Meg should have known. This was what came of trying to be nice.
“It’s a new job, a new crowd,” her mother had declared, far too cheerfully. “Be sociable this time around. Make friends. Say yes to possibilities.”
Against her better judgement, Meg had worn the daffodil yellow shirt; Meg had said “yes” to drinks after work with her bubbly deskmate Dee; Meg had allowed the dangerous overtures of friendship to wash over her like a fog of latte foam and borrowed lip gloss.
This was how Meg found herself here, at a speed–dating night in a pub called Dog and Biscuit, opposite a man who introduced himself as Hercules.
Hercules. Without a trace of irony.
Worse than that, this beefcake with a side of cheese would not stop banging on about his ex–wife. Whose name, apparently, Meg shared. Whose fate he kept alluding to as “tragic.”
She knew what was going on here, and she was having none of it.
“So, you must be Hermes,” she accused the next man along the table, another Hollywood–gorgeous slab of everything with white teeth and sculpted muscle, though this one was spiky blond, and ran on sleeker lines than the mighty Hercules.
“Cupid,” said the blond, his forehead creasing slightly. “Why did you think I was Hermes?”
“Wings on your shoes. Cupid would have been my next guess—or Eros. I wasn’t sure if we were including Romans in the mix with the Ancient Greeks.”
“You figured us out fast,” he said, impressed.
“I have a Masters in Comparative Mythology. My mother said it would do nothing to prepare me for real life situations—ha, thanks for that. I think I just won a decades–old argument.”
“You intrigue me,” said Cupid, leaning in. “What did you say your name was?”
Meg wore a name tag, and was about to say something cutting about his failure to notice that, but it occurred to her that the reason he couldn’t read her name tag was because he was gazing into her eyes as if he might find the secrets of the universe there—or possibly a really amazing fuck against a wall.
Either way, he wasn’t looking at her name tag.
The bell rang, and Cupid released his intense scrutiny. As she moved on down the line, Meg felt like she was leaving half her clothes behind.
Theseus had a good run of chat up lines, and filled out a designer suit in interesting ways, but admitted within the first two minutes that his main goal in life was to have a threesome with a pair of sisters.
Jason talked about boats. Meg considered raising the question of his ex, to scope out the nature of his tragic backstory, but decided she did not want to know if this modern, gel–haired, soccer playing version of the ancient hero had once commanded his wife and children to be stoned to death.
Finally it was over and she crawled to the bar—an oasis in a desert full of terrible men who didn’t deserve her. “I blame you,” she told Cupid, who had been sitting there for a while in his battered blue jeans and tight white T–shirt.
“Most people do,” he said, not taking offense. “Can I buy you a —”
“Gin martini, dirty, followed by an immediate sequel,” she demanded. Letting men finish their sentences was overrated. That was the life lesson she was taking away from speed dating night.
“The preoccupation humanity has with romantic love is not my fault,” Cupid insisted, after he had ordered the drinks. “You’re the ones who chase after it like it’s the boss level of a computer game.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re married.” Meg had written her final thesis on Psyche and her magical fairytale of an invisible prince, of the mountains of seeds and the power of love.
“We broke up,” Cupid said morosely. He took the arrival of their drinks as a good excuse to throw back the rest of the beer he already had. “Centuries back.”
Meg gave him a sharp look. “Oh by all means, let’s talk about your wife. I can’t tell you how much my belief in Happy Ever After has been bolstered by tonight’s parade of sad saps with their tales of marital woe.”
“She said I wasn’t present enough in the relationship.”
“Was that a joke? Because of the invisibility thing when you first got together?”
“Might have been,” he sighed wistfully. “Psyche had a knack for puns. And crossword puzzles. She was perfect.”
“Give me strength.” Meg looked around for Dee, only to see her bubbly blonde deskmate leaving on the arm of Hercules. “Ugh.”
“It’s the least that you owe me.”
Another half martini later, Cupid said in a plaintive voice, “Didn’t you like any of them?”
“I knew it!” Meg said savagely. “This whole night was for my benefit, wasn’t it? You’re on the clock, cupiding me. Not that ‘cupid’ should ever be a verb. Why on earth would you—” A horrible thought struck her. “Am I one of you? I’m not Aphrodite, am I?”
“No,” said Cupid with a special kind of horror in his voice. “You are not my mother. I think I would have noticed.”
“Are we related?”
“There’s no Greek god in you, I promise.” There was a long pause as if they were both listening to the obvious follow–up line to that: Would you like one?
“Thank fuck for that.” Meg chewed on an olive. “So why am I special enough to warrant my own magical mystery speed dating session? And, more importantly, why pick those men?”
“Well,” said Cupid. “You do have a Masters in Comparative Mythology. And you like muscles, according to your online profile and every Tumblr site you’ve ever visited.”
Ten out of ten for creepy stalker technique. “And these are the only men you know,” she guessed.
“And these,” Cupid conceded. “Are the only men I know. What was wrong with Ares?”
“Oh, do let’s speculate about why your father the God of War might be an inappropriate romantic match for a highly sarcastic pacifist.” Meg blew out an exasperated breath. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to telling my mother about this evening. Impractical field of study my arse.”
Cupid looked as disappointed and pathetic as was possible for a man that handsome.
Meg elbowed him in a friendly manner. “Why are you so terrible at this?”
“I think I forgot how to cupid. It’s been a few centuries since I made the effort.”
“What have you been doing with yourself to get so rusty?”
“Your lot invented the novel. It distracted me.”
“Which novel in particular?”
“All of them. I’m still trying to catch up. I’ve got as far as 1965.”
“Oh, hang in there, you’re nearly at Valley of the Dolls.”
“I just—I have to make a love connection between two people. This week.”
“My mother gave me an ultimatum. A century ago. To return to the family business, or lose everything.”
“And it slipped your mind until now?”
“Do you know how many novels were published in the 20th century? I was busy! A century goes by way too fast. I blame automobiles and the Internet. And Evelyn Waugh. Mostly Evelyn Waugh.”
This banter was the most fun Meg had made all night. “You made one love connection,” she pointed out. “Dee and Hercules looked very cozy as they left.”
“That’s not love,” Cupid muttered. “That’s sex. They’ll have three amazing weeks together, and then he’ll cheat on her with one of his exes and she’ll end up having a public meltdown in the office, throwing her phone out of a window, and causing a fatal accident to a pedestrian below. Which is actually better than what happened with the last three women he hooked up with.”
Meg stared at him for what felt like a very long minute. “You can see those consequences, and you didn’t stop them leaving together? Someone’s going to die.”
“I can’t stop humans making terrible choices when sex is on the line. Also, Hercules is excellent in bed. Apparently. I wouldn’t know from personal experience.” Cupid looked shifty.
Meg had made a decision. It felt better than any other decision she had made all year. “Come with me,” she said, catching hold of the strap of her handbag. “We’re going to go split those two up, and then we’re going to find some nice ordinary non–disastrous couple for you to match, to keep your mother happy. In return, you are going to stay the hell away from my love life for the next, oh I don’t know, century.”
Cupid stood up, swaying slightly, which made sense since he had drunk three martinis for every one of hers. “You’re wonderful,” he said. “Are you sure you don’t want me to cupid you? There’s bound to be at least one gym bunny in this city who finds sarcasm a turn–on.”
Meg had a momentary vision of what Cupid might possibly look like under the very tight T–shirt. “I’m good,” she said firmly. “Let’s go.”
“I don’t know what the big deal is,” muttered Hercules later that evening, nursing a beer and a black eye in that order. “I didn’t cheat on you yet.”
“Three weeks!” said Dee huffily. “You couldn’t be monogamous for a month?”
“A theoretical three weeks! You don’t know that would have happened. Cupid’s full of shit.”
Dee turned her baby blues on Cupid. “Are you full of shit?”
“Nope,” he said brightly. Meg thought he seemed remarkably cheerful about separating a couple instead of hooking them up. Perhaps this was the start of a new career for him? “Love stinks, but I always tell the truth about it.”
“So who is my real future husband?” Dee asked, leaning in and fluttering her lashes. “Is he cute?”
“No idea,” said Cupid, soaking up the blatant flirtation. “We changed the future tonight. It will take a while for fate to catch up.” He lowered his voice intimately. “Tonight, anything is possible.”
Meg found herself grinding her teeth every time Dee touched Cupid’s hand. Oh, hell no.
“Full. Of. Shit,” Hercules mouthed at her, over Cupid and Dee’s heads.
“You know what your problem is?” Meg said to Cupid.
He laid his head on the bar and sighed, but at least he was sighing in her direction again. “My friends are the worst,” he complained.
“Your friends are the worst,” she agreed, and patted his head. His hair was very soft under her fingertips.
“Hey, I am sitting right here,” said Hercules.
“Assuming that Dee hasn’t been entirely put off dating by tonight’s mess,” Meg went on. “Who is your least worst friend?”
Cupid thought about it seriously. “Odysseus is solid. And he could do with a pick me up since that whole Circe–Penelope mess. Though I have to admit, they are way cuter together than in that timeline where they both ended up dating each other’s sons. You couldn’t make this shit up.”
“I’m in, if this Odysseus isn’t a complete cheating jerkwad,” Dee volunteered. She had reined in the Cupid–flirting, almost as if she sensed Meg’s feelings and was being a good friend. Huh.
“Well,” considered Cupid. “Not since the late 1700’s.”
“Good enough for me,” said Dee.
“We can double date,” Meg decided.
Cupid gave her a searing look that made her shiver all the way down to her toes. “Really?”
“Sure,” she said, though it was hard to pretend to be casual when you had All That zeroing in on you. “I want to see how it turns out. Plus, you talk a good game about love and romance. Show me what you’ve got.”
Cupid’s bright green eyes lit up. “I will spoil you so thoroughly with romance, the sky itself will be jealous.”
Meg forgot to breathe for a moment.
“You are literally texting your ex right now,” Dee complained loudly. “This is why no one wants to date you.”
“What?” Hercules shot back. “I’m bored and no one is making out with me. Seems like a waste.”
“…And so we have plans tonight,” Meg completed in triumph.
Her mother, looking weary, removed her glasses and then put them on again. “With this Cupid person.”
“Not this person. Actual Cupid! Which I know because of my…”
“Remarkably useful Comparative Mythology degree, yes, dear. I do take your point.”
“It’s amazing how deftly you acknowledge I was right without actually saying the words,” Meg complained.
Her mother let out a deep sigh. “Did it ever occur to you, my darling, that I might have had other reasons for preferring you to stay ignorant of certain mythological realities?”
Meg’s mouthful of tea went cold instantly, and she spat it back into her cup. “Excuse me, now?”
“A little knowledge can be very dangerous.”
“Oh god,” Meg moaned. “Literally oh god. You’re one of them. I knew this would happen. Are you Aphrodite? Did I spend an hour last night with my tongue down the throat of my brother?”
“Please, that wench wishes she was me,” snapped her mother. “We’re not connected to that trashy Greek soap opera.”
“What about the Romans?” Meg wasn’t sure if Cupid counted as Roman, Greek or both, and what even was her life, that this was of practical concern?
“We’re not the toga brigade, either. Oh dear. I suppose you had to find out sooner or later…”
“…And that’s how I found out that my parents are Isis and Osiris,” Meg summed up. “Have you seen the list of things that Isis is goddess of? Health, marriage, magic, the dead, oh and wisdom. So that’s me giving up on winning an argument with her ever again. It was nice while it lasted.”
“You know,” said Cupid. “It’s amazing how few women keep talking about their mother when I’ve removed this many clothes. My mother, yes, no one ever shuts up about my mother during sex, I’m used to that, it’s all ‘Venus in heaven!’ this and ‘By Aphrodite’s toes!’ that, but I draw the line at other people’s mothers.”
“I’m sorry,” said Meg. “Was I not giving you enough attention? Is my major life crisis interrupting your boner?”
“Fine,” said Cupid, and took his hand out of her knickers. “Mood officially lost, we’ll come back to that later. Meg, believe me, this is not a life crisis. Having gods for parents is no big deal.”
“I thought they were librarians,” she wailed.
“They probably are librarians. God business doesn’t pay that well in the 21st century. Now, do you want me to go down on you before we endure this double date from hell or not?”
“Why is it going to be a double date from hell?” Meg asked suspiciously. “You said Odysseus and Dee would be great together.”
Cupid gave a small moan of frustration, and put his T–shirt back on. “Because,” he said, leaning across couch to kiss her lightly on the cheek. “I’m not all that interested in spending the evening watching people who are not us flirt and connect, when we’ve got all this going on right here. Hence. Hell.”
“Oh,” said Meg, kissing him back. “You really are—” kiss “—a half–hearted—” kiss “—love god.”
“Yeah,” said Cupid. “But my tongue is in the right place.”
Before she could say “Don’t you mean heart?” he demonstrated quite thoroughly that he meant exactly what he said.
(Editors’ Note: “Some Cupids Kill With Arrows” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 14B.)
© 2017 by Tansy Rayner Roberts