Keyword: I Do
Opposites attract but clash first.
He’s a people person who’s been burned.
She’s a people hater with a heart of “code”.
Together they can make or break each other’s dreams.
Shandie designed ClickandWed for the owner, excited to help others without having to talk to anyone or leave her house. She’s not a fan of people in real life and much prefers online interaction to anything else. When the website owner contacts her for a specific job, Shandie has to leave her comfort zone and she’s not sure she can.
Carlisle has had his heart broken, filed for bankruptcy, lost his home, and been shunned by his family because of a short stint in prison. The ClickandWed owner gave him a second chance and now she needs help with a special project. He has to work with the Closet Witch.
Shandie is mean and blunt but Carlisle can’t help being drawn to her. They sign up on the app to test the program and then get matched. Shandie stands by her program’s matching capabilities and Carlisle can’t fight his attraction. Can they survive six months or will they prove to be the exception to the app’s success?
Grab this poignant read where two hearts find love in the most unlikely of places.
I could do it. Why did I have to give myself a pep talk every time I needed to leave the house? At that point, it was only once a month, but still. Twelve pep talks a year? I couldn’t do anything without one.
Leaving the house shouldn’t be hard for a grown woman – a woman who could pay her own bills and have her own job. I could do this! Come on, Shandie. You can do this.
Usually, I scheduled the days I would leave the house well in advance so I would be prepared to leave, but this time my appointment was scheduled on a day Colin couldn’t meet me.
There were no stalkers or killers after me. I wasn’t that exciting. I had no idea where my paranoia came from. I lived in Sandpoint, Idaho for crying out loud. I think the last time someone died of unnatural causes the death made national news. I couldn’t remember the details but the death wasn’t from foul play.
Or so they presumed. I wasn’t saying something did happen, I’m just saying no one knows for absolutely certain that there was nothing else involved.
What was I afraid could happen? I wasn’t sure. There were too many possibilities. If I looked at it from a rational perspective, I know my odds of getting mugged were lower than my chances of running into Viggo Mortensen at the bakery. But my logical side and my emotional side didn’t usually get along.
People triggered a panic attack. It was plain and simple.
Back to the needed pep talk.
I could do this.
I stood at my front door, my laptop bag slung across my shoulder with my hands gripping the strap as if it was my lifeline. Honestly, it might be. I did not want to leave the house. I went through this every time.
Why hadn’t my Xanax kicked in yet? Maybe I better ask my home-visiting therapist for a stronger prescription.
I reached up and pressed on my eyes with my free hand. I could do this. I had to get to the office. I was expected at my job. All month I worked from home, but once a month I was expected to go in for a meeting with the company owner, Colin Davies. She didn’t mind visiting me here, but usually we had things to talk about at her office that she couldn’t cart over to me. She saved everything for our monthly meetings.
Finally, what could’ve been two hours after I took the stupid pill but was more like twenty minutes, the edge of anxiety receded. I took a deep breath and reached for the door knob.
I could do this.
Walking to my car and climbing in wasn’t the hard part. It was leaving behind the safety and silence of my home.
I got to the ClickandWed office building where it lorded over the northern corner of 3rd Avenue above the Panhandle Coffee and Cones. I’d never been inside the small ice cream parlor.
The car was easy to maneuver into a parking spot. I turned off the engine and gave myself another pep talk. I was twenty minutes early. I always had to leave about an hour before so I had time to talk myself into going.
Driving to the office took only three minutes from my house.
I took a deep breath and grabbed my laptop, but I stayed in my seat and counted to thirty-one. What an odd number, but it was my favorite prime number – thirteen backwards.
Thirty. Thirty-one. I jumped from the car, slamming the locked door and running up the office stairs as fast as I could. I avoided contact with anyone who might be on the stairwell or in the hallway. I didn’t want to talk to anyone I might see on the street. People. I liked to pretend I was allergic to them in clumps – like pollen in the spring.
I stopped at the top of the stairs and tried to focus on the fact that I had taken a Xanax and I should still be calm. It shouldn’t have worn off this soon. Twenty minutes. An hour. It didn’t matter. I’d pop another in the meeting, if it went over a couple hours.
Taking another deep breath, I exhaled through my lips. If I continued at this rate, I would soon pass out.
The whole ClickandWed office made up three large rooms which included a reception area, a conference room and Colin’s office.
I pulled open the main door and walked through, allowing the panel to shut behind me. I stopped, backing up to press my shoulder blades against the hardwood of the door.
Why did they have to keep redecorating? What was wrong with leaving the furniture and decorations the same between each month? It’s not like there’s anything wrong with how they had it before, or the time before that, or even before that. The change of environment threw me off and I could feel my heart rate speeding up.
I took stock of what was familiar as I counted softly in my head. Red curtains – one. Black and white checkered rugs – two. A large banner of the company logo on the wall – three.
Carlisle – four. I narrowed my eyes when I inventoried his broad shoulders. He stood at the contemporary architecture desk, leaning over paperwork I couldn’t identify from across the room. His dark hair fell across his forehead when he glanced over his shoulder and squinted at me. “Shandie Watson. Is it that time of the month already?” He looked down, missing my glare.
I wanted to talk to him about as much as I wanted to be outside of my house. Every time he spoke I swear he used double meanings.
Ignoring him, I didn’t say anything and pretended the other office assistant wasn’t there as I walked passed her.
It wasn’t fair Carlisle was friendly and good looking. He rounded the corner and came toward me. I slid to the side, trying to avoid any contact with him. He held out a cup of coffee, steam rising from the caramel colored liquid. “You had sugar and cream last time. I hope that is still how you like it.” His eyes. Dang it. I didn’t like being taken unaware and with my defenses down and partially drugged, I was vulnerable. Not my favorite way to talk to men – or women – or rocks.
My gaze flicked from his entrancing smile to the cup and back at him. I couldn’t take the drink from him. There was no way. I couldn’t lift my hand on my own, not toward him. My throat started to close as panic welled inside me.
Carlisle reached down and lifted my empty hand. He pressed the cup into my curved fingers and arched his eyebrows. “Normal people say thank you.” His gentle reproach stung, eliciting shame that didn’t mix well with my anxiety.
I mumbled something that may or may not have been thank you and pushed through to Colin’s office. At least that room hadn’t changed.
Would I ever be able to control my breathing? I clutched at the base of my throat, my chest rapidly rising and dropping. If I didn’t calm down, I would spill coffee all over the place. My defenses were up and my instinct to hide was overwhelming. Unfortunately, Colin didn’t have any blanket forts in her office.
Colin swiveled in her seat from the window overlooking the large lake scene. She smiled when she saw me. “Shandie. I’m so glad you could make it. I’m sorry for the last minute change in plans. Thank you for accommodating me. I know how hard this must be for you. Tomorrow… I just…” She shook her head gracefully, as she motioned for me to claim the seat across from her.
Had the anniversary come up again so soon? I’d only been concerned with my own problems and forgot to consider what could possibly force Colin to change anything she’d planned.
Colin continued. “Come on in. I’m excited to do this. I’ve wanted to get on this project for a while now, as you know.”
I hated going to the office, but once I settled in and focused on my job – secure in Colin’s office with just her and I, I actually didn’t mind being there. Colin had a strict rule that we weren’t to be interrupted under any circumstance and that helped a lot with my anxiety.
Not one to leap to lying, as much as Carlisle bugged me with his easy-going nature and obvious social-prowess, he was the only person besides Colin who wasn’t turned away by my antisocial behavior. Honestly, he wasn’t bad on the eyes either. Seeing him every once in a while was definitely a plus. Too bad I had to be drugged and tense every time I saw him.
“We need to go over the bulk of the website. I would like to see it have more power. I’ve already purchased more server space for that. I would also like to upload a lot of these testimonials that the previous couples have been sending me. Can we add an option for the international sites to click in as well? I think spreading availability to the UK as well as Canada and Australia will be a good place to start on this particular project.” Colin jumped in. She hated wasted time on chit chat as much as I did. One of many reasons I respected her like I did.
“It’s going good so far. Have there been any complaints? I haven’t noticed any matches that have been declined. Is that something we’re concerned about? The statistics show that as more people are matched, and are willing or able to make the investment, they are actually willing to try it.” The whole concept was one I loved more than coding. I couldn’t believe mail order brides was an old concept that Colin had made new again. She’d given it a contemporary twist so many people could use.
I know I was one of them. Unfortunately, I was too close to the project. It probably wasn’t ethical that I try it. Plus, no one wanted to be with someone who literally couldn’t leave the house.
Colin tapped the top of her desk with the end of a pencil and leaned back, crossing her legs. She considered me with narrowed eyes. “Are you interested in getting married, Shandie?”
I laughed, uncomfortable with the question. “Of course. Who isn’t interested in being in love? But, as you know, I can’t leave the house. And, let’s be honest, it’s not like I’m going to marry my neighbor. He’s ninety-two. I don’t care how many times he hits on me when I take my garbage out, I’m not marrying the guy.” I said it jokingly, but taking out my garbage took a lot of nerve and he seemed to watch me because every time I did it, there he was with some kind of a sick pickup line. I usually waved my hand and ducked back inside.
“All right, I can understand why you won’t date – at least around here. Have you considered trying the app? Before lowering the price, I need to make sure everything is going to work okay. For instance, I need to make sure I can even match an agoraphobic computer programmer. Can your program do that?” She winked at me, but her challenge was clear. Could my program match the most difficult of clients?
I took a moment to consider her. I didn’t want to get matched at least to the extent that I was doing it to prove a point about my work. I didn’t want to get married and see just how much rejection I could get. I’d been down that road before. Every time I tried online dating programs, I was stuck at my house while they were trying to meet with me in town.
My interest was low on dealing with rejection anymore. The online dating sites had never worked which was why I had agreed to help with an online marriage site.
Rejection aside, one thing I did know and had complete confidence in was that my program’s execution and performance was flawless. I lifted my chin and smiled. “My program will match anyone who signs up, if they have a match signed up on the computer. If they don’t have a match, the site isn’t going to conjure one up for them. You can’t say that there’s gonna be someone for me to be matched to who is just waiting on the database or even that someone is going to come on with the year. That’s a guarantee you can’t make and one I wouldn’t be foolish enough to back up.”
She didn’t seem perturbed by my talk about expectations or what was logical for her to expect. Colin swung back and forth as she watched me, her lazy movement deceptively calm. Nothing Colin did was meaningless or without a purpose. Her silence scared me. What did she have brewing in that head of hers?
After a long moment of thinking, she stopped moving and leaned over the legal pad in front of her. “So what? You won’t try? You’re going to lock yourself away in that house of yours and just not try? You can’t give up on yourself, Shandie. You deserve better than that.” Luckily, Colin was my friend as well as my boss.
I took work from her on a contractual basis but she paid me a base salary that went up when she needed an intensive job done. I pretty much came up with things to do and she paid me every month. The arrangement allowed me to stay home and not have to go outside and deal with other people. I cleared my throat.
Colin waved her hands and cut me off. “Your marital status isn’t my problem. My concern I want dealt with is site accuracy. If it’s high enough, I can go international. That’s what I want. I need that to be a for sure thing. I’ll deal with the hassles and legalities of going across borders, but what I need to know is if it can cross cultural boundaries and phobias as well. Do you see what I’m asking you for?”
I met Colin’s gaze. Was I sure my program could do what she wanted? Design I could do. What I needed was solid parameters Colin used as matching guidelines. She had to give me the updated ones so I could improve the algorithms that would decide if the matches were good or not.
From what I’d seen so far, based on the performance of the program, Colin had nothing but success behind her and her secret parameters. I had no idea how she came up with them, but their simplicity astounded me.
So far, her compatibility scores were good, but I needed them to be higher before they were something I’d consider to take on myself. “If we could get the scores to ninety-six percent higher or more, I would consider signing up myself.”
Colin smiled and finished spinning on her seat. “I’m going to hold you to that.”
Watching Shandie walk across the office reception area stirred a mix of emotion. Carlisle wasn’t the biggest fan of working with her, but he did like when Colin was happy with her site and with the performance of the matchmaking. All of that credit had to go to Shandie.
Throwing off Shandie’s game just came as a perk to having to deal with her. He threw her off her snooty and stuck up beeline for the office any time he was nice to her. Nothing wrong with that.
Rhoda, the other assistant in Colin’s office, approached Carlisle. “What did the Code Witch say? Was she nice this time?” She flicked her fingernails into the air, little droplets of water spraying from her fingertips. She must have just washed her hands.
Carlisle shook his head. He didn’t like talking bad about people, whether they deserved it or not. “Oh, she was fine. She must be having a rough day or something.” He was set to leave in another twenty minutes. He never understood why Shandie came at different times or that Colin had demanded they never be interrupted. Carlisle never got that consideration.
He tried talking to Shandie a couple of times, but she shut him down every attempt. He had checked her employee file. She wasn’t married or in some weird religion or anything that prevented her from talking to men. Colin said she was just shy, but the sense of panic he gathered from her expression when he looked at her, suggested it was more than shyness that held her at arms’ length.
Time to go home came and he knew better than to knock on the office door to interrupt. Even though he’d love another chance to “stab” at Shandie’s shell, he left. Rhoda was right behind him, shadowing his every move.
“Should we get drinks or something?” She batted her fake eyelashes at him, the long black eye-wigs fluttering as if with great effort.
Carlisle couldn’t help but smile. Rhoda’s persistence was flattering but also concerning. How many times did he have to say no before she’d get the hint? “Thanks, but I’m heading to the gym.”
She raked her gaze over his form and arched her eyebrow. “Looks like it’s working.” She wiggled her fingers at him and headed out the door. He wasn’t sure how long she would continue to try but he could definitely say he was not interested in her. He wasn’t into one night stands or women with an agenda.
Not when she came in every Monday and Thursday talking about her exploits with the men at the bars from ladies’ night. That fact should say something considering the only bars in Sandpoint barely had room for a pool table and a sports television.
After Carlisle put in a hard workout at the gym – leg day with lunges were his least favorite thing, he hurt for a couple days afterward, but the pain was better than nothing. He usually pushed hard, intent on tackling anything that got in his way.
As he gathered his gym items to head home for a night of uneventful activities, the gym manager, Maurice, approached him. “Hey, Carlisle, I can see you’re headed out, but would you be able to take on an extra class tonight for basketball? We had six extra kids show up and Johnny can’t make it in to help coach that one because his wife is finally in the hospital giving birth.”
Carlisle smiled. “Of course. You know I love helping out.” He put his bag down and rubbed his hands together. “Who do I get to torture tonight?” He ended on a laugh.
Maurice smiled back. “You’re the best coach we have, we’re pretty lucky to have you.”
Without having to search too hard inside himself, Carlisle knew it was the other way around. He was lucky to have a family there at the gym. He didn’t have time to go home and change so he took a shower at the gym after basketball practice and headed to the soup kitchen.
He didn’t eat at the soup kitchen. Carlisle loved serving and what a great way to meet people. Walking inside, he grabbed his apron and put a hairnet on. Washing his hands thoroughly, he jumped online between Timothy and his wife, Tamera.
Timothy bumped Carlisle with his shoulder, his hands extended over the mashed potatoes and gravy as he waited for the next guest. “I’m surprised you’re here. Weren’t you supposed to be getting married today? Or did I get you confused with the people you work with? Seriously, you work for a matchmaking company, get matched already.”
Tamera hushed her husband, “Psht. You be nice to him.” As they scooped up some food and smiled at the people they served, Tamera leaned toward Carlisle. “He’s right though, you have to find a nice girl and if you won’t do it here, consider someone abroad.”
Softly shaking his head, Carlisle smirked. “I’m not looking for any girls. I’m just trying to get through this life with my heart intact.” He couldn’t survive another heart break. He loved helping in the industry he worked in, matching people for their happily-ever-afters, but he wasn’t fooled into thinking he wasn’t doomed for less.
The night passed quickly and after serving, he couldn’t come up with anything else to do to stave off his lonely night at home. He wended his way through the small town streets until finding himself in front of his apartment door. The walk was way too fast for his taste.
Grabbing his mail of bills and sales fliers from the small box hanging beside his door, he slouched inside. Setting the mail on his counter, he went into the small kitchen and very methodically pulled a TV dinner from the freezer to slip into the microwave. While he waited, he tapped his foot and hummed softly to himself to cover the silence of the apartment.
He was all alone. That’s what he had to cope with. Being alone. But it was better than going for someone who was interested in him that he wasn’t interested in – like Rhoda.
After dinner and watching Alaska the Last Frontier, Carlisle settled on the couch, waiting for sleep to claim him. On his TV, a Facebook messenger window popped up. A group of ex-prisoners he used to know were in a chat and they’d tagged him on who the better team was – Mariners or Red Sox. He joined in the conversation, but just so he wouldn’t feel like he was ignoring his old friends. They had different interests and pursued different goals.
Before he fell asleep an email notification dinged on his phone. The message was official from Colin. “Meet me in the morning at Brewed, I have a new project for you to start.”
He liked new projects. He liked things that were different. But he also liked routine. He went to bed, cautiously excited about the next day.
I climbed off the treadmill and wiped the sweat from my brow. My phone buzzed in the cup holder of the treadmill and I pulled it out before it tried to buzz itself through the bottom hole. More than once I’d lost my phone through that hole only to have it bounce off the hard metal of the treadmill.
Swiping the screen, I blinked in surprise at a text from Colin. We had just had our meeting the other day or maybe it was last night. Time became irrelevant when I took Xanax and I usually needed a day or two to get back on track.
Colin’s text readColin Can I come over? I found a resolution to our problem.
I didn’t realize we had a problem. I would have to consult my notes from our meeting but I was pretty sure we had figured everything out for the program. I knew Colin was concerned with my antisocial behavior and how that would play a part in the platform’s performance. I had no worries though. I studied people. I knew what they liked and what they didn’t.
But if Colin wanted to come over, that was fine by me. “Sure, I’ll be ready by nine.” I still had to take a shower and put some coffee on. I would need to check and see if my grocery deliveries were still scheduled for later that day as well.
After I got ready and was downstairs pouring myself a cup of coffee, the doorbell ring. Sipping my cup, I made my way to the door that was secured shut with a triple deadbolt and sliding-lock. Going through each lock and releasing them to open the door, I pulled open the panel and stopped. I blinked. “Colin, you brought someone.” Lovely.
And I knew who he was. Carlisle. Why would she bring him? He had no respect for personal boundaries. The guy was constantly being way too friendly. I’m not sure why that was a bad thing, but just showing up with him at my house put a damper on my day. His friendliness and his overly bright smile and broad shoulders that were just a little too strong for comfort.
But I was in my house. I was in my comfort zone, so I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated, just irritated and sassy.
Colin smiled broadly. “Shandie, I brought Carlisle. I think he’s exactly what we’re looking for to help with our solution to my problem. Can we come in?” She looked past me, as if waiting for a special invitation that there was no way I would deny her.
I pushed the door open and motioned them in. I gave Carlisle the once over, again impressed that he was able to make a pair of slacks and a button-up shirt look like he was dressed to go to the drag races. He exuded masculinity and, for once, I had to swallow a sense of challenge in my own home. But a good challenge, one I could feel myself rising to.
Colin led the way into my kitchen. She’d been there many times before and knew her way around. She reached up into the cupboard and pulled out two more cups, pouring a mug of my best coffee for her and Carlisle. I didn’t say anything as I arched my eyebrow and sipped my own, sliding into a seat at the expansive island counter.
Taking a seat beside me, Colin motioned for Carlisle to join us. He missed the gesture as he looked around my kitchen and what he could see of the living room from our vantage point. “This is beautiful. You have great lighting in here.”
Of course the first words out of his mouth would be amiable and friendly. The guy did not know how to be sassy or unappealing.
Not that I wanted a guy to be sassy… or unappealing.
Colin reached into her purse I hadn’t noticed she was carrying and pulled out some papers. When I say some I should instead say she pulled out a stack that could’ve been a small novel. She slapped the pile onto the top of my granite counter, the thwap loud in the suddenly quiet kitchen. “I know that my parameters work.” She amended her statement when she saw my raised eyebrows. “I know that Shandie’s algorithm has provided the data to see that my parameters work. Because of your algorithms, I know we’ve had successful matches so far. I really want to go international. But before that, I want my matches to be ninety-six percent or better in compatibility before I want them introduced. From what I understand, we had a close call with one of our couples and they were already best friends beforehand. That kind of scares me. There’s a lot at risk here when you go international and I don’t want to be in the middle of some kind of Chinese lawsuit.
“I’m a good matchmaker. As we can see by the performance of the parameters I’ve set forth.” She tapped the stack of papers and tucked her chin. “But from here on out, I would like to be more defined. Here is my list of parameters I want used going forward.”
I desperately wanted to beg her to not shove forward the papers under her hand. Please, tell me that wasn’t the parameter changes she wanted done. But she did, pushing the thick paper closer and closer and closer and closer to me.
“I was hoping you were going to say that’s your grocery list.” Carlisle eyed the stack with even more trepidation than I had myself.
I swallowed. “What do you care about the parameters? I’m the one that has to code them in. Colin I tossed the teasing glance at Carlisle to hopefully take the sting out of my words and then turned my gaze to Colin. “Seriously, the parameters you have incorporated are great. Do you understand what kind of a project this is? It’s gonna take at least a month and the cost is not going to be cheap. The salary you pay me is just a retainer. It won’t be enough to cover this complete overhaul.” Plus, as much as I didn’t want to put my ego into it, I kind of felt like she was slapping me across the face with her new guidelines and saying in not so many words that the website we had so far wasn’t good enough.
But dang it, I knew it was good enough. We had had multiple successful matches and the compatibility was fairly high. Well into the 90 range. I wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking for, but I knew my program was solid.
Carlisle didn’t answer after my retort, but he was the least of my concerns.
Colin smiled at me. “I know it looks like a lot. There’s a lot of repeats in there, but I rewrote the parameters with the idea in mind that anyone can match from anywhere through any culture. So there are some things in there that will need to be redefined. You can see the map and how they lead into each other by leaving the old parameters in there for reference. Not only that, but they’re color-coded. I’m sorry. I love the way it looks and everything. Just leave the US site alone for now, then once the international site is ready, we can incorporate them together. We need the universal red, white, and black as our colors. We also need to make sure we have different laws and things addressed. Those are listed in there as well.”
She finally took a breath and sipped her coffee, but I knew she wasn’t done. She lowered her cup and continued. “We’re only opening three new countries at this point anyway. So it would be nice to just slowly move into the transfer rather than jump into it. So, if you think a month, than I’m fine with a month. Just let me know how much it’s going to be.”
Colin glanced at her watch and thrust her finger in the air between Carlisle and myself. Glancing at us, she slid from the stool. “I’m heading out. I won’t be in the office today. Carlisle, why don’t you stay and work things out with Shandie? I need to get going.” Her expression darkened and she gathered her purse and drank the rest of her coffee before hustling out the door.
Carlisle half-stood from the stool as Colin disappeared. I just kind of sat there. What had just happened and why was I alone with a man in my house?
I gripped both hands around my cup and looked at him from the corner of my eye. What was he doing in my house? What was going on?
He lowered himself back down to the stool and took a deep breath. “I hate when she does that.”
“Yes, she does it to me a lot.” I pulled the stack of parameters over to my seat and flipped through the pages, just the first few. I put them down and leaned my head back. “Okay, I guess I’ll need to start mapping. What are you supposed to do today? Need to go back to the office?” I drank some more of my coffee and realized I didn’t even know what he did there. I think he was her assistant but I wasn’t sure. Plus, I know she said he should stay at my place, but she had to be joking.
“Well, she told me to stay here and help you. So I guess I’m here helping you.” He shrugged and drank his own coffee as he studied my kitchen.
“Yeah, but with what? Are you an assistant or something? Do you get her donuts?” Donuts actually sounded pretty good.
Instead of being offended, he laughed, the sound husky and appealing. “I’m not that kind of assistant. If you want donuts, you have to order them in.” Why didn’t he have the decency to at least look insulted? The guy was gonna be hard to play with.
“Are her parameters bad?” He looked hopeful, like maybe she would have to start over and he wouldn’t have to stay there with me.
I glanced at the stack of papers I’d been avoiding. “Oh no, I’m sure they’re fine. Colin knows her stuff.” Thinking about Colin’s situation always left me feeling bereft and lost.
“Has she ever been in love?” He eyed me, as if he knew something and was just checking to see if I did. Playing games with other people’s secrets never sat well with me.
Of course I knew Colin’s story. I was a computer person. I could find out anything about anyone. “Yeah, she has been in love, desperately in love. They had like this forever love, you know? The kind you read about. But… It’s a tragic story and it’s one you probably should hear from Colin.”
A look of satisfaction covered his face and he nodded tightly. “I already know the story. I’m glad you aren’t the type to talk about a friend behind her back.”
I was glad he had the same trait.