[Sleep Today: 5.3 hours | Average: 7.2 hours] + [Coffees Today: 3 | Average: 4] + [Constraint: 33 minutes until scheduled dinner at 154 Hampton Avenue] : Best Match : Premium Sponsor 753. Directive: Play ad 753.1198 and route past 668 Taylor Avenue location.

Abby’s half-formed thoughts of upgrading to the ad-free version of her podcast service gave way to the catchy jingle, and she sang along. “Pick up your pick-me-up and get on your way. Fast!”

Her car turned itself left and slowed just enough to miss the light at the corner of Taylor Avenue. While waiting out the red beside the Jolt ‘N Go, Abby decided she had time for a quick stop. She hopped out and instructed her car to join the throng of traffic circling the block.

While she waited for the latte machine to spew out its brew, the man in line behind her learned from his SmartContact lenses that Abby just got her hair cut. “I love your hair,” he began hopefully, leaning forward.

Abby half-turned and mouthed, “Thanks,” before tapping on her ear piece. The man nodded in apparent understanding and disappointment, and Abby feigned listening to her non-existent call while wishing the historic district allowed the construction of drive-thrus. She was relieved to get back in her car and on her way, which happened to take her past the new art gallery she’d been thinking of checking out next weekend ([recently moved to larger apartment] + [following art collectors on social media]).

She arrived at the restaurant just in time to see Lola slip through the doors. Abby’s car parked, and she grabbed a small, gift-wrapped box from the back seat before following Lola inside.

“Hey Lola, congratulations!” Abby gave her friend a hug as they waited to be seated.

“Thank you! This place is beautiful, by the way.” Lola gestured toward the assortment of potted plants adorning the walls of the cozy Italian restaurant. “How did you hear about it?”

“A friend recommended it,” Abby replied. She didn’t consider this a lie, given the deep bond she felt with her phone.

Said friend dinged to announce that their table was ready, so they followed a rolling stream of lights in the floor to a small, cast-iron table. After they entered their orders (the first options presented to each upon opening their respective digital menus, lasagna for Abby and gnocchi for Lola), Abby took advantage of the wait to present Lola’s gift.

“Oh my God, stroopwafels?” Lola smiled broadly. “You shouldn’t have! This is so thoughtful.”

“I just figured, what with your big promotion promising new things, you could do with a reminder of good times past, and I remembered you talking about your trip to Holland as a kid and how much you loved these things.” This Abby considered a lie. She had sprung for the GiftersGuide app for a recommendation based on text and social media history, and now she avoided her friend’s eyes after briefly returning a smile.

“That’s very sweet. In more ways than one.” Lola also looked away, smile fading. “Hopefully it will give me the sugary energy I need to get through some late nights at the new job.”

“Wait, do you mean being VP of Marketing is like a big responsibility or something?” Abby said, adopting her best Valley Girl accent.

“At first. I mean, I’ve got to figure out how to expense all my lunches, and then fire everybody who’s ever crossed me. It’s gonna be really time consuming.”

Abby laughed. “Seriously, I know how much you wanted this, Lola, and you couldn’t deserve it more. You’re gonna do great.”

Abby would have seen the last of Lola’s smile disappear if the lights didn’t go out. The air buzzed as phones and watches sputtered and flashed before falling dark.

“I’d heard the Luddites had threatened another EMP,” Lola said, leaning forward to be heard over the other patrons’ panicked chatter. “I suppose this place will look even better by candlelight.”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Abby said, trying in vain to bring her phone back to life. “Might be a while before they can actually cook anything, though. Those stroopwafels were a pretty timely gift, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Lola chuckled.

As Abby’s eyes adjusted to the dark, she noticed her friend squinting to read the label and recalled Lola’s honey allergy. “Save your eyes. They’re the original recipe.”

Lola looked up. “So, no honey?”

Abby narrowed her eyes. “Right. You’ve had these before, no?”

“Yeah, of course, it’s just…” Lola paused, then leaned further across the table towards Abby. “No, I haven’t. I didn’t go to Holland as a kid. I made that up. And I didn’t want to be VP of Marketing. I hate marketing. I hate selling things and I hate being sold to. Hell, I try to do poorly at my job, but I guess I have so little sense for it that I succeed by mistake.”

“Lola, what are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about living a lie, Abby. I live a lie for the cameras and the bots that monitor what we do and determine how we think, what we respond to. I live a lie so that at least it’s my own lie to live. But we’ve been friends for years, and this was all so sweet, and I just can’t…”

Lola fell silent as Abby’s phone lit up, along with a smattering of others around the restaurant. Abby watched the light reflecting in Lola’s wet eyes, then looked down at the table.

“I’m glad you like the stroopwafels, Lola. It can be so hard to find a gift that someone will really appreciate.”

Karl Lykken writes stories and software in Texas. His sci-fi can be found in Overtime, Witcraft, and Daily Science Fiction.

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