Jess crossed and uncrossed her legs, pulling on the edge of her too short skirt after each adjustment.
“Stop fidgeting.” Lane whispered without taking her eyes off the speaker at the podium.
“Mom, it’s so freakin’ hot in here.”
“It will be over soon. God, I wish you didn’t wear that skirt on such a day as this.”
Jess ignored the comment. The speaker at the podium was Thomas Julliette, a/k/a love doctor number three. She could see the man’s mouth moving, but only caught a word here or a word there. Her interest waned pretty much after his introduction.
“He’s about to announce the names. This is so exciting; don’t you think?” Her mother just about squealed as she grabbed Jess’s hand and squeezed.
“Christ.” Jess said. “Mom, get ahold of yourself.
“I just know you’ll be called up. I just know it.”
“Why? You never were. Are you more in tune with this love doctor than the one before? It’s all bullshit.”
“Your mouth, please.”
The love doctor’s face turned upward. He closed his eyes, stretched both arms toward the ceiling of the auditorium and wiggled his fingers in the air.
“I feel the energy. I feel the love.” He said as he danced around on stage. His arms now swaying left to right, right to left. “Oh, yes, I can feel the love.”
The audience, including her mother, were swaying as well, eyes closed. Jess looked around totally freaked out. The love doctor shook in spasms, like he was having a fit, and his aids came up behind and gently glided him to the floor, where he went stiff as a board. He lay there looking dead, eyes open, not moving. Jess wasn’t close enough to see whether his chest was rising and falling, but she was sure it was.
“Quite the show.” She whispered to her mother, who just opened one eye to give Jess the “you didn’t just say that” look.
It was then, from that lying down position, he began to spit out names. Conveniently, one of his aids was holding a microphone close to his mouth.
“Stephanie Walters, please step forward. Allana Bennington, please step forward. Thomas Wilton, please step forward. Jonathan Andrews, please step forward.”
The names continued, forty-nine in all. He was on the last. Her mother was biting her lower lip, and Jess could see a pinprick of red form on the edge of her tooth.
Jess had to admit she was curious about this whole soulmate thing. She’d known people who’d been called, who’d gotten the words. Some had them spoken to them, others not yet. But was it fate, coincidence, or something even simpler, like taking a common phrase and making it more than it really is. “Hello, may I have a grande caffe latte.” She heard that one every day at her Starbucks job. She chuckled at this. Did the words mean anything at all or was it what people believed that mattered.
Lane jumped to her feet. “Yes! Yes!” She screamed out before slapping her hand over her mouth and sitting back down. She elbowed Jess hard.
“Get up there. Go on.” Lane said.
Jess stood slowly, awkwardly, pulling on the hem of her skirt before taking the steps necessary to exit from her seat.
A fat older man in an off-white shortsleeve shirt with khaki colored stains under each arm put his hand on the low of her back to usher her by. His hand slipped down to her bottom and patted it.
She turned and glared at him.
“Good luck, sweetie.” He said and smiled at her.
“Gross.” she whispered under her breath as she moved toward the 49 other people standing in front of the stage. The love doctor was now back at the podium, all chipper and bright eyed.
He waved the first person up, grabbed her by the shoulders and whispered in her ear. An aid took the girl by the elbow and walked her off the stage. Jess watched her go back to her seat, face beaming. Hugs all around.
The line moved methodically. Each person received whispered words from the love doctor before returning to his or her seat. It was finally just Jess. She walked up and stood next to the love doctor. His mouth was against her ear, and his breath tickled, prickling her flesh. She pulled back and looked at him.
“Really?” She said, a quizzical look on her face.
An aid grabbed her roughly by the elbow and pulled her away. Jess wasn’t at all ready to leave, but that was the protocol. It mattered little what she wanted. The crowd was urged to participation by the love doctor clapping and the background music pumping from the speakers around the room.
Jess walked toward her seat, but then remembered the irritating fat man. So she walked to the back of the auditorium and out the door.
Lane came running out just as Jess was lighting up a cigarette. She took it from her daughter’s mouth and twisted it underneath the toe of her shoe.