Happiness

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Emmett hadn’t been on a date in over two years, so he was very nervous. His hands were trembling slightly as he ordered his coffee and took a seat in the middle of the coffee shop, where he was sure to be spotted. The girl that he had met online seemed to be very… peculiar. Her name was Christie, and she seemed reasonably intelligent, and very pretty, but there was always something odd about the way that she talked. Everything that she had said sounded foreboding, in a way. It was difficult for Emmett to describe. He hoped that seeing Christie in person would give him a better idea of what he was dealing with.

“Emmett?”

He looked up. Christie was standing just over him. “Hi. Yeah, that’s me,” he said nervously. He realized how sweaty his hands were, and wiped them on his pants before shaking her hand.

“I’m Christie,” she smiled, taking a seat across from him.

For a moment, they looked into each other’s eyes, and Emmett struggled to find a conversation to start with. Clearing his throat, he began, “So I understand that—”

“Before you say anything,” Christie interrupted, “I have something that I should probably explain to you.”

Emmett had been caught off-guard. “Okay. Um, what is it?”

“I have this… problem,” Christie said hesitantly.

Emmett feared the worst. “You should’ve mentioned this when we talked online.”

“I know, I know, I just really feel like it’s the kind of conversation that should happen in person,” she sighed.

“Well… well… what is it then?” Emmett asked. His hands were trembling again, so he hid them under the table.

“I’m not allowed to be happy,” she said.

Emmett narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I can’t experience true happiness,” Christie clarified.

“Is it… like, a mental problem? Some sort of dopamine deficiency, or something?”

She shook her head. “I wish that it were so simple. The trouble is, if I ever experience true happiness, I’ll die.”

Emmett leaned forward. “Die? So you’re allergic to dopamine.”

“I can be happy, but not perfectly happy,” Christie explained. “True, perfect happiness. Have you ever had one of those moments where everything feels just right?”

Emmett nodded. “Yes, I suppose I have.”

She shrugged. “I haven’t. If I ever have that feeling, I’ll drop dead on the spot.”

Emmett didn’t know what to say. “I’m… I’m sorry to hear that!”

“So here’s the problem with this whole dating thing,” Christie said with a smile. “I want to have a meaningful relationship, like most people do, but I’m afraid that it might kill me!”

Emmett saw the problem. “So then… why did you invite me here? I might kill you!”

She shook her head. “I’m trying to get it all figured out. Would it be better to spend the rest of my life alone, or risk dying to have a meaningful relationship?”

“I don’t know,” Emmett said, feeling even more nervous than before. For an instant, he feared that she would die right here and now, but clearly this date wasn’t going well enough for that to happen.

“It’s difficult, you know?” Christie sighed. “How do you think it feels to go out and do something fun, afraid that you’re going to get yourself killed?”

“It must be very hard for you,” Emmett said uneasily. He wasn’t sure how to act. He hadn’t prepared for the date to take this kind of direction. Usually the heavy stuff didn’t hit until the second or third date.

“There’s two options for me,” she sighed. “Firstly, we have this date, but then we go our separate ways. That seems like a waste of time, doesn’t it? The second option is that we keep going out and see where it takes us. Maybe I won’t feel that perfect happiness for years. I mean no offense,” she added quickly.

He frowned. “What’s offensive?”

“I know that if we were to date, you would want me to be happy,” Christie said. “If I survive for several years, I don’t want you to feel guilty about not making me happy enough.”

“If you died I would feel guilty too!” Emmett exclaimed.

“You see how difficult this is?” she complained. “Relationships simply don’t make sense if I’m afraid of being happy! You’d be terrified during every date that you took me on! You’d constantly be wondering if this would be the date that pushed me over the line!”

Emmett shrugged. “I could plan dates that aren’t very fun.”

“But what kind of girlfriend would do that to you?” Christie moaned. “You should be enjoying yourself!”

“Well, you did say that it had to be perfect happiness to kill you,” Emmett said. “You wouldn’t get that just from little dates, would you?”

Christie shook her head. “You want to get married someday, don’t you? And raise a family?”

Emmett shifted in his seat uneasily. “I guess I do.”

“Suppose that I don’t experience that perfect moment of happiness until after we’ve settled down, gotten a home, and had kids. Would you want to be left a single father? Not only would I be ruining your life, but also the lives of our kids!”

He scratched his head. “I see your problem.”

Christie leaned back in her seat, and sighed, “I’ve never had a real boyfriend, you know. All through high school, all through college… I was afraid.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Emmett said. There seemed to be no other reasonable response.

“Maybe I’ll never feel perfect happiness,” she considered. “Maybe I’ll always be too afraid. But if I let my guard down for just a moment too long… Is it better to live a long, mediocre life, or have a short, happy one?”

Emmett smiled faintly. “At least you can guarantee that you’ll die happy.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Christie laughed.

Her laugh made Emmett flinch, as if she were to die right in front of him.

She must’ve noticed his nervousness, because she said, “I don’t want people to be afraid of me. Would it have been better if I hadn’t said anything about this?”

Emmett shook his head. “If you hadn’t told me about this, it would be a lot scarier when you dropped dead.”

“But even that must be better than going through the entire relationship living in fear!” Christie argued. “People die all the time, and sometimes we don’t really know why. It would be unfortunate, of course, but you wouldn’t be afraid.”

Emmett smiled at her, but he didn’t know what to say.

She smiled back. “Do you want to go on another date after this?”

He hesitated. “I’m… I’m not sure.”

Christie smirked at him. “It’s a yes or a no.”

Letting out a deep breath, he gave his answer.

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