Jacob pulled his watch out of his pocket and looked at it in dismay. It had stopped again. The darn thing just could not seem to keep time properly anymore. What was worse, though, was the fact that he had no idea what time it was and the closest guess he could make was ‘late.’ Again. He doubted very much that Bethany would forgive him this time. She had been very specific about that last time.
Oh, well, Jacob thought to himself. Might as well go take my lumps and be done with it.
When he arrived at Bethany’s house, the party was already in full swing. Several dozen people, none of whom Jacob knew, were milling about in the living room and dining room. The smokers had been banished to the patio and Jacob decided to join them. Maybe he could convince Bethany that he had not been late, but delayed by some chatty smoker on his way in. It was at least plausible.
After making sure that Bethany was nowhere in sight, Jacob joined a small group of puffing guests in the midst of a deep debate. The trio, two men and a woman, made room for him, widening their circle without missing a beat in the conversation.
“Personally, I think she’s quite mad,” said the woman.
“Well, she’s always been a bit eccentric, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say she’s crazy,” said the taller of the two men.
“She isn’t eccentric at all. She just has a penchant for falling for the wrong kind of guy.” The shorter, more diplomatic man sipped a rum and coke.
“Wrong kind of guy, indeed.” The woman gulped her own drink – a martini – and fingered a string of pearls that was draped across her ample bosom. “She’s a bloody nut bar, if you ask me.”
“You’re just jealous,” said the short man.
“Of what? Her imaginary boyfriend? I prefer my men to have flesh and blood, thank you very much.” The woman tossed back the last of her drink, abandoning the olive in the bottom of the glass.
“What makes you think he isn’t real?” the tall man asked.
“Do you see him anywhere?” countered the woman. She looked around as if seeking this unknown, unseen man of whom they were talking. “Well, do you?”
The others looked around as well, the tall man, the short man and Jacob, though it was clear than none of them even knew who they were looking for. It seemed to Jacob to be a wasted effort, but he looked nonetheless.
“How do you know he’s not here?” asked the short man, standing on tiptoes to get a better look. His eyes fell on Jacob. “I mean, this fellow here might be him.” He pointed at Jacob.
“Are you?” the woman and the tall man asked in unison.
Jacob was taken aback for a moment. “It’s hard to say,” Jacob said. “I don’t know who you’re looking for.”
“Neither do we,” said the tall man.
“I see,” said Jacob. There seemed little else to say in the circumstances.
“We’re looking for Bethany’s imaginary boyfriend,” the woman explained. “He’s supposed to be some sort of musician, but no one’s ever seen him. Apparently, he doesn’t even have a cell phone.”
“Doesn’t believe in technology,” said the short man. “According to Bethany, he carries one of them silly pocket watches that went out of style about the time the dinosaurs died off.”
“Doesn’t own a computer. Doesn’t even drive!” the tall man said. “Bethany says that he lives off the grid.”
“Whatever that means,” said the woman, shivering in revulsion. She lifted her empty glass and teased the olive into thinking it was going to be consumed, then changed her mind and let it fall back to the bottom of the glass again.
“Well, if I see him anywhere, I’ll tell him you want to meet him,” Jacob said and backed away from the group.
Through the patio doors, Jacob saw Bethany working the crowd inside. He stepped into the shadows under the eave next to an open window. He could hear Bethany talking.
“I’m going to kill him,” she said. “I told him to be here by nine and it’s after nine-thirty.”
“Why don’t you call him?” Someone suggested.
“I would if I could,” said Bethany, “but he doesn’t have a phone.”
“He doesn’t have a phone?”
“Doesn’t believe in them.”
“How can anyone not believe in phones?”
“Well, he has a phone, but it’s only for emergencies.”
“Serious? How do you get in touch with him?”
“We make arrangements when we’re together.”
“That doesn’t sound very efficient.”
“It’s not. It’s a bloody pain. I don’t know how many times he’s said he’d be somewhere and not shown up.”
“Well, honey, I’d dump the clod if I were you.”
“You think? This is the last straw. Next time I see him, I’m going to tell him that either he gets a phone so I can get hold of him or he gets lost.”
“Good for you. Who needs a deadbeat like that anyway?”
Jacob, having heard enough, moved away from the window and crossed the patio. He had to pass the trio who were still debating Bethany’s sanity.
“Hey, bud,” the tall man called out to him, “Do you know what time it is?”
Jacob stopped. “Sure,” he said, pulling his watch out of his pocket and holding it up so they could see it clearly. “It’s time to go.”
They all stared open-mouthed at Jacob as he and his watch disappeared into the night.