This is all it will ever be – short story

It’s all in the eyes. That’s what I think. Intention, judgement, freedom – it’s all in the eyes. The way she looks at me, guarded, protective, suspicious – but something’s there. It’s the first day of our new trial and people from the foundation are here to discuss the response from the newly collected data. I’m sitting next to her and she’s looking at me – something’s happening. We’re talking about her and where she came from. I’m watching her lips move as she speaks, ingesting each word as if its nourishing. I’m talking about me – rotation day next week – 28 and still going strong… Now we’re going for coffee, I’m paying, she hasn’t got any clearance, I don’t mind paying. “You can buy the next one.” We will see each other again, maybe, hopefully – if it happens that way.

She’s here – the same look! I can’t work it out. It’s beautiful, yet defensive, yet headstrong, yet powerful. I don’t even think she knows she’s doing it. Maybe its normal for them. She has a dark way with people. Like she’s being friendly, but also saying, “don’t get too close” – that’s a great thing, she’s a total challenge. We’re talking about the project. She’s got an accent; she’s smiling, I’m smiling. Is there anyone else here? I haven’t noticed.

We’re going for lunch, I guess it’s a date – just to the facility canteen. I’ve found us a table by the windows, she likes to look at the world outside – the projections of it anyway. I can’t read those looks, what is she saying? What does she mean? She’s beautiful when she laughs.  We talk about everything: her childhood, where she used to live, where she lives now. She wasn’t born into this, they’ve arrived late – so she’s had to choose what to do – imagine that! How would you know what’s best without the Scan to tell you? I talk about my simple life, planned for me even before I was born. Loaded with the right amount of challenge and development based on the Scan. It’ll sound dull and characterless in comparison to hers. She’s talking about her family, how she’s the oldest sibling and carries the weight of responsibility for the others. She’s fascinating – the way she sees us, the way she talks about us – like she’s outside, looking in.

We’ve got to compile the findings from the test data within the next 10 cycles. I’m suggesting we spend some time together… She’s agrees.  “I know its irregular and unusual… but we could work at mine. It’s quiet and we can really get stuck in…” She agrees. She’ll be round tomorrow.

It’s a simple room, sofa, data screen and a few things I’ve collected. It’s normally bare – or maybe I’ve got used to it. She lightens it up. She’s not like anyone I know. We’re sat on the floor, working through the data. Next to each other – close – shoulders touching. Just her and me, my mind is fizzing with the thought. She asks a question about the recoil from sector 5. I want to kiss her, right now. I move towards her – ice across continents – moments are my battle ground; space is my victory. She doesn’t pull back, she doesn’t react, she just watches. The room swells and sings as we kiss, the air turns purple and a thousand fireworks dance in inky skies.

“It’s just a kiss.” She says, “It’s nice, but it’s just a kiss.”

We kiss for the thousandth time. We’re lying on my rugged sofa – there’s no guise of work anymore. She turns up when she wants. She lives with her family, seven of them; she likes the quiet of my small, empty life. We’re sharing space and time, breathing lightly – our faces close. I know this can be downloaded and we shouldn’t be doing it, but I don’t care – for this moment it’s everything.

Her body wraps around mine. I hold it, I know that at any moment it could be gone, taken; it could burst like most dreams do in this place. It’s swelling, writhing – we’re under the sea being driven by the current. We’re lost. I don’t want to be found. I don’t want to leave. I’ve wanted this for so long. This must be what love feels like…

“I can tell that you’ve never been held like this before…”
“It does feel good. We just fit. You’re warm…You do know this can’t happen though, don’t you?”
“I’m not thinking about what can and what can’t happen…”
“You should – because this can’t.”
“Why do you feel the need to say that? What’s wrong with us just being here, sharing this?”
“Nothing… But I don’t want to think what this is. It shouldn’t be happening, I know that… But there is something here I like, something that’s keeping me wanting more.”
“You’ve never been held like this – I told you.”
“With my… upbringing… we just didn’t have much of this. This would never be accepted by my family…”
“So… does it make you happy?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Then stop thinking about what it means and just focus on this: do you want it to happen again?”
“Yeah, I do…”
“Then we will do it again, and again, and again until…”
“You really don’t… There’s expectations on me. My parents brought us here not thinking we would become like you. I can’t forget my culture and identity…”
“I get that, I don’t want you to forget … That’s one of the reasons why…”

“I love you”, I say. I totally don’t mean to. It drops like lead into silence. She looks at me, she looks into me, she looks so deep inside me she can see out the other side. Then she kisses me. Like we’ve never kissed before. The moment is charged with expectation and passion – it’s been grown and stored for now. Between breaths she’s saying it back, whispering into my soul. I don’t know what’s happening until we’re lost in the waves, fighting together through the storm.

When it’s passed we lie back, “this needs to keep happening,” I say.

“For now,” she replies her shape moulding into mine, “but we will never be able to be together. This is all it will ever be…”

For now, I don’t mind.

“I just don’t know how you can be happy with that?”
“In our culture things aren’t like that, we think of things in a different way, it’s not just about me, it’s about the whole family.”
“But you work hard, why shouldn’t you keep the profit of it?”
“It’s my duty to look after my family.”
“Your mum and dad I can understand – but why should you be working for your brothers? They should go and get their own lives, and their own jobs?”
“That’s just not how we do it in our culture – you need to understand that.”
“I understand it’s different, but you should see that’s not fair. You’re giving up your hard work, your chances of happiness to support people – family or not – who are being lazy. And they’ll keep doing that until you say no.”
“But it’s my duty…”
“Yeah, it’s your duty to look after them, of course. But sometimes looking after someone is making them do something they don’t want to. It’s not fair for you to take on the troubles of the whole family…”
“There’s more to it than that. It would be like cutting my family off… In fact, I shouldn’t even be here now.”
“But you want to be here?”
“Of course, that’s why I am…”
“And you enjoy being here?”
“You know I do – there’s something about you – you’ve got under my skin. But…”
“But…”
“You know this is all it will ever be…”

It cuts deeper every time. It’s not like I would want to be talking about the future – but at some point, we might. She’s cutting it dead each time she says that. If I didn’t love her, I’d leave it at that; but now I’m involved, invested.

We’ve not spoken much in fifteen cycles. We had a disagreement about something and, “this is all it will ever be” felt less good. I’m out with friends. A rarity – it’s been too long. I’m enjoying it… I’m talking to a girl. She’s nice, not interesting, but not bad either. There’s no challenge.

It’s forgettable, passionless. But it happens.

Afterwards, when I close my eyes, I see the skeletons of broken promises. She’s watching me – I’m half-awake in my untidy room. Next to me lies a sleeping, nameless woman. Her stare’s as intense as it always was; though the intrigue and passion and possibility have been picked from the bones. Only disappointment remains.

She speaks. Her voice: soft, rhythmic and proud – like she’s known something all along.

“This is all it will ever be.”

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