“It’s a great place to live,” said Tag.
“They have nice parks and excellent schools,” said one of the girls, marking the first time that Dakota had heard either one of them speak more than a single word.
“Oh, do you go to school?”
“Of course not,” said Stephen.
“The children are homeschooled,” said Mindy.
“Of course. No, I don’t think we’ll be staying.”
“Dakota needs to find a position in which he can reach his potential,” said Charity.
“Yes, and I need a job too,” he said, smiling at his own joke.
“Sometimes they hire threaders at the Sherriff’s Department,” said Stephen. “I could check an see if there are any openings.”
“I’ll let you know.”
When they finished eating, the robots all retired into the house, leaving the two men on the deck.
“Great meal,” said Dakota.
“Yeah, thanks. So, I think this is as good a time as any to talk. What’s going on with you?”
“There’s really not much to tell. I was living with this girl. I thought it was true love, but I caught her cheating on me, so I left. I was pissed, so I took a bunch of her stuff and donated it to GoodWorks.”
“Illegal,” said Stephen, nodding. “But at least you didn’t shoot them. I’d say she deserved it. Use the account I gave you and in a few days, she’ll give up looking for you, I would think.”
“So how’s your mother?” asked Stephen.
“Four months ago. She’d been in a home for the past five years. She had Alzheimer’s. For the last two years she didn’t even remember who I was.”
“Shit. That’s really tough. I’m sorry. Those places are expensive. If you had let me know, I could have helped pay for part of it.”
“She was my mother. Her social security and her pension paid for about half.”
“She actually treated me very well,” said Stephen. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time. First I was so unhappy because I had lost my own mother. Then I was upset because Nora drove my father away.”
“You’re fucking kidding me. She didn’t drive him away any more than your mother drove him away. He ran away—chasing a fucking skirt. He was a worthless piece of shit that never did anything for anybody and the only two things he left us were his genes and the inability to maintain a relationship.”
“That’s not true. He was a good man. He was a good father. I remember him before he left Mom. We had fun. He took me to the see the Angels. He took me to Knott’s. He built me a swing set.”
“Yeah, well I guess I just got shit on then, because I didn’t get any of those things.”
Stephen was quiet for a minute.
“Yes, I guess you didn’t get what I got. He was different after he left Mom. That doesn’t mean we can’t… what you said—maintain relationships.”
“It must mean that. Look at you. You have a robot wife and robot kids.”
“I… well, I never really wanted kids. They just grow up and disappoint you. As for Mindy… well, it’s just easier.”
“Easier than a relationship with a real person,” said Dakota. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Being married to a real person is work. Even living with another person is real work. Did you even have a serious girlfriend before you custom ordered a lover?”
“Yes, I had a few girlfriends… but none of them were long-lasting. Yes, I suppose you’re right. So, I’m messed up. But I’m thirty-nine years old. I can’t lay all of that at Dad’s feet, or Mom’s or Nora’s either. When you reach my age, you have to take responsibility for your own faults.”
“Well, I still haven’t reached that age yet.”