No one ever died from speed dating. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It just hasn’t. And if the first three guys I met were anything like the guys yet to come…
I might be the first person in history to die from speed dating.
I always thought an apocalypse would kill me. But no. Apparently, it’ll be a dude named Fred who owns his own appliance store and thinks he’s quite an athlete for being on a pickle ball team with his best friend.
My grandparents have been pushing me to try out speed-dating for months now. Ever since the local Women Who Wine group decided to do a mixer with the Boys Who Beer group. (That’s not really what the men’s group is called, but that’s what it really is.) On paper, it’s some sort of pellet grill aficionado club.
Let’s be real, y’all. It’s an opportunity for men to drink beer and feel like cavemen over a smoky fire. I’m all for interest groups. But I should not be here.
This is no place for a Magicker like me.
It’s not hard to hide my magick in the real world, or anything. I don’t glow or sparkle or shoot glittery dust from any orifice. I look human to anyone sitting across from me. But it just feels… weird… to be out here, trying to score a human for sex.
I work with an agency of mostly mages and shifters, who are definitely not sex-friend material with all the gossiping that goes on in that place… but what can you do. Gotta find a man somewhere.
Or so I’ve been told.
Unlike most women my age, I’ve never been married, and I know you might be tempted to feel sorry for me, but I am happily unmarried. If Fred is the median of what’s out there, I am not sad.
I mean, I’m not happy or I wouldn’t be sitting in the Land of Magic Steakhouse about to say goodbye to yet another middle-aged divorced man who really loves the sound of his own voice.
Happy is over-shooting.
Content. I’m content being single.
I do miss the sex, though. Gwen Jones has not experienced the sex in awhile, so Gwen Jones gave into the peer pressure.
(Gwen Jones is me, by the way.)
I smile at Fred, who is talking about his Traeger like it’s the no-kidding-Holy-Grail… he even nicknamed it the Holy Grill, and I wish I was joking about that… he showed me the app on his phone with the nickname.
“I could, at this very moment, be grilling something. Even while I’m sitting here with you,” Fred says with a toothy smile, pulling the phone back.
A return nod from Gwen Jones and we’re off to the races. I take a sip of my wine, which is decent enough, and look around the restaurant.
I’ve promised myself a couple of times I won’t peek ahead at who’s coming, but I can’t help it. I want to know what I’m in for. The men are not unattractive—I definitely like me a dad bod.
Let me tell you, though, dating in your forties… it is not for the faint of heart.
“Have you ever used a Traeger before?” Fred asks, finally pausing to take a sip of his beer.
I shake my head. “I’m more of a microwave girl. Saves time.”
The immediate purse of his lips and wrinkling of his nose tells me everything I need to know about our future together. Someone who judges me for using a microwave… that’s just not long-term-Gwen-boyfriend potential right there. It’s not even really short-term-Gwen-sex-friend potential.
“Do you have any kids?” I ask, sipping my wine and looking up at the ten minute timer. Still five minutes left.
It wouldn’t be an interminable amount of time, except we’ve both very clearly marked each other as a No without physically turning our cards over and making a check in the No box.
“Look,” Fred says, in a surprising drop of the happy veneer. “You obviously don’t like pickle ball or grilling or hunting or anything else I like to do. So we both know we’re not going to be life partners. Hell, you’ll probably text your best friend in four minutes and forty-five seconds and tell her about this jackass you just had to spend ten minutes with, but I just want to say, it’s okay for us to just not like each other.”
I couldn’t help the shocked-open-mouthed look that undoubtedly landed on my face just now, but I was genuinely taken aback. The last three men had all, in their oblivion, blown past my signals of disinterest, and just talked about themselves for ten full minutes because I continued to ask them questions, despite the directions to split the time equally.
Fred’s face was no longer crinkled in disgust at my microwave habit. It was open and honest and clear-eyed. And suddenly, I want to spend the next four minutes with this guy.
No longer than four minutes, though.
“Thank you!” I drop my hands and look at the ceiling in gratitude. “I mean, it’s obvious that we just don’t have anything in common, and we’re not meant for anything more than ten minutes, but also, you’re not a bad guy.”
“And you’re not a bad gal.” He raises his pint glass in my direction.
“This is the worst, though, right?” I hold out my wine glass in a toast. “Speed dating.”
“It really is.” Our glasses touch and clink which makes half the room look in our direction. I offer everyone a smile like we’d done something wrong, but Fred continues after he sips his beer. “What made you do this?”
“My grandparents think I need to…” I stop short of saying get laid before I die because that would be awkward. Instead, I gesture around at the room and say, “date.”
“My kids,” he says with a shrug of solidarity. “I tried the online thing, but… it’s…”
“Pretty much like this,” I finish for him.
“Right. Exactly.” Now, it’s Fred’s turn to lift up his face in gratitude. “Thank you. That’s exactly what it feels like. You talk to someone for awhile and then, in person, ten minutes in, you can tell whether it’s ever going to work or not.”
“Yeah. I have friends who’ve done that. It’s why I never tried it. Like, a thousand first dates? No thank you, sir.”
“So you just don’t date at all?” Fred’s brows go up as he sips his pint again.
“I’m way too busy to spend that kind of time looking for a dude…” I gesture around at the general room. “I don’t know how people who have kids manage to do this. It’s so much work, just the process of online dating, with all that sorting and meeting people and wasting time on dates that aren’t going—”
“Aren’t going anywhere,” Fred finishes, setting his beer down a little harder than he meant to, and some of it sloshes up the side and over. He doesn’t notice and raises his hands in the air. “Exactly. Lord, it’s so nice to talk to someone who gets it.”
I chuckle and take my napkin off my lap, reaching over to sop up the little bit of IPA that has come down the side of his glass. “Yeah, but Fred… I get it because, like you, I am also bitter and alone, so don’t be too excited that there are like-minded people out there. It’s not a good sign.”
He laughs as well and watches me clean off the glass. His posture suddenly changes. When I meet his eyes again, I find heat there and I instinctively back up until my chair stops me.
You may be wondering… what kind of woman feels threatened just by a man showing interest in her? Let me tell you… a woman who has lived forty years of her life with basically zero dating experiences and who used to have a regular sex friend to get those overactive ovaries exercised. Safe-sexy, of course.
Until said sex friend got married, that is. (Thanks so much, Harry.)
So. Here I am speed dating. Yup. This is my life.
And it does not take much to get Fred’s motor running—which tells me two things about him. One, he doesn’t get enough physical touch or care, and two, he misses his wife. Or misses having a wife. That gesture, the clearing up the beer, that was a wifey thing.
And as I look up at the timer, I’m silently glad he will be forced to move on in thirty seconds. I smile and look past him to the table behind, where my next date will come from.
“There’s a wedding party in the next room,” Fred says, closing his hand around the pint glass I just released. Thankfully, our hands do not touch, because I don’t even want to know if there would be chemistry with this man. I mostly want the next few seconds to pass before he says whatever he’s about to say… and they don’t pass fast enough. “If you want, we could go crash their dance after this. Like a couple of teenagers.”
The timer sounds and the event organizer stands from her round table in the middle of the room. “All right, everyone! It’s time to wrap up those conversations. You have one minute until the next timer starts. Gentlemen, please move on to the next table and let your lady have a moment of silence to think about your brilliance and chemistry.”
Both Fred and I roll our eyes, which is the only thing we actually have in common. We both think the twenty-one-year-old event organizer is a patronizing little Gen Z-er. It’s something all the men have noted, in one form or another. Although Fred is the first one not to blatantly give her a hungry once-over with his eyes.
I know what men like that are thinking about tiny blonde ringlets like this event organizer. And it makes me so skeeved out, I can’t even handle life.
“It was great to meet you, Fred,” I say, extending my hand. “I hope the next few dates will be full of women who like to hunt and grill.”
Fred shakes my hand, but holds on a bit too long. He flicks his gaze to the big set of barn doors to our left. “I mean it about the wedding party, Gwen. It was great to meet you.”
I nod and look down at the back of my score card, picking up my pen and waiting for Fred to leave. That man needs a wife, post-haste, and that’s definitely not my bag.
I had a chance to get married nineteen years ago and didn’t take it because I knew, just the same as I know today, I’m going to die before I turn forty. It’s a whole big prophecy thing. But no, marriage is not on my timeline.
Not with a week left before my fortieth birthday.
Buy it now to continue reading!