"I'll tell you what really frosts my cookies. We're out there 24/7, 365 days a year, busting our cherubic little butts, and we get into December and it's all Santa Claus, Santa Claus, Santa Claus. I mean for cryin' out loud, he works what, one night a year?"
Tiberius has been my regional supervisor for the last three years now, and is used to the ranting I do on my visits to refill my quiver.
"And it's not like he has to do it on his own," I continue. "He's got all these elves working for him. Hell, he doesn't have to do his own flying."
"Because of the eight tiny reindeer." Tiberius nods in agreement.
"Tiny, my ass. I was an elf for six months. You spend some time cleaning up after those boys, you won't call 'em 'tiny' no more.
"And all those letters." I am on a roll now. "'Please bring me an X-box, Santa, cause I've been so extra good this year.' Like they aren't surrounded by stores where their parents can buy their own frickin' X-boxes."
"How many letters did I get this year? None. How many letters did any of the other cupids get? Huh?"
"Well, none," Tiberius admits.
Tiberius gives me a big smile.
"And exactly how much attention would you give them? 'Oh, Cupid, please make Bobby Smith fall in love with me.'"
"I'd look at them," I say after a grudging pause.
He starts laughing.
"You'd ignore them on principle," he says between laughs.
"If mortals were any good at falling in love, they wouldn't need cupids," I answer. "There certainly wouldn't be anywhere near as many divorces, that's for damn sure."
"There wouldn't be so many divorces in your district, Julius, if the cupid assigned there was even close to making his quota this year. You do realize, don't you, that your five years as a cupid is up in the middle of February?"
I glare at him. I know that all too well.
"You know," he continues, "we still have never had a graduate of the academy with a higher score on Aura Recognition than yours."
I smile. I have always been proud of that.
"But you were last in here four weeks ago for another quiverful of darts. Octavia's been in twice since then."
"Octavia," I mumble. I have no doubt that goody-goody Octavia will be reborn with a silver spoon in her mouth. She and I started at the same time, but by the time I was done with my elf internship, she had already finished the cupid academy. We were assigned adjoining regions, which always requires a good bit of inter-cupid cooperation. She has been exceeding her quota for the last two years.
"And she doesn't even have a college in her area."
"It's a very serious college, you know," I say.
"I know. Excellent academics. Top twenty and all that. But it's still full of horny kids. Remember, you only need minimum aura congruence."
"Minimum aura congruence." I spit out the words in disgust. "You mean they should all settle."
"What I mean is not always looking for the perfect at the expense of the good."
"Shouldn't people be entitled to the best love possible?" I say, bristling.
"In a perfect world, sure. But you're responsible for all the people in your area, Julius. Not just the special few that you can make perfect matches for. All of them."
"I know, I know. All of my matches are still together, though."
"You know as well as I do..." Tiberius begins.
"That that's not our department," I finish. "Yes, I know. Cupids on one end, lawyers on the other."
He bursts out laughing.
"That's a very cynical view, Julius."
"It's not my view," I point out. "I'm the guy with the perfect record."
"I'll tell you what," Tiberius says. "It's December twenty-fourth. You have less than two months. If you at least make your quotas between now and then, I'll see what I can do about getting you out. If not, though, I don't see a lot of hope. Which means five more years of cupiding. Or you could go back to being an elf..."
"No. I'll do it."
Another five more years of this would be hell. The real problem is that you can watch people falling in love, but you can never take part yourself. You find the match, you shoot your darts, and you move on. Oh, all right; maybe I watch for a little bit. And of course, being an elf would be even worse.
I leave his office and collect my quiver of darts from the tech at the warehouse.
"All ready?" I ask.
"Forty matching sets," he says with a smile. "Try not to be a pain in the ass, Julius."
I laugh, even though he tells the same joke every time I pick up more darts. I fly back to my aerie, in the bell tower of one of Berea, Ohio's finest churches. I skim the auras of those I pass along the way, committing them to memory. I spot two people with congruent auras, walking toward each other as it happens, and loose off two darts. She is a forty-something born-again Christian and he is a twenty-something atheist, but hey, if minimum congruence was what they wanted, that's what they would get. And good luck to you guys.
I probably just shouldn't care so much. At the academy, they had taught us to perceive the aura as nothing more than a set of colors. You match one person's set with another, and if enough colors line up, you have minimum congruence. I was the one who had figured out the color spikes that corresponded with major events. The Christian woman, for example, had a vivid red spike at C-7, which told me, apparently alone among the cupids, that she had watched the moon landing in 1969. She didn't have the dark blue spike at B-6 that corresponded to the assassination of President Kennedy, so I could pretty confidently peg her age as somewhere in her middle forties. It was the same with the atheist. He had the purple at E-8 (Challenger disaster) but not the green at D-24 (Reagan assassination attempt). And as far as their religion went, after four years of cupiding, I could just kind of tell that from the shape of the aura.
Maybe the others are right; maybe I should give it up. Maybe I should just hang out at bars and parties — everywhere significant numbers of humans were likely to gather — and do what I have been trained to do.
And then I see Gwen Williams. The first thing I notice is the aura, of course. It's striking, and I rack my brain to recall a similar one I had seen over a year ago. While I'm thinking, I notice her eyes, her exquisitely luminous eyes. I nearly lose myself in them until suddenly it comes to me: Luke Turnquist. Those two would be perfect together. I have never seen auras with better congruence than theirs.
Tiberius and the other cupids probably think I spend most of my time watching porn flicks, never realizing how much work it actually takes to do these things my way. All they see is a fuckup who can't make quota. The problem, though, as it is with most of the matches I create, is that Gwen and Luke have no idea that each other exists. Even assuming that Luke is still in the area, the district is large enough that there is a distinct possibility that they will never run into each other. Unless someone arranges something different.
Seven days later, on New Year's Eve, I have the shot. It hasn't been easy getting the two of them to the same party. Each of them was easier to connect to Kevin Bacon than to the other. But here they are. Within feet of each other. Their auras are incandescently similar, the tendrils almost reaching out and intertwining in an orgy of color. I take two darts out of my quiver and slip them into the bow. And fire.
"Fuckin' A! Who the fuck was that!"
I am fortunate that humans can neither see nor hear us cupids, although at a party this loud, no one probably would have noticed my cursing. But damn my eternal luck. I can't believe that someone walked in front of Luke just as I loosed the darts. And now there they are, standing and looking at each other. Oh, fuck.
I'll never forget the first time I saw Danae Swift. It was at that damned New Year's Eve party my friend, Patty, had dragged me to. Patty had disappeared some time before, and I didn't know anyone else there. I was just lamenting the fact that it was 11:40 and I had no one to kiss at midnight, when the crowd parted, and there she was. Danae. Tall and slim, with a boyish figure, her eyes raked down over my body and back up to my face.
Danae. God, even her name sounded exotic, fleeting, poetic. She seemed to be bathed in golden light, with her spiky blond hair and tawny skin. As she sauntered toward me in slow motion (or so it seemed), even her caramel-colored eyes appeared flecked with gold. My stomach dropped as a smile split her heart-shaped face. I gazed at the full lips and gleaming white teeth that slightly overlapped in front, perfect in their imperfection. The wild hammering of my heart drowned out everything in the room, and I realized she must have spoken to me and was holding out her hand to shake.
"Uh, I'm sorry?" I spluttered, heat suffusing my cheeks.
"I said I'm Danae Swift."
She took my hand and leaned closer as she said it. She'd been holding a bottle of beer, and her fingers were cool and damp. Her fresh green fragrance tickled my nostrils.
"Wendy?" she asked.
"Oh, no." I leaned even closer. "I'm Gwen."
Danae laughed again. "Oh, good. Somehow, you don't look like a Wendy. Nice to meet you, Gwen."
"Nice to meet you too." I smiled back.
"I don't remember seeing you before. Are you a friend of Jay's?" Jay was our host.
.... There is more of this story ...