Originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction
Ben sat at the bar, eyes drifting drunkenly across couples sitting at darkened booths. Odds flicked through his head, some more rapidly than others, and numbers practically overlaid the couples he watched. He took another sip of bourbon, hoping to burn them away.
The bartender tipped his head toward him, the question plain. Ben raised a finger and nodded. Another glass of the cheap, honey-colored bourbon appeared, neat. No use watering it down.
The door behind him opened in a gust of cold before slamming shut again. Someone smelling of snow and perfume slipped onto the stool alongside him. Straight, dark hair pulled severely behind her head. Serious eyes fixed directly ahead of her. A laminated badge hung from her neck, hanging over a turtleneck.
No odds appeared. Still single, then.
The bartender eventually made his way over to her. She said something too quietly for Ben to hear and the bartender smiled before sliding off and grabbing a glass from a higher shelf.
The woman wiped a hand across her head. A spray of melted snow struck him and he turned to glare at her.
She shrugged. Damn snow. She blinked as recognition came to her face.
Ben looked away. The bartender had set his drink down in front of him. It seemed to have less booze than the last one.
Youre him, right?
A dry smile parted her lips as her drink arrived, a glass of red wine. Him. The Matchmaker.
Ben narrowed his eyes. Had he missed the odds overlying her? But nohe saw nothing. Cant help you.
She turned fully toward him, resting an elbow on the bar. Her face had relaxed since she came in. I saw your billboard. I know youre him.
Ben grunted. Damn thing should have been torn down years ago. Now it was another reminder of what he had been, what he hated. Might have been, once. Odds appeared at the edge of his vision over the couples around the bar, different than the last time hed looked. They always shifted, rarely quickly. Another drink and they finally began to fade.
I used to see signs for you all over the city. She leaned toward him now. Her drink cupped in one hand and her other almost brushed his arm. You claimed to do better than all the online sites.
He shrugged and took another drink. Guess not. What did it matter what hed once been?
So how does it work?
Ben swallowed. His vision began to blur. How does what work?
She laughed lightly and sipped her drink, staining her lips red. Your ability.
Hed explained it enough times he no longer needed to be sober. Not much different than the algorithms computers use, he started. It was like that, only it wasnt. How did he explain the numbers that flashed when he saw compatible couples, almost as if Cupid were gifting him with knowledge? He couldnt explain the odds by what he could actually see; numbers flashed in his mind even blindfolded. It was his curse.
Wish Id met you a year ago. I spent six months learning what a bastard he was.
Ben grunted and finished his drink. He looked for the bartender but he wouldnt meet his eyes. Ben understood. Time for him to go.
He pushed off the stool and wobbled, starting toward the door. He didnt remember falling.
Ben blinked his eyes open slowly. Too-bright light burned through an open window he didnt recognize. He didnt recognize the color of the walls either.
Ben turned and saw a woman sitting next to the bed. An angry scar lined her neck. Dark hair hung around her head. Gentle eyes looked at him.
Where am I?
She laughed. You could barely walk. I couldnt just let you go like that.
He looked down, afraid hed find his clothes missingit wouldnt be the first timebut was fully dressed.
She laughed again. How many did you have last night?
Not enough. Not nearly enough.
He shook his head. She wouldnt understand if he told her. How to explain how he drank to blur the odds he saw? That if he had enough to drink, he might slow his mind enough that he stopped seeing them?
I used to see your ads all the time. What changed?
Ben pushed up. The bed was comfortable. He couldnt let himself get used to that. Nothing changed.
Just dont like doing it?
She pointed toward her neck. Is this?
In spite of himself, he sighed and smiled. Thanks for letting me
She laughed. If I left you last night, you wouldve collapsed in the snow. Wouldnt last thirty minutes like that. Ben noticed her eggplant colored nursing scrubs. Ive got to get to work but would love to hear your story. Bet lots of folks still want your help.
Ben laughed bitterly. Help? No one wants the truth. They only want to hear how everything will work out.
And you cant tell them it will?
He sat on the edge of the bed. Not when the odds tell me it wont. Too many times being right taught him that lesson all too well.
The woman laughed. Thats all you got? Odds? I see things every day that shouldnt happen. Hell, I shouldnt even be here if I listened to the odds.
Ben looked at the scar in a new light.
Listen. Stay here and rest. Maybe when I get off, we can get something to eat, odds be damned.
The woman stood and left.
He waited until the door closed to get up and follow her out. He stared after her as she disappeared up the street, considering her offer. Faint odds slowly appeared overtop of her.
Ben hesitated. The odds werent bad, not like most he saw, but not at all certain.
The woman glanced back and saw him watching. She smiled and waved.
He almost turned and walked the other way. Almost.
Odds be damned, he decided, and started after her.