Stumbling

 

In the glow of the TV, nearing midnight on a Saturday like any other, phone in hand, fingers ready to dial the 800 number to order a boyfriend pillow, Jayne decided that enough was enough. She wasn’t going to spend anymore nights alone. For too long she’d stubbornly held onto the idea that she would stumble upon the love of her life, metaphorically or literally speaking, whichever actually became true. Her sister had gotten married young, her friends had all meet significant others, even her grandmother had met a nice old guy recently. Each day that passed felt like she was getting past the “cute, single girl stage” into “spinster” stage.

Jayne turned off the TV and went straight to her workshop out back and went to work. For three days she lived off Rockstar Energy drinks, black coffee, bananas and Pop Rocks candy.  She did not shower. When she felt satisfied with her work, she pushed the power button, hidden behind his ear. The robot opened its eyes and sat up. It looked around. It looked at Jayne.

“Hello,” it said.

Pleasured with her work, Jayne began to giggle uncontrollably. “H-hi. Hi… Colton. Yes, your name is Colton.” She helped him off the wooden table he was on and led him inside the house. Colton was polite, held the door for her, served her coffee and even massaged her feet. For a while, she was content and felt that this was as good as it was going to get.

Every day, Jayne would leave her house for work. Colton would stay sitting on the couch and he would have dinner on the table when she got home. After a particularly terribly stressful day at work she walked through the front door, dropped all her stuff on the floor and threw herself on the couch, burying her face in a pillow and started bawling.

Colton was in the middle of serving her Coq Au Vin, which he learned to do after watching a Julia Child video once.

“What’s wrong?” he asked and sat by her.

“A patient of mine… she was so young.” Jayne sat up and looked at him. “She died.” She wiped some snot off her nose.

Silence.

“I guess you wouldn’t understand.”

“I understand that all beings must die.”

“What?” She stood up and stared at him. “How can you say that?” He stared straight ahead, into the distance. She began pacing in front of the couch. “You know what, I’m so stupid. Of course you wouldn’t understand. You can’t feel!” Jayne whirled to face Colton and slapped him across the face. His face only slightly budged and her hand was red and in pain. “I hate you! I hate you!” She lunged at him and beat his chest until her fists were numb. Next thing she knew she was kissing him while he sat unresponsive and unblinking. She pulled away from him and looked into his eyes, her vision blurred by her angry tears. She pushed the little hidden button behind his ear that had animated him and felt the whirring of his body beneath her stop. His eyes remained the same, expressionless.

A week. Two weeks. A month passed and she went through the motions of life without thought: sleep, eat junk food, work, and watch TV. Repeat. Who cared if she didn’t shower or shave her legs? Even her coffee maker gave up on her and died. Jayne picked up the machine, went out her backdoor and dumped it in the garbage bin. The sky was gray and rain had begun to fall. Her breath materialized in front of her. The chill made her fingertips hurt and burn. She walked to the café three blocks from her house and walked to the counter to order. Her thin black shirt was soaked and stuck to her skin.

“Coffee. Black.”

“What size?” asked the man behind the counter.

“The largest you’ve got. To go.”

“Dollar eighty-nine, please” he said. Jayne reached into her pocket and took out a dime.

“I don’t have my wallet. Forget it,” she said and turned to go.

“Hey, wait! How ‘bout you pay me next time?” He turned and poured the coffee and slid it across the counter toward Jayne. She looked up at him. His green eyes were magnified behind his thick glasses. He had a mustache and a gap between his two front teeth, but she liked that about him. She felt frumpy suddenly and wanted to disappear.

“Thanks.”

She went back the following morning, freshly showered and dressed, with her wallet this time. She figured she’d do this every day until she got around to buying a new coffee maker. After several weeks, she bought enough cups of coffee to have paid for a nice coffee maker and a few pounds of coffee but she enjoyed watching Nico, the barista at work. She enjoyed his company and that he listened to her.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Nico,” Jayne said one Sunday morning after she’d finished slowly sipping her coffee.

“Wait.”

Nico came around the counter and asked Jayne quietly if she’d like to watch a movie and go to his house for dinner afterwards. Jayne said yes.

They went to see an action movie the following Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t a very good movie mostly special effects and lame dialogue but Nico let Jayne have the armrest, he whispered funny commentary in her ear and they would look at each other out of the corners of their eyes and try stifling their laughter. It was still light out when they left the theater.

“My house is just a block from here, would you like to walk?” Nico asked.

“Sure,” Jayne replied. Halfway between the theater and Nico’s house, he shyly grabbed her hand in his and she smiled. His hand warmed hers.

His house seemed big for just one person; it was a three bedroom two story house with a cellar.

“I inherited it from my grandparents. I’m an only child and was their only grandchild, so… no contest.”

“I always wanted to be an only child and be spoiled. I’m the oldest of four. All sisters,” Jayne said.

“Well, I don’t know that I was ever spoiled” he chuckled. “Please make yourself comfortable,” he gestured towards the red faux suede couch in the living room, “I’m going to start on dinner.”

“I’d rather help you, really.”

“Ok, sure. Let’s get started,” he clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I don’t know about you but I’m really hungry, must have been all that blowing stuff up in the movie. Worked up an appetite.” They laughed and he put an apron on. “Let’s put on some music.” He turned on his radio and put on a 70s music station. “Hope this is ok?”

“Yeah, that’s great.” She stood by the kitchen island, hands behind her back, not sure what to do.

“Would you like to sip on some wine while we work?”

“I think that’s a good idea.”

Nico opened a door for the pantry. “Oh, man. I’ll have to go down to the cellar and get a bottle.”

“I can do that,” Jayne said.

“Ok.” He led her to the cellar door and told her the bottles were against the wall. “I’ll get started cooking.”

She walked down the creaking wooden stairs. It was much cooler down there then up stairs and goose bumps rose on her arms. Finding the wine was easy, Nico had several bottles and she picked the one with the prettiest label.

Jayne turned to go back up with Nico but something behind the staircase caught her eye. She put down the bottle on the first step and went to look. It was the pale shape that poked out beneath the floral sheets edge that drew her in. It was too dim to tell what it was until she has right up to it. She put her hand up to her mouth. It was a pale, stiff hand. She stood there, frozen. A few moments passed and she found herself reaching for the edge of the sheet, pulling it away from the hand in order to see exactly what was underneath.

The figure lay on a bed made of plywood on wooden crates. It was dressed in a simple blue dress. Its eyes were open. It was Colton. Or at least a female version of him, as she could tell by the long black hair and perky breasts. Jayne swallowed. Slowly, she reached towards the face and her fingers touched the cold, plastic feel of fake skin. She reached behind the ear and felt the discreet button to turn it on. With a swift movement, Jayne backed away and threw the cover over the figure.

Nico was by the stove, sautéing onions when she walked in. She held the bottle in her hand. He didn’t notice that she’d walked in. She walked up behind him and hugged him. Felt the warmth of his body radiating from him. His scent: a mixture of coffee, mint and faintly of pine. She felt his inhale of surprise and his exhale as he laughed softly.

“You scared me!” He turned around to face her and she looked up at him. His green eyes looking into hers and she knew. She had stumbled the one she’d been looking for. He smiled and kissed her fully on the lips. When he pulled back he tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear.

“Did you find wine?”

“Yes.”

He served them both a glass and continued working, Jayne mostly sat and watched and talked. They both had a nice time that day and they saw each other outside of the café several days a week. Then after a while they saw each other every day and she moved in. Jayne never asked about the figure beneath the staircase in the cellar. One day she noticed that it was no longer there. And she was happy. And that was all that mattered.

 

Photo courtesy : ace-bgi.deviantart.com

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