Fiction: Personal Ad

By Cindy Fazzi

To be twenty years old and a virgin. Brown and short to boot, with a size-eight body trying to squeeze into a size four. My lovelessness, loneliness, and lack of self-confidence caused me grief, but the personal ad wasn’t my idea. 
Kim, the prettiest and richest among the four of us, had cooked up The Plan. She was our de facto leader, fashion adviser, organizer of outings, buyer of free dinners, and giver of positive affirmations. Without Kim, there would be no “us” at all. 
We first met in an evening class on the first day of the fall quarter in 2000. The international journalism class entailed group projects, and Kim chose me, Terry, and Mei as her teammates. 
Kim and Terry were white. Mei was Chinese American born in New York, while I immigrated with my family from Manila at the age of six. Our group was a poster child for diversity, but after the notoriety of our disastrous personal ad, people saw us only as an odd bunch of sluts who had the audacity to seek men through the classifieds. Mind you, if we were men, we would not have been condemned at all.
Our backgrounds and interests were so different that we should never have been best friends. How did we end up so close so fast? I could attribute it only to destiny. 
Unlike me and Kim, Mei and Terry weren’t even journalism majors. They shouldn’t have been in that class but for a twist of fate. Mei was a financial math major, a size zero on a limber five-four frame. Her straight black hair bounced just below her shoulders. Her face was chiseled like a fine figurine. She grew up in Westchester County, known for its houses with million-dollar views of the Manhattan skyline. She’d taken the class as fodder for conversation with her grandma who owned an English-language newspaper in Taipei.
In a classroom full of twenty- and twenty-one-year-old college seniors, Terry had introduced herself as Granny Terry, twenty-seven, married with two kids, knocked up when she was our age. She might have been pretty if not for her hair’s carrot-orange dye job and the thick makeup hiding her natural beauty. She was a psychology major who’d taken the course as an elective because her hubby was available to babysit in the evening while she attended the class. 
As for me, I had enrolled in the evening class because it meant fewer students. I was tired of my anonymity in daytime classes attended by a hundred or more students. 
When it was my turn to introduce myself, I said, “Connie de Jesus—I’m Filipino American. I’m from Arlington, Virginia.”
Mei and Kim acknowledged me with a nod and a smile. Only Terry asked where Arlington was. “I’ve never been anywhere but here, you guys,” she admitted.
“It’s a suburb of Washington, D.C.,” I explained. My hometown was quintessential suburbia with tree-lined streets and tidy single-family houses. My dad was a pharmacologist conducting a clinical trial for big pharma and my mom was a chemistry teacher. 
We could have formed a team and still not forge an unlikely, and ultimately ill-fated, friendship. It was Kim’s invitation to hang out after class that brought us a notch closer. Kim was tall and sleek as a supermodel, blonde like sunshine. Nobody who stared at her greenish-gray eyes could say no to her invitation, not when she was also offering to pay for dinner. Kim was from Short Hills, New Jersey, a suburb dotted with Victorian mansions that spoke of old money. She was on par with Mei.
In a hole-in-a-wall restaurant, we chatted with ease, as though we’d known each other for more than two hours. I was struck by how easily our conversation veered from school to dorms to our love life. One moment Terry was bitching about the cost of transferring from a community college to the university and Mei was describing the perks of her job as a resident adviser at her dorm. The next moment Kim was confessing about lusting for a professor she’d met in a symposium. She started dating him two weeks after they first met.
“I prefer older men. I’ve dated guys of all ages, but my current boyfriend is the best. He’s twelve years older than me,” Kim said between bites of her sandwich. 
“Who’s the lucky guy?” asked Mei.
“Dale Banks.” Kim beamed. “Make that Professor Dale Banks of the Sociology Department.”
“You’re allowed to date a professor from this university?” I squeaked.
“I’m twenty-one. Besides, he’s not my teacher. It’s perfectly legit,” said Kim. 
“I’m only twenty,” I added.
“Then you can’t date a professor,” joked Kim.
“I’ve never actually dated, like, ever.” I hadn’t meant to divulge my spinsterhood, but too late. I gulped my Diet Coke in embarrassment.
“Honey, we gotta do something about that.” Terry was speaking with her mouth full. “It’s the new millennium! Nobody’s allowed to remain a virgin at twenty anymore.” 
“I’m not dating at the moment, but I’m most definitely not a virgin,” chimed in Mei, as nonchalant as could be.“I’m surrounded by math nerds and frat jerks. My celibacy is a proactive choice against meaningless hookups.” 
“Listen, my East Coast Girls—” Terry paused for dramatic effect. “There’s something wrong with this picture. Your early twenties are the best time for hookups! We can’t let the two of you remain single.”
East Coast Girls. That was how Terry called us with a tad of envy and sarcasm both. She was born and raised in Ohio, in what she described as a “shithole” trailer park outside Columbus. 
“I’m off the market, but I can help end the drought.” Kim cocked her head to one side. “Or is it a famine?” 
“Both,” Mei and I said at the same time.
The spontaneous decision to find boyfriends for half of the group proved pivotal. It was the moment we bonded in earnest as the two of us “disaster victims” sat there unblinking. It was the first step toward a mishap, the jinxed ad lying in wait.
Our friendship accelerated within days. We were so drawn to each other that we hung out before and after our journalism class and spent most of our free time together. Come to think of it, only Kim had an honest-to-goodness social life among the four of us. She squeezed in hanging out with us between her dates with the Professor and parties with other beautiful people like her.
Mei’s busy after-school schedule consisted of activities required for an honor student like her, none of which offered a respite from her rigorous academic life: MathFest, STEM Olympiad, Robotics League, Women in Math & Science Club.
Terry’s domestic responsibilities gave her no social life at all and filled her with layers upon layers of discontent. Her everyday struggles to find a babysitter (preferably for free), sell Avon products on the side to help make ends meet, and finish her chores on top of her schoolwork were the objects of her rants. 
As for me, it was easy to choose my new girlfriends over my two roommates. I never truly belonged with them despite four years of living together. Our regular movie outings and Friends binges had turned me into the perfect third wheel.
So, you see, Kim’s pull with the group came as naturally as gravity. She was a born influencer long before the word became ubiquitous. Hers was the life we wanted vicariously, whose beauty we admired, and sex life we coveted.
The idea of finding boyfriends didn’t come up again until the day of Kim’s breakup. Everything changed that afternoon, as if a powerful electric switch was flicked on, and nothing could interrupt the flow of the current running our intertwined fates from then on. 
Mei, Terry, and I were studying in Mei’s dorm room late in the afternoon when Kim arrived sobbing. We’d never seen her cry before. She’d always been the consoler, not the consoled.
“Dale dumped me. He’s been cheating on me. He’s in love with someone else, a newly hired professor.” Kim wiped her tears with a tissue. She was twice as pretty from crying, her cheeks flushed, her eyes shining. Once she got started, a torrent of words gushed out of her mouth nonstop as she described her seemingly perfect relationship with Dale, which turned out to be an illusion. Afterward, she let out a huge breath like someone coming to the surface of the water after a deep dive.
Mei touched Kim’s hand. “You don’t need the Professor. He doesn’t deserve you.”
We rallied around Kim and placated her with pep talk. A faint smile formed on her lips. She held up her arms, motioning come here, and we gathered in a group hug. 
After we broke the embrace, Kim’s gaze flitted between me and Mei. “The three of us are single now,” she said. “There’s plenty of fish in the ocean. We’ll find our guys.”
“Don’t forget about me.” Terry elbowed Kim.
That puzzled me. I attributed Terry’s cryptic remark to her feeling left out. The true meaning behind her comment would crystallize later, after the prospect of a personal ad gripped us. 
Finding boyfriends was front and center again. Clubbing with the girls seemed the most obvious way to meet someone. I would have been happy just to tag along Kim in the numerous mixers she was invited to. I would have liked to be introduced to the math nerds Mei didn’t want or to Terry’s husband’s single buddies. It never occurred to my twenty-year-old self that there were other paths to dating. There were more exciting, but also more perilous, means to finding a complete stranger to surrender myself to.
On a snowy December evening before the start of Christmas break, I placed my dating agenda literally on the table by cooking for my friends. It was our last chance to hang out before Mei, Kim, and I flew back to our respective hometowns for the holidays. With my roommates already gone, I reigned in the kitchen as I whipped out a Filipino dinner of chicken adobo, noodles called pancit bihon, and tamarind soup with pork and vegetables. No Filipino meal was complete without white rice, so I made that too.
Over dinner, Kim talked about wanting to go skiing in Vermont with her cousins. Mei planned to catch an off-Broadway play during the break. Terry was stressed out over the Christmas presents she couldn’t afford. 
I was listening to Terry rattle off a list of toys her kids wanted while my heart was galloping. All I could think of was Kim’s promise to help me find a guy. I mustered the courage to redirect our conversation. I couldn’t wait until after the holidays to express what I really wanted.
I cleared my throat. “Kim, what’s the plan for ending the ‘drought’ and the ‘famine’?” I made air quotes with my fingers. “The New Year is just around the corner. I can’t see any oasis on the horizon.”
Kim wore a thoughtful expression as she forked a little nest of fried noodles into her mouth. “Okay, let’s talk about my idea. I wasn’t sure if you guys were still interested.”
“Very much so,” I answered.
Mei nodded vigorously.
“Have you heard of LiveWire?” asked Kim.
“Yes.” Mei and I spoke at the same time.
“No.” Terry slurped her soup without glancing at us. She was married. What did she care?
“Geez, Terry.” Kim rolled her eyes. “LiveWire is a platform for online classified ads. It’s better than Craigslist. The people who use it are young and educated, mostly in urban areas. So, here’s my plan—”
I couldn’t tell whether Kim was just being careful about what to say next, or if she was already having second thoughts about The Plan. Either way, the air grew thick with anticipation. I was holding my breath. 
Kim wiped her lips with a napkin. “I’ve been thinking about putting a ‘women seeking men’ ad on LiveWire. It’s going to be an ad for the three of us. What do you guys think?” 
Mei and I looked at each other. 
“An ad?” I frowned. “Why?” 
“Because…why not? It’ll be fun.” Kim sliced a piece of chicken into tiny pieces before taking a bite.
“Have you tried the personals before? Why not use match-dot-com?” asked Mei.
“No and no.” Kim gestured with her fork. “I’ve never used the personals before, and that’s exactly the point. I want something new…something bold…and exciting, not tacky like match-dot-com.”
“Do you mean to say each of us will run an ad on LiveWire?” I couldn’t hide the disappointment in my voice. This was The Plan? “What if nobody answers my ad.”
“Oh, Connie, that’s not what I meant.” Kim rose to pick up the bottle of champagne from the ice bucket on the sideboard. She’d brought it herself since I wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol at the time. “It will be just one ad for the three of us.”
“One ad, really?” I shook my head. “I don’t get it.” 
Kim turned to Mei for help. “You know what I mean, right?”
Mei narrowed her eyes. “I think so. It will be one group ad, but it won’t read like a group ad.” 
“Exactly.” Kim eased the cork out of the champagne bottle expertly. “Our ad should sound like there’s only one woman behind it.” She poured bubbly into four champagne flutes and served the first glass to Mei. “What do you think?”
Mei flashed a smile. “It’s brilliant.”
Kim walked the few steps to hand me the next glass. “We’re going to write our ad as a composite of everything we are.” She gave the last flute to Terry. 
Mei got up, nursing her glass. “Our ad should be written in a way that men will think they’re contacting one woman instead of three. For once, we’ll be making the rules. We get to select the men, not the other way around.”
Kim nodded. “We each get to choose a guy—or guys, depending on how many responses we get. But we won’t tell them there are three of us.”
“Four.” Terry bolted up from the chair. “The four of us. I want to be part of the ad, you guys!” 
“Terry, I think you’re, uh, married,” I scoffed. I was the only one left sitting down.
“Honey, don’t worry about it. Maybe nobody’s foolish enough to answer our ad, then it’s like nothing happened.” Terry winked at me. “But coming up with a really clever ad that will fool all the men out there sounds like a ton of fun. I gotta be a part of it.” She lifted her glass. “Come on, let’s make a toast. I won’t rat you out to the booze police.”
The three girls chuckled. 
I waved away Terry’s remark. I wanted The Plan to work. I’d waited my whole life for the right time to start dating. I couldn’t let Terry hijack my happiness. So, I heaved myself up. “Fine. Let’s place an ad for the four of us.”
Terry clicked her glass to mine. “That’s the spirit.” 
“Watch out, men. Here we come!” declared Kim.
We clinked our flutes together and sipped the champagne. 
That was how the cursed personal ad was born. What Kim had in mind was suitable on LiveWire, not on an online dating service that required an individual’s profile and picture. The ad was going to be deceptive, and that bothered me. If we could trick men into believing they were corresponding with only one woman, they could easily fool us into believing whatever they wanted to lie about. 
Terry’s desire to pretend to be single in order to meet men couldn’t have been clearer. Her willingness to cheat on her husband should have been a red flag. I should have opposed the ad, but I was outnumbered, and it was easier to conform. Most of all, I desperately wanted to meet my first boyfriend, something I couldn’t do on my own.
That evening, a tad of fear took seed inside me. I ignored it—to my own detriment. We finished the champagne and wished each other Merry Christmas in advance. Kim promised to draft the ad, which the group would review before publication. 
Two weeks and many anxiety-filled nights later, the New Year arrived. I vowed to be single no more. We approved the ad Kim had written and contributed five dollars and fifty-six cents each to get it published online. The ad ran for two full days, sealing our fates. 
On a snowy Thursday evening, Kim treated us to dinner in a pizzeria to discuss the results of the ad. It was her belated New Year’s treat. We sat at a square table with Kim across from me. 
“Eight guys responded to our ad,” Kim gushed. 
The number blew my mind. I’d expected two or three tops. My excitement was tempered by the sight of Terry, who sat on my left, tackling a chicken wing. It was just like her to order a more expensive food when someone else was paying. The rest of us shared a pizza pie. 
I peered into Terry’s face. “You just wanted to see if any guy would fall for the ad, right? You don’t really want to meet any of them?”
Terry licked the barbecue sauce off her fingers. “Nah.”
“Good.” We, the East Coast Girls, spoke simultaneously. Our relief was palpable. Terry hadn’t meant to commit adultery after all. 
Mei and I got busy with the pizza while Kim read the names of the eight guys and described each one briefly. Number One: a dentist. 
Number Two: a financial adviser. 
Number Three: a small-business owner (no mention of the type of business).
Number Four: an accountant. 
Number Five: an engineering student at a private college.
Numbers Six, Seven, and Eight: a college senior, a master’s degree candidate, and a Ph.D. student from our own university.
“Five of them wrote emails. Three left voicemails through LiveWire’s platform.” Kim folded a pizza slice lengthwise before taking a bite. “We each should pick our guys after we all read the email and listen to the messages.”
Mei was nibbling on her slice. “We have to be sure about our choices because once we correspond with them, it’s going to be hard to make any changes. Remember, they think they’re dealing with just one person.”
I sipped my Diet Coke. My insides buzzed with excitement. “How are we going to decide which guy goes to which girl?”
“We can choose by age,” suggested Mei. “You get the youngest guys. Kim and I will get the older ones.”
“If we each get two guys, there will be two extras,” I noted.
“I’ll take one of those extra guys,” Terry chirped.
We turned to her. We’d almost forgotten about her. She’d been devouring the wings without a peep until that moment. 
“Terry, you can’t do this. It’s unfair to your husband,” I protested.
She gave me an amused smile. “He doesn’t need to know. It’s just one dinner, not an affair.”
Mei’s face contorted. “Ten minutes ago, you said you weren’t interested in meeting any of the guys.”
“I changed my mind. No big deal,” countered Terry.
After a prolonged silence when all we could do was watch Terry gnaw on chicken bones, Kim said, “Terry, can you promise us it’s going to be a one-off?” 
She wiped her hands with a napkin and made an X over her heart with her forefinger. “Cross my heart and hope to die.” 
Kim nodded. Mei shrugged, meaning okay. 
I was outnumbered again. What else could I do when I was dying to meet my future boyfriend? I was sure he was among the eight guys. So, I bit my tongue. And we took another step toward our own downfall without knowing it. 
Within one week we met all eight men with the ratio of one girl to two guys. We each had two dates with the men we’d chosen. Yes, Terry included. Her promised one-off became two-off. There was no stopping her by then.
In short order, Mei and I started dating Number Eight-and Number Six respectively. We both wanted to come clean about the ad to our boyfriends. We thought the rest of the group would agree, but instead, Kim called a meeting.
We sat at a table in the activity center on campus for a “summit” as Kim called it, as though we were world leaders representing the G7. We were nursing our coffees in the near-empty food court. It was after lunch hour, so there were fewer students around. 
“I’ve been thinking about this,” I began. “He’s my first boyfriend. I’m going to tell him the truth about our ad.” 
Mei sighed. “I’m with Connie. I can’t stand our lie, so I’d like to do the same—”
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Kim interrupted. “How about a coming-clean party in my apartment? Let’s invite all eight guys. I’ll reveal the truth about the ad and own it. I’ll tell them it was my crazy idea. Those who are offended will walk out of the party, and that’s just fine. Those who have a sense of humor will stay, and those are the guys we should hang out with.” 
My jaw slackened. Who on earth held a “coming clean” party? I didn’t want the complications of a freaking party with all eight men. 
“That’s insane!” blurted out Mei.
“Mei’s right,” I agreed. 
“You guys, it’s a great idea.” Terry placed both palms on the table. “This whole thing has been an experiment. Let’s celebrate the successful results. The two of you found boyfriends. That’s more than enough reason to celebrate.”
Kim’s face brightened. “Terry and I are super happy for both of you. My dates didn’t work out, but that’s okay. We can still have fun as a group. Come on, it’s just a party.”
Mei and I exchanged looks. The way Kim and Terry put it made me feel guilty, as though the good luck Mei and I enjoyed had caused them bad luck. Under this logic, we owed Kim and Terry a party, a consolation for their misfortune. 
Mei touched my arm. “What do you think? I’ll defer to you.”
Kim leaned forward to lock eyes with me. “It’s up to you, Connie. Tell us what you want to do.”
It sounded like a dare. The ad was Kim’s “project.” It seemed only fair to let her finish whatever she’d envisioned with it. Worse, I never could say no to her.
“Whatever,” I acquiesced. And just like that our collective destiny moved another step closer to tragedy.
All eight men came to Kim’s party. None of them got mad about the deceptive ad. Indeed, they were good sports. Kim charmed them all and dazzled everyone with a fabulous all-appetizer buffet, French champagne, and the presence of uniformed caterers.
With the party’s success, we declared the personal ad a triumph. Numbers One, Two, and Three became hopelessly smitten with Kim. She rejected them all. She chose to be platonic besties with Number Seven. 
Mei, Kim, and I, and our guys were all attending the same university. We grew inseparable for four glorious months. The three men brought an unexpected sunburst in our lives in the dead of winter. We basked in their sunny presence. 
Terry tagged along, even though our giddy cheerfulness annoyed her. She refused to let her husband join our get-togethers, but she also complained about how the newly expanded group left her out. Her rants became more frequent and grew longer. She displayed the wounds of her resentment against the East Coast Girls every chance she got.
No matter. The entire winter flew by in a blur of intense clubbing and boozy socializing. I was no longer a virgin when I turned twenty-one. We thought the personal ad had brought us happiness or something like it. 
We were wrong. In fact, the ad was a window to our empty lives, an opening wide enough for a catastrophe in the spring of 2001. On the first day of school after spring break, one of the men who’d answered our ad was murdered in his bedroom. His roommate found him lying face down with his head bashed in, like he’d drowned in a pool of his own blood. His body was discovered a few hours after he’d spent the night partying with us.
When the cops arrived in his apartment, they noticed a printed copy of our ad prominently pinned on a cork board in his room. The ad was surrounded by pictures of me and my girlfriends horsing around. There was one photo of me in a tank top, my boobs about to pop out, and one of Kim sitting on Number Seven’s lap. There were snapshots of Terry laughing her ass off with her glorious cleavage on display and Mei smooching with her boyfriend. The pictures made us look like porn stars at best and nymphomaniacs at worst. 
We thought those photos were a hoot, but in the light of a homicide, they weren’t so funny anymore. They looked like evidence of orgies and sex games. Kim’s coming-clean party seemed like a sinister trap for unwitting men. 
The personal ad proved to be damning in the light of what the police discovered about the victim. He, too, had been lying to us. His secrets were darker, graver, and went deeper than our devious ad. So, can you guess who became the murder suspects?

Cindy Fazzi is a Filipino American writer and former Associated Press reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States. She’s the author of Multo, a contemporary thriller published by Agora Books in September 2023. Her historical novel, My MacArthurwas published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2018. Her articles have appeared in the Daily BeastElectric LiteraturePublishers Weeklyand Writer’s DigestHer most recent short story was published by TOUGH in 2023.


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