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Original Science Fiction and Fantasy every weekday. Welcome! We publish very short science fiction as broadly defined: sf, fantasy, slipstream, etc. Please read today's short story below. Browse topics in the sidebar, and read what intrigues; subscribe via email to receive each story in your inbox for free; and consider becoming a paying member to ensure we can keep paying authors and providing stories to all.

Meet Cute

Templeton Moss was born in California, currently resides in Louisville, but considers Disneyland to be his hometown. He started writing in high school in a hopelessly misguided attempt to get girls to like him, and has kept it up out of sheer pigheadedness. He is the author of plays, novels, short stories, poems, children's books and angry Facebook rants. His hobbies include pizza and naps and his turnoffs include manual labor and the music of ABBA.
John poured another measure of wine into Greg's glass. Greg accepted it gratefully and took a sip. The hand that wasn't holding his wineglass was holding Cindy's hand. He was reluctant to let go as the feeling of her hand in his gave him confidence and courage, both of which he would need tonight.
"So," said Marsha, once John had finished refilling glasses and was sitting in the armchair next to her, "how did you two meet?"
Greg and Cindy looked at each other. Greg smiled. He always did when he looked at Cindy. And his smile made her smile.
"It was at that bookstore across town," she began.
"Hand-Me-Down Books," Greg added.
"Hand-Me-Down Books?" Greg asked. "Is that right?" He was facing the mirror, struggling with his tie. "Why do I have to wear this thing anyway?"
"Because," said Cindy, stepping into her cocktail dress, "we're having a fancy dinner with my sister and her husband. We can't show up in jeans and tee shirts."
"I just can't get this tie to--"
"Oh, here," said Cindy and she tied Greg's tie for him. This suited Greg fine as there is something truly wonderful about a beautiful woman tying your tie for you. Particularly when she is only half-dressed, as Cindy was.
"So," he said, trying to get his mind back on the task at hand, "Hand-Me-Down Books?"
"Yes. It's on Elm Street across from the hardware store. There." Greg's tie was perfect and Cindy kissed him on the cheek before pulling the straps of her dress over her shoulders. "I wish we'd thought of this sooner," she said. "We could have actually gone there."
"Okay," said Greg, who was now tying his shoes. "We met at Hand-Me-Down Books. Is that it?"
"No, we can't just leave it at that. We need something else."
"I was looking for a certain book," said Cindy, pausing to take a sip of wine.
"And so was I," Greg chimed in. "The same book."
"What book?" asked John.
"I don't know," said Cindy. "It has to be something we've both read. Zip me up, please."
"Why do we have to have actually read it?" asked Greg, tending to his girlfriend's dress. "Are they going to quiz us?"
"No, but if they've read it, they might reference it or ask us what we thought of it and we'll have to be able to answer honestly."
"Fine, but you know I haven't read many books. At least not many that you would know."
"Okay, um... oh! What if you were buying it for a gift? That way you don't have to have read it yourself."
"Good one! A gift for who?"
"Um...."
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," answered Cindy. "I'd read it in high school and I wanted to read it again."
"You like Douglas Adams, Greg?" John hoped he hadn't seemed to excited by this. His wife didn't care for Adams that much and he would have loved someone to talk to about his books. Not to mention it would be something he and his sister-in-law's new boyfriend could bond over.
"Actually," said Greg, "I still haven't read it. I was buying it as a gift."
"Oh?" said Marsha. "Who for?"
Cindy sighed. "His girlfriend."
"My what?" said Greg. They were out the door of their apartment and on their way to the car at this point. Greg had stopped walking when he heard Cindy's suggestion.
"No, just listen: You're buying it for your girlfriend, I find out that this gorgeous guy I just met already has a girlfriend and I'm devastated and... what?"
"Gorgeous?"
"You already know that's how I see you."
"I know, it's just nice to hear it. I'm not used to anyone thinking I'm... so, my girlfriend?"
"Carol," said Greg. John and Marsha were, understandably, surprised by what they had just heard, but Greg and Cindy were playing it off as if it were no big deal. Greg, per Cindy's pre-dinner instructions, was, however, trying to sound a little ashamed of himself, though he still didn't fully understand why.
"Anyway," said Cindy, "there was only one copy left, so we made a deal."
"Cindy just wanted to read it, not own it. So she would read it...."
"...and then I'd send it to Greg when I was done so he could give it to..."
"...Carol!"
"And we're definitely doing the 'finishing each other's sentences' thing?" asked Greg.
"What?" said Cindy, turning left onto Fourth Street. "They'll think it's cute. You don't think it's cute?"
"I don't know. I'm pretty new to all this." Greg actually thought it was more irritating than cute, but he didn't say so.
"So," said Cindy, "we exchanged numbers, split the cost of the book...."
"I offered to pay for all of it, after all I was the one who--"
"Never mind," said Cindy with fake indignation and a real smile. "I took the book home and read it. It's a pretty short book, so it didn't take me long. And then I texted Greg to let him know I was finished."
"And I texted back 'You can keep it. Carol and I broke up.'"
"...'frowny face'," finished Cindy.
"No," said Greg.
"What?"
"I don't know much about this whole... whatever it is we're doing here, but I know I'm not the kind of guy who uses emojis."
"Fine, cut the frowny face."
"So, I texted back, 'Oh, so sorry,' but I'm secretly thinking, 'Yes!'"
The group laughed.
"I kept wanting to pay him back for his half of the book. I thought it was only fair, but he just said..."
"...I don't want your money."
"So, I convinced him to let me buy him a cup of coffee and he agreed."
"We went for coffee and it was the first time I had smiled since Carol left."
"So we got more coffee...."
"...and then lunch...."
"...dinner..."
"...and..."
"Sex," said Greg. Cindy took her hand off the wheel long enough to smack him on the leg. "What?"
"We're not gonna say that!"
"Why not? You explained it to me. That's the natural progression of human relationships. Coffee, meals, sex, then--"
"Yes, I know, but it's generally considered good manners not to talk about it!"
"I haven't been here that long, but I know that you guys talk about sex all the time."
"Well, yeah, but we use euphemisms and we try to be coy and subtle."
"You do?"
"Some people do. Look, whatever, we cannot tell my sister and her husband that we had sex."
"Why not? Aren't they going to assume that we did?"
"Yes, but, it's family. We don't talk about sex with family."
"But without sex there wouldn't be families. That makes no sense."
"Fine, Mr. Spock, it's not logical. The point is we can't say that we've had sex."
"What do we say instead?"
"Let's just say," said Cindy, smiling at Greg, "things got serious."
"That's a great story," said John.
"Yeah," said Marsha. "Totally 'meet cute.'"
"I'll say. Now, who's ready for dessert?"
"I think that went pretty well," said Greg, when they arrived back at their apartment later that night.
"Yeah," said Cindy, helping Greg out of his jacket. "I think they believed us." In a matter of seconds she had untied and discarded the tie she had taken so much care to tie a few hours ago.
"By the way," said Greg in between kisses and while walking backward toward the bedroom, "do you actually have a copy of that book? John seems pretty insistent that I read it."
"Later," said Cindy, pushing Greg onto the bed.
She undressed him, running her hands over his bare flesh. On some level she knew that it was just an illusion. That the skin she was touching was actually scaly and green. But the perception filter in Greg's skull which tricked people into seeing a human being was strong enough that she had to force herself to remember that her lover was not human.
She had seen his real face, once, on his ship, when they had met six months ago. When he had abducted her outside her gym intending to experiment on her so that his species could learn the intricacies of the human body. Instead, he had fallen in love with her, quit his job and defected to Earth to be with her. Since then, she had been helping him adapt to living as a human, including helping him to fabricate a plausible back story to cover up the real story of how they had met.
Not exactly "meet cute," but they were happy enough not to care.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, January 22nd, 2021


I was watching an old fantasy miniseries which ends with a human woman settling down in the "real" world with a man from a magical world. I found myself wondering how this couple would handle it if they were asked about how they met at a cocktail party or something. What would you say in that scenario? "Well, I went through a magic portal in Central Park and he was being manipulated by an evil queen and we searched for a magic mirror together and... well, one thing led to another and here we are." No, of course not. They would have to make up a more boring, believable story.

But, in a broader sense, I think most people who are in serious relationships do the same thing. Whenever you're out together there is a version of your relationship which you allow others to see, but which likely represents only the tip of the iceberg. How much do any of us really know about one another's personal lives?

Or, maybe the question should be, how much are we entitled to know?

- Templeton Moss
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