(1 of 1. Originally posted October 13, 2023 for the prompt “Use a book title for a different type of story.”)
“Don’t give me your nonsense about human connection,” Anna chided as the door to room five-thirteen closed behind her. “Guests want human contact as they check in, not strangers walking in on their outrageously expensive date night. Safety monitoring and maintenance should be unobtrusive.”
“The lady was feeling insecure,” The Master Keeper, AI manager of Enchanted Rooms Dating Service, spoke through her earpiece. “She needed reassurance that her date wouldn’t look at another woman.”
Anna rolled her eyes, even though the AI Keeper wouldn’t see it. “So you sent the thirty-four-year-old, plain-faced spinster who’s never been kissed? Nobody looks at me. What does that prove?”
“Several things. First, that you work too much and have no social life. Second, that you remain oblivious to how men look at you. And finally, how badly human perception can be distorted by insecurity. Besides, it worked. He passed the test, as I knew he would, even though I happen to know he thought you were pretty.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but MK interrupted.
“Urgent maintenance request in two-eighteen. Unresponsive console. I detect no issues, so it’s probably a user error. You’re the best at helping people while also making them feel better. Thanks, Anna.”
Her customer-service smile faltered when the man in two-eighteen answered the door. His bony frame looked to be all elbows. His clothes didn’t quite fit right, and his hair seemed to have lost a fight with a windstorm. But he had the brightest blue eyes, and a surprised smile that cut right to her heart.
“Hi, I’m Jeremy,” he glanced at her uniform, then back up to her face. He looked disappointed. “Oh, you must be here about the screen. Come in.”
She didn’t trust herself to speak as she followed him into the room. The disappointment in his eyes pained her more than it should have. Two empty champagne glasses stood on a small table next to an unopened bottle. Overstuffed chairs flanked the table, and flowering plants decorated the rest of the space. Anna didn’t see his date, so her surge of jealousy came as a surprise.
“My date was supposed to be here an hour ago,” Jeremy waved a hand toward the screen mounted on the back wall. “I tried to use the console to see what the delay is, but it’s locked up.”
Anna pulled the scanner out of her bag.
“Don’t bother diagnosing it, Anna,” MK said in her ear. “It’s irreparable, and the part won’t arrive for two hours.”
Why did you send me, then?
Aloud, she said, “I’m afraid this will take some time. Would you like a complimentary upgraded room?”
“No, it’s fine,” Jeremy’s smile made her heart stutter. He smelled like fresh-cut wood and spices. “I don’t really care about the console, I just want to know how long before my date arrives.”
“The date he’s expecting will not be coming.”
If Anna didn’t know better, she’d have thought MK sounded proud of himself for ruining this poor man’s evening.She tried to put on her best customer-service smile, but for some reason it felt more strained than usual. “I’m sorry, Jeremy. There seems to have been an issue with your date. We can offer you a full refund, of course. If there’s anything else I can do for you, please let me know.”
“As a matter of fact…” Jeremy gave her a shy smile as he uncorked the champagne and poured it. “It was a blind date, so I won’t take it personally. All I really wanted was a relaxing evening, talking to a pretty woman and enjoying a drink. Can you help me with that?”
Anna stared at the champagne he offered her, speechless.
The lights dimmed, and soft music played in the background.
“Take it.” MK spoke in her ear. “Happy birthday, Anna. I knew you wouldn’t take the day off, so I got you this gift. I hope you enjoy it.”