The arrow nearly struck Paige, but some carefully honed instinct warned her just in time to duck. The missile hit a building’s façade and disintegrated harmlessly.
She whirled to find her assailant and found him crouching by a Postal Service collection box.
“You chubby little shit!” she yelled, heedless of her fellow pedestrians who were beginning to watch her with some interest. “I should kick your ass all the way to Poughkeepsie.”
“No, you should let me do my job and make you happy.”
“Happy? When the hell have you ever made anyone happy? You’re making me miserable!”
Then Paige remembered – again – that she was the only one around who could see Cupid. As far as her fellow New Yorkers were concerned, she was having a one-sided screaming match with a mailbox. For most of them, this rated no more than a three on the weirdness scale, but it was the only street theater they had at the moment so they watched.
She looked around carefully at the faces unapologetically regarding her. “Sorry. Forgot my meds today. I’m not dangerous.” Keeping one eye on the archer for as long as she could, Paige quickly retreated up the street and around the corner. The little god flew up and over and hovered beside her and she stalked down the block. He needed the advantage of flight as his legs were far too short to keep up with Paige.
“Why,” she asked quietly, “do you insist on humiliating me like that?”
“I’m not trying to humiliate you, Paige. I’m trying to help you fall in love.”
“Oh, what? And there was a real choice guy back there? I didn’t see him.”
“You weren’t looking. That’s what I do. And I’ve been pretty successful for a few thousand years.”
“No, you’ve been successful at percolating people’s hormones with those damned arrows of yours. But love – real, lasting, sustained love – you don’t have a great track record with.”
Cupid flew in front of her and held out a hand to stop her. For a god of love he looked almost angry.
“You don’t know my track record, Paige. You’re informed only by your cynicism. And since I’m the only god you can see, you don’t know the enemies I face. Like the one who drove your parents apart.”
Paige stared at him sullenly for a moment. “Fine. You’ve got a tough job. So do I, and I don’t need your distractions.” She started walking again and he flew back to her side.
“Love isn’t a distraction, Paige. It complements who you are. It adds to your life; it doesn’t subtract from it.”
“Then explain….” She stopped to let some other pedestrians get by them. “Then explain all the yelling and screaming and cold shoulders and breakups and abuse.”
Cupid shook his golden-curled head. “In the first place, I don’t get everyone together. My arrows are not the only catalysts for love. Some things do it well, some don’t. You’re talking about the ones that don’t.” He shrugged. “Or the ones that my enemies work overtime to hurt, like your parents. Don’t think that doesn’t hurt me too. A god of love hates to see his work torn asunder.
“In the second place….” The child-god regarded Paige for a moment. “Tell me again what you do for a living.”
She gave Cupid a funny look. “You know I teach math at the Ulhart Center.”
“A correctional facility for youngsters who have committed crimes, and some of those crimes quite brutal.”
“That’s right. A lot of the kids are from broken homes, or homes that would be far better off if they were broken. It’s not their fault they haven’t been taught better how to live.”
“Do you like your job?” Cupid asked.
“Of course,” she said instantly. “I mean, it’s challenging, but trying to teach these kids how useful mathematics is, and how beautiful it can be, is a great way to spend a life.”
“Last month one of your pupils had you in a chokehold.”
“Not for long.”
“Not for long,” Cupid agreed.
“You don’t have to send a telegram; I get the message,” Paige said, sighing. “Love is beautiful but it takes work.”
“Then let me help you. Let me help you start on the most wonderful experience of your life.”
“Look, you just said you have enemies. Considering how long I’ve fought you off and dodged your stupid little arrows, don’t you think I’m going to be a prime target? And that’s if I had the slightest interest in a relationship. Me and the cockatiel are doing just fine, thank you very much.”
“I like birds too,” Cupid said, fluffing a wing. “But you could be so much more fulfilled with another person.”
Paige stopped on the sidewalk, her eyes starting to fill with tears.
“What do I have to do to get you to leave me alone?” she asked quietly. “Just go away.”
“You heard the lady,” another voice said. “Get out of here.”
Paige looked up and saw a man about her age standing there. He was staring hard at something over her right shoulder. Just for a moment, she dared to hope.
“You … can see him?”
“Short. Permanent case of baby fat. Wings. Well armed.”
“I didn’t know anyone else could see him,” Paige said.
Cupid politely made the introductions. “Paige, this is Ellery. Ellery, Paige.”
“He’s been pointing his rotten little archery set at me for years,” Ellery groused. “You?”
“Oh, yes,” Paige said. “It’s almost a full-time job just watching out for him.”
“Ellery, Paige teaches math at the Ulhart Center,” Cupid said, hearing a cue.
“Oh,” Ellery said, impressed.
“Paige, Ellery’s a hospice counselor,” the little god continued.
“Oh,” Paige said, impressed.
Paige and Ellery looked at each other for a few seconds, or a lifetime, before they realized it and became self-conscious. They turned back to the original item they had in common.
“I thought you were leaving,” Ellery told Cupid.
“Please,” Paige added.
Cupid shrugged and flapped his wings, pointing himself skyward.
He looked over his shoulder and smiled. Two tough nuts cracked. A good day’s work in New York City.
* * *