“Where are you from originally?”
“What’s your favourite food?”
“How do you feel about Captain America?”
As far as Tracy was concerned, each of her encounters thus far could be summed up by a single, terrible question she had asked. The most egregious up to that point had been toward Ben, (or was it Bill? Bort?) asking whether or not he liked cats. Not ‘do you like animals?’ or even ‘do you have cats?’
Simply, “Do you like cats?”
Naturally, this was greeted with seemingly good-natured confusion.
“I take it you have cats?” Ben/Bort had replied. She neither had cats nor cared much for them in general. She liked to think she wasn’t against cats as a concept, but that was about as far as it went.
Back-pedalling then, Tracy shrugged innocently. “Oh, no it’s just something I think, um, is like a good sign in a man. You know?”
Ben/Bort clearly did not know.
Currently Tracy was embroiled in what she could only describe as being the least interesting discussion regarding the state of affairs as it pertained to the TTC subway system.
“I mean, if we’re paying all this money as taxpayers, then why do the trains all stop running after 2 a.m.? Am I right?”
She looked down to the match sheet which lay inconspicuously in her lap. After a brief scan, she noted that this particular gentleman’s name was Aaron.
“I don’t know, Aaron. I’ve heard that it’s for maintenance. You have to shut down the entire line to work on any individual train.” She tried to impart a smile devoid of any condescension.
Several weeks prior, Tracy had been sitting in the living room of her apartment, listening to music while her friend Abigail attempted to explain the intricacies and benefits of signing up for a speed-dating session.
“Oh come on. What’s the big deal?” Abby had asked, a little too incredulously for Tracy’s tastes.
“The big deal? The big deal is this sounds like a nightmare.” She had sat with Abby’s smart phone in her own lap, looking at the link for the speed-dating site which had been pulled up. She was swiping between the About Us and Speed Dating 101 pages.
“Geez, Tracy. Why are you always a sourpuss about everything? It will be funnnnnn.”
Tracy had given a look to Abigail she hoped communicated severe distrust, the sort given to a child who promised they hadn’t eaten any cake despite the obvious signs of cake on their faces. “Fun? You said the last speed-dating thing you went on was horrible. A bust. What was the word you used? ‘Disaster’?”
“Oh, that was different. First of all, it was a different company altogether. I thought I’d cheap out and go for the guys who charged the least. Look,” she had said, pointing to her own phone from across the living room. “These organizers look legit. Y’know, professional.”
“Yeah Abby. I noticed that. Forty-five dollars professional.”
Abigail had rolled her eyes. “Come on. That’s not that bad. You’d spend at least that much if you went out to the club.”
“I don’t club.”
“Yeah, well. Besides, it will be better this time.”
Tracy reluctantly went and asked the obvious. “How so?”
Abby, curse her, had given the brightest, most cloyingly hopeful smile she could muster. “Becaaauuuuuse my bestest friend in all the world will be with me?”
“Oh come on! Why not? What have you got to lose? Think of it as an adventure! I’ve been single for like four months now, and it’s driving me nuts. At this rate I’ll be an old woman and die alone in my empty house. Don’t you want to meet someone? You can’t tell me you don’t want to meet a nice guy and not be dead in an empty house.”
Tracy had sighed. While Abigail could measure the length of her ‘relationship availability’ in terms of months, Tracy would have to do so in roughly the same number of years. “I don’t know, Abs. I mean…”
“What? Come on Tracy, you never go out any more. I love you, and hanging out here is fun and all, but we can’t just sit around watching t.v. forever. When’s the last time you went out? Met new people? God, even your Facebook profile pic is like what, two years old? And it’s you and Captain America. Really?”
Tracy had put the phone down then. Abby had crossed the line. “Don’t talk about Captain America like that. And it was Chris Evans. Like, seriously.”
“Whatever. Chris Evans. Great. The picture that you got when you went to Comic-Con. The picture that you paid for. You still holding out hope that maybe Chris Evans – the successful actor, who’s married with kids, I bet – will just come back and remember that picture and be all like, ‘Hey, wanna get married with me?’”
“Don’t be stupid. Of course not. That has nothing to do with it.”
Abby, exaggerating as usual, had waved her hands in the air in what might have approximated a drowning bug. “I know, Tracy! You love Captain America. I get it. Captain America posters. Captain America comics. Captain friggin’ America cardboard cut-outs and t-shirts and comforters and pillow cases and pajamas and little toys and even those cereal boxes you say are ‘collectors’. I can’t even count the number of times you’ve forced me to watch those movies.”
“Hey! You said you liked The Avengers.”
“Sure. Fine. It’s cool that you love Captain America so much. Really, it is. But Captain America, whatever his name is, not Chris Evans, but the actual character…”
“Steve Rogers.” Tracy had become sulky.
“Sure Steve Rogers. Whatever. Guess what? Steve Rogers isn’t real. Okay? I know you know that, and I’m not trying to be insulting. But he’s fake. Imaginary. Wanna know who is real? The other single guys that will be there at the speed-dating thing. They’re real people, and maybe one of them is perfect for you. Y’know?”
Tracy threw her hands up. “You don’t get it Abby. It’s not just Captain America that I like, okay? It’s what he stands for. Like freedom and liberty and justice. All of that stuff. Know why you never see Steve Rogers sitting at home watching The Three Stooges or Twilight Zone or whatever? Because those things don’t matter. Who cares what a person reads or watches or listens to? Those things don’t make a person. Don’t you get it? It’s his values that I like. His, his… raison d'être.”
“You know I don’t know French. But even so, you can’t just go to Comic-Con once a year and expect to meet somebody that way. Values or not.”
“Well, there was that one guy…”
For the first time in what had been a very long while, Abby had looked genuinely frustrated and perhaps even a little upset. “Don’t. Mention. That. Guy. Again.”
“But nothing, Tracy. One guy. One guy in – surprise, surprise – a Captain America costume. At Comic-Con. Imagine that! But refresh my memory; did you get his number?”
“Ask to take a picture?”
“Hell, did you even talk to him?”
“No. ‘But he had beautiful eyes, Abigail!’ I don’t want to hear it. Forget about that guy. Alright? Maybe if he’s there next year you can actually grow a pair and talk to him. In the meantime, why not try something a little more traditional? With people not playing dress-up for once?”
“I’m sorry, Trace. I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to be mean. I know it’s ‘cosplay’, and I’m sure those people are well-adjusted adults or whatever. The point is I’m your friend and I just want to see you happy. You’re smart, and pretty and funny and all those great things. Someone out there will see that. You know that, right?”
“Maybe nothing. Any guy would be lucky to have you in their life. And guess what? All the guys that will be there will have something Captain America doesn’t have.”
In spite of herself, Tracy had become intrigued. “What?”
Abigail had smiled sheepishly, shrugging. “A Canadian passport.”
Tracy had thrown her pillow at Abigail, but both were laughing.
“So how old did you say you were?”
Tracy was looking around the place, trying to determine how everyone else was faring. The pub that the organizers had booked seemed fairly quiet, likely due to the fact that said organizers had arranged to book the entire place for their allotted time. Abby had explained this was to prevent strangers from entering and disrupting what was a fairly rigid schedule.
It was pretty straightforward. The women stay in their assigned seats, and every seven minutes the men finish up their conversations and rotate around to the next woman in their cue. The idea, (the group had learned through an extensive and wildly boring preamble by one of the organizer’s reps,) was that by the end you wrote down the top three matches you had encountered during the evening. Using some vague algorithm, the organizers, (cleverly named Love At First Sight,) would then perform some technological wizardry and send each participant their top match along with contact info, should they choose to take their newfound love to the next level. At this rate, Tracy imagined this scenario a mathematical impossibility. On the bright side, at least the organizers had had the foresight to hold the event at a bar.
Looking again at her match sheet, Tracy found the name she had already forgotten. “Travis? You know it’s not good to ask a lady her age. Also, you’re aware this speed-dating night was set up specifically for adults aged twenty-seven to thirty-two. So you probably also know I’m somewhere in that range.”
Then, as an afterthought, “Also, I never said how old I was.”
Travis, looking nonplussed, smiled wryly, moving only one side of his mouth. “Playing it close to the vest. I like it.”
Tracy gave the smile of a fox in return. “So. Travis. What is it that you do?”
“Oh, you’ll never guess. I’m a professional DJ.”
“I would have never guessed.”
By her count she still had six minutes left with Travis, so she continued to smile and nod, sipping liberally from her Cosmopolitan. At this rate the cocktail would be done halfway through this session alone.
Across the bar she spotted Abby and her partner. Abby was gesticulating animatedly, forming concentric circles in the air with her hands. Tracy wondered mildly if she was attempting some sort of witchery, fairy-godmothering an archaic love spell on her partner. She giggled in spite of herself.
She found Travis with a quizzical expression which quickly softened into a goofy smile. It as a reaction she feared occurred with alarming regularity “Yeah. I mean, I didn’t think somebody stealing my turn-table was funny at the time. But I guess you’re right. You gotta laugh. Laughter is the, um… It’s the something of the soul. Amiright?”
Mercifully the seven minutes eventually passed, and as Travis stood up to meet his next partner,
Abby hustled quickly to Tracy’s table. In hushed tones, she leaned in. “So?”
Tracy squinted. “So what?”
If Abby could have rolled her eyes any harder, Tracy would have sworn they could dislodge themselves from her sockets like loosened screws. “So? So how’s it going? Met anyone special yet?”
Tracy tried hard not to upset her friend, who was obviously having a better go at this than her. She opened her mouth to say something, shut it, and instead lifted her cocktail glass. She swirled it in the air invitingly.
“Oh come on!” Abby said, smiling. She leaned in closer. “What about that Tim guy? I saw you talking to him. The lawyer. He was really cute.”
Tracy looked around the bar, spotting the fellow she had forgotten was named Tim. “Him? He said he’s in law school, Abs. Not a lawyer.”
Abby shrugged. “So? Same thing, practically. Anyway, I gotta go. Time’s up.”
Before Tracy could say more, Abby was already bustling back to her assigned seat. On the bright side, Tracy estimated that they were through the halfway point of the night. She looked at her dwindling cocktail, sighed, and thanked whatever deities were in charge of such things that at least the booze was in no short supply. She took a deep breath, inwardly steeling herself for her next partner. She looked down, putting her match sheet away, promising to at least try and remember this guy’s name, but when she looked up she saw…
Well, no. Not Captain America.
For starters, his hair was brown, almost black. Not the steel blonde that Steve Rogers was usually depicted as having in the comic books. Secondly, he was of much slighter frame than pretty much every iteration of the Captain America character she knew of. Third, and perhaps most obvious, was the fact that he was completely sans Captain America garb. Nary an indestructible shield in sight. And yet…
It was the eyes. She had seen those eyes before.
“You’re.” It was the only word she could think of saying.
The not-Captain America nodded, frowning. “I’m Greg.”
She took his extended hand and shook it. “I’m Tracy. Look, this is going to sound weird, but were you at Comic-Con a couple of years ago? Dressed as Captain America?”
Greg’s frown deepened. “Yessss… Is this some kind of joke?”
Tracy tried to catch her breath, retain some semblance of composure. Could it possibly be? Was he just yanking her chain, or being polite? She could see both his hands, laying on the table, so at least they weren’t underneath secretly dialing 9-1-1 on his phone. “I… I saw you there. When I was there. A couple of years ago. I just. I mean, I remembered you. It was like, um. You had a really good costume. I thought. I’m sorry. Am I being weird?”
Greg, who had seemed patient the entire time was about to say something, and in that moment Tracy was sure it would be along the lines of, ‘Excuse me, but would it be terribly rude if I ran out the front door and never looked back?’
Instead – miraculously – it was not. “Yeah. And thanks a lot. I put a lot of work into that one. Captain America’s my favourite, you know. But how did you remember? There were at least a dozen other Caps there that day. Some had far better costumes than mine.”
Tracy laughed, a noise that was nervous and hollow, attracting the attention of some of the couples surrounding her. “No, no. I thought it was great. The best, really.”
Greg smiled, something big and beautiful and genuine. “Wow. Thanks a lot. That means a lot. Most people think it’s silly, actually. The costume thing, I mean. Can I ask though; are you a fan of Captain America?”
This time it was Tracy’s turn to smile.