BY MJ MALLECK
Copyright is held by the author.
THE SIGN was ridiculously small, the neon pink paper stapled to the post at eye level perfectly positioned for drivers waiting on the red light. Valentines Day Speed Dating Event. An arrow pointed at the glass entrance to the Holiday Inn. I looked at the empty seat beside me, considered the bucket of Salted Caramel ice cream in the trunk, and made the turn.
I parked and followed the bright pink signs. The holiday was over for whatever franchisee had been running this place, a For Lease sign on the door. Events to help pay the rent, sure, one weekend a sale on golf accessories, one weekend a seminar on flipping real estate. Today, find your perfect match.
The arrows led to the pool area, stinking of chlorine and tables of two set up along the concrete pebbled deck. I paid fifteen bucks at a registration table; the woman who took my money barely glanced up from her phone. Take a seat, she said.
In the middle of the white tablecloth was a pitcher of water, no ice, and two glasses. A Holiday Inn ashtray, though indoor smoking was definitely against bylaws, and two boxes of green and white matches. Find Your Perfect Match was printed on the cardboard sign. I read the rules: When the timer goes, introduce yourself. Talk for 15 minutes. When the bell rings, pick up the matches if you want to stay.
I should have seen it coming.
She was here. I saw her corkscrew curls first, then watched how she bent sideways to rummage in the big leather bag at her feet.
We’d been married in this frickin’ place, back when it was new. Our reception was in the ballroom, not here by the pool, but we’d frolicked here after breakfast. The fourth-floor honeymoon suite was included in the wedding package. Maybe I’d thought there was luck here for me, or maybe I wanted to believe the marriage crumbling had only been mirroring the ravages of this cheap hotel.
I moved fast, the chair across from her was empty. I slid in and looked up with my best goofy grin on, reaching for the matches with gusto.
Not Rose. Not her charcoal eyes, not her sharp nose, not her tiny chin. But someone else. Someone I didn’t know. I dropped the matches. The bell rang.