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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Mythology · #2099570
What's a retired god of love supposed to do on Valentine's Day?
Early February is never a fun time in Northeast Ohio, where the sun seemingly takes a vacation. The temperature fluctuates between twenty-one degrees above zero and ten degrees below, sometimes within an hour. The impromptu holidays known as “snow days” thrill students, while simultaneously making adult workers long for the acne-filled, teen-angst days of high school once more. Road conditions severely deteriorate, but busy schedules refuse to accommodate increased travel time, leaving the owners of appointment books to adjust their timeline accordingly. Brief glimpses of a blue sky give residents hope that the hell of February will abate, but the idea is soon smashed by the downfall of snow, which occurs days, hours, or minutes later. February is not a good time for Northeast Ohio, nor for most of it's residents.
Mercifully, February is the shortest of months, although it certainly does not feel like it. In the middle of February, there is a certain day individuals both look forward to and fear: Valentine's Day.
St. Valentine, the individual for which the day was named, had literally nothing to do with romantic love. He likely never had a partner of any sort, but instead was known for his charity. However, since charity is a difficult thing to market, the day has come to represent romance and passion. That being so, practically the only people who look forward to February are the owners (and their stock holders) of greeting card, candy, and specialty stores. Valentine's Day has come to be a day for loving couples to show how much they appreciate one another with cards, chocolates, stuffed bears, jewelry, and other tokens of affection, while the un-partnered are left to desperately look through their list of phone numbers, in search of another single individual who might spend the evening with them. Valentine's Day is a wonderful time for sturdy couples to affirm their dedication for each other, and for those who may be going through some trouble, to revive their passion. It is a sweet and romantic time, beautiful and loving. Since St. Valentine himself would likely not wish to take credit for this, most of the thanks can go instead to that cute, chubby cherub, with his whimsical quiver of heart-shaped arrows and his diaper.

The man stood in front of the card shop. The windows were flooded with images of the diapered baby and his bow, shooting hearts at the onlookers. In other sections of the windows, the effects of his arrows are felt through pierced paper hearts and other, similarly antiquated symbols of cliché-love. The man stared at the window in silence, his face downcast and somber.
“What the hell have they done to me?” he muttered to himself.
The man was not impressive to look at, but he certainly was not unattractive. He was nearly five and a half feet tall; short, yes, but not enough to be extraordinary. At first glace, his face appeared youthful, but a closer look into his frosted eyes betrayed a centuries-old pain. Dark brown strands of unkempt hair hung to his shoulders, which were hunched, giving the impression that he was shorter than he was. He wore a simple grey t-shirt, under a pinstriped blazer, and a pair of jeans. A casual passer would never have noticed him, no, they would never have looked twice.
That had been the idea, of course. It was difficult for him to go unnoticed around Valentine's Day, particularly. When he had come to the mall, he had just wanted a few moments to himself, to indulge in self-deprecation and resentment. It was difficult for him to blend in, particularly on this day, but up to this point, he had done it. Howver, while he was busy staring at the window in sullen frustration, he failed to notice he was not as unnoticed as he had thought.
“You've been looking at that store for awhile now,” a youthful female voice said from his side. “Are you trying to decide what you should buy for your Valentine?”
“Hmm,” he huffed, trying to ignore the interruption. “No.”
The young woman breathed deeply, as if embracing the atmosphere. “I just love Valentine's Day,” she gushed. "Don't you?”
Finally, the man turned to view the speaker. It was a woman in her early twenties, if that. She was even shorter than he, but only by a fraction. Her unnaturally black hair hung to just below her ears, and chestnut eyes peered out from behind wire-rimmed glasses. She wore a black-and-white checkered-blouse, above a too-short black skirt. Black tights covered her legs and, from mid-calve down, her feet were adorned in black, leather boots. Her deep-red lips smiled back at him as he smelled the aroma of manufactured allure wafting off of her. She was adorable, yes, but she seemed to be trying too hard to be even more so.
“It's a holiday, celebrating the death of a third-century martyr with faux-romance and mass-marketing,” the man shrugged. “What's not to love?”
“Oh, come on,” the woman pouted. “Don't be so jaded. Do you have a special
The man returned his attention to the store window, sighing. “According to this store,” he muttered, barely audible, “every Valentine belongs to me.”
“What was that?”
“Never mind,” the man replied, turning back to his conversation partner. “No, I don't have anyone special.”
“Well, there's still a little time left,” the woman smiled at him, endearingly. “Maybe you'll find someone!.”
He saw the soft white of her cheeks suddenly complimented by a red tint. She was trying to seem aloof, but the twinkle in her eyes betrayed her. Maybe it really was time for him to have a Valentine. It could not hurt to give it a try, after all. It was surely better than being alone.
“I don't typically celebrate Valentine's Day,” he replied, desperately fighting a smile that was creeping onto his lips. “Maybe it's time to break that habit.”
The woman giggled as the smile finally broke through the man's defenses. “I'm Eve,” she informed him, extending her hand.
The man accepted her hand, raised it to his lips, and kissed it softly. “It's a pleasure, Eve,” he said. “You can call me... Erik.”
He held her hand for a moment longer, watching the lights within her eyes dance. It was all she needed to enhance her beauty.
“You know,” a new voice interrupted the moment with a flurry of rehearsed contempt, “it's a shame what this culture has done to the image of Cupid.”
The man who called himself Erik turned to the newcomer with a quickly rekindled frustration. “Really?” he asked, coldly.
"Yes,” the interloper, in a sweater vest with jeans two sizes too tight, nodded. “Look at that: a flying baby in a diaper? That was not how the god of erotic love was meant to be portrayed.”
“You don't say.”
“I do say,” the young man ran his fingers through his disheveled hair and down the side of his beard. “Do you know what Cupid's name was originally?”
Erik regarded the interloper apathetically. “What was Cupid's original name?” He asked, patronizingly.
“His name was Eros,” the man said, holding his head high, pretensiously looking to ensure that his audience appreciated his knowledge. “It was his Greek name, his true name.”
Erik stared back at the boy, unimpressed.
“When Rome conquered Greece,” the man continued, “they changed his name to Cupid, so as to avoid confusion between the two nations. However, many historians justify the reason for Cupid's bow as a tribute to his original title.”
“Rome didn't conquer Greece, they--” Erik froze as the realization of what had just been said sunk in.
“Cupid carries a bow and... Eros?”
“I know, I know,” the man chuckled. “It sounds lame now. What you have to remember is, at that time, puns were the height of comedic sophistication.”
“Hmm,” Erik nodded. “So, Cupid's a pun.”
He began to walk away. It would have been pointless to correct the bafoonery, especially since the man had clearly only been looking for a way to begin conversation with Eve. Erik couldn't think of anything of nothing that he wanted more at that moment than to, once again, become unnoticed.
“Wait,” Eve called after him. “I thought you were my Valentine!”
He continued walking, without turning.
“Well, that was certainly rude,” the boy said, joining Eve at the window, and draping his arm across her shoulders. “It's a shame how inferior minds are intimidated by a superior intellect.”
Eve glared at the boy in frustration, attempting to shrug away from his arm. “You just drove off my Valentine,” she grumbled.
“Oh, you didn't need him, sweetie,” the man chuckled, and tightened his hold on Eve's shoulders. “I'll be your Valentine. Don't you know smart is the new sexy?”
Eve looked at the boy, as he laughed casually. She impressed by the fact that the longer she stared at the man, the less attracted she was to him. As he attempted to pull her closer, she shoved him away, aggressively: “Get off me, creep!”

His name was not Erik. That had simply been the first name which had popped into his head. It was close enough to his real name, anyway. Then again, it had been a very long time since he had used his original name. Maybe he should start doing that again.
After looking at the store window and hearing the trendy boy's idiotic rant, even thinking about the name “Cupid” made him want to wretch. Of course, considering it from a different light, the images in the window could have been considered flattery, in some demented, insulting way. Most of the other Roman gods had been relatively forgotten, their stories delegated to the same general category as “Snow White” and “Three Little Pigs,” but considerably less popular. Cupid was still a household name. Few knew his stories or his history, but everyone knew who he was. Of course, everyone also knew him as a little cartoon baby with a toy bow, who shot cartoon hearts. It seemed a little over-the-top. When Rome had replaced Greece (since it was really a natural progression; “conquered” was too strong of word, especially considering the original Romans actually were Greek), they had simply adapted the Greek pantheon, probably out of laziness, to suit their own needs, and then designated new names for the gods. Thus, Ares became known as Mars, Zeus as Jupiter, and so on. Most of the Olympians had resisted the change, clinging to their Greek names (since Greece was cooler, anyway), but Eros had chosen to embrace the name Cupid.
Change was inevitable. Accepting it seemed like less work than resistance. Besides, he liked the sound; Cupid seemed like a more impressionable name. Judging from the store window, the assessment had not been incorrect.
He desperately wanted to smoke. With each step, the Brickhouse cigar inside of his blazer's breast pocket tempted him. Brickhouse was certainly not his favorite cigar. The lack of complexity sometimes made it boring and a bit tedious to finish. Still, it was a consistently nice and casual smoke. Right now, he was “jonesing” a bit. The interaction outside the card shop had damaged his calm. He would have pulled it out and lit up right there, but he did not want to chance it with so many people around him. Normally, he could smoke in public, unnoticed, but again, the card shop had caught him off-guard. It may have been a fluke.
Eve had been desperate for a Valentine. She had gone out of her way to notice a melancholy man, standing outside of a card shop, since that would have drawn her attention. The third party, overly secure in his pompous “knowledge” of mythology, had been noticing Eve, only seeing him through association. Reaching into his pocket, he fondled the cigar with longing. It was still better not to risk it.
A short distance away from where he wandered aimlessly through the mall, Erik noticed a tall, thin, well-dressed man, standing with a clipboard. Every now and then, an unlucky individual met his gaze. He then approached them, asking them to participate in whatever he was promoting. Most of the time, people shifted their gaze and ignored him as best they could. Occasionally, a person would stop, listen to him for a moment, then walk away again. Erik almost felt sorry for the man. He was working so hard, trying to talk to people, and he was clearly getting nowhere. It may have been because of pity, or perhaps because he needed something to distract him from the urge to smoke, but either way, Erik decided to investigate what the man was soliciting.
“Excuse me,” he said, approaching the man.
The man nodded to him, stepping out of his way.
”Excuse me.” Erik reasserted himself, stepping closer to the man.
The man looked at him curiously. “May I help you?” he stammered.
“I was just wondering what it was you're promoting.”
“Oh, this?” the man looked at his clipboard. “It's just a survey we're taking in order to promote a new drug, which is said to help-- did you want to take the survey?”
“I would,” Erik nodded. “It sounds as though it could be fun.”
“It is,” the man encouraged him with raised eyebrows. “We're only promoting this drug today, and only at this location! You're in for a real experience!”
“Well, that does sound exciting,” Erik laughed. “Lead the way.”
The man motioned for Erik to follow him down a long hallway, toward an office door. Erik followed him happily. This was an excellent distraction!

NAME: Erik Smith GENDER: Male
AGE: 32
ADDRESS: 222 B. Baker Street
WHEN ENTERING A RELATIONSHIP, DO YOU EXPECT IT TO SUCCEED: I don't expect to enter a relationship, period. If one were to come along, it would be a shock, and I doubt very seriously if it would last beyond meeting my family.
WHAT DO YOU WANT MORE IN A RELATIONSHIP - MENTAL OR PHYSICAL COMPATIBILITY: There really is no good way to answer this question. If I say “mental”, you'll assume my standards are too high, and that's the reason for my failing relationships. If I say “physical,” you'll assume I'm shallow, and that will be your reasoning for the same result. If I say I'm waiting to find a combination of both, then you'll assume I'm a lost cause, living in a dreamworld (or that I meant to say physical, but didn't want to be considered shallow). Therefore, I'm just going to say “mentally physical”. Yeah, try to define that!
AFTER A RELATIONSHIP ENDS, DO YOU EXPECT TO MAINTAIN FRIENDSHIP: Most of my relationships have ended when she died. Wait, that doesn't sound good. Where's the eraser on this stupid pen...
ARE FINANCES SHARED OR INDIVIDUAL: I could really care less. I mean, I've got plenty of money, I don't really need hers. In fact, I should probably be collecting royalties from greeting card stores for using my image so frequently. Of course, that would mean I'd have to admit it's my image! I don't know if I really want to make such a confession. Plus, if I did get in a relationship, that'd mean I'd have to confess to her this is actually who I am. Let's keep finances individual for now.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD ROMANCE OCCUR IN ORDER TO KEEP A RELATIONSHIP STRONG: In the perfect relationship, romance should never end.
WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF A PERFECT DATE: One where she doesn't even have to see me to know I'm there. She'll just feel my touch, and know she is safe with me. I can share myself with her, and she with me, and our eyes don't even have to meet. We'd be satisfied with one another, beyond the line of sight, merging our hearts and our minds on a level transcending visual stimulation.
HOW LONG SHOULD A RELATIONSHIP LAST BEFORE PROPOSAL: ...I'm sorry, I just saw my life flash before my eyes...

Walking from the testing room to the front desk, Erik handed his completed survey (five pages of relationship questions with very little rhyme or reason to the questions asked) to the disinterested receptionist. Without looking up at him, she accepted the results, motioning for him to have a seat in the waiting room with the other survey-takers to await his payment. There were three other men and two women, each with varying degrees of emotion on their faces. One man (6'2”, with dark hair, a broad chest, and muscular arms) looked anxious, as if the results of this test would tell him whether or not he should join a local chapter of monks. One woman (5'11”, blond hair, blue eyes, with a slightly heavy build) looked confident, as if nothing the test could tell her told her would affect her dating life in any shape or form, and she could still walk away with any man she chose. Erik sat in a vacant chair, smiled at the room's fellow occupants, picking up a 6-month old magazine.
The articles did not interest him, but he needed something to distract him from the faces of the others in the room.
After waiting for roughly twenty minutes, and seeing the occupants of the room change to two women and one man, not including himself, his name was called. He chose to let the mystery of Will Smith's eternal youth remain unresearched, set down the magazine, and walked to the front desk, where the receptionist offered him a robotic smile. Sitting on the counter was a small, purple bottle, labelled “Elixir leAmore”, directly above the “SAMPLE” disclaimer. Erik did his best to restrain his curious cynicism as he approached the counter and returned the robot's apathetic smile.
“Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey,” the receptionist said with all the sincerity of a two-month late Christmas card. “Your participation is greatly appreciated. The results of your test indicate you could potentially benefit greatly from use of our new product.”
Erik pointed to the bottle on the counter. “This stuff?”
“Yes,” the receptionist confirmed. “After usage of this free sample, you should have sufficient information to make an accurate determination on whether --”
Erik picked up the bottle, studying it. “What's it supposed to do?” he asked.
“Our studies have shown that, through the use of this product,” the receptionist continued without pause, “individuals have been able to establish stronger, more committed relationships, along with a more satisfying --”
“All of that, from this?” Erik opened the bottle, smelling the contents and inhaling deeply.
A fruity aroma wafted back at him. From the depths of the bottle, he could smell allure, as if it were a presence. It was a mixture of pheromones, stimulants, and other ingredients, designed to trick the mind into believing it was finding, or that it had found, love. The concentration of the ingredients was not strong enough to produce a lasting result. Even with prolonged exposure, the result would only be temporary, and it would only produce results on the recipient. There was nothing in the bottle that would make the taker any more desirable, aside from perhaps a placebo-version of confidence, and it certainly would not aid them in relationship development. There was one prominent ingredient, which Erik could not identify. It smelled somewhat like a chemical mix of lilacs and fermeldihyd, shrouded behind a strange smell that Eric could not identify exactly. Looking at the list provided on the bottle, he was familiar with each one, suggesting that the ingrediant was unlisted. This one facet remained a mystery. It hardly mattered, though; his analysis stood.
Closing the bottle, he set it back down on the counter. “This isn't going to work,” he declared.
“Actually,” the receptionist countered, “top scientists in the fields of biology and psychology have been involved in the development of this product. Their extensive research has shown that --”
“I don't care if the damn god of science himself boiled this up in his own private laboratory,” Erik did his best to hold his emotions in check, while simultaneously remembering to breathe. “If I say it's not going to work, you can trust me on that!”
The receptionist's expression actually changed, proving she was not, in fact, an automated drone. Erik suppressed a smile at this discovery, knowing his humor wouldn't have been appreciated. The look on her face morphed into one of cold contempt.
“You do realize,” she insisted, her voice holding all the warmth of a deep freezer, “that top biologists and psychologists, experts in human development and sexual therapy, have been heavily involved in the development of this product.”
Erik nodded. “You have stated as much, yes.”
“You're suggesting you are so much more qualified than any of those professionals that, with one whiff of the product, you can sufficiently devaluate all of their research. Who do you think you are?”
“I have more qualifications than they can ever hope for.” Erik
straightened himself, and thrust his shoulders back. “I am Eros.”
As a rule, Olympians were not permitted to identify themselves to mortals. It made things too complicated. Eros had not meant to declare his identity so flipantly, but his pride at having his credentials called to question had gotten the better of him. Usually, he went by Cupid, but the image of the floating baby still left a sick taste in his mouth. Eros seemed like a stronger name right now. Judging from the receptionist's unimpressed stare, the name did not have the impact he had anticipated.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she asked, dropping the last of her professional facade. “I'm Melody. Does that make me an expert, too?”
“No, you do not understand,” the man formerly known as Erik scrambled to regain his footing. “I am Eros, the son of Aphrodite, the god of...”
As he spoke, the ridiculous notion he was actually a Greek god from mythology, stories long since relegated to the category of folklore, sank into his head. She would never believe he was actually Eros (for more reasons than just Melody having no idea who Eros was). She would more likely assume he was insane. Eros quickly dropped the assertion.
“Forget it,” he sighed. “It doesn't matter, anyway.”
“Thank you for taking part in our test,” Melody's robotic tone returned. “I'm sorry that our product was not of use to you. Good luck with your future relationships, and happy Valentine's Day. Have a good day, sir.”
The argument was futile. Even if he had been able to convince her the drug was of no use in the construction of healthy relationships, she would have had no choice but to continue passing out the samples. That was what she was paid to do. As Eros walked from the testing room, his hand returned to the pocket of his blazer. The urge to smoke the cigar inside of his pocket returned with renewed force.

Ancient Greece had been the first culture to associate the heart with emotions. Other cultures had used the kidneys, the liver, or even the bowels. Eros tried to imagine how the music industry would have progressed without the emotional heart association. “Total Eclipse of the Bowels” did not seem to have the same poetic license. Terms like “you broke my kidneys”.. “my liver melts”.. or “put your bowels into it” also seemed less appropriate. The heart was a logical choice for the seat of emotions, especially considering the effect they had on the organ. Still, the heart is only a muscle. It serves as a pump, supplying blood to the body, and it does not have the ability to translate emotions. That occurs in the brain, specifically the amygdala. It was the brain that told the heart to beat faster, in response to stimulation, excitement, or attraction. The brain received the drug, oxytocin, which made people believe they were falling in love. Sadly, love had absolutely nothing to do with it, since it was simply the exchange of chemicals. In order for love, true love, to be real and lasting, it needed to move beyond the heightened heartbeat. It took effort, making the transition from short-term to long-term memory. In order for love to be worth it, one needed to work hard at it, committing to their partner, sacrificing themselves completely. Speeding up the heartbeat was a very lsmall challenge. In a world that survived on .99-cent cheeseburgers, faster downloads, and text messages, it seemed logical this would be accepted as love.

After leaving the testing room, Eros hurried toward an exit. He tried not to take the insult very seriously. After all, the receptionist had no idea of who he actually was. She probably would not have cared, even if she did. She was just doing her job, defending a product she was getting paid to promote. His insistence he was not only an expert on the field, but more qualified in the field than anyone else, had fallen on deaf ears, as it logically should have. Still, he could not escape the feeling this product belittled everything he stood for. The idea this drug would lead to stronger, more stable relationships was a joke, especially considering it would not work.
He began to feel more and more like a junkie as he sped toward the door. His need to smoke was intensifying, and he needed a fix. Cigars were technically not physically addictive, but the maddening taunt of the stick in his pocket, which he could feel with each step he took, seemed to be calling the theory into question right now. He was a few yards from the door when he froze and turned. If his desire to smoke had been less intense, he likely would have noticed the anomaly sooner. If it had not been for the scent, he likely would have passed it completely. Frowning, he began to scan the area for the source. After a brief canvasing, he spotted it: a young African-American woman, clinging tightly to a heavyset, middle-aged man.
The two were obviously a couple. The desperate way they clung to each other, as if trying to broadcast the authenticity of their newly-developed feelings proved the newness of their relationship. The woman gazed passionately at the man, her eyes screaming that he could move mountains with only the power of his love for her. The man clasped to the woman tightly, gallantly protecting her from any dangers that would threaten her. They were clearly a new couple, but their passion appeared genuine.
Stranger couples had certainly been seen. No one would have even looked twice. Eros himself likely would not have bothered, had it not been for the smell. Wafting off of the two, like a cloud of invisible toxin, was the distinct odor of the drug.
Damn, Eros silently cursed. He really wanted to smoke! Still, he had priorities.
“Excuse me,” Eros signaled for the couple's attention, approaching them quickly. The two of them greeted him with bright smiles.
“Oh, hi there,” the woman returned his greeting casually.
“Yeah, hi,” Eros nodded abruptly. “Quick question: did the two of you participate in that relationship survey which they're conducting right now?”
“We did,” the woman confirmed, looking up at her partner with stars in her eyes.
“Thank God,” the man sighed, gazing back at her.
“It saved our relationship,” the woman swooned.
Eros frowned as he examined the couple. “So,” he continued, “the two of you had a relationship before today, then?”
“We have always had a relationship,” the man said, continuing to gaze at the woman in a dream-like haze.
“It was written in the stars,” she replied, lights dancing in her eyes.
Eros frowned at the two of them with a mixture of confusion and disgust. “What is going on with these two?” he muttered to himself. “How long have the two of you actually been dating?” he asked the girl, trying not to make the question sound too much like an attack.
The woman sighed passionately, never looking away from her partner. “Time has no meaning while I'm with him. I could spend centuries, wrapped in his arms.”
Eros watched the couple for a moment. He felt bad for questioning the authenticity of their feelings. They seemed so infatuated with one another. It could be real! They certainly appeared to be passionate about the relationship. Still, there was something going on that did not sit right with him.
Testing a hunch, he turned to the man. “What's your name?” he asked, casually.
“My name's Yanick,” the man said, never looking away from his partner.
“All right,” Eros nodded. “What's hers?”
The man paused and, for a millisecond, Eros thought he saw sanity creeping in behind the cloud of infatuation. The next moment dashed those hopes, though, as the man answered.
“I do not need her name,” the man sighed. “I only need her love.”
“Awe,” the woman giggled and blushed, “and I need only your hands, holding me tightly.
“I need only your image, held safely inside of my mind.”
“I need only your lips, pressed against mine, giving me breath.”
“I need only--”
“Okay, stop!” Eros cried in desperation before his ears started to bleed. A few other customers, including at least one similarly-smitten couple, stopped to watch the interaction. Eros quickly realized he was antagonizing himself, shattering their delusion, but he could take no more.
“This is not love,” he continued his rant. “The two of you have never met before! You don't even know each other's names!”
“His name is Hero,” the woman said, her full attention devoted to the man, “for he has rescued me from a life of sorrow and unrequited love.”
“His name's Yanick,” Eros threw his hands in the air with frustration. “He just said it!”
“Her name is Beauty,” the man said, smiling at his partner, “for that is all which I see, gazing upon her.”
“You two are absolutely disgusting!” Eros screamed, not caring about social tact any longer.
The girl turned to him and, for the first time since he had met them, Eros saw a different emotion: it was similar to that of a mother wolf, defending her cubs. “Do not hate us for what we have,” she said, glaring daggers at him. “Simply because no one loves you, that is no reason to be jealous of those who have found true love.”
Breathing deeply, Eros found his center once more. “I apologize for lashing out,” he said, resisting the urge to step back, defensively, “but the two of you are not in love. What you are feeling is only a placebo capitalizing on your inner need for companionship, the environmental effects of the holiday, and the false confidence that the elixir creates. It is not true, it lacks foundation, and what you are feeling will not last beyond the effects of the drug-induced ambiance.”
“Is that so?” the man sneered, as he squared his shoulders, posturing himself aggressively, as if preparing to hit Eros.
“Sadly, it is,” Eros replied. If he was going to be hit, than there was nothing he could do to avoid it. He would not compromise what love was, and he would not stop defending it's truth, simply to avoid an attack.
“If this feeling is false, than I renounce reality!” the man declared. “I have fallen for this woman's beauty, and the dreams within her eyes are ones I wish to share! I love this woman, deeply and passionately, and I declare now I always will!”
The man turned to the woman, and dropped to one knee.
“Oh, give me a break,” Eros sighed, relieved that, for the moment,he had avoided physical confrontation.
“My dearest love,” the man's proposal began, as he took the woman's hand. “I have spent my life, searching for a woman like you, and the love she would show me. Now that I have found both, within your soul, I never want to be apart from you.”
“Oh, I have waited for this moment, for what feels like forever,” the woman gasped.
“Yes, my love?”
“Will you marry me?”
“Yes! Yes! A thousand times, yes!”
The crowd of spectators applauded as the man stood, took the woman in his arms and kissed her deeply.
“Do not encourage them!” Eros protested. The cheers, however, drowned out the sound of his voice.
“Do you love me enough to do something as romantic as that?” the female half of another love-drunk couple asked her partner.
Eros turned his attention to the second couple and, to his astonished horror, he watched the entire scene play out once more. The result was more cheering, more applause, and more madness from the approving mob. Scanning the onlookers, Eros did not see any other couples. He did notice, however, that the stench of the elixir was becoming overpowering. At least 30% of them, excluding the two newly-engaged couples, were under its effects. That could explain the unquestioning support that they showed for the impulsive decisions. Eros stepped back and watched as the two males approached one another and embraced in a brotherly way.
“Well,” Yanick laughed. “I guess we need to find our fiances' rings, huh?
“Yeah,” the other laughed. “I think Scotty's Galleria, the jeweler by the food court, is having a 25% off sale on engagement rings today!”
“Really?” Yanick's face beamed. “Wow, how perfect is that?”
“We couldn't have planned this better if we'd tried!” the other man was equally as excited.
“Come on, man, let's go!”
Taking the hands of their respective mates, the two men headed toward the jeweler. The spectators began to disperse, returning to their shopping.
“Excuse me,” Eros stopped one of the non-drugged men. “Which jeweler is promoting the sale?”
Nothing about this was right, and Eros was beginning to figure out who was behind it all.

Bursting through the door of the testing room, Eros spun toward the receptionist's desk. There were two people still sitting in the waiting room, but that was not his problem. He waited until the man before him accepted the bottle of poison as payment for the survey and walked away, before approaching the counter. Melody was still behind it. Seeing him, she sneered callously.
“Well, if it isn't the Mighty Sniffer,” she scoffed. “What is it now? Have you smelled the mercury our pens are leaking into the hands of our clients?”
“I need a--” Eros paused and frowned back at Melody. “How long have you been working on that line?”
Melody stared back at him coldly. “I don't need to script my insults,” she sneered.
“Well, maybe you should,” Eros replied. “Mercury doesn't have a scent. Look, I've reconsidered your proposed product and found my original assessment may have been too hasty. If the offer is still open, I think I'd like to try the sample.”
"Oh, really?” Melody's face broke into a wide grin. “Have we met someone special?”
Eros blinked. “Met someone? Why would I need the--”
Remembering what the drug was supposed to do, Eros quickly cut himself off. “Oh!” he recovered as elegantly as he could. “Yes, I've met someone! She is far too beautiful, and our relationship is too important to leave anything to chance! I need your drug to make... to create love! It is important the love be real and authentic, and this drug is the only way to insure it is.”
“Oh, that's sweet,” Melody smiled a self-satisfied, patronizing smile. “Unfortunately, our free trial period just ended, and all of our free samples have been distributed already. You'll just have to use your charm and personality to win her heart, which shouldn't be difficult for you, being the expert you are. Just sniff her! After that, I'm sure you'll know exactly what to say to win her over!”
Eros chose not to mention he could see the people in the waiting room, holding the same survey that he had recently taken. He decided against saying he could smell the chemical afterglow of the drug on the boy he had been in line behind. He did not even bring up the box, full of unused samples, which he could plainly see behind the counter.
Instead, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet.
“How much do you want?” he asked, thumbing through a wad of bills.
“It's not a question of money,” Melody shook her head. “The test is over.”
“So, $50?”
“The testing period has completed, sir.”
“Would you be willing to restart it for $100?”
Melody paused for a moment, and Eros saw consideration brewing in her eyes, but then she shook her head. “I'm sorry, sir,” she said. "There's nothing I can do.”
It was rare to find someone he could not buy off. This woman was intense! He must have really offended her with his former dismissal of the product. Still, he needed to get his hands on one of those bottles. Sliding his wallet back into his pocket, he decided on a different approach. It would damage his pride, but after the unfortunate incident outside of the card store, Eros did not imagine he had any pride left, anyway. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes to force himself into the mindset. Breathing out and opening his eyes once more, he leaned in and looked at the receptionist pleadingly.
“Please,” he begged. “I'm sorry for the things I said about the formula earlier. I said them hastily and without thought. I have since seen the effect of the elixir in practice, and I've changed my mind. I have met someone, yes. She is beautiful, and I do not deserve her. However, I can't get her out of my mind, and she tells me she feels the same for me. She is too important to me, and I don't want this relationship left to chance. I need the formula to secure the authenticity of our feelings for each other.”
Eros resisted a smug smile as his new technique had the desired effect.
Melody's cold and driven demeanor was beginning to soften. “This girl really means a lot to you, doesn't she?” she asked him, sympathetically.
Scanning his brain for an appropriate descriptive comment, Eros said the first thing that came to him: “She performs Swan Lake on the dance floor of my mind.”
Eros' instant reaction was to gag on the excess mold on the cheese of that line. If he'd had more time, he certainly would have come up with something better! Swan Lake? He was the god of love! He should have at least come up with something a little better than that! He almost recanted his statement when a look into Melody's romanticized eyes told him not to bother.
“That's beautiful,” Melody swooned. “I love Swan Lake! I wish my boyfriend could appreciate classical ballet like you do.”
“I hope your boyfriend feels as passionately for you as I do for her,” Eros
continued, smiling dreamily, laying it on thicker and thicker. He was honestly surprised this young lady even knew what Swan Lake was! The receptionist looked at him, as if he were Prince Charming, battling fire-breathing dragons to rescue his true love from an ill-fated marriage. Her eyes never left his as she reached into the box behind the counter and took out two sample bottles. She smiled softly as she handed the toxin to him.
“The formula will work best if you both take the sample,” she said, winking at him. “I'm sorry for my original judgment of you. I see now how real you are, and how passionately you care for this lucky woman. Good luck! I think you two will be happy together, I have a way of knowing these things.”
Eros smiled as he accepted the bottles. “Happy Valentine's Day,” he wished her, with thankful eyes and a slight blush.
Melody smiled as she watched him leave. She could hardly believe how wrong she had been about him! After all, it was natural to be skeptical of a new product. With this second meeting, she could better diagnose him. It was so romantic, the way he compared his crush to his private ballerina, dancing in his mind. What a sweetie! She was almost jealous of the object of his affection. She was a lucky woman. Men like him were rare.
Eros waited until he had turned the corner and was out of sight of the testing center to drop the second sample into the trash. He only needed the one for testing.

Eros walked quickly to the men's bathroom. None of the other men noticed either him or the drug in his blazer-pocket. No one makes eye contact in a men's bathroom. It was a sacred zone where men came, presented their offerings, purified themselves with “holy” water, and left. Social interaction was discouraged. That made Eros' job easier.
Stepping into an unoccupied stall, Eros closed and locked the door. Removing the sample-bottle from his blazer, he opened it carefully, as if handling hazardous material. The distinctive odor wafted up at him, nearly making him gag. Taking a deep breath, he brought the bottle to his lips, allowing a single drop to fall onto his tongue.
The taste reflected the odor: fruity, smooth, and chemical. Swishing the fluid about in his mouth, Eros began his analysis. As he had suspected, he immediately identified all the listed ingredients easily. The primary ones were on the top, the ones used to promote the illusion of love. They included the typical things, used in many formulas to stimulate the oxytocin receptors and testosterone promoters to a simple degree. Predictably, there was much more of this than was needed. A lot of the drug's effect seemed to be due to the placebo effect, just as he had suspected. Underneath that was the artificial flavoring, which was pleasant and tasty. The company promoting the toxin had gone out of their way to make sure the recipients enjoyed the taste of their formula. There was nothing overtly manipulative or deceptive about the formula, at least not anything more than was usual, through the initial analysis. Spitting the contents of his mouth into the toilet, Eros carefully tasted another drop. Upon further analysis, he located the unidentified ingredient.
Through his interactions on Earth, he had become aware of energy drinks. Usually, he avoided the consumption, since he really did not require them. His body produced enough energy to keep him going, naturally. The drinks were primarily promoted to energy-addicts, mainly being teens and young adults, who thought that having more energy would make them more fun. College students were also heavy users, believing the drinks would endow them with superpowers, enabling them to remain awake through a lecture with a particularly monotone professor or stay awake longer to study for a midterm. The drinks were fairly effective, it seemed, and there was a large market for them.
Eros had succumbed to temptation once and purchased an energy drink. It had produced the promised burst of energy, of course, but the effect had lacked authenticity. It tricked the body into believing it had more energy than was actually present, and once the chemicals had worked their way through his body, it left a large deficit needing to be filled. Since the body had been working off of the pseudo-energy which the drink had provided, believing it had more energy than it actually did, the result was an even-more-tired feeling, with an immediate need for more energy. This goal was, of course, reached through an additional energy drink, made convenient by the fact one could purchase the drinks in packages of six or even twelve.
As Eros swirled the 'love-nectar' about in his mouth, he quickly realized what was going on. Leaning over the toilet, Eros spit violently, making sure to get even the taste of the fluid out of his mouth. Dumping the rest of the formula into the bowl, he watched as the auto-flush feature swirled the toxin into the pipes below it. Racing from the stall to the sink, Eros rinsed out his mouth three or four times, just to make sure it was out. Leaving the men's room, he knew exactly where he needed to go.
This drug, mixed with the oxytocin/testosterone promoters, explained the effect he had been seeing. The formula was an energy drink, but instead of promoting pseudo-energy, it supplied pseudo-love.

No refunds or exchanges will be accepted for purchases made through this sale

At any given time, there were three, maybe four customers in a jewelry store. Scotty's Galleria was not a department store, like Macy's or Sears, where people could find practically anything they desired. They appealed to a very specific clientèle: those seeking to purchase jewlelry. Currently, the store was filled to capacity, with a line of people who were waiting outside. Eros considered the line. His theory seemed to be making more sense.
The sale was not out of place, considering the season. The fact that the sale directly coincided with the promotion of the “love-drug” could have been mere coincidence. Both things certainly seemed in spirit for the season. The fact that the store was so full right now could have just been a lucky accident for the store. Eros was not satisfied, though, especially considering what he now knew about the drug.
Eros studied the sales poster closely. The glowing ring and loud primary colors would certainly draw attention. A company posting the sale-stipulations in smaller print was certainly nothing new. It made sense from a business-perspective: the sale would encourage impulse buying, and the company did not want to deal with possible remorse after any ill-thought decisions. The fact that very few of these couples would even remember their partner's name, let alone be in love with them after the drug wore off, was of very little concern to the company. Again, it could have been coincidence - or business strategy. Perhaps the owner of the company learned of the drug-promotions and scheduled his sale on the same day, on the chance something might work out. Judging from the line, if that were reality, it had been a stroke of genius.
“My baby wants this ring!” The aggravated voice of a male customer carried into the hall where Eros was standing. “What my baby wants, my baby gets!”
“Sir, I appreciate your situation,” came the female voice of a stressed-out employee.
“Unfortunately, we have just sold the last of that model. I can, of course, put one on backorder for you with a small deposit, or if you would prefer, I have been authorized to sell you this--”
“Unacceptable!” the man roared, followed by a wooden 'thunk' as he slammed his fists down on the counter.
“--this model for an additional 10% discount,” the employee completed her offer with a heavy sigh.
“Ooo, I actually like that one better!” came the excited voice of another female, who was surely the male's temporary partner.
“I'll ring it up!” the employee said, brightly.
Eros frowned as he peered into the store. All three seemed over-joyed that the transaction was completed, although the employee was probably just glad to be rid of them. Eros considered approaching the couple to ask why they had compromised so quickly, but decided not to. They were very obviously under the 'lovespell.' The employee could have sold them a lump of coal on a gold-plated band, and they would have been satisfied just to have an engagement ring.
The 'coincidence' theory was again called into question.
Eros shouldered his way into the store, in between rabid customers foaming at the mouth and telling him to get in line. He ignored them as he pushed through, artfully dodging the few who attempted to physically put him in his place. Through strategic maneuvering and ninja-like stealth, Eros eventually spotted an employee, the same one he had witnessed making the sale. Luckily for him, she seemed to have stepped away from the register, and she was currently leaning against a wall, about to hyperventilate. In her frazzled and worndown state, she did not notice him until he reached out and touched her shoulder.
At his touch, she spun, like a velociraptor about to attack their prey. “Can I help you, sir?” she snapped. Her tone was so harsh that she may as well have said, “Back the hell off; I'm busy!”
Eros smiled at her genuinely. “Good afternoon, ma'am,” he said, pleasantly. “How are you today?”
The employee, whose nametag read Lindsey, was unimpressed. “I am fine, sir,” she answered with automated professionalism. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“I would like to speak with the manager, if you'd be so kind as to let him know.”
“Sir, the manager is very busy right now,” Lindsey rolled her glazed eyes. “If you would like to set an appointment, I'd be happy to--”
“I think I would rather speak with him right now,” Eros asserted, the smile fading from his face. “I know what your company is doing.”
“What would that be, sir?” Lindsey stared back at him, unblinking. “Selling jewelry at actually reasonable prices? Is that now a crime against consumerism?”
Eros stared deeply into Lindsey's stressed (yet intoxicatingly blue) eyes. “I know about the drug,” he stated, coldly.
Lindsey's eyes quickly focused as all signs of stress drained from her face, replaced instead by surprise and slight horror. “One moment sir,” she said. “I'll let him know you wish to speak with him.”
“Thank you,” Eros said, smile returning. “I would appreciate that!”
Lindsey nodded rapidly before spinning away from him quickly. Eros watched with confidence as she retreated through a door behind the counter, which he assumed was the office. The response was almost instantaneous. She returned a few seconds later, motioning for him to come. Surfing skillfully through the dense crowd, Eros walked toward the door. He smiled his thanks to Lindsey as he passed through the entrance. Now, came the tricky part.


Eros walked into the room, taking a moment to take in the environment. Art deco hung on the walls of a lavish room. The floor was covered with a plush carpet, different from that of the storefront. A few over-sized easy chairs were scattered around. Quiet jazz music filled the air, along with the faint droning of the mini-fridge that sat in the corner. A desk sat directly in front of a large picture window. Behind the desk was an overweight man with a receding hairline. He smiled at Eros, in a wide, almost clown-like way.
“Good afternoon, sir,” the man said in a jovial voice. “What seems to be the problem?”
“You didn't have the ring I was looking for,” Eros said, casually, as he slid into a seat, across from the desk.
“Oh, I'm sorry to hear that,” the man said, dismissively. “As I'm sure you can see, we've had quite a bit of demand, particularly today. Could you perhaps give me the specifications for the desired ring? I imagine we could find something similar.”
“I'd like one I can return tomorrow,” Eros replied, staring with contempt at the still smiling man. “You know, after the effects of the drug have worn off.”
The smile dripped from the man's face like toothpaste slipping from a child's mouth. He looked back at Eros like a thief who had just tripped the house alarm. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” he lied, unable to meet Eros' eyes.
“Really?” Eros smiled with a cocky flare. “I wonder if the FDA would know what I was talking about?”
That was a bluff. He had no intention of exposing himself to the FDA, especially regarding a drug-induced love-spell. That would be far too much of a risk and bring him too much publicity. He doubted, however, things would ever need to go that far.
The bluff seemed to have the desired effect. The man's head sank with a sigh.
“There's no need for that,” he said, bringing his head up again and extending his hand. “My name's Bobby.”
“I know who you are,” Eros said coldly, ignoring the offered hand of 'Robert Mammon.'
Bobby jumped, startled.
“Your name is on the desk plaque,” Eros rolled his eyes.
“Oh, yes,” Bobby gathered himself. “Yes, I suppose it is. Good... good eye, Mr... I'm sorry, I did not catch your name.”
“I have not given it yet,” Eros sighed. “You can call me Eros.”
His hesitation at identifying himself had been weakening, with each time people failed to recognize his name. It was true it only took one person to identify him, thus thrusting his entire guise into disarray, but he doubted that Robert Mammon would be that person.
“One name, huh?” Bobby chuckled. “Hey, if it works for Adelle, why can't it work for you? I haven't heard Eros before, though. What does it mean?”
“It means you are not changing the subject,” Eros replied, his glare intensifying. “I know what you're doing with this drug, turning people into love-drunk robots. This drug convinces people they have fallen deeply in love, instantly. What, did you suddenly have a surplus in wedding bands? What you are doing is perverse! Love should not be manipulated to serve your own--”
Eros paused to consider the irony of that statement, coming from himself. Daphne, Medea, even his own Psyche to an extent. How many times had he manipulated love for his own gain? This called his motivation into question. At first, he had been offended by the drug on moral grounds. Now he was beginning to wonder if he was more offended they were trying to play his game and, judging from the response, succeeding at it.
Eros reached casually into his jacket, gently rubbing the tip of his long-forgotten cigar. He wanted nothing more than to pull it out and start smoking it right now.
“There is literally no way to prove our company is in anyway responsible for the distribution of that drug,” Bobby sank back in his seat, attempting to regain his calm and control of the situation. “Your accusation is completely unfounded.”
“Is that a fact?” Eros arched an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Bobby nodded, finding his center. “And if you continue to promote fallacious slander about our company, we have the most powerful attorneys in America. They make a career out of squishing little bugs like you. You are completely powerless, and this meeting is over. Get out of my office.”
Eros examined the angry man sitting across from him, pointing at the door. He saw an image of a little boy on a playground who nobody would play with, the chubby adolescent who took his cousin to prom. He was used to being pushed around and taken for granted. Here, in this environment, he was king, and Eros was an attacking army, threatening to take it all away. This did not excuse his behavior, or the product his company was promoting, but it did grant him a bit of sympathy. Eros knew that, in the pocket with the cigar, there was a small pouch, which contained his “weapon” (“Powder L'Amour”, he begrudgingly christened it
in his mind). With the smallest pinch of the powder, he could make this man do whatever he wanted. Something about Bobby, this red-faced, angry little man, made him reconsider. He would find another way to achieve his goals, or if not another way, another target. Without saying another word, Eros stood, and turned to leave.
“Mr. Erress,” Bobby called after him before he had gotten too far.
“It's Eros,” Eros corrected him, swallowing his pride.
“These people,” Bobby continued without acknowledging the correction, “are finding love. This is a love they wouldn't have felt otherwise, with the stimulant or without. Sure, it may be temporary -- and I am not admitting any association with the product at all -- but it's real for them right now! Why would you want to take it away from them?”
“Because love is real!” Eros spun to face him again, surprised at the passion in his own words. “It is strong, it is passionate, and when it's authentic, it's the most powerful force on Earth! When something is that real, no one should be tricked into accepting anything less!”
“Who are you to say this is less?” Bobby asked.
“I am Eros,” he straightened himself, and thrust his shoulders back, with as much authority as he could manage, while still feeling a bit like a hypocrite.
“And that means what to me?”
“Nothing,” Eros deflated. “Nothing at all.”
Without saying another word, Eros walked from the office.

When he first began his career as the distributor of euphoria along side his mother Aphrodite, Eros had used arrows as his medium, much like the degrading cherub who bore his name did. At the time, they had served his purposes well! It had been a time when magic was simply accepted, and the origins did not demand as much research. Originally, Eros had derived a formula from his mother's own concoctions, making sure to dilute it enough to make it more mild. He then coated the tips of his arrows with liquid euphoria.
Once his arrow struck the designed (or occasionally, the incidental) target, the formula dispersed throughout their entire body, filling them with undeniable infatuation for the individual within their line of sight. It was an inexact science, but it was the best he could do with what he had, at the time. As the world moved on and progressed, so also did Eros' available resources. As it became less appropriate to walk about with a bow and arrow, he had needed to develop a new, more effective technique.
After his mother's passing, Eros had needed to mature and to take his duties more seriously. While never officially appointed as his mother's successor, it seemed, at least to him. to be the natural progression. He modified his formula into a new, more adaptable product. With the help of Hermes, Eros converted the arrow-tips to a powder-like substance, which, when inhaled, produced an effect similar to that of the original.
The powder-conversion served his purposes well. He could now more easily gage the potency level of the infatuation and, to some extent, the lasting effects. If he wanted a short, puppy love experience, a small dose of powder, used conservatively, would probably be appropriate.
A father wanted his daughter to fall deeply in love with a certain individual? Large dosage, spread over a longer period of time. The powder was also easier to conceal. Eros kept a small pouch filled with the powder with him at all times. It had been a good long while since he'd had use for it. Now, it seemed, he would be using it relatively soon.

Eros walked from the office, attempting to retain as much pride as he could. It was difficult, considering how he had been treated in Greece and Rome. He had never truly been a god people feared, but they at least respected him. There had been a significant number of people who had worshiped him. Modern American culture accepted Cupid as simply a diaper-wearing pudgy cherub with cartoon heart-shaped arrows. That was a step up from Eros, whom they did not remember at all. These were his two options: either be invisible, or be a fat baby, firing love-darts.
Perhaps it was time to take the name of Cupid back.
As he shouldered his way through the crowd of fevered consumers, who were spending more money than they had on things they would not want tomorrow, Eros noticed the employee he had spoken to earlier: Lindsey. She was still running ragged. She looked as though she were rapidly approaching a mental meltdown. Reaching into his pocket, Cupid produced the small pouch, held closed by a golden strand. Opening the pouch, he removed a small pinch of its contents. Smiling deviously, he snuck up behind her. It was time for Lindsey to have a well-earned break.
Eros waited patiently until she was done with the customer she was helping. Preparing the product in the palm of his hand, he tapped Lindsey on the shoulder. She spun on him, aggressively, like a pitbull, only much more attractive.
“Can I help you?” she asked frantically, with eyes practically begging him to put her out of her misery.
Quickly lifting his palm to be level with her face, Eros blew the contents at her. Lindsey coughed and stumbled backward, trying to blink the dust from her eyes.
“What,” she stammered “What did you just do to... what was that?!”
Eros smiled at her, demurely.
“Seriously,” Lindsey glared at him. “Is that some kind new perfume or something? Are you a sales rep? This is an incredibly busy day! How am I supposed to work if I'm stopping to sample your products?”
The smile on his face never weakened, as Eros locked eyes with her.
“I can't work like this,” she breathed.
“Let me buy you a cup of coffee,” Cupid said, offering his arm. “It's the least I can do.”
“I suppose it is,” Lindsey giggled, accepting his arm. “It's almost time for my break anyway.”
The two of them delicately worked their way out of the store, walking hand-in-hand. As they exited, Eros heard the sound of the manager, yelling for her to return and for her to stay away from him. Lindsey did not even notice. Eros smiled.
He still had it.
The conversation between Eros and Lindsey was actually stimulating! Lindsey was able to maintain her composure. Eros had only given her a light dose; the effect wasn't extremely powerful, registering only as a slight crush.. They both were able to enjoy a pleasant talk.
Eros had found himself not wanting the conversation to end, but there were things he needed to get done. Through the information Lindsey had provided, he had determined the drug was in an experimental stage, and this mall was the only one being used as a testing ground. If ever there was a time to destroy the drug, it was now.
The powder he had inflicted on Lindsey was in such a small dosage it was already beginning to wear off by the time they were half way through their respective coffees. It was not an obvious let-down, but more of a gradual disillusionment. She stopped looking at him with stars in her eyes and began to see him with a more casual curiosity. By the time their cups were empty, the powder had run its course almost completely. Lindsey was prepared to return to her job, and Eros needed to proceed with his plan. They stood, shook hands, and thanked one another for an enjoyable break. Watching her walk away, Eros almost wished he could follow her. She truly looked as though she belonged on Olympus itself. Her raven-black hair fell like a sheet of fine silk, nearly to her waist, and the deep sea blue of her eyes captured the depths of a man's soul. As Eros watched her slender form walk away, he noticed less of a stride, and more of a glide, like soft, flowing water across the mall's floor. She was a different woman than the stressed-out employee he had met earlier, more liberated and free. Eros watched her for as long as he could, until she disappeared into the crowd, and continued staring in her direction, until he was satisfied she would not return. He did not do crushes, he repeated to himself, mentally. There were things that he needed to do.

As Eros returned to the testing room, where he would confront the distribution of the drug, he began to consider the conversation he had with Melody, the receptionist, only a short time ago. It had been manipulative and conniving. He had utilized the same tactics as the drug, getting her to emotionally connect with something that did not exist. This drug truly was doing the very thing he did. Perhaps that truly was what offended him most! This
was his game. He knew how to play it best, and they should not be stepping on his territory.
Stepping into the testing-room, Eros was greeted by the shining smile of Melody, overjoyed this time to see him once more. Standing next to the desk was Bobby Mammon, his face set in an unpleasant scowl. Eros locked eyes with him, and a chill ricocheted down his spinal chord. He was not used to such sensations! The venomous hatred pouring out of Bobby's eyes was almost otherworldly.
“Hi sweetie,” Melody gushed, upon seeing Eros enter. “How are things going with your ballerina?”
“My what?” Eros stumbled over his thoughts momentarily. “Oh, right, Swan Lake. I don't know if we're going to--”
“That's the guy!” Bobby interrupted him, pointing his finger in Eros' direction. “That's the one who is trying to sabotage the formula!”
Melody brought her hand to her mouth as she gasped, her eyes expanding to twice their size. “No,” she cried. “It can't be him! He's so sweet!”
“Oh, it's me, babe,” Eros sneered, returning Bobby's furrowed brow with a cold glare. “Although, to be fair, all that I'm trying to do is uncover what this drug is actually doing. The drug itself is sabotage, isn't it? You are tricking people into believing they're falling in love, simply to make sales.”
“You have no proof of that!” Bobby shouted back at him. “The only evidence you're presenting is circumstantial, trivial; not admissible in any court. Beside, you've yet to show any credentials! What qualifies you to know anything about the technique we're using in our drug?”
“What qualifies me?” Eros fought desperately to keep his temper in check. “You don't think I know the technique you've been using? You think I'm under-qualified? I invented the technique!”
Bobby and Melody looked at each other in bewilderment. Eros took a deep breath, regretting the statement. He had practically just identified himself! Oh look, everybody, I'm the great god of love, that's right, and you can't play my game without presenting the proper sacrifices, so you better stop it right now! This was turning into a very unpleasant day. The unlit cigar was burning a hole in his pocket, almost making him cry.
“Were you one of the doctors involved in the development of the product?” Melody asked, logically.
“Yes,” Eros lied, as he reached into his pocket to touch the cigar, reassuring himself it was still there. “Let's go with that.”
His fingers grazed the golden strand holding his pouch closed. Inspiration suddenly hit him.
“You are no such thing!” Bobby growled. “You're just a bitter little man, trying to ruin true love for everyone else.”
“It's not true love, you stupid son of a bitch!” Eros shouted as he pulled the pouch from his jacket-pocket. “It's not even a quality substitute!”
“You know nothing about love!” Bobby shouted back.
Eros froze. The rage in his eyes was enough to make Bobby take a step back.
“Hey man,” he fumbled over his words. “I was just saying that you shouldn't--”
“I know nothing about love?”
“No, I didn't mean to--”
“I don't know the difference between true love and a false substitute?”
“That's not what I--”
“You don't think I know about faking love?”
“Maybe you should both just calm down,” Melody said, nervously.
“You want to see fake love?” Eros emptied the pouch into the palm of his hand. “This is fake love!”
With a fluid motion, he tossed most of the powder into Bobby's face. Bobby coughed and blinked.
“What are you doing?!” Melody gasped.
Turning to the receptionist, Eros repeated the technique on her, dumping the rest of the product into her own face.
“What the hell was that?” Bobby coughed, and dusted his face off.
“Is that some kind of new perfume?” Melody gasped.
Eros smiled at the two of them, demurely. In the back of his mind, he knew that he had just administered too large of a dose, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Look, I'm sorry about what I said,” Bobby said, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. “You're right, the company is using the drug to facilitate the sale of merchandise. They didn't tell me a whole lot, only that this one day sale was specifically to coincide with the drug test!”
“Wow,” Melody sighed. “Your ballerina is one lucky woman!”
“I knew something was fishy, especially when we started getting the line around the block,” Bobby admitted. “I just didn't ask any questions; they don't pay me to be the morality police right?”
Eros continued to smile.
“I feel really bad about the things I said to you,” Bobby confessed. “I mean, you were right all along. I'm so sorry. Let me buy you a beer to make up for it.”
“Ooo, I want to come,” Melody cheered, jumping up in her seat.
“A beer sounds nice,” Eros admitted. “First, though, let's talk about what we're going to do about the drug.”

A perfect ring of smoke drifted in the breeze.
Eros brought the cigar to his lips, taking another long draw. He had cheated. It was cheating, using his own drug to destroy the other. Timothy Leary used to say the best way to destroy a system was from the inside. It was similar to what he had done. By infatuating both Bobby and Melody so completely, he had created his own moles. The two of them had the power to bring down the entire system. It was cheating. He had done it to protect people (or at least that is how he would justify it), but it did not take away from the unfair aspect of what he had done.
Under the effects of his powder, Melody had agreed to flush the remaining samples down the toilet. Bobby had kept one sample-bottle, agreeing to never open it. He would accept returns from the drug-induced customers who complained and, should the company protest, he would contact the FDA, supplying them with the unopened bottle. Eros had, once again, cheated to achieve his goals, as it seemed he had been doing, ever since ancient Greece. This was a less selfish goal, or at least that is how it appeared on the
surface, which served to alleviate his guilt. It had not really been cheating, though. Pheromones and infatuation were his gift, his “wheelhouse,” of sorts. Could it really be considered cheating to use the skills he had been given?
Eros began to consider Bobby Mammon. When he had first noticed Bobby, he had been reluctant to use his dust on him, since it seemed like Bobby had grown up bullied and manipulated. Had Bobby not insulted him, he likely would not have doused him.
Melody was a star-struck young lady, lost in her need for companionship and love. It seemed cruel for him to use the dust on her as well, making her believe she was having feelings she was not actually having. He'd had to to douse her, due to her proximity to Bobby. She had seen what happened, and she needed to have similar feelings in order to go along with the plan. He was such an Olympian. Even after 2,000 years, it all came down to his hubris. He told himself he had done this to help people. How much of it was more for the sake of his injured pride?
Another puff of the cigar produced another fat ring of smoke. He was meeting Bobby and Melody for drinks in about an hour. Plenty of time to finish off his cigar and think about what he had done.
“So, cigars, huh?” a familiar voice met his ears. “How classy!”
Eros turned to see the young woman from earlier, Eve. She slid onto the bench beside him. He had been so lost in his thoughts he had not noticed her approaching.
“Well,” Eros chuckled, relaxing a bit, “I'm a classy guy.”
“Clearly,” Eve pulled out a pack of cigarettes, beginning to search for a lighter. “Too classy for a common cigg-smoker?”
Reaching into his pocket, Eros pulled out his own torch. “As a rule, yes,” he joked, offering to provide her light. “For you, though, I think I can make an exception.”
Eve giggled as she lit her cigarette with his flame. “Such a gentleman,” she blushed.
“Nah,” Eros replied. “I'm a bad, bad dude.”
“Most classy guys are,” Eve smiled. “Anyway, our conversation was interrupted earlier. I was actually enjoying talking to you, before 'skinny-jeans' butted in.”
“Skinny-jeans?” Eros frowned, and then remembered. “Oh, Cupid-guy! Yes, his pants truly were tight, weren't they?”
“I have no idea how he even was breathing!” Eve chuckled. “I think we should continue the conversation now. Your name's Erik, right?”
Eros shook his head. “Actually, it's not,” he admitted. “My name's Er... you know what, my name is Cupid.”
“Be serious!”
“I'm as serious as lung-cancer,” Cupid laughed. “It's the name I was given, and it is the name I choose to embrace. So, babe, I guess the question you need to ask yourself is this: how would you like to be Cupid's Valentine?”
Eve laughed, choking on her smoke a little. Cupid laid his hand on her shoulder until she stopped. She was honestly interested in him, free of dust and of her own free will. It felt authentic, and it felt nice.
“That may be the cutest pick-up-line I have ever heard,” Eve giggled.
The two sat and smoked together, laughing, talking, and truly enjoying each other's company. As the conversation continued, the thoughts of cardboard hearts, flying babies, and manipulative drugs began to vanish. While Cupid knew he probably should not have used his true name, either Eros or Cupid, in such frequency and close-proximity, but right now, he did not care.
It was absolutely time to take the name of Cupid back.

The End
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