Hey guys, it's Gemini! Wow. It's been a year since I've been an author (and avid reader!!!) on Paradevo, and man, I got to say it again: I love this space, where you can find other devotees, and read and share stories that we all can appreciate. I'm also starting to realize how stupid my pen name sounds, but it's too late to change that...
Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy my new story. I haven't seen a whole lot of sci-fi here, so I guess it's something new. Enjoy, and please comment with any suggestions and critiques!
∆ Chapter One ∆
Reckless Behavior: A guide to the early Twenty-First Century
By C. Miami
Rhodium University Publications
Chapter One: Customs
…and be sure not to discuss religion or spiritual beliefs. It is rude to question the beliefs of others, no matter what they may be. Also pay particular sensitiveness to topics such as gender, sexuality, politics, and 'skin color' (people in the 2000s were put into categories based on ethnicity and/or the amount of melanin in their skin.). Because of the recent genocides, civil rights and women's liberation movements, the above mentioned conversations are 'hot buttons,' a phrase of the time denoting a sensitive topic. Should you find yourself engaged in such a conversation, it would be best to switch to a discussion on the day's anticipated weather conditions.
When Aster materialized, the first thing he saw was the sky.
It looked normal enough. But why was he on his back? He had been standing an instant ago. When he raised his head the world swam, so he lowered it and focused on his breathing. He heard swaying branches, distant whooshing sounds, and the distinctly human sound of hyperventilation.
"Oh god. Oh god." Deep breath. "Oh, my god." A woman, from the sound of it, was somewhere behind him, invoking the name of her deity for assistance. Although they were in some kind of forest, with golden leaves flapping over the sun and birds calling to one another, the ground beneath Aster was hard and bumpy. He hauled himself up, but struggled to balance, staggering forward and gripping the side of a mossy oak tree.
There was the crunch of leaves as the woman approached him. When she was a few feet away from him, she stopped, eyes widening. Aster wondered what he looked like from her perspective. "Oh god," she said. "Are you okay?"
He stopped himself before he could ask whether she was speaking to him or her deity. The answer was self-evident, from the look of concern in her body language. Although Aster had practiced Late English many times, his head was pounding and the words came out wrong. "Myself is okay," he said. His mouth was dry- how long had he been lying on this forest floor? "Can yourself express the time of day?"
She made an expression denoting confusion. "What?"
Perhaps he had chosen the wrong words. "The hour."
She pulled a small black rectangle from her pocket, most probably her time-keeping device. "It's half-past three." The woman still wore that same expression. Her features were small and symetrical, though the rest of her was in disorder- starting with her hair, which was dark on top and light blond on bottom, large in volume, and curly. She had left two buttons open at the top of her shirt, and the edges of her pants only reached her ankles. But Aster knew to expect this level of disorderliness here.
"Are you sure you're okay?" She repeated. She kept glancing at the black path that led away from the trees, like she had somewhere to be.
Aster squinted. What a strange place this was. "Are you sure you're okay?" He repeated her words with the raise of an eyebrow. Returning pleasantries was polite. Anyway, from the shakiness of her breath you'd think she was the one who'd gone through a quantum wormhole.
The confused expression changed to wariness. Then she displayed a fabricated smile. "Um. Yeah, I guess?" She was looking at him now, no doubt at his foreign and orderly clothing. Aster was suddenly thrown into a state of dizziness, and focused on staying upright, clutching the tree and reciting memorized lines from The Book until he felt better. When he looked up, she was gone.
He felt a twitch in his right knee, and just like that, it went slack. He was on the ground, on his stomach, before his entire leg slackened too. Nausea filled his throat, and his eyelids drooped.
Molly was immediately assaulted by Samuel when she came through the back door. Her business partner, and boyfriend, waved a pile of papers filled with his swirly handwriting in her face. "The restaurant wants a written complaint so I wrote one. Also, there's a customer from last week who wants to talk to you."
Molly pushed past him and sank into her swivel chair. The tiny office's only perk was that there was a hiking path behind the building that housed it. Otherwise, it was just a tiny room with a bad maroon paint job and two cluttered desks. The sign taped to the door read 'Valentine Speed Dating' in the most professional font Microsoft Publisher had.
She picked up the cordless. "Hello, Valentine Speed Dating, Molly Berner speaking. How can I help you?"
"Were you responsible for that event at the Greek restaurant last week?" The voice was angry, high-pitched, and too close to the receiver.
Molly saw Samuel chewing on a pen as he listened with the other cordless.
"I was," she said, pretend-brightly.
The woman on the other end of the line let her have it, launching into a rapid-fire tirade. Samuel cringed and held the phone away from his ear. Molly kept hers firmly on the side of her face. "Yes, I understand- no, there was a misunderstanding but- yes. Okay. Please call us if you change your mind. You can also visit our website, at W-W-W dot-"
The dial tone buzzed in her ear mockingly. Molly pressed end call and lowered the phone. Samuel waited the required second of silence before speaking. "So… She won't be coming to next week's event."
"I know, Sam, I heard her too," Molly snapped. Samuel's mouth opened mid-chew, the ballpoint still between his teeth. He swiveled around to face his own computer. "That means we have three days to find another woman. No need to yell about it."
Molly cringed. "I know. I'm sorry."
Samuel shrugged. He was used to Molly's erraric moods, which just got more variable when she was stressed. She put her elbows on her desk and looked over the Friday night attendance list: they had ten men, but only nine women now. The minimum criteria for a speed dating event to work was an equal amount of each sex. That meant Molly needed to either find someone fast, or ask one of the men to reschedule. Maybe one of the women from two weeks' time would be available that Friday? She scribbled notes around the heading on the list, and picked up the phone.
As she called and listened to the phone ring and ring, she couldn't get that guy from earlier out of her head. She'd encountered plenty of weirdos in her lifetime, but there was something off about him. He didn't sound drunk, more like- queasy, like he was seasick. And it was way after labor day, so the all-white outfit was a little strange. Molly was all for alternative fashion, in case, although she herself was really just a Plain Jane when it came to dressing. People mistook her for intersting only because of her wild hair.
She squinted and focused on the email draft. Behind her, Samuel yawned, and she felt instantly guilty. She'd been working him too hard these past few weeks. Neither of them had known that launching a startup could be so emotionally taxing. Molly herself felt tired before lunch on most days.
"Go home," she told him. It was getting dark, and Samuel didn't need much persuasion, aside from a promise that she'd lock up soon. Samuel dropped his handwritten letter on her desk, grabbed his satchel, gave her a quick kiss and shut the door behind himself.
Seven emails, two phone calls, and an hour later, Molly was on the doorstep, holding up her keys to the streetlight to try and find the one to the office. She found it and insterted it into the door, giving a sudden shiver as a night chill swept over her. Her silver Mazda was the last one in the lot, and the street was deserted, aside from a cluster of students in the park across the road. The University at Buffalo was about five minutes away by foot, lowering the city's median age during the school year by at least a decade. Molly was often mistaken for a student herself.
She was about to lower herself into the driver's seat when she saw him- the man who'd gotten up from the forest floor, who was now glancing fervently at his wristband. He took a step toward the road, and she saw that he was dragging one of his legs. Was he trying to hitchhike? You didn't see that very often often in Buffalo. She debated between Being Nice, and Not Being Raped, Thank You Very Much, but the man stumbled, so eventually she bit her lip, put the car in drive, and pulled up next to him. Her mind was made up: the thing to do would be to call someone for him. He didn't look dangerous, not on that leg, but you never knew.
The look of agony on his face removed all thoughts of danger. When she drove up, the man put one hand on the passenger window behind her, leaning heavily by the looks of it. She noticed that his hair was the washed out-blond of an albino she'd seen on TV, though his skin was mid-toned. He had eyes that didn't dart around but looked at her pointedly, fixedly, like he knew something she didn't. They were a dark brown, black in this light. He was looking at her like he was glad to see her. Then, looking away, it was like he wished she wasn't there at all. Molly stared.
"Can I call someone for you?" She said, letting out what she had decided to say. "You're hurt." Her hands gripped the wheel more tightly than neccesary.
"This affliction is preexistent," he said in a remarkably pleasant voice, considering the paleness of his face, and his knuckles, white from gripping her car for dear life. And again, he spoke like something out of a courthouse document.
The dash read six thirty, and the smell of the barbeque across the street was a tease. Molly changed tactics. "Let me take you to the hospital," she said firmly.
"No!" The man said, eyes widening. "Yourself cannot. My pain is caused by the upsetness of my stomach."
Now she was exasperated. Exasperated and hungry. "Get in the car," she said. "Let me take you home."
He seemed taken aback by her directness, but never looked away, and she found herself entranced by those eyes. Finally, he hobbled unsteadily to the passenger's side, where he had trouble with the door. Molly leaned over and pushed it open for him.
Once on the road, he leaned his head back on the seat. Molly kept sneaking glances. Every time they passed a light, the sharp angles of his profile and neck and the line between his eyebrows were illuminated.
At a red light, Molly realized what an idiot she was. "Um, where to?"
"Myself was awaiting her," the man said, perhaps as explanation for his standing by the road. "But myself thinks her will be there tomorrow. Would like to be deposited at a near bed and breakfast."
Was that sketchy? Molly wasn't sure. She was terse around strangers in general, and although this one seemed a little out of it, her heart was pounding. "Are you traveling through the area?"
"Yes," he said, not adding anything else, like an explanation on where his bags where. Assuming he had luggage.
Molly pulled over on Maple Street, and googled the nearest Best Western or other hotel like that. Like she suspected, the nearest ones were by the airport. They were in Getzville, in the heart of a mostly residential area, so it was a ten minute drive to the closest hotel.
"I would like to express myself's gratitude," the man said. He sounded weaker than he had before, or maybe he was just tired. The Mazda was still in park. "Myself has not told you a name."
Molly smiled. "I don't believe you have."
"It is Aster," he said, extending his fist.
"Molly." Despite herself, Molly chuckled, and bumped her fist with his, not without feeling like some of the uni sshe saw from time to time. Although his manner of speaking was unlike anything she'd ever heard, he seemed gentle enough. Who was this guy?
She pulled back onto the street. "Can I ask, Aster, where do you come from?"
He stared straight ahead. "Myself's origins are in an island in the North of British Islands. Isles."
Molly frowned. English was clearly not his first language. If anything, he sounded like a cross between Irish and Mexican, with a rolling R and a pronounced M. He also missed all the L's- not that he had a lisp, exactly, but he skipped them so that 'Islands' sounded like 'eyeyands.' Maybe it was a lisp.
"So, um, can I ask what happened to you? To your leg?" In the dark, Molly's cheeks reddened. It wasn't her business. But Aster answered without a pause. "Myself was born without all usage of limbs. Devices help, but not- not at all time, which-" He stopped, seeming to struggle for the words.
"I'm sorry, you don't have to explain." Her face was still burning. She turned onto Airport Boulevard. "That was a rude question. I'm too blunt sometimes, just saying what I'm thinking. Not that I was thinking about- oh god. Um. Can I offer you an Advil?"
"Myself or the deity?"
It took a second, but Molly smiled. "He probably needs one, considering how we've trashed this place."
Aster nodded politely at her remark. He probably hadn't understood what she said. When she stopped in front of The Holiday Inn, she offered him Advil again.
Aster hesitated, turning towards her. She tried not to focus on how striking he was. "What may be… Adveh?"
"Oh. That." Molly reached into her purse and took out the little bottle of pills. "It's ibeprofen." Blank stare. "Medicine. To take the pain away."
He stared at the pills incredulously. "Rid the pain?"
Molly was caught off guard. "Well, you said your stomach was hurting so I thought-"
Aster shook his head. "Understood. Aches, they cure."
Molly glanced from him to the bottle in her palm, then back at him. "Yeah. Aches and pains. I mean, you need to read the bottle but, yeah."
It was unnenrving. There was something about him and the way he spoke that told her he was from somewhere very far, and very different. She was sure he wouldn't harm her.
Whoah. Where did that come from? Not hurt her? Molly thought about last night. Samuel. Well, it was pretty casual with him. But this guy… this strange guy, he was…
She cleared her throat and twisted open the cap, offering the bottle to him. Aster took it tentatively, and he did try to read the label.
"They're extra strength, so only take one or two."
When Aster had swallowed the pills, he raised his hand for another fistbump. "Thank you, Mohy," he said. "Good evening."
"Wait," Molly said, before thinking. "How long are you staying, again?"
Aster raised his eyebrows. "Myself meets her, mate Cassia, tomorrow. The two, her and myself, travel tomorrow."
"You can stay by me," Molly said before she could change her mind. "Really. I have an extra bedroom."
"Your residence, is it less costly than the bed and breakfast?"
Molly laughed because his face was so serious. "No charge," she promised, looking behind her and making a reverse U-turn. "Only for breakfast."
God, what did it take to get a laugh out of this guy? Molly glanced at him one more time during the drive home, but that was it, as the thought of Samuel entered her mind again.
When they pulled into her badly lit driveway, Molly got out first, since whatever island Aster was from clearly didn't use car doors. Her door slammed shut, filling the quiet of the street, and she came around to his side.
The house was still. Molly rented the bottom floor of a quaint, shuttered house, and it was a good thing, because she wasn't sure if he would be able to climb a flight of stairs. Aster had gotten the door open, but he only had one leg out the door, and he was looking at the ground hesitantly. Reaching for the doorframe for support, he scooted forward. Molly felt like she was watchimg something she shouldn't. Finally, after a painful few seconds where neither of them moved, she offered her help. Aster shook his head. He took a deep breath and dragged himself up, grabbing the sloped roof of the Mazda for support. His right leg was behind him, and he reached down to pull it onto the ground.
He pitched forward. Molly reached for him without thinking, grabbing him by the upper arms, catching him from tipping forward. His weight leaned against hers for an instant. They stood in limbo for a moment, until Aster wrapped an arm over her shoulders and hopped forward. He managed to close his door with some force. He didn't say anything, so neither did she, just held him up as he hopped and dragged himself to her door. As she punched in the code for the front door, he said, "Yourself's Advil is quite broken." His smile was strained.
Molly pushed open the door. Luckily, the front walkway had no step, but there was a bump over the threshhold. Aster couldn't clear it, and his breath caught as all his weight was on her. Molly's arms strained from keeping him upright, and once inside, they stumbled in the dark, and fell onto the living room couch. Looked like weren't going to make it to the guest bedeoom. Molly extracted herself from him and flicked on the lights. Aster hid his eyes from the brightness, so she turned them off. She knew her away around anyway- the living room had a kitchen off to one side, and the back doorway led to the hall where the bedrooms and bathroom where. For Aster, she turned on the bulb in the kitchen, so yellowish light filtered over the white rug and red leather couch. Aster had his head back against the cushions, and though his face was neutral like she'd seen it so far, he looked defeated. She sat down at the other end of the three-seater.
Aster didn't turn his head to her He stared up at the abstract painting next to the front door. "Apologies," he said quietly. "All apologies."
"Don't worry about it." Now Molly couldn't look at him either. She rubbed her hand over the lining of her jeans. "Are you sure you're fine?" she said.
"Yes. Thank you, Mohy."
She didn't know what to say next, and it hit her that she had juat helped a disabled stranger into her house. But it wasn't as if he would steal anything. He couldn't. She hoped. The silence was thick, except for the content hum of the refrigerator.
"Hey. You hungry?"
"No. Just slumber. Not food, because myself- because the stomach."
Molly nodded, standing up. "Got it." She glanced around. "The bathroom is the first door down the hall. Yell if you need anything." She went into her bedroom and brought out a fluffy throw. Aster smiled weakly in response. He was already spread across the cushions.
"Here. Goodnight." Molly toosed it to him, and waited at the doorway. But Aster didn't say anything else, so she turned to go.
She was already in the kitchen when she heard him say, "Thank you, Mohy. Good night."
Reckless Behavior: A guide to the early Twenty-First Century
Chapter seven: Living and Housing
...in the rich countries, where materials and wealth are ample, people construct artificial dwellings for shelter and for a sense of one's own space. The idea of buiding with Nature is considered backwards and unsanitary, so people will go to great lengths to shut out the real world, to the extent that Nature itself is a associated with uncleanliness and discomfort.
Dwellings are separated into rooms. The entrance room is called the foyer, a place for the many outer garments that the people enclose themselves in, especially in the Northern Hemisphere…
Aster waited for Molly to shut off the artificial lighting and head to her bedroom. Then he waited a few more minutes for her to fall asleep. The fluorescent hands of the analog clock read eight thirty pm.
He sat up, a difficult ordeal. His leg didn't hurt, but it just… it didn't work. This had happened to him a few years earlier, because the thin wires on the back of his legs that communicated with his brain, had become severed somehow. He ran his hand down his thigh, over his knee, and along his calf. The sensation was there, so at least his artificial nerves were still receiving outside stimuli.
He tapped on the Q-band that encircled his wrist. His mate, Cassia, was scheduled to materialize a day after he did, so he should've been able to feel the lack of her presence in the band. He felt… nothing, only Molly's unfamiliar body moving in her bedroom, a fuzzy presence because he barely knew her. At least the Q-band worked, but… where was Cassia's presence (or lack thereof?) He fell back, exhausted. At least the twenty-first century had soft blankets. Within minutes, he was asleep.
What seemed like minutes later, Aster cracked open an eye. He let himself marvel for a minute about where- and -when- he was. Molly's couch was pleasant beneath his back. Light filtered in through cracks in the window cover, and the analog clock confirmed that it was seven am and six minutes. Cassia would be arriving in eight hours and twenty four minutes.
The silence unnerved him. He missed the birds chirping outside his window and the branches that formed the roof of his abode, rustling as they shifted to let in morning sunlight. His research had shown that the area he'd arrived in was not extremely urban, but it was urban enough- exhaust fumes, boxy homes, endless concrete roads- and it reminded him of Rhodium, where Cassia was from. Cassia would enjoy the artificial buildings. She hated nature in its untouched form.
Aster sat up. The nausea and dizziness were gone, so that was good. He was able to feel both legs, and now, he realized how hungry he was. The last time he'd eaten was in two hundred years' time. Same for the last time he'd urinated. He pushed off of the couch and-
tumbled onto the rug. Smells were assaulting him- the various chemical cleaners Molly no doubt used on her rug, floor, and sofa. He took a deep breath and dragged himself into an upright position. Quswàk. It was both legs now. No. Oh no. This couldn't be happeneing now.
No stirring came from Molly's room. His bladder was full, and he wasn't sure what wiring was reaching his brain and what wasn't. With effort, Aster flopped onto his stomach and lifted himself onto his elbows.He reached shaking palms to the other side of the couch and pulled. His legs dragged behind him, pulling the rug with them. He yanked the thing out- it had good traction against the shiny floor, not what he needed right then. Reach, pull. Reach, pull. When his hands got too sweaty he wiped them quickly against his shirt, something he'd never done before in his life. He had a vague, expectant feeling in his gut, and it made his chest thud. He couldn't think about that. He reached the bathroom and elbowed his way over the threshhold. The tiles were cold.
He forced himself to stop and think. He knew the functions of each fixture, but his vantage point on the floor made everything harder to recognize. The toilet was easy, and ahead was a short wall. His abdomen roiled. He scooted forward with quick, short movements, reached over the wall and hauled himself inside. He was in the bathtub, the washing basin. The white floor seemed easily cleanable, and he wasn't really thinking anymore, just pushing his pants down his waist and away from his legs, then his shoes. Finally, he let forth a spray of warm urine. Panting hard, he clutched his penis, enjoying the feeling of sweet release. He was able to feel his genitals, but his control was slipping away like sand escaping a closed palm. Liquid flowed between his legs, wetting them, but he had nowhere to move them, to get them out of the way. Only then did he notice a partition, which seemed adjustable. Aster pulled it closed.
When he had finished relieving himself, he undressed fully, hoping to cleanse his now soiled body. The mechanics to bring forth clean water into the tub were fairly easy to understand, and soon, scalding water was gushing onto his ankles. The first thing he did was drink to his fill. Then, he scrubbed himself with some of the liquid was in a green bottle on the edge of the tub. He wasn't too literate in Late English, but he read the words 'body wash' and pieced together his own conclusions. The smell of mint reached his nostrils, and only then did he think to wonder whether he had cleansed himself with a female-only product. People in this century were unbelievably picky about such things. He turned off the water and lay back, resting his head on the wall behind him. The tub was absurdly short, child size almost, and his legs were cramped.
He needed to think. To plan. He had to get back to the place where he'd materialized so that he could meet up with Cassia. She knew better than he did how the wiring that held him up worked. Did he miss her? Miss was not quite the word. Cassia was a need, not a miss. She was too uptight to even want to be missed.
He was so tired. So tired.
Winter was creeping into Buffalo, New York. It was one of those mornings were the world was cruelly cold, but toasty and safe under the covers. Molly stumbled to the bathroom, stretching her neck and arms and hearing the crack-crack her joints made as they woke up. It was only once she had spashed her face that she remembered Aster. Oh god. What had she been thinking, bringing him home? For all she knew, he was a thieving pedophile murderer, from the British Isles, no less.
Before she could move, the doorbell rang. She tied a bow to close her bathrobe and hurried to the door, glancing at the couch. It was empty, and the blanket was on the floor, partially obscuring the overturned rug. Hopefully, Aster was in the kitchen making breakfast, and not halfway across town with her wallet and laptop. Hopefully.
Without checking the peephole, she opened the door. Freezing air greedily rushed into the house.
"Hey," Samuel said, hands in his pockets, tapping the concrete with his Converse. He stepped inside and kissed her. His lips were cold and wind-bitten.
Molly's boyfriend held a styrofoam cup. "Out of milk. Can I steal some of yours?" Samuel lived three blocks away, but usually took his own car to work, because the two of them worked on different schedules.
Shit. Shit. Shit. She had to explain Aster. Now.
"I'll get you some," Molly said. Alas, she didn't specify 'wait here.' Samuel made himself at home, dropping his jacket onto the couch and following her inside. Her heart pounded as she walked into the kitchen.
There was no one at the table or by the counters. She let out a shaky breath. She was feeling hot and cold all over.
Samuel opened the fridge and and helped himself to an apple and a dash of full-fat milk. Molly darted back to the bathroom, then checked both bedrooms. A feeling of dread was growing inside her. Samuel followed her and chatted while she brushed her teeth and put in her contacts. Molly nodded and smiled. She pulled back the curtain to get her brush.
Aster's eyes flew open. He was naked. "Quswàk!" He hissed. He shot out his hands to cover his penis.
"Fuck!" Molly jammed the curtain shut, the rings squeaking on the metal rod.
"What? What is it?" Samuel hopped off the counter. "Come on, Moll, I thought you weren't scared of spiders."
Molly whirled around to face him. Her voice was stuck in her throat. The image of Aster, of thin wires snaking over his body, was burned into her brain. The look of utter exposure on his face, in his eyes, like a child caught taking a cookie. His long arms rushing to cover himself.
"D- don't look in there," she blurted. "It's private."
Samuel scoffed. "What, you keep a dildo in there? Please."
Molly opened her mouth. Samuel grinned mischeviously, and Molly knew what was happening but she couldn't stop him as he grabbed her hand and yanked the curtain open.
Aster was still cupping his genetalia. Red blossomed over his cheeks. His hair was damp against his forehead, and beads of water ran down his arms and chest.
Samuel stared for a second, and then smirked. "Wow. Even I'll admit, not too shabby. You have good taste, Moll. Check out those pecs."
Molly grabbed his arm. "Samuel, it's not what you think. I swear. He's a- he just needed a place to stay so-"
Samuel shrugged himself out of her grip. "You don't have to explain. Get dressed. We've got a meeting with the accountant in an hour."
Molly trailed after him into the kitchen, where he poked into the fridge again. "Listen me," she pleaded, clutching her bathrobe shut against her chest. "I have nothing to do with that guy. I promise. I had no idea he was taking a bath, or, or-"
Samuel slammed the refrigerator shut, and all the jars inside clonked and rattled. "I told you, I'm not upset. But explain to me why he was just lying there, naked, wrapped in some kinda sex toy thing which I don't-"
"Sam, I wasn't sleeping with him!" Her voice sounded desperate, even in her own head. Samuel surprised her by grabbing her, threading his fingers behind her ears and pulling her close. He was two heads taller than her, way over six feet. He rubbed her back, and Molly relaxed against him, lettig out a silent sigh. She felt the rising and falling of his chest.
"Shhhh," Samuel said, kissing her head. "Molly, its okay. Really, I'm cool with it. Plus, you know I can tell when you lie to me. Your voice gets all high-pitched like that."
Molly pulled back amd glared up at him. "I am not lying. That man is just spending the night."
"Right." Samuel toyed with his watch. "Moll, I said I'm not upset. This is what having an 'open relationship' means. We're allowed to do this, remember?"
Molly's lips parted. "Open rela- Sam, that was five months ago! I thought that was over!" She paused, searching his face. Samuel's expression was unreadable. He ran a hand over his choppy brown hair, then dropped it, and met her accusing look with one of his own.
Molly put her hands on her hips. "Are you telling me," she said evenly, "that you've been sleeping with other people all this time?"
Samuel shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
Molly felt rage spread slowly across her face. "Un-fucking-believable."
Samuel shrugged again. "Kind of hypocritical, considering the circumstances, don't you think?"
"I. Didn't. Sleep with him!" Molly yelled. "He's some random weirdo from fucking England! He can't even talk properly!"
Samuel stepped up and leaned in to an inch from her nose, making Molly recoil. His hot breath smelled like coffee. "I," he hissed, "Am not. An idiot." He swung around and slammed the door shut.
Molly was frozen in place for a while, her heart pumping wildly in her chest, her hands shaking in anger. She stalked into the bathroom. Aster was sitting up, reaching for his clothing which lay in a pile outside the tub.
"Get the fuck out," Molly said, a quiver in her voice.
Aster just looked up at her, his eyebrows raised in his perpetual look of surprise. He was hunched over, and Molly saw a thin wire running up his back and neck, disapearing beaneath his hair.
"I said," she repeated, "get the fuck out of my house."
"I understand." His voice was mellow, calm, which sounded like nails on a blackboard to Molly right then. "But myself- I- cannot."
Molly extended a hand. "Let's go. You can get out the way you got in."
Aster didn't move, except to cross his arms and tuck his hands under his armpits. "How to say. At present time, myself's lower limbs-legs-" he tripped over his words, in the rush to get them out. "They cannot."
Samuel be damned, Molly had to be at this meeting in forty-eight minutes, including the drive through traffic on JJ Audobon Street. "What?" She said tersely.
For the first time, Aster's rock-hard face seemed to crack a little. "Myself's legs have ceased to function."
Molly sucked in air. "Oh." She blinked. "Oh god. You seriously need help. This is not normal."
"The deity had no part in it. Myself's machinery has defectiveness. The current situation is… shit."
It seemed like Aster was yelling at her, but she wasn't entirely sure. His voice remained even. What machinery was he referring to? Was he dependent on those wires, or on some kind of medication? She softened. "Okay. Um. For starters, I'll get you a towel." She reached into the cabinet on the nearest wall, and pulled out a striped towel and tossed it to him.
Aster took it gratefuly. "Yourself may be excused," he said, covering his lap.
Molly started. "Right. I'll… come back."
Molly headed into her bedroom and quickly threw on a blouse and beige suit jacket, and her best black jeans. There would be no time to blow dry her curls. Great. Just another reason for the accountant to think she was some inexperienced student.
When she returned to the bathtub, Aster was pulling his plain white shirt over his head. She reached out her hand again, which he looked at but didn't take. Instead, he gripped the rim of the tub and pulled himself forward. Bracing himself with his palms on the floor, he pulled his torso over the rim of the bathtub. His face was impassive, with the slightest tint of red on his cheeks, though he wasn't breaking a sweat. He grappled with the side of the tub, half inside and half out, his chest pressed over the edge.
Molly got down on her hands and knees in front of him.
Aster's face was lined with concentration, and he reluctantly allowed her to tug him forward from under the arms, like a corpse. He smelled of fresh mint, and his arms were muscled beneath his shirt. Molly succeeded in pulling until his knee slipped over the edge and dropped onto the ground. Aster winced, rolling onto his side. They were both sprawled onto the bathroom floor.
Molly scrambled up. "I'm calling an ambulance," she said. Her forehead was wet with perspiration.
"No," Aster said hoarsely, panting hard. He sat up, clutching his side.
Molly shook her head, lowering herself onto the toilet cover. "I'm sorry, but this is just too much. I don't really understand what's wrong with your legs, but I'm not just gonna-"
"No!" Aster looked like he was struggling to regain his normal breathing. "I forbid such action."
Molly stopped with her finger hovering above her phone's screen, ready to dial 911. This wasn't the same gentle, jokey man as last night."You forbid me?"
"Take myself to… to the location of you and myself meeting," he said. "Cassia, herself is there."
"Are you kidding me? Did you not just hear what happened? And you expect me to bring you to work?" Molly dialed the number. Aster reached up and grabbed her wrist.
"Do not contact the hospital," he said firmly.
Molly stared at the fingers encircling her wrist. "Let go off me."
Aster retracted his hand, staring at it like it as a foreign object. He looked up. "P- please, Mohy."
She nodded, slipping her phone in her bathrobe's pocket. "Okay," she said slowly.
"Samuel, himself is meaningless." Aster began to dust himself off. "My mate Cassia is of larger importance."
How pompous. Molly snorted. "Your mate? Is that 'mate' in the Australian sense of the word? Or is she your actual mate?"
Aster stared at her blankly.
"So she's your girlfriend?" Molly was met with more blankness. "Your… lover? Wife? Do you sleep with her? Is she... Let's see, do you guys have intercourse-"
"Yes!" Aster said, a tad too enthusuastically. "No. Not as of present. But in the while."
Molly held up her hand. "Wait. Whoah. So I'm supposed to drop you off at the office so your girlfriend can pick you up?"
Aster nodded. "Correct."
What the fuck. Who did this guy think he was? Molly rubbed her eyes. She had to talk with Samuel, and it couldn't be with Aster in the backseat. "Look, I- I can't take you with me." She took out her iPhone. "Call Cassie or whatever her name is. Let her pick you up from here." She told him the address.
Aster took her phone gingerly. She stopped into her bedroom to grab her heels and purse, and opted for a quick, quick blowdry, and when she returned to him, he was off the phone.
"She'll pick you up?" She asked.
He held up her phone. "That it what I affirmed at the earlier time, correct?"
"Great." She grabbed her keys from the desk in the living room on her way out. "Bye."
In the car, her thoughts turned to the ordeal at the Greek restaurant last week. In the back of her mind, she was hoping to return home and find him gone. Her life was busy, and there wasn't a single slot left for any more crap. He'd leave the city soon, hopefully, and she'd never see him again.
∆To be continued...