The Dating Plan by Sara Desai



• 1 •


            DAISY Patel had no issues with besotted lovers hiding away in a toilet cubicle for a little covert tongue gymnastics. For the most part, technology conferences were stressful and boring, and if someone could find a little lip loving between networking, speakers, and seminars, she didn’t begrudge them their happiness.

            In this case, however, the gold medal winner of the twist ’n’ tangle in the women’s restroom at the Oakland Convention Center happened to be her ex-boyfriend, Orson Fisk.

            And the woman in his arms was her former boss, Madison Montgomery, CEO of Activize LLC.

            “Ahem.” Her attempt to draw their attention fell on deaf ears. Or maybe they didn’t care. Maybe Orson had been bespelled, and when he was finally released from Madison’s clutches, he would realize he’d made a mistake breaking up with a neurotic software engineer and her pakora-loving pup. Daisy and Max came as a package; dog haters be warned.

            Curiously numb at the sight of her ex wrapped around her old boss like the most tenacious of invasive species—she’d caught a glimpse of them in the mirror before they’d closed the stall door— Daisy slid a quarter into the disposable menstrual product dispenser.

            She’d been under no illusions when Orson had asked her out after they’d met in a Developer Week hack-a-thon in Oakland, California. Clearly he was desperate for a hookup. After all, not many men were interested in a woman who lived by plans and quantifiable results and could do one compile a day in C++ in a POSIX environment with zero errors. They wanted the prom queens, not the class valedictorians; the women who wielded fashion as a weapon, and not a shield. So she’d been thrown off her Manic Pixie Dream Girl game when Orson had called after their one-night stand and asked her out again.

            Thirty-five going on sixty-five, devoid of any body fat, and possessing a wispy goatee, Orson had introduced her to long walks, black coffee, art house films, slow jazz, gourmet cooking, and the benefits of intellectual over physical relationships. They worked in the same field, attended the same conferences, and shared the same interests in the online world. It should have been perfect. And yet she’d never once, in the four weeks they’d been seeing each other—making it the longest relationship in her life—thought of introducing him to her family. Serious relationships were not in a life plan that involved working hard, looking after her dad, and growing old alone in the house where she’d been born.

            Orson tugged on Madison’s blouse, tearing the top button to reveal the secret treasures of a woman seriously lacking in discretion. There was nothing intellectual about his frenzied pawing. If Daisy had known tearing off clothes was one of Orson’s skills, she might have put a ring on it right away. But she’d been plagued with doubt. Why didn’t she feel the flutters in her chest that were supposedly indicative of love? Where were the birds that were supposed to be tweeting around her head? Did she have some kind of chemical imbalance, or was something else wrong? Only when she caught Orson and Madison doing the nasty in Madison’s office late one evening did she finally feel something.

            Relief.

            As she had always suspected, she was meant to be alone.

            Turning the crank as slowly as possible to minimize the decibel level of menstrual product release, she glanced over again at Orson and Madison pawing at each other like horny teenagers. She should make a quick exit before she said something awkward that would make the situation infinitely worse. Her tendency to blurt out whatever was on her mind had gotten her into trouble too many times. She was happiest alone in her cubicle at work, fully immersed in a screen of code, her favorite dance beats playing over her headphones. There was beauty in the simplicity of programming. If something was illogical, it simply wouldn’t work.

            Maybe there was a message here that wasn’t getting through. She assessed the situation as if it were code and came up with: <<Connection Failed>>. It was the story of her life all over again.