Josh Packs sat at a table inside the Breakup Restaurant waiting for Alice. Around him, couples were calling it quits and saying their final farewells. No tears were shed. No yelling, cursing, fighting. Just agreement, handshakes, and promises of a new kind of ship: friendship. This restaurant (a franchise, really, for there were many of them) was the most peaceful place.
Alice walked in, caught sight of Josh, and strode over to the table. She looked pretty, dressed all in pink, but not that pretty. Actually, on second thought, she was quite ugly, with an asymmetrical face and lopsided shoulders, and the flawed sight of her irritated Josh in a healthy manner. He’d have to flush out all the feelings he had for her; an easy task, to say the least. This wasn’t the first time he was breaking up with a girl, and it wouldn’t be the last.
They greeted each other. Alice sat down across from him.
“I so love this place,” she said, taking off her pink hat and letting it rest on the tabletop. “I come here often.”
“Me, too,” Josh replied. “At least once every two weeks. The service is impeccable. Quick and reliable.”
They ordered the only thing that was on the menu: a piece of apple pie, the all inclusive breakup dessert. Appetizers and main courses were skipped in the breakup restaurants. For a beverage they got water with ice.
“It’s been two weeks,” Alice said.
“Two great weeks.”
“The date has reached us. We’ve expired.”
“Are you sad about it?” she asked.
“Me? No!” Josh answered, incredulous. “I mean, don’t get me wrong—you’re a really, very nice person. You’re attractive. You’ve got great legs. You’ve a personality that speaks to mine. You’re not at all clingy—thank God! And you were a lioness in bed. Definitely one of my top twenty bedmates.”
She blushed. “Oh, why thank you!”
“I meant every word of it.” Josh sipped his water. “So, do whom you’ll date next?”
Alice shrugged. “Not really. I might take a break from dating for awhile. Time for myself. You?”
“I’ll find someone. I always do.”
“She’ll be lucky to have you. She’ll be in for a treat those two weeks.”
“You don’t think two weeks is too small, do you?” he asked.
“I’ve considered extending my dating period to a month.”
“A month! No, no—you don’t want to do that! It’s too much risk! Pretty soon you’ll be extending it to two months, then four, then twelve! A whole year! Can you imagine that? Being in a relationship for that long with only one person?”
Josh shuddered. “Makes me sick just thinking about it. It’s barbaric, really. Vulgar.”
“Well, I guess I ought to be going.” Alice said, grabbing her hat and standing. She had left her piece of the pie untouched. “We’re still friends, right?”
“Of course. Take care now.”
She started off. Before leaving the restaurant she stopped and turned around.
“But just friends!”
Josh smiled. “Just so, buddy.”
And then she was gone—out of his life. Another relationship expired before it got too serious; before they became too attached. He felt good about the whole thing.
Her name was Emilee White, and she was one of a kind. Not only did everyone want to date her, but more than anything—they wanted to possess her.
Josh Packs was in one of the many singles bars found at every street corner with a group of his friends. They sat several tables away from where Emilee White sat drinking her tea and reading a novel. She was alone, like a helpless, sleeping bunny in an open, wide field. Everywhere around her predators lurked, watching her, wanting her. She had light olive skin and curly sable hair. She was dressed in a tight skirt and her long, smooth legs, one crossed over the other, captivated Josh. He had heard she was of Indian parentage, and knew it from her eyes, which were expressive, exotic, and deep.
“She’s gorgeous, all right,” one of Josh’s friends said. “She could really melt the heart and make you fall in love with her.”
“Watch your mouth!” another friend exclaimed. “Don’t talk like that! Don’t even joke! You want to get fined?”
Josh’s friends crowded together tightly and began whispering conspiratorially.
“They call her the Love Widow. I hear everyone who’s ever dated her has fallen in love. In just two weeks. It’s insane!”
“I’ve heard the same thing. She just does something to them. It’s like you’re dating this girl that you know you’ll break up with at the end of the two weeks, but when that day finally comes you realize you can’t live without her. It’s straight out of a history book!”
Someone shuddered. “Scary. Downright out of a horror film.”
“Everyone she dates falls in love and wants to be with her forever. They actually use those words. Forever. Love. Gives me the willies.”
“And then these lovebirds get thrown in prison for a very long time.”
“Yeah, because the lovebirds obsess over her. I don’t know if that’s love or what.”
“Hell, who here in their right mind knows how love is?”
Josh knew, or at least had some experience in the matter. He had never told any of his friends this but he and Emilee White shared quite a few things in common. Some women Josh had dated in the past had made the mistake of falling in love with him and had been subsequently imprisoned as lovebirds.
“I’m going to ask her if she’ll date me,” Josh announced.
His friends looked at him like he had just told them he had dated their household pets and was now foolishly and criminally in love with them.
“You’re kidding me, right?” one of them said. “You’ll catch the lovesickness.”
Josh made a dismissive gesture. “Give me a break.”
He got up and strode over to Emilee White’s table.
A girl everyone falls in love with. How did she do it? Was she a witch? Did she cast some spell on them? Infect them? Drug them?
Josh had women who loved him but he didn’t know how or why they did, and they didn’t all love him, only a few. Not like Emilee White, though. Everyone loved her. It was wrong. But more than that—it was a challenge.
Whatever she does to make them fall in love with her it won’t work on me. I am loveless, and therein is my power and the reason for my success in this unlovable world of ours.
“Are you seeing anyone?” he said to her without greeting.
Emilee raised her head from the novel and her expressive eyes took in Josh for the first time. Her eyes were the colour of red wine.
“No,” she said with a slight accent. “Not at all.”
“Would you like to date me?” he asked her, taking his wallet out of his pocket and fishing out his identification card. “Here”—he handed her the laminated card—“Go ahead, don’t be shy. Check me out.”
She took the card from him and slid it over the ID reader installed on the table. You couldn’t have a singles bar without every table having one of those.
She put the novel she was reading down flat on the table and scanned the readout of the ID.
“You check out well,” she said. “Good record. Experienced. Great reviews. No history of infection. You seem to know this game well.”
“I’ve been playing a long time,” Josh replied, proud of his achievements. “May I see your card? Don’t think you’ve won me over with just your looks, darling. I’ve dated models and actresses by the dozens. It’s what’s inside that count.”
Smiling, Emilee reached into her purse, pulled out her ID card, and handed it to him.
Josh scanned it and what he found surprised him.
“That’s odd. I’d figure a girl as beautiful as you would have quite the record. You haven’t dated that many. A record like this at your twenty-seven years of life is suspect.”
Emilee shrugged her small, round shoulders. “I move around a lot and I keep myself busy. I don’t really have time to date much. But I try to keep my options open as much as possible.”
Josh sat down across from her. “Then it’s settled. We should date. For two weeks. Sound good?”
“Sounds wonderful,” she said, smiling, “but under one condition.”
Josh reached across the table and took her hands in his. “Which is?”
“That you do not fall in love with me.”
“Oh, I won’t,” Josh said, grinning wickedly.
But, alas, he did.
It was the expiration date, and Josh had never felt as terrified as he was now. He paced his apartment trying to figure out what to do.
He couldn’t just let him and Emilee White end. Their relationship was too good, too perfect. She had been everything they said she was: beautiful, smart, fun to be around. He loved spending time with her; loved that she was the first thought he had upon waking and the last thought he had before falling asleep. He dreamt of her even, and that alone was what made him believe that he loved her, for he had never dreamed of any one girl, especially not of any girl he was dating.
Today was the day. He was meeting her for their very last date: first to watch a hockey game (their favourite sport—oh, the commonalities they shared!) and then to a Breakup Restaurant for the final curtain. He sweated and bit his nails. He had to do something.
Eventually, he formulated a plan, but didn’t know when he ought to put it in practice. Before the date began? After? At the Breakup Restaurant? During the hockey game? Questions, questions, questions! And no answers!
And would it even work? That was the real question; that was what really got him worked up. Could he beat the system? The love he had for her (and which he prayed she had for him) was true love—surely it went above the law.
He showered, combed his hair, brushed his teeth, slipped into his best shirt and jeans, and left to go meet her at the hockey stadium. It took him a half an hour to get there by taxi. He saw her waiting outside the front gates for him. She wore a white skirt, a purple blouse, and a white jacket to match the skirt.
His heart fluttered in his chest. His heart was doing a lot of strange things these days. Before it used to just beat unnoticeably. Now it fluttered, sank, lifted, raced, and even choked his words from time to time by getting stuck in his throat, however it managed that feat.
Getting out of the taxi, he went up and greeted her.
“Are you all right?” she asked. “You’re pouring sweat.”
“It’s nothing,” he said and wiped his brow. “Damn taxi driver had the heat on. I was dying.”
She smiled and offered her arm to him. “Shall we?”
They waltzed in and found their seats just as the game was starting. They watched, that is to say: she watched and cheered the players and he watched her. Sometimes she caught him staring at her, but when that happened he pretended to be looking at something else.
“There’re a lot of women here,” she said after the first period was over. “One of them could be your next date.”
Josh nodded nervously, holding tightly to an object in his pocket. “Mmhmm. Mmhmm. Lots and lots.”
During the second period, pools of sweat formed at his armpits and groin region. His heart was doing things reminiscent of a panic attack. All he could think of was that this was the end for him and Emilee White. He would miss their phone conversations; the laughter; the sex; the fun and games. He had never felt so alive with any other woman. His other relationships had seemed routine and without emotion. But this one was different. He wanted to see Emilee everyday of his life. And what made this all the more ironic was that, if you asked him to describe love, he wouldn’t be able to do it. “Love has no answer,” he would say. “It’s like God. It just is.”
Josh was a born again lover. A rarity, that’s for sure.
During a break in the third period the game went to the infamous kiss-cam, where the camera crew spotted a random couple who would kiss in front of everyone on the big screen.
Biting his lower lip, Josh watched happy couples smack lips.
Then the camera went to him and Emilee.
It’s now or never. Screw society and its wrongful ways!
He had read about it in the history—or horror—books. He knew how to do it. He had practiced it.
He got down on one knee and in front of the entire stadium he pulled out a small black box from his jean pocket, popped the lid, and showed Emilee White the sparkling diamond ring, the ring a family artifact belonging to his ancestors from nearly a hundred years ago.
He cleared his throat. “Emilee White, will you marry me?”
The entire stadium was suspended in dead silence. No doubt they couldn’t believe what they had just heard; the felony they had just witnessed with their own eyes.
Hundreds of thousands of eye witnesses, and Josh didn’t care about any of them. They weren’t enlightened as he was. They didn’t—couldn’t—understand.
All that mattered was Emilee White.
Her jaw was open in shock. She didn’t blink, didn’t move, didn’t even seem to be breathing. A statue; completely stock-still. Had the gesture... killed her? The history books hadn’t mentioned this. They had said something about a celebration. Where were the hugs and kisses? Where the sounds of congratulatory speech?
Finally, Emilee White spoke.
“Today is the day. The expiration date. No, I will not marry you. Have you gone insane?”
But he didn’t listen. He took her hand and slipped the ring on her finger. The “ring” finger, the old world had called it, specifically used to hold wedding rings.
It was a perfect fit. It fit like destiny.
Large hands seized him; pulled him up on his feet and dragged him away. The crowds erupted in fury: they threw curses at him, spat at him, and wanted to tear him apart. All the while, as the authorities pulled him farther and farther away from his Emilee, he yelled, “I love you! I love you, Emilee White!
“I love everyone! You! And you! And you! And you!”
At those words not a few of the patrons vomited their dinners or fainted.
Josh came down with a severe case of lovesickness. It was the worst any of the doctors had ever seen. He didn’t just love Emilee White—he loved the whole damn world! Such a case had never been documented before, and it was a cause for concern.
The doctors considered sending him to an insane asylum for treatment, but thought it best to leave him in prison. They thought the roughness of jail might toughen him up and cure him. Plus, they didn’t want him to influence any of the other patients in the asylum. The last thing they needed was an epidemic of lovebirditis on their hands.
Jail hadn’t worked well either, though, and the doctors had begun to think Josh’s case hopeless. None of the other inmates got anywhere close to him. They went out of their way to get as far away from him as possible, lest they caught his illness. No one shared a cell with him and guards often threatened inmates that if they misbehaved they’d have to spend a night with Josh.
Within a week of prison Josh had a visitor. It was a non-contact visit, meaning that the guards escorted Josh to a cubicle with a glass window beyond which was another cubicle. Josh sat down.
Then she appeared, as he knew she would.
“I knew it! I knew you’d come!” he exclaimed. “Have you come to take me home with you? To tell me you love me? Of course you love me, for I love you, and we love each other!”
Emilee White didn’t say anything; only frowned. She had something in a clenched fist. She deposited it in the item-box. It clinked dully against the box’s metal.
“I came to give you this,” she said as she pushed the item-box through an opening in the glass to Josh’s side. Her voice wasn’t sweet sounding like it used to be. It was unemotional; matter-of-fact. “The guards will either let you keep it or they’ll confiscate it as a weapon.”
Looking inside at the contents of the item-box, Josh saw the wedding ring.
“But that ring...” he began. “That ring is yours.”
“I don’t want it. I want nothing to do with it. Or you.”
Her words froze his heart. “Oh...”
“Goodbye, Josh.” Emilee stood up and turned away. He thought he saw a tear in her eye, but it could have been a hallucination brought on by the lovesickness. She walked to the back of the room where a man stood waiting for her. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her square on the lips.
The couple left and Josh returned to his cell.
Several weeks later, he killed himself by hanging. A suicide note he had left had written in it something about his heart being broken and that he couldn’t live without his beloved and blah, blah, blah—whatever the letter had said didn’t matter for it was burned forthwith. No one could read through it all without gagging and everyone was glad to see Josh dead so that they could return to their normal, unloved lives.
Good riddance, lovebird!