So, I'm waiting to hear about my promotion, to Cupid Level IV, which means, of course, that I get the hardest cases in the meantime. I think that Management is testing me, to see how well I do in the clinch, and especially since the imbecile Cupid before me--Turtledove, I think it was--had mucked this assignment up so very badly the first time. Probably, it would have been beneficial for my record to grab this extended tough nut and crack it wide open, just to show how much I deserve the promotion, and I really do want that promotion, except that once failed cases are like cracked eggs--nearly impossible to put back together again. Which was a very good reason to try and get out of it:
"These are Immortals," I'd said, and tried to return the assignment slip to the Cupid Coordinator. "I don't get Immortal assignments."
"Cupid Pink Clouds called in sick. So you're doubling up this week." Cupid Concupiscence frowned down at me. "And this is a really important assignment."
"I don't do Immortals," I repeated. "The consequences are too big. I'm only a Cupid Level III. You have to be an Eros level to get an Immortal."
"Nonetheless, this is your assignment." Concupiscence declined to take back the slip. "Make sure you do it right, messing this one up could lead to dire consequences."
"Dire consequences?" I balked. "What in Hades are you talking about?"
He sighed and flipped through the Master Assignment Book, which has all the current Love Assignments, and their destinies, traced out. "Well, according to the Book, these two need to get together as an important step to avoid The Gathering." He ripped out the sheet of paper and handed it to me. "A copy of the last time this was assigned and what went wrong."
"That's what it says."
"These two falling in love will help avert The Gathering."
"I don't make the history, I just give out the assignments." Concupiscence waggled his fingers at me. "Now get going. The clock is ticking."
"Yeah, yeah." I filled up my quiver and left, the stupid pink slip tucked in my pocket. I glanced at the paper he'd given me and skimmed the back story. It was pretty awful. A Devil-May-Care couldn't have complicated this mess much more on purpose.
And that was two days ago. Having been given double duty for the week (thanks a Hades-of-a-lot, Pink Clouds), I'd concentrated on the easier assignments first. A cutie-pie little couple of artists, a flagging marriage that was due for some pizzazz, two kids in high school meant to be sweethearts forever, and a donut maker and one of his customers fated to fall hard. Zip, zap. Close proximity, a couple well timed arrows, and I closed the folder on those assignments. Then, with most of the week left, I flew over to see my Immortal challenge.
This was going to be tough.
The first Lover-To-Be was already in a romantic entanglement. I surveyed the damage. Beautiful, smart, caring woman. In his bed. Not good. Really not good. She was going to have to go.
He was moving around his loft, trying to be quiet since she was in bed. I pulled out my Love-O-Meter and held it in front of his face, waiting for the readings to register. One of the best things about being a Cupid is that we're entirely invisible and immaterial unless we don't want to be.
I checked the readings. Seventy percent. That was helpful. Anything below a ninety percent reading meant that the affection was not cemented, and could very well just be temporary. Or, in Cupid parlance, it is the difference between Love and Caring. He liked her very much, but he didn't love her yet. That made my job a whole lot easier.
I checked the lady just to be thorough. The reading was a little higher, in the eighty-five percent range, but I could work with it.
Just to make sure I had a complete handle on things (and because I knew that Turtledove had really made a quagmire of the assignment a while back) I pulled out my Arrow-Sense-o-matic and ran it down each of them. Yep. Just as I'd thought. They'd both been doused with an Affection Arrow, rather than one of the more potent ones. I sighed in both relief and frustration. These two weren't on the list, so why the Hades had Turtledove even used a freaking arrow?
But at least it was only an Affection Arrow.
I don't know why everyone assumes that there is only one kind of arrow. That idea somehow got stuck in the psyche of the populace, and it just won't come undone. But there are many different kinds. The Research Department comes up with new types all the time, too.
The good thing about the Affection Arrows was that they wore off eventually, letting love take its own course. Most Cupids favor them because it makes the course of True Love run a lot smoother, and doesn't completely disrupt Free Will. Plus, it is always good to avoid overkill, if one can. And the Affection Arrows costs less to produce, keeping overhead low.
I decided to let those two continue on with their day, and went to go check on the other portion of this pairing.
Things were going to be much, much easier on this end.
I caught the situation just as the lady was leaving the house. Following her for a few minutes, I checked her quickly with the two devices. A very low reading on both. Well, thank the Golden and Blue Heavens for small favors. This one should be easy. I let the woman go; I'd deal with her a little later.
The man was showering, and I checked him out too. Hmm. Affection Arrow, definitely. Turtledove again, mucking it up by giving him an arrow when he shouldn't ever have received one. I ground my teeth together, fuming. Stupid Cupid! It was good she'd been reassigned out of the department. If she hadn't already been transferred, I'd have written a nasty memo about this whole situation.
I waited while he showered (one of the small perks of the job, really) and then accompanied him to a restaurant. Oh, ho! My two fellows were meeting for lunch!
I fingered the arrows in my quiver. Too soon? I studied their faces, and listened to the feelings oozing out of them. Both of them were just puddles of confusion about each other. Oh, they definitely cared deeply, but there was a lot between them. This needed a light touch, I decided, and took out an Affection Arrow. I pulled the fletching off the end and blew the feathers into their faces. They both sneezed.
When lunch was over, I walked with them through the shopping area. One bought a diamond bracelet. I whistled at the sight of it. Pretty, sparkly thing. The other bought a delicious looking box of chocolate. Fragrant, smooth chocolate.... So sweet, so creamy, so….
My attention was piqued at the mention of Valentine's Day within their conversation. But it was nothing about me or the other Cupids, so I drifted away. I still had work to do on the other side of the issue.
Finding the pretty, smart lady was easy. She was at work, in her office. "Dr. Judith Gray", read the little plate on her desk. I rifled through her papers. She was a very meticulous person, very bright, and also very caring. Even if I weren't a Cupid with the Power to Hear Emotions, it would have been obvious by the way she truly was caught up in the compassion of her work. I watched her for a few minutes, and hoped that someday she'd be assigned a Cupid to help her out. Then I went back to perusing her paperwork, and soon I found a copy of an application to another practice in the City of Angels. That was interesting, very interesting, so I flew over there.
Like many offices, it was very business-like, and quiet, and done in calming colors. I approved of the colors--mauve and cream. Made one think of love. I glided through the offices until I found what I needed. There was the older Doctor, eating his late lunch, and trying to read through some patients' charts. I tapped the wedding band on his ring finger and waited while things were set in motion.
A moment later, the phone rang. I knew it would be his wife.
"Hello?" he asked into the phone.
I nocked an arrow, and let it fly. Remembrance Arrows are so sweet. They don't change anything, they just remind someone of what is important, and what they already have as theirs to claim.
He got this funny look on his face, and then he put down the paperwork, and looked at his sandwich as if it displeased him (which I surely think it should have from the start--it looked very unappetizing and dry). "Martha?" he said into the phone. "You're right. I'm done. I'll be home on time tonight. Love you with all my heart. Bye." He stood up and I followed him along the corridor to another office.
"Dean?" he said, standing at the door. "I've made my decision. I'm retiring. Call that young Doctor we'd decided upon."
I didn't wait around, I'd heard enough. Satisfied, I zipped along back to one half of my main assignment. And boy, was it ever ugly.
I was glad I'd missed the main punching round, and came in on the tail end of it. Still, all that luscious chocolate on the ground…such a terrible waste!
I let the unfortunate man go off--I was pretty sure I knew where he was going, and could find him later. He had that ages-old look in his eyes that said he wanted to get good and drunk. Poor, poor dear-heart.
Instead, I followed the luckless lady. I checked her over while the car zoomed along to where-ever we were headed. She seemed quite tired, a little over-worked and over wrought. Poor thing. She had her hair pulled back too tightly into a ponytail and it made her face look severe and harsh, so I pulled it out for her. She didn't notice it was loose until we stopped, and when she couldn't find the elastic, she finally started to cry.
She just sat there, sobbing her little heart out, and I know I should have felt really terrible, but I could tell it was going to be cathartic for her. Already, she was starting to look better. That harsh mien that had been settled into her skin was evaporating, and already color and sparkle had come back to her cheeks and eyes. She really was very pretty in a delicate sort of way, and I could see what must have first attracted her lover.
She got out of the car, finally, after patting her eyes and face dry with her sleeve, and went into the establishment, which was a Beauty Salon. She clutched her purse tightly to her side, and slumped into a chair where a woman was tidying up.
"It's over," she announced glumly.
"Oh, no, Carrie!" the woman said and rushed to her side, hugging her tightly. She had the same lovely blue eye color, and her hair was only a slightly darker blonde; it was a sure bet that they were sisters.
"It's true, Betty," she said and started crying a little again. "We had another fight. Over stupid things, over something, I don't know anymore what we even fight about!"
"But he loves you!"
"He used to love me," she said, still crying. "But I don't know him anymore. He didn't even remember that I was allergic to chocolate!" She sniffled into a crumpled up tissue. "He's so smart; we don't even talk the same language. We haven't gone out to a movie together in months; we don't have the same taste in food, or wine, or anything! And every time I even bring up the subject of kids….well, I don't think he wants any." She was gathered into a fierce hug by her sister.
"Well, then! You don't need him anymore, do you?" Her sister's eyes were blazing. "Tell him to get out. You're young yet, honey. There are other fish in the river."
"But…but…he was s-so," she stammered, unable to finish her sentence, and lapsed into tears again.
I looked away. I didn't often have to watch this side of it. The heartbreak. The dark side of love. My job was all about the shiny and the brand-new, the fervent gazes, the lust and longing. I liked being at the beginning.
I flitted away. I was pretty sure I didn't need to take any action to further the separation between lovers, but I had an unsettled feeling. These were still Immortals I was dealing with. They had more baggage than a train's luggage car at full capacity, and were hard assignments, because affecting them in any way required that extra mile. Their immortality and longevity, and just plain old different view on how the world operated, often thwarted any Associate sent to deal with them--like unfortunate, obtuse Turtledove. And I'd heard the horror stories from other Departments. The tales from Serendipity Department alone were enough to make one run off to Elysian Fields for a week's vacation.
So, I spent a few minutes canvassing the area. One already happily married man at the Laundromat, four boys too young in a nearby daycare, one gentleman far too old in the apartment complex around the corner, and one supremely eligible bachelor at the hardware store across the street. I kissed him on the cheek, and he smiled for what he thought was no reason at all. "Don't you need a beard trim?" I whispered into his ear.
He rubbed at his jaw. "I should get a trim." That, as they say, was that. He closed up shop with a "Back in Ten Minutes" sign, and wandered across the street. "Hey, Betty," he called as he entered, as familiar and at ease with the place as I knew he would be. Then he immediately stopped to stare at the poor, crying girl in the chair. "Hey, hey," he said, going over to her. "Don't do that. Don't cry now. There's nothing to cry about."
She tentatively smiled up at him.
I didn't even bother to waste any arrows.
Humming along back to my main assignment, I was pleased to find that things were progressing quite well.
The wretched little dear was at the bar getting snot-nosed drunk. His bartender friend was there handing him beer after beer. I sidled up to that one and started murmuring to him. Oh, these mortals are so very suggestible! Next thing, his good bartender friend was giving him very, very sage advice. It didn't take long for the guy to see the light. I could have practically lit a lantern from the spark of hope in his heart.
I guided him out the door and back to the shopping area. We returned to the darling flower shop where the Valentine History Lesson had taken place--which luckily was still open--and just before he exited the taxi…I let him have it. Three Sweet Reason Arrows right in the keister! Oh, even the mightiest have succumbed to these arrows. We believe what we want to believe, yes we do.
After I packed him off to a safe and luxurious hotel room (I was such a good Cupid--I nudged the girl at the counter to give him the Champagne Suite for the price of a regular room, Puppy Love Arrows are so darned useful!) I took off to locate the other half of this One True Love.
He was driving around and around, barely paying any attention to the road! I glanced at the watch on his wrist, and wrung out my bow a little. It was getting awfully late.
I thumbed through my quiver again. What to use? What to use? He was already deep into contemplation so the Remembrance and Sweet Reason arrows were no good. He had to be in near vicinity for most of the others. I twisted my bow in my hands a little more. Ack! I could just see it--I'd be transferred over with Turtledove! No, no, no! I had to think.
I rummaged around in the side compartments of the quiver. I had a handful of darts stashed away. Handy little things that wore off fast, but tipped emotions as you liked. I selected out a Joyous Dart and stabbed the man a good one in the chest. (Oh, don't fret. My slings and arrows are all metaphysical!)
Success! He immediately turned to the shopping area.
Tragedy! The cursed flower shop was closed.
I flew forward and into the shop, unlocking the door and turning the sign around to indicate "Open". Then I gave myself a bit of corporeal solidity, smoothed down my robes into something a mortal would wear, tucked my bow and quiver out of the way, and smiled at my brand new customer from behind the counter. I sold him the most perfect flower ever: a white rose with pink edges delicately curling. He stared at that flower for a long moment before I covered it with the box top, his beautiful brown eyes growing soft and contemplative. When he turned to leave I snatched up my bow and quiver and plugged him full of Sweet Reason, just for good measure. I was not going to take any chances.
I locked up and caught up with him as he was driving and just putting the phone away. I was fairly jumping out of my robes with the anticipation. It was going to work. It had to work!
Like a good boy, he went straight to the hotel, and up to the room. I danced a jig next to him, waiting for the door to open. When it did, I shot them both with Affection Arrows.
They both brandished their beautiful twin ivory and pink roses, and smiled at each other. It doesn't take an empathic Cupid to know what should come next, so I laughed with glee, and shot them both with a double dose of Passion and Pleasure Arrows (some Cupids would have used the Lust Arrows, but that's no good, those things sometimes have bitter aftertastes).
The one Lover pushed the other Lover into the room and I shut the door behind them. Oh, flame and heat and passion! Oh, ardent love and boundless enthusiasm! Oh, desire, cherishment, and satiation!
The joy in their hearts was evident, and I lingered just long enough to witness their whispered endearments: "You complete me."
Oh, yeah, I was totally going to make Cupid IV.