I know most people would simply go to the virtual pet store, order up a pet, and boom! An hour later, they’re a pet owner. If I’m going to find a four-legged friend to cuddle up with and keep me company until Gen-Mate decides to be kind to me, I feel like this is a decision I need to make in person. I may have decided to leave my future spouse in the hands of science, but my choice in pets will be based on good ol’ fashion instinct. At least I can still have control in some areas of my life.
I choose an orange and white Calico cat. I know Ma told me to get a dog—she was only half kidding. But I certainly don’t want some furry monster drooling all over me and my pretty tiled floors. As soon as I see her, there is an instant connection. The way she looks at me with those piercing green eyes, like she’s saying: I don’t know why you keep walking by me. You know you want to pick me up. And so, I do. I pick her up and she curls up into my arms, purring for me the most beautiful melody. Sold!!!
I call her Love. Yes, it’s kind of sappy, but this whole Gen-Mate drama has me in an emotionally fragile state. I can see it now. I come home and Love greets me at the door. I’m having a bad day and Love cuddles up on the couch with me. I’ll never eat dinner alone again, because Love will dine with me every day.
Man, was I wrong! Love hates me.
I come home after a long day at work, Love runs the other way. I sit on the couch and wait for her to cuddle with me, she walks right by me, to the other side of the room, and stares out the window. I’ve tried six different brands of food—really expensive food—and she turns up her nose every time. As she struts away, she let out a tiny meow, as if to say, “somebody get meowt of this place!”
What happened to the sweet, little ball of lovin’ that wooed me at the animal shelter? I’m starting to feel like I’ve been set up. Like my girl Love took some advice from her shelter friends. “Listen, you wanna get out of here, girl?” one of the other cats probably said. I bet it was that smokey gray one with the two different colored eyes. “Here’s whatcha do. Find a mark. Preferably a lonely woman. Give her ‘the look.’ And when she picks you up, lay it on real thick. Rub up against her and purr real sweet. You’ll have her eating out of the palm of your paws.”
And Smokey was right. Here I am, giving it my all—all my heart and my money. Desperate for just one minute of Lady Love’s time and attention. In return, all I get is her furry cold shoulder.
“Why did you get a female?” Aries says to me, as we’re on the way to the vet. Things are so bad between me and Love, I decide to get her checked out. To see if there’s actually a heart in there. “Females are the worst. They’re so cold and aloof.”
“I swear she wasn’t like that in the shelter. She was all warm and affectionate.”
“Was she really warm and affectionate, Annie? Or did you just see what you wanted to see?”
At this point, I’m not so sure. Because I’ve seen no trace of the love in Love since the shelter. The vet says she’s okay. A perfectly healthy, cold and aloof European Short Hair cat.
“Why didn’t you get a dog?” says my mother. After I drop off Aries, I pop in to check on her. She had gone off the grid again, plotting her next move in the Tech the Halls campaign. She would have been furious at the idea of me checking up on her, so I come under the guise of introducing her to my new cat. Not surprisingly, Love takes to Nova like a long-lost friend. Love curls up on my mother’s lap and purrs so loud, I can barely hear my mother say, “I told you to get a dog.”
“Seriously, Ma, do you really see me as a dog person?”
“No, but I don’t see you as a cat person, either.” She strokes Love in long deep strokes from her ears all the way down to her tail and the cat practically moans. I feel like yelling: Get a room, you two! Ma adds, “Maybe a fish. I see you more as a fish person.”
“I had fish, remember? They died the day after I got them.”
“Oh yeah! That’s right. Well, you’ve had Love for three weeks now and you haven’t killed her. So you’re doing something right.”
“Ma!” I nearly burst into tears.
“What? I’m sorry. I was kidding. You know I was kidding.”
Then really I do burst into tears. Love can’t stand my weeping. She hops off Ma’s lap and disappears. I slide right into her place, plopping my head on my mommy’s lap.
Now that her hands are free, she rubs my back. “What is it, honey?”
I know she’s just kidding, but that’s just it. “This is serious for me, Ma. I’m hurting and you don’t even care.”
She’s speechless. “I-I…What do you mean I don’t care? You’re my baby girl. Of course, I care. I just want you to be happy.”
“So do I.”
“You want to be happy, so you get a cat as a placeholder until you get a man. I never raised you to need a man for your happiness.”
“I don’t need a man to—”
“You don’t? From Grayson to the man-of-the-week on those dating feeds to now letting some computer pick your husband for you.”
“I’ve got news for you, Ma. It’s the twenty-third century. Men are back in style.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, unlike you, we like men again.”
“Yeah, you like men. The problem is, you like any ol man. You let them pop in and out of your life—out of your bed, with no regard for what they’re all about? Their passions. Their future plans. How those plans fit with yours.”
I pick my head up from her lap and just stare at her. “Are you seriously giving me advice on how to pick a husband?”
She sighs. “Lord knows, I’m no expert. But even you have to admit, you’re getting off course here.”
“What course? What does that even mean?”
“It means, ever since your friends started getting married, you’ve put yourself into this competition to find a mate. It’s not about finding love. It’s about keeping up with the Lionesses.”
“No, that’s truth. The truth is, the child I raised has never been obsessed with finding a man. Never cried over not having a man—”
“I’ve cried! I’ve cried a lot. I just wouldn’t dare do it in front of you because you’d call me weak…or just make a joke about it, like you did today.”
My mother knows me so well. She knows she’s pushed me close to my breaking point. She dials it back. Squeezing my hand, she says, “I know I can be tough on you…but it’s just because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”
“And I know you just want to be happy. But honestly, honey. The happiest I’ve ever seen you was when you were running your business and making—”
I pull my hand away. I’ve heard this speech before and I wasn’t in the mood to hear it again.
“I know you don’t want to hear it. But it’s true, Annora. You were doing it. You were doing your thing. Designing homes. Positioning yourself to build the dream building, the Emerald—”
“That’s what I meant, the Diamond. The Diamond.” She lets out a little snicker. “I remember the first time showed it to me. In Cape May, remember?”
“Of course I remember.”
“You were seven years old and you sculpted it out of sand with your tiny, little hands…” Her eyes always get all dreamy when she remembers the ancient days when I was still moldable. “I said, ‘what’s that you’re making there, honey.’ And you said, ‘I’m making—”’
“Making the future, Mommy,” I say along with her.
“You were missing your two front teeth and you looked so cute. So sure that you were going to make it happen.” She sighs and adds, “I hate that you let that Grayson rob you of your dream.”
“He didn’t rob me of anything.”
“You haven’t done the one thing you were passionate about since you broke up with him. I call that robbery,” as she says this, Love returns to her lap. It’s like they’re ganging up on me now.
“No more lawsuits, no threat of bankruptcy, no more having my name dragged through the mud. I call it survival.”
“You were made to do so much more than survive, Annora.” She looks so earnestly into my eyes, I want to look away. But I can’t. “Live. Live each day to the full. Love the people God has put in your path. Pursue your passion. Love will find you.”
“Love may find me. With Gen-Mate, love is guaranteed to find me.”
“There are no guarantees, Annora,” Ma replies. And Love has the nerve to meow in agreement.
Love sleeps peacefully the whole ride back up to my skyrise. As soon as I walk inside, set her carrier down and flip open the latch, Love makes a break for it, disappearing up the stairs. I should’ve left her in the Bottoms with my mother. Those two couldn’t have been a better fit if Gen-Mate had matched them, personally.
Speaking of Gen-Mate, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve checked my beta-mail. After my talk with Perrin, I figured it was probably best for my sanity—as Libra would say—if I took a little break from it. I had used my junk beta-mail for Gen-Mate, anyway, so it was no big deal to go weeks without checking it, unless I was looking for free porn or sexual performance injections, which for some reason always cluttered that beta-mail account. Three weeks should be enough time to be chosen by somebody. I hold my nose and wade through the all the junky beta-mails until I find it. The most recent message from Gen-Mate. I click on it.
Still no mate. I don’t understand this! Was this some cruel joke? Was someone trying to mess with my head? Who would hate me this much as to put me through this torment? I stumble into my bedroom before the waterworks start again. Love is sprawled out on my bed, preening herself like the Queen of Sheba. As soon as she sees me, she scatters.
My mother raised me to be strong, but I feel myself breaking.
Rejected by Gen-Mate.
Rejected by Love.
The Jones streak, or should I say the Jones curse, must have mutated with my generation, so that, not only do our marriages not last past ten years, my generation must have devolved into not getting married at all.
I give up. It’s too hard. Too hard to keep my heart open like this. It’s not just about the three fruitless months on Gen-Mate. It’s the years invested in a lie with Grayson. And the seven-year void in between. I let it all out. In the privacy of my bedroom, in my luxury condo, I bawl my eyes out. Ugly tears. I sob into my pillow, near hyperventilation, certain that I’ll never stop, because it seems this pain has no end.
I notice a strange sensation. Movement on my bed. A light furry ball resting in the space beside my armpit. I hear Love’s gentle purr. Purrrr…Purrrrr…Purrrr. A slow and easy cadence. It’s not long before my breathing slows down to match the rhythm of Love’s purr.
I realize something about this little gift I brought home from the shelter. Love may be elusive. Love may be complicated. But when I really need her…Love is here for me.