2017 entry to NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Round 1 Honorable Mention
“Good job on the sparkling water account, Garcia. It’s always good publicity for the company when we can get a product on the shelves ahead of schedule.”
“Thank you, sir,” Anabelle calls after Mr. Michelson who has already left her office and is halfway down the hall.
A few minutes later, a knock at her door breaks Anabelle’s concentration. Natalie leans against the doorframe. With her tall, slim build, and impeccable fashion sense, you would expect to find her on the cover of a magazine instead of behind a desk crunching numbers.
“So where are we going to celebrate?”
“Celebrate? I can’t. I’m trying to get a headstart on the new waffle brand. They’re looking for a signature flavor.”
“Give your taste buds a rest Ana.” Natalie walks into the office and sits on the corner of Ana’s desk, careful not to disturb the meticulous order. “Let’s cleanse that pallatte with a few drinks. Who knows, we might meet our future ex-husbands.”
Ana cocks her head and looks Natalie in the eye. “You know how I feel about trolling for guys in bars. That’s no way to find Mr. Right.”
“No, but it’s the perfect way to find Mr. Right Now, until he comes along. Besides, when was the last time you went on a date?”
“I don’t know.” Ana shrugs her shoulders and avoids eye contact.
“You know what you need…a matchmaker.”
“A what?” Ana shakes her head and goes back to the email she was composing before Natalie came in. Natalie circles the desk and wedges herself between Ana and the computer. After a few clicks and keystrokes, she backs up to give Ana a view of the screen.
“This woman works with elite clients, the kind of men that would be right up your alley. She’ll do all of the grunt work for you. All you have to do is show up on the dates.”
“I’m not desperate, Natalie. When the time is right, the right guy will come along.”
“What can it hurt? Just fill out a profile and see what she has to say. Here, we’ll do it together.” Natalie clicks on the registration button and starts entering Ana’s information.
Name: Anabelle Garcia
Occupation: Lead Food Scientist
“I really don’t know about this Natalie,” Ana says as they review the completed profile. “A few answers to some arbitrary questions is not enough for this woman to find me a suitable man.”
“This is just a starting point, Ana. She’ll review the profile and if she likes you, she’ll schedule an interview.”
“How do you know so much about this? If she’s so good, why haven’t you hired her.”
Natalie laughs. “I’m having too much fun to be tied down, honey. You only do this if you’re looking for something serious. This is more your speed.” Before Ana can protest further, Natalie hits Submit. “Now, let’s go have that drink.”
A few days later, Ana is working in the kitchen lab when her phone rings. She doesn’t recognize the number and lets it go to voicemail. “Let’s try a bit of orange zest,” Ana suggests. The engineer grates an orange peel into the batter and stirs it in. Ana pours the batter into a heated griddle.
“I think this is it.” Ana takes another bite of the still warm waffle. “I’ll schedule a team tasting. You get several samples ready. Can you have batches 2, 5, and 6 ready for tomorrow afternoon?”
On the way back to her office, Ana checks her voicemail. She stops midstride. “Hello, I’m calling for Anabelle Garcia. Ms. Garcia, this is Erica Grant. I reviewed your profile on PrimeMatch.com and I think you are a prime candidate. Please give me a call…”
Ana taps a pen against the pad in front of her. The phone number for Erica Grant stares back at her. After another moment of hesitation, she picks up the handset on her desk, and dials the number.
“PrimeMatch.com, Marcy speaking. How may I direct your call?” Ana introduces herself.
“Of course. One moment, Ms. Garcia.”
The receptionist transfers her. The conversation is brief. They schedule a face to face meeting. It is only when she hangs up and feels the release in her muscles that Ana realizes how tightly wound she was.
The cab pulls up in front of the PrimeMatch.com building with it’s large silver lettering. Really subtle, Ana grimaces. In the elevator, she wonders again how she could have let Natalie talk her into this. A redhead, with freckles that seem to dance as she speaks, greets Ana at the front desk. According to the nameplate, this is Marcy.
Marcy ushers Ana into an empty office. “Can I get you anything to drink? Cucumber water, coffee, tea…”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
“Ms. Grant will be with you shortly.” Ana notes that Marcy said Ms. and not Mrs. How good can this woman be if she hasn’t even found her own perfect match? As the seconds tick away, Ana’s knee bounces in rhythm with her tripping heartbeat. She looks down at her watch, five minutes early. The longer she waits, the faster her knee bounces. Just before it reaches a speed that will propel her from her seat, the door opens, and in walks Erica Grant.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I was finishing up another session.” Erica reaches out a hand to Ana. In the other, she is holding a file folder.
Ana shakes her hand. “Don’t worry about it. I’m early.”
Erica sits on the chair behind the desk. She folds her hands and leans toward Ana. “I must say, your profile was intriguing. What exactly is a Lead Food Specialist?”
“I guess you can say it’s a fancy term for a taste tester. Of course, I do more than just eat all day.”
“Of course.” Erica smiles at Ana. She opens the folder which now lays on the desk before her. “I gather that your job keeps you pretty busy and can make it difficult for you to meet men in more social settings.”
“Yes. Most of the men I meet are clients and I don’t mix business and pleasure.”
“Completely understandable. In fact, that’s the case for the majority of my clients. According to your profile, you’ve only ever had one serious relationship. Do you mind my asking what happened there?”
“We were college sweethearts; just young and foolish enough to believe that love conquers all and that it didn’t matter if our paths weren’t aligned. Eventually, we graduated and reality began to sink in. The more we chased our dreams, the less we seemed to have in common.” Ana shifts in her seat and clears her throat. She hasn’t thought about Jonathan in a few years and doing so makes her heart feel heavy. “Then one day, we both woke up and thought, this isn’t working, and we amicably went our separate ways.”
Erica nods. “Tell me, how would you describe your ideal man? What qualities are you looking for?”
“Ambitious, driven, smart…” Ana pauses and thinks hard. “I need a man that can challenge me, showers me with attention without smothering me, a man that knows when to take charge and when to follow my lead.”
Erica scribbles down notes in Ana’s file. The interview lasts another fifteen minutes. “I think I have enough to get started here. Give me a few days to cross reference your file with the available men and I will reach out to you once I have some viable options.” Ana stands and shakes Erica’s hand.
“So, are you going to tell me how it went?” Natalie asks Ana. The waitress brings their food and Ana waits for her to leave before she answers.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But I haven’t heard anything yet.”
“It’s only been three days. Give it at least a week before you start panicking.”
“I’m not panicking. I just have my doubts.”
“Have a little faith. So how is the waffle account going?”
Before she can answer, Ana’s phone rings. She fishes it out of her purse and sees Erica’s name on the screen. “It’s her,” she tells Natalie, showing her the phone.
“Answer it.” Ana does. Erica has found a few matches and would like to set up dates.
“That’s it?” Ana asks. “I don’t get to take a look at their profiles before I agree to meet them?”
“This is what you hired me for Ana. I take care of the screening and you trust my judgement.”
“I thought I would know more about the men before I had to meet them. I’m not sure about this…” Natalie waves to get Ana’s attention. Just go, she mouths.
Ana gives in and agrees to goes on her first date. Brian is debonair. He takes her to an upscale restaurant, but spends the whole night talking about himself. He comes from family money and was handed a high power position within his father’s company. Did he just refer to himself in third person? He barely registers Ana’s presence and may as well be on a date with himself.
The second date, starts off with more promise. Jackson is handsome, polite, and shows a genuine interest in Ana. When the waiter arrives with their food, Ana smiles and thanks him. Jackson accuses her of flirting right in front of his face. The meal continues in uncomfortable silence. When it is time to order dessert, Ana escapes by claiming to need to use the ladies’ room.
By the third date, Ana is leery. If Erica doesn’t get it right this time, she’s fired. She arrives at the agreed upon coffe shop and orders a mocha. While she gazes out of the window, a man approaches her table.
“Anabelle?” She turns to see a tall man with piercing blue eyes. Wisps of his unruly hair stick out from under a slouched beanie. His t-shirt has a small crop of holes on one side and his jeans are beat up.
“Hi, I’m Marcus.” Ana reaches for his extended hand and shakes it.
“Nice to meet you.”
“I hope you’re hungry. I thought we could grab a bite to eat.” Ana takes a sip of her mocha, then nods her head. “Cool, I know a great place. I thought we could walk. It’s a nice night and it will give us time to get to know each other.”
“Sure.” Ana looks down at her date heels and internally grimaces.
“It’s not too far.” Marcus flashes her a dazzling smile and offers his arm for support. To Ana, the ten minute walk feels more like ten hours. Her feet throb so much that she can barely focus on anything Marcus says. He asks her questions about herself and she keeps her answers brief. It’s difficult not to sound snippy through clenched teeth.
They stop in front of a dingy looking pub. “This is it.” Marcus opens the door and ushers Ana in. Her eyes grow wide as she takes in their surroundings. It is not a pub, but a mom and pop restaurant. Everything looks greasy and the stench of cooked meat fills the air. Ana wonders if she will ever be able to get the smell out of her clothes.
They find a table and sit down. Ana looks around and spots the restrooms. She excuses herself.
“This is insane, Natalie. Erica said he was a successful business owner, not a 90’s skater boy.”
“It can’t be all that bad, Ana. Give him a chance. You said he’s handsome, right? He must clean up well.”
“I wouldn’t know. And this place… It’s a hole in the wall. I am completely out of my element here.”
“I’m sure Erica knows what she’s doing. Get to know him, figure out what she sees in him.”
“I blame you for this.” Ana hangs up the phone and returns to the table. Marcus has already ordered for her.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I heard you’re a foodie; you have to try the signature sauce.” Ana looks down at the plate that is smothered in bbq sauce. She can’t even tell what kind of meat is hidden under there. There is a side of vegetables that look safe, so she picks up her fork and starts there.
“What do you do for a living?”
“This,” Marcus says. He waves his hand around in the air. Ana looks around. She cocks her head and looks back at Marcus.
“You own this place?” Her brows rise. Of course, she thinks. Now it makes sense why a business owner would dress this way. Ana has no idea what else to say. She listens politely as Marcus tells her about an idea he had in college and how it manifested into this place. Way to dream big!
Hungry enough to eat a horse, Ana gives in and picks at the meat. Marcus watches her like a hawk. She takes a bite and identifies it as beef ribs. It’s not bad, but the sauce is a bit tangy and missing something. Marcus waits, but when she says nothing, he carries on the conversation.
At the end of the evening, he asks for Ana’s number. She doesn’t want to outright reject him, so she gives him her number, with the last two digits transposed. He leans in for a kiss, but Ana moves at the last moment. His lips brush her cheek. They part ways and Ana hobbles back to her car where she yanks off her heels and tosses them to the passenger side. Another disasterous date.
A week later, Mr. Michelson pops his head into her office.
“Got a minute, Garcia?”
“Of course, sir.”
Mr. Michelson turns to someone in the hallway before he enters her office. “Garcia here is the best, Mr. Ambrose.”
A man in a tailored suit follows Mr. Michelson in. “Please, call me Marcus.” Ana’s jaw drops. Natalie was right. He cleans up well.
“Marcus here owns a line of bbq sauce and needs our help perfecting the recipe. He says you’re already familiar with it.”
“I’m still on the waffle account, sir.”
He waves her off. “That’s pretty much a done deal. Someone else can finish up the paperwork. I’ll leave you two to it.”
“I thought you owned a restaurant?” Ana asks when Mr. Michelson is no longer in earshot.
“Among other things.” Marcus takes a seat. “I tried to call you, but…” Ana blushes. “You made curious face when you tried my sauce the other night.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“So, what’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing.” Ana hesitates. “It’s just missing something.”
Marcus nods. “Then I look forward to spending time with you to find the missing ingredient. I’m confident that we’ll find the perfect balance.”
As Marcus leaves, Ana gets the distinct feeling that he is talking about more than just his bbq sauce.