Sandra stayed on her knees and kept throwing up, so I turned to her parents.
“Welcome home.” I said to Noreen and Nathan as they came into my apartment.
“The Tube ride was bad.” Noreen said, sadly. “Almost right away she became sick.”
“I'm so sorry.” I said and took her into my arms like I wanted to do to Sandra. “I should have arranged alternate transportation.”
“They had it there.” Nathan said. “Someone...” He glanced at the bathroom. “...didn't want to take three extra hours to get here.”
I chuckled. “Maybe I should have gone with you.”
“It wouldn't have made a difference.” Noreen said, and tried to ignore her daughter's dry heaving. “She was adamant.”
“Well, she is your daughter.” I said.
Noreen looked at me with a hint of anger in her eyes.
“That wasn't an insult, and you know I would never say it if it was.” I said.
“I...” Noreen sighed and leaned against me. “Yes, I know.”
Sandra started to cough, so I let Noreen go and we all walked over to the bathroom to check on her. Noreen used a cup to get her a drink of water, and Sandra took it and drank greedily.
“Easy, now.” Her mother said. “You don't want that coming right back up.”
Sandra stopped drinking and stood up, and her whole body trembled from the effort.
“Let's get you to bed.” I said.
“Look at me, Jack.” Sandra said, and looked at the shaking cup in her hands that she could barely hold steady. “I can't believe you want to have sex with me like this.”
“That's not...” I sighed. “I meant so you could lay down.”
“Are you honestly going to tell me that we aren't going to have sex tonight?” Sandra asked.
“I hadn't planned on it, so yes.” I said.
“It's going to be our first night living together in this apartment... or our apartment.” Sandra said. “You're not going to try anything?”
Sandra's face crumbled and tears came to her eyes. “Am I really that repulsive?” She asked and started to sob. “Look at me.” She put the cup of water down and looked at herself in the mirror. “I'm hideous.”
Nathan leaned close to me and turned away from the bathroom to whisper. “They told us they gave her a happy pill.”
“I think she just got most of it out of her system.” I whispered back, then I stepped forward. “No, Sandra.” I said and opened up my unitard. “Look at me.”
Sandra turned around to face me, and I pulled the unitard off my shoulders to reveal the extent of the modifications.
“I want you so bad it's killing me; but, I can't take the chance this soon that I'll get overly excited and hurt you.” I explained. “I nearly killed someone when I tapped their nose with this.” I held up my synthetic hand and made a fist. “What's going to happen if we're in bed together and I forget that I need to be careful?”
Sandra looked at me with wide eyes, and I opened the hand and let it drop to my side.
“Until I can get a handle on things, and despite my burning desire for you, I won't be... I can't be...” I shook my head. “Things are going to be different between us for a while.”
Sandra looked at my chest and her eyes lingered around the scar tissue beside the synthetic part. “Jack, I... I'm sorry.”
“Don't apologize.” I said. “Just go to bed.”
“I have a few things I need to work on.” I said. “Noreen, can you get Sandra tucked in, and maybe stick around for a while?” I asked. “I've got some paperwork I need to fill out to start the modifications for my immersion chamber.”
“Of course, Jack.” Noreen said. “Nathan, give me a hand.”
Nathan nodded, and I stepped out of the way as Sandra was taken across the apartment and put in my bed.
Our bed. I thought, then walked over to the vidwall and picked up the portable display. I went over to my desk and sat down, and brought up the forms for a work order. I filled them out quickly, since I knew exactly what needed to be done to change the weight restrictions in the room, and the access ports for the cerebral linkage.
I was now physically incompatible with the old setup, and it needed to be changed over. Until that was completed, I couldn't even complete my normal daily tasks. The System didn't censure me for only taking programming tasks while I worked, especially since I still had another month off for rest and recovery. Without the full VR immersion I couldn't do anything else except programming, and it took so much longer without being able to float through the code to see where the problems were.
I didn't complain, and neither did the System. I was keeping busy, and she was getting free work. It was mind-numbingly boring, though. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and looked up to see Noreen.
“Sandra's finally asleep.” Noreen whispered.
“Thank you.” I whispered back. “Do you want to...”
“No, I think you need some alone time.” Noreen said. “I'll be right next door if you or Sandra need me.”
I nodded, and she left through the connecting door. I asked my AI Amanda to notify me if Sandra woke up, then went back to work. After a long period of time that I hadn't kept track of, there was a soft ding sound and I looked at the vidwall automatically.
“Thanks, Amanda.” I whispered and saved my work, then walked over to the dispenser. I got a brown algenate disc for myself, and asked if there was a special food disc for Sandra. There was, so I took it over to the bed and sat down beside her. I put the food down and shook her awake with my normal hand.
“Sweetheart, it's time for lunch.” I said.
“Hm? Not... not now, Stewart.” Sandra mumbled, still half asleep. “Let... let me sleep.”
I was surprised to hear her say someone else's name, so I gave up trying to wake her and left her food disc beside the bed. I went back to my desk and ate my anti-rejection supplement, and it was delicious. Now that I had that thought, I checked my Points balance just for fun and didn't see much of a difference since the last time I had checked before buying the apartment next door. When I looked at the recent deposits, I almost laughed out loud at the ridiculous number that appeared.
I guess the new flavor for the brown algenate discs is popular. I thought in amusement. I checked the dispensary, and the numbers of brown algenate discs purchased had doubled from the day before. I wonder if I should ask the system to impose a 2 disc limit. I thought, then shook my head. No, that would stop people from being able to buy food for multiple people.
I closed the inquiry and opened the program I had been working on before lunch, and continued to work. As usual, I lost myself in my work and didn't stop until another soft ding sounded. I looked at the vidwall again, and saw it was time for supper. I sent a message to Noreen and Nathan next door, and then brought up the take out menu for the closest restaurant.
I knew what I wanted, and I had an idea what Sandra would want; but, I had no idea what Noreen or Nathan would feel like having. They came into the apartment through the connecting door, and I waved to them.
“What would you like to eat?” I asked, and put the menu on the vidwall.
“Jack, you don't have to do this.” Nathan said.
“I know I don't.” I said. “It's Sandra's first night out of the hospital, and I figure we could all eat together.”
“Not on that thing.” Noreen said and pointed to the small two person table in the kitchen area. I chuckled and walked over to it and hit the button on the side, and the table top folded out to make it a larger table that four people could easily sit around.
“I had this done as soon as Sandra started coming over.” I said and pulled out two more folding chairs from the closet beside the table. “Now, what would you like to eat?”
It took several minutes for them to decide what they wanted, and after a short discussion with Noreen I changed what I had ordered for Sandra. I sent the order through and paid for it, then we sat down to wait.
“I should wake her up.” Noreen said, and went to Sandra. After a bit of coaxing and cajoling, Sandra rolled over and sat up in the bed.
“What time is it?” Sandra asked, and rubbed her eyes.
“We're waiting for supper to be delivered, dear.” Noreen told her daughter.
“S-supper?” Sandra sighed. “I slept all day again?”
“I tried to wake you up for lunch.” I said and pointed to the unopened algenate disk on the stand beside the bed. “I gave up after a couple of minutes and let you sleep.”
The admittance chime sounded, and I looked at the vidwall.
“Food's here.” I said and stood up.
“I'll get it.” Nathan said.
“I already tipped for delivery, so don't let him scam you.” I said as I sat back down, and Nathan chuckled as he went to the door to get the food. Noreen helped Sandra get out of bed and they sat down at the table, and Nathan came back with the delivery.
“I'm glad you warned me.” Nathan said. “He tried to claim 6 points for a rush delivery.”
“Ha!” I said and sorted out the orders. “It would have come out of the food dispensary if I'd ordered a rush on it.”
Nathan nodded and picked up the container with his meal in it, and I passed Noreen and Sandra theirs. Sandra opened hers and just took in a deep breath through her nose.
“Oh, that smells so good.” Sandra said, and just sat there and breathed in the smell.
“You can try eating it.” Noreen said and started to eat herself. Nathan and I joined her and started to eat as well.
“M-maybe a bit.” Sandra said and picked up the spoon. “I still feel a little sick.”
“Do you want me to call the doctor?” Noreen asked.
Sandra shook her head. “No, I'll be fine.” She said and took a spoonful of seasoned rice and put it in her mouth. She chewed it up slowly and swallowed, then didn't move for several minutes. Both of her parents and I watched her closely as we ate, and then we relaxed as she smiled.
“It's staying down.” Sandra said, happily.
“That's great, sweetheart.” I said, just as happily.
“Thanks, Stewart.” Sandra said and took another spoonful of rice, then she gasped when she realized what she said and stared at me. “J-Jack.”
Both Noreen and Nathan looked at Sandra in shock, then looked at me. I kept eating and ignored their reactions, though.
“Jack, I... I'm sorry.” Sandra said. “I don't know why I...”
“He calls you sweetheart a lot, apparently.” I said and took another bite of food.
“Jack, it's not... that is, I...”
“You have to spend a lot of time with someone to develop an automatic reaction like that.” I said absently. “I wonder if he visited you in the hospital.”
“No, not even once.” Sandra said, a little sadly.
“Sandra!” Noreen exclaimed, and her daughter sighed.
“I can't help how I feel, mom.” Sandra said. “I care about him, too.”
“Sandra Eileen Peterson.” Noreen said, hotly. “You chose to move in here! We chose to move in here!” She said. “You did this to us, to Jack, even though you have strong feelings for this... this... Stewart?”
“It's not like that.” Sandra said. “We were just having fun at first, and it was exciting.” She said. “Sneaking around, hiding what we were doing...”
“Is that why we never met him?” Her father, Nathan asked. “You really were trying to hide him from us?”
“It was just play acting.” Sandra said to defend herself. “I was going to bring him over to meet you...”
“Then you had the accident.” I said and finished eating. “A well-publicized accident that everyone in the Cavern would have heard about.”
“He really didn't come to see you?” Noreen asked, and Sandra shook her head. “Did you try to contact him?”
“Yes, and he won't answer.”
“I guess that means the fun is over.” Noreen said. “What are you going to do now?”
“I'm here, aren't I?” Sandra asked. “Despite Jack breaking his word, and despite his new body parts, I'm still here.”
“But would you be?” I asked, and she looked at me. “If you had brought Stewart over to meet your parents and brought everything out into the open, if you hadn't been hurt in the accident, would you have even considered moving in with me?”
“Yes, I would have!” Sandra said. “I love you!”
“...and I love you.” I said. “More than I thought I could.” I sighed. “The problem seems to be that you love him, too.”
Sandra opened her mouth to deny it, and she couldn't say it.
“Sandra!” Noreen nearly shouted.
“He's right.” Sandra said. “I do love them both.”
“You thought I knew.” I said, and Sandra looked at me with wide eyes. “Or you thought I suspected at least.” I said. “Is that why you thought I wanted to have sex with you tonight? To lay claim to you?”
“I... yes.” Sandra said. “I thought you would want to make me yours, since I hadn't seen Stewart in so long.”
“I thought you were already mine.” I said. “I didn't even know you were serious about someone else until just now.”
“But, Jack.” Sandra said. “I'm here with you.”
“Physically, you are; but, you've got him on your mind enough that by just saying his pet name for you, makes you spout his name in response.” I said. “It makes me wonder if there's anyone else I need to know about.”
“This is two of us you've got going.” I said. “Is there a third? A fourth?”
“No, you ass!” Sandra said and stood up. “There's only the two of you!” She said angrily. “Like you don't have someone else that you love!”
“Sandra!” Noreen said just as angrily and stood up to face her daughter. “He doesn't, and he told you why!”
“Ha! I'm sure if I asked Amanda who else he brings back here to have sex with, the vidwall would be full of entries!”
There was a soft ding and everyone looked at the vidwall.
| Zero entries. No other woman has had sex in this apartment since he started dating you 3 years, 4 months, 6 days, 14 hours, 36 minutes, and 18 seconds ago.
19 seconds ago.
20 seconds ago.
“Thanks, Amanda.” I said into the silence.
“You... you really haven't...”
“Actually, like I told your mother yesterday, I've cuddled with another woman... besides her, that is... gone on a date with another, and fulfilled a mandatory contract.”
You could almost feel the anger leave Sandra as she sat back down. “That's all?”
I chuckled. “That's what Noreen said when I told her.”
“Jack, I'm sorry.” Nathan said and I looked at him.
“Why are you apologizing?” I asked him.
“I didn't realize...” Nathan said. “If I'd known...”
“You'd what? Told Sandra to change how she lives her life?” I shook my head. “I didn't do that, and I wouldn't expect you to, either.”
“It's not your fault, or Noreen's, or mine for that matter; that Sandra didn't believe I wanted to be with only her.” I said. “But, that's okay. I'm fine with that.” I looked at Sandra. “What I'm not fine with, is that I think you're settling.”
“Have you messaged him and asked him why he didn't come and see you? Does he know your new address? Will you see him if he shows up?”
Sandra didn't say anything, and I sighed.
“Look, I know I'm the odd one here. I haven't tried to pressure you or make you change your ways. I've been loving, and giving, and I care about you a lot.” I said. “I haven't even brought up the exclusivity form or the guaranteed children form.”
“J-Jack, I...” Sandra's face went red. “I... we... we said we'd talk about that later.”
“Sandra, it was almost a year ago when we said that.” I said, and her face went from red to white.
“You really have been spending a lot of time with him, haven't you?” I asked. “A lot more than with me.” I sighed. “I guess this is what they mean when they say that love is blind, since I never saw any of this coming.”
“Jack, I... I chose you.” Sandra said in a soft voice.
“Would it be mean for me to say 'by default'?” I asked, and tears came to her eyes.
“Then I won't say it.” I said and put my empty food container into the trash for recycling. “Well, this was an enlightening first dinner.” I said and moved my chair out from the table. “If you'll excuse me, I have some work to get done before the nurse shows up for my maintenance check.”
Sandra nodded slightly, and I stood up.
“Please, finish eating and enjoy the rest of the meal.” I said and walked over to my desk, and brought up another program to work on.