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Love Hacked

By´╝ÜPenny Reid

CHAPTER 1


He was bald in a way that made me think of both melons and sex. Tan suit, green tie, white shirt—Chuck was a honeydew.

I met Chuck standing in the concession line at a Cubs game. I saw him and just knew that this was the guy. He was the one mentioned in my Sunday horoscope. As all very important and highly intelligent females do, I read my horoscope every morning—right after finishing the obituaries, and just before I peruse the comics.

That morning my horoscope read, Be watchful; today you will meet the catalyst of your future life.

When I basically accosted him in line and forced him to talk to me, he was wearing a baseball hat. I’d liked his face and his friendly smile. Though I sensed he was bewildered and a bit overwhelmed by my attention, he readily agreed to the date.

But now, without his hat, and illuminated mostly by a single candle on the table, his jaw appeared to mirror the top of his head, which had become a rounded, shiny, nondescript curve of yellow, melon-colored flesh.

“The Bella Costa is an excellent vintage. Light on the nose, but a spicy palate with notes of blackberry and cracked pepper.” He smiled at me. He was looking for approval.

My left eyebrow arched all on its own. “Cracked pepper? In wine?”

“Yes.” He chuckled. “Forgive me. I’m a bit of a connoisseur, really a student of the grape. Last summer I spent a week at the Louis Martini sommelier workshop in Napa.”

“Is that so, Chuck?”

He chuckled again, nodding his big round head.

Chuck, the chuckling honeydew.

“You’re very funny, Sandra.”

“Am I? I wasn’t aware that I’d said anything humorous.” I laughed with him, scrunched my nose, but didn’t know why we were laughing. This often happened to me, people finding me funny for no reason I could discern. Therefore, I’d learned long ago to just smile and nod, yet continue to speak with sincerity. That usually made them laugh even more.

Most people strike me as disappointingly predictable in their normalcy.

However, I wasn’t about to let Chuck’s potential predictability derail my optimism. I’d bought a new dress for the date—crime scene red, strapless, indecently tight, lifting my modest bust up and out to well, hello there, how are ya?—and dolled myself up in expectation. Perhaps the zebra print stilettos I’d borrowed from my friend Janie were a bit much, but I had high hopes for Chuck.

The horoscope had said he would be a catalyst for my future life, and I was beyond ready for my future life to begin.

I tried not to daydream about it, but I couldn’t help myself. Even as I was getting ready for the date, my mind provided Instagram-style status updates of our future together: Cubs season tickets, screaming profanities at Cardinal fans, sharing a hot dog at Portillo’s, watching horror movies every Friday night while naked on the couch, reading the paper together on Sunday mornings, and a cornucopia of impressive bedroom acrobatics.

But first I had to get past the fact that, so far, he appeared to be very, very normal.

His laughter tapered but his smile remained as he said, “No one calls me Chuck anymore. I usually prefer Charles.”

“Oh.” I stopped laughing. “I’m sorry, Charles. I didn’t….”

“No, no. It’s okay.” He placed his hand on the table between us. “Somehow, with you, I don’t mind at all.”

Oh. Well. Crap.

His words made my stomach tighten with a flare of despair.

I returned his warm, melony smile with as much effort as I could muster; my spirits deflated, but I refused to take it to frown town. I wasn’t ready to give up yet. “Well, you don’t know me very well. I could be a complete freak show.”

He chuckled. “You’re adorable.”

I perked up a bit at the compliment. “Is that why you agreed to meet me so late? My adorableness? Sorry about that, by the way. My shift ended at nine. It’s not every guy who will agree to a ten p.m. first date.”

He waved his hand through the air as though it were nothing. “It’s not a problem. It’s not every day that I meet a gorgeous redhead with green eyes who’s so easy to talk to.”

So easy to talk to.

I smiled in return, endeavored to mask my impending forlornness, and then I turned my attention to the menu in my lap. I tried not to sigh.

Our first date had just started, and I was trying to rally against the fact that it might as well already be over.

Unless Chuck said something astonishing in the next five minutes, he was most certainly not a catalyst for anything except perhaps another evening of me being abandoned for the twenty-ninth time in a restaurant.

I could see the events of the evening as though they’d already occurred, because they had. This was just like every single one of my first dates.

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