(theme was Boundless) Published In Short Fiction Break September 2020
“Madelyn? Stood up, again?”
Madelyn flushed as the barman placed a glass of her favorite Pinot Gris in front of her.
“Here, it’s on the house.”
She felt the goose bumps race across her body as a rush of cold air hit her bare back. Her dress might be sexy, but it was a mistake for the evening and making a mockery of her as she perched alone at the cold marble bar. The only warmth she could feel was from the chandelier above her. As the door to the bar opened, she spun around on the bar stool, almost slipping off, to squint through disheveled hair and narrowed eyes at the latest arrival.
Her lips trembled despite the cool persona she strove to exude. She grimaced and slumped cross-armed on the bar as a couple entered hand in hand.
To avoid the pitying looks, she checked her phone; he was over an hour late and still hadn’t texted. She recoiled from the surrounding laughter, and tried to hide her burning cheeks behind her hair, overwhelmed with a sudden desire to be alone. Finishing her drink in one gulp, she stumbled out of the bar, her vision blurred from the alcohol and the forming tears. This was the fourth no show this week. She pushed past a group of men coming in, hiding her face as she dug in her bag for tissues.
“But we just got here, don’t leave,” the tallest flirted, holding the door for her. He flashed a gold tooth through a sexy crooked smile and raised a bandaged hand in mock salute.
One of his friends laughed, “Calm down Alex, even you can do better than her!”
As the tears fell she bolted through the door and waited, shivering, at the taxi stand.
Her reflection in the cab’s window as she climbed in was confronting. She could see a slightly overweight, plain girl with a tendency to compensate with provocative clothes and too much makeup, which was now running down her face creating ugly tracks.
As the taxi driver negotiated his way through the crowded streets, she twirled the six-carat ring that had been her mother’s. When her mom disappeared, her father had spared her the truth initially, saying she’d gone away for a holiday. But years later Madelyn found out she’d actually died. It had been almost a relief. She’d grown up believing mom had left because of her. The shame had made her invisible all her life and left a legacy of scars on her heart and left arm.
She’d always been on the outside, rejected. Even at the private school her father had sent her to, the other girls never accepted her. She never knew the joy of having a best friend. Or being part of a team. At university, it wasn’t any better.
Her father warned her about men, what they’d do for money. He’d seen through Brad, her first love, even when he still had that new boyfriend smell….
When Brad left after emptying her bank account, her insecurity had escalated to self-loathing.
Madelyn’s heart ached as she thought about her father, the only person who had ever really loved her. Almost a year since he went missing and his body never found, he’d made no contact, and his fortune was left untouched. Not even an ATM withdrawal. The family lawyer had called just that morning asking her to come into his office and sign some documents the next day, something about her inheritance. She knew it was somewhere between a small fortune and a large one.
Despite her biological clock ticking off the years, she’d remained single – romance just a dream.
This new dating site had been her last chance. When she’d seen the ad, it ignited new hope in her heart.
“Ready to give up on dating sites but don’t want to remain single? GenMatch is your answer. Instead of a list of matches based on calculated lies and photo-shopped images, GenMatch chooses partners based on proven DNA technology. With more people joining every day, you’re guaranteed a limitless list of suitable partners until you meet your perfect match. Let GenMatch take the guesswork out of the romance equation for you. What are you waiting for? Get the head start to the love you deserve. As an exclusive member, you’re just a cheek swab away from true love!”
When the list of matches bombarded her inbox last week, she’d thought she’d won the lottery. On average, new members could expect a list of five, but Madelyn received seven.
GenMatch protocol was that you worked through from the top, the matches being ordered by DNA compatibility.
After four no shows out of six, though, any optimism had evaporated. And humiliation replaced it. She could barely hold her head up or control her tears.
The only two who’d shown up for the dates had been old enough to be her father.
As she fell asleep cursing her latest no show date, she would have been shocked to know that he was losing consciousness in a hospital bed, and that his last thought was of Alex’s gold-toothed smile, and a solid right-hand fist round housing his face.
As the sun broke through the dawn sky, high in an office tower dominated by an animated heart sign emblazoned with GENMATCH, a frazzled employee burst through a door ignoring the sign “Authorized Personnel Only”.
“Sorry Mr. Cambridge, but… your brother’s here.”
Nick sighed and looked up into the face that was a mirror image of his own.
“Alex. You’re up early.”
Throwing himself into the chair opposite Nick’s massive desk, Alex was a bundle of quivering muscles and grinding teeth.
“I don’t see why you couldn’t just make me number one on her list.”
“Alex, it was hard enough getting you onto the list, you don’t have a single genetic match.”
Alex loosened his collar and bared his teeth as he exhaled noisily, displaying a gold tooth through his down-turned smile.
“Besides, it’s a simple psychological quirk. People always imagine there’s someone better out there, so they judge the first on the list more harshly. They need a few disappointments to value the person in front of them; six in my vast experience. So I made you number seven, throwing in the two cadavers, creepy men old enough to be her father. Seven’s also her lucky number.”
“So you’re a shrink now?”
“After five years working here, yes.”
“Thanks, bro.” Alex’s eyes softened, and he laid one hand on his heart, where a scar bore the only evidence they’d been surgically separated.
Nick did the same.
“I’m trying to help you meet her. But I’m confused. Why her Alex? She’s not really your type, going on the trail of supermodels you leave brokenhearted.”
Nick scanned through Madelyn’s profile.
“Madelyn Michaela Kersley… 35…”
He looked up at Alex through narrowed eyes.
“Didn’t you work for her father? Michael Kersley? Before he disappeared?”
Alex smiled, his gold tooth glinting dangerously.
Nick gasped, staring at Alex through incredulous eyes. He groaned through a clenched jaw, “You evil bastard Alex…. Just get out, now!”
Even as he pushed Alex out of his office, slamming the door hard behind him, Nick was mentally working on generating a sequence of code that would run a wider DNA match. He smiled, exhaling with relief, as he sent the results through to Madelyn’s email minutes later.
Her hair matted and barefaced, hiding behind dark glasses, Madelyn arrived at her lawyer’s office in a cab. She scrawled where her lawyer indicated unquestioningly, barely able to make eye contact with him.
Her phone incessantly beeped.
Her lips pursed, she scrolled down the list. Ignoring the messages from her work, she opened an email from GenMatch. A personal letter from the Head of Customer Relations according to the signature at the bottom, assuring her that her next scheduled date had already confirmed for that evening. Apparently the four no shows were involved in accidents.
A second email advised they’d identified a further 254 prospective partners through GenMatch’s exclusive DNA matching process, listing them in order of suitability.
Madelyn exhaled and laughed shakily, causing her lawyer to startle and look up from the next set of documents.
“Everything okay, Maddie?”
She smiled for the first time since her arrival.
“Everything’s great, John. Let’s push on.”
Everything is great, thought Madelyn, I wasn’t stood up.
Six hours and $20,000 later, Madelyn sashayed down Rodeo Drive, her bouncing hair emulating her walk, her face radiant as she eyed passers-by through long lashes and a scarlet pout. Laden with designer bags, dressed in a chic black suit and killer heels, she turned heads as she stopped to check her phone.
She looked at the profile of the next date. Lucky number seven. Alex Cambridge, 37, marketing manager, 6’, sexy crooked smile, gold tooth. Something was familiar about him…
And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always the new short list…boundless matches…