By Marina L. Reed
Ellen couldn’t wait to tell her friend Sandy about him. They’d been friends since high school and shared everything together. She parked her car and grabbed the grocery bags, deciding to drop off the shopping at her apartment before going over to Sandy’s house. She approached her building, and twenty paces outside the front door to the lobby, she placed her palm down on the small square pad supported by a narrow column about three feet high. She had been doing this since she was a little girl; before entering the public pool, or the library, stores and businesses, transportation. But she always seemed to hold her breath for that moment before the green light covered the screen and the lasered bar lowered so she could proceed. She entered the lobby, took the elevator to the third floor, turned the key in the lock and lifted the bags onto the kitchen counter. She put the frozen items into the freezer quickly, the fruit and juice into the fridge, the rest she would unpack later. She went into the living room and grabbed her ipad, shoving it into her large handbag, locked her door and hurried to her car.
Sandy lived about ten minutes away by car. Her and her husband Rick lived in a small red brick house on the edge of town. Ellen parked her car on the curb, hopped out and placed the palm of her hand on the pad twenty paces outside Ellen’s front door. It flashed green and she walked up the path and knocked on the door.
“So, what’s the news,” Sandy asked as she ushered her friend into the living room.
“Well, you were right.”
“About three dates.”
“Three dates, really. You got that far this time.”
“Come on, how many did it take until you knew Rick was the one.”
“Well, maybe three.”
“Three. The magic number.”
“Yup, three. I mean come on, we’ve all been dating since we were in high school. I think after fifteen odd years it was time I started getting it right. Finally, I got it right with Rick. Tea? Soda?”
“Sure. Well maybe I’ll get it right soon and won’t need anymore test runs.”
“You’ll get it right. Patience. So where are you going on this third date?” She put the tea on the coffee table. They each held a warm mug in their hands, sipping here and there.
“There is a great new action movie in the theatre, thought we’d check that out.”
“Hey, I thought it was better than just going for a walk or a drink.”
“No you’re right, I agree. A movie is a good idea. Hey, by the way, did you get your ticket for the game tomorrow night?”
“Of course, everyone is going to be watching. Plus Rick pre-orders tickets for all the sports matches. He never misses one. It’s the final for God’s sake and our team’s in it.”
“I know, but I wasn’t sure what I’d be doing, know what I mean?”
“I bet he’s got a ticket. Your date number three. You could watch it together.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But, no, that’s too close too fast. You know, my mom told me that she remembers actually going to one of those games, sitting in the big stadium and watching them play in person rather than the virtual live feed.”
“Wow, so many people in one place. Guess there would be real cheering rather than speakers.”
“Yeah, but the speakers bring all of our cheering into the stadium so it’s sort of the same. Helps the players I guess, otherwise it would feel pretty empty for them.”
“True. Guess we’ll never know. How many people fit into a cinema viewing room?”
“I don’t know, 200, maybe 300 hundred max.”
“Sounds about right. That’s the biggest crowd of people we’ll ever be in. Sounds good to me!!”
“Don’t know how they did it before,”
Ellen sips her tea and puts the mug back on the coaster on the tabletop. “Anyway,
so I’m going out tonight, what should I wear?”
“Wait, what’s his name?”
“Nope, not until the fourth date.”
“Fine. Well, nothing too slutty, but a little suggestive in the cleavage department. I mean you’ve got it, might as well show it off a little. And a skirt with a nice split up the side, so it can fall off your leg at just the right moment.” Ellen laughed out loud.
“Perfect. Nice touch. I know the perfect outfit.”
“Why did you bring the ipad?”
“I wanted to show you some of my new designs.”
“Cool. Let’s see. More tea?”
Ellen left after about an hour, promising to video chat the next day and give Sandy all the details. She went home and made a quick dinner so she could take her time getting dressed. The movie was pretty new so there would be more people than usual and there were only four pads outside the cinema. They’d have to arrive at least an hour early. Should she call and tell him? NO. He would know and if he didn’t, well, that would answer a lot of questions.
Revealing blouse, wrap around skirt with easy fall open option, loop earrings, some bracelets, and touch of lipstick. She swept her long brown hair back into a ponytail, easily undone halfway through the movie if it all felt right. She picked up her small clutch purse, took one last glance in the mirror and headed out.
It was a cool summer evening. She had a light cream coloured jacket on over her peachy blouse which was comforting as the breezes blew up and around her skirt. The click of her shoes echoed around the small street. She turned the corner and saw him standing there, waiting. He smiled when he saw her. Her stomach did a little jump of joy. She smiled back as she approached him.
“Don’t you look lovely.”
“Thanks, you look pretty handsome yourself.” And he did. Open collared shirt unbuttoned at the top, just enough to tease, tucked into a slimming pair of jeans with a sexy belt buckle. He was a bit taller than Ellen with curly dark hair that played around his ears. His green eyes were electric and his smile made her swallow, noticeably. She smiled back at him, fighting an urge to softly purrrr.
“Shall we?” and he presented his arm to her. She looped in and they walked around the corner together. She could smell his cologne. Feel his body heat. Their arms slipped down and he folded her hand into his. His skin was soft and warm. His hand strong. Her stomach did another joy flip and it floated around her body. She could feel a fourth date approaching. There was a lineup starting at the cinema. People were slowly moving inside.
“Looks like we got here at the perfect time.” They moved along in the line until they were next to step up to the pad. The man in front of Ellen put his palm down, waiting, but instead of green, the pad started flashing red. His hand was now glued to the pad as a mild shock was sent through his body. He would be paralyzed now until the ambulance arrived, taking him to the Disease Control Center. Hospitals were for surgeries and other ailments. Disease Control dealt with viruses and enabled quick recovery before things got out of hand. People just kept moving inside using the other pads. No one was concerned. The ambulance arrived quickly and the man was carefully moved inside. It sped off, sirens whining. Ellen and Mark moved inside and bought their tickets.
“Have you ever scanned red?” Mark asked Ellen.
“No, never. But my sister did once, when she was 16. She was in the Center for about a week and then came home happy as a clam. She said is was great in there. Made her feel safe and she recovered quickly. Even so, I’m always glad when I get a green screen.”
“I think everyone is. I guess it was about sixty years ago now that the last global pandemic happened. Probably will be the last, I mean these pads are all over the world now.”
“Would have been interesting to have lived back then, just to know what it was like.”
“Well, there are a lot of ebooks, no different than reading about other periods in history.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Mom still remembers. That makes this history pretty close to home. She often tells us stories.”
“That’s great that she does that. Keeps things alive by telling stories. Something the people of the earth have done for centuries. Guess some things never change.” He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. She smiled up at him. “So, action is it? That your favorite?”
“I figure if we’re coming out, it needs to be something grand and bigger than I’d watch in my living space.”
Mark laughed, “Good point. Popcorn?”
“With lots and lots of butter,” she gestured with her arms spread wide, along with a wide smile. “And a Coke please. I’m just going to run to the lady’s room.”
“I should have everything when you get back.”
She liked him. Ellen liked Mark a lot. She felt good being around him. She didn’t really need to use the facilities, she just wanted a minute to take a breath, fix her hair and lipstick. She stood and looked at herself in the mirror. She was an attractive woman, soft big brown eyes, high cheek bones. Sandy had been right, she was thinking. We have been dating since high school, time to get it right. She smiled coyly at herself then gave her image a thumbs up, rubbed her lips together spreading the lipstick evenly, adjusted her skirt so her leg would should when she walked out. She took a deep breath and walked out. When she went back to the snack stand, he was patiently waiting with two bags of popcorn and two drinks. Precariously balanced.
“Need some help?”
“Oh yes I do,” and he handed her one bag and one drink. He athletically balanced the drink while he pulled the tickets out of his pocket and they went and found their seats at the back, at the top. They settled in.
The movie was action packed. They laughed. They chatted in whispers. She grabbed his arm as she jumped in surprise sending her popcorn flying. She leaned in closer to him, her skirt falling away from her leg, his hand finding its way to her knee. She looked up and he gently kissed her. Ellen didn’t remember how the movie ended.
The next day, she decided a facetime call wasn’t enough so she went over to Sandy’s house. Green light on the pad and there was Sandy at the door.
“Really, perfect, just a perfect everything. Perfect kiss, perfect movie, perfect walk home, perfect glass of wine and more kissing. Perfect.”
“Perfect is good. So, what now. Are you going to rent him for a week or a month, or go to the four year lease or are you ready for the human site.”
“Well if I keep leasing, I’m not sure I could make the transition. Then again, I’ve only ever rented for a couple of weeks at a time off and on for years now. I could try a lease. But I’m curious about the human site, terrified, but curious. What do you think?”
“Yeah, I felt the same. I never did the lease. Patty did though. She’s pretty happy getting a new model every four years. But she loves her job and doesn’t want kids or the home thing anyway. So that works for her. I rented for a while but then I switched to the dating site with human men.”
“Was it better?”
“Better? Not really, different. You know, it’s like I don’t know what he’s going to say, if he will get sick, if he will wander, and somehow, there’s a strange comfort in all that. I guess I like, well, I like the humanity of it all.” She laughed out loud, having come to a stark realization all of a sudden. “I love Rick. He’s great. It works really well. We work really well.”
“Yeah, it does, you guys are great. Ok, I’ll go to the site and rent Mark for a couple of weeks then I’ll switch to the human site. Sandy?”
“What’s the difference, you know, between them.”
“It’s subtle. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference. But there is something about how a man smells and there is a difference in his eyes, deep inside his eyes. I can always tell now.”
Ellen sat quietly.