The 3 Second rule is a rule – not a recommendation – because women are turned off by hesitance.  If you make eye contact with her, and then back down for a later approach, she will feel dominant at best and amused at worst.  It is extremely important for you to establish your confidence and spontaneity at the outset of the seduction.  Even if you don’t know what to say, you absolutely must say something within the first three seconds.

Lonely Jack had left his book, Fast and Easy Seduction Strategies, on the milk crate beside his bed along with his glasses, contact lens case, and an X-Men anthology issues 46-58.  A pencil served to bookmark his place at chapter eighteen, two chapters from the end.  Steve from accounts receivable had loaned it to Jack with a conspiratorial wink.

When Jack walked into the bar, silently reciting seduction rules to himself, he inadvertently locked eyes with an adorable brunette who had just turned his way with a tray of pool balls held to her pulvinate bosom.  He then immediately looked down at his feet while remembering the MAN rule (Women are all the same in terms of their psychology.  She wants to feel like the WOMAN to your MAN.  You must step into your genetic inheritance as a strong, dominant leader, who expects the attention and interest of beautiful women as his due.  Watch leading men in the movies, pay attention to their body language –).  Jack thought of James Bond.  James Bond would have seized the moment with a look, a secret smile, an arched eyebrow promising clever repartee to come.  Jack’s eyes snapped back up.  The brunette’s gaze had just begun to slide off of him and forward again.  Jack counted to three, idiotically.  Her back was to him now, as she walked away.

God dammit.

Okay, he told himself, that didn’t count.  I wasn’t ready.

He looked down again – lest his eyes should light upon any more attractive women who would then discount him immediately after three uneventful seconds had passed – until he was safely belly up to the bar.  It was a Tuesday night, and he didn’t have to wake up early tomorrow.  Just in case something worked out.  The book virtually guaranteed something would work out, if Jack would only follow the instructions, but even the deceptively simple 3 Second rule had so far proven treacherous.  The bar girl sashayed by with a grip of frosty mugs and asked him in passing what he’d have.  “Uh, Cockburn’s, please.”  Here, Jack was on more stable footing – he’d recently hit upon tawny port as an excellent compromise between his sweet, chick-drink preferences and the classy, masculine aura recommended by his book.  The Cockburn’s was delivered with a smiling flounce by the tattoo-speckled bar girl, whose cleavage winked becomingly.  “Four-fifty, please.”  Jack slid her a five and a couple ones, trying to think of something clever to say.

Nothing came.  The moment passed.

Jack sat down on the barstool and looked around covertly.  A bunch of dudes playing pool – why did he choose this place?  Oh well, there were other places, and the night was young.  He didn’t have to be at work until 2 p.m. the next day, because warehouse had to do their twice-yearly inventory in the morning.  He had better get used to being at different bars on different nights.  The book said it didn’t have to be a bar, and that Jack should look and feel his best at all times, just in case; but that women at bars were more receptive because they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t on the market in some sense.  Even if they said they had boyfriends, the book had ways of negotiating that.

Jack resisted a sudden pang of shame.

But nothing else was working.  He’d made it with a girl once, but they had grown up together.  Years of bewildering celibacy separated him from that night, now.   When he did meet nice girls, they always seemed to lose interest in him after a week or two.  Like he kept failing some sort of secret test.

Down towards the end of the bar to his right, by the pot-bellied stove and the bookshelves full of moldering poetry, sat a girl with a long striped scarf wound about her neck.  Her drink sweated onto its napkin, clear and cold-fogged, with bubbles still crawling up the sides, and what looked to be a thin circle of cucumber on the rim.  Just when Jack’s guard was down and he thought it might be safe to look around again, she met his gaze and smiled, distinctly, right at him.

With galvanic effort, jumpy Jack smiled back.

She held his gaze for a moment and then turned her eyes forward again, almost as if to demonstrate her total and complete aloneness.  Jack was beside her then, and didn’t remember walking over.  She wasn’t pretty at all.  Jack found this wildly soothing, and was amazed to hear himself say with some panache, “You shouldn’t have come here looking so pretty.”

Her face crinkled with coy pleasure.  “Well, I apologize.  Usually I take the time to tone it down, but I just got off work.”

Jack laughed with her and then froze up completely.  Oh no.  What did the book say to do?  The only thing that came to mind were the FIS’s (fast isolation strategies): (At house parties, there are women and there are bedrooms, and it is your job to find a way to combine the two.  The more quickly you isolate the target after completing pickup-up artist steps one through four, the less LMR –) that stood for last minute resistance – (you’ll encounter.  Tell her it’s too crowded and you’d like to talk more in the bedroom, but not to tell anyone.  If she doesn’t have to account to girlfriends for her absence, she’ll be more likely to –)

– useless, stupid –

The girl’s face grew smooth again and she extended her hand with mock formality.  “I know, it’s overwhelming.  My name’s Kate.”

“Jack.”  Their hands met and, unaccountably, Jack felt a nudge of physical arousal.  Her eyes were very green and thickly lashed.  She was smiling up at him, but there was something about her eyes.  Something…desolate.  He seemed not to have let go of her hand yet.

She laughed and renewed her grip.  “Ummm…Kate Evans, then.  Do you need my middle name and social security number, or can we stop shaking now?”

She was awesome.  She was gorgeous.

Jack laughed, easily, genuinely.  “No, miss, that will do for now.”  He brandished his port snifter threateningly.  “For now, I say.”

Kate sipped from the straw of her cucumber cocktail, her eyes never leaving his.  “Oh, my.  And shall I be awarded your surname, in turn?”

Oh god, this always happened.  “I don’t think it’s important,” Jack smiled.

“I’m absolutely certain it’s not,” she affirmed.  “But still, I’m curiouser than a cat…”

Jack threw caution to the wind now.  “It’s Russell.”

“Russell.  Jack Russell?”

“Yes.”  Wait for it.  Something about a terrier, now.  Like clockwork.

“Well, that’s a very fine name.”

He felt dizzy.  “You think so?”

“Quite.”

“It doesn’t remind you of anything.”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Doesn’t remotely suggest to you a small, springy circus dog.”

“No.”  She reached out and lightly stroked the left side of his face with her fingers.  Jack was painfully erect now.  “It suggests to me…a sort of impressively bushy, dark eyebrow-ness…a sort of – oh, shaggy haired small town boy-ness…”

Lucky Jack choked on a sip of port and was still coughing when Kate ordered them two more cucumber drinks.

*

She said her place was a mess and that they should go to his.  Jack wasn’t fit to drive, and Kate propped him up against a lamp post until the taxi came.  The cold night spun in lazy circles around him, and then the back seat of the taxi somehow did the same thing.  He said his address carefully, and then the taxi stopped and Kate helped him out.  She asked which one was his, and Jack felt unable to form any more words, but rather shuffled towards #112 determinedly.  Kate got his keys from him and opened the door.  Jack wondered why his apartment smelled so good, but then realized he himself had wisely adhered to the housekeeping recommendations (Candles, clean sheets, inviting surfaces are a must.  She won’t want to give it up in a dingy flophouse…) prior to going out that evening.  Pumpkin spice.  Not bad.  Kate helped him to the bedroom and got his shoes and shirt off.

“I’m sorry…” murmured Jack.

“It’s okay, sweetie.  Here, I got you some water.  Careful…”

“I’m so drunk.”

“I know you are.  All those sweet drinks.”

“So sweet…”

“Here, take more water, it’ll help.”

Jack drank with utmost concentration and then fell back amongst the pillows.  “It’s not helping.”

“It’ll help later.  There you go.”

“Kate…you’re so beautiful…you’re so good to me…I’m sorry…”

Jack’s eyes shuttered again, and he drifted off to the gentle sounds of rustling.  When he squinted up at her, Kate was suddenly nude in the dim light cast from the kitchen, down the hall.  The cloud of her hair was limned with fire, and her green, green eyes were the only color in the monochrome vision of secret convexities.  Her body was the curve of a vase, the sheen of a fruit.  She settled herself next to speechless Jack and began to smooth his chest and shoulders with her soft, warm palms.  Jack’s speechlessness increased.

“It’s okay,” she soothed.  “We still can.”

“We can?”

“Yes.”

“Tomorrow?”

“No.  Tonight.”  Kate widened her jurisdiction of gentle massage.  Jack closed his eyes.

“I think you’re right,” he whispered.

Jack was rendered nude as well, and for a time there was only the soft soughing of her hands over his skin.  In all Jack’s fantasies of sexual conquest, he had never imagined this ecstasy of being touched.  Just touched.  Lovingly.  Steve, who had loaned him the book amidst many oblique references to his own conquests, had never mentioned any hook-ups that included erotic massage.

Jack couldn’t wait to tell Steve about this.  Or maybe he should act the gentleman?  Maybe Kate would be his girlfriend.  Conquered Jack imagined scenes of he and Kate: buying groceries together, having picnics, drinking hot tea and watching the moon rise.  Making well-massaged love.  He floated in space, anchored only by her hands, and colors washed over his mind’s eye.

“Jack.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s something I want you to do.”

This was more in line with Jack’s fantasies.  “I’ll do it.”

“No, listen.  I have a sort of…curse.  You can help me get rid of it.”

Kinky.  “What kind of curse?”

“It makes me sexually irresistible –”

Yes…”

“– and it also makes me have…bad dreams.  And I can’t get rid of it unless someone accepts it.”

“Um.  Okay.”  This was starting to remind Jack of page 31, detailing the forms of LMR most often encountered.  (Last minute resistance usually happens when girls have too much time to think.  They don’t want to seem slutty, to themselves or to their friends.  They want it, but they don’t want to admit they want it.  LMR can manifest as anything from a sudden shyness about their bodies, to guilt about a boyfriend or husband.  The important thing is not the excuses themselves, but the psychology behind it.  What she wants is for you to take charge, so that she doesn’t have to accept responsibility…)

“You can help me.”  This was whispered into Jack’s neck.  Kate was crouched over him now, and the heavy warmth of her breasts, her thighs pressed against him.  Her streaming hair was a fragrant tent around them.

“Mmmm…” Jack moaned, not in particular relation to her appeal.

Her tongue was laving his ear now, and her body was sliding, slowly, against his.  She whispered, “You just have to say: I accept.”

The book had predicted this – it was uncanny.  “I accept,”  intoned drunken Jack.  “I accept.  I sooooo…so accept.”

Kate exhaled, slowly and passionately, and her breath was wine.  Then, with a twitch of her hips, she began deftly to fit him into herself.  Jack, who felt he might soon be unable to form words anymore, gasped, “There’s condoms – in the drawer –”

Kate smothered his lips in a kiss and then said, “I already put one on you.”

Jack didn’t remember that she had, but soon didn’t care.  His orgasm was so intense, it felt as if he were crucified by a rod of light that exploded behind his tight-shut eyes.  He heard himself scream, borne atop an impossible crest that rose and rose, and his body was a rictus.  It was unbearable.  Finally he was released, to drift downward into a senseless abyss, wrung of every conscious thought.

*

Jack dreamed: there was angry screaming, the sound of sticks beating metal enclosures and the flesh inside.  There was fear, stench, filth, and death.  The booted feet came towards him and Jack felt his bowels release in terror.  The bars swung away and he shrank back.  The stick lashed out, beating his head and spine indiscriminately, the voice shrieking, “You motherfucker, get out!  I’ll fucking kill you myself!”  Jack, his own waste streaming down trembling legs, ran out and was herded into a corridor.  He couldn’t sort out the sounds, the cacophony of fear all around him.  He cried, choking in the miasma.  A figure in a blood-splashed apron loomed, and Jack tried to wheel around, but the man with the stick beat him forward viciously, still cursing, and then Jack’s hind hoof was clasped into a shackle.  Jack gasped as his body was hoisted up and up, and it hurt so much for all his weight to hang from that one hoof, but then his throat was opened and this fresh agony eclipsed all else.  Jack saw his blood, black in the gloom, rain up onto the floor in a torrent, and he couldn’t breathe, he was drowning in the iron tang of nausea.  Jack’s body thrashed wildly.  His hoof tore free from the shackle and his face crashed against the floor.  He couldn’t breathe, he sucked and gasped, and felt himself sliding over the concrete in the slick warm wetness –

Jack crashed against the dresser, tangled in sheets, sobbing and clutching at his throat.

He was alive.

He was alone.

*

Steve’s eyebrows beetled together as he dragged on the cigarette he was lighting.  Smoking was his new affectation, and a great way to meet girls, he claimed.  He exhaled slowly and then said, “So.  What you’re telling me is that…this girl got you drunk, took you home, foreplayed the shit outta you, confessed some sexually transmitted curse thing, got you to accept it, and then gave it to you in style.  And now chicks dig you.  And you have nightmares every night.”

Haggard Jack nodded.

“I don’t know if I buy it, man,” Steve pronounced.  “We’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with all the accounts coming over from the Islandia branch, and the warehouse being such bitches about that missing pallet –”

“No, Steve.  It’s real.”

Steve flicked his ashes.  “Well, sure.  But I remember having crazy dreams all the time, when I was a kid and my parents broke up –”

“Did you dream about being a different animal dying a different terrified death every single fucking night?”

Steve froze, and then woodenly resumed his smoking.  He offered the pack to Jack, and then cocked the lighter for him too.  Jack took a drag, and suddenly began to cry.  His chest heaved and his hands trembled as he smoked, one hand over his eyes.

They were both silent for several minutes, but then Steve whispered, “Dude – pull yourself together, it’s Susan from sales.”

“Fuck you.  And fuck Susan from sales,” murmured Jack, voice cracking.  But the proud clip-clopping of her high heels came closer and then stopped at Jack’s side.  Jack didn’t even look up, remote in his misery.

“Hello, Susan.  You look amazing today,” Steve hazarded.

“Jack, are you okay?” she said.

“No.”

“My god.  You look terrible.  What happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.  Please go away.”

Susan from sales took a hesitant step back.  Her gorgeous ankles, perfect stems rising from their burgundy patent shoes, the only part of her Jack could see, somehow conveyed her conflict.

“Well…okay.  But I was just going to lunch.  Would you like to come?  We can just talk about work.  Or…sports?  Anything you want.”

Steve waited one polite heartbeat and then interjected, “Jack’s sort of under the weather right now, but I know this great little steakhouse –”

“Not you,” said Susan faintly.  “I don’t date smokers,” she amended.  Jack’s smoke drifted across her.

“No.  Thanks.”

“Well.  I hope you feel better…”  She clip clopped away while Steve savored the view.  He turned back towards Jack as Susan distantly started her car.

“What a bitch!  Anyway, even if this is for real, it can’t be too hard to get rid of it.  It’s like your pockets are stuffed with friggin’ catnip or something.”

Jack was silent.

“Did you, ah, hear me?” asked Steve finally.

“Yeah.  I did.  I was just trying to imagine myself telling some girl that…I have this problem…and that she needs to take it off my hands…and getting her to accept it, and then leaving in the middle of the night like Kate left me so I don’t have to see her wake up with that look on her face –”

“Maybe you don’t have to tell her.  Maybe your Kate chick was just being an extra good citizen or something.”

Jack sighed.  “I don’t think it works that way.  But even if it did, and I could just pass it on, I just can’t see myself putting anyone through this.”

Steve laughed without much humor.  “So, what?  You’re gonna get butchered every night for the rest of your life?  That’s your plan?”

Jack stubbed out his cigarette and stood up abruptly.  “I don’t know.  I gotta go.”

“Well – do you wanna get some lunch with me?  I’m going to the damn steakhouse anyway, I’ve been working my magic on a little waitress there –”

Jack paled.  “No.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Sorry.  See you after lunch, then?”

“I don’t know.  Take it easy.”

Jack was almost to his car when Steve caught up to him, breathing hard.  “Hey…Jack.”

“You need a ride or something?”

Steve swayed, catching his breath.  “No…no.  I was just thinking – that was crazy, with Susan.  Wasn’t it?  She’s the hottest girl in the whole place, and she’s never given either of us the time of day, and all of the sudden she’s begging you to hang out with her.  I didn’t know she even knew your name.”

“Neither did I.”

“So…I know it’s hard, with your dreams and all, but…you’re not even taking advantage of the situation, here.”

Jack turned to face Steve fully.  “I don’t know how else to say this to you, man.  I’m tired.  Last night I was a monkey in a head trauma testing lab.  The night before, I got anally electrocuted, except it didn’t quite kill me and I was still alive when they pulled my fur off in one piece.  I wanna blow my brains out.”

Steve started to say something and then looked off towards the freeway instead, hands on hips.

“What.”

“Jack – Jack.  I would…do anything to have it, what you’ve got.  Even with the dreams.  I don’t care.  I haven’t had as much luck as maybe I’ve led you to believe?  With that book and all, I mean.  I’ve never had a girl like Susan come up and just…want me.”

Jack’s hopes flared even as his stomach lurched.  “Steve?  What are you saying?”

“I’m just saying…I don’t want you to off yourself.  And I really think I could handle it.  Honestly.  I have bad dreams all the time.”

“Not like this.”

“Maybe not, but –”

“Dude.  No.”

“Yeah.”

No.”

“Fucking – yes!

Jack rubbed his face with his hands.  He was exhausted, and terrified.

“Come on, Jack.”

He looked back up.  He stared at Steve.

Steve stared at Jack.

*

Jack’s apartment no longer contained pumpkin spice candles.  He couldn’t stand the smell, after.  He wandered into his bedroom and sprawled across his bed.  He picked up the book, and removed the pencil from its place at chapter eighteen.

The One: what if you meet her?  How will you know?  Even a player can fall in love.  The important thing is not to confuse love with libido.  The ranks of serious PUA’s (that meant pick-up artists) have lost too many good soldiers to amateur sentimentality.  That’s why it’s important to make your kills; you have to know you can trust your instincts.  If you do score a special lady, here’s some advice on how to play her psychology in your favor and keep her highly motivated to please you –

Jaded Jack put the book down.

The doorbell rang.

Jack opened the door.

“Steve.”

“Yeah.  I’ll take a beer.”  Steve’s smile looked pinched on his already sharp face.  His overly groomed hair was as offensive as ever.

“I’m out.”

“Oh, for chrissake.  Coffee, then.”

Jack turned away from the door, and Steve saw himself in.  “Hmm.  Smells nice,” he observed.  Jack scowled.  Steve blinked and ran his hands quickly over his face.

Jack made coffee, poured it into mismatched cups, and joined Steve at the kitchen table.  Steve glanced sidelong at Jack, whose hands wrapped the cup though his eyes gazed impassively off into the tiny kitchenette distance.  The silence aged and grew brittle.

“I wasn’t going to come, but then I thought you’d worry,” said Steve.  What the hell? he thought.  I sound like a girl!  A nervous girl!

Jack’s gaze floated lazily from its unguessed-at vista to fix, with beetled brows, Steve’s suddenly hot face.  “Dude, you sound like a girl.”

Speechless, Steve gulped his coffee, but it was so hot he jerked and spilled it down his shirt.  “Ow!  Damn it!

Jack got up and, as he threw Steve a hand towel, snarled “What are we doing here?  Is this a date?  Is this some of your book shit?  If it is, I’m not impressed.”

Steve didn’t know what he was feeling – he thought he’d just wanted to help Jack out, to…talk about options.  Whatever was going on, there seemed to be a real crisis at hand.  Steve didn’t know what to make of Jack’s dreams, but Jack needed help.  But then he’d felt like he was on a date, the last minute or so, with someone out of his league.  Admittedly, this was a familiar feeling to Steve, but not when it came to jinxed Jack, the one guy with less luck than himself.  Now it was more like je ne sais quois Jack – everything was all confused and confusing, except for an abrupt and clear flash of engorged humiliation.

Steve stood up from the table, besmirched in shirt and dignity both.  “You know what, Jack?  Sweet dreams.  Sweet fucking dreams.  I’ll see you at work.”

Jack mechanically finished his coffee and the rest of Steve’s, too, setting Steve’s empty cup carefully back in its spilled coffee ring when he was done.  Then there was nothing else to do but finish the pot.  Later, just as his dorsal fin was sheared from his large, muscular body and he was tossed overboard again to drown, Jack started awake and headed to the bar where he’d met Kate.

“What can I get for you, shug?” winked the bar girl.