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Rob closed his eyes and just lay there. I was so worried that he would give up right there, with his head in my hand.
“Please,” I whispered, “Please, don’t die. You can’t.”
I kissed him again and waited for him to say something. He looked like he was in a lot of pain and I wasn’t sure that it was just physical pain.
“I’m so tired.” He said.
“I know. I’m sorry. You can sleep.”
“No.” He wheezed. He was having more trouble breathing now. “No, that’s not what I meant. I’m tired of everything. Life is…boring. I wake up and go to work. I go home and go to sleep. Then it starts over. I’m so tired of it.”
“I’m sorry.” I said. It sounded lame and meaningless to me but I couldn’t think of anything better to say. “You always seem so…happy. I’ve always been kind of jealous of that. Why did you ever say anything?”
“I didn’t think you would care.” He said.
I thought about it for a moment. How would I have reacted? I didn’t have any advice to offer; I was in the same boat as him. I started working the second job as an attempt to break out of the monotonous cycle of life. It had worked to some extent. I knew exactly how he felt. I just wasn’t allowed to consider giving up for even a second. I didn’t want him to consider it either. I didn’t want to live without him. I definitely looked forward to working with him. If he had said something about being depressed…I probably would have pretended to not care, but only because that’s how he would expect me to react. I think it would have worried me. I was pretty sure that we would be having a similar conversation. It just would have taken me a lot longer to figure out how I felt.
I definitely would have blown him off at first. I would have had no idea what to say so I would have just pretended not to care. I didn’t really know what to say now. I felt so guilty, like I should have known how he felt, somehow. I felt like nothing I could say would be right.
“I’m sorry.” I said, almost whispering. I almost hoped he wouldn’t hear me say something so lame and stupid. “I love you.”
“Don’t say that.” He said. I hadn’t intended for him to hear that part at all.
“You don’t mean it.”
“Of course I mean it. I wouldn’t say that unless I meant it.”
“No, you just think you mean it. You’re only here out of obligation.”
“What are you talking about? We both know my obligation ended the first time I came to visit.”
“So why did you keep coming back?” I knew he knew the answer. He just wanted me to say it again. I decided to play with him a little bit-hold off as long as I could in saying it again. We always played games like that.
“It took me a while to figure it out.” I said.
“Figure out what?”
“Why didn’t you say it before?” he asked, cutting me off. He didn’t seem to be in the mood for games.
“I don’t know.” I said. “I guess…I don’t know... I never really thought about it before.”
“I think that’s about half the truth.” He said. It was like he read my thoughts. I was surprised, although I really shouldn’t have been. He definitely knew me well.
“I was afraid to think about it.”
“I don’t know.”
“Ok, that’s not true at all.” He said.
“Fine.” I said, deciding to just tell him the whole story. “I didn’t know why I kept coming back to visit you. I just knew that I wanted to and so I did. I think, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew why I kept coming back. But I didn’t see any point in putting it into words and giving a name to it. I figured you were mad at me. You never seemed to want me here. I really thought you were mad at me.”
“Why would I be mad at you?”
“Because I hesitated and now you’re here. Because I always argue with you and question everything and now…it almost got you killed.”
“You never listen to me. I really didn’t expect this time to be any different.”
“I feel so guilty.” I said.
“You shouldn’t. You didn’t put the bomb in there.”
“I know. But if I had just left when you had said to…”
“There’s always an ‘if’. There’s no point in worrying about them, though. Besides, I told you before.” Now it seemed like he was going to play games. I was pretty sure I knew where he was going, though.
“Told me what?”
“That I’d take a bullet for you any day.”
“Honestly? I thought you were just being an idiot. I though you just said that because of what I am and not for any other reason. And I didn’t really think you meant it.”
He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me. We were even now. I laughed a little bit and shook my head. He got me on that one.
“Go to sleep.” I said good naturedly.
“Ok but…don’t leave, ok?” he said, giving me a somber look.
“I promise. I’ll be here when you wake up. Just promise me that when you wake up you’ll talk to your doctor. He can help you get better.”
He nodded slightly against my hand but didn’t say anything. He seemed to go to sleep almost instantly. He looked so peaceful. He didn’t really look much better than when he had first woken up but I could have sworn he had a little more color in his face than he had before. I kissed him again and sat back in my chair.
It didn’t take long for me to get bored. I did enjoy watching him sleep but I have never been the type of person who could do only one thing at a time. I was created to multitask. I attributed my short attention span to genetics. I wanted to go home to get some things to work on but I was afraid that he’d wake up while I was gone and think that I had left him. He should understand that I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. It wouldn’t take me long to get something but if he happened to wake up while I was gone…he definitely wouldn’t understand.
I decided to go, as quickly as possible. I’d just grab my computer and leave. It wouldn’t take me more than 2 or 3 minutes. He hadn’t been asleep for long so I figured the chances of him waking while I was gone weren’t very good. I stood and teleported myself to my room. I glanced at the clock on the wall and realized that it had been 3 hours since I had left to go see him. I had probably been sitting there, just watching him sleep, for 2 hours now. It felt like half an hour.
I scolded myself mentally for wasting time. I grabbed my computer and teleported back to rob’s room. Fortunately he was still sleeping. I spent the next several hours reading and trying to form an opinion on the latest conflict between planet Yasirit and planet Pollux. Both planets had attacked the other and the debate was who attacked first. It was a conflict that I had seen a hundred times before, especially with these two. They were always on the verge of war. I sometimes wished that there was a way to move them to opposite sides of their galaxy or even into different galaxies.
They never wanted to mediate their conflicts either. I offered them advice, passed laws, and signed treaties, negotiated with other planets on their behalves. There were other planets with similar conflicts elsewhere in the universe as well. There was a lot of meeting with the rulers and reading media from each side and in the end nothing I said or did seemed to matter at all.
I was in the middle of an article by a Polluxian extremist when Rob woke up. He looked around and smile when he saw me.
“You look like you’re in a good mood.” I said.
“I had a good dream.” He said. He sounded a lot better too. His voice was much stronger.
“What was it about?”
“I don’t really know how to describe it. It didn’t feel like a dream though. It felt so real.” He said. I wondered if he was talking about what had happened before- what I had said to him. He couldn’t really think that was a dream…could he?
“If it was such a good dream you definitely have to tell me about it. I could use some cheering up. Damn war is threatening again…”
“Which planets?” he asked.
“Pollux and Yasirit.”
“Again? Didn’t they just sign a treaty with one another?”
“No, that was Mars and Venus.”
“Oh. I definitely thought it was Pollux and Yasirit.”
“They are like Mars and Venus though- always at war. I think they just enjoy fighting with each other.” I said.
“Who doesn’t enjoy war? War is awesome. Can you imagine how boring life would be without war? Peace is boring.” He said. I laughed.
“I guess you could look at it that way.”
“C’mon, you know I’m right.” He said, laughing a little himself.
“Hey, I didn’t say you were wrong…but man, that must have been one hell of a dream.” I said, just realizing that he had changed the subject. I really wanted to know about his dream. I wanted to be the one to make him happy, the one to help him get better, not some stupid dream. “You looked like shit yesterday. And today…I can’t believe how much better you look.”
“Wait a minute…according to you I always look like shit.” He said, giving me a weird look.
“Well…I just said that to piss you off. I don’t think I ever really believed that.” I said. It felt strange to say that…I really had never meant that when I said it. He just had such a huge ego…or he at least pretended to have a huge ego. He was giving me a strange questioning looking, like he was just beginning to realize something. Maybe he really did think that our conversation before was just a dream…
“I love you.” I said, leaning in closer to him.
“So that wasn’t just a dream…” He said in a wondering tone.
“I guess not.” I said. I kissed him, though it was difficult because we were both smiling. The doctor walked in and smiled when he saw us.
“You look much better today, Robert.” He said.
“Don’t call me Robert. It’s too formal.” Rob said a little hostile.
“Ok, Rob then. I think this is the first time you’ve spoken to me as well.” Rob gave him a distrustful look.
“I feel fine.”
“That’s because I have you chock full of meds.” The doctor said. “Since you’re doing so well today, I think I’m going to take you off of most of them. How is your breathing?”
“How does your chest feel?”
“How about your shoulder?”
“Rob, you promised you’d talk to the doctor.” I said, getting sick of his short answers. There was no way in hell he was magically all healed.
“I am talking to him.” He said.
“One word answers do not count.”
“I’m fine and that’s the truth.” He said. The doctor was checking the burns on his chest now. Rob winced as he lifted up one of the bandages.
“If you were fine, you’d be up and walking around. You haven’t moved since I’ve been here. The only time you move is when the bed raises you up or down.”
“I can move if I want to.” He said, irritated. “I’m just tired.”
“That could be from the pain medication.” The doctor said. “Your burns don’t look any better. I’m going to leave them uncovered, but keep still like your girlfriend says you’ve been.”
“She’s not…” He stopped, blushing like crazy.
“She’s not your girlfriend? I can’t believe that. Such a pretty girl…why wouldn’t you want her to be your girlfriend?” The doctor said. It was my turn to blush. “I’ve turned off the IV drip of the pain medication. If the pain gets to be too much you can still push the button and it’ll ease your pain.”
“Thanks.” Rob said. The doctor left without saying anything more. “That guy’s an asshole.”
“He’s just a doctor. Maybe you should try being less of an asshole.”
“I wasn’t being an asshole.”
“First you gave him an attitude and then you were short with him.” I said.
“’Gave him and attitude.’ What am I, a kid now?”
“You sure as hell acted like one.”
“Whatever.” He said. His face was bright red. He moved his arm a little bit, I think trying to touch the burns on his chest. He dropped it back by his side with a look of pain on his face. It hurt me to see him in so much pain. I couldn’t imagine not being able to move.
“You see, you can’t move.” I said in a softer voice.
“No, I can move. It just hurts.” He said.
“And you’re not any better than when you came in here.”
“Yes I am. I don’t care what that quack says.”
“Do you want me to push that button for the medication?” I asked.
“No. I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t have to bite my head off. I was just asking a question.” I said. He was starting to break out in sweat, probably from the pain. I always thought that was kind of a strange reaction to pain. I put my hand on his face and was going to try to wipe away some of the sweat, but he leaned into my hand instead and closed his eyes. I reached across him and pushed the button on the IV line. His face started to relax almost immediately.
“I told you not to push it.” He said, still leaning against my hand with his eyes closed. I leaned in and kissed him, deep but gentle.
“I think he took you off the medication too suddenly. But he’s the doctor I guess…I just don’t like seeing you in pain.” I said. He didn’t say anything, but he did open his eyes and look at me. I could see that he was really grateful…and the he really loved me too. I can’t even really describe it. Just looking into his eyes though, I knew he loved me.
“I’m tired.” He said.
“Go to sleep, then.”
“Will you still be here when I wake up?” He asked.
“If you want me to be.”
“Of course I want you to be.”
“Then I’ll be here. Good night, sweetheart.” I said. It was odd to call him sweetheart. It didn’t feel wrong, just…strange. I was so used to calling him asshole and jackass. I was just beginning to realize that all the hostility between us was just a cover, though.
I kissed him on the cheek and then sat back in my chair. I looked at my watch and realized that it had been more than a day since I had slept myself. I was exhausted. I suddenly just wanted to go to sleep, but I had promised Rob that I would stay and I knew he would wake up before I did. I didn’t really want to leave him alone, either. And I didn’t really want to go to sleep in the middle of the day either. There were no windows in his room so I had completely lost track of the time of day.
I booted up my computer and tried doing some work but was interrupted by the grumbling of my stomach. I hadn’t eaten in hours either, not since before I had gone to visit Rob the day before. I decided to go down to the cafeteria and grab something to eat. If Rob woke up while I was gone…oh well. I bought myself soup and a sandwich. Both were tasteless but they were enough to satisfy my hunger, or at least to quiet it.
I went back up to Rob’s room and saw that he was still sleeping. I had been afraid that he would wake up before I got back. I was still worried about him having a setback or just suddenly getting worse again. I took a look at the burns on his chest. They looked incredibly painful. I made a mental note to ask the doctor how long he thought it would take for them to heal. I thought about doing some more work but I was really too tired to do anything productive. I decided to just take a quick nap to refresh myself. I’d go home and sleep for real after Rob woke up and went to sleep again. I put my head down on his bed and fell asleep within minutes.
A few minutes later (it felt like a few minutes, but it was really several hours), I was awakened with something hitting my head. I tried to sit up but my back was too stiff and sore. I looked up at Rob and noticed that he was awake. And then I realized that it was his hand on my head.
“Sorry.” He said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s ok.” I said, slowly straightening to a sitting position. I looked at my watch and saw that 5 hours had passed. No wonder my back was so stiff. “I didn’t mean to sleep for so long.”
“You probably needed the sleep. Were you awake the whole the time you’ve been here? Well, aside from just now…”
“Yeah.” I said. “I didn’t want to leave you alone. And I promised I would stay.”
“You should go home now. Get some real sleep. Your back is probably killing you.”
“Yeah.” I stretched and twisted a little bit, feeling my back pop and crack.
“Go home. I’ll be ok for a little bit.” He said. I opened my mouth to object but he cut me off before I could say anything. “I’ll have someone call you if anything happens.”
I nodded reluctantly. “Ok. You win. I’ll go home. Be nice to your doctors.”
“Fine, fine. I’ll see you later.” He said. I stood up and stretched again. “Hey wait, give me a kiss before you go.”
I bent down and kissed him. I had meant for it to be quick but it turned into something much deeper. It almost felt like he was pulling my soul out through my mouth…it was such a weird, amazing feeling. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully explain it.
I teleported home after that and, after a quick shower, crawled into bed. I was still tired, despite the nap I had taken earlier. I expected to fall asleep almost instantly but instead I lay there, thinking about everything.
Was it really possible that we both loved each other? I had been taught that love took a lot of work and almost always ended with one or both people getting hurt. The board had allowed me to study love once, a long time ago. They gave me several fairy tales to read as well as some other stories that they said were examples of how love worked out in the real world. In the fairy tales, the prince fell in love with the princess and performed some heroic act to prove that he loved her. After he had defeated the evil keeping them apart, the story ended with them living “happily ever after.” In the “real” stories, a guy and a girl met and one of them thought they were in love but they didn’t end up together for some reason. In one story, the girl was killed in an accident. In another, the guy fell in love with another woman and the first one was left behind to be miserably alone. The one I found the saddest was the one where the woman fell in love with the guy and did everything she could to make him happy but when she told him about her feelings for him, he denied that she felt that way about him and never spoke to her again.
The board said that the fairy tales were just ideals and that love never worked that way for real. No one lived “happily ever after.” In real life, most love stories end tragically, like the ones they had suggested that I read. Most people just got tired of searching and settled on someone and that’s why they married. Or they get married for convenience or for some political or familial reason. People married because they were expected to get married. The board had done all they could to show me that love didn’t really exist without directly saying it.
It didn’t really matter to me whether fairy tales were real or whether love existed. It was pointless for me to think about love. That’s what they really wanted me to get out of all the stories they had me read. Falling in love meant that you had to know people and I didn’t know anyone. I was the queen of the universe; the people who talked to me regarded me as some higher being, something of an immortal. I was untouchable. The only people I knew were the rulers and various politicians and most of them were married and/or of another species. When meeting with those people, love and romance were the furthest things from my mind. After those few talks I had with the board, I had never thought about love again. I just put it out of my mind.
Now, though, my very own fairy tale was unfolding. I was realizing that love is real. Not only is love real, it’s effortless. It felt so good to say that I love Rob. I felt that I could say it to him a million times and it still wouldn’t be enough. Kissing him was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced. Not even a thousand peace treaties could measure up to one kiss. It meant so much to me and yet it was so simple. Yeah, it had taken me a while to realize it, but I definitely loved him. And I knew that he loved me too. He kissed me back and asked me to stay. He didn’t need to say the three little words for me to know. I just had to look in his eyes and it was right there.
I had no idea what was supposed to happen next. The stories that the board had allowed me to read were the only references I had on love. Those either ended in disaster or with “happily ever after.” What did happily ever after mean, anyway? Did that mean that we were supposed to get married? Have kids? Get a dog? What did people do once they were in love? I didn’t have a clue. I could definitely spend the rest of my life with him. There was no doubt about that. I had always enjoyed being with him, even if I didn’t consciously admit it to myself. I would have to talk to Rob about all this. Maybe he would have a better idea of what to do next.
Or he’d tell me not to worry about it. Life would just continue and we could just take things one step at a time. That’s how he said he took life, one day at a time. Of course just a day ago he had wanted to give up on life altogether, so maybe the philosophy wasn’t the best. I could talk to him about it. We didn’t have to hide behind false animosity anymore.
I drifted off to sleep imagining Rob and me living out the dream life that all the women in the “real” stories had imagined for themselves. Nice house, white picket fence, two kids, a dog, Rob working all day, me staying home to raise the kids…It was completely ridiculous, pure fantasy. Our story could never end like that, but it was fun to imagine myself as an ordinary person living out an ordinary life. Rob treated me like a normal person. He had never talked to me or treated me like I was some divine being. I loved that. I loved him so much.
The next morning I awoke happier than I could ever imagine being. I showered quickly and headed to the kitchen to make myself breakfast. I was fully aware of how empty the whole place seemed. I had gotten rid of most of the housekeeping staff a long time ago. I had felt like a baby having so many people taking care of me. I had chefs, maids, butlers and other people who just seemed unnecessary. I now only had one person who came once a week to make sure everything was dusted. I was capable of cooking for myself and I didn’t do anything but work so there was no mess. I didn’t need a bunch of people to take care of myself.
My footsteps echoed off the high ceiling as I went down the stairs from my room and crossed the huge entryway to the kitchen. I hated the size of my home. The board had insisted that I live in a castle, though. They said it would be improper for the queen of the universe to operate out of a small house or, even worse, an apartment. So I lived in a huge, empty castle. Everything about it was oversized. A person entered the castle through huge doors and walked into the expansive entryway. To the left was my sitting room, which was just a holographic projection. Next to the sitting room was the staircase which led up to my bedroom and some other rooms that were mostly there for decoration. It could be changed if I wanted or needed it to be something different. To the right was my office and, towards the back, the kitchen entrance. It was all so empty.
I made myself some eggs and toast and wondered what it would be like if Rob moved in with me. Would he still work? There was no reason for him not to continue working. Unless central told him that he couldn’t work anymore…He would have to get another job; not for money, just to keep himself busy. I had to work, so he would need something to do while I was working. I couldn’t imagine him just sitting around doing nothing. He would make my job more fun, too. He seemed to like talking about politics every now and then and I really liked his input. His opinions were always well formed and so different from my own. He seemed to think in a completely different way. I didn’t quite understand his thought process but I didn’t want to anyway. I liked the unpredictability. Everything else about my life was so predictable; I didn’t want him to be that way too.
This was pointless. Why was I worrying about such silly stuff? The future was the future. The present was what I should be worried about. I didn’t need to bother Rob with any of this stuff. I knew exactly what he would say- take things one step at a time. It was ok to look ahead in politics occasionally but if I was always worried about the future I’d probably miss something in the present.
I finished my breakfast, reading the latest news out of Pollux. The conflict between Pollux and Yasirit was getting worse every day and it was clear that I would have to intervene soon. But I wanted to visit Rob first, to see how he was doing. I was hoping that he was feeling better than ever. I washed my dishes and teleported to Rob’s room.
“Hey babe.” He greeted cheerily. If not for the painful looking burns on his chest, I would have sworn that there was nothing wrong with him at all. His bed was in a full sitting position; he hadn’t sat up that far since he had been in the hospital. He was watching the news on TV. The anchorman was talking about the conflict between Pollux and Yasirit.
“Hey, you look like you’re feeling better.” I said.
“Yeah, I feel pretty good. My chest hurts and itches and my shoulder feels like it’s filled with gravel, but other than that I’m fine.” He said.
“Your right shoulder?”
“No, the left. I tried moving my right arm and thought I was going to die. Apparently my skin is all connected. When I moved my right arm, I felt the entire burned area shift. That hurt like hell.”
“Dr. Meleski also said that your right shoulder was dislocated and he had to pop it back in.”
“Feels like it was my left shoulder that was dislocated, not the right.” He said.
“Nah, that one is probably just rusty because you haven’t moved in like 5 days.”
“Do you have any idea how boring it is to just lie here all day?” he asked me.
“I can’t imagine.”
“All I have to do is watch TV and sleep. The nurses come in every hour and the doctor comes in maybe once a day, usually in the morning. It’s so damn boring.”
“You’re watching the news so of course it’s boring.” I said.
“Well, I was watching it because you had mentioned that Yasirit and Pollux were threatening war again and I wanted to learn more about it.”
“You don’t have to do that.” I said. It was so sweet that he was interested in the conflict, though. He wanted to have something to talk about when I came to visit.
“Seems like it’s getting pretty serious.” He said. “Pollux is pretty pissed off and they want Yasirit to do something about it.”
“Yeah…but they’re really both at fault this time. The attack on the Polluxian merchants was carried out by an independent group of extremists. It was in no way connected to the Yasirit government. Yet Pollux is acting like the king of Yasirit himself had participated in the attack. It’s all completely ridiculous.”
“Seems like it.” Rob said. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
The chair that I had sat in before had once again been moved against the far wall.
“Where are you going?” He said when I turned around to get the chair. “I meant sit here, next to me.”
“I can’t…I mean, I don’t want to hurt you. There’s not enough room.” I said. I was really afraid that I would hurt him. His bed wasn’t big enough for two people and I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable at all.
“It’s fine. I just want you to sit with me. There’s plenty of room for you to sit next to me.”
I walked over to the side of his bed and perched on the edge, only half sitting. He tried to lift his arm, probably to pull me closer to him, but he dropped it back to the bed, wincing painfully.
“Your shoulder?” I said.
“Yeah.” He said. “I wish…I don’t know…that I could rub it or something. It’s so frustrating, not being able to move.”
I moved further on to his bed, sitting against his leg. I started massaging his shoulder, feeling the knots in his muscles and gently working them out with the tips of my fingers. He laid his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes.
“Oh my god…that feels amazing.” He said. I slowly lifted his arm, watching his face for any sign of pain.
“How does that feel?” I asked.
“A thousand times better.” He replied. I kissed him, happy that I could make him feel even a little bit better. I was completely into the kiss when someone cleared their throat. I jumped and looked around to see Dr. Meleski standing near the door. Neither of us had heard him come in.
“Seems like you’re feeling better.” He said.
“I told you all I needed was a good massage and then I’d be good to go. She massaged my shoulder and now I can move my arm.” He demonstrated by sliding his arm around my waist.
“A massage will not fix all your problems.” The doctor said. “If someone tried to massage your chest they’d end up ripping off the new skin and setting you back several days and making you cry.”
“Yeah, yeah. I wouldn’t cry.” Rob said. Dr. Meleski didn’t say anything. He checked the burns and some of the displays on the equipment.
“Alright, since you’re miraculously better, why don’t you try going for a walk? If you can make it all the way around this wing and back to this room, I’ll transfer you to a room downstairs.”
“I asked one of the nurses earlier and she just gave me a dirty look. I could walk around this hospital ten times.” Rob said.
“Good. I’ll be back in about half an hour to see how you’re doing.” The doctor said and then left the room.
“Thank God!” Rob said. “I’ve wanted to get out of this bed for a while now.”
I got up off his bed and helped him swing his legs to the side, over the edge of the bed. He eased himself to the floor and slowly stood up.
“I feel like a cardboard cutout.” He said, stretching his legs and bending his knees. I laughed.
“Tie your robe up, Gumby. You don’t want to show the whole world your assets” I said, emphasizing the first part of the word.
“Gumby was made out of clay, not cardboard.” He said. I helped him to get the hospital gown over the burns and tied it at the side.
“There you go. Now you’re ready for a night out on the town.” I said.
“Yeah, yeah. I feel like a woman.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“It is a bad thing when you’re a man.” He said. “Let’s go. I can’t wait to leave this room.”
He walked around the bed and towards the door, without realizing that the IV drip was still in his arm. I grabbed the pole and chased after him.
“Hey, you forgot something.” I said. He turned around and took the poll from me and continued out the door. He was like an excited kid.
“Don’t go so fast.” I said.
“What? You want me to crawl down the hall like an old man?” he said, not slowing down at all.
“No, I just want you to take it easy.”
“I’m not an old man. I’m fine. I can handle a little walk. If this stupid gown thing didn’t chafe so much, I would sprint around this wing. Hell, I’d do ten laps around the hospital and still be back before the doctor came to check on me.”
“Have you forgotten that you were almost dead like 2 days ago? I know you used to run like 6 minute miles, but you can’t do that now.” I said.
“Why not? Well, aside from the chafing issue…”
“I just don’t think you should go back to doing everything you used to do right away. Can’t you just go for a nice walk? Everything doesn’t have to be a race.”
“Alright, alright. We’re walking now, aren’t we?” He said.
“Yeah, we are. There’s no rush. Do you really want to get back to your room that fast?”
“Honestly, I don’t care. As long as you’re here, I’m ok.” He said. It was so sweet; I didn’t know what to say. I kissed him on the cheek and we continued walking. It only took us around 15 minutes to finish the walk.
“So, how do you feel?” I asked.
“Better than I’ve felt in a long time.” He said. “I just wish…”
“I wish that I could hug you.” He took my hand in his left hand and tried moving his right arm but it seemed too painful for him to move it much. He seemed to be more frustrated than in pain though. He tried a second time and this time pushed through the pain and took my other hand in his. He leaned down and kissed me passionately. I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and press myself against his chest, hug him as passionately as he kissed me. But it would cause him too much pain. We would have to wait until his chest was healed. I almost couldn’t bear to wait. And apparently neither could he.
“I love you.” I said. He opened his mouth to say something to me, but stopped as someone came into the room. I turned around and saw Dr. Meleski had just entered. The man had terrible timing.
“Alright, I’ve finished all the paperwork.” He said. “I’ll walk you down to your new room.”
He led us down the hall to the elevators and then took us to the second floor. He showed us to a room that was smaller than the ICU room. The walls were a pale yellow color. I think it was intended to be warm and inviting but the dim lights and cheap flowers just gave it the feel of a cheap hotel room.
“Honestly, Robert, I have to say that I’m amazed by how quickly you’ve turned around. It’s absolutely amazing. When you first came in, I predicted a quick recovery. You seemed like a strong person. But then you got worse, and then suddenly got better. Very confusing. Anyway, don’t let him do anything stupid and I wish you two the best. Good bye.”
He turned and left the room, closing the door behind him as he left. He was such an odd person.
“This room is horrible.” Rob said. He was never one for mincing words. “It doesn’t really matter though.”
“Because I’m only going to be in here for one night. Two at the most.”
“And where are you going to go after that?”
“I don’t know. Home, I guess.” He said.
“Will you be ok at home?”
“Yeah, I guess. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. You were hurt pretty bad and you’re still recovering. I thought maybe you’d want some help or something…I don’t know. Maybe you just don’t want to be alone…”
“I don’t think that I can get a nurse. I don’t want one anyway. That’d make me feel like an old man.” He said.
“I wasn’t talking about a nurse. I can’t really stay with you because of work and everything, but you could stay with me. That way I could help you if you needed help and you wouldn’t be alone and…”
“Hold on.” Rob said, cutting off my rambling. “Are you asking me to move in with you?”
I hadn’t thought of it like that. Actually, I hadn’t thought about it at all. I just suddenly got worried when he mentioned going home. The thought of him being alone bothered me. If he got depressed again or decided to go out for a run like he normally did…it wouldn’t be good. Someone should make sure that he didn’t do anything stupid and I was hoping I could be that person.
“Yeah, I guess I am. At least for a little while, until you’re better.” I said.
“If I come stay with you I’ll never leave.” He said with a mischievous grin. “I’d be worse than a cockroach.”
“You couldn’t possibly be worse than a cockroach.” I said. “I hate cockroaches. But I love you. I don’t think I’d want to get rid of you.”
“Aw, you’re so sweet.” He said, giving me a quick kiss. “Alright then, I’ll stay with you then. I think I’d like that a lot. You can make sure I don’t do anything stupid.”
“Ha-ha, like you’ve ever listened to me.”
“If you wanted to, you could stop me. I promise I’ll be good, though. I won’t try to do anything stupid on purpose.” He said, stifling a yawn. I noticed that dark circles were starting to form under his eyes and I figured he needed some sleep.
“I think this is the longest you’ve stayed awake since the explosion.”
“Mmhmm. And I’m starting to feel it too.”
“Maybe you should go to sleep, then.” I said. “If you don’t, I’ll chalk it up as you doing something stupid and you’ll leave here with one strike against you.”
“Yes, ma’am. To bed I go, then.” He said, giving me a mock salute with his left hand.
“Tsk tsk. You’re supposed to salute with your right hand. For shame.”
“Whatever.” He said, getting into the bed. “Go settle that conflict between Pollux and Yasirit, you slacker.”
“Oh ho, who’s the one calling me a slacker? The one who can’t stay awake for more than a few hours. While you’re spending all your time sleeping, I’m spending my time working. I don’t waste time.”
“Hey, I’m injured here. I need to sleep so I can recover and resume kicking ass.”
“Yeah, you do that.” I said, kissing him. “I’m gonna go bring peace to a couple planets in the meantime. I’ll see you later.”
I teleported to my office and sat down, ready to focus and resolve the conflict. Things were really escalating and I really didn’t want to see a war. If these two planets went to war, there would be a domino effect across the universe. I had seen it happen before. It seemed like other planets saw this war and went, “Well, if those guys are going to go to war, so aren’t we.”
The monitor in front of me lit up, informing me that I had an incoming call. The board wanted to talk to me, probably to tell me that I should act on the Pollux/Yasirit crisis. Sometimes they actually had some useful advice, but most of the time they told me stuff that I already knew. I accepted the call and the five men on the board showed on my screen, seated around a semi-circular desk.
“Good afternoon.” I said.
“Good afternoon.” The one in the middle said coldly. He was the only one who ever spoke. The others just sat there and looked smug. “We are glad to see that you’re in your office. I understand that you haven’t been home very much recently.”
“Don’t worry; I’m not falling behind in my work.” I said.
“Then you’re aware of the recent conflict between Pollux and Yasirit?”
“Yes, I’ve been closely monitoring it for several days now.”
“Really? We were unaware that you had been doing any work at all. It seemed to us that for the past several days you’ve only been sleeping and visiting the hospital.” He said disdainfully. I chose to ignore the remark.”
“Pollux seems to be completely ignoring the fact that the Yasirit government had nothing to do with the attack on their merchants.”
“Yes, we’ve noticed that too. We feel that it’s necessary for you to intervene to prevent another war.”
“I’m afraid you’re right. I hate having to intervene with local politics.”
“This is not local. Local involves only one planet. When the conflict affects more than one planet, it is your job to ensure that it does not become a war.”
“Yes, I know.” I said. I didn’t need a lecture on what my job was. I knew what my job was. “Yasirit and Pollux always seem to be in conflict, though. Sometimes I would like to leave them to their own devices and let them destroy each other.”
“You know that is not the best course of action. If war breaks out between Yasirit and Pollux, it is likely that Venus and Mars will find another excuse to go to war and then other planets will go to war. War spreads like disease.” He said. I was already growing tired of talking with him. I knew what I was going to do. I didn’t need to explain myself to these people. The board was nothing politically. They had no power, yet they liked to consider themselves my advisors. Most of the time I didn’t want or need their advice and this was no exception. I was losing patience with them.
“I know that.” I said. “You don’t need to worry. This conflict is going to be over today.”
“And how do you plan to end it today?” he said skeptically.
“The leaders of Pollux and Yasirit are meeting in a few hours. I intend to sit in on this meeting and mediate their discussion. Neither of them will leave until the conflict is settled.”
“We did not think you were aware of that meeting.” He said. I smiled smugly. I was beginning to realize why they had called me. They didn’t really care about the conflict. They wanted to let me know that they knew I had been spending a lot of time with Rob and that they didn’t approve. They thought that Rob was distracting me from my job and that he would continue to distract. They thought I was spending too much time with him.
“You don’t have anything to worry about. I’m on top of everything. The meeting was announced this morning and I’ll be sure to be there.”
“I see.” He said. I sat there for a moment, waiting to see if he had anything more to say. “One more thing before we leave you to your job. Be careful with your friend. We wouldn’t want you to miss something important because you’re spending time with him. Perhaps you should spend less time with him. A friend like that could be very distracting.”
So there it was. I wasn’t sure that they would come right out with their disapproval, but they had. They had no business telling me who I could be friends with. I didn’t have any other friends, anyhow. I had had enough of the board for the moment. I didn’t need their input on anything at the moment; the conflict or my personal life, now that I actually had a personal life.
“You don’t need to worry about that.” I said, not bothering to hide my irritation. “Rob will be getting discharged from the hospital soon and he’ll be coming to stay with me, at least until he’s fully healed. Maybe longer, I’m not sure. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Every board member had a shocked look on their face. I didn’t really care how shocked or outraged they were. As far as I was concerned, the conversation was over, so I disconnected. I had work to do and they were distracting.
I contacted the people organizing the meeting between the two planetary leaders and informed them that I would be attending the meeting. There was a firestorm of questions that followed that announcement. I wrote up a formal announcement and published it for all the reporters to read. I had no interest in speaking with the press. They were just a bunch of bloodsuckers who made a living off of other people’s problems.
The leaders of the two planets contacted me to welcome me to their meeting. It was just a political courtesy. I doubted that either of them really wanted me there. I spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for the meeting. It would not be easy to negotiate with either of them. I was definitely not looking forward to any part of this meeting. Except for the end, of course. Then I could go visit Rob and see how he was doing.
I arrived at the meeting exactly on time. There was no point in arriving early and being late would have made me look bad. The media swarmed outside of the meeting chambers. Thankfully no one let them in. It would have been a nightmare otherwise.
The arguments went back and forth for hours. Finally though, Pollux agreed to maintain the peace and yet another treaty was signed. Then came the media frenzy. Both leaders invited me to the press conference, but I declined. I was exhausted. Difficult negotiations always tired me out. It had seemed for a little while that war was nearly unavoidable. The leader of Pollux insulted Yasirit every chance he got. In the end, though, the treaty was signed and I was definitely ready to go to bed.
I decided that I was too tired to go visit Rob again. I was sure he was doing fine anyway. I’d go home and shower and sleep some and I’d go see Rob early the next morning. Hopefully he would be awake. If not, I’d just do some more work. There was always more to read and different people to talk to about a million different policies.
I lost consciousness as soon as my head hit the pillow and woke up exactly 8 hours later. I ate quickly and then teleported to Rob’s room. It was so dark; the only light came from the TV which Rob had left on some news channel. The guy on there was still talking about the treaty that I had worked on the day before. I knew what had gone on during the negotiations and I intended to read some criticisms later. I muted the TV.
Rob was asleep. Anyone could fall asleep to a program like that. There was a chair already next to his bed, which I sat down in. He looked so peaceful. He was half sitting up, lying completely relaxed against the pillow. His face was completely relaxed. I knew I was in love with him just looking at him. I took his hand, intending to just watch him sleep for a little bit, but he stirred and opened his eyes.
“Morning.” He said sleepily.
“Morning. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s ok. I was only half asleep anyway. I couldn’t really sleep last night.”
“Why not? Are you ok?” I said, getting a little worried.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just couldn’t sleep.”
“It’s probably because you’ve been sleeping so much.”
“Could be.” He said. “Or maybe it’s because I’m excited.”
“Excited? For what?”
“The nurse told me yesterday that I could leave today.” He said, getting a little more animated.
“Really? Oh my god, that’s so exciting!”
“I can’t wait to get out of here. This room is sucking the life out of me.”
“Don’t say that!”
“I’m kidding! It is horrible, though.”
“That’s not very funny. But yeah, this room is pretty bad.”
“I need to get some things from my place before I go to your place. I don’t want to walk around in this stupid thing forever.” He said, indicating the hospital gown.
“Aw, what not? It looks cute on you!” I said, laughing. He laughed too.
“Sweetheart, if I wanted to look cute I’d put on a pink tutu. I don’t do cute.”
“So not true. You definitely do cute, and quite well.”
“Uh huh…anyway, I’ll page one of the nurses so I can get the discharge papers. Then you can get me the hell out of here.” He said, pushing the button on his bed controls that called a nurse.
“I’ll be right back, then.” I said, standing up. “I’m going to go get you a change of clothes. I think the hospital will want to keep its gown.”
“Great, thank you.” He said. I teleported to his apartment and grabbed a set of clothes for him. He kept his apartment too clean, almost sterile. It didn’t feel like a home at all. Neither did my castle, though. Hopefully with the two of us together we could create something more of a home. I teleported back to the hospital as a nurse was walking in the door. She handed Rob a clipboard and a pen and made him sign a bunch of forms.
“Finally doing some paperwork.” I said. “How does it feel?”
“This paperwork is great. I don’t mind doing this at all.” He said. The nurse took the clipboard from him once he has signed in all the right places.
“Ok, during the day you can keep the burns uncovered. Be a little bit careful at first because you wouldn’t want to rub any of the new skin off. At night, apply this cream.” The nurse said, handing Rob a tube of something and some gauze. “And cover the burns, just until most of the pain is gone. That should be for another 3 days to a week. You should be completely healed in 2 to 3 weeks, though the new skin will be a little bit more pink than the rest of the skin around it. That should fade with time also.”
“Thank you very much.” Rob said. “I think you’re my favorite nurse so far.”
“That’s just because I’m the one sending you home.” She said. He gave her a shrug that said, “Hey, what can I do? You’re right.”
“Alright, don’t do anything stupid now.” She said.
“That’s the second time I’ve been told that.” He said, pouting a little. He had sat up and was getting up off the bed. He stood up and stretched his legs and back out.
“Don’t worry.” I said. “I’ll take good care of him.”
“Take care.” The nurse said. I took Rob’s hand and teleported the two of us to his apartment. He took a duffel bag out of his closet and started shoving things from his dresser into it.
“You can fit more in that bag if you pack it neater.” I said.
“Yes, mother.” He said sarcastically. He did stop and rearrange the things in his bag, though. And the rest of the clothes he packed more neatly. He went into the bathroom and grabbed some things and came back out.
“Do you need anything else?” I asked.
“I don’t think so.” He said, taking another look around. “If I forget something I can just come back and get it.”
“Wait, I just realized something.” I said, on the verge of panic.
“What?” Rob said, with a worried look on his face.
“You’ve never been to my place before.”
“What if you don’t like it?”
“It’s just a house.” He said.
“It’s not a house.” I said. “It’s a damn castle. It’s disgustingly huge.”
“If you hate it so much, why do you live there?”
“I don’t really have a choice. I work there. It’s like…I don’t know. It was given to me, I think. I’m supposed to like it. That’s why I live there.”
“Look, it’s just a building. It’s not a big deal. Don’t worry so much.”
“Alright.” I said. I was really nervous still. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of that before. How could I ask him to come stay with me when he had no idea what my place was like? And why had he agreed? It felt very strange now, with him blindly moving.
“Good, can we go now?” He said, getting ready to lift the duffel off his bed.
“Yeah, but let me take that.” I said. I grabbed the bag from him and slung it over my shoulder.
“I can take it…” he said, almost pouting.
“So can I. Alright then, let’s go. I hope you like my place.” I said. I grabbed his hand and teleported to the middle of the entryway. He let go of my hand and walked in a circle, taking a look at everything.
“Holy shit.” He said. “You weren’t kidding…this place is huge.”
“Yeah, too big. Anyway, the door in the corner over there is the kitchen. And this one is to my office. That room over there is a living room and those stairs there lead up to my bedroom and a bunch of other rooms that I don’t know what to do with.” I said, pointing to each place as I named it. “I guess that’s everything.”
“Talk about a whirlwind tour…” he mumbled.
“You can walk around later and see for yourself. Anyway, I guess I’ll put your stuff in my room for now. You can decide which room you want for yourself later and pick out all the furniture and stuff too.”
“What if I don’t want my own room?”
“Huh?” I was totally missing what he was getting at.
“What if I like your room so much that I just want to stay in there?”
I just stood there and looked at him stupidly and said, “If you like my room, you can just make another room look like that.”
“Wow…ok, that’s not really what I meant.”
“What did you mean then?”
“Forget it.” He said.
“Well…maybe I’ll like sharing a room with you.” He said. I started walking towards the stairs and he followed.
“Oh…I get it.” I said, feeling stupid. I walked into my bedroom and put his bag in the corner.
“So this is your room, huh?” Rob said.
“Yup. How do you like it?”
“I like it.”
“The bathroom is right off to the side there.” I said, pointing to the door to our left.
“Great.” He said. We stood there in an awkward silence for a moment. It was the first time that I could remember feeling awkward around him.
“If you’re tired, you can sleep in here.” I said. “You said you didn’t sleep much…”
“That’s a great idea.” He said. He took off his shoes and put them over by his bag. “I’ll unpack later.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I said. He got into bed and appeared to fall asleep immediately. I unpacked his clothes into the empty drawers in my dresser.
The first day we spent together was a little awkward but we got used to each other pretty quickly. While I worked he watched TV and started working out. I made him start with a really easy workout and he gradually increased the intensity as his burns healed. He healed quickly, much faster than the nurse had predicted. He said it was because of his workouts. I thought it was something to do with the lotion the nurse had given him.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time he hugged me. It was a huge symbol of his progress. I came out of my office, intending to go sit with Rob and watch TV. He surprised me outside of my office, grabbing me in a big bear hug.
“That didn’t hurt?” I exclaimed.
“Nope, not really. I’m fine. Now will you please let me go for a run?” he said. I laughed.
“You don’t have to ask me for permission.” I said. “If it’s not going to hurt you, go for it.”
“I told you yesterday that I well enough to go for a run.” He said.
“You also complained that your shirt was chafing.”
“Yeah, ok…you got me. But I’m good to go today.” He said.
“Alright, then. Go for it.” I said.
“Fantastic. I’ll be back in a little while.”
He changed into shorts and a t-shirt and headed out the door. I just hoped he’d be able to find his way back. He liked to go for long runs, sometimes for 6 miles or more. I was worried about him getting lost on the grounds. It was funny how excited he had been about going for a run, too.
He came back about half an hour later, but it didn’t look like he’d run very hard at all. He was hardly sweating at all and he was only slightly out of breath.
“That must have been a light jog.” I said, teasing.
“Huh?” He said. He had been off in his own world, not really paying attention.
“You don’t seem tired at all, like usual.”
“Oh, yeah.” He said. Something seemed kind of off with him and it was making me a little nervous. “Ok, so…can you wait here for just a second?”
“Yeah…” I said. It was such a weird thing to say. I wanted to ask him what was wrong, but I decided to just let him be. He ran up the stairs and into our room. I got up and watched him disappear into the bedroom. I noticed a small bag in his hand as he was going up. Where had he gone? And how had he gotten there? I felt my hip, where I kept my teleporter, and noticed that it was gone. He must have taken it off when he had hugged me earlier. What was in that bag?
He came down about a minute later, dressed in khakis and a polo shirt. He had a huge grin on his face as he saw me waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs.
“I just decided to do this this morning.” He said, pulling a small box from his pocket. He stopped in front of me and took my hand, then knelt down, holding the box up towards me, now open. It had a beautiful silver engagement ring in it. “Will you marry me?”