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Match Girl

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“Hey, Michael. You will not believe the date I had yesterday.” Eleanor announced, pushing the door of his office shut with her foot and sprawling into one of his armchairs with a small huff of exasperation.

“Eleanor, I’m a matchmaker, not your therapist.” Michael sighed as he closed the file on Tahani Al-Jamil and Jason Mendoza, who he’d set up to see each other the past week as well and which by Tahani’s own account earlier in the day had been nothing short of disastrous, and turned to look at the woman sitting in front of his desk like she owned the place. “Who did I set you up with this week that was so unsatisfactory?”

“Chidi Anagonye. He’s a moral philosophy professor and he’s so, so boring, Michael. Like, really boring.” She rolled her eyes and swung her legs over the arm of the chair, and Michael sighed again, mentally settling in for a good long rant. “We went to that Mexican restaurant on Marshall, you know, right next to that hokey bookstore that only stocks mysteries? What’s that place called?”

“Sleuth?” Michael supplied. Eleanor slapped the palm of her hand to her forehead.

“That’s the one, I knew I knew what it was called. Anyway, this guy, Chidi, when we first sat down he told me he ‘doesn’t really watch tv’, like that’s supposed to be impressive or something. Like hello, it’s 2018, it doesn’t really matter what we do with our free time because the world’s a garbage fire anyway, am I right?”

“Oh, Eleanor, tell me you didn’t say that.” Michael said, folding his hands in front of him on the desk and restraining from laughing with great difficulty.

“No, of course I didn’t, because unlike some people, I know what constitutes appropriate first date behavior.” Eleanor snorted.

Michael did laugh at that. “Saying something that made you feel insecure doesn’t constitute bad behavior, Eleanor.”

“No, but taking forty-five minutes to decide what to order definitely does.” Eleanor snapped. “We were at that restaurant for nearly three hours, and then he wanted to go into the bookstore, and he didn’t even invite me back to his place at the end of it all.”

“Why didn’t you call a taxi and go home?” Michael asked, turning back to his computer.

“Well he…” Eleanor rubber her neck, which Michael couldn’t help but notice had flushed red along with her cheeks. “He was kinda hot, in a nerd way.”

“Ah.” Michael replied, skimming over the file on Tahani and Jason again. “So you were disappointed he didn’t want to…”

“Yes, okay, I’m dumb and shallow and I feel like I wasted an evening listening to this dude ramble about Kant when we could have been mackin’ in a movie theater or something. Why do you get to decide where people go for dates, anyway?” Eleanor pouted.

“Because I know more about you and Chidi than you know about each other, and am better equipped to provide you with activities you’ll both find satisfactory.” Michael said without looking up from the computer. Tahani’s paperwork did indeed say she’d be amenable to dates with any gender. Excellent. He made a note to see about whether Tahani and Eleanor be interested in going out next week.

“Yeah, then how come I’ve been coming in here a couple times a month for almost three years, Michael? Surely I should have met someone I actually want to spend time around by now, if you’re such a good matchmaker.”

“That hurt, Eleanor. That was hurtful.” He said, pulling up Eleanor’s own file and squinting at it as though he didn’t know it back to front after all this time. He’d set her up with sixty-two people since she’d first come to his office a couple springs ago. The first month he’d been positive he’d find her somebody eventually— Eleanor was charming, in her own way, but it usually took two or three matches before people landed on somebody they genuinely connected with. Or rather, it usually took people about that long for them to start adjusting their expectations about what he could do for them enough for his services to work.

The truth was, Michael was actually very good at what he did. He understood people, and what they thought they wanted from romantic relationships, and the absolute chasm that sometimes existed between their expectations and the reality of love. After the first few unsuccessful dates, people stopped thinking of the work he did as some miracle or soulmate thing and changed their attitudes about dating enough that he could find them someone that they’d enjoy spending time with. Or they’d give up and stop coming back to his office. Nine times out of ten, it was the former rather than the latter. 

So when Eleanor continued to come back after three months, and then four, and then ten, Michael had settled into the idea that he was stuck with her, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t trying.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” Eleanor sighed, leaning her head back against the arm of the chair and looking at Michael sympathetically. “I’m sure you genuinely thought Chidi and I would hit it off.”

“I didn’t expect you to bond immediately or something, but I do think you’d be good for each other if you gave him another chance.”  Eleanor made a face. “But, if you don’t want to do that, I have another young woman who’s recently had a disappointing date. Maybe the two of you would like to go out.”

Eleanor straightened up, looking wary. “How tall is she?”

“She’s 5’11”, if that’s genuinely important.” Michael replied, slightly derisively. His tone went unnoticed or perhaps ignored as Eleanor bounded up from her chair.

“Great! When can I see her?”

 

Eleanor and Tahani’s date the following Thursday would probably go well, if he knew them (and he did know Eleanor, at least). He made a note in his calendar to follow up on that in a week and read an email that said Chidi would be in to see him early Monday morning, as well. The only loose end that needed to be tied up was Jason Mendoza.

Michael could understand why Eleanor and Chidi’s date had been unsatisfactory—Eleanor was a problem client and this had been Chidi’s first date through Michael. Tahani and Jason had been new clients as well, but that didn’t explain some of the things Tahani had cited as complaints after their date.

It took most of the weekend (which Michael spent doing some research of questionable legality on the wifi at the public library), but by Sunday evening, he was fairly sure he knew what had happened. Jason had lied, spectacularly, on his intake paperwork. It wasn’t uncommon for people to embellish their strengths and diminish their flaws when it came to dating profiles, but Jason seemed to have invented an entire new personality and background before his date with Tahani. A deep dive into his social media profiles and internet history confirmed it. Jason Mendoza was not the put-together Taiwanese man who’d studied at Yale and was working as a lawyer, but a high school dropout from Florida who’d once been arrested for selling fake weed outside a middle school and whose main source of income seemed to be YouTube monetization for his dance crew’s videos.

When the library closed around nine Michael returned home in low spirits. Jason’s social media didn’t point towards a very bright or self-aware person, and Michael couldn’t fathom how he hadn’t noticed a discrepancy between his profile and him in person. He met with his clients regularly in part to make sure they were being truthful about their dates and their profiles, after all. He hadn’t spent years as a psychological professional for nothing, although if this oversight with Jason was any indicator maybe he was losing his touch. What could he have been thinking about that he’d missed this, he wondered as he hung up his coat by the door and poured himself a drink, rubbing his eyes behind his glasses, trying to remember what he’d been thinking about when he’d set up Tahani and Jason’s date.

It had been Tuesday, he was pretty sure, because Eleanor usually stopped in on Tuesdays even if she didn’t have an appointment. Somewhere she’d gotten into the habit of bringing him coffee on Tuesday mornings on her way to work, and she’d usually hang around for fifteen minutes or so and they’d chat about their jobs, she’d complain about her downstairs neighbor or try to persuade him to watch Game of Thrones for the hundredth time, and he’d eventually shoo her out in time for a client to come in. He was pretty sure his first client that day had been Jason, there to turn in the last of his paperwork before his first date.

Michael took his drink to the couch in his living room and sat down, deep in thought. What had happened that day that had thrown him off so badly? Nothing really stood out. He’d gotten up, dressed, ate some eggs and toast, drove to work, let Eleanor in where she was leaning against the front of his building in a long coat and fluffy mittens with two coffees from the place down the street, they’d talked about nothing in particular while he prepared for the day like they always did on Tuesdays, then she’d left as Jason came in. That was it.

It wasn’t, a small voice in the back of his head reminded him. He took a large swallow of his drink. He’d been sitting there, pulling up his schedule for the day, listening to Eleanor chatter about a problem she was having with her coworker Sarah, and he’d glanced out the window and noticed it had started to snow. And then he’d looked at Eleanor and thought that he knew she’d be especially lonely in the evening, if it was still snowing then. The beginning of winter always made Eleanor lonely.

Michael drained his glass and got up to pour another, his thought process in that moment at the office still playing itself out again in his mind. He’d looked at Eleanor and realized that he knew far more about her than was strictly necessary or important for finding her a lasting relationship, realized he knew her childhood traumas and her deepest insecurities, and he knew she got lonely when it snowed because she felt that winter was a time to be inside and cozy with people who would keep you safe and warm. He knew these things because she’d told him, in so many words and over the course of years, despite his frequent reminders that she paid him to find her love, not to listen to her problems or offer her support. He wasn’t a licensed psychologist, not for years now, but somehow he’d become Eleanor’s anyway.

Except that wasn’t quite it, was it. It wasn’t that Eleanor told him things he knew she wouldn’t tell anybody else. It was that he knew the reason, and that reason was that he did the same to her. Michael didn’t have many close friends. Running your own matchmaking business after falling out of the world of professional psychology tended to isolate you from your peers. He was friendly with Janet, the woman who lived on the other side of his duplex, and he kept in touch with Shaun who’d shared his office space when he’d been practicing, but that was about it. Besides those two casual friends, and his work, he really only had Eleanor.

“You’re in over your head here, dummy.” Michael said to himself, staring into his drink for a moment before downing it quickly and pouring a third. He’d realized, looking at Eleanor on Tuesday, that she was his best friend. That he might be in love with her. Not quite in those words, of course. It had been more like a sharp flash of insight, crackling and electric, which he was only now putting words to. But it had definitely shaken him. Evidently, enough that he’d run through Jason’s appointment on autopilot. He’d gotten ahold of himself around noon, and forgotten about it entirely by the time he’d closed up for the day, which seemed incredible in retrospect.

Michael put the bottle of whiskey back in the cupboard above the stove and headed upstairs to his bedroom, kicking his shoes off and leaving them in the hall as he went. He turned on the lamp on his bedside table and set his drink down, then sat down on the bed and stared at his hands.

He’d been trying to find a match for Eleanor for years, and he’d always known that part of the problem was that she wasn’t really willing to put in the effort necessary to really connect with somebody. But that wasn’t really true, not exactly. She’d put effort into him. She brought him coffee. She called him to check on him when she couldn’t stop by for a few weeks. She’d listened patiently and offered supportive, if ultimately useless, advice on the occasions when he’d gotten frustrated or irritated in her presence. She was always after him to work less and relax more, and now, in light of the realization of his feelings for her, he couldn’t help but wonder if the invitations to go bowling, to get a drink together, to hang out at her place and watch Netflix, where an attempt to initiate something more than their odd, unbalanced friendship.

Michael swore under his breath. She and Chidi really would be very good for each other, and he’d already started planning to send her on a date with Tahani. He owed Eleanor some measure of happiness after three years, after all. And somehow he doubted spending even more time with a washed-up, aging psychologist was what she really needed.

Michael climbed into bed, swallowed the rest of his whiskey, turned out the light, and laid down to sleep, not even bothering to change out of the clothes he’d worn to the library. He’d worry about it all tomorrow.

Unfortunately, Monday brought yet more complications in the form of a very distressed Chidi Anagonye waiting outside his office for him to arrive. Michael had completely forgotten he was coming in early.

“Michael, I gotta talk to you about the date I had last Thursday? With Eleanor Shellstrop?” Chidi said, wringing his hands. Michael unlocked the door and gestured for Chidi to go in ahead of him. It was barely 8am and it was already looking like it would be a very long week.

“What’s on your mind, Chidi?” Michael asked as he took off his coat and gloves and made to sit down behind his desk.

“It’s just… I really liked Eleanor.” Chidi said, and Michael looked up, surprised. He’d kind of assumed, from Eleanor’s description of their date, that she’d scared Chidi off with her behavior. “She’s… funny, in a weird and dark kind of way, and gorgeous, and she’s smart even though I don’t really think she thinks so. And we had a bit of an awkward date, but it was partially my fault, I think. I just get so anxious!” Chidi smiled self-depreciatingly, and Michael felt an unwelcome rush of jealousy towards this man that Eleanor had confessed she found attractive. “I just wanted to make sure we’d be able to go on a second date?”

Michael made a show of shuffling the stack of papers on his desk to give himself time to get a grip on his feelings. There was no reason Chidi and Eleanor shouldn’t have a second date. He hadn’t been lying or exaggerating when he’d told Eleanor he thought she and Chidi would be good for each other.

“I’ll let her know you’re interested in a second date, and get back to you once I know what she’s decided.” Michael said at last, smiling reassuringly at Chidi. He beamed back.

“Great! Thank you so much.” He stood up and clapped his hands together. “I should go, probably. I have a class to teach in half an hour.”

“Don’t thank me, I’m just doing my job.” Michael said, somewhat tightly. “And yes, you’d better go.”

Michael watched Chidi bound out of the office and made a note to send Eleanor an email about him at some point during the day. The thought made something in his chest feel small and brittle.

 

Eleanor’s phone pinged five minutes before her lunch break at work, and she swore mentally, wishing the old woman who was rambling to her about her son would just decide if she wanted to buy the questionable vitamin supplements Eleanor was selling or not. She really didn’t want to push her whole lunch back so she could stay on the phone with somebody, especially since that particular sound notification meant an email had come through from Michael.

“How many times have I asked you to keep your phone on silent?” Sarah hissed, the top of her head and her eyes peeking over the partition that separated their desks.

“I know!” Eleanor mouthed, pointing at the phone to her ear and gesturing for Sarah to sit back down. She made a show of turning the phone to silent with her free hand, and Sarah’s head disappeared out of sight again.

“Nosy bitch.” Eleanor muttered, and the woman on the line paused and then exclaimed loudly in her ear. “No, not you, Mrs. Pinderhughes.” The woman shouted for another fifteen seconds, and then hung up. “Thank god.” Eleanor sighed, picking up her phone and heading for the break room to eat her lunch.

Well. Huh. Michael had emailed her to let her know that Chidi was interested in a second date. That was surprising. Eleanor had gotten the impression he’d found her irritating and stupid. And he hadn’t invited her back to his place afterwards. After dozens of arranged dates Eleanor had gotten pretty good at reading when people weren’t going to request a second or third date and she’d been sure Chidi wouldn’t.

But Michael had seemed to think they’d like each other better the more they got to know each other, and Michael, for all his sins, was actually very good at picking people Eleanor would like. It wasn’t liking them that was the problem, though.

Eleanor sighed as she shoveled leftover pasta from the weekend into her mouth, staring down at the email. She’d liked most of the people Michael had set her up with, actually. At least two thirds of them. But when it got to a point where Eleanor and her date of the week had to make the decision whether to keep seeing each other without Michael as middleman or not, Eleanor had always chosen to not. She didn’t even know why.

In her darker moments she thought that maybe she just wasn’t meant to have something permanent with another person, and that it was ridiculous that she’d spent as much money as she had over the last three years paying Michael to arrange dates for her when she could just as easily use tinder to meet people for casual sex.

It wouldn’t be the same, though. Michael knew what she liked. Michael knew her tastes, sometimes better than she did. Chidi, for example. She would probably not have swiped right on Chidi if it had been just her and her phone arranging their date, but she was oddly attracted to the idea of seeing him again. He’d been stuffy, had the personality of a turtleneck, but he’d also been… sweet.

But was “sweet” and “total hottie” enough to get her through another explanation of 17th century metaphysics? Maybe not.

By the time she was heading back to her cubicle, she’d tentatively decided it would be easier to just say no to a second date and wait a few weeks for Michael to find someone else. It’s not like he was going anywhere in the mean time.

The phone clattered loudly on her desk as she dropped it in surprise. Where had that thought come from?  

“Would you please be quiet?” Sarah hissed through the partition, and Eleanor snapped back into her surroundings. She’d have to worry about her dating situation later. Right now she had snotty coworkers to avoid, phone calls to make and vitamins to sell.

Eleanor ended up emailing Michael back right before she left work for the evening that yes, she’d go on a second date with Chidi, despite her reluctance to sit through another philosophy lecture. If it went badly, or she made a fool of herself, or she changed her mind, she could refuse to see him again.

It was snowing heavily as Eleanor walked back to her apartment. She hurried around the back of Michael’s office to see if his car was still there, considering bumming a ride home, but he’d evidently gone before she had for once in his life. She walked the rest of the way home, past her favorite coffee shop, past the park where a handful of grade-schoolers were throwing snowballs. She sniffled slightly as she stomped snow off her boots and changed into house slippers right inside the door.

Eleanor sighed, shivering slightly. She was a little damp from the snow and from sweating in her heavy winter coat on the walk home. A hot bath would be nice, she thought as she took her coat, mittens, and hat off and hung them up in the hall closet. A hot bath and tea.

Eleanor hummed to herself as she made her tea, looking out the window at the snow coming down, even heavier than it had been when she left her workplace. For a second she felt a thrill of excitement at the possibility that she might be snowed in, a thrill which evaporated when she remembered it was supposed to get warm again the following day. And besides, if there was a snowstorm she still had to go to work.

Her tea brewed, Eleanor headed across her apartment to the cozy little bathroom with its huge tub. She loved her apartment’s bathroom. She loved her whole apartment, actually. It was small, but she was just one person, after all. It suited her.

Eleanor checked her emails to see if Michael had replied while she filled her bath and stripped her clothes off. He hadn’t, but that wasn’t surprising if he’d gone home before she’d passed his building. She wondered what he was doing this evening. Michael never went home earlier than she did, although she’d often told him he should. Michael worked too damn much for someone of his disposition. He’d get moody and down on himself sometimes, and Eleanor had always thought, privately, that he could stand to put aside matching other people up for a bit and get himself laid. Dude needed to unwind, Eleanor thought, as she sank into the hot water with a sigh and moved her mug of tea from the floor of the bathroom to the rim of the tub. She left her phone on the floor where it stood the least chance of falling victim to her clumsiness and into the water.

Eleanor closed her eyes and laid her head back, luxuriating in the warmth surrounding her and filling her, enjoying her tea and her bath.

The phone vibrated, and Eleanor cracked one eye open. She leaned over the rim to stare down at it. The notification screen said it was an email from Michael.

Apparently he’d set up a date for her and Chidi on Wednesday. Eleanor smiled slightly as she sunk back into the water. The email didn’t specify where they’d be going, but Eleanor wasn’t really thinking about that part of the date. She was more looking forward to any potential activities they might engage in afterwards.

Eleanor’s hand drifted down her stomach, resting between her legs. Chidi really was like, very hot. She wouldn’t have thought he’d be her type, but, Eleanor figured as she spread her legs slightly in the hot water, he’d looked surprisingly jacked under that button down the other night. And she’d always had a thing for guys with glasses.

Eleanor inhaled sharply as her fingers brushed her clit. She closed her eyes and let her imagination conjure up someone between her legs. Surprisingly jacked Chidi flickered in her mind’s eye for a minute and she visualized him leaning in, pressing a kiss to the inside of her thigh before going to work on her with his tongue. She reached out to run her fingers though white hair and wait. Chidi had vanished, and it was Michael looking up at her from between her legs, with that half tender, half amused expression he sometimes wore when he looked at her and oh, fuck, that was something, wasn’t it, and this was so not what she had been expecting from this bath.

Eleanor squeezed her eyes shut, thinking of Michael lifting her by her hips, angling her so he could reach her better, his mouth hot and wet. She moaned into her free hand as the fingers on her clit worked furiously, bringing her closer to completion. It was all too easy to imagine him sighing her name, she heard him say it enough, and she came, hard, splashing a little water over the rim of the tub as she stretched out.

Eleanor lay there in the cooling water for several long minutes afterwards, staring up at the ceiling, her mind racing. What the fuck had that been?

The snow had stopped by the time Eleanor emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a fluffy robe with her hair in a towel. She looked down at the three inches on the sidewalks with a small frown. The roads would be plowed and the sidewalks shoveled by the time she left for work in the morning, which meant she definitely had to go to work in the morning. Usually the fact that tomorrow was Tuesday and therefore coffee-at-Michael’s office day would cheer her up, but after that very weird experience in the bath the thought of Michael just made her feel confused and slightly lonely.

Eleanor sighed, glancing at the city skyline where the sun had finished setting and the glow on the horizon was starting to fade. It was always so gloomy in the winter. By the time the new year rolled around she’d be walking to and from work in the dark.

Eleanor turned away from the window and pulled on her pajamas. She needed to make dinner and lunch for work the next day, and pull out an outfit for her date with Chidi on Wednesday in case it needed ironed or dry-cleaned or something. Neither chore exactly filled her with delight, but she knew from long experience that if she didn’t do something she was liable to just curl up in bed and do nothing, feeling sorry for herself, until she fell asleep. Winter always made her tired and unmotivated. She’d been looking into getting one of those sun lamps, people said those helped with seasonal depression.

Eleanor was feeling marginally better about life in general by the next morning, when she was heading to Michael’s office with their usual coffees and her work bag slung over her shoulder. It was a sunny day and the forecast for the rest of the week was warm. She hoped wherever she and Chidi were going on Wednesday took advantage of the weather. They’d get one last small burst of sunlight before the cold really settled in, and she was pretty happy as a result.

That is, she was pretty happy until she got a look at Michael’s face when he unlocked the front of his office and ushered her inside.

“Whoa, dude, are you doing okay?” She asked as she set their coffees down on his desk. He waved his hand dismissively, not looking at her as he put his coat and gloves away.

“No, seriously, Michael, you look like you haven’t slept since I saw you last Friday.” She said, taking a sip of her coffee and pushing his towards him as he sat down.

“I haven’t been sleeping well, no.” He admitted. He looked miserable. Eleanor scooted her chair closer to his desk and sat up straighter.

“What’s wrong?”

Michael gave her a look over the top of the disposable coffee cup she’d brought his soy latte in. It was a classic Michael look, the one that said “don’t push me, Eleanor, I’m not in the mood”. She didn’t budge and he, predictably, softened.

“It’s just a date I set up last week, that’s all. I got an email from the woman about how unsatisfactory the whole thing was and I realized the man had lied on his paperwork and I hadn’t caught it.”

Eleanor snorted. “Doesn’t everyone lie a little when it comes to dating?”

“Well, yes, but this guy… he lied a lot. And I didn’t pick up on it, and both of them had a bad date because of it.” Michael took another sip of his drink as he turned on his computer. “I feel responsible. They’d be right to not come back.”

Eleanor reached across the table and patted his hand. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, dude, I’m sure you’re doing your best. The beginning of winter is hard. Hard time to be trying to date, as well, I’d think.”

Michael nodded, not looking up from his computer.

“Look, if they don’t come back they don’t come back. It’s a big city. You’re not gonna go out of business from two unhappy customers.” Michael cleared his throat and looked down at where Eleanor was still patting his hand. She yanked her hand back and wrapped it around her drink, feeling a flush creep up her neck and onto her face as the memory of her really weird fantasy the previous night flashed back to her mind. “Anyway.” She said, casting around for a change of topic. “Where uh. Where are Chidi and I going on Wednesday?”

“You know I won’t tell you that.” Michael chastised her gently.

“Okay, fine,” Eleanor leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs, “but could you like, give me a hint of what to wear? Will I need to dress warmly, for example?”

“Chidi’s not an ice-skating person, unfortunately.” Michael said with a small smile.

Eleanor grimaced then took another sip of her coffee. “Drat.” She looked out the window, admiring the clear blue sky. The snow would have melted into slush by the time she was ready to walk home from work. “Do uh. Do you like ice-skating?” Eleanor asked, and immediately wished she hadn’t.

Michael stared at her, his expression unreadable, and then he turned back to his computer. “I wouldn’t know. It’s been years since I’ve gone.”

“What really? Even with that big old rink they set up downtown every year?” Eleanor asked. “You should go sometime.” She bit her lip. She’d really wanted to say, we should go sometime, but she felt, instinctively, it might not be the best idea in Michael’s current state.

“I’ll think about it.” Michael said with a nod. “Now, Eleanor, thank you for the coffee and sympathy, but I have somebody coming in any minute now.”

“Right.” Eleanor stood up, draining the rest of her drink and tossing the empty cardboard container in the trash by the door. “I’ll see you later, Michael. And I know you don’t like to hear it, but you really do need to take a break. You look like shit, buddy.” She shrugged back into her coat and pulled her mittens and hat on.

“I’ll take that under advisement, Eleanor.” Michael said with a long-suffering sigh. Eleanor smiled as she closed the door and headed downstairs to the front of the building. She passed a very tall, very hot woman with long dark hair as she went out the front door and into the street.

 

The second date with Chidi started well enough. Michael had arranged for them to go to the city's planetarium, the one with the telescope, and look at the stars. Chidi was evidently very excited, and Eleanor was feeling a bit giddy about it herself. It was a clear, cool night, not truly cold, and when Chidi grabbed her hand to pull her along in the dark and reposition her in front of the telescope she felt a warm flutter towards him. He chattered about constellations and what the ancient philosophers thought about the stars, and she chattered right back about horoscopes and science fiction she liked. Everything seemed to be going great until Chidi nudged her arm as they were walking back into the planetarium together.

“You know, I was really anxious about this date.” He said. “It seems silly now.”

“Yeah? How come?” Eleanor asked as they made their way to an open pair of seats and settled down to watch the short documentary that was showing.

“Well, I was really anxious during the first date. I’m anxious all the time, really.” He admitted. Eleanor grimaced sympathetically.

“Yeah, I don’t really get that. You’re a nerd, but you’re like. Also a hunk, honestly.” Chidi let out a flustered sound and Eleanor grinned at him.

“I. Alright. But the thing is, this is my first time using a matchmaker, and when I went in for my appointment, Michael made such a point of saying he thought we’d get along. So when it seemed like we weren’t, I just…”

Eleanor nodded. “Michael told me he thought we’d be good together, too. He kind of prodded me into a second date.”

Chidi let out a slightly nervous laugh. “That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? I couldn’t have come up with a date idea like this.” He gestured around at the planetarium. “My normal idea of a fun night would be reading a book in front of a fire, or drinking a bottle of wine and reciting poetry.”

Eleanor snickered and jabbed his shoulder lightly. “Man, you are such a loser. My idea of a great date would have been ice-skating and then pizza, honestly.”

“See, that’s what I mean. How are we supposed to keep seeing each other without Michael's help? It's not like we're really doing any of the work at this point, it's all him. And we’re so different.” He didn’t sound particularly bothered by this, just conversational.

Eleanor stared at him. “I mean… wait. What do you mean?”

“Do you want to keep seeing each other?” Chidi asked.

“Hey, man, we get one more date through Michael according to the package we signed up for. Chill. We’ll figure it out later.” Eleanor said, trying to ignore the way her heart was pounding in her throat suddenly. Something he’d said was sticking in her brain, but not because of what it meant for her and Chidi. Because of what it meant for her and Michael.

“You’re right, you’re right.” Chidi said, settling back in his chair as the lights in the planetarium went down. Eleanor stared at his silhouette in the dark for a moment, thinking.

“What did… what did Michael say about me that made you anxious during the first date?” Eleanor asked in a hushed voice, as much because she was a little afraid of the answer as because they were in what amounted to a very large and very concave movie theater. 

“He said you were a favorite client of his and that he’d been looking for someone for you for a while. Said you needed somebody very special.” He let out a nervous little laugh. “Kind of intimidating thing to hear going in, but I figured, why not?” Somebody behind them shushed them and Chidi slid slightly further down in his chair, looking abashed.

“Was that all he said?” Eleanor asked, surprised by the urgency in her voice.

Chidi looked at her, the light of the artificial stars reflecting off his glasses. “Well,” he began, “he also kind of… told me to be patient with you, that you were an acquired taste. I’d have thought he was trying to scare me off but I literally paid him to send me on a date with someone and he chose you, so. I still don’t know what to make of that.”

“Anything else?” Eleanor whispered, her eyes glued to Chidi’s face. She felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff looking down.

“Uh… I don’t know, Eleanor. He just seemed really fond of you. Like when I went to ask about a second date he almost seemed offended. He’s protective of you, in a way? I don’t know for sure, of course, but I doubt he’s like that about his other clients. Is this kind of the information you’re looking for?”

“Yes.” Eleanor said, coming to a decision. “I gotta go.” She stood up. Someone behind her grumbled but she ignored them. “And I think you’re right, Chidi, I don’t think we’ll be able to keep seeing each other.”

She ran from the planetarium, pulling out her phone and calling a ride back to her apartment as she went. The sky had filled with thick clouds while they’d been inside, and snow was obviously threatening. Typical.

Eleanor’s mind was racing as she rode back to her apartment. Coffee with Michael, and playfully inviting Michael to go out with her, and keeping track of him when he was overworking himself, and always, always turning down continuing to see people even when she really liked them. And that fantasy the other night, god. God, she was so stupid. Three years of dates, and the thing she most cared about was discussing them with Michael. Michael, who Chidi had sensed seemed protective of her, and who'd sometimes give her a lift across the city if she couldn't take the metro, and who'd once told her he'd left practicing psychology in favor of his current occupation because all he'd ever wanted to was to help people be happy. 

The cab dropped her off in front of her building and she stumbled forward through the snow, which was coming down thick and fast now. She let herself in and hurried upstairs on autopilot. It wasn’t until she was safely in her apartment that she let herself relax, slumping against the back of her door and sliding to the floor.

She felt like the world had been jerked out from under her and she was drifting through space, cold and alone. She loved Michael. She loved him, and she had no idea how to tell him, because where did you even start with something like that? “Hey, I know you’re a matchmaker and have a doctorate in how people's brains work so you probably know this already, but it turns out the reason I can never make something work with anybody you set me up with is because I’m in love with you.”

Eleanor laughed, slightly hysterical, then caught herself. This was ridiculous. She just needed to get out of this outfit, take a hot shower, get some rest, and everything would look better in the morning. With this thought, she stood up, kicked her shoes off, and dropped her winter coat in a pile on one of the bar stools by the kitchen's island. Her phone pinged, and her stomach squirmed. A glance at the screen confirmed what she already knew. Michael had emailed her.

Eleanor,

I just had a phone call from your date. Are you alright? 

M

She stared down at it for a moment, then responded, her hands shaking.

I don't want to talk now, Michael.

Eleanor flung the phone down on the counter beside the coat and hurried into her bedroom where she stripped off the dress and dropped it in a heap by the closet doors. She pulled out a pair of pajamas and headed into the bathroom, ignoring the sound of the phone buzzing against the counter as it rang.

 

Michael was gathering up his things to leave the office for the evening when his phone rang. He frowned down at the caller ID, which had Chidi Anagonye's number. He was supposed to be with Eleanor this evening. 

"Is something wrong?" Michael asked, more sharply than he meant to, as he answered the phone. 

"Uh, not exactly?" Chidi stammered. "Eleanor walked out of our date." 

Michael sighed internally. "She does that sometimes. Did she seem upset, or just bored and impatient?" 

"Well, we had a bit of a weird conversation." Chidi said slowly. "We talked about you, actually. About matchmaking, I guess." 

Michael frowned. "I'm sorry, I don't follow you." 

"Eleanor said she didn't think we should see each other a third time and frankly, I agree." 

Ah. "Listen, Chidi, if you want me to refund your money for the third date I'm more than happy to do that—”  

"No, that's not what I'm getting at at all. You're very important to her, I think. And from what little I know of you, it seems like she's very important to you, too." 

Michael's mouth was dry. "What do you expect me to do with this information?" 

Chidi let out a laugh. "Aren't you supposed to be the romance expert? Call her! Go see her! I don't know, let her know how you feel! It's a winter's night and it's snowing and she's just run out of a date, it seems to me you've got a lot to work with." 

Michael swallowed. "Thank you, Chidi." He said, as evenly as he could manage. 

"Don't thank me. I had a really good time with her tonight but I'm pretty sure I'm not the person she wanted to go home with at the end of it." There was a smile in his voice, and Michael let out a little breath of laughter. 

"Thank you, anyway. Bye, now." 

"Goodbye, and good luck." Chidi hung up. Michael pulled up the email on his phone and sent off a short message to Eleanor. What he really wanted to do was call her, but he didn't know if that would be welcome at this stage. 

Her response was so uncharacteristically curt, though, that he felt he needed to talk to her, if only to check she sounded alright. When her phone went to voicemail twice in a row, he finished putting on his coat and hurried downstairs to his car, locking up on the way out. 

The snow was falling heavily, covering the street and his car. He climbed into the driver's seat and made to turn on the engine before getting back out to sweep snow off the windshield, but turning the key in the ignition yielded zero results. Michael stared down at the steering wheel, disbelieving. He never had trouble with this car, and now, now it chose to act up? 

Evidently, yes. The car stubbornly refused to start, and Michael sat inside, frustrated. He tried Eleanor's cell once more, and got the voicemail again. 

Her apartment wasn't far from here. Part of him might have considered banging on Eleanor's door at 9pm to be inappropriate and ridiculous, but it was shouted down by the part of him that wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be holding her. He got out of the car and set off, all but running through the snow piling up on the sidewalks. 

 

Standing in the shower made Eleanor feel better, or at least, better enough that she felt confident that she could send another email explaining to Michael that she thought she might be done dating, and that she'd like to talk to him about it when he had time. She pulled on her pajamas and headed back out into the kitchen, and was just about to pick up her phone when there was a loud rap on the door.

“Eleanor?” Michael’s voice, louder than usual and very unsteady, called through the wood.

Eleanor flung open the door to find Michael standing there, snow in his hair and on the upturned collar of his coat, his glasses fogged from the cold, and somehow the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.

“Michael.” She said, blinking up at him. The hysterical feeling was back, along with a horrible knot in her chest, for all of five seconds as he stared down at her. Then he took her face in his cold hands (he’d evidently left his gloves behind, and part of Eleanor wondered if he’d come here directly from the office, five blovk away through the snow) and kissed her.

Eleanor’s hands came up to fist the lapels of his coat, pulling him closer, and he let out a low sound in the back of his throat, wrapping his arms around her. Melting snow dripped onto her but she couldn’t bring herself to care, not when he was kissing her like that, like he wanted to devour her, like he was afraid that if he stopped she might disappear.

Michael.” She exclaimed when he pulled away at last. He let out a little breath that her dazed brain took way too long to register as a chuckle.

“Chidi called me half an hour ago to tell me you’d run out of your date and that he thought I should… He told me he thought you…” Michael shook his head and swallowed heavily, his hands on her shoulders. "I don't even know how to say this."

“I think,” Eleanor supplied, hesitantly, her arms reaching to wrap around him as well, “I might be a little bit in love with you.”

“Me too, Eleanor.” Michael pressed a kiss to her forehead. Eleanor shivered as a drop of cold water from his sleeve rolled down her back.

“Do you wanna maybe take off your coat?” Eleanor asked. “And shoes, too, if you don’t mind. This floor is such a pain to clean.”

Michael let out a little laugh as he released her, shrugging out of his coat. His eyes never left her face.

“And.” Eleanor swallowed. “You could take off the rest of your clothes, too, if you want. Although maybe not in the kitchen.”

“Where would you prefer I go?” Michael murmured, his lips curving into a teasing smile. Eleanor shot him a grin that was meant to be flirty, but was so fully of giddy anticipation she was sure the effect was ruined. She took his hand.

“I’m sure I can think of somewhere I want you.” She said, pulling him towards her bedroom.

When Eleanor woke up the next morning it was to several inches of snow gathered around the outside edges of the window, and thick frost covering the glass, and Michael’s arm holding her snugly against him. She closed her eyes again, warm and content, and felt him breathe against her. He pressed a kiss to the back of her neck, and she hummed.

“What time is it?” He asked in a drowsy mutter. Eleanor grabbed her phone off the nightstand and swore.

“It’s almost nine thirty.” She said. “Although… it looks like most of the city is running behind this morning.” She flicked through her notifications from the news and the weather.” We got almost three feet of snow last night.”

Michael made a pleased sound against her shoulderblade. “Stay in bed with me, then.”

Eleanor rolled over and pressed a kiss to his lips. “Haven’t I been saying it’d be good for you to relax a little?”

“You have, yes.” Michael said, kissing her back soundly. She smiled into the kiss.

“I love you, you know.” She said as he trailed kisses down her neck and onto her breasts.

“Oh, Eleanor.” He sighed against her skin. “I love you, too.”