She was trying to change a light bulb, that's all. Who knew that was so dangerous? She slipped off the footstool and banged her head on the kitchen counter. Things went dark and then immediately blindingly bright.
Caroline realized she was lying on her back on the grass in Central Park, quite a long ways from where she thought she'd fallen. She realized that her head didn't hurt anymore. She also realized that there was a very tall guy standing over her. Strangely, she didn't find this alarming.
He held his hand out to her, and she took it, allowing him to pull her to her feet. She dusted off the seat of her jeans and ran a hand through her hair, feeling for leaves or grass. She found neither.
The guy was smiling at her. Caroline frowned in response. "Do I know you?" she asked.
"Sort of," he replied, cryptically.
The frown deepened.
He waved his hand dismissively. "That doesn't matter. You're incorporeal, by the way."
"In-corp-oreal," he said slowly, as if here speaking to a small child. His tone reminded her of someone. "The state of being intangible, without a body, unreal-"
She cut him off. "I know what it means. Why are you telling me this?"
He shrugged. "Just walk with me," he said, and took a few steps down a path.
More than a little confused, she followed him.
He soon stopped, and pointed at a couple sitting on a bench. "You see them?"
"Yeah," she said, looking at the young man and woman he was pointing at. They looked to be in their 20s, a bit younger than Caroline.
"Well, look closely. You should see something above his head."
"Yeah, I do," she said, a little stunned. "It's very faint, but it looks like a number."
"Yep," he said, nodding. "It's actually a percentage. It's not very high, is it?"
Caroline shrugged. "Depends on what the scale is."
"All the way to a hundred."
"Then it's pretty low… 37."
He nodded again. "I expected that. But for her," he said, gesturing at the woman on the bench. "For her, he's 84."
"That's pretty high. What does it mean?"
"The number means how perfect people are for each other. It's different for everyone. Also, the number can change over time, too, going up or down. In this case," he gestured towards the woman again, "it's about to go down."
Caroline watched as an attractive blond jogger made her way past the couple and the male's eyes roamed over her body.
"The number just dropped a few points." He grasped her shoulders and turned her around, pointing at another guy playing soccer. "See him? He's a 97% match for her."
Caroline let out a low whistle. "That's really high," she said, looking at the 76 floating above his head.
Her guide, as she'd come to think of him, chuckled. "Your number or hers?"
"Both, but definitely hers."
"You have no idea. It's incredibly rare to even break into the 90s. A 97 is incredible. There's probably only two or three other people on the planet equal to or higher than that."
"Wow. So do they know each other?"
He shook his head. "No. They live within six blocks of each other, have for years, and work within three blocks of each other. They shop in the same grocery store. But no, they don't know each other. And they never will."
Caroline was stunned. "Oh, that's so sad."
He nodded. "Yes, it is. What's even sadder is that there's a guy in Russia who is a 98% match for her."
Caroline turned to look at him. "And she'll never…?"
Sadly, slowly, he moved his head from side to side. "Nope."
By this time, Caroline had begun to cry a little. "Why are you showing me this?"
"So that you'll realize how important what you have now really is. The scale goes to 100, sure, but humans are finicky things. In any relationship, there's always some doubt. That's why 99 is the best you can hope for."
He grasped her hands. "Caroline, by now, you should recognize me.
"I'm sorry, I don't."
He smiled slightly, wistfully. "Look above my head."
"What number is it?"
Her mouth dropped open in shock. "Ninety-nine."
Suddenly, the light blinded her again, and then the world went black. She felt fingers gently touching her face.
"Caroline?" a voice softly but anxiously inquired.
"I'm okay," she said, and sighed. She realized that she was lying on her back on the floor of her kitchen, and her head was throbbing. She started to struggle to get to her feet, but strong arms forced her down.
"Caroline, stay there. You may be seriously injured." Concerned brown eyes stared at her through wire-rimmed glasses.
"Richard, really, I'm okay. Help me to the couch."
After a few seconds of deliberation, he put his arm around her and helped her to her feet.
As she stood, she felt a little dizzy and stumbled. Richard caught her, and she looked up at him.
For a moment, she thought she caught a glimpse of a faint, silvery number shining over his head. She blinked and it vanished, if it had even been there at all. She grinned, suddenly feeling completely fine, her head incredibly clear.
"Richard, do you want to take the morning off and go for a walk in the park?"