Brianne Sloan was home alone on a Saturday night reading from a mighty tome of romance poetry. “What am I doing in on a Saturday night?!” she sighed with palpable regret, “after all, according to this poem, if I don’t gather my rosebuds while I may, then tomorrow there will be no roses left for anybody!” She went to her closet and opened the door, revealing eight leopard print dresses. “There is only one solution to time’s relentless procession: I will seize the day! I will conquer love, and tonight!”
Smoothing out her favorite of the eight, she slid the dress on and combed out her hair until it was just so. Brianne Sloan was beautiful, and yet there was a certain something missing. And that something was her hope in the mass of male humanity. She was going to have to kiss many, many toads before finding Mr. Right, and those toads were going to brag, like that kiss was “all something.” And even though she would invariably sit down and write about the various insults and injuries that were likely to occur as a result of the bifurcating tree of romantic choices she was about to commit to tonight, she knew that if Herrick was right, soon there would be no more time for “research.”
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Brianne Sloan, because time is running out! Would she meet her knight in shining armour? She looked up at her full-sized poster of Orlando Bloom from Pirates of the Caribbean: “Wish me luck, Orlando . If everything goes according to plan, tonight it’s this flower who’ll bloom!”
Picking up her leopard print purse, Brianne considered her options: she could either go to the Gator, legendary in St. Augustine as her favourite dive-bar drinking hole, or she could respond to the fresh text message from Gary , the Orthodontist.
Go on a date with Gary, the Orthodontist (page 83):
Go to the Gator (page 65):
(Jess chose page 83)
Sloan fished into her purse and retrieved the cell phone, which flashed and beeped with Gary ‘s very important text message. Perhaps out of routine, she held it aloft like a contaminated hankie, and braced herself for what she could only assume would be a poorly-spelled and grammatically unsound come on. Sloan adjusted her leopard print dress, and wondered why she could only attract cavemen. Opening the text she was pleasantly surprised by the tone, restraint, and civility of Gary ‘s opening move:
“Hi Bri, really enjoyed seeing you last night; drinks soon?”
And he used a semi-colon. Brianne paused; she wasn’t sure where one could or should use a semi-colon, and this discovery made her feel aroused, flush with both the mystery of grammar and sexual pique. Gary was rare and mysterious, like dark chocolate or dinosaurs, or, on Easter, dark chocolate dinosaurs. She felt a rush of giddy excitement exploding through her tiny frame and quickly dialed Gary ‘s number, arranging a date. Perhaps it was the girl hormones talking, or the half-bottle of Cab Sau she had polished off in the bath alone at 4:30, but Brianne, our jaded heroine, was cautiously optimistic as Gary pulled up forty-five minutes later in his 2010 Ford Explorer. Just like a cowboy, she thought, if cowboys had access to SUVs. “Focus, Bri! You’ve had a lot of Cab Sau! And your girl hormones are going crazy! And cowboys don’t drive SUVs!”
Gary, bright-eyed, beaming, and with a perfect, symmetrical smile, stood confidently, but relaxed, in a sports jacket behind Brianne’s front door. He smelled like fresh laundry, and his movements were eerily precise, an attribute she chalked up to years of clinical practice. As they walked to the car, and then began their drive to the restaurant, it became clear that Gary knew a lot, and could converse freely on, a number of subjects: from chemistry to Proust, mini golf to Mayan rituals; he even had a firm opinion about St. Augustine ‘s college football prospects. They ate and drank for three hours, three of the most intellectually stimulating and exciting hours of Brianne Sloan’s recent existence, and despite downing cocktail after cocktail, Gary the Orthodontist showed absolutely no sign of getting drunk; not a word from his perfect mouth escaped slurred, but instead rolled out perfectly, beat for beat, with the correct cadence, and eerie precision. Sloan began to get lost in Gary ‘s sharp, athletic features, and highly-complimentary middle-aged confidence. Next to Gary , Orlando looked like a little boy.
Suddenly Gary ‘s pager went off with a loud, rhythmic beeping, and he studied the time with growing concern. “Sorry Bri, I have a bit of an emergency, and need to stop off back at home. Care to accompany?”
You accompany Gary back to his home on his “emergency” (page 124):
You go home and finish off the other half of the Cab Sauvignon (page 5):
(Jess chose page 124)
“It should only take a moment” Gary reassured her as they climbed the stairs to his suite. With one swift and decisive motion, Gary produced the keys from his pocket, unlocked the door, and motioned Bri inside. “Have a seat,” Gary invited, gesturing to one of his plush leather love seats. He flicked on the room’s lights, and immediately dimmed them to 60%. “Do you drink Cabernet Sauvignon?” Gary asked as he passed through his kitchen, turning the radio on low in the background.
“Occasionally,” Sloan lied.
“I’ll just be one sec,” Gary informed her, and disappeared behind a curtain into a room in the very back. Brianne tossed her purse on the table, admirably contained herself for a second, and then began snooping. She went over to his cabinets and opened them; inside: nothing. She ran her fingers along the coffee table; on her fingers: nothing. She went to a bookshelf; on the shelf: an assortment of popular mechanics magazines and machine manuals. She rummaged through an assortment of schematics but was little impressed. Brianne Sloan was a free spirit, not a mechanic!
As she was rummaging through the manuals, a photo calendar caught her attention; “baby photos!” Sloan thought, suddenly very excited. She slid the binder from the shelf, cracked it open, and was horrified to find: two years worth of Brianne Sloan dating columns from the St. Augustine Underground! She flipped through them with a mixture of shock, awe, and slight discomfort. Some were torn out, but the majority were neatly clipped; they were organized chronologically, and were occasionally interspersed with photos of Brianne out in public. Here she was eating a burger at Chili’s; three pages down she was eating a burger at Chili’s, but wearing a different outfit. The next photo was definitely taken at a Chili’s, but it was hard to tell what she had just eaten from the empty plate, but whatever it was she looked pretty satisfied. From the look, she deduced it had been a burger.
“My book!” Gary ‘s voice sounded with alarm from behind her. Brianne nearly jumped two feet in the air; she quickly swiveled on the balls of her feet, clamping the album shut and clenching it tightly to her chest. Gary stood calmly in a white bathrobe, holding two glasses of Cab Sau, his sharp features now menacing rather than attractive.
“Look Gary , it’s kind of getting late, and I promised my mom I would phone her at…” Brianne looked at her watch, “2:35 a.m. Chicago time.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that” Gary said, with perfect cadence, each word rolling out perfectly, beat for beat, with eerie precision. Gary paused at the end of his sentence for dramatic effect, betraying just a hint of impatience moments later when his intended surprise missed its entrance cue. After a long silence, dimly, off from the kitchen and just above the low hum of the radio, Brianne could hear the awkward clang of a machine … walking? The curtain dividing the backroom slid aside, and through it lurched with a certain stiff, artificial grace, a female proportioned robot in a leopard print dress.
“Brianne, I want you to meet S.L.O.A.N., the future of romance column writing.”
“Men are inadequate,” S.L.O.A.N. chirped.
“Isn’t she impressive? I first got the idea while watching an episode of M*A*S*H. I said to myself, Gary, you need to make a girl robot A.S.A.P.”
“I am looking for a man, not a boy,” S.L.O.A.N. volunteered.
“Yes, S.L.O.A.N., we get it” Gary snapped, massaging his furrowed brow. “S.L.O.A.N. is the most advanced artificial being ever created, but it’s still missing just one thing…”
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…” S.L.O.A.N. warbled.
“Hope,” Gary continued, “in the mass of male humanity.”
You offer to help Gary finish his robot (page 64):
You make a run for the door, losing your third leopard print purse this year (page 36):
(Jess chose page 64)
Although Brianne wanted nothing more in the world than to bolt from Gary ‘s robot dungeon, she paused for a moment, miraculously, and sized the two up. Gary was obviously crazy; he seemed to think she wanted to drink wine with him in a bathrobe. Also, the robot thing was pretty weird too. And yet she couldn’t help but marvel at the technological feat of S.L.O.A.N., a perfectly proportioned female robot wearing a dress identical to her own. She walked over to the robot and checked the tag; it was wearing a size eight better than she could.
“Okay, I’ll do it; but I’m not sure how I can help. I don’t believe in men either.”
Gary rolled up his sleeves, and liked to think that if his life were a film, it would immediately transition into a montage where Sloan trained S.L.O.A.N. to be the ultimate Sloan; he liked to think that it would be accompanied by something pretty catchy, perhaps Blue Monday by New Order. Gary went over to his CD collection, and selected the closest thing he could find, Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life. As in many cases where that song played, it would have to do.
Of course, real life isn’t a montage, and it took them nearly seventy minutes to set up a table and meal to perform a mock dinner in which Sloan gave pointers to S.L.O.A.N. on how to date authentically as Brianne Sloan. She would occasionally stop the date and go over to a chalkboard, writing out which responses were suitable if the guy either: a) proposed, b) had a wife and children, or c) dated you for five months but turned out to be gay. She stopped short of articulating the appropriate response to a man who created a robot replica of you, and then spent the second half of your first date wearing a bathrobe.
“The key, S.L.O.A.N., is to have absolutely no hope, but to get up every morning and continue on as if you do.”
This routine continued for three weeks, during which time Brianne realized she had not been to work at all, and was probably fired. Gary went to her apartment, retrieved her clothes, fed her dog, and, for all intensive purposes, helped Brianne move in; she became S.L.O.A.N.’s full-time tutor. And the protege learned, fast. S.L.O.A.N. had already absorbed every single dating column Brianne had ever written, as well as a series of private diaries, poems, and short stories Brianne provided specially for the robot. Meanwhile, Gary continued his work on the robot’s physical features, grafting lifelike skin and rich, beautiful hair to the robot’s endo-frame.
Finally, a month to the day after they began their work, Brianne woke up early one morning and took her makeup kit to meet S.L.O.A.N. in the lab. S.L.O.A.N.’s eyes, always open, never blinking, stared against a wall; when no one was around, S.L.O.A.N. sat motionlessly, and yet Brianne knew S.L.O.A.N. was never off, but her giant mind was constantly thinking.
“Good morning, S.L.O.A.N., I am here to apply your makeup” she said, dumping her purse loudly on the table next to her. Tonight was the big night, a real test. S.L.O.A.N. had a date. She took out a powder puff and began applying a light mask over S.L.O.A.N.’s delicate skin.
“Do you think he will like me?” S.L.O.A.N. asked.
“I don’t see why not, we’ve done an excellent job training you. You know more about dating now than most human females, and Gary ‘s touch-ups look perfect” she answered. To be honest, Brianne felt a little jealous. S.L.O.A.N.’s date was a prominent journalist with the St. Augustine Record, and quite charming.
“Besides, it’s never about whether he likes you, it’s about whether you like him” she continued, applying carefully a layer of lipstick, subtle rouge, and combing the robot’s hair.
“Kiss,” Sloan demanded, and the robot puckered its lips on a piece of folded tissue.
“What do you think it is like to fall in love?” S.L.O.A.N. asked.
“Focus, S.L.O.A.N., love is not one of your mission parameters.”
Brianne wheeled the chalkboard over and re-iterated tonight’s plan: S.L.O.A.N.’s insertion was to be here at Lamda Point, she stated, which was the entrance to the Columbia Restaurant. Once inside, S.L.O.A.N. would proceed with the date, collecting information and reconnaissance about the target, Brian Flair. S.L.O.A.N.’s advantage over a human operative would be that S.L.O.A.N. collected information accurately and at an exponentially vaster rate; S.L.O.A.N. would literally be able to record every single detail of every exchange, all while monitoring Flair’s thermal heat signature and several bands of EM spectrum beyond normal ocular detection. S.L.O.A.N. was outfitted with the latest biometric technologies, so if Flair even so much as tried to put one of his hands on S.L.O.A.N., she would be able to detect his pulse rate, sweat gland dilation, and respiratory efficiency. S.L.O.A.N. would then take and collate all this data, and then write a stinging dating column more cutting and more clever than any human being could ever even hope to write; even the very best human being: Brianne Sloan. The best part was that S.L.O.A.N. was a machine, a merciless machine.
“How do I look?” S.L.O.A.N. asked with a slight warble.
“You look beautiful, S.L.O.A.N. Now, one last lesson. You need to blink.”
S.L.O.A.N. had a particularly hard time mastering this one, because robots did not actually need to blink. She had been recently outfitted with a statistically-sound stochastic blink generator, which artificially anticipated the most opportune times for a blink to occur. Enabling the subroutine, S.L.O.A.N. blinked with one eye slowly.
“Good?” she asked.
“Well, you’re halfway there at least,” Brianne said, and with their business done, S.L.O.A.N. powered off her body into sleep mode to conserve energy for that night’s date. Brianne grabbed her makeup kit and hit the lights behind her on the way out, and all that remained was darkness, the lab’s deep hum, and the knowledge that S.L.O.A.N.’s mind continued to perform a vast series of computations inside that motionless tin can. Not just computations though, Brianne sighed, but genuine hoping.
It was almost noon and Brianne needed a drink.
On the table in the foyer, Brianne found a scribbled note from Gary requesting an extremely urgent audience, and he specified a location and time; it happened to be on one of St. Augustine ‘s beaches. Brianne shrugged; her work here was more or less done: that robot was a perfect replica, and she was, truth be told, hungry for lunch. She pulled out her five by three mini-glossy of Orlando Bloom from The Lord of the Rings Two: The Twin Towers, and wondered how she could have gotten so off course with the dating thing. “I need a miracle, Orlando .”
You go meet Gary at the beach (page 6):
Screw this; time for lunch (page 103):
(Jess chose page 6, however I wound up writing page 103, which may have been a slight mistake)
On the way to Chili’s, Brianne Sloan stopped off at the St. Augustine Public Library to use their internet terminals. Sloan had at least seventy dollars worth of fines for spilling a Slurpee on sections G-Hj and P-R of the World Book Encyclopedia in the library’s reference section (“How did you do this, G is not even close to P!”), but the library’s internet terminals remained public. She opened up her facebook account for the first time in a month and was greeted with three updates; Brianne sighed the sigh of the neglected. Beside her an older gentleman maintained a running conversation with his computer monitor, going on about how “it was better late than never,” or that he “didn’t want to meet you anyway,” and a series of other elliptic observations delivered with a gruff grunt. Was there any collection of baser and twisted humanity than that found at a public library? The answer was no; a public library is a living nightmare; it is the eleventh, and most central rung of Hell.
Suddenly a young girl sat down next to Bri; she had platinum blond hair with a stylish but ragged cut, and wore a tiny black skirt and mini-sequined blouse, and was quite pretty. Brianne, who had been holed up in a robot lab for thirty days, and who was frankly exhausted, currently dreaded even looking at herself in the mirror. She ran on about four hours of sleep and, although still several steps above hobo-dom, was under constant threat of being knocked to the very bottom. The girl was younger than her, and surprisingly pulled a juice box from her purse; she was clearly disoriented by her computer, and elbowed Brianne, asking her what to do if her computer crashed because she received too many facebook notifications. The old man on Bri’s left shouted a curse word at the top of his lungs, and eyed the girl’s juice box with an intense, yet gentle, longing.
Brianne got up and quietly excused herself from the terminals; sometimes she was at pains to understand what message or meaning life could possibly have, if indeed it was trying to communicate with her at all. Surely there were things happening all around her, but what did they mean? Did they even add up, or did they only tally after some clever, but self-serving, narrative was imposed on them? Perhaps, she reasoned, the young girl was there to make Brianne feel a competitive drive to reassert her attractiveness and femininity. And clearly the old man was there to reassert that out of the mass of male humanity, not all were similarly eligible, and this supposedly made her job easier; not all apples are alike, and so only a few remain to sort through. Surely the juice box represented… moral purity? And the young man, newly chatting with the blond, what did he represent? Her boyfriend, apparently. They kissed softly, twice, and he promised to fetch her some coffee.
Brianne would never be that blond; she was blond, true, but not this blond. She was a natural blond, which was to say that she did not think, speak, act or juice box like this young lady. Brianne Sloan was like the board game Mouse Trap: long and complicated to set up, with many moving pieces, but so much more elaborate and satisfying in pay off; but this girl was like Mall Madness. Nonetheless, the simple act of a tiny kiss between two young people who clearly loved and lusted for each other with a genuine passion reawakened Brianne’s sense that something natural was missing, and she wondered when it would be her turn. And then, for the hell of it, she yelled at the old man’s monitor a series of curse words; the librarian who had issued her her World Book fine glanced up from her computer screen behind the reference desk, and Brianne decided to hightail it out of there.
Across the street beckoned the world’s biggest Chili’s, shimmering in the midday sun, and Brianne felt a certain excitement as she crossed the street and realized that today lunch would be just fine; a turning point, if you will. She couldn’t remember the last time she had had a burger, and imagined a young shirtless man on a horse delivering her an array of different burgers to sample. Perhaps the boy would be a centaur: a burger centaur. In fact, given St. Augustine ‘s competitive burger and eatery market, Brianne could only assume such a burger centaur promotion was indeed possible, and she looked forward to lunch with a growing anticipation.
She opened the door and took her place in line. A long line. In fact, the longest line she had ever seen. One time in high school Brianne had participated in a conga line at a school dance, but that line was less substantial than this one. There were prison chain gangs less elaborate than this line. Brianne noticed that the line happened to be quite long. She looked at her watch; twelve p.m. Who were these guys? Was there some sort of convention in town? As a matter of fact, this line was due to a convention; the convention of eating lunch at noon. But also another convention; a convention of Star Wars fans who had been meeting two blocks down at the St. Augustine Convention Center . Ahead of her, two wookies chatted with a tall, greasy-haired fellow dressed as Captain Han Solo; a boy named, apparently, Morgan. Morgan, noticing Bri, tried to make a few furtive attempts at eye contact, but Bri was having nothing of it. Brianne’s stomach growled not unlike the ravenous Sarlac monster featured in cinema’s classic hit, Return of the Jedi, a reference that would be lost on Bri, but certainly not to the people dashing her chances of actually satisfying this hunger.
A hostess called out the party of forty’s name, and began channeling them to their tables, which occupied one whole side of the restaurant. A wave of Star Wars nerds, geeks, and only partially-ironic hipsters gathered up their lightsabers, blasters, and pimple cream, and clearisiled their way to a set of tables on the far side of the restaurant; “I’m never going to eat,” Brianne despaired. Just then, Brianne heard a voice, that of her long dead grandfather, appearing to her in a shimmery blue vision; “You must join those nerds, Brianne. You must eat this lunch.” Brianne was fairly certain this was a hunger-induced vision, as she had medically documented problems that included low blood sugar, lazy pancreas, and “testy moods.” Feeling a surge of clarity, Brianne rolled her hair up into two side-buns and wrapped a table cloth around herself until it resembled a flowing gown; even though Brianne Sloan was no connoisseur of science fiction, she did know how to look Star-Wars-y.
Taking her place with the nerds, she ordered a Chili’s cheeseburger with fries and a coke, and began the difficult process of waiting. She imagined a future with these guys, whom she assumed were of course quite nice, but what would it entail? Watching anime on their computers? Waiting for them to finish World of Warcraft so they could come to bed? Supporting them as they worked their way through DeVry? Discussing whether part one or two of The Hobbit was going to be “more awesome”? Brianne Sloan wasn’t a geek, she was free spirit!
While ruminating on such a future, a young man sat down next to her in the last vacant spot, and adjusted his faux mustache, which was in the process of peeling off. He wore a pair of wide-rimmed, dark-tinted spectacles, and concealed his hair under a blue hoodie.
“Who are you supposed to be?”
“Would you believe R2D2?” he replied, mocking a series of bleeps and bloops.
“Clever,” she replied, immediately growing disinterested.
“I’m really just trying to get some lunch, and I don’t like to be kept waiting,” he exclaimed loudly, as if to make a point. Just then the waiter arrived to take their drink orders, and the young man pulled him down, whispered something into his ear, and inconspicuously slipped him a couple of hundred dollar bills.
“Well, if all else fails you can at least tell these guys you’re Luke’s younger prescription drug-addicted brother,” Brianne deadpanned.
“That’s cute,” he said, and as if on cue he removed a bottle of eye drops, pulled off his sunglasses, and began dripping them into his reddened eyes.
“This is legitimately because I am just super-tired,” he began to say, but the promise of chatting up a drug addict in deep denial was not what drew Bri’s attention; it was the fact that she was talking with screen legend, Orlando Bloom.
“You’re Orlando Bloom!” she half-shouted, startled, but the young man quickly muzzled her with his giant actor’s hands, and shushed her with the strong conviction of a trained thespian.
“Please, I’m trying to eat a simple lunch! Do you know how hard it is to be Orl…” and he stopped himself, looking around to assure that no one had overheard. “Do you know how hard it is to be… that guy?” he whispered. “There are plenty of nights I wish I was the younger, prescription drug-addicted brother of a fictional character, dig?”
Brianne was a little overwhelmed; all in all, it had been a weird month. First the robot thing, of course, then meeting Orlando Bloom in a Chili’s, and also that dream she had had about kissing her brother, which she certainly wasn’t advertising.
“Oh yeah, well my life ain’t so easy either, pal!” Brianne started, growing angry, to her surprise, by the nerve of a privileged, Hollywood actor telling her how his life was, supposedly, so difficult.
“Look, let’s get real,” Bloom said, focusing in on her, “there are some really evil forces at play here; my life is filled with some pretty bad juju. I can’t get a date because nobody wants to date an out-of-control, reckless, paparazzi-prone playboy; then, some evil robot inventor created a perfect Orlando Bloom android, and guilted me into helping him fine-tune the bastard so it can go on dates for me; then, they offered me twenty million to do another Pirates movie, and I couldn’t say no. And do you know what? I’m no spring chicken! I still have plenty left I want to do, but none of this makes me satisfied. Do you know what I’d love more than anything else in the entire world? To just quit acting and write a little dating column in a sleepy underground newspaper. But no, Hollywood needs its heartthrob, and little girls want their Orlando Bloom posters.”
And then it struck Brianne; even Orlando Bloom has problems. She looked him in the eye and they exchanged a nod of deep understanding, but the afterglow of their mutual recognition was interrupted by the sound of hooves clomping heavily against the restaurant’s tile floor. The two broke off their intense glare, and looked up to see two absolutely perfect hamburgers delivered by a burger centaur, who placed them gently on the table between them. Orlando Bloom produced a tiny flute from his hoodie pocket, and communicated his thanks to the centaur with a short melody.
Shocked, and very hungry, Brianne gasped with great thankfulness, “Oh, Orlando , how did you know?!”
“Whatever do you mean?” Orlando asked, and began eating both burgers, one in each hand. Gesturing to them he said, “better late than never, huh?”
Famished, Sloan replied, “I didn’t want to meet you anyway,” and left the table in a huff.