Three Minutes to Happiness

By: Sally Clements

Chapter One

There is a certain appeal to the thought that you can discover all you need to about a man in three minutes. If you ask the right questions.

Valentine Jones tapped her wineglass with short, teal fingernails. “So, tell me again, how does this work?”

Maggie Delaney grinned. “I knew you’d be interested.” She leaned back on the white leather sofa, slipped off her shoes, and tucked her feet under her. “We just arrive at the pub, fill in a card with contact details, and then sit at tables they’ve set up with score cards.”

“Score cards?” A shiver ran through Val at the thought of grading and being graded. Maggie was so keen on the idea of speed dating she’d signed both of them up for the event taking place this weekend in a little bar on the outskirts of Dublin. Now, as Maggie sipped her chardonnay with a satisfied smile, nerves fluttered in Val’s chest. Didn’t speed dating spell desperate? “I’m not sure I wanted to receive marks out of ten.” She picked up a tortilla chip and dipped it in salsa. “I mean…”

Maggie shook her head. “It’s not that type of score card. You simply tick yes if you want to see that person again, or leave it blank if you don’t. They do the same, and at the end of the night all the yeses are matched up. If you’re both interested, the organizers pass on the names and contact details, and after that it’s up to you.”

Val munched on another tortilla chip. “I’m not sure it’s my type of thing.”

Maggie’s head tilted to the side. She had that sympathetic look that made Val feel like a victim. “I know. But you can’t just give up on love forever. You’re too young and too good looking for a life of celibacy.”

Val forced a smile.

“I really think this could be fun, Val. Each meeting is just three minutes; surely you could bear to talk to a man for three minutes? Especially if he’s a hottie? You need to get out more. We’re both gorgeous, available women, and there must be men out there somewhere. Ones looking for fun without hiding a wife back home.” She winced. “I’ve had it with those.”

Being on the other side of that equation wasn’t a barrel of laughs either. Val refilled her friend’s glass. They’d both had terrible luck with men. The last two Maggie dated had been of the ‘married but ringless’ variety. And yet, despite evidence to the contrary, her optimistic friend still believed in love.

“Come on, say you’ll do it. For me,” Maggie said. “No one will get your information unless you want to see them again. It’s a win-win situation. And maybe by Christmas or Valentine’s Day at the latest, we’ll both have dates instead of sitting at home watching TV.”

“I like TV.” Val knew she sounded defensive, but really, the thought of Valentine’s Day with all its false love and store-bought cards filled her with disgust. Valentine’s Day was nothing to do with love; it was all about the money. Every year, a sentimental card with red hearts dropped into her mailbox. And every year, she ripped the envelope open, glanced at it, and threw it away. This year would be no different.

Maggie’s smile had faded. She played with the stem of her wineglass, and looked ready to throw in the towel.

Val pulled in a deep breath. She couldn’t disappoint her friend, and after all, what harm could there be to accompanying her to the speed dating event? Three minutes. And perhaps Maggie could find happiness. Could find love.

Val was surrounded by die-hard romantics. She’d grown up with one and now shared her home with a woman struck by the same blind affliction. She didn’t remember her father; he died when she was two, but her mother, Belle, always insisted that their love had been perfect.

So perfect that her mother had been desperate to find love again with someone new.

Unfortunately, Belle couldn’t distinguish lust from love, and had been burned so many times she should be sprayed with a flame retardant before leaving the house. ‘Love’ didn’t last beyond the first bloom of heart-pounding infatuation, and left heartbreak in its wake.

Val spent her entire childhood handing tissues to her sobbing mother after yet another boyfriend or husband had cheated. Had made herself hoarse telling her mother again and again to just give up on the crazy dream of finding her white knight. But Mum was all about love, all about happy ever after. She worshipped on the altar of love, had named her only child Valentine, and made sure to keep love in Val’s thoughts every year by sending her a Valentine’s card.