
“Do you trust a computer to tell if two people will love each other?”
“It seems to work.”
The food came, steaming plates heaped with pasta, sauce and meat.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe it’s just because my grandparents raised me but it’s hard to believe a computer can scan you and then tell you who you’re going to love, without you ever having met them. Is your sister happy?”
“I think so.”
They started eating, at first trying to be polite but ended up slurping up noodles noisily.
“This is the best italian food I’ve ever had,” she said.
“It’s delicious,” he replied, stuffing more in his mouth. A noodle hung out, sticking to his chin.
She laughed at him.
He picked it off and ate it.
They cleaned their plates and sat back, feeling content. The host came and took their plates, asking about dessert. They told him they were stuffed.
“I can tell you don’t trust the algorithm,” she said.
He shrugged, finishing his wine. “I guess I just think things should be more…natural.”
He looked embarrassed. “Love, I guess. Romance. And what about choice?”
“Choice? Even if you find a Perfect Match, you can decline.”
“Right but who does? Nobody. Who would? Who would pass up the great odds that life with that person is going to be great, be perfect? I can understand why people do it, but I never will.”
“Oh? You don’t want to have a great life with somebody to love?”
“I do but I’m going to find them on my own, my own way. There will be struggle and sadness and fighting, but I’ll take it over something else choosing for me.” He smiled, leaning forward and offering his palm up. “I’ll take this first date, regardless if we never see each other again, over being told who I should love.”
She hesitantly put her hand in his. “So you don’t want to see me again?” She asked, eyes narrowing.
He laughed. “Of course I do! But you’ve looked at our Compatibility, and you’ve grown up with Matched friends and maybe you want that Perfect Match, and that’s fine. We may not be a Perfect Match. But that doesn’t mean we can’t love each other. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a great first date.” He blushed and pulled his hand back. “Sorry, didn’t mean to talk about love and all that.” He shook his head. “Grandpa said not to talk about love on the first date.”
She leaned forward. “What did your grandpa say to talk about on a first date?”
“About you,” he said. “Your job, your life, your family and friends. To say that you’re beautiful, which is silly because it’s obvious but he said ladies still like to hear it. He said to show the other person that you’re listening, that you’re interested in them as a person. He said to talk about you.” He shook his head, chuckling. “Which, we haven’t really talked about at all.”
The host left the bill at the table and thanked them.
“Well,” she said. “Maybe you can ask me about those things on our second date.”
“There’s going to be a second date?”
She smiled. “Maybe.” She reached for the bill but he got there first.
He gave a shrug. “Grandpa, again,” he said and put a few twenties on top of the bill and left it on the table.
They got up and put their coats on, he helped her with hers. At the door, he stepped forward and held it open. She said thanks, walking outside.
“So,” she said, turning to him. “What else did your grandfather tell you to do on the first date?”
He kissed her.