"That's still funny to you?" Monte said this to Dominic but Calisto could feel him eyeing her peripherally as he said it, like he was trying to shame the amusement out of her. Is this the best you could do, he seemed to imply. They had rented a conference room on the cheaper fringes of Seafood Square's outskirts, on the eve of the 2014 Hawaii Business And Commerce Expo, for the express purpose of surveying their users, but Calisto knew there was an ulterior motive to all this. This was about getting her and Dominic in a room together outside of work, and maybe getting to know some of his friends while she was at it. She was starting to wonder if the whole impetus for Lunch Dates wasn't an excuse to get closer to him. Of course she'd had all kinds of good motives for launching the dating site with Monte at the time (or so she'd told herself) but none of them seemed to matter anymore. Since he had volunteered to bring himself and his "wingman and wingma'ams" into the project to test-drive the beta version of the site, it was becoming impossible for her to envision some kind of entrepreneurial success that would be more rewarding than the smolder his eyes seemed to reserve only for her, as the question mark of his posture craned toward her lips, like they held some secret she was supposed to know already.
"We are focused," Calisto said, clearing the daydreams out of her eyes. "It's just, we only reserved the room for one hour, so we should try to get through everything. Specifically, how satisfied would you say you are with the site?" "Honestly, compared to what we had going before, we not too impressed," said Leilani, a bookish-looking girl who could've been college-aged, or a lot younger.
"I tried telling these guys about it already," said Dominic. "They weren't interested."
"I'm interested if it tells us anything about whether you liked the site or not," said Monte.
"Let's hear them out," Calisto said. "Maybe there's some suggestion we could use." Monte fixed his sidelong gaze on her again, as if his patience was about to run out, and she hoped the lipsticked smile on her face (she'd dipped into Naomi's things to get dolled up for this, ostensibly to look impressive and professional, but really to try to be as sexy as possible for her co-worker) didn't betray too much of her inner smugness.
Dominic's wingman, Sebastian, spoke up. "Our system was designed to flatter strangers and kickstart conversations. It's not really comparable to this." His voice had a nervous shyness to it and it was difficult to picture this reserved, rotund youth having any sort of success with whatever gender he was after.
"I never thought it worked all that well, at least not the way you guys did," said Tina, who rounded out the foursome that made up the focus group. Calisto had tried to convince Monte that this group was an unlikely cross-section and that made them perfect as testers, but they were letting her down by conducting themselves more like an insular clique who seemed to hang together almost by default, as if unable to find anyone else. Both girls had shown up late and they had all wasted a bunch of time (in Monte's estimation, if not Calisto's) on introductions, catch-ups, gossip, and other unprofessional, non-business-related banter.
"Maybe we should actually tell them about it at some point," Dominic interrupted, perhaps taking notice of Monte's incessant watch-checking. "Tina is actually the one who came up with this tactic, so don't listen to her."
"I just said that one thing one time!" Tina protested.
"Basically, it's a reversal of your standard rescue cockblock," Dominic continued. "You know, someone chats you up and you want to retreat gracefully, so you signal your friend, and they come in and steal you away."
"Girls have been doing it for years," Sebastian said almost bitterly.
"So anyway, one night Tina got ditched by this other friend of ours who went home with some guy. And she said, you know what, I'll let her tell you."
Tina said "I said, 'This one guy rescued her from me.' It was just a dumb joke.'"
"But it worked!" said Leilani. "We tried it right away and it started working."
"So, the four of us go everywhere as a flock," Dominic said. "We pair off until one of us sees somebody we like. Then we go up to them and we say:"
"'Excuse me, can I ask for a favor?'" Sebastian responded to the prompt. "'This girl won't leave me alone, just talk to me until she gets the hint.'"
"That's an elegant ruse," Monte said. "So you're saying that works better than our site?"
"It accomplishes three things," Dominic replied. "One, it breaks the ice. Two, makes the other person feel important. Three, makes them feel superior to whoever we appear to be rejecting. And it was quick."
"Well, like you said," Calisto nodded to Sebastian, "This isn't really comparable. This is supposed to help you hook up with people quickly, while our site is supposed to connect you with someone who shares your taste."
"And your schedule," Monte added.
"What this thing supposed to do, anyway?" Leilani asked. "Is it like one Groupon for free food?"
"It's supposed to help you have lunch with people," Tina said.
"No, it's supposed to help you find people to have lunch with when you're already at the place where you go to eat," Dominic corrected them.
"Ohhhh, so like Tinder or Grinder, but for food?" Leilani asked.
"Yes," Calisto said, pretending she had heard of either of those things. "Precisely."
"So," Monte asked for the last time, "Operation Cockblock Rescue aside, how satisfied would each of you say you are with your experience using the site? Let's start with Tina."
"Meh," Tina said. "Average."
Leilani was next. "I dunno," she said. "I don't really use these kinda sites. I guess it works okay."
"I'm having a hard time finding new people on it," Sebastian said. "I went on two dates so far, and it keeps connecting me to the same people. I finally had to block them."
"Well, I for one have been very satisfied," Dominic said. "I found some good recommendations for places to eat, and I found one person from this site who I talk to almost every day. We haven't got together yet, but oh yeah, it's looking up."
"Thank you for your time, everybody," Calisto said. She and Monte shook hands with the four of them as they all left the conference room. Dominic left last, and looked her in the eye as the clasp of his hand lingered on hers. She heard herself thinking maintain eye contact and don't pass out.
"Don't worry about these guys," Dominic said. "You've got a good thing and it just needs to find its way to the right people."
Calisto just said "Thanks," quietly as Dominic rounded and walked out of the conference room door to join his friends. Monte was cleaning up their stuff, currently folding up a tripod for the mini camcorder he had brought to record their responses. Calisto went up to him to see if he needed any help but he was already putting it away half-finished.
"That went well," she said.
"Not bad for a huge waste of time. And a perfectly good conference room."
"Come on," she said. "It wasn't that bad."
"They didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. The site just needs more users. Thank you for wasting most of the one day I get with my kids."
"You didn't have to come to this," Calisto said. "This was all my idea."
"Maybe I didn't want to leave you alone with him," Monte said. "You probably would've gotten pounced if I wasn't here."
"Oh, don't make it about that," she said. "So he wants me to do well, what's the big deal?"
"Looks to me like you want him to do well. You want him to do well all over you."
"Don't be gross," she said.
"I'll show you the way you were looking at him sometime," Monte said, waving the camera case in the air. "Total eyefucks. But hey, if that's more important to you than this business."
"Stop," Calisto said. "You don't talk to me that way." He had been trying to leave and she was barricading him with her body.
Monte sighed. "I'm sorry. But you deserve better than that."
"You don't know anything about him. I'm starting to question whether you even know anything about me."
"Calisto, I just don't want you to make a mistake. This is a big thing we're doing and I'd prefer if we didn't blow it."
"Yeah, speaking of mistakes. That guy whose number you gave me? What the hell was that? Am I supposed to be forever grateful for that insult?"
"Just forget it," he said. "I should've known you wouldn't take that well."
"Tell you what. When I do fuck up my entire life and lose everything, than I'll let you swoop in and rescue me. Until then, we are strictly professional colleagues, and maybe we should keep it that way!"
"Fine!" Monte called after her as she was walking out. "And put those things away before you poke somebody's eye out!" The clack of her heels filled the empty hallway as angry tears beaded her eyelashes. She wasn't really upset at him, but found herself suddenly wanting his approval. In fact, she thought, he hadn't been this appealing since the night he was ignoring her at her place. They had the worst timing, these fleeting bouts of passion. Only under circumstances in which they absolutely could not be fulfilled did they seem to arise.