“Hi, I’m Mark.”
“Hi, Mark. I’m Gwen.”
“Nice to meet you Gwen.”
Gwen took a deep breath.
“Look, Mark, I know this will sound odd, but I’m not really here to meet people tonight. I’m here with a friend. She wanted to try it and, frankly, she’s really bad at sizing people up, but she’s really good at getting hurt by men, so I came with her to keep an eye on her and help make sure she doesn’t fall head over heels for some guy who is the wrong fit for her. You know?”
Gwen looked over her shoulder, scanning the room for Alicia. She turned back when she realized Mark was talking to her.
“So, you came to a speed dating evening but you don’t want to meet people. You’re here for your friend.”
“Yes, right,” Gwen said. “Totally right.”
“If you don’t want to talk to me, Gwen, you can just say that I’m not your type. I get it. You’re only stuck with me for three minutes.”
“No, no, that’s not it. Really. I’m here for my friend,” Gwen said, craning her neck to look behind her. “Look, she’s over there. The redhead with the yellow blouse. See her?”
Mark looked at Gwen’s flushed face. He leaned slightly left, looking past her shoulder. A redheaded woman with a pale yellow blouse was talking animatedly to a young man with a shaved head wearing a a black leather jacket.
“Oh no, no, no, Alicia,” Gwen said. “Do you see that? She’s doing it again. Picking someone totally wrong for her.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
“Because I’m Alicia’s best friend and I happen to know that she is fatally attracted to men in black leather jackets. A year ago it was a waiter at the hotel. He ended up in jail for fencing stolen goods. Then there was the shoe salesman. Forty-five years old and still living with his mother. I don’t know what story that guy is telling her,” Gwen said, still eyeing the bald youth, “but I know it will end badly.”
“They could be talking about the weather,” Mark suggested.
“No,” Gwen said. “He’s talking about how misunderstood he is, and how his most important possession is his motorcycle.”
“Or they could be talking about their favorite foods.”
Gwen shook her head.
“Trust me. He is talking about being a free spirit who can’t be chained down.”
“What kind of guy are you fatally attracted to?”
“What?” Gwen turned around.
“You said Alicia is fatally attracted to guys in black leather jackets. What kind of guy are you fatally attracted to?”
“I guess I never thought about it.”
“Maybe guys who appreciate Led Zeppelin?”
Gwen looked down at her Led Zeppelin t-shirt.
“You like Led Zeppelin?” she asked.
“Saw them in concert 13 times. My favorite time was in Chicago.”
“Really? My favorite time was …”
A clanging bell cut her off.
“Thank you everyone. Time to move to the next table,” a voice at the front of the room said.
“Bye, Gwen.” Mark smiled. “Nice to almost meet you.”
Gwen looked at him for what felt like the first time.
“Bye, Mark. I wish …”
But Mark had turned away.