Part 6: #Two #Calculation #Friends #Recap #MrRight
Jen found herself drumming her fingers in time to the sound, and her pen writing out digits one by one on a pad of paper. The paper had come from a local supermarket, shortly after they expanded their stationary section, and she found it quite convenient to have a pad set aside for doing these calculations, rather than working in the margins of the newspaper. She might even buy a new pad when this one was exhausted, actually paying for it this time.
There were a lot of things in the house that Jen hadn’t paid for. Not counting the property of her housemates, a lot of things around here had come from her customer service assessment job. A few times each month, she’d get an assignment from one shopping chain or another to assess the performance of their staff. So she would go out shopping with a list provided for her, buy the things she was told to buy, ask the questions she was told to ask, and later fill in a report on the performance of the staff. As well as having a limited budget for her own purchases, she was entitled to keep anything she wanted from the centrally-produced shopping list. Such as a pad of paper, that a helpful grocery colleague had been able to find even though they’d been recently rearranged. Or a fiendishly complex executive toy that now sat on the coffee table, filling the room with its gravity-driven click-click-click whenever Claire had nothing better to do.
“Do you have to do that?” Simon’s voice cut across her thoughts, in a way the regular rhythm of the toy never really had.
“Me or her?” Jen asked, “I don’t think either of us is bothering you.”
“No, but you both seem to be wasting a lot of time in the mornings. Time you could spend finding proper jobs.” She could tell from the exasperated gasp screwed onto the end of the sentence that he wasn’t really irritated with them, and he wasn’t really criticising their lack of stable employment. He was just in a bad mood, probably because he was getting dressed for the office on what was supposed to have been his day off, and therefore had likely been called in because one of the temps didn’t show. Again.
“I’ve got a job,” Claire answered, in a way that somehow managed to convey that she wasn’t giving the response any kind of attention. “I’ve got masseuse training this afternoon, and the band’s practising tomorrow.”
“That’s a career path now? You’re going to do massage or be an international rock star, and if that doesn’t work out you’ll take after your dad and be an heiress?”
“Right. Simple, you should be able to remember it.”
Then Simon turned to where Jen was sprawled out on the couch, but she didn’t have a flippant answer ready. She was busy doing some pretty involved mathematics, calculating a set of formulae that most people would prefer to trust to a computer. A calculation so complex that if the stocks it tracked had only moved a single point since yesterday, there was still no way to work out the new answer save for doing the whole page again.
“And you’re still hunting for Mister Right?”
“Yeah. I’ll find him sooner or later.”
“In the newspaper?” Claire looked over. “I never asked what you do with that every morning. The personal ads are in the lifestyle supplement, aren’t they? You’re on the wrong page.”
“It’s a random adventure,” Jen smiled, pleased to discover that by now the calculations had become second nature, and she didn’t make an error while she was speaking. “You know I like to add a little seed of unpredictability in my life. Well, this one’s called a hash function. You put in some random numbers, like stock prices, and it gives you a set of coordinates, a point on a map. Go there, and you might see something interesting. Visit a neighbourhood you’d never thought to go into before, or end up in a shop you walked past every day without checking out. Always a chance of finding something new.”
“If you find there’s some guy there, what’s the odds he’s single?”
“It’s not like that. It’s just a way to discover new places in your area. I went up a hill last month, and saw the most amazing sunset across the bay. I wouldn’t have found that without it.”
“So where’s Mr Right come into it?”
“Just my joke,” Simon explained this time. “She met a guy on one of these random trips. Couldn’t stop talking about him for a couple of days.”
“The Eric dude?”
“The Eric dude,” Jen confirmed. “Not just some muggle who happened to be at the hash point, but someone else who was looking for it. Helped me get there, and we chatted for like two hours, got on really well. He said he goes often, so I don’t want to miss one in case he’s there.”
“That’s…” Claire started, but didn’t seem to have a word in mind.
“Weird?” Simon offered. It was a word he used a lot, especially with regard to Jen’s pursuit of unpredictability. He used the word for her just about as often as he described Claire’s friends and pursuits as ‘vapid’ or ‘pointless’. But they were becoming friends now, and both of the girls knew he didn’t mean it seriously.
“I was going to say romantic,” Claire admitted. “Maybe kind of weird too, but better than boring. And if you’re doing all that math because there’s a pot of man meat at the end of the rainbow, it doesn’t seem so nerdy.”
“Thanks,” Jen smiled, and looked back down at her page. “I think. It’s not really like that, though. He’s just a nice guy, and I want to talk to him again.”
“But you’re blushing like a beet, so you’re not saying what you want to talk to him about. Does he know he’s got you so hot and bothered? I hope he’s feeling the same after you make all this effort to find him.”
Jen couldn’t really answer that. She knew that if she said anything else she’d only be blushing more, and they would both take that as confirmation of their suspicions, whatever those suspicions happened to be. And speculating about it, thinking what they might have guessed, or where their imaginations might have completely gone over the line, was only turning her on more. If she kept thinking about the prize at the end of the rainbow, she might not even be able to finish her calculations.
She certainly wouldn’t tell either of those two about the first and only time she’d met Eric so far, when she’d asked him to hypnotise her. To see if a man with more skill might be able to show her all the fantasies that some loser years before had promised. She wouldn’t tell them how helpless she’d felt, and how effortlessly the man had dived to the centre of her psyche, recognising her need for shame and not judging her on it. She certainly wouldn’t tell anyone about the words written on the inside of her thigh in pink marker, a hidden plea for Master to take her.
He hadn’t made her write that. She knew that he could have compelled her if he wanted to, but also that he wanted to go slowly with someone so new to hypnosis. For now she kept the ritual as a reminder of her fantasies; and how good it could feel when she imagined that one day her choice would be taken away.
She focused on the code, to keep her mind off all the things that might be waiting at the end of the treasure hunt. She’d done it so many times that it was almost second nature now, but it was still time consuming and required just a little concentration for the most complex parts. A minute later, she was writing a pair of numbers down at the bottom of the page, simple coordinates beneath a whole page of complex working. She smiled, pulled the page off the front of the pad, and produced her phone from her pocket. Once upon a time, she would have needed to flip through a mapbook to find the coordinates, but now she could just search for them and use satnav to take her right there. She wasn’t sure if that was almost like cheating, but she still felt the achievement for having worked out the numbers herself.
“Yes!” she punched the air a minute later. “I got one. Might actually be able to get there. It’s… some kind of restaurant, I think? Maybe a pub with an Italian name? Open to the public in any case.”
“You’re going to meet your guy there?” Simon asked, sharing in her smile now. “You should ask him to pick up the bill, see if he’s a real gentleman.”
“I told you, it’s not—”
“Crap!” Simon was rushing back to the front door already. “I lost track of time. I should be on the way to work already. Good look with the date or whatever, tell us how it went later. Right?” And then he was gone, leaving Claire to play with her executive toy, and Jen to stare at the page in her hands in frustration.
“Crap,” Jen echoed her friend’s words. In her mind she was trying to work out distances, and times. It looked like the day’s hash point might be reachable, in a shopping centre that was less than an hour from home on her bike, but there were problems she hadn’t even thought about until now.
“Work. I completely forgot, I’m supposed to be helping out at the scout camp this morning, I said I’d put a couple of hours in. And I booked a shopping list to pick up on the way back. It’s halfway to Farthinglades, by the time I’m done there I’ll be late to the hash.”
“Oh, that sucks. You’ll make it work though, I know you will.”
Jen wished she could share Claire’s confidence. She was thinking about it all the way to the scout camp, trying to work out what she could do to reach the hash. She knew she shouldn’t have been so concerned about it, because half the time it was on private land or in the sea in any case. It just felt doubly frustrating when there was one that Eric could probably get to, and circumstances kept her away.
The road flashed past just inches from her knees as she turned. She realised that her impatience was leading her to drive faster than usual, and she eased back a little. No matter how much she wanted to see Eric, that was no excuse to ignore road safety; and getting to the scouts faster wouldn’t give her more time to reach the hash. She could arrive at a sensible time, assist a number of youngsters in learning the ancient art of willow weaving (bluffing if they asked how ancient it was, because she’d never really learned that much of the history), and then work out what she could do about the rest of her schedule.
Mystery shopping was a flexible way to earn a little extra cash. As she climbed back onto her bike to head to the address on her shopping list, she knew that there was always the option of calling them and saying she couldn’t make it. But she’d already put some time in, copying out the shopping list in her own handwriting, and learning the questions she had to ask. And it was a key part of Jen’s personality that she hated to let people down. Not just because they might be less willing to give her assignments in future if she bailed, not just because of the time she’d already put in. Not even because she’d shown Simon the shopping list so he knew what she’d be bringing back for him to cook tonight. But because this was something she’d signed up for, and she wanted to be the reliable one.
It said a lot that she’d even been willing to consider cancelling. She would never have believed she’d be so determined to meet someone again, after they’d only spoken once. But she still wouldn’t let down someone who was paying her. She’d do her shopping as quickly as she could, and then hope she could somehow reach the hash before Master left.