[photo credit: morguefile.com]
I knew he was going to be extraordinary before he came off the line. Mostly, of course, they’re just … constructs. Little more than what were once called mannequins. Sometimes one … speaks. Before the positrons are fired up, I mean. Looking at it, you just know somewhere deep inside that this one’s different.
I don’t mean looks. The possible combinations of face shape, coloring, eyes and hair — endless. They’re all different that way, made to order. This one had chiseled cheeks and a straight nose, just a bit flared at the end. He had brown hair and lustrous green eyes framed with long dark lashes and his lips were designed by Michelangelo or maybe a real angel. His chin had a small cleft and his neck was long and lean. The rest was just as perfect.
“Gonna take this one for a little … test drive, eh, Winston?”
“Shut up, Jones.” The guy was always watching me. Maybe he wanted to take me for a test drive. The thing was, Jones was right. That’s exactly what I wanted to do, and what I would do, the moment I could.
We all did it. The higher ups looked the other way, because technically they don’t belong to the purchaser until delivery and they’re all tested. Some just more thoroughly than others. This one, I’d test personally.
I looked over his programming sheet quickly. Jesus, even more perfect! Maybe other folks couldn’t read the zeros and ones, but I could. I knew that line of code meant he’d be adventurous; that one, that he’d like music; that one, that his sex drive would be high. And damn, that one, that one right there meant he’d be a switch. My god, it didn’t get any better than that. Just one problem. The line there? Straight. Well, I could fix that. Change this string to that one instead and I had me the perfect man for a man like me.
At least for a few days anyway. Right now, that didn’t matter. What did matter was getting him off the line and into my arms.
“Hey, Winston, come here a sec.”
Shit. The manager. And the plant manager. And the district manager. Not good. Not good at all.
“Got a special assignment for you, Winston. That one,” he pointed to my perfect man, “needs delivering. He’s a very special order, going to Mr. Fletcher’s retreat up in the Dells, as … companion for his daughter.”
We all knew what ‘companion’ meant. Fletcher, the district manager, was seeing to his daughter the best way he could. I’d met the girl once, years ago, right after the accident. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and though I knew time would have tamed the red angry look of the scars, it wouldn’t have straightened her spine or given her back the use of her arms and legs. So Fletcher had her a mate constructed, someone who wouldn’t care about the crippled part of things, but would give her comfort — and sex, judging from the profile — and companionship. Maybe even enough of what might pass for love.
“Mr. Fletcher can’t make the trip right now. Something’s come up and he’s got to go to Europe. You’ve been here for a decade, Winston, and always been a good hard worker, someone we can trust. We want you to drive him out there. It should take a couple of days from here.”
Flying didn’t always work too well with the new ones. Once their positronic pathways were set, sure, but until then, sometimes things got … scrambled. Overland was the only way to go.
“When will he be ready to go?”
“Tonight, sir. I can have him ready tonight.”
“Great! Once he’s ready, bring him to my office and I’ll give you a credit card and the keys to one of the Audis. You can do this, can’t you? I mean, you’re single, so ….”
“Yes, Mr. Jamison, I can do this. I’ll stop by my place and grab some clothes after we leave here.”
“No need. Get yourself some things from wardrobe. Pick him out a good variety, and make sure you don’t go scruffy, in case Miss Fletcher wants you to stay a day or two and help get the new construct settled in.”
Slightly unusual, but not unheard of, and certainly not for one of the big high muckety-mucks, and since she was paralyzed, maybe she’d need more help with the adaptation.
He nodded, dismissing me, and I headed back to my perfect man, dizzy with anticipation. I’d alter his programming, have a few days of bliss and then adjust things once we got to the Dells.
I hadn’t counted on falling in love with him.
It happened all at once, the first night of our trip. We stopped for the night — I was hard as a rock from imagining what it was going to be like to have him after spending all day talking to him, helping him become more than just a … construct. Some things are programmed in; some things have to be learned and experienced. I was going to help Micah do that, like a good little employee, and help myself to Micah, like the needy lonely man I was inside.
Micah. I named him that. I had no idea what the Fletcher woman would call him. He was Micah to me and always would be.
When we got to the room, I set things down and turned to him, standing there, looking around a bit blankly, as if he didn’t have a clue what the room was. I guess he didn’t.
“Micah,” I began and took a step in his direction. The first approach is hardest unless all you want is a quick slam and spurt and I wanted far more than that from this one. “Micah, I ….”
He met my eyes and everything changed. “Yes, David, I know.”
The instant before he’d been that mostly vacant construct, beautiful but lacking. Suddenly, he was Micah. A man. My man.
He held his hands out to me and smiled. “Undress me, David. I’m not good with buttons yet.”
I swallowed hard. “I don’t want to take advantage of you, Micah. I don’t want to use you.” And it was true. In that instant when our eyes met, more than him changed.
“Is it using if I want it, too, David?”
“Oh, god. Oh, god, Micah, I —”
He took a step closer and wrapped his arms around me, whispering in my ear, “Fuck me, David.”
I was lost. That moment, I gave up my soul, right there, to a construct.
I thought I would die before I got us undressed, both of us laughing over my fumbling with buttons and zippers in my eagerness to see him again, all of him, aroused and ready for me. He kept nuzzling my neck, dropping little hot kisses on my cheeks. Finally I had us both naked and stood back to drink him in.
“My god, Micah, you’re perfect.”
“You’re beautiful, David. Come, kiss me, show me how to please you.”
I tried to tell him he pleased me just by existing, but then his lips were on mine and words went out the window. I told him with my lips and tongue, my hands, my cock, my ass, just as he told me.
Arrival at the Dells began to weigh on me almost the moment we left the hotel. We’d have one more night, but that was all.
“David? Something’s wrong. What?”
We’d just gotten lunch and a sigh from my very bones escaped as we got back in the car to head toward the end of everything.
“David. I’m new, but I’m sophisticated. I know you’re lying. What’s wrong?”
Shit. Something to be said for simpler programming. Another sigh. “I don’t want to give you up, Micah.”
He was silent for a while, staring straight ahead, watching the miles go by. Finally, about Chicago, he turned to me and asked, “Do you love me, David?”
“Oh, god, Micah, you belong to Miss Fletcher. Don’t ask me that.”
“I have to know, David. I have to.”
“All the saints forgive me, but yes, Micah, crazy as that is, I do. I love you.”
“Then don’t give me up.”
“I have to. Believe me, I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to.”
“I don’t want to be hers, David. I want to be with you. I’m not supposed to, I know, but I love you, too.”
“Shit, Micah, you can’t. You’re not programmed to feel things like that.”
“Maybe not, but I wasn’t programmed to look into your eyes and see the universe waiting for me either. Don’t give me up.”
“I have no choice. If I don’t, I’ve stolen you, and they’ll chase us down and lock me up for years.”
“Is there no other way?”
“No. You’re hers and we have a few more days, since I’m supposed to help her adapt, but then I have to leave you with her.”
“I won’t stay.”
I sighed. “You will. Once I adjust your programming back the way it should be, you won’t have a choice.”
“Don’t do that to me, David. Don’t take us away from me. I’d rather live in misery having lost you than never to have had you at all. Promise me, David. Don’t change me. Promise me.”
“Micah, I can’t.”
He fell silent again for a long time. We were stopping for the night in Madison before he spoke. “David, I don’t care what you try to do, I won’t forget us. Even if you change my programming, it won’t make any difference. I know it, David, I know it in my soul. We belong together and nothing will change that.”
“I wish that were true, Micah. God, I wish that were true.”
“I’ll make it true, David. Come to my arms and love me again. I’ll make it true.”
I don’t know how he talked me into it — actually I do; it was somewhere between licking my ass like a god and my pounding him into the headboard — but I promised him I wouldn’t alter his programming.
I had to, I knew. What would Miss Fletcher think of having a gay construct? But I couldn’t. How could I break my word to Micah?
I had no answer to that, and so I didn’t even try to find one. I decided to just let things play out, put the decisions off as long as possible.
In the morning, a gift from the universe. An overnight snowfall, almost 10 inches in some places, and the highways wouldn’t be open until afternoon or maybe tomorrow. I reported in, of course, and Jamison said he’d handle contacting Fletcher and his daughter, to just make sure I didn’t risk everything on some snow-covered winding road. I knew ‘everything’ meant Micah and Jamison’s job and not my life, but I didn’t care.
We had another day. The two of us. Micah and I. Another day of bliss and hot sex and happiness.
I kept hoping for more snow that night. Didn’t happen. We spent that day clinging to each other’s hands, driving along, taking turns — he needed to learn driving skills — not talking, afraid of saying too much, afraid of saying too little.
When we pulled up at the “retreat” I began to get an idea just how wealthy Fletcher was. I’d been toying with the idea of buying Micah myself, offering all my pension and retirement, offering to work for bread and water, to pay for him. That wasn’t going to work. Anyone who could afford a twenty-room house and call it a “retreat” could beat anything I offered.
A man answered the door. “Come on in. She’s in the back.”
“And you are …?”
He laughed. “Nobody. I’m just her brother, Tim. I’ve been here for a week or so, helping her get settled until this … thing … showed up.”
I hated him. If I’d been femme, I’d have scratched his eyes out on the spot. Thing? My Micah, a thing? “Will you be staying?” If my tone had been any icier, it could have sunk the Titanic.
“Hell no. I hate this place, and the little crippled princess. I’m out of here, just waiting to get your shit in the house and your car moved so I can get out the drive.”
“This is all our ‘shit’.”
“I’ll move the car, David,” Micah volunteered.
I nodded and handed him the keys.
“He drives. Not ‘it’. He.”
“Oh, all constructs’ rights, are we? Well, listen here, you stupid jerk, that thing’s no man and never will be.”
“More than you are, he’s a man!” I didn’t know that thing about seeing red was real until that moment. Makes sense, I guess, if your blood’s pounding through your brain like mine was.
Micah laid a hand on my arm. “It’s all right, David. Why don’t you move our car instead, and Mr. Fletcher can go ahead and carry his ‘shit’ down to his car? It will give you time to cool off a bit before we meet Miss Fletcher.”
“Too late.” Her voice was a little off, but not much. She was at the end of the hall in one of those electric wheelchair things. She had a little use of her hands, I guess, since she pushed on a joystick and moved toward us. “Hello. I’m Jamie. I see you’ve met Tim. Get out, Tim.”
“As soon as somebody moves their fucking car, I’m gone.”
I almost ran to the car. I was afraid I was going to kill the sonofabitch if I didn’t get him out of my sight.
When I got back to the house, Micah and Jamie were standing there, awkwardly. Socials skills training, I reminded myself.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Winston.” She smiled, a little, maybe all she could.
“Oh, it rolls off, Miss Fletcher. I’ve met people like your brother before.” I was lying through my teeth and I knew Micah saw it, but hoped he wouldn’t question me until later.
“Not about that. About … this.” She gestured slightly toward Micah.
“I don’t understand.”
“Come to the back and sit. We’ll talk there. I just need to turn this thing.”
I could tell she didn’t want help, didn’t want to be asked if she needed help, so I kept quiet.
Once we were in the back, looking out tall windows over a wooded snowfield, the most beautiful scenery I’d been lucky enough to see in person, she looked away a moment, obviously embarrassed.
“Mr. Winston —”
“David, Miss Fletcher.”
“Then it’s Jamie, David. I don’t really know how to say this, but this whole construct thing … it just won’t do.”
Micah turned to look at me, sitting there on the couch, and the confusion in his eyes broke my heart. It was suddenly hard to breathe, like someone was squeezing all the oxygen out of the air. I knew it would get me fired, but hell, I was looking for a job when I found that one, so I reached over and laid my hand atop his. I whispered, “It’s all right, Micah. I’m here. It’s all right.”
I turned to her. “Please explain, Jamie.”
“What I wanted, what I asked Daddy for, wasn’t somebody like this.”
She earned my gratitude with that “somebody”. Micah wasn’t ‘it’ to her.
“I want to be independent, David. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense, but I’m tired of having maids and cooks and butlers all feeling sorry for me, all … attending my physical limitations. I wanted a simple construct, one that could … well, could change my clothing and bathe me and cook simple meals and see that enough housework is done so that a maid once a week would be all I’d need. I don’t want fawning and pity and obligation and having to swallow my pride to ask for this and that and would you wipe my nose and my catheter needs changing. I want to live. Just live. I thought a construct was the perfect answer. But I guess Daddy went overboard. He usually does. He feels guilty, you see, so he tries too hard to make it up to me. He thought I was lonely, I guess. I’m not. I want to be alone. I’m tired of people around me all the time.”
“I see that.”
She went on, barely noticing I’d spoken. “And so I can’t have a construct like this one. I’d never be able to have him do the things I need done. He’s handsome and … and human, and I need a machine. A smart machine, to be sure, but just a machine. He won’t do. I’m sorry you made the trip out for nothing.”
“I’m not.” I almost began to breathe again.
Micah squeezed my hand. “I’m not, either. It wasn’t nothing to us.” He looked into my eyes and smiled. “Far from nothing.”
A million things I wanted to say jumped around in my head, but none would make it out my mouth. I just nodded and smiled back.
“I … see.”
I’d forgotten she was there until she spoke, I was so caught up in Micah’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, Miss Fletcher.” I tried hard for customer service persona. And failed miserably.
“Don’t be, David. I didn’t think constructs could feel love, but it’s obvious that this … that Micah does. Another reason for this not working.”
“We’ll have to explain to your father and arrange for another construct to be brought out.”
“He won’t do that. He’s never accepted a return of anything. He insists that things be made right. That’s what he’ll want with this.”
Micah’s hand tightened on mine. “I won’t let them alter me, Jamie. I won’t.”
“Of course not. We’ll figure something out. Let me think about it a while. You and David come along and settle in. Daddy already told me you were staying a week at least, and by then, we’ll have …. Oh. But I need someone to ….”
“We’ll do it, Jamie.” It was the least I could do, since she was helping us.
“David, it means wiping my ass.”
“I know that. I can do that. I’ve done it before, with my own mother there at the last. I can do it for you. And it should help to know that I’m gay and am not going to even want to take liberties while I’m doing things like that.”
She nodded as we followed her down the hall. “All right. Until we can get me the construct I really want. There’s a home health nurse coming in every day for a while, and she can do most of it, really, bathing me and all.”
“Here’s your room.” She opened the door to a huge master suite.
“Oh, geez, Jamie, we can’t —”
“You can and you will. I’m the customer and the customer is always right. Get settled in. And take your time. I need time to enjoy being alone, even with other people in the house. I can smell freedom and I’m going to revel in it. So, you two … be about whatever you’d like to get up to. Home health will be here at 4, and you probably don’t want to be … enjoying each other … while she’s here. She’s bringing supper today and tomorrow, too.”
“God, Jamie, I don’t know what to say.”
Micah leaned to me and whispered, “How about, ‘fuck me, Micah’?”
I groaned and she laughed. “I don’t know what that was, but yeah, that sounds like a good start.”
It was a good start. And a good middle and a good finish. The man was perfection in all ways. He could get me off in under a minute or make it last an hour. I didn’t have his stamina, but he didn’t seem to mind and found inventive things to do while I recovered.
We talked a while, the three of us, about pretending there was something wrong with Micah’s programming, but the risk was just too great that Fletcher would decide to have him shut down. I was surprised at Jamie over and over. She could cuss like a sailor and didn’t mind yelling in my face one bit.
We talked it up one side and down the other and in the end, after two days, we finally came up with a plan. Not a good one, but perhaps the only one. Jamie would tell her dad she didn’t think Micah was the right construct for her care, but would be a great construct as her boyfriend. Fiancé. Something. So, she’d need to keep him but also have another simpler model to do the caring bit.
The fly in the ointment was me. No way I was leaving Micah and he had to be there, in case Fletcher showed up, which he did a couple of times a year. Micah couldn’t go back with me. That was the cause of the biggest argument. Jamie told me to stay; she’d pay me a salary out of her trust funds.
Salary for what? I didn’t wipe her ass enough for that. For living with my lover? People who get paid for love are called whores. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that label.
“How about I’m paying you to stay here and make sure my ‘boyfriend’ and the other construct function properly?”
I thought about it. Maybe. I thought some more. More than maybe.
“All right. But I will do that. I’ll make sure the other is exactly what you want, and keeps working just as ordered.”
“Deal, then?” She did a thing that was probably sticking her hand out to shake. I laid mine on it and shook, sort of, and then Micah did the same.
“Well, now that that’s settled, somebody cook me some supper.”
Mr. Fletcher had what my grandmother called ‘a conniption’. No other word for it. Jamie said to expect it. What I didn’t expect was having him barging in the door, right up in her face, screaming until I thought he was going to bust a gut. She just sat there and took it, with Micah holding me back whispering, “Let her. She knows him. Be quiet,” over and over.
Finally he ran down.
“Are you quite finished?” That little hitch in her voice meant she was pissed, I’d figured out.
“Then you will listen to me. I’m going to tell you how it’s going to be and then you’re going to get back in that car and drive away and not come back until summer, do you hear me? If you come back before then, I’ll never forgive you, and there’s a lot to forgive you for.”
That hurt. I could see him wince from across the room.
“All right, baby, all right.”
She started in and laid it all out for him, just like she hadn’t done it on the phone and in email before. Micah was too important in her life to be doing menial things. Another construct for those, and I would order that one myself since I knew exactly how to place the order to make it the right construct. I would stay there, to help with both the constructs’ programming as her needs changed over the years. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. She wouldn’t budge. She was going to give me the carriage house — first I’d heard of that, hadn’t even seen the thing — so I’d have a place of my own, but be right there in case she needed me day or night. She was paying me. If he didn’t like it, he could go suck a sailor’s dick and a diseased one at that.
When she was done, he looked her in the eye and said, “You’re so much like me it scares me sometimes, little girl.”
She grinned. “Where do you think I learned, big daddy?”
He laughed and tousled her hair. Finally he looked at Micah and said, “I don’t know how to treat a construct.”
“Treat him like you would my boyfriend, stupid!”
“Then it’s time for a talk about my little girl’s chastity and happiness, is it?”
She snorted. “I’m no more chaste than you were at my age. Go on, get out. Kiss me and go back to business. You’re antsy to get away.”
It was true. I’d seen it in the way he carried himself. I don’t know if it was that as much as wanting to be where he couldn’t see this woman he fathered, he loved, he failed. Whatever it was, he wanted to be gone, too.
“I’ll see you in June, then.”
“Make it August.”
He laughed and nodded. “Micah. Winston.”
That was all the goodbye we got. Micah and I watched out the window until he was at the end of the drive.
“Set the security code to alarm if the door’s opened, just in case he comes back. He probably won’t, but I’d rather be sure we’ll know if he does,” she called from the main room down the hall.
I was far too elated to even remember the carriage house thing, and the next day was busy, refining what it was Jamie wanted and translating that into the lingo the guys at the plant would understand unequivocally. The day after, once the order was placed — and don’t get me started on what a dicking around that was — then I remembered.
She smiled when I brought it up, and led us out onto the deck. Not for the first time, I was glad of Micah’s strength. He’d cleared the snow off the deck in under an hour. It would have taken me three days in the CCU to do that.
She pointed her chair down the hill. There, almost hidden in the trees — my god, that was the carriage house? I suppose I should have been prepared, knowing this huge house was their “retreat”, but I wasn’t. It was bigger than one of the buildings at my apartment complex.
“Three bedrooms, three baths, a great room, large kitchen, and the pool is just beyond, for summer. That was the original house. The lawyer’s bringing the deed tomorrow. And don’t even bother. You can and you will. When the new construct arrives, you and Micah move in down there. Arrange for your things to be shipped from back home, maybe with the new construct.”
It didn’t sound like I had much choice, so I just said, “Yes, Miss Fletcher,” and let it go at that.
Everything was fine — so much more than fine — until Tim showed up in a damned taxi, drunk and loud and obnoxious as ever. I never did know why he was there, given that he hates the place and his sister, but there he was, bigger than life and twice as ugly as the saying goes.
Jamie tried to get rid of him. She tried bitching. He bitched back. She tried crying. He called her names. She tried sweetness. He let her spoil him. Nothing worked. At the end of the third day, I’d had all I could take of his calling Micah, “it” and “nuts and bolts” when he wanted something. I was getting him out of there if I had to carry him to the car and drive him to town or the airport myself.
Micah offered to do that, and like a stupid ass, I agreed. I’ll regret that every day of my life.
Micah was gone for hours. When I heard the car, I ran to the front door and yanked it open. He half fell out of the car.
“Micah! My god! What happened?” I raced down the front stoop and wrapped my arms around him. His clothes were torn and his skin scraped. If he’d been human, he’d have been a mass of bleeding bruises. “My love, what happened? Did you have a wreck?”
“I wish it were as simple as that, David.”
He began to weep, something I didn’t know he could do, and leaned heavily on me. I pulled him toward the house so I could check him over thoroughly. Jamie was in the doorway.
“Oh, god. Oh my god. He attacked you, didn’t he?”
I looked at Micah. “Did he?”
“It was nothing.”
“Nothing?” I exploded. “Nothing? Look at you! If you were flesh and blood, I’d be taking you to the hospital for god’s sake!”
He laughed ruefully. “But I’m not, David. I’m not.”
“Just come in the house. Let me look at you and then you can tell us what happened.”
The damage to his body was extensive but superficial. Nothing a bit of maintenance couldn’t handle and they’d shipped supplies with the no-name construct, so that wouldn’t be a problem.
The damage to his … soul … was much much worse.
It didn’t take long during my examination to figure it out, and finally Micah whispered, “He raped me, David.”
“He what? I’ll kill the bastard!” I needed to hurt something, to twist something in my hands until it died and then chew it up and spit it out. I pounded the sofa instead.
Jamie was pale as the lingering snow under the trees. “My god, Micah, I’m so sorry. It’s horrible.”
By that time I’d gotten a grip, enough to remember that Micah needed me more than I needed revenge. I pulled him onto my lap and rocked him, like a child, even though this hurt was far too big to kiss away. He still needed the comfort only love brings.
Bit by painstaking bit, the story came out. The hand to the knee, the grope of the crotch, the ‘pull over’ and yank of the steering wheel until Micah had no choice but to comply. The ripped trousers. The rough hands and rougher cock. The backhand to the face, again and again.
“Why didn’t you fight back, Micah?” I knew, but I had to ask.
“He’s human, David. I can’t attack a human.”
“It was self-defense! It wouldn’t have been an attack!” Jamie yelled.
“By law, it is.”
“What are we going to do about it?” she demanded.
“Nothing,” Micah replied.
I knew he was right, but I hated it.
“Nothing to him, but we’re going to change the locks on the house,” I said. “I don’t want that bastard coming in whenever he feels like it. And don’t expect me not to feed him his own balls for a snack if he shows up again.”
We were all tense and watchful for days.
Jamie went away after that. Not physically. Just on the inside. Withdrew almost completely. We tried to draw her out, tried playing the games we’d discovered we all liked. Nothing worked. I sat down in the carriage house at night looking up to her window until finally the light would go off.
The FedEx man came one day. Usually Jamie told us when she’d ordered something, so I was a bit surprised. She wouldn’t tell us what it was, but she was glad to see it, animated and herself again for the first time since Tim was there.
That’s how I hid it from myself, the rape. I didn’t ever think, “since Micah was raped.” It was always, “since Tim was here.” Much better for my blood pressure that way.
The next day, a car showed up and Micah and I hotfooted it up to the house. It wasn’t a car we knew, but I was taking no chances that it would be Tim coming back for more of my man.
It was a stranger, a technician.
She looked a little embarrassed. “I’m just having some adjustments made to my chair. It’s OK. I guess I forgot to mention it.”
I tried not to pry into her affairs. She had little enough privacy, even though the no-name wasn’t even vaguely human. I wasn’t going to rip what little she had away. For all I knew, she was having the thing fitted with a dildo. Still, we stayed up at the house, in the master suite, doing what we did best.
That man can suck cock better than a Hoover.
Jamie never would say what the technician had done, but there was a new button on her joystick. Maybe I’d been right about the dildo.
She was better after that, but still not the old Jamie. Gradually, the guarded expression in her eyes faded and the feisty smile that had always been there came back.
No-name worked out beautifully, and required enough maintenance so that I didn’t feel like a total slut, getting paid to bang my man. You’d think the simpler models would require less maintenance, but they don’t. They take far more. Hardware and software are both too simplistic to be capable of just going on and on.
Simplistic. Like my belief that after all these months — summer and ‘big daddy’s’ visit had come and gone and the leaves had turned and almost all fallen — finally we were safe from Tim.
Micah and I were up at the house one afternoon, playing Apples to Apples with Jamie when we heard a car and he headed for the door. “Oh, god, David, he’s here!”
“Shit! That motherfucker! I’ll kill him!”
“No, David.” Something in her voice should have warned me, but I thought she was just clamping down on her own anger at Tim. “Move. Let me by, damn you!”
We got out of her way. It was her house, after all. We watched through the glass top half of the door. Tim didn’t even ring the doorbell, just went for the knob and then pounded on the door when it wouldn’t open. Jamie looked back over her shoulder and said, “I love you both.”
She opened the door and zoomed out onto the stoop, her one working finger hovering over the new button on her wheelchair. She pushed it and everything went slow-mo.
There was a flash of yellow-orange from the tray-cum-restraint attached to the front of her chair, a horrible noise, and then red spattered all over the back of her chair and Tim’s chest. He crumpled, not like in the movies, but like he was a puppet and someone had suddenly cut his strings, all knees and elbows sticking out at weird angles until he looked like a pile of something on the stoop.
“Jamie, my god!” I ran for her, already feeling sick. “Call 9-1-1, Micah!” I knew he was already on it, but I had to do something and that was all I could come up with.
She was bleeding from her mouth and nose, but smiling. “It worked,” she whispered. “I got us both.”
“Why, Jamie, my god, why? I understand Tim, but why you?”
“To set us all free, my dears. It’s all seen to. Micah’s yours now, and the house and my money. All yours. For the first time, I’m glad to be paralyzed. It didn’t hurt. Not a bit. I won’t be in this prison-chair much longer.”
I was bawling, trying to stuff my shirt into that terrible hole in her belly. I know I was talking, begging, praying maybe, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what I said.
It took far too long for the ambulance to get there, even longer for the cops and that damned ME’s van.
“Don’t take her with him,” I spat, as they loaded Tim’s corpse up. “She couldn’t stand to be with him.”
“Take it easy, man. She don’t know the difference now.”
Micah pulled me away, almost dragged me down the hall, and poured a double down my throat. I needed it.
The cops stayed forever. We told them over and over just what happened that day. We’d decided not to tell them about the rape, just that there had been a dust-up between Tim and the three of us. The rape would complicate things too much. It was going to be hard enough for Mr. Fletcher that his daughter had killed his son and herself without hearing that his son was a rapist.
The cops hammered us both about the firing mechanism. It wasn’t hard to say we knew only that she’d had some equipment installed. I skated around telling them that we thought it might have been some sort of sex toy, but they got the idea eventually and let it drop. The only questions they had for us after that were if we’d known she planned to harm her brother. That was a bit harder. I finally told them that after the fight, I knew she’d been very angry, but she’d said nothing to indicate she might actually do something like that, and that she’d seemed to have gotten over that, just as we all had been angry and then calmed down.
The cop wanted to blame us, I knew. She was the daughter of a wealthy man, who was likely to have the cop’s ass handed to him, along with his boss’s and his boss’s and maybe the mayor and governor, too. I thanked her a million times for not letting on even a tiny bit.
They tried to take Micah. That was the worst part. They said he must have some strange programming that sent him over the deep end and he —
“He what? He hypnotized her into killing her brother? That’s ridiculous. His diagnostic computer’s in the carriage house. Run the program. You’ll see he’s fine.”
It made me queasy, watching the tech they sent out pull back the flaps and expose his ports. No one should touch those ports but me. I looked into his eyes the whole time. Of course, nothing looked back, since he was in diagnostic mode. My heart pounded nearly out of my chest until those jacks were pulled and the flaps closed. The tech told the cop just what I’d said, that Micah was perfectly fine, with nothing out of kilter. I wanted to kiss him before he and the cop walked down the hall, but restrained myself.
“Micah?” It was barely a whisper, urgent, though I could hear the faint whirr that meant he wasn’t fully up yet. “Micah? Oh, god, Micah!”
And then he smiled. “David.”
My whole world was in that word, in that smile.
“Oh, god, Micah, I was so scared. But you’re back.”
“Yes, David, I’m back. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. Because maybe I think I don’t deserve you.”
“Are they gone?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. Why?”
“Because I want to show you just how much you do deserve me.”
I shivered and said another prayer that they’d leave soon.
That prayer wasn’t answered either. It was dawn before they rolled.
We sat for a long time, not saying anything, not really knowing how to say what we wanted to say, all the horror and guilt and self-recriminations for not knowing. The sadness. The grief. And the guilt for the tiny scraps of happiness that floated in, knowing she’d taken care of things, that Micah and I would be together without worry.
Mr. Fletcher was another matter. He showed up the next morning, after we’d had a chance to begin to talk, to sleep, to make love. And get professional clean-up people out to take care of stains and such, thank god.
He tried intimidation. It didn’t work. He tried accusations. That didn’t work either. He tried threats. He pulled out his phone and called his lawyer. That was the big shocker for him. We could hear the lawyer telling him gently that he couldn’t represent him in any matter regarding us, since Miss Fletcher had put him on permanent retainer months ago on our behalf and that would be a conflict of interest. Business matters, he could help with, but not this.
He fumed some more, and I thought he was going to just keep on. Micah turned that one. Fletcher was sitting on the sofa, leaning forward, forearms on his thighs, saying nothing, getting his breath back for another tirade or planning strategy. Micah squatted in front of him and laid a hand on his knee.
“She loved you very much, you know.”
Fletcher shattered like safety glass, crumbled into a thousand thousand pieces. Micah moved to the couch and held him until the weeping was done. Both of us were crying, too.
When the weeping stopped, he hugged Micah close and then cleared his throat. “Thank you. And thank you for all you both meant to Jamie. I know she’d want you to stay here and I’ll never be able to walk in this door again.”
I didn’t bother to tell him she’d given us the house. He’d find out soon enough. Let the man get through his children’s funerals. We offered to help with the arrangements if he needed it, but he shook his head. “It’s taken care of. After Jamie’s accident, we planned things. Losing her mother like that, so suddenly, taught me how hard it is to think that way when you’re in shock. I insisted we plan things. It may not be what she’d have chosen now, but at least I know it was then.”
The house was very quiet after he left, in a way it hadn’t been before. It was like Jamie had still been there, watching over us, making sure her father didn’t go crazy or something. Now it felt like she was gone. I missed her. Micah missed her.
Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I can’t love women. Just that I can’t love them with my body. And I loved Jamie. So did Micah.
Eventually the looks when we went to town to go shopping stopped. We kept to ourselves for a while, knowing that someday, we’d come out of the shell of grief and shock, giving ourselves time to do that. On her birthday, the FTD guy came to the door. There was a huge bouquet of roses. The card read, “Because I’ll never forget my little girl. Love, big daddy.” There was a note asking us to put the roses in her room.
We hadn’t been in there since that evening. I couldn’t stand it. But for that, I’d go in. We took the vase down the hall together and opened her door. It hit me like a hot wind off the concrete of a parking lot, the grief. But there was something else there, too. Some sense of her still. We set the roses down on her little dressing table — she’d always laughed about having a ‘vanity’ as if she had anything to be vain about — and then Micah clutched my arm.
“Look, David! I see her, reflected in the mirror!”
I would have worried about his programming except I saw her, too. I wheeled around and she wasn’t there. Something stirred the roses, and I shivered. I heard it, and Micah said he did, too, her last words before it all went horrible. I love you both.
“We love you, too, Jamie,” I whispered.
“Be at peace, sweet Jamie,” Micah added and there was a sigh, like the universe exhaling, and the reflection was gone.
The next morning I booked us on my dream vacation, one of those round-the-world cruises. It was the first real use of the money Jamie left us, other than the frugal groceries we’d bought. It felt right suddenly, as if she’d blessed us with freedom the day before.
We got everything arranged, security and cleaning and such. We were packed and in the hall, ready to leave. It suddenly felt like she was there again, and I could almost see her. She smiled and waved. I guess she wasn’t paralyzed anymore. I knew she’d like that.
“Good bye, Jamie. We’ll be back in two months.” I closed the door and we walked away.