Part 19 of 22 of the Netcromancer by M.J.Miello
My nervousness surged as I walked into the crowded restaurant. I had spent the previous 24 hours second-guessing myself. But I knew that I had to break up with Rally. I couldn’t go on with this charade anymore. I was fond of Rally. I was certainly attracted to her. I was proud of myself for “winning” her—whatever that meant. But now that I had seen that love could be a union of two minds with a common purpose, that all seemed so shallow.
Rally had said to meet her at the restaurant’s bar so I walked into the crowded space. And then, as the well-dressed people shifted around me, she came into view.
Alanna? Why was she here? Was this a coincidence? An accident? Certainly not—I was all the way uptown. It made no sense. But there she was, and she looked beautiful. She wore a green dress. Sparkling stones hung around her neck. Her hair was straightened and fell luxuriously over her shoulders. Rich brown leather boots had taken the place of old sneakers. Our eyes met and she smiled at me.
The fingerprints of Rally were on this. Alanna even looked like she had been dressed by Rally—was that Rally’s green dress she was wearing? That’s when it occurred to me—Rally knew. Of course, she knew. She knew me so well. She had seen the way I looked at Alanna. When they spoke on the phone, Rally must have realized that we were perfect for each other. Was this her way of ending things with me? Had she set me up on a date with Alanna as her way of stepping aside? That seemed insane. But was it?
“Hi!” Alanna said when she reached me. “Thank you so much for coming! Oh my god I am so nervous.” She was fanning herself with the small purse in her hand (also Rally’s).
“Me too,” I said.
“Rally is amazing. You have no idea. She is just…just fucking amazing!”
“She is,” I said, trying to hide my confusion. I felt a sickness in my stomach and a quiver at the base of my neck.
“I still don’t believe this is going to happen! I was shocked when she told me you thought of this. There is just no way it’s going to work. Do you think it’s going to work?”
“I…” It was too good to be true I realized. I felt Rally’s arm slide around my arm.
“Of course it’s going to work. Hi love,” Rally said to me and gave me a kiss.
“What’s going to…” I asked.
“He’s here!” Alanna said.
I turned and saw him coming through the door. His hair was down. His blue eyes were radiant. He looked young. Strong. Invincible. He was Odysseus emerging from the Trojan horse.
It was Zee.
I was falling. Falling deeper and deeper into myself. It was like I had built a great scaffolding around my life. And it was collapsing. The beams and girders were splintering as they fell. I was being buried—shattered beneath the rubble of my former self.
And yet, when the dust had settled, I was alive. My feet moved. My face smiled. Words were interpreted. Responses formulated. Drinks were ordered. Sips were taken. Ice felt cold against my lips. I wished for all the world that Billy was here. Or Nicholas. Or anyone. Literally anyone else. But no. It was Zee. I could sense fires burning in the depths of my mind. I feared I would be losing far more than a romantic contest. I was losing everything I had spent the last three years building.
My face was hurting from the forced laughter. The entrees had not even come yet. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this. I searched deep in my pockets. Beneath the wallet and the keys, there was something hidden. All I needed to do was touch it and I would remember who I was—and what I had wanted. The pain of remembering overcame me as the coin slid between my fingers. I knew I had been beaten. The pain was real. And in-between the cascade of false pleasantries, the defeat seared at my heart. It burned, but at least it was real.
“Thank you so much for a fabulous evening!” Rally said.
“Oh, this was really very entertaining. We should get together like this again,” Zee said. “Say, are you going downtown?”
“I am,” Alanna said.
“Not me. I live a few blocks over and I think Christopher’s coming back to my dorm with me.”
“Yes,” I said realizing that even these moves had already been put in place.
“Why don’t the two of you share a cab?” Rally said.
“Good idea, I’ll get one,” Zee said as he stepped away.
“Thank you both so much. I love you guys!” Alanna whispered.
When the cab door slammed shut I felt unsteady.
There was a moment of silence as Rally and I watched the cab sink into the collage of light and color.
Slowly I turned my head to look at her.
“Well, I’m glad that worked out.” She smiled slightly.
I said nothing; My face was a mask of blank expression.
“Oh, come now,” she said, “You didn’t really think I would let you break up with me for that girl. Did you see her shoes?”
“You can be so…” It was a whisper.
“Heartless? Yes, I am heartless not to let you have another girl.”
My head hurt. I had no idea if I was right or wrong. I felt guilt and rage. I had been caught, scolded, and punished.
“Come on,” she said and held her hand out to me.
“Back to my dorm.”
“I think I’ll just go home.”
“Christopher I want you to come with me.”
“I just put a lot of work into saving our relationship. You might thank me you know.”
“What if I don’t want this relationship anymore?”
“We both know you aren’t going to do that. You had two semesters to break up with me for her and you didn’t. Why not?”
I let the question linger there for a moment. Why had I not?
“Because you always do what you are supposed to do. Whatever else you are, Christopher, you are a man of your word. You promised me that you would be my boyfriend and that we would love each other. So that is what we are doing. Now I need you to come back to my dorm and fuck me.”
She took me by the hand. At her touch, the tension in my muscles evaporated. We walked side-by-side.
I realized in that moment, that Rally, too, was a kind of programmer. She wrote no code. She obeyed no syntax. But all of her softly spoken words and gestures always added up the exact outcome she desired. She had edited my social life with ease, shifting people into places so that the exact outcome she desired would manifest. And here I was again, playing out exactly the part she had prepared for me.
My hand slipped from hers as I turned and walked away. The silence behind me was strange and frightening. But I didn’t look back.
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