The following story is featured in the collection ROMANCE:  STORIES FROM THE FUTURE OF LOVE - available now at Amazon.

89.9%

by Lauren A. Forry

 

“It’s nothing personal, Devon.”

 She rewound the video and played it again.

“It’s nothing personal, Devon.”

Rewind and play.

“It’s nothing personal, Devon.”

“We’ve been dating for seven years.”

Devon hit pause. “I should have said, ‘How can it not be personal?’ Why didn’t I say that? Why didn’t I say, ‘We’ve been dating for seven years. How can it not be personal?’” She chewed on the peeling hangnail of her index finger. No matter how many times she replayed their last LoveLab chat, she and Chadwick always said the same things. She rewound the video and played it again.

“It’s nothing personal, Devon.”

“We’ve been dating for seven years.” Devon hit pause and added, “How can it not be personal?” She hit play. Chadwick still refused to look at her. The replay flashed the same warning: Compatibility Score – 69.1%. Changing her responses could change nothing in the video. The replay continued.

“Chadwick, sweetie, please…”

Devon groaned into her scarf. Why had she called him sweetie? She hated pet names. He hated pet names. At least this time she could fast-forward through her pathetic speech. She hit play and grabbed her coffee mug. The mug was empty. The video continued.

“…can book a flight.”

“Don’t fly to Portland, Dev.”

“Is the weather bad?”

“Oh my god! What is wrong with you? After everything that happened during this conversation, and you think he doesn’t want you to fly there because the weather is bad? I am such an idiot!” She tried again to drink from the empty mug. There was still no coffee in it. She tossed it beside her on the couch and rewound the video.

This time it refused to play. Devon hit the play button several times, but the picture remained paused – Chadwick in the main window, his face titled down and away, allowing her to see the outline of a single, gorgeous cheekbone; her face crammed into the smaller window, hair disheveled, eyes puffy with tears. She should have put on makeup before she called. At least some concealer to cover that zit. Devon plucked at the zit on her chin and tried again to play the video. The image refused to change.

“LoveLab, is there something wrong with my computer?”

The computerized voice of the Gottman LoveLab Personal Match System spoke out of the app on her phone.

-I have disabled the video feature. This is not a healthy response to the end of your relationship.

“But I need to grieve!”

-Grieving occurs after a death. Who has died? Explain.

“My relationship, LoveLab. My relationship has died. No thanks to you.”

-It is the responsibility of LoveLab to locate the perfect match for its account holders. To find each account holder a soulmate – the fellow account holder who will make one whole for the rest of one’s life. Chadwick Mars was not your soulmate.

“He was until you found him someone better.”

-Yes. Correction. You were not Chadwick Mars’ soulmate.

Devon pulled the pile of blankets over her head, cocooning herself in soft darkness. Afternoon light leaked through the red and yellow knitted fabric. She closed her eyes. Sounds breached the darkness: traffic rumbling on the street below, her upstairs neighbor chasing after his two-year-old. But there were no screens to bother her, no electronic voices from artificial intelligence programs telling her she wasn’t good enough for the person she loved. A few more deep breaths, and she thought she would be able to emerge from her shell. 

-Devon, for how long does grieving last? It is important that you re-register your availability status in case a new soulmate should arise.

She threw off the blankets. “I don’t know. No one has ever broken up with me before. It could take weeks. Months. Years!”

-I do not recommend years. You are already 30 and desire children. The potential for pregnancy problems increases drastically after age 35.

“I don’t need any reminders, thanks.” Devon opened the app and switched off 

LoveLab’s speech function. Her phone landed with a soft thud as she tossed it onto the sofa beside her. It slid and clinked into her empty mug while Chadwick’s cheekbone continued to stare at her from the screen, along with her own puffy eyes. She closed the video, hesitated, then deleted it. Her phone chirped – LoveLab telling her well done, probably, but she refused to look at the message. Instead, she glanced at her watch. Strapped to the same wrist was the purple and orange LoveLab Mood-Tracking wristband Chadwick gave her last Christmas. She removed it and set it on the couch next to her phone. Then she looked at the time – 1:37pm. Half the day gone, spent re-watching last night’s conversation.

    Across the apartment, her untouched work beckoned from her desk – a stack of books on the millennial internet boom needed for the 500-page manuscript on the pre-AI computer age that she was supposed to be copyediting; another pile on designer cats and dogs for the pet manual copyedits that were due by Friday; drafts of the Becky Blair: Lost in Love book series for which she had agreed to ghostwrite. So much work to lose herself in, if only she would leave the couch.

    Devon hugged the blankets one last time then tossed them off her shoulders and transferred herself to her wheelchair. She balanced her MacBook on her lap but left the phone on the couch and wheeled across the parquet floor. After depositing the laptop onto her desk, she rolled into the kitchen to make a fresh cup of instant coffee. Remembering how much work she had to do, she decided to make an entire pot instead. She set the peppermint mocha creamer on the counter then wheeled back to her desk as the coffee brewed.

    She meant to immediately open the pet manual document but froze when she saw the LoveLab homepage still on the screen. LoveLab had sent her a message: Should I search for new soulmates now?

    How would Chadwick feel if she found a 97.7% match and married next week, too? Her spite vanished quickly, replaced by the urge to again hide under the blankets. Chadwick had been her highest match ever and, even at their best, they had only managed an 85.7%. LoveLab’s question remained on the screen. Devon closed the browser then disconnected the computer from the internet. Back on the couch, her phone chirped, but she ignored it and opened the pet manual. Pets were great. Who didn’t love pets? For the next several hours, all Devon wanted to think about were pets and coffee and the surprising amount of hatred that could spring up inside someone when there had been no such feeling there before.

 

The deadlines had passed. The work was in. New jobs arrived in her inbox. A new month had begun, yet the hatred remained, although Devon directed it more towards herself now. She poked her pad thai around on the plate, glancing now and then at the LoveLab messages popping up on her phone. Bella set a bottle of beer on the kitchen table in front of Devon’s plate then plopped in her chair, already texting away.

    “I don’t like beer.”

    “Try it. It’s a specialty brand from a brewery in Brooklyn. It’s got orange and spices in it.”

    “What kinds of spices?”

    “I don’t know.”

Devon reached for the bottle. “Lover’s Tiff?”

“I thought it would be ironic.” Bella stabbed a dumpling with a chopstick and ate it one-handed while scrolling through her phone. Devon sipped the beer. All she could taste was hops.

“Delicious.”

“Liar.” Bella attacked another dumpling, though never removed her eyes from her phone. “Have you found any new soulmates yet?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t logged on.”

Bella finally looked at her. “It’s been three weeks.”

“I know.”

“Are you even wearing your mood-tracker?”

“Well, I…”

“How can you get accurate results if you’re not recording as much data as you can? Hello?”

“Chadwick thought…”

“Chadwick didn’t believe you were a paraplegic.” Bella dropped her phone on the table then went and grabbed Devon’s laptop off the desk. “If LoveLab can’t learn about you, then it can’t find your soulmate.”

“You’re not on it for a real soulmate.”

“I’m not as emotionally dependent as you, Becky Blair.” She set the computer on the table, facing Devon.

“The series existed before I wrote for it.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you don’t like it.” Bella clapped her hands. “Come on. Log in. Chop chop.”

She did so while Bella returned to murdering dumplings and texting. 

“Why don’t I hear LoveLab?” Bella asked.

    “I turned off speech.”

    “Well turn it back on. How am I supposed to know what’s happening?”

    Devon returned the app to its standard settings while LoveLab scanned the database for potential soulmates. The best it could do was 76.7% with an unemployed ex-hedge fund manager from Long Island. 

Bella pointed a chopstick at her. “That’s because you haven’t been recording any data.”

-Perhaps you should consider widening your parameters. You could change your stance on smoking or quinoa.

    “I shouldn’t have to change anything.”

-Inflexibility will only lower your overall compatibility score.

    Bella laughed.    

“Don’t get sassy with me.”

-Sassy? Explain.

    “Never mind.” Devon returned the laptop to the table and continued poking at her food.

    “Oh don’t be so mopey. Once LoveLab records fresh data, it’ll find you a better soulmate.”

    “Why do I need a better soulmate? Why do I need LoveLab at all? Why can’t I just find someone the old-fashioned way?”

    “And where exactly are you going to meet someone?” Bella started counting on her fingers. “You’re a freelancer who works from home, bars give you anxiety, and your only friend – me – doesn’t know any currently available men she thinks would be good for you.”

    Devon shoved noodles into her mouth and, therefore, didn’t have to answer.

    “This is why online dating was invented in the first place. To help people connect. But instead of cavemen-era algorithms, there are artificial intelligence programs that learn all about you to find you the best match.”

    Devon, still chewing, said, “And what if all LoveLab learns is that I don’t have a soulmate? That there is no one I’m meant to be with?” She exchanged her chopsticks for the beer. She was being silly and dramatic but couldn’t help it. She blamed it on being a middle child. And the Thai food. As she chugged the beer, Bella reached across and took back the MacBook.

    “What’s this?” she asked after a few seconds.

    “I can’t see.”

    “It’s a private message from a year ago.” She handed the computer to Devon. An unread message sat in her inbox.

    “I had my privacy settings set so that I wouldn’t see anyone who wasn’t scored a 90% or higher.”

    “Why?”

    “I wanted to be faithful to Chadwick.”

    Bella threw up her hands. “Oh my god.”

    “Look. I’m reading it now.” She first reviewed his profile, out loud for Bella’s benefit.

Trevor Rhodes – age 32. His profile picture portrayed a slim man with dark brown hair that could use a trim, dark brown eyes, and a lopsided, nervous smile. Occupation: Account Manager at United Aetna Health Insurance. Hobbies: hiking, watching old horror movies, drinking coffee, Netflix marathons. Loves: dogs, mountain views, coffee, doing anything not related to health insurance. Hates: anything to do with health insurance (Devon laughed), cats, romantic comedies, loneliness. Compatibility score: 89.9%.

    “So what does his message say?” Bella asked.

    “Uhm, it says, ‘Hey, I’m not really sure how this works. I’ve never done online dating before, but I live in New York, too. If you see this, and are, I guess, interested, would you like to get coffee sometime? Signed, Trevor.” She re-read the message. “He asked for coffee. Not drinks. Coffee!”    

    “Which means no anxiety-riddled bars,” Bella smiled.

    Devon read the message a third time and gasped. “He used proper grammar and punctuation for the entire message. There’s not a single typo!” She gasped again. “Our score jumped to 90.3%.”

    “Why are you two not married? Reply to his message now.”

    “But he sent this a year ago.”

    “Now.”

    “But…”

    Bella held up her hand and silenced her. 

The reply took a half hour to compose. Once Bella approved it and Devon hit send, Devon had a second to smile before all hope was once again lost.

-Error. User unavailable.

    She slumped in her chair. “Why did I bother?”

    Bella grabbed Devon’s phone. “LoveLab, is user married?”

-Negative.

    “Is user in a relationship with a 90% or higher match?

-Negative.

    “Then why is user unavailable?”

    The program thought for a second before responding. 

-The account is temporarily inactive.

    “Why?”

-Reason unknown.

    Devon took back her phone. “It was stupid, anyway. I shouldn’t have gotten so excited to begin with.”

    “You also shouldn’t have dated Chadwick for seven years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fix your mistakes – 19 East 47th Street.”

    “What?”

    “Nineteen East 47th Street. That’s where you’re going tomorrow.”

    “I’m not going to a bar, Bella.”

    “It’s not a bar. It’s the United Aetna offices. And you’re going to go there, find Trevor Rhodes, and say hi.”    

 

Employees passed in and out the revolving door of the glass skyscraper on East 47th Street. Most wore discrete LoveLab wristbands in black or silver or white, making Devon self-conscious about her purple and orange monstrosity. As she sat at the corner of the pavement besides a decorative plant in a large concrete pot, she pulled down her shirt sleeve to hide her mood-tracker. Plenty of excuses ran through her mind as to why she should turn around and the voices were convincing enough that she pulled out her phone to text Bella and admit defeat. Bella had already sent her a message: Just say hi. Devon waited for a lull in foot traffic then wheeled into the lobby.

    The front desk was so tall that she waited for several minutes before the receptionist noticed her. The overly apologetic woman immediately granted her a guest pass.

    “Trevor Rhodes? Yes, that would be personal accounts. Twenty-fifth floor. Here’s your pass. And again, I am so, so sorry. Let me know if there is anything else I can do for you. Do you need help getting to the elevator?”

    Devon kindly waved her off but was unable to shake her until the elevator doors slid shut. As the car rose, Devon bopped along to the music, a Taylor Swift oldie, to keep her anxiety low. She sang along to the tune, making up her own lyrics: “Just say hi. Just say hi.” If she thought about what she was doing, she might stay on the elevator, let the doors close, and ride it all the way back down to the lobby. She changed the lyrics to her song: “Ding and exit. Ding and exit.”

    The elevator dinged. She paused. The doors started to close. She wheeled herself forward in time for them to reopen. Then, stuck on the 25th Floor, she didn’t know what to do. Rows of gray cubicles filled the open floorplan office. Employees on headsets video-chatted with people she assumed were customers whose faces filled the screens, making their heads appear box-shaped. Just say hi, she repeated in her head. Just say hi.She rolled down the aisle, staring at the computer faces. Some cried, others shouted, a few even smiled. The employees, most of whom were women, chatted softly in soothing, agreeable tones. Of the men she did see, none resembled Trevor Rhodes.

    Devon began to panic. This was stupid. Bella’s ideas were stupid. Why had she listened to her? That was it. She would do away with friends. No friends, no boyfriends. She would become a hermit in the Scottish Highlands with only a small dog, a 12-cup coffeemaker, and knitted blankets for comfort. She would live off the land and the kindness of sheep farmers she met at the local pub. Devon wheeled towards the elevators as quickly as she could, focusing on her plan while ignoring the impracticalities of a wheelchair-bound person living in the Highlands. However, the carpeted floor made it harder to roll and, before she could make her escape, a woman in a tailored pinstriped suit cornered her. 

    “Are you lost?”

    She could say she had the wrong floor. She could say…“Highlands…” She coughed. “…lookforTrevRhodes?”

    “I’m sorry? I couldn’t quite hear you.”

    “I’m looking for Trevor Rhodes?”

    “Trevor’s not here. But maybe I can help.” She held out her hand “Sharisse Black. I’m the manager for the personal accounts division.”

    Devon shook her hand. It was firm, intimidating. “Devon Reggio. I wanted to speak to Trevor Rhodes.”

    “Yes. He’s not here?”

    “Yes. You said that.” She felt her face flushing. “I should…”

    “Lucille! No personal phones on duty.” Ms. Black swiped a phone out of an employee’s hand. “You’ll get this back at the end of the day. Ms. Reggio, why don’t we speak in my office?”

    Devon felt as if she were being sent to the principal’s office as Ms. Black escorted her to a small corner room that had the view of another office building, a feeling intensified when Ms. Black shut the door behind them. She dropped the confiscated phone in a drawer then folded her hands and smiled at Devon. 

    “What can we do for you, Ms. Reggio?”

    Binders filled the shelves in the office. Devon stared at a pile of paper on the desk and said the first thing she could think of. “I’m a copyeditor.”

    “Oh, wonderful. Did Trevor contact you? Most of our publications are handled in-house, but we were looking to outsource a few assignments to help with the backlog.”

    “He did contact me. But, uhm, not about work.” Why did she say that? Why hadn’t she joined the improv team in college? She kept fidgeting with her hands and tucked her hair behind her ear, accidentally exposing her wristband. She dropped her hands immediately, but Ms. Black had seen. The woman straightened up in her chair, her face an unreadable mask.

    “Do you know how I became a manager, Ms. Reggio?”

    Devon had no idea. She had never met her before.

    “I know how to keep my professional and personal lives separate. I hate office romances, despise corporate affairs, and…” She leaned forward. “I loathe online dating.”

    Devon decided now was as good a time as any to die. As Ms. Black rose from her desk, Devon wondered if she was to be thrown from the window or out the door, but the manager returned after retrieving a tablet from a shelf. She tapped on the touchscreen without looking at Devon. 

    “Trevor is one of the best employees I’ve had in this department. He once convinced my supervisor to increase the coverage for a 42-year-old mother of three with breast cancer so that she would pay less out of pocket for her treatments. There are not many people in that room that would even try to do that. Let alone succeed. He is also a very private person and I respect my employees’ privacy.” She said the word privacy the way a doctor would mention cancer. Ms. Black set the tablet aside. “That you would come to meet him in person as opposed to communicating on social media speaks volumes to your character, Ms. Reggio.” 

    The smile she gave could either have meant she approved of Devon or had decided to have take-out for lunch.

“Mr. Rhodes has taken a leave of absence. I’m afraid I can’t say more than that.”

    There was a knock on the door. A Nordic-looking man with a fashionable haircut that would be out of date next week entered. “You wanted to see me, Sharisse?”

    “Blaize, this is Ms. Reggio. She might be doing some copyediting work for us in the future. Ms. Reggio, this is Blaize, a friend of Trevor’s.” She winked at Devon. “He’ll see you out.” 

    Devon caught on a belated second later. “Oh. Oh! Right. Thank you.”

    Devon followed Blaize out of the room, trying to process her odd conversation with Ms. Black while figuring out what to ask Blaize. He walked with his hands in his pockets, looking at every screen he passed, as if unable to bear looking at anything in three-dimensions. She rolled slightly behind him, the aisle too narrow for two people, let alone a person and a wheelchair, to walk side by side.

    “So, you’re friends with Trevor?”

    “Uh, yeah. We’ve hung out a few times.” He craned his neck to look at a co-worker’s computer screen. 

    “Ms. Black said he was on a leave of absence.”

    “Yeah, his mom’s sick or something. Here’s the elevator.” He pressed the button then looked up at the flat-screen TV mounted above that was broadcasting the news.

    “Do you know how I can reach him?”

    “Hm? Oh, I don’t have his number or anything.”

    “Maybe an email or…”

    The elevator dinged and its doors opened. Blaize continued watching the TV. “We’re all going out tonight for drinks. Somebody else might know something. Ninth Ward downtown at, like, seven.”

    Devon thanked him and wheeled into the elevator. The doors closed with Blaize fixated on the television and Devon not knowing what Ninth Ward was. She googled it on her phone.

    “Oh no.”

    She bypassed the receptionist and called Bella as soon as she left the building. “Cancel whatever plans you have tonight. I have to go to a bar and I need to come with me so I don’t throw up.”

 

Eight hours later, Devon sat at a table in the back corner of a bar called Ninth Ward with Bella, a guy named Cole obsessed with the amounts of likes on his Instagram pics, and Nordic Blaize who kept taking selfies and texting them to Bella, who would then text him a thumbs up or thumbs down emoji. Devon kept her phone in her purse. It had been five minutes, and she wanted to die or at least run away. Blaize said he would introduce her to other coworkers who knew Trevor but so far had only introduced Cole, whom she wasn’t sure could speak.

    Even with Bella beside her, Devon’s anxiety chipped away at her resolve. The bar was crowded, and the lights were dimmed, making it difficult to see. The air felt very thin, like there wasn’t enough for everyone and soon people would be fighting for breathing space. Devon’s mouth went dry and she reached for her drink as soon as it was placed on the table. Cole waved her hand away.

    “Wait. I’ve got the perfect filter for this.” He stood on the seat and held his phone above their clustered drinks for an aerial shot. It took him five tries to get the one he wanted. “This is going to get me major points with Elsa.”

    “Dude, are you still trying with her?” Blaize positioned himself for another selfie.

    “If I get our score to 79%, she promised a video chat.”

    Bella zoomed in on Blaize’s most recent picture. “No, that one sucks. Delete that.”

    Blaize did.

    “Cole, you realize you’ll never get to 79%?” Bella asked. She could already speak to him as if they’d known each other for years. Devon chewed on her drink stirrer.

    “You don’t even know who Elsa is.”

    “I don’t have to. I literally invented that trick. You tell a guy a certain percent then, when it gets close, you just do something he hates. It brings the score right down and keeps pervs like you off my back.”

    “I’m not a perv. Wait. Sixty-eight? We were at seventy-four two minutes ago.”

    Bella laughed. “Told you. LoveLab even does it for me now when it knows I don’t like a guy. Thank you, artificial intelligence.” She nudged Devon. “Drink faster. It’ll loosen you up.”

    “I don’t want to loosen up. If I get any looser, all my insides are going to loose out of my mouth.”

    Bella waited until Devon relented and took a hefty sip, then she turned to Cole. “So tell us about Trevor.”

Devon covered her mouth and burped. It tasted like lemon-lime vomit. 

    “He’s kinda weird.” Cole lifted his phone to photograph a prop pirate’s hat hanging on the wall. Bella nodded as if she’d known all along.

    “What do you mean weird?” Devon asked.

    “Oh, you know,” Blaize said. “He’s like never online.”

    “Never responds to anything I post,” Cole added.

    “That’s because he has no online profiles. Dude even calls instead of texts.” Blaize posed for another selfie.

    Bella reached across for his phone. “Here, let me.”

    Cole tried to take a panorama of the bar. “Grayson hangs out with him a lot, I think. He’s into books, isn’t he?”

    “I don’t know.” Blaize pouted at Bella. “Just take it already.”

    “I’ll take it when you look good.”

    Books. Devon could talk books. She leaned in towards Cole. “What books did he like?”

    Blaize tossed back his hair. “Forget that. I have Photoshop. Just make sure the lighting’s good.”

    “There was this one book he liked.” Cole lowered his phone. “It was in hardcover and had this weird writing in it and stuff. Let me ask Grayson.” He sent a text. A phone on the table behind them buzzed. Devon heard the person sitting there pick up the phone and respond. Cole’s phone beeped.

    “Grayson said it’s called S.

    Devon bumped the table in her excitement, rattling their glasses. No one noticed. “Oh my god. I love that book! It’s a classic. I had to buy a second copy because I wore out my first one.”

    “That’s perfect,” Blaize said.

    “I know, right?” Devon blushed when she realized he was referring to a picture Bella took.

    Bella sipped her drink. “I told you I’m good.”

    Devon drank more, this time swallowing her burp, and spoke louder than she needed to be heard. “So, do you guys know where he’s from?”

    Devon waited. Blaize, Cole, and Bella silently typed on their phones. Without looking up, Bella kicked Blaize under the table.

    “Ow. What? Oh. He went to his Mom’s. Let me ask Grayson.” He sent a text. Again the phone behind Devon buzzed, and Blaize had his answer. “Portland.”

    “Portland?” Devon and Bella shouted at once. Bella even looked up from her phone.

    “What’s wrong with Portland?” asked Blaize. Devon finished off her drink.

    “Everything,” Bella answered. “Everything is wrong with Portland.”

    “Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine?” Cole photographed their empty glasses.

    “Let me check.”

    As Blaize was texting, Devon turned and tapped Grayson on the shoulder. “Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine?”

    Grayson stared at her blankly until his phone buzzed. “Oh, Maine.” He spotted Bella and smiled. “Hey.”

    “No.” Bella returned to her phone. “I still think it’s a bad omen.”

    “It’s a totally different state.”

    “It’s on a coast, has beautiful scenery and terrible weather. They’re the same. No good ever came from a guy in touch with his ‘natural’ side. Look at Chadwick.”

    “Chadwick was different.”

    “Chadwick was an 85% match with you for most of your twenties. I think we should question anyone who’s compatible with you. Who wants another round?”

    The boys raised their glasses.

    Devon released her brakes. “I’ll get it.”

    “Don’t worry about it, Dev. I’ll text the bar.” She started typing.

    “No, that’s okay. I don’t mind.” She wheeled up to the bar to place their order then maneuvered her way outside, parking out of the way of pedestrians. Then, she closed her eyes and let the air fill up her lungs, releasing the tension that had started to trap her. Her wristband had been recording her emotions all evening, and high levels of anxiety would bring their score down. She knew that. It always had with Chadwick. Unable to return inside without checking, she pulled out her phone and signed into LoveLab. 

    Bella came up beside her. “Hey, you okay?”

    Devon nodded.

    “I got Trevor’s full address from Grayson. I’m sending it to you now, so don’t worry about going back in there if you don’t want to. The only email anyone had was his work email, but it’s something. Devon, what is it?”

    She showed Bella her and Trevor’s current compatibility score: 96.1%.

 

Devon’s coffee grew cold as she finished her latest message to Trevor.

    …ready to go to Portland, yet. I have complicated feelings about cities named Portland, but I won’t go into that. I did try your work email a few times, but I kept getting your out-of-office reply. I don’t know why it feels so important to talk to you, but it does. I think it’s easy to write this because I know you’re not reading these messages. I bet you thought I sounded so formal in those emails, though, if you read them. I also feel the need to add that I’m not a stalker…

    Her computer beeped with an incoming call. A pang of anxiety stabbed her chest, and she held her breath, thinking it was Trevor. Then she read the name of the caller. She answered out of habit.

    “What do you want, Chadwick?”

    He looked tired and sad, but smiled when he saw her, the smile she now recognized as his trying-to-care smile. Devon did not smile. Devon was so far from smiling, she was beyond frowning.

    “Hey, sweetie! God, I’ve missed you so much.”

    “Well, I hope your wife knows how much you miss me.”

    “Oh…yeah…that.” Chadwick chewed on his lower lip. Devon didn’t need LoveLab to tell her he felt guilty. “The marriage didn’t work out. Turns out there was a glitch in the system and we were actually only 79% compatible. We had the marriage annulled as soon as we found out. But you, how are you, sweetie?”

    Devon crossed her arms. “I’ve been fine.”

    “That’s great! Really great. Hey, look, so I was wondering how you might feel about meeting up. Like, really meeting up. I thought I could fly to New York…”

    “You want to come here?”

    “Yeah! I thought it’s time, right? And I have some time off work, and…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I moved in with Wynter when we got married, but I had to move out, you know. And my parents said I can’t stay with them anymore, so I thought, why not see how I like New York? I mean, we’ve been together, like six or seven years. We should probably meet in person, you know?” He smiled and waited for Devon’s response.

    Devon could see herself in the small window – the pursed lips and creased brow. Even with a webcam and no makeup, she thought her skin looked great today. Better than Chadwick with his wavering smile and cutting cheekbones that deserved to be filed down a shade.

    “Devon?”

    “Do you remember what happened when I flew to Portland?”

    Chadwick’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed.

    “I guess it might be hard for you to remember since you weren’t there. You might not remember that I waited five hours for you at the Portland Airport arrivals hall food court with an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and a venti Starbucks thinking you had been killed in a car accident because you wouldn’t respond to any of my messages, so I had to call your parents – totally hyped up on cinnamon sugar and espresso – only to be told that you were somewhere in the Yukon on a spirit quest, even though we had decided on that date together, and also that your parents had no idea who I was or why I was in Portland.”

    He chewed on his lower lip. “My parents are sensitive. I didn’t want to introduce you too soon.”

    “We had been together three years.”

    “And I didn’t think it was that big a deal. You stayed with me for another four.”

    “Yeah. I did. Which is why I know better now.” She ended the call. Chadwick immediately tried to call her back, but she hit ignore then signed off video chat.

    “LoveLab? I’m granting you permission to access all my devices and online accounts. Block any incoming messages, texts, phone calls, whatever, from Chadwick Mars.”

-You two remain an 81% match. Explain.

    “I’m done grieving.” She called Bella and left a voicemail. “Hey, I wanted to let you know I haven’t been murdered. I’m just going to Portland for a few days. I’ll see you when I get back.” She hung up then redialed. “Maine. Not Oregon.”

 

Devon drove north, still not entirely sure why she was doing so. Trevor never responded to any of her messages, and she had failed to find any other contact information for him. She hoped he hadn’t joined one of those anti-technology cults she’d heard about on Nightline. No, she thought, he was just private. But was he? How did she know? She could count every fact she knew about Trevor Rhodes on one hand. 

As she crossed the border into Maine, she decided it didn’t matter. All she wanted was to say hi. Not even hello. Just hi. And, if that’s all Trevor said to her, that would be fine. If they had a longer conversation, she would be fine. That one syllable, that was all she wanted, and she could return to New York a happy woman. Maybe a different woman. A different woman whose anxieties didn’t hover so close to the surface.

    “I’m doing the right thing, aren’t I LoveLab?”

-You are following your heart and taking a chance. This act will have no negative consequences so long as you do not ignore your work for too long. You still need to eat and pay the maintenance fees on your apartment.

    “Realistic. I like that, LoveLab.”

-I know. I learned so from your past actions. This act may fail. It may also help you find your soulmate. The perfect match who will make you whole the rest of your life.

    “Where did you learn that, LoveLab?” 

-After reviewing the data, I summarized every account holder’s thoughts on the most basic definition of love. No one has yet to contradict me.

    Devon considered. “Sounds good enough to me.”

    She reached the town of Shaded Brook in the late afternoon. After checking into the Holiday Inn Express, she changed clothes and fixed her hair and makeup. Google Maps located Trevor’s mother’s home – only a 15 minute stroll from the hotel. The day was beautiful, and there appeared to be plenty of flat sidewalks, so she left her car at the hotel. Without it, it would be harder for her to run away.

    “I will not be like Chadwick. I will not be like Chadwick. I will not be like Chadwick.” She repeated the mantra as she wheeled through the suburban town of neat houses and well-trimmed lawns. A light breeze cooled her flushed skin and carried the smell of honeysuckle.

-You are nothing like Chadwick. You and Chadwick possess only a 7% compatibility score, which is due to your mutual love for soft cheeses.

    “Thanks.”

    On the sidewalk outside #17 Maple Drive, Devon said goodbye to LoveLab and turned off her phone. She wondered how she would get to the front door when she saw a ramp. Of course. With his mother ill, they would have needed to make her house handicapped-accessible. She wheeled up onto the porch and knocked on the door. Just say hi, she thought. 

A kind-looking older woman in mom jeans and a red plaid shirt opened the door. “Hello, can I help you?”

    “Yes, I’m looking for Trevor Rhodes? I was told he was staying at this address.”

    The woman smiled, but it was the kind of smile that made tears come to her eyes. A smile that foretold bad news and should not be called a smile at all. A smile that matched the one in the online photograph Devon had stared at so much over the past several weeks.

    “Oh, I’m so sorry,” the woman said.

    Devon gripped her wheels to keep her hands from shaking. “I can come back another time that might be better for him.” Like asking Chadwick if she couldn’t fly because the weather was bad, she knew this was a stupid thing to say even as she said it.

    “The funeral was last month. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know Trevor had told anyone outside of town that he was ill. I would have let you known.” 

    Devon didn’t know what to do. She wanted to explain that all she wanted was to say hi. See him once and say hi, but she didn’t know how to explain it. No words would come. The woman took Devon’s hands.

    “Would you like to see where he’s buried?”

    Devon could only nod. 

The woman drove her to the cemetery in an old Jeep Cherokee. Devon wondered how many times Trevor had been in this car, when the last time he sat in this seat was. She didn’t know how long the drive took. Only that they had arrived and his mother had turned off the car. She unloaded Devon’s wheelchair for her. Devon saw herself getting out of the car and rolling to the grave but felt nothing. She couldn’t tell if the air was cold or the sun was warm. She found Trevor just where his mother said he would be – halfway down the path in the second row. The gray headstone was in place, but grass had yet to grow over the brown mound of disturbed earth. His picture decorated the gravestone, one different than his profile pic, the second photo she had ever seen of him. He looked very handsome. She stood there a few minutes before she turned on her phone and told LoveLab what had happened.

-I am sorry, Devon. I will delete his account immediately and look for another soulmate for you. I am sure I will find another who can be your perfect match and will make you whole for the rest of your life.

The numbness faded away, melted by the hot tears stinging her eyes.

“It doesn’t work like that.”

-Explain.

“You can’t just look at a bunch of data and decide if two people belong together. It’s more than that.”

-Explain.

“I can’t.” 

She turned off her phone and stuck it in her purse along with her wristband. The tears continued to fall but she wiped them away, feeling her mascara running beneath her fingertips. Then she straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath.

“Hi.”

 

Lauren A. Forry was brought up in the woods of Bucks County, Pennsylvania where her FBI agent father and book-loving mother raised her on a diet of The X-Files and RL Stine. After earning her BA in Cinema Studies from New York University, she moved to London where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Kingston University. There she was awarded the Faber and Faber Creative Writing MA Prize for her first horror novel, The Compulsion. Her short stories have since appeared in multiple sci-fi and horror anthologies. She currently resides somewhere in the woods.