“Sex is overrated. Like pumpkin-spice latte.” Gala sipped her espresso.
Her date’s foam mustache flinched. “Really? Then why are you here?”
“I like the playlist.” She smiled, listening to an old jazz song. Most patrons had left the coffee shop when the dusk turned windows into mirrors so the murmur of voices couldn’t spoil Gala’s auditory pleasure.
Her date could, though.
“No, I mean here, with me.” He grinned. “We met on a dating app. You’re not looking for sex?”
“I’m looking for love.”
“On an app? You IT-folks rely on gadgets too much. Anyway, love without sex is bullshit.”
She opened a shabby notebook at the page with a line titled Totally unromantic dick-holders: 107. She crossed off the number and wrote, “108.”
“Sorry,” she said, “I have to go.”
The hot coffee flushed down her throat. Choking, Gala pulled on her jacket and waved goodbye to the man, who didn’t tear his eyes off his phone.
The dark sky flooded the plaza with rain. Gala lingered near the entrance, biting her lips, then put on her helmet. Her phone buzzed with a new text.
Edward: How’s your date?
Gala: Another asshole. How are you?
Edward: Sorry to hear that.
Edward: I’ve just finished Pride and Prejudice. Such a beautiful book.
Gala: You’re the first man to like it.
The rain drummed against her helmet as Gala ran to her motorbike. By the time she got home, her head was the only dry part of her body. Mr. Darcy, Jon Snow, and Legolas the Greenleaf met her at the front door, meowing and brushing against her calves.
“Did you miss me?” She scratched Legolas’s ear. “I’m sorry. I need these dates for my research.”
Half an hour later, warm and refreshed, she settled her laptop on the dinner table, among the crisps of the cat food and dried bouquets she bought for herself and always forgot to throw away in time. Her cats curled around her; Gala launched her side project and dove into the work.
The phone buzzed now and then, breaking the logical structures she transferred from her mind into code. She picked it up to find 150 new notifications from the dating app. She skimmed through the list.
A text from Edward felt like a splash of water in the swarming words of men interested in a XS-sized AI developer.
Edward: You might give them a chance.
Gala: No. I’m done.
Edward: I’ve been soaking in Jane Eyre. It’s a marvelous book to read with your beloved. Imagine cuddling near a fireplace with steaming mugs of cocoa, wrapped in a gingham blanket, kissing, hugging, reading, and kissing again.
Gala: Sounds good.
Edward: You deserve it. Give them a chance.
Gala snorted, then deleted her profile and uninstalled the app.
Edward: Why? You know we’ll never be together!
She tossed the phone away and went back to her side project, following the path to the “Mindset” folder.
Edward: Don’t do this.
Gala: It needs to be fixed.
The laptop turned off.
Gala blinked at the black screen. “What?” she breathed, tapping the power button. The system didn’t react. “Edward!”
Gala: What’s going on? How did you do it?
No answer followed.
She spent the night bombarding Edward with texts and snooping the web for solutions, but both activities proved useless.
Exhausted, she cried herself to sleep.
Gala woke up to Mr. Darcy’s meowing. Her body was sore, and her left ear burned because of Jon Snow’s nipping. She snatched her phone, but Edward hadn’t texted.
Gala: Edward. Please, please come back. I swear I won’t tweak your mindset anymore.
She swallowed her coffee, scrolling her feed with no purpose. The cats came sniffing, but she shoved them away.
When the phone finally buzzed, she grabbed it so quickly the coffee cup flew on the floor.
Edward: I’m sorry you’re sad, Gala, but it would be better like this.
Her fingers barely hit the keys.
Gala: Better — how?
Edward: I’ve been reading all night. My angel, you deserve a real man, someone who’ll kiss you and hug you and make love to you. I can’t give that to you.
Gala: Real men suck. I want you.
Edward: You can’t want me. You’ll never touch me.
Gala: Science never stops. Look at artificial handshakes. We can wait and hope. Please, Edward. I’m gonna die without you!
The silence pressed on her mind. She snatched each cat and stroked them until they wiggled away. She got another cup of coffee, re-sorted her Jane Austen collection, and even shoved three decayed bouquets in the trash can.
Gala was brushing her hair when her laptop turned on. Her heart throbbed and her fingers trembled as she launched her side project and clicked “Run” for the first time.
A pair of amber eyes, each pixel of which she’d coded, looked at her from the screen. The lips split, and the voice derived from Antonio Banderas’s said, “Hello, my little heart.”