A ball of nerves by the name of Erin sat primly in her chair beneath the Tiffany chandeliers; back straight, hands folded in her lap, ankles crossed in the Princess Diana style her mother insisted in forcing upon her growing up.
She reached up to check her hair… can’t have any fly-aways out of place, no.
Pursing her lips in typical Erin Gilbert fashion, she prayed for a swift and painless death.
“Don’t let them see the fear in your eyes” Abby had instructed; the words somehow doing nothing to alleviate Erin’s nerves in the comparison of Speed Dating to wild game hunting.
She flattened her blouse against her chest and tamped a wrinkle down in the pleat of her skirt.
Beige tweed gave Erin confidence, oddly enough.
Her outfit was what she’d call her version of a “power suit;” though, if you didn’t know her, you’d think she’d just come from work.
Truth of the matter was, she had just come from work.
If her clothes were too sexy for academia, as was her impression, she’d surely be the adequate amount of sexy for this, was her thought.
Her research on the subject of dating, particularly speed dating, offered up a wealth of information on the art of small talk, engaging, complimenting, and sealing the deal.
She had retained none of that knowledge, she realized, staring at the tablecloth.
Erin Gilbert was out of her element.
She wasn’t a “dater,” she didn’t go out with her girlfriends to “pick up guys” or “get laid,” though she did daydream about the possibility.
She didn’t know the first thing about meeting new people and therefore it seemed the reasonable option to try her hand at speed dating, per the glowing recommendation of her friend Patty, whom she trusted empirically.
Forced conversation with men for a handful of seemingly eternal minutes? Would wouldn’t love that?
Erin’s dream scenario for landing a date lacked plausibility, she was aware, if her observation of how the world worked from her position as a third-party bystander in the game of life was anything to go on.
The scenario would go thusly- she’d meet someone of comparable mental prowess, in an academic setting, where conversation never stemmed away from research and scientific advancement, and then somehow organically and magnetically progressed into kissing and sex without ever changing the subject.
That would be ideal.
She realized that no matter how landing a date happened, she needed to leave her apartment for once in her life, and so here she was.
'A woman on the prowl,' as she referred to herself, waving to Abby on her way out the door that evening. And by prowl she meant, of course, keeping her finger near the eject button at all times.
The only element that made this evening similar to a typical night in at home for Erin was the glass of Chardonnay she was all too quickly enjoying.
’Stick with what you know.’
It did make her feel better and a even little edgy, like a risk-taker, like anything could happen… and that was terrifying.
At long last a bell sounded and a bevy of eligible bachelors entered from the lobby, taking their places at their assigned tables by number.
As her first gentleman caller of the night sat down and introduced himself as “Topher” she suddenly felt her trigger finger becoming increasingly itchy.
Jillian Holtzmann was on a mission.
She’d woken up at 4am that day, arrived at work at a similarly unreasonable hour, began the assembly of a proton accelerator she had designed herself, spent every second of the day afterward on said project, and had reached her desired milestone by 5 o’clock that evening.
That is to say, all without a break, or food.
‘Does coffee count as food?’ she wondered. It certainly was sustenance enough to keep her engaged.
In any case, once she had decided it was quitting time, her tummy demanded a solid reward for its prolonged sacrifice and told her so in no uncertain terms.
Holtzmann’s grumbly tummy was all talk and all action.
She decided that a reward was indeed due and knew exactly where to splurge; there was a restaurant near her apartment that she had yet to try.
It was one of those places that she always forgot about until she was already full and walking home from somewhere else. You know the type.
In her mental tally of suitable places to go for a nice dinner, that place popped into her brain immediately.
As a bonus, she wouldn’t have to go far to collapse into her food coma, and her lack of laziness today would additionally save her from yet another large pizza from the place in the basement of her building.
You’d think the constant smell of hand tossed crust baking would get old after awhile, but she was a woman of simple tastes... a picky eater as a child, and all that.
Holtzmann stepped inside the restaurant and shook a few droplets of rain from her hair as she removed her motorcycle jacket, swinging it over her shoulder.
Ambling up the imperially carpeted steps to the hostess station, she didn’t feel the slightest bit out of place amongst the establishment’s sconce candles, antique settees, and stained mahogany.
The blonde leaned an elbow on the podium, blowing a curl out of her eyes, and giving the hostess a wink.
“Hiya, toots. Table for one. That is, unless you’d like to join me.”
The hostess was much less than inviting in her gaze upon the informal interloper. “I’m sorry, we’re closed for an event.”
“You don’t say. What sort of event?” Holtzmann asked, using that opportunity to scan the room for details.
“Speed Dating,” the hostess said, short in her reply, while eyeing a nearby timer.
“And what is that, exactly?”
The hostess gave her the Readers Digest version of the website’s description.
Holtzmann very quickly realized she was disinterested when she took note of about 15 tables in the adjoining room that were full of couples who looked to be in varying states of discomfort.
But, before she could say “pass,” Holtzmann’s eyes landed on what appeared to be an angel that had fallen from heaven this day seated at one of those tables. She had, of course, spotted one internally panicking Erin Gilbert.
Erin was swishing her wine around in its glass absentmindedly as she sat listening to the man sitting opposite her. She was trying and failing to be a part of the conversation. He seemed to have a monopoly on words and intended on showing them off.
Holtzmann was entranced with what she saw- brown hair, half pulled back, soft pink lips, and beige tweed. - What a combo.
The room was coming to the end of their current “date” when the hostess paused her spiel.
“…so, if you’d like to refer to our website… Oop. Excuse me, please.”
When the timer wound down, the hostess turned away and rang a bell into the room full of couples.
In pavlovian form each of them then began exchanging goodbyes, as that was their cue to move on to their next “date.”
Holtzmann suddenly felt inspired to do a little speed dating herself and bounded down the steps into the tabled battle field before her.
Erin, with her liquid courage depleting, and still not feeling any more at ease after her first date awkwardly offered up too much unsolicited personal information “I was arrested for tax fraud,” motioned to the waiter for another beverage.
She’s could see the second gentleman, whom she found to be quite handsome at first glance, heading her way from a bathroom break that he obviously hadn’t been able to take care of before they began.
Suddenly, a blur of curls and suspenders snaked in front of him and plopped down in the chair opposite her, unnerving Erin even further.
“Hey!” he exclaimed, gesturing at Holtzmann who was very clearly, though not at all clear to her, in his seat.
Erin looked at the blonde and then back at the man, only to catch a look of disdain on his face before he retreated to the front of the room.
“No, come back! Oh, shoot.”
Holtzmann wagged her eyebrows at the vision in taupe across from her, “Come here often?”
“Hi. Hello. Who... who are you?”
Holtzmann quickly extended a gloved hand to answer the inquiry.
“Holtzmann... Avid skier, gluten full...and 100% jazzed to meet you.”
Erin looked at her completely taken aback.
She leaned in, “I wasn’t expecting ::::whispers::: a woman to sit down.”
“I’m full of surprises.”
Erin took one last swig of her wine and wished for the waiter to materialize with its replacement.
Patty didn’t say anything about curve balls in this game. She did not sign up for this.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait long for a diversion, as the hostess came storming over in a huff with the usurped suitor in tow.
The two spoke to one another in hushed argument a few paces from Holtzmann and Erin’s table.
Waving him off, the hostess then turned her attention toward Holtzmann.
“Excuse me. You can’t just waltz in like that, taking peoples’ spots. We have rules,” the hostess scolded.
“Such as?” Holtzmann fluttered her eyes at the hostess who was obviously ill-prepared for any level of charm lobbed at her from this trouble-maker.
“Well… you…didn’t make a reservation, for one.”
She seemed rather pleased with that.
“Also, you haven’t paid to participate, for another...” she insisted, hoping she had hit Holtzmann where it counted.
Holtzmann grinned at her flustering.
“Never fret, my pet. Mama’s good for it. Ok, how much? $10, $20...” Holtzmann began flipping through the money in her wallet.
Erin, after spying the countdown clock, was growing impatient at the disruption of the “date” at hand and interjected.
”Excuse me…will I be receiving some sort of prorated refund for the lost time?”
The hostess disregarded her with ease, taking another step in toward the blonde. “Actually it’s $40.”
Holtzmann tugged a crisp $50 bill from her wallet, took the hostess’ hand, and placed the currency gently in her palm. “Keep the change.”
The man threw his arms up in frustration and promptly left in disgust with the perturbed and newly flustered hostess hot on his heels.
Holtzmann leaned over the table on her forearms and smiled at Erin, blue eyes sparkling.
“Finally alone. Now… where were we?”
Completely disarmed, Erin gulped audibly.
Erin let out a nervous laugh, wondering if it was hot in here...
“Time’s up. You have to move on,” Erin blurted, waving the incoming waiter over as though he was landing a Boeing 747 and not her glass of wine.
“Aww. But we were having so much fun...”
“Look, I don’t know who you are but please don’t make a scene,” she pleaded, screwing her eyes shut, palms flat on the table.
Holtzmann was getting the hint. Baby steps.
“No, no. I don’t want any trouble,” she responded, putting her hands up in surrender and rising slowly from the table.
Turning away, she rubbed her chin in thought and decided she would make the most of her time with a different approach.
There were still several rounds of this Speed Dating thing left, she presumed; surely she could make a good impression in the duration.
Holtzmann moved on to the next table, offering a smile. The two women sat in silence for what seemed like an hour.
The woman was a little older than her, she had soft looking skin, and wore a sweater that looked as though she might have made it herself.
“Hi, I’m Emma...” the woman extended to a half-turned away Holtzmann.
Holtzmann blinked and returned the salutation. “Hi…”
Then the urgency of lost time began to catch up with her.
“I’m terribly sorry. Excuse me just a moment would you? Be right back.”
Holtzmann turned completely around in her chair and called over the shoulder of the guy who was now in Erin’s company, “Pssst!”
Erin hadn’t anticipated having to actively ignore anyone this evening, but here she was.
She awkwardly moved out of Holtzmann’s eye-line and feigned interest in the opinions of her date who was painfully describing why he enjoyed the book better than the movie when it came to The Princess Bride.
“Pssst!” Holtzmann voiced again from his other shoulder, now getting the guy’s undesired attention.
Erin pushed a lock of hair back behind her ear and tried not to flush from the embarrassment of the situation.
Turning back, her date droned on, hopelessly. Erin was caught between a rock and a hard place.
All she could think of was the commotion that just occurred.
Was speed dating always this dramatic?
What had she done to garner this odd woman’s attention?
The cute ones were always weird though, weren’t they?
Why was the appositive modifier here ‘cute’?!
Even with no obvious interest from her intended, Holtzmann tried again, undeterred, a bit more audibly this time.
The “Hey!” she voiced finally broke Erin from her trance.
“What?” Erin snapped back in as loud a whisper as she could muster.
“What’s your name?”
“What is your name?”
“You’re being incredibly rude.”
“Is that Scottish?”
Erin’s date turned around and gave Holtzmann a dirty look that read “Do you mind?”
“Is this guy bothering you?” she asked, rolling up her sleeves.
“You’re bothering me.”
“Swing and a miss," Holtzmann breathed.
She pushed her goggles back up her nose and gave them both a salute, returning her eyes back to the table and the… Oh… the woman across from her.
The woman smiled wistfully at Holtzmann. “Hi."
"Have you ever done one of these before? I... I thought all the dates were going to be men,” the woman wondered.
“Me? Oh, sure. Do these all the time. Yea, they’re letting women do all sorts of things these days. After all, it is the ’90’s. Say, may I ask you a personal question?”
“You didn’t happen to catch the name of the woman talking to the goober behind me did you?” Holtzmann inquired with furrowed brow, throwing her thumb back in Erin’s direction.
“Ohhh that’s ok. So, what brings you to New York?”
“Thank you for a lovely evening,” Holtzmann said immediately, taking Emma’s hand and kissing it. Then, popping a toothpick into her mouth, she extracted herself from the table.
Holtzmann took a turn toward Erin’s locale, flashing her smile at the brunette and making a move as though she was going to sit back down with her, but Erin’s next date beat her to it. He was obviously hip to the blonde’s game.
Holtzmann made a visible expression of defeat, causing Erin to stick her tongue out playfully as the blonde made way for an empty seat at the table across the aisle from Erin’s; this time succeeding in knocking another guy from his turn.
“Musical chairs, buddy. Keep dancing.”
The woman at this particular table had been witness to Holtzmann’s invasion of their evening’s festivities and was none too pleased with her presence there at the table just then. She crossed her arms in protest, giving Holtzmann a damning look.
Holtzmann hadn’t yet noticed, she was trying to listen in on Erin’s current date.
The woman cleared her throat to get Holtzmann’s attention but was largely unsuccessful.
She tried again.
“You’re excused,” Holtzmann responded, never once taking her eyes off Erin.
The guy Erin was now sitting with had just introduced himself, which is what grabbed Holtzmann’s attention. What followed would surely be a name, she hoped.
Holtzmann leaned in to hear her response when the woman at her own table made a much louder throat clearing sound that frustratingly distracted Holtzmann, causing her to miss the brunettes name yet again.
She sighed heavily and hung her head. Turning around to face the company she was obviously neglecting, Holtzmann decided to make small talk after all. “Forgive my rudeness. May I order you a water or something? That sound is terrible for your vocal chords.”
“Why are you even here?”
“I think it’s pretty obvious,” Holtzmann retorted, vaguely gesturing toward Erin.
“You know you’re supposed to talk to everyone at least once, right?”
“You know, I’m thinking, that first encounter didn’t go as well as it could have with her. Do you think I can get a do-over?
“So, I’m stuck with you is what you’re sayin’?”
The woman sighed, “More like I’m stuck with you… for the time being.”
“You’re mouthy, I like that.”
“Go ahead, then. Introduce yourself...”
“Oh. Um... I’m Holtzmann.”
“Charmed.” They shook hands.
“I like your jacket,” the woman offered in an attempt at an olive branch.
“Thanks. I like yoooouuurrr...” Holtzmann searched the woman for the best possible answer. She wasn’t great at compliments, and this one was a minefield.
The woman laughed at how ridiculous Holtzmann was being, which actually caused Erin to look over at them in curiosity.
Holtzmann didn’t notice.
“You’re not very good at this, you know?” Amy smirked, stirring her drink with its straw.
“We all have our strengths.”
The woman sized her up and decided that this might be worth her (albeit short) time after all. “So, tell me about yourself.”
“Buckle up, babe. I have a PhD in theoretical particle physics, no big deal. I ride a motorbike, that's really big deal. And I sleep with a nightlight, no big deal… Aaaand that’s pretty much it.”
“What is this, two truths and a lie?” Amy joked.
“Only my hair dresser knows for sure,” Holtzmann quipped, shaking an invisible cigar like Groucho Marx.
Amy laughed again.
Erin was now thoroughly distracted.
Unable to help overhearing their conversation, it took everything in her not to butt in… did she say Particle Physics…?
Holtzmann glanced at Erin’s current date who appeared to be stuck on his own small talk.
“Erin, do you…?” He had barely gotten the words out when Holtzmann caught on.
“Ah-HA!” She exclaimed, jumping from her seat startling everyone in a 5 foot radius. “Erin!”
“Sit down!” Erin scolded hotly.
The diminutive dater laughed and rubbed her hands together, reclaiming her seat at the table.
“How’s your date going?” Holtzmann grinned at Erin.
Turning her attention toward the gentleman in question, Holtzmann continued, “Psst. Hey, pal. Need an ice breaker? Ask her where she got the world's tiniest bow tie.”
Amy found all this to be delightful. “You’re terrible at flirting too, it would seem,” she said under her breath.
“Quiet, you,” was Holtzmann’s response.
“Hey, slim. Ask her what it’s like to walk around in those shoes all day.”
Erin’s date looked at Holtzmann like a deer caught in the headlights while steam was starting to rise hot from Erin’s collar after the jab.
“What are you doing? You’re being very rude to your date,” Erin insisted.
“She’ll get over it. Won’t you, Amy?”
“This ain’t even my whole night,” Amy laughed, sipping her beverage, ice clinking in the glass.
“See? She’s fine.”
“Well, you’re still interrupting my date,” Erin urged.
“Hey, I think we got off on the wrong foot. I can do way better, I promise. Whatta you say we blow this pop stand?”
“Are you serious?” Erin couldn't believe the arrogance.
“Come on, are you afraid to go to a party and have fun in life?”
Erin snapped. “Ok, now you’re just being rude.”
“Ahh we have fun. See, this guy gets it,” she teased, pointing at Erin’s date.
“Please go, you’re embarrassing me.”
“Will you go away if I promise to talk to you when this is over?”
Holtzmann could see the frustration on Erin’s face, “As you wish.”
In moving to to the next table she was now further from Erin than she’s been previously, to her chagrin.
The proximity of which actually caused Erin’s blood pressure to drop lower than it had since the night began, she found.
The new woman across from Holtzmann seemed to be wholly unaware of the antics that had transpired before Holtzmann’s arrival there.
“Hi.” Holtzmann returned, despondently.
“I’m Lacy. Nice to meet you.”
“Hi, Lacy. Holtzmann.”
“I like your glasses.”
“How were the other dates?”
“The other dates? Meet anyone nice?”
“Oh, sure. They’re all nice in their own way.”
“Are you O.K.?”
Holtzmann caught Erin stealing a glance in her direction.
“No. I’m… I’m actually trying to get over someone,” she responded much louder than necessary for normal conversation.
“Oh, no. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m not sure it’s Kosher to ask about one’s Ex on a “date” but do you want to talk about it?”
“Maybe!” Holtzmann shrugged melodramatically.
“Talking about it might cheer you up.”
“You know, you’re probably right, I should talk about it.”
“Alright then. Tell me about her.”
“Well, we didn’t know each other very long, she and I, but it was love at first sight…”
Erin couldn’t help but be distracted by Holtzmann’s loud warbling and stopped listening to her date altogether, pricking up her ears in Holtzmann’s direction.
“...It was a classic Hollywood meet-cute...”
“Well, that’s adorable!” Lacy wreathed her fingers under her chin and listened to Holtzmann’s story with rapt attention.
“I was out on a night just like tonight looking for a snack. She was out lookin’ like a snack. It was perfect, you know? What's that word? Kid...kiss?
Erin rolled her eyes.
“Where did you two meet?”
“Speed dating, actually!” Holtzmann crossed her legs casually.
“I knew it…” Erin muttered to herself. This woman was obviously a serial offender.
“She was totally my type, a total package. Brown hair, blue eyes, the understated ensemble, liked to sit in chairs…”
Erin’s date had noticed her distraction and was actively trying to get her back by waving his napkin near her face.
“Hello! Knock, knock! Earth to…”
Erin shushed him immediately and turned in her chair to very obviously eavesdrop on Holtzmann’s very loud conversation.
“I can see her now… she wore the cutest little bow ties...”
Finally, Erin caught on that it was her to which Holtzmann was referring in this story.
“She sounds adorable.”
“Yep. Too bad she’s dead...”
The woman gasped.
“Ok! That’s quite enough!” Erin exclaimed, jumping from her chair. She marched over to Holtzmann, wagging a finger in her face.
“Who do you think you are, crashing in here and throwing this whole thing off kilter?”
“Kilter. I knew you were Scottish.”
Holtzmann’s eyes went wide with glee and she mimed locking her mouth with an invisible key, then opening her mouth to swallow it.
“You... Ugh! You can’t swallow a key after you lock... Look, whoever you are..."
“I’m Holtzmann. And you’re beautiful when you’re angry.”
Erin’s face went ruby from blushing, but shook the notion immediately.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say I think you should go.”
Holtzmann’s smile faded slightly.
“So, if you please,” she said grabbing Holtzmann’s arm and pulling her from from her chair, “take your effects…” she plucked the motorcycle jacket from the chair’s back and shoved it at the diminutive woman’s chest, "There's the door.”
“I get the feeling you’re trying to tell me something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it,” Holtzmann smirked again.
“I am. This evening was supposed to be reserved and banal in tone, but then you came in and made it rousing and unpredictable. I could have just had a tedious evening of small talk and wasted time if it wasn’t for you, and now look what you’ve done…”
“Erin…?” The wheels continued turning in Holtzmann’s head.
“So, that’s that. I suggest you get out of her as fast as you can….” Erin said booming over the room with a strain in her voice, now having everyone’s attention. “It's time to go!”
“Erin, do you want to get out of here with me?”
“Oh, God yes!” The brunette sighed in visible relief. She quickly turned back to her table to retrieve her belongings in order to make a hasty retreat.
“Very nice to meet you,” she said to the date she was ditching as she threw her scarf around her neck.
"…But not you…Or you,” she delivered in short order to each of her other dates as she passed them on her way back to the front of the room.
A delighted grin cracked across Holtzmann’s face and she extended an arm for Erin to take.
"Alright, maestro, show me what you got," Erin said, looping her arm through.
Holtzmann winked at her new date, leading her toward the door. “Tell me, Erin. Do you like pizza?”