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Wild Demand

by Hayley Reese Chow

I wrap my fingers around the cool, metal door handle and pause. My eyes land on the big, green flyer taped to the other side of the glass door.

Come find love in record time!
9 PM, Thursday at Decker’s
Half-price Long Islands for the ladies!

I groan inwardly and briefly debate bailing. I could just text Allie and tell her something came up. I could say I’m sick, or I need to study, or that I just don’t feel like dealing with this crap tonight. She would understand, right? I jump out of the way as the door opens and a trio of guys stumble out of the bar and grill, already smelling like stale beer and laughing louder than necessary.

I think about Allie sitting in there by herself surrounded by these fools, and I feel a wave of guilt for even considering abandoning her.

I take one last breath of fresh fall air and use it to blow the hair out of my eyes with a well-practiced huff. “Dear Mother of God.” With one final eye-roll for good measure, I yank open the door.

Speed dating, in theory, could be fun, but here at good old Heath Garnet Tech, home of the smartest and most awkward enginerds the country has to offer, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I step inside the pub and brace myself against the clamor of too many people talking about nothing important. Decker’s is a popular place, but there are more people here than I expected. HG students aren’t known for embracing Thirsty Thursday, but surely it isn’t this speed dating gambit that’s lured them out of their computer lab caves? Of course, the majority of the crowd here is male but, with a university ratio of one girl for every three guys, it’s to be expected.

Eyes swivel from the tables closest the door to assess the newcomer. I shuffle quickly to the bar to buy a drink before someone else offers and tails me the rest of the evening in exchange. The bartender is mercifully quick to put a drink in my hand, and I scan the room as I sip my social-juice from the straw, hoping it’ll grant me some sense of humor about this impending debacle.

I spy Allie in the back doing her daily crossword from the local newspaper, already seated at one of the two-person tables they’ve got set up on the stage. She waves frantically when she sees me, a wide smile lighting up her face. I flutter my fingers in return.

A pair of guys in navy and green HG apparel sidle up to the bar beside me, and I beat a hasty retreat towards my friend before they casually try to start a conversation.

“Morgan!” Allie slides her newspaper aside as I drop into the seat next to her.

I take another sip of my drink. “It’s not too late to back out, you know.” I turn my phone screen on and wave it at her. “It’s only 8:57. We could ditch this place and go to Smurfy’s instead.”

Allie rolls her eyes. “Just give it a chance. It’ll be fun.”

I lower my eyelids and raise my eyebrows, staring her down.

Allie laughs at my dismal expression. “Okay, if it sucks, I’ll owe you a drink, and we’ll laugh it off.”

I stick my bottom lip out, considering the offer.

“But!” Allie sticks a finger in my face. “If you’re interested in even one guy, you’re buying.”

I roll my eyes with a smile and take another drink. “Like that’ll happen.” I pick up the paper on the small round table. It’s a list of suggested questions for your five-minute date. Everything from “How many kids do you want?” to “Do you snore?” I stifle a snort. Okay, maybe we will get a few laughs out of this. Another inside joke to add to our already extensive repertoire.

An announcer with a microphone steps out in front of the stage. “All right, everybody, my name’s Dan, and I’m going to be your host for tonight’s event. If you’re a lady here for our speed dating game, please come to the stage now!”

I cringe and the noise dies down to a dull roar, all eyes turn towards us. I scan the crowd for other girls. About a dozen pepper the crowd, but none of them is moving toward the stage. Fear cramps my belly. Please, God, don’t let it just be Allie and me doing this thing.

Dan’s calling out the girls individually now, trying to coax them on stage. “Hi there, what’s your name? Tiffany? Don’t you want to have a little fun? Meet some new friends?”

Some of the girls duck behind supposed boyfriends, and a few flee the bar altogether. In the end, he manages to herd a group of three on stage.

With that, it looks like the announcer has exhausted the room’s supply of females. I chew on my straw. Five guys, five dates at five minutes apiece means we’ll be out of here in a half hour. That’s not so bad.

But Dan is thinking differently as a throng of would-be male participants circles him like a school of sharks. I don’t know how he’s going to whittle it down to just five contenders, there must be over thirty guys jostling to get on his list.

Allie leans over to me: “Isn’t it great to be so in demand?”

I shake my head. Allie would have a boyfriend already if she wasn’t waiting for a knight in shining armor to ride in on a white horse.

I frown as I watch Dan lining the contestants up: there are way more than five.

“Don’t worry, guys,” Dan calls, waving an arm. “Everyone will get a chance to meet our lovely ladies.”

I nearly choke on my drink.

“Each gent will get a number, and dates will be three minutes long. Ladies, if you like him, be sure to write down his contestant number, and....” Dan shuffles through his papers, obviously trying to remember the rules. “We’ll figure it out afterwards!”

Real smooth, Dan.

Thirty guys, three minutes apiece. That’s ninety minutes of talking. “Ugh, Allie,” I moan.

I don’t think Allie even hears me as she drums her fingers excitedly on the table. I look up as Dan starts giving out numbers to the participants. I notice a knot of unruly locals elbow their way to the front of the crowd to snatch numbers. The locals of the poor rural town of Everly stand out in stark contrast to the HG students. Everly guys always seem to sport muddy boots, sweat-stained baseball caps, and the permanent scowl of those stuck in their hometown.

Allie smiles at me as the first five dates step up to our tables. I widen my eyes in not-so-mock horror and quickly scan my question list.

A buzzer sounds. “Begin!”

The chair screeches on the wooden stage as my would-be suitor takes his seat. “Well, I’m glad to see I’m not overdressed!” The round-faced brunet laughs nervously. My mouth hangs slightly ajar at this icebreaker as I take in our matching HG hoody and jeans.

He holds up two fingers. “I’m number two by the way.” He winks.

I wonder how quickly I can purge that useless information from my mind.

“But you can call me Tom. I’m a bioengineering major—”

I nod absently at Tom as he continues the monologue while I spy on the dates next to me out of the corner of my eye. Allie is leaning forward intently, already cutting straight to the interrogation about futures and passions, while the girl on my left is twirling her hair and asking about favorite bars and drinks.

She and her friends are obviously hitting the clubs later in their short dresses, high heels and perfect makeup. They’ve probably been primping since classes got out at four. I glance at Allie in her dark-rimmed glasses, navy cardigan, and knee-length skirt. She looks like a cute librarian... but not the sexy kind.

But that’s the perk of this skewed ratio, right? Surely there’s a decent guy here that digs librarians.

Mercifully, the buzzer goes off again, and Tom’s three-minute exposition comes to an end. I see the flirty girl next to me ostentatiously write the number 3 on her paper, to the delight of her date.

Although contestant 3’s body comes to sit at my table, his eyes are still stuck on the flirt’s cleavage next door. As the buzzer sounds again, starting the next round, his eyes reluctantly meet mine.

“Welcome,” I drawl.

“Um, hi.” He laces his fingers together in front of himself like a job interviewer.

We drink in the awkward pause.

I snap up the list of suggested questions. “So.” I peer at him over the page with raised eyebrows. “What’s in your fridge...?”

* * *

Twenty rounds and two Long Islands later, I’m ready to stab my eye out with the pencil and, to make it worse, it doesn’t look like the line has gotten any shorter. As more guys come in, announcer Dan keeps letting them sign up. We could be here forever.

I lean over to Allie as another round ends. “Allie, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

“Oh c’mon, Morgan, I think it’s kind of fun.” Allie’s eyes are practically shining.

I snatch her sheet from the table and flip it over.

6: James - cute, blue eyes
11: Michael - looking for a serious relationship
16: Aaron - great hair, likes to read

“Ew. Sixteen? Really?” I joke.

Allie’s jaw drops as she plucks the paper from my grasp. “Morgan!”

The buzzer starts for the next round, but Allie and I are still talking. The boys are just a couple fish in a river running with salmon tonight. My date tries to clear his throat politely, but I ignore him.

“C’mon, Allie, three’s plenty. Can we go now?”

“We can’t go,” she hisses. “It’s not over yet. There are still people waiting.”

“It may never be over. Are you going to sit here all night?”

Allie looks at her short list of names. “Well, I am kind of getting tired.”

Her date leans forward. “But I—”

I hold up a hand to cut him off. “We can just get up and walk away.”

Allie purses her lips and twitches them back and forth. “Eight more rounds,” she says. “Thirty is a good statistical sample.”

I can’t even hate that logic. Like I said, enginerds. “Fine.”

I turn back to my date, who is shyly sneaking peaks at flirty “Raquella.” From my stealthy spying, I have concluded that Raquella’s friends actually call her Jenny and she texts her boyfriend “Sean” between each round. In my defense, her screen is luminescent in the dim bar. These poor boys never had a chance.

I lean in conspiratorially towards the poor sap across from me. “You think she’s interested?”

He startles at my sudden closeness, like a wild rabbit. “Well, she wrote down my number.”

I lean back with a laugh. “Yours and everybody else’s.” I nod my head in her direction. “Watch her work.”

Jenny/Raquella laughs and reaches out to squeeze contestant number twenty-three’s hand while batting her long, surely fake eyelashes. The buzzer sounds and she winks at him as she makes a show of writing down his number on the sheet of paper in her lap.

I look back at my crestfallen date as he stands from the table. “Don’t take it too hard, pal. She doesn’t look like your type anyway.”

The buzzer sounds again when I see a commotion by the door. A group of four guys in HG Ultimate frisbee apparel — yes, Heath Garnet has a decent Ultimate team, and yes, the players are incredibly proud of it — have pushed through the crowd by the door.

There’s something about the way they’re glaring around the bar that makes it obvious they haven’t just shown up on a whim. One of the guys spots us on the stage and taps his friend next to him. The guy practically bares his teeth when he sees us. My head swivels as I try to divine why this gorilla nerd is barreling towards us, when Jenny/Raquella’s glittering smile morphs into a look of horror. Suddenly I make the connection. So, this is heart-heart Sean heart-heart.

Ultimate Sean storms up to the stage. “C’mon, Jen, we’re going!” he bellows.

The bar quiets as thirty eyes fix onto this exchange.

Jenny has regained her composure and loops her purse around her shoulder as she stands. “Oh, Sean, we were just having a bit of fun.”

Her two friends stand to leave with her, when a brawny local steps onto the stage, swaying ever so slightly. “Hey! I’ve been waiting for an hour to talk to these girls.”

A rumble of agreement rolls through the crowd, and a few of the other locals stagger up to Sean’s group. “Yeah, why don’t you just leave these girls alone to do what they want.”

Dan the announcer is trying to separate the hostiles now, but he’s easily six inches shorter than everyone involved.

Sean puffs his chest out like a bloated frog. “Because she’s my girl and, trust me, she doesn’t want to do you.”

Jenny and her friends are frantically trying to leave now, but the speed-daters are crowding around the exit, trying to persuade them to stay.

Suddenly, any humor I found in the situation evaporates, and it dawns on me how very outnumbered we are in this dark bar, how small Allie and I are in this crush of male bodies.

I nudge Allie. “I think the game is over.”

“No, come on, we’re on our date,” the guy across from me interjects.

Allie glances at me, and I can see from the spark of alarm in her eyes that we’re on the same page. She nods, rolling up her newspaper and speed-dating list to stuff in her purse. “Yep, just give me one sec—”

A crash cuts Allie off as Sean shoves a townie into an empty table. The bar erupts into chaos: the local gang throws themselves onto any HG guy within reach.

Allie and I book it towards the side of the stage. We only make it a few steps before a prematurely balding guy emerges from the crowd in front of us.

“Ya’ll can’t leave yet. I’ve had my eye on you all night.”

“Sorry, we’ve got to go.” Allie tries to be polite.

“What if I buy you a couple drinks?”

“Dude, we said no!” I snap, pushing past him.

He grabs Allie’s elbow, tearing her away from me. “Your friend looks like she wants to stay.”

Allie turns towards the creep and smacks him in the face with her tightly rolled newspaper. Over and over, back and forth she slaps him with current events until he finally releases her in a vain attempt to shield himself from the onslaught.

A couple of HG boys notice the kerfuffle and fly to our defense. “Leave our girls alone!”

One of them grips my arm and pulls me away from the scuffle. But, instead of heading towards the door, he’s inexplicably dragging me towards a shadowy back hallway. It occurs to me that I’ve lost my personhood in the madness. A storm of testosterone has reduced the girls to winnable gameshow prizes.

I give my pretend savior a swift kick in the shin. Glass breaks somewhere and a high-pitched scream rends the air. Sensing the impending arrival of police, the churning crowd shifts into a single-minded mob, pressing toward the narrow doorway. I see a flailing elbow catch Allie in the eye, but I’m crushed between three other bodies. I feel a meaty hand seize the opportunity to squeeze my butt, and I slap at it furiously. At last, the crush pushes us through the bottleneck and out the door.

Finally free, we break into a sprint that doesn’t slow until the shouts from the bar have dissolved into the night.

* * *

Back in her apartment, Allie hands me a hot cup of honey-sweetened tea and sinks into the couch next to me, her swollen eye already purpling. “Okay, so I owe you one.”

I blow on the steam rising from my mug. “Understatement.”

Her fake laugh shakes a little. “Yeah, that was messed up.” She wrinkles her nose and tries to uncoil her newspaper. “I take it back. Being in demand isn’t so great.”

I slurp my tea. “Not when the demand is stronger than you are.”

The words settle heavily over us like a storm cloud of acid rain. My hands still tremble slightly as I set the mug down on the coffee table, and I feel dirty from the press of bodies and grabby hands.

Allie shakes her head and stands up. “Ugh, I need some ice.” She walks to the kitchen.

I pick up her discarded newspaper. The crossword has nearly been completed already, of course. I almost toss it aside, but the front page catches my eye.

Boy oh Boy!

First legal gender and gene selection trials begin... blue-eyed male births skyrocket....

What will our future look like?

But I already know.

Copyright © 2019 by Hayley Reese Chow

Proceed to Challenge 816...

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