The first meeting after a holiday always sucked. Today’s meeting was not expected to be any different, with the only exception being that their boss, Elise, hadn’t shown up in the conference room yet, so conversation was rambling aimlessly around the room. Most everyone had either celebrated mundanely with family or even more mundanely and a little sadly at home on their own. One or two people who had traveled were still gone, since the east coast had gotten body-slammed by winter and a lot of flights had been cancelled.
Which was why Josie was so surprised that Max was there, happy and chatty like usual. “Weren’t you in New York?” she asked, interrupting the back-and-forth he had going with Dave about baking versus frying turkey and what they thought would happen if you threw a whole potato in the deep fryer. “I thought you went to have Thanksgiving with Blake’s family. In New York.”
“We were, and I did.” He was texting somebody, not really paying attention to her. He got a return text, grinned, and texted back before putting the phone down. “We’ll know soon,” he told Dave. “I asked an expert, he didn’t know either, so he’s going to try it and see what happens. Slow day today in the restaurant, I’m guessing because of the weather. He’s in Manhattan.”
“Which you got out of how?” Josie demanded. This time he looked at her, raising an eyebrow. “The flights were mostly cancelled…”
“Because they were routing through Chicago, which was socked in,” he explained. “We managed to get on a direct flight at the last minute. How was Seattle?”
“My brother and his wife are pregnant.”
“Ooh, so you just ate and then sat in a corner, got it.” He patted her shoulder. “Want help making a diaper cake? I helped my sister make one once, it’s weird but fun.”
“No, I’m just getting them a gift card – Jenna has about a million sorority sisters, I’m sure her baby shower is going to be movie-worthy.”
“So she’s going to have a diaper cake with a male stripper inside, got it.”
Josie sighed. She really didn’t want to talk about her brother and his perfect sorority-girl wife, since that was all she’d heard about for most of the holiday. Interspersed with jokes about where she worked, of course, because her parents thought online dating sites were just one step up from working for a psychic hotline and neither of them actually understood what she did for a living anyway. “I’m still trying to figure out how you got out of New York.”
“The same way we got into New York, we flew.”
Someone else farther down the conference table took an interest. “Hey Max, you were there? Did you see it?”
Max nodded. “It was happening practically right outside the window, not like I could have missed it,” he said. “It was over pretty quickly, though. I’m thinking he shouldn’t have tried it on a holiday when all of them were in the city, that was just dumb.”
Josie was mystified. “What are you talking about?”
The woman who had asked blinked at her. “Dr. Doom attacked New York on Thanksgiving Day. You didn’t hear about it?”
“I didn’t watch the news all weekend.”
“I can’t imagine it was very big news out here,” Max offered. “If it had disrupted the parade it might have been.”
“Did you see the parade?” Dave wanted to know. “I’ve always wanted to see the parade.”
“We watched it on television – it was cold, nobody wanted to traipse outside and stand around for hours. That, and Blake’s aunt is engaged to a chef – the guy I just texted about the potato – so none of us were really interested in leaving the apartment even if it hadn’t been freezing outside. He showed me and one of the other guys how to make donuts from scratch, we had a blast.”
“And then Dr. Doom attacked the city. While you were there.”
Max rolled his eyes. “Yes, Josie, he did. And he’s obviously an idiot, because every superhero in the city was home for the holiday; they kicked his butt so hard it probably has dents in it. Not that I saw them do most of it,” he disclaimed. “The family is used to this kind of thing happening, since they live in the danger zone, so they have an emergency plan. Seth and I kept the kids entertained in the basement while everyone else did their thing.”
Some of which had been heading out to join the fight against Dr. Doom and his foot soldiers, but Max wasn’t going to say that. Just like he wasn’t going to mention the tiny little fact that one of the foot soldiers had gotten in and then Blake had come running in right behind him and kicked his ass straight to Hell while Seth made the older kids duck and cover and Max sheltered the smallest one on his lap and covered the kid’s eyes with his hand because…well, real fights were fast and brutal, and a toddler didn’t need to watch that. Or that Todji Wong’s lover had poofed in a few minutes later in a cloud of purple sparkles, dropped off a cute tabby kitten he said he’d ‘found’ and gave each of the kids a sucker, and then poofed out again, taking the foot soldier’s really obviously dead body with him.
Blake’s aunt hadn’t wanted the kitten and neither had anyone else, so it had come home with Max and Blake. They’d figure out how to explain to everyone why it was blue later. Or they’d just hide it when people came over, which would probably be easier. Max thought Josie’s science-obsessed head might just explode if she was confronted with a blue tabby kitten that floated instead of walking. He liked it, though. It had woken him up that morning by licking the tip of his nose, and then Blake had finished waking him up by…Max forced his attention back to the conference room before he could remember too much of that. Josie hadn’t noticed his distraction – she usually didn’t unless it was interfering with her somehow – and she was still talking. “So is Blake going to be disappointed by the lack of action and gourmet food when you take him to see your family for Christmas?”
Max smiled and shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. And my mom is a great cook, too. Are you going to worm your way out of going home for Christmas?”
“If at all possible,” Josie said fervently. “Once or twice a year is enough – twice in two months and I might kill myself. Or kill my brother.”
“No killing unless I approve it first.” Elise blew in with Blake on her heels, and everyone pulled themselves into positions that looked attentive. “I have good news, monkeys: We have a new investor. That Max got for us while he was on vacation, no less – the kind of initiative I like. They said his enthusiasm and positive attitude made them see our business in a new light.”
Max winced when several people gave him dirty looks. “Hey, I didn’t…it wasn’t like that, someone just asked me what I did and I told them, that was all.”
“Oh, you went Planeteer on them,” Josie remarked snidely. “I’ll explain the science behind what we do when they come in, then they’ll be even more impressed.”
“You won’t be working with them, Josie.” Elise smiled when she said it, and Josie sort of backed up in her chair because showing teeth was a warning in the animal kingdom. “They insisted that Max was the person they wanted to work with – and they’re talking millions of investment dollars – so he’s getting promoted to head of the new PR department I’m forming when I start implementing our new corporate structure tomorrow.” Blake was already passing out photocopies of a chart detailing said structure, and once the stack was well on its way around the table he ducked out of the room and came back with a much thicker stack, handing a stapled sheaf of papers directly to each person this time. “Not much is going to change for most of you, except possibly your job title,” she continued. “FindLove has outgrown the more casual structure we’ve used since I formed the company, and it’s time we acknowledged that and worked to facilitate our internal growth to match it. Now, I know you all probably have questions, but I don’t have time to answer any of them right now so we’ll have another meeting tomorrow at 9am sharp. Oh, and Blake has boxes, I want everyone to pack up their things by the end of the day because I’m changing your seating arrangements too. Meeting adjourned, get back to work!” And then she swept out without another word, leaving a conference room full of open mouths behind.
Blake shrugged when everyone looked at him. “I had…I had no idea until we walked in this morning,” he said. “She did it over the four-day weekend.”
“I…I had no idea either.” Max looked completely shell-shocked. He blinked at Blake. “Millions?”
“You really…really impressed her. She thought,” he scratched his front tooth, “she thought everyone in the business was like…well, was like Josie.”
Max recovered enough to raise an eyebrow. “You went there less than two minutes ago, so you don’t get to act offended. And for your information, I did tell them about the algorithm and why it’s better than the one Match or any of the other big sites use. And when someone asked about Kindlin’s model I explained what the difference in our target markets was and why Kindlin is tanking anyway.” He made a face, looking sympathetic. “Your mom’s still on you about your job, huh?”
Josie scowled at him. “Our job is about science.”
“Your job is about science,” he corrected. “My job is to make sure our mission statement isn’t just so much eHarmony catchphrase bullshit we don’t deliver on.” He stood up. “I’m going to go get a box and pack up my cube…so I can move everything to a different cube, because sometimes progress is just ironic that way.”
“They’re behind my desk,” Blake told him as he walked out…and then turned a very unfriendly look on Josie as he gathered up the extra photocopies before walking out himself.
The woman at the other end of the table stood up with a huff. “I’m going to go catch Max and find out if that gold ring means what I think it does.”
“You were sitting right next to him, how did you not see it?” Dave wanted to know. He stood up too. “I was waiting for him to say something…but I bet they got engaged over Thanksgiving.”
Everyone ignored her, standing up, gathering pads and pens and tablets and filing out of the room, some going back to their desks, others heading for the front desk to corner Max or Blake or to get a box. Josie got up and went back to her desk as well, deciding she would get a box later. Max and Blake were engaged? It just couldn’t be! She’d run them through the algorithm, back when she’d first found out they were together, and they’d only been a 48% match. Just to be sure, she pulled them up and ran them again, and got the same result. It didn’t make sense! There was no way their relationship should be working out the way it was, unless…
Unless one or both of their profiles weren’t accurate. Frowning, she thought about that. Neither one of them actually used the site – in fact, Max was pretty vocal about not using it – so it was possible both of their profiles were just made up. Except that Max had been testing the questionnaire – which he’d written most of – when he’d done his, so he’d have had a vested interest in answering the questions accurately; she knew this because he’d done another one using a picture of an Irish wolfhound for the profile and answered all of the questions backwards on purpose. He’d had Josie do the same thing using a picture of an Irish setter, and then they’d used those four profiles to test. His backwards profile was probably still in there…
A match between Blake and Bizarro-Max the Irish wolfhound only hit 5%, so that sort of eliminated the idea that Max’s original profile was completely inaccurate. Testing Blake's was going to be more of a problem because she didn’t have anything to compare it to…or did she? Josie logged into her testing server and started a process she’d been working on for diagnostic purposes; you input the profile data into it, and it would spit out the parameters of a perfect match. It wasn’t perfectly accurate, because there were too many subjective variables, but it could give you the general idea of what sort of profile the person who was a good match for you should have. She plugged Max’s normal profile in and ran it.
The answer might as well have come back ‘anyone but Blake.’ As a matter of fact, from the looks of the results Max should actually be dating a policeman or a fireman, some kind of action-hero type. Josie couldn’t really see that either, but the process was still in beta so the results weren’t going to be exactly right. Still, though, even non-exact beta-grade science said the two of them didn’t belong together. Opposites did not attract in real life; two people might look like complete opposites, but digging a little deeper – like her algorithm did – would always, always show that they were alike or at least complementary in every way that counted. She had to be missing something. She ran Blake’s profile through the beta program and didn’t get anything she could work with; according to his results, someone should just tell him to get a pet and then forget about dating altogether, he was practically unmatchable.
Wait, should that even be possible? She opened up his profile and took a closer look…and the inconsistency all but smacked her right between the eyes. She hadn’t been letting her intuition work on the problem, because she ‘knew’ Blake. But did she? Back when he and Max had first gotten together, when Blake had actually threatened her over letting anyone else know…she’d come to the conclusion then that she didn’t really know Blake. And now that she was looking at his profile, actually looking at it, her intuition was screaming at her. He’d lied on his profile. He’d lied on most of his profile. And if she did the probably illegal thing she’d done once before and fixed it…
She didn’t; she didn’t have to. Because she knew what it was going to come out to be already, and Josie wasn’t stupid enough to put that into the system anywhere. She cleared the profiles from the beta program and logged out of the testing server, feeling unaccountably nervous. Because you should be nervous when you’d just discovered someone’s secret identity, right? Not that they had any superheroes in L.A., they didn’t.
They’d had a vigilante for a while, though. Who had beaten the crap out of someone right in front of their office and then disappeared. He’d beaten the crap out of the guy who’d gone after Max…and now he and Max were engaged. Because the real Blake was Max’s action hero, his 100% perfect match.
She jumped, just a little, when Max came bustling back into his cube with a folded box and held out a second one to her with a throwaway comment about saving her the walk; she took it with a murmur of thanks and a pang of guilt. Even when she wasn’t nice, he was. Yes, they had their give-and-take when it came to picking on each other, sort of like television siblings rather than real-life ones, but Max was never mean about it. Josie was sometimes, though, and yet they were still friends no matter how nasty she got. She’d thought before that Max was just the type of person who always came back for more, sort of like a dog going back to someone who kicked it, and she’d looked down on him for that. But now she knew she’d been wrong.
Max was the sort of man who could hold the heart of a hero. And maybe she needed to respect that a little more, not because his fiancé was a dangerous vigilante who was really obviously getting tired of her picking on his future husband, but because Max was her friend and…and well, when someone kicks a dog and it comes back, that isn’t just the fault of the dog.
Josie stood up and leaned on the cube wall that separated their desks, looking down at Max. “So, where are you registered?”
He blinked up at her, surprised…and then he smiled so brightly that Josie vowed then and there to start trying to be at least a little nicer on a more regular basis. “We aren’t, at least not that I know of. Blake's family was really happy that I said yes, though, so it’s possible we’re registered somewhere and I just don’t know it yet.” He laughed. “I think we lost control of most of the wedding, actually. We said we wanted to have it near the beach and we both like dark blue as a color and they said okay, and the next thing I knew they were talking about a place in Malibu and who was going to do the catering and which tailor we should go to for our tuxes. When I pointed out as tactfully as I could that Blake and I don’t make that much money, I got patted on the head – literally patted on the head – and told not to worry about it. Personally I think they all still have wedding fever from planning Blake's aunt’s wedding and ours just kind of got sucked into it, but that’s okay. It already sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone, and that’s what we wanted most of all.” He winked at her. “It’ll be much more fun than your brother’s wedding was, I promise.”
She snorted. “Oh, his wedding was plenty of fun….as long as you were one of the bride’s friends and not the groom’s unattached little sister. I did take a ton of drunk pictures of them at the reception, though, and then I made a photo collage to use as background wallpaper on my desktop.” A smirk. “That part was fun for me.”
“You are so bad.” He was smiling, though. “I’m not sure I should let you meet my sister, Mom would blame me for whatever trouble the two of you got into when your badness combined.”
“If the next words out of your mouth are a joke that involves Captain Planet or Superbad…”
“I was going to mention the two of you summoning Michael Cera, yes, but if we say his name three times he might appear.” He finished taping the bottom of his box and tossed the tape to her. “Put that back on Blake’s desk when you’re done, so someone else can use it. Because if we start passing it around, Marketing might get hold of it.”
Josie clutched the tape. “They’re not…”
“Out? Yes, apparently. So they’re in hunter-gatherer mode now. Again.”
“Crap.” Josie immediately sat back down, took her personal tape dispenser and shoved it into a drawer – which she then locked. She quickly taped the bottom of her box and then rushed the packing tape back to Blake, dodging two members of Marketing along the way.
The followed her. “We need that!”
“You can’t have it.” Blake took the tape from Josie and put it somewhere out of sight under his desk. “You’re cut off until the office supply order comes in. Next week.”
“We need tape!”
“Tough.” And then he smiled, making a show of pushing a button on his keyboard. “Oops, I think I just…just sent out an email telling everyone to be sure to pack their tape dispensers first.” The two of them ran down the nearest hallway, no doubt trying to beat the email to the nearest unguarded tape dispenser, and he smirked. “Or was that the email telling Elise I’d sent the other email five minutes ago? Oh well. I’m sure the exercise will be good for them.”
Josie was curious now. “What did they do to get cut off?”
“Used up all the tape in their department.” He shrugged. “I can’t say anything else, HR rules. But hopefully the intern won’t sue us.”
She wrinkled up her nose. “Eww.”
“You’re telling me. Be glad you didn’t…be glad you didn’t see it.” He cocked his head. “Did you need something else?”
“Um, no, I just…” She leaned on the high counter, looked over it. Blake was wearing a gold band too. “Congratulations?”
He smiled. “Thanks. My family is really happy. They like Max, and he gets along really…really well with everyone.”
Of course he did. “Are you registered anywhere yet? Max wasn’t sure.”
Blake snorted. “He’s afraid to ask – honestly, so am I. We’ll…we’ll register somewhere normal in the next week or so, don’t…don’t worry about it.”
“They all live in Manhattan.”
She made a face, remembering the new investor was probably one of the ‘they’. Millions of dollars. “Oh, right. I’d be scared too.”
He just smiled, and she went back to her desk and got back to work, taking little breaks in between tasks to pack her desk. It wasn’t until that night, right before she went to sleep, that she remembered what Max had said earlier: It’ll be much more fun than your brother’s wedding was, I promise. And then he’d mentioned her meeting his sister.
Max was inviting her to his wedding. His wedding in Malibu, where he was marrying the odd vigilante son of a rich, eccentric Manhattanite family.
Josie sat straight up in bed, eyes wide. What in the world do you wear to Batman’s wedding?!