Author: Patrick Hueller
Peter cinches his only tie, pushes the bathroom door open, and there Laine is: standing in their bedroom, trembling with excitement.
He’s never gotten used to seeing her tremble. He’s never gotten tired of it, either.
For a moment they stand there, together, beaming at one another.
Then her trembles turn to shudders. To spasms. Her body convulses; her hair whips every which way. There’s a grinding sound, an acrid smell. Peter grabs her shoulders, reaches behind her neck. With his thumb, he flips open the flesh-colored power hatch and flicks the switch.
Laine’s body slumps against his shoulder.
He checks his watch. 7:18. If he doesn’t leave right now, he’s going to be late to the restaurant. Laine—the real, non-robotic Laine—will be less than pleased.
He grabs a pair of pliers and reaches for the robot.
“Where are you going?” Laine asks. “You just got here.”
“I’m not doing this anymore.” Peter flips the brochure back at her. It lands on the Caesar salad.
“What? Take classes? I just thought that digital media arts might be a good fit.”
“My current job is a good fit.”
“Fine. If you really want to spend the rest of your life fixing mechanical pirates and bears, go ahead.”
“I’m glad you’re fine with it.”
“Don’t make me sound like I’m being overbearing just for wanting more for you.”
“You mean more for you.”
“How about for us? Isn’t that why we’re here? To figure out if we can make us work again? The way you’re looking at me—sometimes I wonder if you even remember us.”
“I remember,” Peter says. “I’m not the one who forgot.”
He opens the door to his apartment, and there she is, just as he remembers her.
“Don’t go,” Laine says.
Her voice and movements are triggered by a motion detector. Every time the door opens, the same words come out of her mouth. Then she stands on her tiptoes and gives him a peck on the mouth. The movement makes a mechanical noise, akin to a copy machine when you put paper on the tray.
He looks at his watch. 8:42. Too early for bed. But maybe he’ll go to the bedroom anyway. All he has to do is open the door, and Laine will be there, quivering. Just like that, Peter won’t be in the bedroom anymore. Through the force of his own will he’ll be back in front of Laine’s old dormitory—only it will be her new dormitory, just as it was five years ago. That was the first time she trembled happily at the sight of him. It was inexplicable, really—absurd. There was no way he deserved that much affection. But it was also undeniably true. She really was that overjoyed to see him.
They’d only known each other a few months at the time. Happy Rails—that’s where they’d met: the amusement park. It’s where they’d had summer jobs. Anyway, it’s where she’d had a summer job; his turned out to be permanent. She went off to college and Peter visited her that first weekend. He found her standing in front of her dorm, hands and shoulders and head vibrating.
“Don’t go,” the Laine in front of him says again, after Peter releases the door and lets it close behind him. She raises up and presses her lips to his.
“I’m not,” Peter says. He scans his eyes across the apartment. In every room, in every corner, in every nook and cranny: Laine is literally there, waiting to be activated. “I’m not leaving any of you.”