Welcome to The Echo’s annual feature — Summer Soap. Now in its fifth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts, which began yesterday and runs for a fortnight. Called Cork’s Quick Coupler, this story, set in the world of speed dating, was written by Jessica Militante, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC. Catch up with previous epsiodes at echolive.ie. In the second episode, it’s speed dating day...
Episode 2: Rapid Coupling
“Ciara, you didn’t,” I said in horror.
“You bet your ass I did. Come on, Julia! It’ll be a fun way to meet new people!”
“Is that supposed to be a selling point? I don’t want to meet new people, that’s the problem!”
The kettle clicked off and I got up to pour us each a cup. Ciara took hers strong, but I only liked a little tea with my cream and sugar. A sleeve of jaffa cakes was sticking out of the cabinet and I grabbed those too. When I sat back down, I hid my cup, not needing Ciara to judge me even more.
“What do you mean? We just had a whole conversation about you wanting a boyfriend, like!” Ciara said, taking her cup and a couple biscuits.
“Swiping right or left on someone is a lot different than actually having to talk to them.”
“Ah, shurlookit, you talk to them in the app, don’t you?”
I blew on my tea and took a tiny sip but ended up burning my tongue anyway.
“Sort of, if you count ‘horrible pick-up lines and them telling me my butt looks good in my profile picture’ a conversation.”
Ciara put her cup down and pouted.
“I spent €30 on this and it’s non-refundable. You’re not going to make me go alone, are you?”
I wouldn’t and she knew that, the sneaky bastard. I sipped my tea slowly, pretending to think it over. Shoving more biscuits than necessary into my mouth, I figured I could always go hide in the bathroom once we got there. Note to self: pack snacks.
“Fine,” I said through a full mouth. “But I’m not wearing any of your clothes.”
“No need! I bought you something,” she replied, already running to her room to grab it.
“You can thank me later when you meet your husband!”
Three hours later, I was sliding out of the passenger seat of Ciara’s car, stuffed into a black dress that I would have thought was cute, if I weren’t regretting every life choice that had led me to this moment.
Earlier, putting on barely any make-up felt like a righteous act of rebellion, but now, watching the other girls file into the pub dressed like the next contestants on Love Island, I felt like a total idiot. Ciara must have sensed my thoughts because she grabbed my hand like a mother does a wandering child in the grocery store.
“You look gorgeous,” Ciara said. “Now move. It’s about to begin, like.”
Inside the pub, it looked like someone had taken an interior design class from the Valentine’s Day section of a EuroGiant. Garlands of paper hearts and tiny cupids loomed over the heads of twenty-somethings looking for love, or at least something like it. The air was heavy with so many different perfumes and colognes swirling around the small space, I thought I might have an allergy attack.
Candles lit the little tables that had been set aside for the event. I couldn’t decide if that was for the ambiance or so that we couldn’t get too good of a look at each other on our “dates”. Regardless, everyone looked excited and confident and extremely extroverted.
It was my worst nightmare.
“Ciaraaa,” I groaned, grabbing onto her arm before she could go deeper into the pub. “Let’s just go. If we leave now, we can still catch I’m A Celebrity.”
She carefully pried my fingers off her forearm and gave my hand a pat. “You can do this, Julia.”
“I know I can do it; I just really don’t want to.”
“Look at all the people here! There’s got to be at least one person you’d like to rapidly couple with.”
“Why does it sound so much dirtier when you say it?”
“It’s a gift,” she said.
She wandered over to the bar to get a drink and I hung back by the door. There really were more people here than I had expected. Maybe I wasn’t the only one having trouble finding love in the virtual world.
Some of the guys weren’t even that bad looking, though there were quite a few tracksuits lounging about. One man walked by wearing a tracksuit that looked like a tux. A special occasion tracksuit. Nice.
“Oi, lads, let’s have your attention please!” A petite blonde stepped up onto the seat of a booth, waving her hands. She had an envious amount of hair that was curled to perfection and a deep red dress, looking like Aphrodite herself. She seemed ready to couple up the rest of us peasants.
“Welcome to Cork’s Quick Coupler speed dating event! I won’t waste yer time talking since I know what ye are really here for!”
Laughter rumbled through the crowd and I felt like I missed a cue. Aphrodite continued.
“So, here are the rules: Ladies, ye will stay seated at a table. Gentlemen, ye will be doing all the moving.” More laughter.
Aphrodite put her hands on her slim hips in mock anger.
“Get yer minds out of the gutter. Now, ye will have seven dates total and each date will last three minutes. At the end, ye will fill out a card with the names of the dates ye’d like to see again, so don’t forget a name tag!
“In a couple days, we will email ye yer matches.
“Alright, ladies, take yer seats!”
Oh god, I was gonna be sick.